Apr 252022

So, over the week leading up to the Easter long week-end, a package I ordered way back in late January made its way from northern Finland via Perth to Brisbane and landed on my door-step the Thursday we headed to Imbil.

That’s timing for you… thankfully not that wet this last week-end, and in any case, I had a stomach bug which precluded me from wearing any single-piece clothing as I was running to the loo on a frequent basis. With that week-end (and the stomach bug) behind me, I finally had a close look at this outfit. These are some detail shots of the suit I ordered, there’s of course more general shots on the supplier’s website. The outfit is made by AJ Group who are based in Konin in the central-west of Poland.

I haven’t tried going for a ride in it yet, but it had been raining this morning, and I needed to clear a couple of clogged drains. This outfit is perfect for the job even in Brisbane’s somewhat humid weather.

Weather conditions this morning were overcast with light showers, 20.1°C and 84% relative humidity. No action shots on this occasion. I felt warm, but didn’t feel like I was going to start sweating heavily. That said, I probably wouldn’t want the temperature up much higher than it already was. In intermittent sunny/showery weather, I’d get steamed, no question.

In my case, I needed to clear bundles of leaves that were blocking the water from clean flow, ordinarily I’d be trying to do it with my foot, but here I could just kneel right in the gutter and get stuck into it. Drain was cleared in seconds and I stayed perfectly dry.

I found the hood, due to the thicker material, benefits from wearing a cap of some description underneath for head tracking. Or you can pull a helmet or something down over the top of the hood then it’ll track without issues. The hood can be pulled down but it’ll want to sit up and interfere with anything you’re wearing on your head, so you’re better off just leaving it up unconditionally unless it’s really bothering you.

Mikko (who runs rainwear.store) comments on his site that the gloves generally mean the wearer isn’t able to operate capacitive touchscreens. I guess mileage may vary. First time I tried it on, I did a brief check and found indeed, while my tablet touchscreen worked fine, the phone was unresponsive. However, on subsequent (longer) trials, I’ve observed the phone does in fact work.

The trick seems to be not having your hands too dry when you put the outfit on — a little moisture on your hands helps the conductivity needed for the touchscreen controller to sense your finger. Mileage of course may vary: I don’t use screen protectors or covers on any of my devices, which may be helping the sensitivity of the capacitive sensors, but in general I found I was able to do most things I could do with bare hands. The gloves could be a size smaller to be honest, size 9 (the smallest offered) is on the big size, but thankfully not too big to make things clumsy. They’re made by Showa, not sure what exact model they are or where they are made (they appear to be EU-based as well).

Typing on a physical keyboard is slowed down, but not impossible, multi-touch pointing devices still work (or at least the one on my Panasonic CF-53 does).

The boots are reasonably comfortable — in fact I think they fit better than any other boots I own. I wear orthodics for a high-arch and these fit well. I’m not sure who manufactures them, but they have “Made in the EU” stamped on the sole, so they’re somewhere in Europe.

The fabric is heavier than what I’m used to with the other rain overalls I have, but it’s not unbearably heavy for the task. This suit has pockets on the outside of the legs — this is a special extra.

The thinking was it’d be somewhere to keep a phone/wallet/keys if I’m out on a check-point in the weather. If I go wading into water, obviously I’m going to have to empty these pockets, and in fact, punching a couple of small drainage-holes on the outer wall of each pocket may be prudent so that they don’t fill with water… but in practice it’s rare that I’d be entering that depth of water. The positioning of them is perhaps lower than I’d like, with the ideal being waist-height — but given most come with no pockets at all, this is a big bonus. Another position I guess would be a large pouch across the stomach like some hooded jumpers. Next time I guess.

In short though, very much worth a look. I’ll know more when I try them out on the bike.

Jan 222022

Well, some might recall a few years ago I was trying ideas for cycle clothing, and later followed up with some findings.

My situation has changed a bit… the death of a former work colleague shook me up quite a bit, and while I have been riding, I haven’t been doing it nearly as much. Then, COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

Suffice to say, my commute is now one side of the bedroom to the other. Right at this moment, I’m in self-imposed lockdown until I can get my booster shot: I had my second AstraZenica shot on the 4th November, and the Queensland Government has moved the booster shots to being 3 months after the second shot, so for me, that means I’m due on the 4th February. I’m already booked in with a local chemist here in The Gap, I did that weeks ago so that the appointment would be nailed to the floor, and thus currently I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that appointment goes ahead on-time.

