Category Archives: Shopping

The Ten Minute Threshold

Ten minutes of transit time. That is the length of time most of the people that I talk to are willing to travel via alternative means before they will ‘just drive’. When asking around to find out what that threshold is amongst the suburbanites I live around 10 minutes has been the most consistent answer. However, that answer is almost always accompanied by a qualifier; If there was a safe route.

Therein lies the issue. Safe routes remain scarce in the suburban build out, and so, the car has become the default mode of transportation.

Interestingly, the communities that have traditionally been the least likely to invest in non-car infrastructure, are the very same ones that are now seeing the light and becoming the first communities to invest deeply into establishing new infrastructure. Sadly, in many of these communities, the drivers are all wrong, but he results may well be the right ones.

Today, the drivers that are urging this infrastructure build out are purely commercial in origin. These new ‘walkable’ suburbs are being driven by small commercial centers and new suburban residential centers, with high dollar price tags. Small walkable hubs have started springing up in the affluent suburbs around the country. While these hubs are all about these expensive homes and high end retail which really isn’t the point of good, non-car infrastructure at the end of the day, these builds outs accomplish the long term goal encouraging walkable communities.

Curiously, the side effect of these little suburban enclaves is starting to show a side effect. The neighborhoods that are just a little further out from the community hubs are pressing for viable infrastructure as well, at least in our little suburban enclaves.

These are the very pressures that have to exist in order to garner the money and incentive for our communities to undermine the 50 years of car primacy, which is particularly egregious in the suburbs and the rural edge communities.

But let us step back and think about what 10 minutes means:

  • The average walking pace is about 18 minutes per mile, or just a tiny bit over 3 miles an hour.
  • The average pace of a casual bike ride is about 6 minutes per mile, or about 10 miles an hour.

So, if you extrapolate that from these little community hubs and draw a circle of just one half mile in radius from these hubs in order to see just how much of the residential areas are encompassed. When you expand that circle out to a 3 mile radius, and you start connecting these micro community hubs with real, viable non-car infrastructure.

city centers

Just look at this image. The green circles are the city hubs and walkable areas within that 10 minute threshold, while the yellow circles are the 10 minute ridable from those same community hubs. In this image, they are focused on the community retail hubs, but they could just as easily be dropped on high schools or existing recreational hubs. What is clear however, is that by focusing on infrastructure from any of these as focal points, the overlap quickly covers a vast area of the suburban sprawl. When you look at the area covered, what also becomes clear, that by following this approach of focus, the near term goal of providing safe, viable alternative transportation options of bicycle safe routes in between each hub ceases to be about corridors, because there are very few locations that require a transfer point, which is the problem with todays approaches.

So the question becomes, can we leverage the idea of the 10 minute transit time into a near to mid term solution to obtaining the funding, and construction of viable transit alternatives?

Shopping – Skora Running

We here at the OGRE HQ ( otherwise known as the Swamp ), have a strong bias towards shopping local, shopping small, and shopping made in USA. It is hard to do all of the above these days, but with care, you can usually hit 1 or 2 out of the 3. In addition, we like to add a 4th category, and that is shop with quality people.

Skora Running

Shop Small: Yes — Shop Local: No — Shop Made in USA: Sorta

This time we are profiling a small shoe vendor from the Seattle, Washington. They are not really local and they do not currently have any retail dealers in the Atlanta area. Unfortunately, they are not using US manufacturing either, but that is not unusual in the shoe industry. Even New Balance only builds a limited number of shoes and products in the US at a significant price premium.

Because of the limited retail presence, Skora has put together an excellent process for returns that works with their “Love Your Run” Guarantee. Shopping for shoes online is still a bit of a stretch for some, but it might be worth a shot for you.

Before we discuss the vendor itself, it is probably a good idea to explain what led us to consider Skora in the first place.

When I started running, I was ‘fit’ into a structured shoe, lots of padding, lots of correction. I was a heel striker with a slow cadence. I ran like that for about 8 months, but eventually, things started to hurt (knees, hips, hip flexors, etc). That tends to happen to a lot of runners, particular later in life, new to running, runners. Like many of those runners I decided to fix the stride. In the process I went through a small boatload of shoes trying to find something. You name it, I tried it.

What I finally decided was that less, is more. A lot more. It was an educational process. I learned more about shoes, shoe construction, foot dynamics, and a lot of theories about running. There is a lot of science, mixed with a lot of assumption when it comes to shoes, stride and feet. There are not many hard and fast conclusions that you can take away from all of this information.

