bicycle · bicycling · cap · cycling · diy · hat · sewing

Making a cycling cap

A cycling cap is useful in so many ways. It keeps the hair in place. Sweat is managed. It shades the head and face from direct sun. Can be micro-adjusted to block the glare from oncoming headlights. The sun protection will make your dermatologist happy.  Thin fabric allows it to fit under a helmet. Pulled low over the eyes, it’s how I begin a nap.

Years ago, when my old columbus hat was starting to disintegrate, I knew there would be  difficult search for a replacement. My head is BIG (60cm), and few hats would fit it. And I  was not so keen on wearing a hat covered with commercial advertising. I find the bill on store bought cycling caps is always too small. It was time to figure out how to make a hat that fits me well and has a bigger bill. I have made about 60 of these caps so far. For a person who does not sew much, is not an easy project at first. Your initial caps will not be that great but they quickly improve with practice. I am satisfied with mine now, and they take about 2 hours to make. They last up to a year if you wear it a lot. Make lots, give them as gifts, it’s fun!

Rather than hunting for an online pattern, it made more sense to me to get the pattern from the old cap which I knew actually fit me. So I took it apart and had the perfect pattern right there. This 3 panel style may not be as hard to sew, compared to a more complicated 6 panel hat for instance. I had to figure out the steps of construction myself. There are probably other ways to put it together too. If nothing else, this type of project will help you appreciate the effort and complexity involved in making a garment.

The templates, and cutting the main pieces 

The old hat, disassembled.

I used the pieces of the old hat to make templates for making the new hats. With the visor, I drew an outline of the existing one, and then drew it a little bigger. Because I could.

Above are the current templates I use for my 59cm head. Units shown on the board in this picture are in inches. Templates are cut from picture frame matte board.  When I make a new hat, I just lay the templates down on the new fabric and run a pen (or a sharp white chalk line for dark fabrics) along the edge, and cut along the lines. The templates are all symmetric.
Fabric is cut. The 2 center pieces (middle) will be sewn together. I had to orient the bird pattern so they would be seen as upright on the front and back. With most fabric patterns, the center would be one piece. The yogurt container bill (hard version) sits on top of the 2 pieces of bill fabric; cut wide. You want to have about that much material around the cap visor to work with..

Making the bill; fusible fabric interface, or plastic yogurt container material?

These days, I prefer to use the soft bill version, made of a fusible fabric interface stiffener (Pellon, Pellex ultra-firm 2 sided fusible fabric stiffener is what I use). There are other types of fabric stiffener out there similar to it. You can get this stuff at fabric stores. It’s a lightweight white poly material that you can cut to any shape with scissors. Fusible means there is a glue applied to it which is activated by a hot steamy iron. Fusible on 2 sides is what I want, so that both sides of the bill fabric are securely attached. The resulting bill is durable and washable. I haven’t been able to damage one yet. I can fold the hat bill in half and lay a dictionary on top of it all day. The next day the cap will have no evidence of damage. It won’t crack or assume a permanent distorted shape.

Pellon instructions

But maybe you just wanna recycle that plastic yogurt container for the bill. With the fusible Pellon, you get a more flexible and durable bill, The plastic yogurt container is subject to cracking and digging its way thru the fabric edges over time, but despite this it works well and many cap stiffeners are made with plastic. You can sew lines around the bill and through the plastic to add design and or make a better connection.

The plastic bill stiffener I cut from a 32oz plastic yogurt container. The container is just big enough for a generous sized lightweight bill, and I rough cut a slightly larger size out of it. I set the orientation using the natural curve of the plastic, but get it mostly flattened out with an iron, set on low. The natural curve of it is too much, more like a baseball cap. If an excessive curve returns (like from having it scrunched up in a pocket), I can always iron it flatish again. I don’t iron the plastic directly of course; I put a piece of fabric on top of it first.  It takes just a minute or 2 of ironing on medium, and I let it cool down with a book on top of it for 5 minutes, so it will have a slight curve when it cools off. Iron mostly the sides, not the center; if you apply too much heat to the center, the bill gets distorted.