I haven’t been on the bike much at all. That doesn’t mean though that I stop thinking about how I can make my ride more comfortable.

Castle Clothing Coveralls

Yes, I’m the one clad in yellow far left.

They had quite few positives:

  • They were great in wet weather
  • They were great in ambient temperatures below 20°C
  • The pocket was handy for storing keys/a phone/a wallet
  • They had good visibility day and night
  • They keep the wind out well. (On the Main Range, Threadbo Top Station was reporting 87km/hr wind gusts that day.)

But, they weren’t without their issues:

  • They’re (unsurprisingly) no good on a sunny summer’s day (on the day that photo was taken, it was borderline too hot, weather prediction was for showers and those didn’t happen)
  • They’re knackered after about 30 washes or so: the outer waterproof layer peels off the lining
  • In intermittent rain / sunshine, they’d keep you dry during the rainy bit, but when the sun came out, you’d get steamed

To cap it off, they’re no longer being manufactured. Castle Clothing have basically canned them. They’ve got a plain yellow version with no stripes, but otherwise, nothing like their old product. I wound up buying 4 of them in the end… the first two had to be chucked because of the aforementioned peeling problem, the other two are in good condition now, but eventually they’ll need replacement.

Mammoth Workwear do have some alternatives. The “Supertouch” ones I have tried, they’re even shorter lived than the Castle ones, and feel like wearing a plastic bag. The others are either not night-time visible, or they’re lined for winter use.

So, back to research again.

Zentai suits?

Now, I know I’ve said previously I’m no MAMIL… and for the most part I stand by this. I did try wearing a stinger suit on the bike once… on the plus side they are very breathable, so quite comfortable to ride in. BUT, three negatives with stinger suits:

That got me thinking, what’s the difference between a stinger suit and an open-face zentai suit? Not a lot. The zentai suit, if it has gloves, can be bought as a “mitten” or (more commonly) a proper multi-finger glove version. They come in a lot more colours than a stinger suit does. They’re about the same price. And there’s no logos, just plain colours (or you can do various patterns/designs if that’s your thing).

A downside is that the zipper is at the back, which means answering calls from nature is more difficult. But then again, some stinger suits and most wetsuits also feature a back-entry.

I’ve got two coming to try the idea out. I suspect they’ll get worn over other clothing, I’ll just duck into a loo, take my shirt off, put the zentai suit on, then jump on the bike to ride to my destination… that way my shirt isn’t soaked with sweat. We’ll see.

One is a black one, which was primarily bought to replace one of the stinger suits for swimming activities, but I can also evaluate the fabric too (it is the usual lycra material).

The other is a silver one (thus a lycra/latex blend), to try out the visibility — it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s somewhat water-repellent due to the latex mix in the material, and see what effect this has on sweat.

Both of these are open-face! You should never try swimming with a full-face zentai suit. I can’t imagine getting caught in the rain ending well either, and the ability to see where you’re going is paramount when operating any vehicle (especially a bicycle)!

They’ll turn up in a week or two, I can try them out then. Maybe won’t be the final solution, but it may answer a few questions.

Heavy Wet/Cold weather gear

So, with the lighter-weight class out of the way, that turns my attention to what to do in truly foul weather, or just bitterly cold weather.

Now, let me define the latter: low single digits °C. Possibly with a westerly breeze carrying it. For some reading this, this will feel like a hot summer’s day, but for those of us in Brisbane, temperatures this low are what we see in the middle of winter.

The waterproof overalls I was wearing before worked well in dry-but-cold weather, however I did note my hands copped the cold… I needed gloves. The ends of the legs also could get tangled with the chain if I wasn’t careful, and my shoes would still get wet. Riggers boots work okay for this, but they’re hard to come by.

I happened to stumble on Sujuvat ratkaisut Oy, who do specialist wet-weather clothing meant for Europe. Meeko (who runs the site) has a commercial relationship with a few manufacturers, notably AJGroup who supply the material for a lot of Meeko’s “extreme” range.

The suits are a variant of PVC, which will mean they’re less breathable than what I have now, but should also mean they’re a lot more durable. There’s a decent range of colours available, with many options having the possibility of reflective bands, attached gloves and attached wellington boots. It’s worth noting the BikeSuit (no longer available) I was looking at 8 years ago was also a PVC outfit.

