Clothing Gear

Cleverhood Goes Suburban

When I saw Susan, of Cleverhood, again this year at the 5 Boro Bike Expo, she told me that she was working on a smaller version of her rain cape for those of us who are shrimpier than her typical customer.  (“Shrimpier” is not the term Susan used!)  When she suggested that I take one of the early models home to review, I jumped at the chance.


Cleverhood capes are beloved of urban riders, and why not?  This cape is no one-trick pony; designed for cycling, it works equally well for walking, catching a bus, or racing to the subway in a deluge.

Above all, this cape is a really attractive garment, melding the traditional and the quirky beautifully in one very utilitarian package — and it’s practical apparel anyone of any gender can appreciate.

Cleverhood’s secret is that it illuminates brilliantly (literally!) at night.  The fabric is so light and flows so beautifully that daytime use does not even hint at this super power.  This is huge for cyclists, but also a boon for dog-walkers, travellers, and anyone who walks at night near traffic.


This version, appropriately named “Electric Gingham“, is a classic gingham check, made so “mini” that it’s become something quite sophisticated; the contrast (waterproof) zippers (available in lime, as on mine, yellow, red and black) add a bit of fun.  I love that the illumination reveals a completely different look: a counterpane plaid.

Impressive, no?  (By the way, that super-bright “pop” at the lower center back is the normally discreet Cleverhood logo, which becomes something else when lit!)


The Cleverhood is very comfortable when worn; it’s so light that it’s easy to forget it’s there.  You’d expect a cape to billow when worn with cycling, and this one does, but it is so open, and the fabric so lightweight, that there is minimal wind-sail effect.  I did not find that it impeded my riding at all on short runs, and I’d expect the same on longer recreational runs, where the pleasure of the ride is the point, rather than setting a land-speed record.



Unconstrained, the hood is neither large enough to go over a helmet, nor small enough to fit sleekly beneath one.  The latter is less problematic than I thought it would be: I wondered if it would feel bulky under my snugly-fitted helmet, but, in fact, the fabric is so light that it is no more noticeable than a helmet liner.  A tiny, neatly-done toggle allows the hood to be adjusted to fit, and it makes all the difference, allowing it to fit neatly however worn.


In the image above, you can see how beautifully the sides of the hood are cut.  (I turned the brim back to make it more obvious.)  That’s really clever:  peripheral vision is not inhibited, and the brim is designed so well that it works exactly as it should, deflecting rain quite effectively. (You’ll need to turn it back down to get that benefit!)  The lower edge of the hood opening, too, allows complete freedom of movement:  coverage, but not restriction.

In spite of its size, the hood did not tend to fly off in wind; another indication that the cut has been thoughtfully done.  I don’t think I’ve ever worn a hooded rain garment that was anywhere nearly this well designed for function.


When I first tried on the Cleverhood at the Bike Expo, I thought it was way too broad in the shoulders.  Susan said no, it was meant to be cut that way to allow for carrying a messenger bag or a pack beneath it.  That made sense, and, in wearing the cape, it feels right, and the slight additional room in the shoulders, compared to everyday clothing, allows greater freedom of movement.


Beautifully finished openings for arms mean that a Cleverhood is maximally versatile; you can reach from under the cape, or, quite simply, directly through it.  Best of all, the openings have hidden magnets, so they close automatically once you withdraw your arms, and won’t fly open unexpectedly.  Rain and wind will not make their way into the cape through the openings, even though it’s quite easy to pop your arms in and out.


Tabs at each side allow cinching of the cape to make the profile more wind-resistant; I found that they were easy to use and worked well.


Internal thumb loops allow the cape to be held over the handlebars.  This they do effectively, but I ended up feeling that they compromised my safety on my bicycle considerably, by restricting my movement a bit too much in tight situations. I would probably not use the loops while cycling unless on a very predictable trail.  They are an asset when wearing the cape in all other situations, though, and keep the cape from twisting or shifting when moving rapidly by foot.

Water will pool in the apron of the cape when the thumb loops are used in rain, but beads nicely and is easily tossed off.  The water-shedding capacity of the Cleverhood is impressive, and I found that it kept me dry very effectively, and shed rain beautifully.


My other concern when cycling in the Cleverhood has to do with signalling.  While riding in traffic, I did not feel that I was able to signal effectively enough that I could feel confident that motorists understood my intentions.  That’s a serious issue in my book, and one not easily surmounted when wearing a cape-like garment.  That’s a potential difficulty with all riding capes, of course, not an issue strictly confined to Cleverhood.

