Five items that keep me going.
Once mountain-biking season gets underway, I think primarily about my next ride. Will last night's thunderstorm leave the trails too wet or will a bright, sunny morning dry things by lunch? Should I sneak in a Sypes lap around noon, or wait until the end of the workday and tackle something more substantial? This weekend, should I ride the Bridgers? Copper City? Helena? Butte? We're blessed with options that keep things interesting, but it takes more than variety to remain in the saddle day after day. Sometimes, the right gear is what you need to stay in the flow.
Every summer, but especially so far this summer, there's the omnipresent threat of an afternoon thunderstorm. This year, you can pretty much set your watch by it (Do people still set watches?). The daily storm almost always rolls in just as I'm rolling into my first break spot. I know the skies are about to open up when a cool, powerful wind blows sweat into my eyes and raises the hair on my arms. At that moment, I reach for the Rainbreaker from FlyLow. This is the emergency shell. With 100% waterproof taped seams, nothing from the outside is getting in. Add to that a roomy hood that fits over a helment, and you have complete coverage and protection from the worst Mother Nature has to throw at you. Elastic cuffs fit snuggly around the wrist, only adding to the jacket's defenses. Once the squall passes, the Rainbreaker packs down into its chest pocket (the coat's only pocket) and disappears in your pack, ready to be redeployed should the weather warrant. If it isn't raining and you're on the climb, keep the Rainbreaker stowed away. It doesn't breath great during high-output activity. $140.
Ultimate Bicycle Cleaning Kit—MucOff
Nothing ruins a ride like a creaky bike, and this year it's been harder than ever to keep my ride clean. From dirt-covered chains to mud-clogged tires, a wet spring and damp summer have kept my bike stand working overtime. Luckily, I discovered MucOff's full line of bike-cleaning products. Their Ultimate Cleaning Kit is a one-stop shop for all post-ride touch-ups. It includes a variety of brushes that are designed specifically for getting into the nooks and crannies of your full-suspension bike. The kit also comes with washable microfiber towels and sponges, chain lube, and biodegradable cleaner, all packed neatly into a compact toolbox. MucOff is based in England's far-wetter climate, so you know they've done their R&D. $105.
Seeing how FlyLow started as a ski-outerwear brand, it wasn't surprising when they branched out into rain shells for the summer months. Biking shorts and cross-over polo shirts? That felt like more of a stretch. Speaking of stretch, elasticity is a key characteristic of FlyLow's biking lineup. Take the Cash short. Just over 10% of the short's construction is spandex, meaning your movement won't be restricted when your legs are churning on relentless southwest Montana climbs. And velcro straps provide an adjustable waistline, which comes in handy as you downsize from early spring through late summer. Shallow pockets at both sides are enough for some cash, but the zippered thigh pocket is better for a Snickers or your phone. FlyLow's Lopez polo is simple-looking enough to wear to dinner after a ride, but you might not want to. Despite the anti-stink treatment this piece has gotten, after a long, hot, dusty ride, do yourself and your friends a favor and change. Shorts, $90; polo, $65.
Slightly Mighty IPA—Dogfish Head
One of my favorite things to do after a ride, long or short, is drink a beer. Since I ride often, I'm happy to see that craft brewing has turned toward less, shall we say, full-bodied brews, without sacrifcing flavor. As you may have noticed, low-calorie IPAs are all the rage this summer, with many breweries managing to drop calorie counts below 100 per 12 oz., which is similar to Miller Lite. One particularly tasty variety is the Slightly Mighty IPA from Dogfish Head. This is an East Coast brewery with no inroads locally, but lucky for me, they distribute nearby in Idaho. It just so happens that a few of my favorite rides start along the Idaho-Montana border in the Lionhead region of the Henry's Lake mountains. That means I get to chase epic backcountry singletrack, then sample one of my favorite beers—without getting a fuller body of my own.
The Joy of Cycling—Hatherleigh Press
When the ride is over, the bike is washed, and the gear is cleaned, I'm left with the anticipation of tomorrow and another chance to get out into Montana's wild places on two wheels. If I need further inspiration, I reach for a narrow volume called The Joy of Cycling (Hatherleigh Press, $12.50). This collection of quotes from the likes of Edward Abbey and Helen Keller reminds me why I ride in the first place, whether it's a short jaunt with the dog or a 100-mile sufferfest in the mountains.