Above represents steps in making a plastic bill. Start with a yogurt/cottage cheese container (top). Cut out an oversize part of it that is the general shape of the bill you want. Iron it flattish (cover with fabric, iron on low for a minute or 2, mostly on the sides, not the center. If you put too much heat in the center it may distort.  Cover it with a book for 5 minutes and then check it. It should look slightly curved, like the 2 examples on the bottom of the picture.
After ironing, I trace the finished visor line on the rough cut yogurt container material with the brim template, and I cut it to its finished size. I make the plastic visor ends rounded so they aren’t as likely to cut into the fabric. Then I make a chalk line of the visor edge on the fabric visor material. Then I sew the 2 pieces of visor fabric together. 


Here I am cutting  fabric that will be the top and bottom of the bill, leaving plenty of extra material to cut away later.
The visor template (white) is on top of 2 pieces of the visor fabric. I draw a chalk line around the visor template onto the fabric, and extend it past the edge, an inch on each side.


Here I sew a straight stitch along the chalk line.
I cut along the stitch line, leaving about a quarter inch of fabric past it. This is the inside of the bill fabric. It will be turned inside out to form a pocket for the bill stiffener.
A cap brim cut from Pellon material




Next I insert the bill, either the hard plastic or the pellon version. I fit it in so that the quarter inch of fabric edge is located under the bill edge; all of it on the underside. This takes some fiddling. I line it up, using the pins, I pull and tuck, so that the edge is as even as I can get it. Looking inside the bill, I can see how good a job I did of getting all the edge material on the underside of the bill. I may need to use my fingernail to pull some of it in place.





After ironing the fabric to the pellon you may see the faint line of the quarter inch of fabric on the underside of the bill (above image). The brim edge is pretty even. I ironed both sides with a hot iron for about 10 seconds each side, and a few blasts of steam.
 Top of the same bill (this is a woolen one) with pellon insert. The inside edge of it is marked with a faint chalk line. I don’t need to sew the inside edge because the fabric is fused to it.
With the plastic yogurt container bill version (above), I do need to sew the visor in the pocket . I go slow, trying to sew right along the edge of the plastic. The sewing machine can sew thru the plastic; and while doing this, that will probably happen. 


Then I trim the inner edge of the fabric so there is about 3/4 of an inch of material beyond the inner visor edge. This material will help absorb sweat.

Sewing the liner to the bill

Now I sew a strip of elastic band liner material along the inside bottom of the visor, slightly overlapping the existing visor stitches. I pull the elastic material just a little bit while sewing, which give it some built-in tension. I go slow, doing several stitches and stopping to reposition as needed. I pay the most attention to where the edge of the liner slightly overlaps the edge of the chalkline. 


The liner is sewn in.  I like to sew it once more, right along the inner edge, because it’s difficult to sew it next to the edge in one pass. If it is not sewn right at the edge, the unattached fabric will create a ledge visible when you flip the cap visor up.
Thats a 26″ long strip of elastic material. Fabric stores sell this by the yard or the roll. This one is probably nylon, and cotton blend versions can be used. There is a nice cotton/rubber strip I like to use. Extra material extends out from one side to use for an elastic strip at the back.

Sewing the 3 cap pieces together


With the bird pattern, I need to sew 2 identical pieces together for the center panel section. Otherwise the birds would be upside down on one of the ends.


Now I am sewing the 3 hat panels together with a simple straight stitch. I go slow, trying to make an even seam; about 1/4 inch. This step takes practice to do well. I always have the side panel on top during this step.
You could use a finishing stitch which would prevent fraying, or just do a straight stitch like I do.  In my experience, caps made from lightweight cotton broadcloth don’t last long enough to benefit from having the edges finished. A loose thread here and there on the inside of the cap is not an issue for me.


Panels sewn, hat is taking shape!

Next I sew the edge of the cap. I roll the inside edge about 1/4 inch and sew all along the edge of the cap.

