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The must-have list for spring cycling: The mountain biking edition

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Of the 80 new awards granted to Bicycle Friendly Businesses (BFB), 16 percent were awarded to businesses in Minnesota. This brings us up to 55, tying us with California as the state with the with the most BFB's than any state in the United States.

It’s telling. We live in a bike-friendly state. To be clear, it was announced recently that Minnesota is the 2nd-most Bicycle Friendly State in America. (Alabama came in last).

What does it mean to live in a bicycle friendly state? Certainly not just access to a crosshatched grid of bike lanes in the big cities or an army of spandex-clad weekend warriors on bike trails. It means mountain bike trails and lots of them. Cuyuna Lakes. Duluth. North Shore. And lest we not forget the many great urban off-road trails.

You have to be ready for them all in every way possible, and that includes gear.

Dakine Mode short ($90)
Dakine Mode short ($90) dakine.com

Dakine Mode short ($90)

You don’t have to be a downhill rider to wear the Dakine Mode short.

Yes, they are designed for downhill riding. No, there is no rule against wearing them on the singletrack. Frankly, why wouldn’t you want to wear a short with a 14.5-inch inseam? The Mode hits that sweet spot between shorts and knickers and fit nicely over my 6-6-1 knee pads.

Review note: You will dig the zippered inner leg vents, especially if you live in a humid climate, and the fit. The fit is excellent. Not too tight, not too baggy.

Dakine Cypress flannel jersey ($80)
Dakine Cypress flannel jersey ($80) dakine.com

Dakine Cypress flannel jersey ($80)

If Kurt Cobain was a mountain biker, he would wear the Dakine Cypress flannel on the singletrack.

At first glance, the Cypress flannel wouldn’t be my first choice in a mountain biking jersey. Even if it was the 1990’s and I lived in Seattle. But the reality is that spring and fall mountain biking in Minnesota has its chilly moments.

You’ll still work up a sweat (if you’re doing it right) but the Cypress is made entirely of a woven quick-dry polyester to wick moisture and dry fast. There’s also a nice pocket on the chest with a music port for you iPod.

Review note: It may look like a shapeless grungy flannel shirt but make no mistake. This jersey has a lovely tapered cut and does in fact outline a waistline. I wear it two ways. The first is with a synthetic tank buttoned half-way; the second is with the same synthetic tank totally unbuttoned. 

Dakine Womens Aura Glove ($30)
Dakine Womens Aura Glove ($30) Dakine.com

Dakine Womens Aura Glove ($30)

Crashes happen. In many cases it’s your hands that hit the ground first when you attempt to break your fall.

Mountain bike trails also can be rough. Certain riding conditions compromise your grip. The full-fingered Dakine Womens Aura glove is a way to protect your paws.

The Aura’s palm protects your hands with gel padding and the silicone mesh will make for decent breathability in hot and humid climates. Each glove has three pads and 2mm foam for good hand protection and the four-way stretch polyester mesh construction is a great moisture-wicking feature.

Review notes: These gloves mold to my hands. Dexterity isn’t compromised and they’re touchscreen-compatible. However, I couldn’t type with these on. If you have to take a picture and upload it to Facebook with a campy quip and tag the friends you’re with, it’s a challenge. Best just take them off.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduro IV ($110)
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduro IV ($110) pearlizumi.com

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduro IV ($110)

 Anytime you’re on a mountain bike, there will come a time when you need to walk on rough terrain. It could be hoofing your bike over a rough section or hiking off trail to answer nature’s call.

The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduro IV have the same EVA foam midsoles that are found in running shoes and carbon-rubber lugged outsoles give plenty of traction. For the humid climates, they offer a quick-drying and breathable mesh/synthetic upper.

Review notes: I have been riding in KEEN Springwaters for the past few years—and I like them fine. But the X-Alp Enduro IVs have a stiffer feel—which is finer.

The KEENs have a Velcro closure, the X-Alp Enduro’s have an anatomic buckle closure system. I find that I don’t have a distinct preference for either. The Pearl Izumi’s have a lower-cut upper then the KEENs so I notice less friction at my ankles.

Fit is excellent for my normal-width size 7.5 feet. I think riders with wide feet may need to look at other shoe options. Weight (about 13.2 ounces for a size 40) feels just fine.

Off the bike, they are walkable and comfortable and the buckle closure system offers just the right amount of snug fit. It’s too early to tell what the long-term durability is of the buckle. 

Darn Tough Vermont Fast Back 1/4 Sock light cushion ($17)
Darn Tough Vermont Fast Back 1/4 Sock light cushion ($17) darntough.com

Darn Tough Vermont Fast Back 1/4 Sock light cushion ($17)

The Darn Tough Vermont Light Cushion Fast is part of the Run • Bike series, a collection of run/bike socks with a variety of styles, padding, cushions and mesh.

The Run • Bike ¼ sock, made of 45 percent Merino wool, 50 percent nylon and 5 percent Lyrca Spandex.

Made with fine gauge Merino wool, this sock is fast drying and breathable. True seamless construction delivers a smooth fit and reduced chances for blisters and hot spots.

Review notes: What makes Darn Tough Vermont socks darn tough is the high density knitting. More knit stitches per inch equates to durability and cushioning without bulk.

Cycling, running, backpacking, since I began wearing Darn Tough Vermont socks, I have never had a blister.

They also offer a lifetime guarantee on their socks. If you can wear them out, mail them back to Darn Tough Vermont for a replacement.

No!

Questions!

Asked!

And then there’s the company that makes them. In an era of outsourcing, Darn Tough Vermont still makes all their socks in Northfield, Vermont under the direction a third-generation sock maker.