In the winter time, the big problem is not so much sweat, but rather, sweat being hit by wind-chill. Thus I’m ordering one of the Extreme Drainage Coveralls to try them out.

I’ve seen something similar out of AliExpress, however the options there are often built for the Chinese market… so rarely feature size options that fit someone like myself. Most of the Chinese ones are dark colours, with one “tan”-coloured option listed, and a couple of rubber ones that were lighter colours (a dark “pink”, and a yellow). Some of the rubber ones also had a strange opening arrangement: a tube opening in the stomach, which you pulled yourself through, then clamped shut with a peg. Innovative, but looks very untidy and just begging to get caught in something! I’ll stick with something a bit more conventional.

The coverall I’m ordering will be a 500g/m² white fabric… so about twice the weight of my current Castle workwear overalls (which are about 330g/m²), and will have the gloves and boots attached. I’m curious to see how that’s done up close, and see how it works out in my use case.

Being a white rather than a yellow/orange will make them less visible in the day time, but I suspect this won’t be much of an issue as it’s night-time visibility I’m particularly after. Also, being white instead of a “strong” fluro colour will likely be better at horse endurance rides, as horses tend to react to fluro colours.

The zip arrangement intrigues me as well… it’s been placed up high so that you can pretty much wade into water up to your chest and not get wet. There’s a lighter-weight option of the same suit, however with fewer options for colours. If the extreme version doesn’t work out for cycling, I might look at this alternative (the bike doesn’t react to strong colours like a horse does).

There’s about a 2-month lead-time on this gear because it’s made-to-order, a reasonable trade-off given you get to more-or-less get it made exactly how you want it. Looking around, I’m seeing off-the-shelf not-customisable outfits at AU$400 a pop, €160 (~AU$252) is looking a good option.

The fact that this is being run as a small side-hustle is commendable. I look forward to seeing the product.

Aug 082014

Well, after my initial post about my experiment, I’ve collected a bit more information and I think I’ve settled on a solution and come up with a hypothesis of what’s going on.

Disposable coveralls

As I suspected, the disposible overalls did have a problem in the longevity department. Not a big one mind you. One pair got ripped when the leg brushed up against the corner of a drawer. Fixable with some tape. A few weekends back I wore them cycling from The Gap to Logan Central and back. This is a ~82km round trip (81.56 to be exact), and represents a fairly rigorous test. They got home intact, but the tape on the seams was starting to come adrift.

I also performed a shower-test on both these and the SMS fabric ones. The MP4 ones passed with flying colours. No seepage other than where I had made ventilation holes: and that could be fixed with a storm flap. My “poor-man’s bikesuit” idea could still work.

So the MP4 ones I have, good for emergencies, I’ll continue to carry a pair just in case.  They roll up to something the size of a drink bottle, and contribute bugger all weight, so for those times I am wearing normal clothes, they’ll be great to toss over when the weather turns foul.

SMS fabric? Good in very light and brief showers only. If it’s prolonged heavy showers for anything more than about 30 seconds you’ll get drenched.

It’d be interesting to have a closer look at the Tyvek ones originally recommended.  I might investigate at some point.

Breathalon Spray Suit

So I went back to the Breathalon spray suit, which, having bought it in 2008, is now starting to look a bit frayed, particularly around the hood.  That, and there’s my attempt at adding pocket access.  I do raise a sweat, but it’s minor, and soon evaporates when I stop. I find I’m a lot more comfortable.

How is this so though? Common sense would suggest I’d sweat like a pig! The material is breathable, and so the vapour can escape. If they’re loose enough, there is also a small wind current to draw vapour out. Crucially though, being non-porous, they do not absorb my sweat, and so I don’t have the wind-chill effect of sweaty clothing.  The key here is to have minimal clothing underneath that might absorb the sweat, as this then relies on your body heat to dry it out, and will take longer.

My nits with these?

  • The zip is one-way.  However you can ignore the zip and just use the velcro storm flap as a fly.
  • No pockets at all.
  • The hood isn’t well shaped, doesn’t track one’s head movement very well, and I found the elastic caused it to obstruct my field of view
  • The yellow colour is great for daytime high visibility, but there are no reflective bands for night use.  (I tried using self-adhesive ones, they didn’t stick very well.)

Otherwise, they’re durable and lightweight.