Putting it all together

Now I need to sew the cap on to the visor. First I center the visor and cap. Above you see a chalk line along dead center of the visor, and a pen dot in the middle of the front edge of the middle cap strip. If it is not well centered, the mistake will be obvious when all is done. I also rubbed a chalk line along the inside edge of the visor to help me sew the curve with accuracy. 
Starting from the center, I sew the cap on just slightly in front of the existing stitches, so no stitching will be visible on the top of the bill.
I don’t want to see the visor stitching when I pull the material back. I see a little of it here in the above picture. I can sew that inside area again, just in front of the existing stitches, to make that stitching disappear on the outside. 
Then I sewed the other side, going from the center to the edge. Cap and visor are connected now.
View underneath.


Now I sew the rest of the elastic band along the inside of the cap. I pull it a little as I sew, to add some built-in tension. You can see how the edges a bit puckered/wavy. This makes the cap gently hold on to my head.


At the back/inside of the cap, I fold 3 layers of elastic together along the length of the back part of the center panel. I pin it in place, and try the hat on, making adjustments to how firmly it holds to my head as needed.


Now I sew the 3 layers along the pin line, on each side. 


Now I stretch the material with the elastic and sew it down the middle. I do the same thing, 2 more times.


I am aiming for an even looking puckered area along the back of the cap, like this.
There are lots of ways to finish the back to get it to hold on to your head. You can make a cutout that a ponytail can go thru, or use velcro, or a strap.
This cap can be adjusted to fit on heads from 54 to 60cm, using the 2 black velcro tabs on the rear. Not the most expert sewing going on here in this cap. I can color the errant stitches over with a black sharpie.
Finished. It fits well and improves with use.
Recent caps from my cycling cap drawer. You can never have too many. 2 of them are made of wool that I got from the $5/lb Pendelton Mills scrap box.


bicycle · cape, raincape, duxback, poncho · carradice · sewing · Uncategorized

Sunbrella rain cape #2

After 2 years and a lot of use, the original Sunbrella plus rain cape started to leak in the areas that see the most abrasion, like the handlebar area and where my arms and hands are. While it remained a protective cape, it didn’t shed water as readily and I could feel and see some water seepage during heavy rains.

Fabric guard 303 is what Sunbrella recommends to renew water repellency. It really works. Water practically jumps off the fabric after application. It’s easy to spray on from the pump sprayer. To apply it you need to have a sunny warm day to do it, at least in the 70s. First wash the fabric (I just used ivory dishwashing soap) and let it dry. Then pump spray it on. Takes a minute. Stand downwind of the strong fumes. It dries quickly and there is no residual fume smell. Outstanding water repellency is the result. I imagine I will need to reapply it once each season from now on if I use it regularly.

My old cape treated with Fabric guard 303 was now functionally like new. But it was discolored from dirt which I could not scrub out, so I made a new cape out of black Sunbrella plus fabric. The black fabric was about 15% heavier. This was odd, because it was the same fabric other than the color. The cape ended up being about 23 oz, compared to 20 oz for the green cape. It seemed to have even greater water repellence than the green material. Giant beads of water just wanted to jump off the stuff. While the new green fabric had great water repellency, the black stuff took this to another level. The new black cape is quite a bit stiffer than the green one. It stands up by itself!

raincape 2

Nothing propping that stiff cape up! Looks like a giant wizard hat.


It is a sturdy tent-like shelter against whatever form of falling water or debris I can pedal in; mist, rain, sleet, hail, etc. A reflective stripe was sewn in along the lower edge and along the collar. I like how sturdy it feels, and how it drapes. It is more than worth the extra weight.

Below, rolled up. Considering that it replaces a jacket, pants, and waterproof gloves, it’s not really that big or heavy.


The next cape; Sunbrella supreme?

To take this cape to the next level would be to use Sunbrella supreme fabric, which is completely waterproof and has a flocked interior finish to the fabric. I am guessing that would make a cape which weighs about 26 oz. Periodic waterproofing treatments should not be necessary. The cape would not “breathe”, but air circulation under the cape would be excellent. It might even protect me from falling pianos and cougar attacks. Thats a project for another year.