Darn Tough Vermont is the only sock between my foot and footwear. From my cycling shoes to ski boots, it’s Darn Tough Vermont. I’ve tested SmartWool. Fits. Lorpen. And yet I always go back to Darn Tough Vermont.

Camelbak Spark ($110)
Camelbak Spark ($110) camelbak.com

Camelbak Spark ($110)

The Camelbak Spark is the “sister” to the Charge, which is the men’s version.

Camelbak is one of the few companies that nails women-specific gear in a way that isn’t…pink. Though they have dabbled in the color over the years, I now see a lot less pink and considerably better fit in their women’s product line.

The Antidote lumbar water bladder is a new concept. Rather than a bladder that fits vertically, the lumbar bladder sits low and snug at the base of your back, wrapping around the hip straps.

This design keeps the center of gravity low around your waist rather than higher on your back. Straps at the base also compress the lumbar bladder for when the water level drops to prevent the annoying water sloshing that you get with lesser packs.

Review notes: The nice narrow shape fits well between my shoulder blades sans any restriction in shoulders and arms. Shoulder straps are uber comfortable.

The difference between the lumbar bladder design vs the “traditional” design is very noticeable. I don’t have a preference either way but it’s an option for riders who get achy backs or shoulder.

Camelbak Relay ($36.99)
Camelbak Relay ($36.99) camelbak.com

Camelbak Relay ($36.99)

The Camelbak Relay is brand new to market this year after three years of development deep in the bladders of Camelbak.

It’s a water pitcher that filters water at the speed of your faucet. The pitcher holds 10 cups of water at the fill line and the filter removes 97 percent of chlorine, taste and odor.

The Relay has a unique, pleated double filter technology system that filters water twice – once as the pitcher is filled and again as water is poured. A pair of side-locking latches keeps the lid in place and ensures spill-proof pouring either into a glass, water bottle or hydration pack.

Review notes: The Relay spanks the Brita that I recycled to the dumpster years ago. If you don’t have one of those built-in water filtration systems, the Relay is the next best thing. The pitcher does in fact fill at the speed of your faucet, providing the faucet isn’t on full blast.

But speed of refill is definitely a winning point. The filter lasts 4 months and replaces 600 disposable bottles. Filters cost $12/1 filter or $28.50/pack of 3 filters.

Nicely done, Camelbak.

Action Wipes 30 count multi-pack ($24.99)
Action Wipes 30 count multi-pack ($24.99) actionwipes.com

Action Wipes 30 count multi-pack ($24.99)

There is no substitute for a proper shower but Action Wipes comes close.

I have used these on camping trips and for post-ride/run clean-up with barely any residue on my skin. Three wipes gets me completely clean from face to toe. Moisten the wipe with a little water before using so that it goes further.

Review notes: I keep these in my car to clean up with after bike rides and runs.

CLIF® Kit’s Organic Fruit + Seed™ ($17.99/12-bar box or $1.59/bar)
CLIF® Kit’s Organic Fruit + Seed™ ($17.99/12-bar box or $1.59/bar) clifbar.com

CLIF® Kit’s Organic Fruit + Seed™ ($17.99/12-bar box or $1.59/bar)

Made with only a handful of ingredients and no added sugar, the CLIF® Kit’s Organic Fruit + Seed is a gluten-free snack bar are made with all organic fruit and seeds.

Nutritious, low-cost, low-environmental impact, consumer interest in organic seeds is increasing.

The entire line is non-GMO, USDA-certified organic, gluten-free, soy free, dairy free and contains 200 calories or less. Contains zero grams trans fat, and does not contain partially-hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or synthetic preservatives.

Available in four flavors -- Apricot Sesame Seeds, Cherry Pumpkin Seeds, Lemon Vanilla Chia Seeds and Coconut Sesame Seeds

Review notes: Texture is a bit odd but the flavor balances out the texture as the perfect food to fit in any hydration pack or backpack.

RealSticks ($29.95 for a case of 24 sticks)
RealSticks ($29.95 for a case of 24 sticks) vtsmokeandcure.com

RealSticks ($29.95 for a case of 24 sticks)

When fruit and seeds aren’t enough and you need a shot of natural protein.

Born in Vermont, RealSticks, made by Vermont Smoke and Cure, RealSticks are the brainchild of a former pro cyclist who saw the need for a high protein, non-GMO, no-preservative, low sodium snack that keeps you pedaling with no sugar crash.

RealSticks source their meats from Pineland Farms Natural Meats in Maine. The pork is from DuBreton in Quebec or from Coleman Natural Meats.

Review notes: The combination of RealSticks and Clif Bar in your pack, whether you’re cycling or backpacking, is enough to make you never want to return to your car. Start out with the Turkey RealSticks sampler and then order a shipping container of the Turkey Honey Mustard RealSticks.

Natrapel ($5.99)
Natrapel ($5.99) adventuremedicalkits.com

Natrapel ($5.99)

As you ride off into the woods, Minnesota’s state bird and state insect, the mosquito and tick respectively, is waiting for you. Natrapel, a DEET-free insect repellant keeps the buggers off you for eight hours.

There are two things I love about Natrapel.

1. It contains 20 percent Picaridin, a CDC-recommended formula that consistently shows equal or better performance than DEET.

2. It doesn't smell like a Union Carbide disaster.

After Bite ($3.99)
After Bite ($3.99) adventuremedicalkits.com

After Bite ($3.99)

If one managed to get you before you could apply Natrapel, After Bite really does stop the itch on application.

The new-and-improved version contains baking soda for additional relief.

Keep in your car for after ride or in your hydration pack while you ride.

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