Castle Clothing Coveralls

I mentioned these in my last post.  Well, I bit the bullet, I bought a pair, something which also necessitated me getting a Visa card for the first time in my life (I can highly recommend these as a payment method).  I tossed up between this and buying another Breathalon spray suit, Mammoth Work Wear had these for £40 plus about £30 shipping, this worked out to be under AU$140.  The Breathalon suits are $150+ without shipping.

A heads up with the Mammoth Work Wear site: ignore the sizing advice they give in the drop-down box, you want to pay attention to the sizing chart table below.  The drop-down box suggested I’d be a size L, whereas the table suggested XL.  I went XL and they’re a perfect fit.

Fedex had estimated they’d arrive on Monday, they actually arrived this afternoon.  So I tried them out on the ride home tonight.

I sweat a little more, but not significantly so.  If anything, the lining means I don’t notice them sticking so much, so in that regard they’re more comfortable.  When I got home, yes there was moisture, but I wasn’t dripping, nor did I suddenly feel cold.

They feature a two-way zip (good), with press-studs on the storm flap (not so good, velcro worked better).  The hood (not a concealed hood, which IMO is a plus) is excellent, tracking my head movement very well, sits forward far enough to keep rain off one’s face, and doesn’t block my vision.  It didn’t pose a problem with the helmet either, keeping out of the way and didn’t impede movement or significantly muffle sound.

There is one pocket on the left at the front.  Too low to be considered a “breast” pocket, but well above the waistline.  They could use an identical one on the other side, and perhaps some side pockets, as I find I’ve got nowhere to put my hands.  That said, it’s a generously sized one.  You could fit a 7″ tablet in there no problems, so can easily fit a wallet, phone and keys.

The test will be longevity, and the summer humidity.  They look well-made so we’ll see.

Jul 192014

My only mode of transport these days is a bicycle.  I might get lifts from other people on occasion, but normally I ride everywhere.

It’s a great way to get around, good form of exercise, cheap and whilst I won’t be breaking any speed records, it’s not overly time consuming.  I spend more time waiting for buses and trains than I do getting places on the bike.  The downside is what to wear whilst cycling.  For cycling use, car drivers have a hard enough time seeing a cyclist as it is, so I feel safer if I’m at the very least, light-coloured, ideally day/night high visibility compliant with AS/NZS 4602:1999.  I’ve been cycling as my main mode of transport now for nearly 5 years, and over this time I’ve tried a number of things for clothing.

Regular clothing

“Normal” clothing, was naturally what I started out with.  What I find is that it quickly wears out, particularly trousers, when subjected to this sort of treatment.  The cycling movement puts a lot of stress in the crutch and thus, I find they give out within a year or two.

Cycling is also very physical, so one will sweat a lot.  So at the very least you’ll want a shirt to wear cycling, and another to change into when you get to your destination.  The high-visibility polo shirts work well for this, they’re cheap and lightweight, keep the sun off well without being too hot.

Work clothing

By this I mean industrial work clothing.  After finding that my trousers were wearing out at an alarming rate, I decided I’d go for more industrial type clothing.

I hate wearing belts, so I looked around and bought some overalls.  My preference is for ones that have a front zip.  A bloody pain in the arse to find in this country!  The likes of King Gee, Bisley, Worksense and many others tend to make those sorts for markets like in NZ, but over here they tend to sell only stud-fastening ones which I find are more time consuming to fasten.  A zip: you’re done in about 2 seconds, studs you’ll be clipping them together for about 10.  But I digress…

The ones I found were medium-weight ones, 290gsm or something like that.  In the winter, they’re okay, but once the fabric gets soaked with sweat one’s body temperature then becomes rather uneven.  In summer they’re often too hot to consider.

Lighter-weight ones might fare better in the sweat stakes, not sure about durability.  Given the high cost ($70~$120 a pair) I’ll just have to keep looking.

Ones made out of the same material as the high-visibility polo shirts could work well, no idea where to find them though if they exist.

Seeking the all-weather cycling suit

Some at this point would be screaming at me “why not lycra”?  Well, I’ve never been a fan of lycra and have no intention of becoming a MAMIL.

One evening coming home a few weeks ago, we had some very windy weather. It’s mid-winter right now, and this wind was going right through me. My clothes were wet with sweat, and with the wind, made the cold weather that much worse.

This got me thinking: what have I got or can I get, that will block the wind, without making me sweat ridiculous amounts?  It’s presently winter, and so now’s a good time to go try an experiment, and see how they fare as the weather patterns shift towards the more humid summer weather.  If I’m still wearing this clothing in July 2015, I’ll be onto something.