2 speed folder redux

New frame for the 2 speed folder

After riding my 2 speed folder around Mt Hood last year (168 miles, 10,500 ft climbing, 15 hours) it struck me that this versatile bike has a lot of potential, and worthy of a specific build of its own. The frame was left over from a previous frame upgrade project. I needed to bend the rear end of it from 135mm to the 110mm width (for the BMX type single speed hub) and I altered the fork to fit the narrower 74mm front hub. That got it on the road, but making a frame from the ground up would make a better, lighter, and smaller (when folded) bike.

The basic design for folding is the same as my previous portable bikes. This 2 speed version, discussed on a previous post  folds down to 28 x 19 x 11″ in one minute. I can put it in my lap on a bus. Makes a solid package that is easy to carry. The new version is one inch shorter when folded, and a pound or so lighter. The current one is about 24lbs and a bit overbuilt. Some tubes on the new one are of a smaller or of a thinner gauge.

This 2 speed format is simple, light, and is really all I need for day rides or commuting. There are 2 chainrings, and one 15 tooth freewheel cog, tensioned by a derailleur that is set to stay positioned below the one cog. The main gear (66″, 52×15) gets me pretty much everywhere. I use the lower gear (48″ 39×15) on longer, steeper hills. I shift it manually by deflecting the chain onto the smaller chainring with my foot, or guiding it into the bigger chainring manually with my finger (while riding usually). The upshift is not as easy; I can do it while riding by reaching down and guiding the chain. But it gets my fingers dirty so I tend to avoid shifting unless I really need to. But having the low gear makes climbing mountain passes so much easier. And there is always one more gear- walking. Sometimes thats a nice change of pace!

The old bike
The old 2 speed folder at Buzzard Point, on my 168 mile day ride this past fall. Mt Hood in the background. Black tote bag hangs from brake levers and straps to head tube.
folded up.jpg
The old one, at a bus stop, with tote bag. It’s way too easy to bail out of a  ride…
The New Bike
Front bag hangs off brake levers, with a lower velcro strap as well. Smaller wheels make a bag like this possible. National forest service colors.
At Council Crest in Portland. The fenders negate most of the weight saving I made.
The most obvious change with this new bike is the triangulated seat post extender.
When folded up, this bike is a steel fortress. I can stand on it without bending/breaking anything. The exterior is mostly just blunt and durable.
Folded up, it’s eleven inches wide. It can sit upright like this, or on its side as seen below. It’s 27 inches tall. I could throw it down a grassy hillside,watching it tumble down to the bottom, and it would probably still look like this. All the components are clamped together.
19.5 inches tall on its side.
Traditional drop bars are what I wanted, and are a necessary part of the design. These are 42mm wide, and a perfect fit around the stuff above above the wheels. One side offers up a flat stable space to rest the folded bike on the ground.

A little video of how I fold it up. Takes about a minute. I made fenders for this one, because I live in Portland, OR, and it rains a lot here. That negated most of the weight savings I managed to accomplish, but it had to be done.

Framebuilders notes:
Here are the numbers and details of the new finished bike: 71 degrees head and seat tube, 42″ wheelbase, 17.5″ chain stay, 13mm fork offset, 10 3/8″ bottom bracket height with 40mm tires. The trail calculates out to 59mm, which is in the same range as big wheel bikes.  Stability with a capitol S.
Fork steerer is a 1″ threadless. Sellwood cycles machined the fork crown and head tube, thanks guys! Brakes are 500 reach side pulls, and frame is designed to have them contact rim at fullest pad extension. This will allow up to a 406/42 tire. A studded Schwalbe winter tire (406-42) fits with about 4mm clearance below the brake. Fenders are set at about 8mm clearance. The rear brake is on the chainstay, so the fender does not have to fit beneath it. For the front brake I made a part brazed to the fork which allows fender attachment on either side of it, so the fender does not need to fit under the brake. Tubing is mostly 4130 cromoly steel from Aircraft spruce, brass fillet brazed. Sleeved joints and most small stuff is silver-soldered. Almost all the tubing is .035″/0.9mm wall thickness. Exceptions are clamping tubes, .058; I try to keep them short. Seat tube is 1 1/4, 7″ long, a beefy .065 wall thing reamed to fit a 1 1/8 seat post extender. Fork blades, dropouts, and head tube are from Nova. Steerer is 1″ .058 cromo tube. The 1″ steerer commonly avaliable for bicycles typically has a thicker lower section, but with the reduced leverage of a shorter fork and my 160lbs I think I can get away with this .058 straight gauge tube (and have been doing so for years). One inch .035″ tubing is used for the truss-like frame part that connects the front and rear of the frame. The whole thing was built using straight edges, squares, and a drawing on a board. I don’t have any frame-building jigs like the pros use. Fork was jigged up on a piece of flat plywood, using squares, shims, and pencil lines.