Urbanites who don’t signal anyway — and they are legion! — are not likely to be bothered by this; in my part of the world, the Cleverhood is just what I want while riding cycle trails in rain. Hand signals are not an issue in those circumstances.


There is a loop at the center back neck where a light can be attached:  I love this loop, which is placed perfectly so that a light can be seen whenever the hood is up.  But the loop also means that the cape can be hung up without trying to get it to balance from the hood — a much easier proposition that also leads to quick drying.


The Electric Gingham Cleverhood strikes me as an excellent all-season rain cape for anyone; cycling is by no means the only use for this nifty cape. If I were an urban walker, for instance, a Cleverhood would be my all-season go-to garment — quick and simple to don, airy and light enough for steamy summer nights, and easy to wear over heavier winter gear.

I can’t imagine a better bit of travel gear, either; it’s stylish, light, extremely functional, and highly stow-able.  Each comes with a pack, and is easily slipped into or removed as conditions require, but this version, the Electric Gingham, also fits nicely into a small Eagle Creek packing cube, with a bit of room to spare.


Different weights of Cleverhood may not tuck in quite as well as the Electric Gingham,  but might work best under other circumstances:  There’s a beautiful brown corduroy version, too, for example!

Cleverhoods are pricey, but, in my estimation, well worth the cost.  Value for money comes from buying lasting goods that do the job — whatever it is — well.  Amortized over a useful lifetime, a high initial expenditure often turns out to be the most economical choice.  (Think Brompton bicycles!)  There’s another wonderful reason to buy Cleverhood, too:  Cleverhood is a USA firm, and, as noted on the website, Cleverhoods are “designed, crafted and manufactured in the US”.  Sweet — that’s buying power a consumer can feel good about!

The Cleverhood originallly featured in this review was a sample supplied to me for feedback on the new, smaller, size. It has since been returned to Cleverhood, but I was so taken with the cape that I bought my own, which was supplied at a discount.  Judge my words accordingly!

Clothing Gear

Basil, Upstaged

A long time ago, I saw this fascinating product online, but it was too odd to order speculatively, and I mentally filed it away as just another interesting idea.  It’s a sun (or rain) brim for a bike helmet.

db-tnWe saw the tan one, above, and the blue one, below, along with several others, at the BNC events in Washington, DC, this summer.  In person reviews from the owners were overwhelmingly positive, so I ordered one.  Dr. Diarist’s helmet doesn’t have a visor, and we thought this might work for him.


He hasn’t been riding much lately, so I gave it a whirl.  He’ll never get his hands on it again!  I love this thing:  I worried that it would act like a sail, but it stays in place perfectly, and, apart from allowing me to minimize my use of suncreen — sunscreen that, ironically, was destroying the skin on my face — it shades so well that I actually feel a bit cooler when riding.

db-dbOurs is high vis, of course, so it’s not nearly as unobtrusive as the more stylish models we saw in DC.  (The tan one looked, in person, a lot like a pith helmet!)  The brim/helmet combination is pretty big — between the screaming color and the size of it all, I expected to get a lot of flack for what I assumed would look like nerdiness taken to an absurd degree.

That’s not what’s happened:  People are stopping me to tell me how fantastic my brimmed helmet is.  The brimmed helmet that’s almost bigger than my bicycle.

Anybody who rides a Brompton will tell you that it’s important to figure that, on any given trip, you’ll spend at least a few minutes discussing your brilliant small bicycle with interested passersby.  It happens all the time.  Basil’s used to this; we even have a demo routine for the very curious.


Nobody — I repeat, not a soul — has asked Question One about Basil since I started wearing this brim.  He’s surprised, I think, but fortunately he’s quite secure enough that the interest of others is not a sustaining pillar of his existence.

(But really, a hat?!?)

It’s a Da Brim Sporty Cycling Helmet Visor.  (If you want more coverage, the Classic is even larger!) Pricey, but very well-thought-out, engineered so that it really works, and the company (in California, products made in USA) shipped very quickly, too.  This one’s for use with cycling helmets; equestrian versions are available, as well as several other styles, some of which offer just a visor in front.

Clothing Gear

Sun Sleeves

Sun screen, essential though it may be, is a sticky mess. Even “dry” sunscreen isn’t very nice stuff.  Add to that the necessity of slapping it on all-too-frequently, and you’ve got a prescription for avoidance.

