For Jonathan - Belgium Knee Warmers' interview with Keith Bontrager. Money shot:
I can't get comfortable on drops anymore because of my back and I am always faster in technical stuff with them anyway. I have some custom 50 cm wide dropped bars that are pretty good though and I might try them again this year.So Jon, feel free to run flat bars in cross in good conscience. Good enough for Keith, good enough for you. Of course he runs Shimano Sora as well, and I'm not sure I can endorse that, but hey, what the hell. Nobody's perfect, right?
For Ken - Sheldon Brown - the bike guy, not the Philadelphia Eagles linebacker - tells you all you need to know about setting up cantilever brakes so they work properly. Unlike the idiots telling you how to set yoke height in practice ("low," "high," "no, in the middle") Sheldon makes it complicated enough for you to understand. Hope this helps (you keep from back ending me going around the soccer field on the off camber). BTW, here's a review in one of the Bikeman Blogs of the new TRP Euro-X brakes that I run. Hey, who knew that TRP is Tektro's upscale line? It stands for Tektro Racing Products. So I guess it loses the bling factor. I really don't care who makes them, I find that they work great, as well as cantis can work, and they're much cheaper than the almost identical (geometry and quality-wise) Spookys and Empellas. It looks like the brakes Team Kona runs - Kore Cross or Kore Kross - may be available at a slightly lower price. They don't look as substantial as the TRPs, but who the hell knows?
For new blog linkage Suki and anybody else considering cold weather riding who hasn't done it before - Cold Weather Commute Primer. You're on your own for gloves - get some good ones that work but remember that cheapo polypro "jogging gloves" - the liners - work fine under regular cycling gloves down to some low temperature, the exact line depends on the rider. Super warm gloves will make you sweaty on real cold days, they won't dry out well during the work day, and the other problem is that if they get wet on a long ride, they'll get cold too. Knee and leg warmers are also an early buy - you can use your cycling shorts and protect your knees at the same time, the racer rule is anything below 70, wear knee warmers and protect the knees. The next essential is baselayers - Suki's a rock climber so I assume she has some nice wicking base layers. If you can sweat without getting soaking wet, it makes it easier to stay warm. Just have one or two long sleeve shirts, and some long undies. Er, tights. Nashbar sells good cheap 'uns under the Terramar brand name. The polypro stuff is good for adding 15 to 20 degrees of warm all on its own. You'll have to hit up the Mens/Clothing/Baselayers section for that. If Nashbar or your preferred supplier doesn't sell lots of women's cold weather gear (they probably don't), sorry ladies, you'll have to make do unless you can find a better supply or are willing to spring for the big money base layers. Hey, don't knock wearing men's long underwear. Er, tights. Just like wearing his boxers is sexy, so is wearing men's long underwear. As long as your man is an Alaskan, anyhow. You have to decide though - do you want to be warm or look hot? Your call.
As for what is essential-but-get-it-in-the-order-you-need - a good windbreaker, polypro booties, head covering, and neck warming are key. The windbreaker worn as an outer shell cuts windchill way down. You can use a regular windbreaker, but if you wear a backpack or ride a long way on the commute and get real sweaty, having a cycling specific windbreaker with back and armpit vents, or lighter material in the back, helps a lot in regulating temps. The polypro booties are nice, they warm you and cut the wind. Lycra booties are okay but they only cut the wind a little, they aren't meant for cold weather, they're meant for time trials. For the head, ear warmers or skull caps work pretty well, which one you prefer is a matter of taste. They range from lightweight polypro, to heavy lycra/fleece deals, to straight up thick fleece. It's your call. Warm socks are also pretty helpful. Bass Pro sells thinsulate and polypro socks for about $3 per pair. I like the thinsulate socks but they tend to wear out pretty quick. The polypro are warmer and more durable, with the caveat that if you overdress a little, you will sweat more in polypro and then your feet will get real cold faster. Wool socks are the shizzle, they wick decently and stay warm when wet, but you're talking $12-14 per pair - okay for the bi-weekly long basebuilding ride, not a great choice for twice daily commute slogs, which tend to be tough on the equipment with lots of starts and stops, much standing in slush or puddles, etc. A nice (or even mediocre) wool jersey or two also help. Warm, warm when wet, and you don't have to wash them every day. Just hang them up to dry, they'll be fine.
The final and by far most important cold weather commuter gear is a decent light set. You might not think of it is cold weather gear, but ultimately in the cold, you'll be riding one way or the other in total dark if you work more or less normal hours. So don't skimp here, it's the kind of equipment choice that can be life or death. At a bare minimum, starting out, you need a "be seen" set of headlamp and taillight. You can get these for $25 or $30. I highly recommend a "see" headlamp, a light good enough to let you pedal at speed in utter darkness in a cluttered environment such as off road or a bike trail that may have leaves and branches on it. A single trip to the emergency room will probably cost you more - and we're only talking in money terms - than a decent set of lights. You can get a good bright "see" headlamp for $110, and one with a lot of features for $150. I'd recommend looking for one with a smart charger (short charge times), variable light levels (gives longer battery life) and flexibility of mounting (handlebar and helmet), since you might prefer one or the other, and a lot of people like helmet mounts for other purposes, like off-road riding . I like the Blackburn system but there are many good lights out there. If you have a good LBS they should be able to hook you up.
I hope this helps.