I took an inch off it’s height by making the seat tube shorter. The rear triangle has a shallower triangulation, and the seat post extender is longer now, but I think it’s plenty strong. I could take another inch off the height because there is room to do that. Maybe for the next one… if that ever happens.
Steel as a frame building material
Why use steel? One reason is that steel is the only material I have the skill to work with. But it may be the ideal material for a bike that will see rough handling. Aluminum and carbon fiber for framing material are lighter, but have compromises I am not willing to accept. Carbon fiber abrades easily;  aluminum needs heat treatment after welding, and the tubes need to be bigger for similar strength. Neither material is a good choice for clamped slip-joints, which are all of my frame connections. Steel just makes sense for a project like this.
Weight considerations
I could drop the weight a little (probably less than a pound) by using the hardened thin wall steel bicycle frame tubes wherever possible, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort. The tubes would be more vulnerable to dents, and working with that stuff is harder for a hobbyist like me. Harder to cut, file, and cold-set, no thanks; straight up aircraft 4130 cromoly works just fine.
Titanium could save some weight on a bike like this, but there are many barriers to using it. It is costly, and many of the tube sizes I would need are unlikely to be available. My design uses a dozen different diameters and gauges of tubing. Also, I don’t have the machine shop to cut the stuff; let alone the equipment or skill to weld it. Using titanium may save a pound or so, but the cost benefit ratio is just not there for me.
Very expensive parts could pare the weight down maybe a couple pounds (carbon crank, titanium seatpost, spokes and bottom bracket, Chris King hubs, carbon rear derailleur). Going tubeless may lighten the wheels a bit. But I am okay with the final weight of 23 lbs (before fenders). If it ever got stolen, that would be a lot of $$$ down the drain. A lighter bike is nice while I am carrying it, but I spend very little time doing that. Most of my bike time is spent riding the thing, and I would hardly notice the difference then.
The old 2 speed was over-built, stronger in areas than necessary. I used some smaller and thinner gauge tubes with the new version, where possible. Ended up saving about 1.5 lbs over the older bike. But the new one still seems durable enough for endless miles on terrain so rough I can’t see because of my shaking eyeballs.
 I remember in the 1970s the general advice for bike buying was to tilt a bike to the side and push against the cranks with your foot to see how springy it was (it was better to do it when the salesperson wasn’t looking). A springy bike would have lightweight tubing and be more fun to ride, where a stiff feeling indicates a heavy bike with no flex. The Schwinn Paramount was springy, while the Varsity felt as unyielding as a concrete wall. My older folder, while not unyielding, was closer to the Varsity, while the new one seems springy enough. The new frame/fork/seat post extender with all its nuts and bolts on it weigh about 7 1/2 pounds, while the old one is 9 lbs. To compare, a good quality butted steel frame (with the steel fork) of a road bike may weigh 6 lbs. The extra weight of this folder is not that much of a compromise, considering this bikes impressive multi-modal capabilities.
Some construction pictures:
A new bike always starts with a fork, and there isn’t anything quite like this one out there.

The side pull brake bolts on to a collar that extends down from the tube which clamps onto the steerer.

backside of the fork crown.