I finally bit the bullet and bought a pair of sun sleeves.  These are made by Specialized; I didn’t research them very carefully, as I wanted them quickly, and sun sleeves have already mostly disappeared from the brick-and-mortar stores I’ve checked (it’s time to stock for fall, don’t you know?), so I hope they do the trick.

Tight bands around my arms — and backpacks — have always been problematic for me, so I’ve had to compromise between keeping my arms from going numb, and getting enough grip at the upper ends of the sleeves in order to keep them on. We’ll see how this works out — maybe I’ll need garters across my collar and back??


Jersey Woes (and a solution)

I don’t care much about wearing formal cycling apparel as a rule, but cycling jerseys make a lot of sense. They’re breathable, stretchy, and, when equipped with lovely full-length zippers, adapt easily to the changing heat of summer.  This one was my first online purchase.

The front is a little different, but the back is why I bought it:

That’s a gasoline nozzle creeping up the side of the jersey on the left; the jersey is called “Flower Power”.  Pretty appropriate for cycling wear, don’t you think?

It’s made by Podium Cycling; a feature on Boing Boing (I think) is where I learned about them.  You don’t see Tron cycling jerseys every day.

Or a tuxedo version:

Or “spiderman-inspired” kit:

Most of the road racers I’ve run into don’t have enough of a sense of humor to indulge in this kind of thing, which is too bad.  The Podium website is full of fun and quirky stuff. (There are some pretty tasteless offerings, too, so you’re forewarned.)  If you are tired of conventional jerseys, this might be a site to check out.

However, buying mine was agonizing.  The size chart is buried in the website (you can get to it through the FAQ) which was a bad start. Then I couldn’t figure out what “cut” was relevant, since it wasn’t mentioned in the product description.

The whole tale appears below, but here’s the short version, and what I did about it:  After much consultation, Podium recommended an XS, which is what I ordered.  It did fit in the bust, which is the most problematic area for me, and the shoulders, which are often too large if the chest is right, but the sleeves and hips were far too tight.  (No hip measurement appears on the size chart, but it’s relevant.  Trust me.)  Sigh.

I didn’t return it, probably because it felt as if I had hours already invested in this garment.  Instead, I added strips of a coordinated athletic fabric — the bright yellow above — up the sides and under the sleeves.  A feature I didn’t like much — the graphic doesn’t wrap around the tunic — turned out to be an advantage, since this strip fit right in next to an existing pink one.

The new hem sections, along the bottom of the jersey and on the sleeves, are finished inside with gripper elastic, which gives the alteration substance, and keeps the weight of the new sections consonant with that of the rest of the jersey.


Here’s the whole story, which will be of interest only to those (particularly women) who are considering ordering from Podium:

I sent an email to the company on a Sunday, requesting further information. I got an almost immediate response (wow!), and a lengthy correspondence ensued while we tried to figure out what size would work best for me: I have a small (but not delicate) frame, but a fairly large bust for my (otherwise) size.

My Podium correspondent finally determined that an Extra-Small was the right size, even though my bust measurement falls two sizes up on the chart.  I think he said he was 95% certain.  (Podium gets huge kudos for this kind of willingness to engage with a customer, by the way — that response was exceptional!) He also offered to pay return shipping if he was wrong. I bought it.

The jersey arrived in good time. Weirdly, there was plenty of room in the bust, and the shoulder fit was adequate, but the sleeves and hips were too, too, tight — in spite of the fact that I’m in the middle of the weight range for size XS, and below the range for size S.  In short, the size chart was of no use at all — and even the careful thought the Podium representative put into trying to calculate the size didn’t really work out.

The upshot is that women would be well advised to check with Podium Cycling before actually placing an order, and count on querying thoroughly.  Keep in mind that size XS appears to be quite generous in the bust, and quite skimpy in sleeves and hips.  And don’t trust the size chart, even if you can find it.

Clothing Events

5 Boro Tour Jersey

See what arrived just in time:

The 5 Boro Tour jersey!  Whoo-hoo! (A slightly lopsided vintage wire dressmaker’s form probably isn’t the perfect device for showing off a sleek jersey, but you get the idea.)

Look at those colors — could they be any better?  Highly visible, and Basil-compatible, both.