Breathalon spray coveralls

I had some Breathalon coveralls lying around, previously I had worn these in wet weather, and found they are not bad.

I bought this pair for about $15 off eBay, but they’re rare as hens teeth. One company sells them for about the AU$150 mark. So not the cheapest, amongst my gripes is that they’re not the most comfortable fit and they have a one-way zip which is an annoyance when nature calls. Apart from that though, they’re a bright yellow, and they’re breathable.

The other gripe I have is no pockets: this particular pair I tried cutting access slits in to gain access to the pockets in my trousers. This proved to be unwise, they now leak in wet weather, so I’ll have to look at sealing those slits somehow.

I tried them one week: I found I sweat less than I did wearing other clothing. With just a lycra stinger suit underneath, I got to work mostly dry and comfortable. This was in dry weather. Summer humidity might be another matter, but in bright sunny winter weather, they were fine. However, they’re very hard to get hold of, and are still quite expensive.

That said, they’re probably 60% of the way there.

Disposable clothing

With the above experiment being largely successful, I considered what else would make the grade. The Breathalon coveralls were okay, but they lacked some features. Could I find some material and make my own?

Will Rietveld provided the inspiration for a cheap alternative: Tyvek coveralls. These are about AU$10 a pair, are generally white in colour (okay, not strictly daytime high-vis, but at least not black like motorcycle rainsuits), very lightweight and were apparently not much different to the old Gore Tex for breathability.

Before doing this, I did some research.  I had seen these before but had dismissed the idea thinking, they’re disposable, surely they won’t last!  Looking around, I found Barefoot Jake’s article which gave them the thumbs up, and Ken K’s forum post giving them the thumbs down.  In the forum post, the comment was the failure was in the seams.  The other two articles mention taping the seams to prevent this problem.

For the cost I thought it worth giving a go. There are a few different fabrics used in this sort of clothing. Tyvek being just one.  They’re usually described in therms of protection classes.

Class 6 coveralls tend to be very flimsy, made from single layered polypropylene and are by far the cheapest at ~AU$5 a pair.  You can just about see through them, wind and water will pass right through.  Maybe you can get some in a bright colour, in which case they’re about as good as a high-vis vest.  For keeping wind and water out: useless.

Class 5 coveralls are made from slightly heavier material such as SMS fabric and are more expensive (~AU$8 a pair).  They’re more opaque (although you can still see clothing through these), will repel water and light spray and block a small amount of wind.  If you’re like me, and a bit self-conscious, you could wear these over the top of more conventional cycle clothing.

I found that water will pool on the fabric, and they are a bit more breathable.  However, the slight transparency is a little disconcerting.  They’re worth a look.

Class 4 coveralls are used for things like asbestos removal.  Materials vary, but in amongst these are the Tyvek ones recommended by Wll’s article.  They can be had for about AU$10 a pair.

I decided to start with these, buying 3 pairs of these.  I noted the fact that the seams were taped a bright orange.  The fact they were taped seemed to suggest that someone had noticed this particular failure mode and had taken particular attention to the problem.  These ones I think are the Hazguard MP4 type material, similar to Tyvek, but with a plastic-like coating.

As I’m after a single-piece suit, I dispensed with the scissors.  When I got home, I tried grabbing a pair, turning a tap on and running the water over them to see what the waterproofing was like.  The water pooled, running my hand under the pool did not reveal any leaks.  So from that perspective, they should do exactly what I’m after.

Things were getting draughty outside so I put the pair on, and after wearing them for a few hours basically just pottering around the house, I hadn’t broken out into a ball of sweat, so breathability was there, a PVC suit would have had me sweating like a pig by then.  I wore them on my way into work to try them out.

First experiments with Class 4 coveralls

First thing that became apparent: as I cycled, the back part ballooned out.  Not necessarily a bad thing, as it made me very obvious to drivers by enlarging my apparent size.  Pedalling appeared to act like a pump, pushing air into the suit, and the air appeared to be trapped.  Like in Will’s experiment, I found that I was starting to sweat after about 20 minutes, and when I got to work, I was noticably more sweaty.  However, it was just humidity, I didn’t feel like I was overheating, nor did I feel cold when the wind blew.

So not quite there, but close.  I can buy Tyvek material on a roll cheap enough, so maybe with some work, we can improve on this.