What I ended up with from all of my research and testing was not a specific shoe but a set of fit concepts.

  1. It all starts with the toe box. Lots of shoes advertise a wide toe box, but this circles back to the individual foot, and too wide leaves a lot of room to slide around in.
  2. The arch isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Found out the hard way that too much arch support weakens the foot, and actually makes mid-sole striking harder to do and support. Arches in my ideal shoes have more to do providing shape and keeping that wide toe box from sliding around than supporting the foot.
  3. Heel cups suck. Just because I want a wide toe box doesn’t mean I have ankles, and need a huge heel opening that cannot be kept tight on the foot.
  4. The sole shape in the heel of the shoe influences the entire stride, from foot to lower back. If you have ANY pronation or supination in your stride, the shape of the heel by definition alters the shape of the stride.
  5. Padding is not evil, but can interfere with the shoe comfort.

Notice, I don’t note ‘minimalist’ or ‘zero drop’. Those are not criteria, they are results.

What I ultimately found was that to meet the criteria I had to kiss a lot of frogs. Along the way, I learned a lot about shoes.

At the end of the day though, I did almost 3 full years running in a minimalist trail shoe that met the criteria. Wide toes, shape, but not arch support, enough padding to prevent tears when I stepped on something rough or sharp, a heel that didn’t slip and slide, and a heel sole that was rounded that let my stride flow smoothly from my natural landing position into the push off, all while protecting my very very damaged knees.

In the last year, that shoe was discontinued, so I had to find a suitable replacement.

That led me back to the list of shoes and vendors I had tested initially. During that initial cycle of research I had tried a shoe from Skora Running that I really liked but it had one little problem. A design tidbit that caused some blistering on the back of the heel at the cuff around the shoe opening. I had been using that shoe as an every day walking shoe for the last year or so. Based upon that, and the addition of some new products to the line, I thought I would give Skora another chance.

You see Skora have a couple of things that you can’t find in other offerings. The design of the heel’s sole is unique in that it mimics the shape of your heel itself and provides no “wedge”.

Skora Fit

It meets all of my criteria and adds a seamless inner that makes is suitable for wear without socks. It is a zero drop shoe, but has a 16mm stack. That stack makes the shoe itself and exceptional candidate to wear on all terrains. So it was, early this year, I picked up a pair of Fit’s to give a shot at replacing the shoe that had been my staple for the last couple of years.

That is the background, so let us talk about the shopping experience.

First thing, since they lack a retail presence, all of the ordering process is handled through their website. Fortunately, for small web retailers, the web site is very well designed and the ordering process is painless. In addition, they have a nice little tool that will compare the fit of your chosen Skora to most of the established shoes on the market, including the more obscure shoes that I was wearing at the time. Shipping was also remarkably prompt considering Skora is in the northwestern corner of the US, while I am in the southeastern corner. That’s 3000 miles for those counting it.

Looking back at my notes on the first run in the Fit on TrainingPeaks, I see that I loved them right away, but didn’t like the laces. Not the lacing, but the actual laces, or more specifically, the need to tie them. I had already switched to the Nathan Lock-laces on my other shoes, and missed them. However, the shoe itself was an instant hit, and required very little transition time going from a 4mm drop 8mm heel stack to a 0 drop, 16mm heel stack. My only reservation at the time were a dimple pattern on the inner that I worried would make the shoe uncomfortable for long runs, or sickles runs.

I need not have worried. The first longer runs proved that the textures in the inners improved comfort. Shortly thereafter, the Fit got promoted to be the shoe for this season. I ran a pair of sprint triathlons, and an Olympic distance race before I made the decision to run the Chattanooga 70.3 in those Fits. I was concerned about moisture retention. The early races proved that not to be an issue, so it was that I found myself running the 70.3 in those very same Skora Fits.

That was in May. Fast forward to the end of August. Those Fits now have 450 miles on them. I have two more pairs waiting in the wings, and have yet to put a mile on one of them, while the other has been being used to fill in. At 450 miles, my running shoes are usually very worn, and ready to be retired. These on the other hand have at least 4 more weeks and a full marathon left in them I think, as they are going to carry me through the end of the training and race day for the Chattanooga 144.6 (yes the bike course is 4 miles longer).

To say that I think the Fit is a great shoe is an understatement. It strikes a near perfect balance between the minimalist/barefoot and cushioned running trends while making few sacrifices associated with either.

