There’s something about the shift to autumn that brings out the gear-geek in me. Maybe it’s because during the wet and cold months, good kit can make the difference between a comfortable ride and abject misery for the duration. I quite enjoy digging out the extra cozy baselayers, insulation and waterproofs.
I’m lucky enough that as part of my job, I get to test tonnes of cycling kit. While there are some downsides, I’m not going to even try and pretend that getting to try out the top-of-the-range this, or the shiny new that gets boring. In the past, I’ve almost been addictively drawn to the latest, best kit. I’ll be honest, I still suffer from magpie-itis on a regular basis, although I like to think I have it a little better under control.
Some of this came out of a realisation during a kit clearout recently. I could tell it was due as there wasn’t room in my jacket wardrobe for a new coat. (Yes, I have a wardrobe for jackets. Yes, I take back what I said about having this under control). I sorted through the Goretex and the down and the windproofs. Those with hoods and those with rear pockets. There were the jackets with pit-zips and the ones with virtually no zips at all.
I piled all those that I’d used in the last year into a small stack. It made up less than a quarter of the total. Everything else went to friends or charity. I’ve not missed a single coat that didn’t make the cut. Over the years, I’ve realised that my go-to kit remains essentially unchanged. Sure, stuff wears out, and occasionally I find something that is just “better” than what I’ve been using previously, but even then, the draw of the familiar is strong. My favourite mountain biking top has been stitched up a couple of times now, repairing snags from thorns and the odd skill deficit related Tom-to-ground incident. I talked about “battle scars” to my body in a previous blog post… the same applies to my kit. While I’d never seek to damage anything intentionally, I don’t mind carrying the reminders of rides with me.
When I first started riding, repairing my kit was a necessity. I had a single pair of lycra bibs, one jersey. Why would you need any more? As I gradually accumulated stuff, then I had stuff on standby, but I struggled to move stuff on when it wore out, “just in case” it came in handy again. Because who knows when some virtually transparent lycra will be useful again? Now, I’m aware of the increasing impact of what we choose as our pastime on the environment. Cycling as transport may be as carbon neutral as it comes, but the manufacture of every product that allows us to do this isn’t. And, while I do ride for transport, I also drive and fly to go and ride. I think my halo just slipped. Actually, I think it fell under the front wheel of my van and got ran over on the way to the mountains.
While there are plenty of lifestyle changes I can make, maybe one of the more straightforward ones is to use products until the end of their useful life, repairing them as they go. Whether that is patching jackets or repairing inner tubes for the 15th time, the longer something stays out of landfill, the better. I pay more attention to the environmental credentials of the companies I buy from, and will spend a little more to get a quality product that stands the test of time. I’m still using pretty much all of my original Restrap bikepacking kit, in between testing out the odd new product. When I’ve blown out a zip thanks to over-zealous packing, the bag has been repaired, rather than ending on the junk pile.
None of this is necessarily going to change the world, either from a personal perspective or at a global level but it’s a start. I’m not going to preach. There are far more informed (and genuinely frightening) accounts of the human impact on climate change and our wider environment. Ultimately, if we are to continue to enjoy the outdoors as it exists today, we need to make the micro-changes to our lifestyles as well as the big leaps. I figure a needle and thread, duct tape and a few patches is a good place to start.