The date is imprinted on the back of the neck band.  I think that’s pretty cool, too.  On a practical note, I have to admit that the full-zip front is the best feature of all, since it will allow for easy ventilation during warm summer months (or on tour day, for that matter).

We’re packed and ready to go — Basil and I are, that is; Mr. Diarist will be holding down the fort while we’re gone — and eager for the big day.  What kind of experience will it be?  We’ll know soon.

(As a reminder, posts will continue automatically while Basil and I are off on our adventure, but response to comments may be delayed.)



The Closest I’ll Ever Get to “Cycle Chic”

I’m something of a cheapskate frugal when it comes to cycling clothes. Any clothes, actually. However, every now ant then I’m willing to pay more substantial fees for apparel  that is very, very good at what it does.  (Even then I expect to do so pretty much only when said goods are on sale.)  This Lululemon Athletica Run: Reflect pullover is one of those items.

It’s a size too large for me (or maybe two sizes, if I were wearing it as a <cough> fashion item), but I knew that I’d want to layer it, since single-season cycling gear holds minimal appeal for me.  In these pictures, I’m wearing three layers under the top.

This thing is beautifully cut. It’s so beautifully cut that one almost has to put it on to understand just how wonderful it is.  It’s designed for runners, with reflective features here and there, but it’s just right for cycling.  Mesh inserts flow down the arms and across the back; nice touches from a style standpoint, but also helpful for ventilation.

I’m not sure what color my top is; it might be what Lululemon calls “Light Flare”.  I think of it as “orange sherbet”, but it’s a very pink orange.  (As ever, the critical point for me is “Am I going to be screamingly visible?”.) The opening is lined in a slightly different shade of the top’s color; it’s so subtle that the feature might be missed, but I love that cheery, unnecessary touch. Someone really thought about this shirt!

The contrast color on my top is a little paler than the main one; on the yellow version, the contrast looks as if it’s darker.  Here’s the front, on the official model:

I love that this model has a “real” body, and is wearing a sports bra. It’s very unusual to see women’s clothing worn by someone with a human figure, and with undergarments appropriate to the clothing in question.

I’m going to use Lululemon‘s images to illustrate other features; they do a much better job than I could.

The front pocket extends from zipper to zipper; there’s an MP3 player pouch hidden on one side. I use it for my phone.  I can report that it swallows the phone without any real detrimental effect on the top’s appearance. Needless to say, loading up the pouch in a top made of lovely, light, stretchy material will make you look like a marsupial, but the style-challenged, like me, won’t mind.

The sleeves are extra-long. That’s probably meant to be fashionable, but I love the way they feel.  The cuffs have thumb-slits, so they can stand in for modified gloves, if necessary.  The cuffs turn down, too, to make mittens of a sort. That’s probably a great feature for runners, though less so for cyclists who may need to shift and brake.

The mesh inserts, which almost look purely decorative, show much better in Lululemon’s professional photos. The fabric is wonderful to wear; it silky and moves with my body as if tailor-made.

Naturally, there are channels for the earphones runners love to wear so that that they can be oblivious to their surroundings, but I like to think no self-respecting cyclist would use them. Not while cycling, at least.

This top is quite long on me, and covers my whole backside, rather than going halfway down the hip, as on the model.  I prefer to wear my cycling tops, in particular, long, and like the length of mine much better than the length on the model, who is probably substantially taller than I am.

Like excellent engineering in other arenas, well-designed clothing is a rarity, and a real pleasure when encountered.  I don’t need very many of these beautifully-drafted pieces, but I’m very glad I own this one.

Clothing Miscellaneous

Street Clothes While Cycling (It’s a “No” for Me)

I wore street clothes for my recent ride around Valley Forge.  I was running errands of various sorts, the ride was a short interlude in the day, and, though my appointments were casual, cycling apparel was not appropriate anywhere else I was going.

I was wearing denim “city” jeans, with a touch of stretch.  Sadly, the “stretch” in this woven fabric, while quite nice for everyday wear, isn’t sufficient for really comfortable cycling.  The sneakers (trainers) are adequate for short cycling trips — they have solid soles — but I much prefer the flat, unyielding, soles of my official cycling shoes.

It’s no problem wearing “regular” clothes for short jaunts, but I can officially say, having done it several times, that I don’t like it a bit.  There’s nothing like stretchy, stretchy Spandex and its knit cousins polyester and nylon for pedalling bliss!

(Just for the record, I’ll make an exception for any Tweed Run I can get into.  It’s only right!)