Along the way though, Skora tossed a curve ball. Middle of July, they teased a new version of the Phase.

Skora Phase

I loved the look, and there were some subtle changes in the shoe that I had to grab a pair to try out. The arrived in early August, and I rotated them into my running. The issue that held me back from the original Phase was gone, and this is the best minimal shoe on the market, bar none. I did 13.5 miles in my first run in them, I did a sanctioned 13.1 in them 2 weeks later. What I know is that they are the best shoe I have ever run in.

That was not what I expected, and after the 144.6, I expect the Phase to become my primary run shoe, but I am unwilling to change the plan from the Fit 6 weeks prior to my first 140.6 long course triathlon.

What you can take away from this though, is simply this. I believe that running shoes are even more of an individual comfort choice than wetsuits are for triathletes, and that every runner may need to try many shoe options before they find what suits them best. I believe that anyone that is serious about their running shoes needs to give the little guys at Skora a real shot. The product matrix is simple, with 5 products, at 3 targets. I am sitting on two of those products as the 1 & 2 in my personal favorite shoe list, and the Tempo, the max cushion shoe they offer would be my go to over other max cushion offerings. The Core and Form both look like they are excellent products as well, I simply haven’t had the opportunity to log miles in them.

In closing, I want to also give special mention to the excellent customer service from the company. In each instance that I have had a question or concern, I have had an answer within a day at most. Knowing the size of the company, and that they are doing it all in house, that is impressive in this day and age when customer service is a lost art.

Shopping – Road Holland

We here at the OGRE HQ ( otherwise known as the Swamp ), have a strong bias towards shopping local, shopping small, and shopping made in USA. It is hard to do all of the above these days, but with care, you can usually hit 1 or 2 out of the 3. In addition, we like to add a 4th category, and that is shop with quality people.

Road Holland

Shop Small: Yes — Shop Local: Sorta — Shop Made in USA: Yes

Today we are profiling a small apparel vendor from the Palm Beach area of Florida. They are sorta local, though they do not currently have any retail dealers in the Atlanta area (though they do have a small collection of dealers around the world). In addition, they hit the Made in USA category pretty well, with their fabrication being done in the US. Keep in mind, sourcing the fabrics is mostly likely from overseas, the assembly is on shore, so they earn the Made in America badge.

What makes them different is a philosophy. Road Holland is trying to create cycling gear that is not overly loud and garish, while hitting the high points that serious cyclists want and need. The mission is to create cycling kits that didn’t look absurd. Looking at the product on the website, they certainly hit the sweet spot on creating something that looks nice.

We decided to give them a try, despite knowing no one who had done so yet. Ordered a Carolina Blue Hilversum, a lightweight full zip jersey with a club fit with the idea that it would be a great commuter and club ride jersey for the summer and early fall rides. The online ordering process was pretty generic, but worked well. The email confirmation is a little on the simple but effective side, which I for one love. Spend the money and time on the products. Shipping was prompt and the product arrived in just a couple of days.

Keep in mind, this is not a cheap jersey at $100+, so we had certain expectations.

Upon arrival, the jersey came out of the packaging and looked exactly as represented, which is a great start. The fabric itself has an interesting feel. It is not like so many of the current jerseys with a super tight weave of elastane and lycra moisture wicking fabrics. In terms of texture, it actually feels more like a high end polo shirt than a cycling jersey. This is not a bad thing, and when you put it on, it looks sharp, and fits very true to size, with a slightly athletic cut. If you carry a little weight around the middle, you might want to size up. The real test though, is getting out on the bike with it.

We wanted to hold off on writing about the product until we had several rides in the hot and damp summer heat. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t terribly cooperative the first couple of weeks so it took longer than expected to get some weather appropriate for testing out new gear. While I am happy to get out and ride in the rain, I generally prefer not to test out new gear in the rain until I’ve seen how it holds up in good conditions.

Riding in the Hilversum proved to be an interesting experience, for unexpected reasons. First, for as heavy as the fabric feels, it is far from warm. During a 65 degree morning commute, it can get a little chilly at speeds over 25 mph. The fabric does a great job of leaving just enough moisture on the skin to cool in a hurry. The afternoon rides in 95+ degrees offered another interesting experience. The runners in the crowd will understand this one. The fabric itself has a slightly abrasive and gritty texture to it. This is fine most of the time, but when you get into the 95+ temperatures and you start sweating faster than the air is evaporating it, the wet fabric turns to sandpaper. This doesn’t bother some people, but for others, like myself, nipple chafing can become an issue. For running, I often use compression tops as a base layer for this very reason.