Class 5 coveralls experiment

Since the humidity really did build up quickly, I thought maybe there was something a little more breathable.  I bought a pair of coveralls that were an SMS-type fabric.  The seems are not taped, and so I suspect these will probably have a blow out at some point.  I did the same waterproofness test and found the water pooled there also, however they’re considered splash resistant, so I suspect the water would seep through eventually.

It was at this point I noticed they were slightly more transparent.  So the following Monday I cycled in them, with one of my lycra stinger suits underneath.  I got to work, not quite as sweaty as the previous week, but still with a noticeable amount of moisture.

One hypothesis: with the Breathalon suit, I also had my stinger suit underneath.  Maybe that was helping by soaking up the sweat rather than letting it bead up on my skin, and allowing it to be more efficiently evaporated?

Class 4 + stinger suit

I tried the stinger suit underneath the class 4 coveralls, and found that the amount of sweat hadn’t changed.  In fact, doing this made things worse, the moist air didn’t dissipate fast enough and once I cooled down, the cold sweat kept me a little too cool.  Without the stinger suit, I’d eventually dry out inside the coveralls after about 15 minutes, but with the stinger suit, I was still damp after 30.

Alternative options

So I hit the web again.  Was the answer to buy another pair of spray coveralls like the Breathalon pair?  There aren’t too many options around here in Australia.  Elliots did make some out of their Zetel material, but they’ve stopped making those (pity, they had pockets!).  Castle Clothing over in the UK make something that looks ideal.  Alas, I tried emailing them to see if they had an Australian distributor — I’m yet to hear back.

Neither of these options are meant for cycling.  Looking around I saw the BikeSuit.  Clearly Olaf Wit had a similar idea, and actually got his to production.  A few comments:

  • The bikesuit comes in one colour: black.  There are some reflective stripes, so I guess that’s kinda class N (night-time: i.e. reflective) high visibility, but I’d like class D (daytime: i.e. bright colour) too.  In fact, if I had to choose between them, I’ll take class D over class N.
  • The idea of using ventilation to prevent sweat build-up looks like just what the doctor ordered.  That said, wearing this over regular clothes — I sweat in regular clothes without any waterproof gear over the top, surely this will not improve the situation?
  • The suit packs up into a bag about the volume of two soccer balls.
  • Watching the video, it appeared clumbersome to put on.  There are zips everywhere.  The fellow takes it out of its bag at time 0:20.  At 0:50, he’s still adjusting things.  10 seconds later, he’s ready to start cycling.
  • They cost over US$340.  Sure breathable and durable fabric can be expensive, but Ouch!

The class 4 coveralls: I timed myself, and it took me about 50 seconds and I was zipped up.  I had work boots on at the time which I did not remove.  About the only thing BikeSuit has over the dispsable coveralls, is ventilation, durability and built-in shoe covers.  It loses on price, availability and visibility.

Poor man’s “bike suit”?

That got me thinking, could I turn these coveralls into a poor man’s bike suit?  I observed how the back of my coveralls ballooned out, what if I made some ventilation holes?

I tried making 10 small holes just below the line of elastic at the back.  I covered the area over with plastic tape first to give the material some re-enforcing, then punched the holes.  The next day I got to work, not quite sweat free, but certainly much dryer than before.  About on par with my experiment in the Breathalon suit.

I’m thinking if I cut a slit horizontally about 30cm long, then glue (sewing is not good with Tyvek) a triangular patch of mesh fabric maybe 40cm wide and 60cm tall to the inside, that would allow the coveralls to vent.  Fold the material over at the bottom so the bottom of the slit is covered by a layer of material, or use some sheet Tyvek to make a flap, and I think I might be onto a low-cost alternative.  Tier Gear sell sheet Tyvek, so a metre or two of that would suffice for adding the extra flaps needed.

As for day/night high visibility: they exist.  More expensive obviously, but they do exist.

The only real question is one of durability.  Thankfully these things pack up so small and are lightweight enough, I can have a spare pair on the bike for wardrobe malfunction emergencies.  They should be good for WICEN events too: often I’m out on a checkpoint in the wind and rain.  Time will be the ultimate test, we shall see.

Jan 052013

Those who have met me, might notice I have a somewhat unusual taste in clothing. One thing I despise is having clothes that are heavily branded, especially when the local shops then charge top dollar for them.

Where hats are concerned, I’m fussy. I don’t like the boring old varieties that abound $2 shops everywhere. I prefer something unique.