This is not a deal breaker, and honestly with the excellent design, best pockets in the business and hitting so many of my other criteria, the one negative really doesn’t create a huge challenge on the bike. The reason? Bib shorts. The first couple of rides just happen to be days when I wore traditional shorts. Subsequent rides with bibs and the chafing issues simply go away, as the bibs protect the sensitive areas. In addition, I suspect that a slight tighter fit would ease the problem as well.

Are there things I would like to see improved? sure, but understanding the size of the company and the costs associated with them, well, I think that Road Holland has a product that is a good value for the price, and a service level that exceeds expectations.

So at the end of the day, I can see adding a fall and winter jersey to the collection from Road Holland, and I have enough confidence in the brand that I will look to pick up a pair of their excellent looking bib shorts in the coming months.

Shopping – ORR Cycling

We here at the OGRE HQ ( otherwise known as the Swamp ), have a strong bias towards shopping local, shopping small, and shopping made in USA. It is hard to do all of the above these days, but with care, you can usually hit 1 or 2 out of the 3. In addition, we like to add a 4th category, and that is shop with quality people.

ORR Cycling

Shop Small: Yes — Shop Local: Sorta — Shop Made in USA: No

Today we are profiling a relatively new wheel vendor that fits the ‘Small’ category nicely. They are sorta local, though they do not currently have any retail options, they are based more or less locally in South Carolina. Made in USA, not so much. With the lack of carbon fiber foundries in the US though, it is hard to find on-shore manufacturing for carbon fiber, so while we would normally whine about the off shore fabrication, we understand the market realities here, so while not a full pass, they get a partial pass.

We didn’t start off searching for a smaller wheel vendor. Like many people, our first pass at carbon wheels was with a large brand that is well known. Those wheels are very good, but at those prices, you do not want to ride them every day. At the expo for IM Chattanooga 70.3 2015, we met Jason Williamson (and his lovely wife and new baby) of ORR Cycling. At the expo, we had a chance to chat for a while, and that is where Jason did a great job of articulating what he and his brother wanted to accomplish.

In short, the mission is to build and sell a quality carbon fiber wheel set that is race ready, at a price that can be used as an every day wheel.

I was not ready to pull the trigger to give them a shot at the time, but after the race and some challenges with my big name wheels, Jason’s pitch kept percolating in the brain. The more I thought about it, the more interested I became. It took about a month, but eventually I gave him a call, and purchased a set of his wheels to give them a try. That said, at the time, Jason did all the right things from a customer service perspective. With the death of customer service in most industries, that was a truly refreshing start.

The wheels arrived promptly, and in true bike nerd fashion, within an hour of arriving home that evening, cassette, tubes and tires were mounted, and the wheels found their way onto the bike.

Clean and Ready to Roll

On a side note, these are not the first deep profile/aero wheels to find their way onto this bike, but they are the first that did not require an hour of adjusting the rear brakes to make them work without an almost zero tolerance configuration. Unlike almost every major competitor, the width of the wheel at the brake track is almost identical to the 23mm width that is the standard for many ‘stock’ wheels, while most of the aero wheels are as wide as 26mm at the brake track. Not unexpected, but there was a tiny bit of adjustment required to get the shifting back to where I prefer.

A month later, the wheels have seen about 800 miles of wear and tear, in a wide mix of conditions, including a race on broad range of road surfaces (brand new asphalt, really crappy old asphalt, concrete, tar snake encrusted asphalt, and my personal favorite, WTF is this / who put this speed bump in the middle of my race way) these wheels have answered the call. Solid performance with a minimum of flex even when being pushed hard up an 11% grade. In reality, the ONLY negative on the wheel so far has been the one tube change on the side of the road, and this is not really a wheel problem per se. The tires are a VERY tight fit, and while most of time, I can change a tube quickly (under 6 minutes), it took closer to 10 minutes for me to make the change simply because I had to work harder to get the tire bead over the rim. This is not a bad thing really, but it is worth noting.

So here we are, a month later, and my verdict on ORR Cycling is simply this. Excellent customer service. Great people. Good product at a great price point. How good? well, the plan is to pick up another set with a shallower profile to use on the road bike as it’s every day wheels. Yes, folks, I like them that much. I have already recommended them to a couple of buyers, and will continue to do so.