The mugshot of me with my Vietnamese coolie hat is probably the one most people on the web know me by. I was all set to try and make one, and I had an idea how I might achieve it, bought some materials I thought might work, but then I happened to be walking down Brunswick Street in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and saw a shop selling them for $5 each.

I bought one and have been wearing it on and off ever since. Or rather, I bought one, it wore out, I was given one as a present, wore that out, got given two more. The one I have today is #4.

I find them quite comfortable, lightweight, and most importantly, they’re cool and keep the sun off well. They are also one of the few full-brim designs that can accommodate wearing a pair of headphones or headset underneath. Being cheap is a bonus. The downside? One is I find they’re very divisive, people either love them or hate them — that said I get more compliments than complaints. The other, is they try to take off with the slightest bit of wind, and are quite bulky and somewhat fragile to stow.

I ride a bicycle to and from work, and so it’s just not practical to transport. Hanging around my neck, I can guarantee it’ll try to break free the moment I exceed 20km/hr… if I try and sit it on top of the helmet, it’ll slide around and generally make a nuisance.

Caps stow much easier. Not as good sun protection, but still can look good.   I’ve got a few baseball caps, but they’re boring and a tad uncomfortable.  I particularly like the old vintage gatsby caps — often worn by the 1930’s working class.  A few years back on my way to uni I happened to stop by a St. Vinnies shop near Brisbane Arcade (sadly, they have closed and moved on) and saw a gatsby-style denim cap going for about $10. I bought it, and people commented that the style suited me. This one was a little big on me, but I was able to tweak it a bit to make it fit.

Fast forward to today, it is worn out — the stitching is good, but there are significant tears on the panelling and the embedded plastic in the peak is broken in several places. I looked around for a replacement, but alas, they’re as rare as hens teeth here in Brisbane, and no, I don’t care for ordering overseas.

Down the road from where I live, I saw the local sports/fitness shop were selling those flat neoprene sun visors for about $10 each.  That gave me an idea — could I buy one of these and use it as the basis of a new cap?

These things basically consist of a peak and headband, attached to a dome consisting of 8 panels.  I took apart the old faithful and traced out the shape of one of the panels.

Now I already had the headband and peak sorted out from the sun visor I bought, these aren’t hard to manufacture from scratch either.  I just needed to cut out some panels from suitable material and stitch them together to make the dome.

There are a couple of parameters one can experiment that changes the visual properties of the cap.  Gatsby caps could be viewed as an early precursor to the modern baseball cap.  The prime difference is the shape of the panels.

Measurements of panel from old cap

The above graphic is also available as a PDF or SVG image.  The key measurements to note are A, which sets the head circumference, C which tweaks the amount of overhang, and D which sets the height of the dome.

The head circumference is calculated as ${panels}×${A} so in the above case, 8 panels, a measurement of 80mm, means a head circumference of 640mm.  Hence why it never quite fitted (58cm is about my size) me.  I figured a measurement of about 75mm would do the trick.

B and C are actually two of three parameters that separates a gatsby from the more modern baseball cap.  The other parameter is the length of the peak.  A baseball cap sets these to make the overall shape much more triangular, increasing B to about half D, and tweaking C to make the shape more spherical.

As for the overhang, I decided I’d increase this a bit, increasing C to about 105mm.  I left measurements B and D alone, making a fairly flattish dome.

For each of these measurements, once you come up with values that you’re happy with, add about 10mm to A, C and D for the actual template measurements to give yourself a fabric margin with which to sew the panels together.

As for material, I didn’t have any denim around, but on my travels I saw an old towel that someone had left by the side of the road — likely an escapee.  These caps back in the day would have been made with whatever material the maker had to hand.  Brushed cotton, denim, suede leather, wool all are common materials.  I figured this would be a cheap way to try the pattern out, and if it worked out, I’d then see about procuring some better material.

Below are the results, click on the images to enlarge.  I found due to the fact that this was my first attempt, and I just roughly cut the panels from a hand-drawn template, the panels didn’t quite meet in the middle.  This is hidden by making a small circular patch where the panels normally meet.  Traditionally a button is sewn here.  I sewed the patch from the underside so as to hide the edges of it.

Hand-made gatsbyHand-made gatsby (Underside)

Not bad for a first try, I note I didn’t quite get the panels aligned at dead centre, the seam between the front two is just slightly off centre by about 15mm.  The design looks alright to my eye, so I might look around for some suede leather and see if I can make a dressier one for more formal occasions.