The steerer has a cutout that nestles on top of the brake mount tube. This indexes the steerer-fork connection. Makes putting it together quicker, and if the clamp bolt ever failed, the fork would not rotate.

front of fork, with steerer inside it.
Some bike tubing, getting ready to come together.

Bike frame in progress. Folding chainstay done. The drawing for the bike is on the plywood in the background. The main tubes connecting the front and rear are 1″ diameter .035 wall.

This picture shows the pivoting connection of the chainstays. It allows the rear wheel to fold under; the tire resting against the bottom bracket shell. I had to take this joint apart and re-do it, because it was almost one degree off, making the rear wheel crooked compared to the seat tube line when folded under. I suppose at the time I was not that focused on getting that important joint right. Fixing that was was possible to do with brass fillet brazing. I heated the brass, brushing it away and removed the tube. Then I mitered it correctly and brazed it in place again. If I had welded that joint it would not be possible to fix it.
Now that’s a busy fork, finally finished except for paint. Lots of attachments going on. Brazed on pieces for securing bike parts and fenders are seen. A fender reach-around is visible, providing attachment points for front and rear fender halves while avoiding the caliper brake and the steerer clamping functions. 2 items to the right secure the fork to the side of the folded unit. A short fat tube on the left holds the handlebar stem. 2 small tubes behind the right (your right) fork blade connect the main boom to the inside of the folded bike. Near the dropouts are small curved tubes that accept the front and rear fender struts. Small pinch bolts will hold the struts in place.
frame components painted with one coat of rustoleum.
Principal frame components painted with one coat of rustoleum, against the drawing of the bike on a piece of plywood.
Some details
Non-standard components
It’s built with all standard  off the shelf stuff with the exception of the following: A Phil Wood 74mm 32 hole front hub is used. These may still be available from the company even though it is not seen in the catalogue. Rear hub is Shimano DX, with single 15 tooth freewheel cog. Old grand comp 500 reach brakes. Sun CR18 406 rims. 26.8 seatpost fits perfectly in the 1 1/8 .035 seatpost extender tube. MKS quick-release pedals.
The fenders
My first thought was to just do without them to save weight (and the considerable effort involved in making and fitting them). But that limits how much riding this bike will see by too much. Summer is the only season I can count on dry roads and small chance of rain. I don’t like getting sprayed by dirty road water, so I have to use fenders. I doubt I will ever take them off unless I move to a drier place.
These fenders are flat strips; 1/16″ thick cheap hardware store aluminum strips. I bent them around a paint can to give them a curve. While a curved and rounded fender will deflect the water better, there are advantages to a flat strip. Any objects stuck on the tire are more likely to be ejected out the side, rather than jamming somewhere in the fender space. Cleaning mud out of the fender is much easier; all it takes is a stick.
On the negative side, although I find them as effective as rounded fenders most of the time in keeping me dry, speeding thru standing water can cause spray to escape off the sides. I go slower thru standing water to keep from getting wet. Rounded fenders do a good job of keeping the bike clean; flat fenders less so. Another consideration is that flat fenders may need an extra strut because they are more flexible.
The front fender struts are attached to the fork with pinch bolts. If a stick gets trapped in the wheel, as it rotates it will push against the strut, bending it, and causing the fender to jam against the tire. This could stop the wheel if the strut had a no-slip connection (like an eyelet). But with a pinch bolt connection, the strut will pull away, and not jam the fender against the front wheel. Some over the counter bike shop fenders like the ESGE come with an emergency release built into the struts, in case this occurs.
Seat post extender
seat post extender, with seat post and saddle in it.
Seat post extender, with seat post in it at the upper end, and a wood dowel below.
The new triangulated seat post extender uses only .035 tubing throughout, and is much lighter. The main tube extends into the seat tube only about 2 inches. The rearward part of it is braced against the tube extending from the rear of the seat tube. There is a wooden dowel inside the bottom of it that contacts the ground when the bike is folded , keeping it upright.
The upper part of the seat post extender triangle is silver soldered (vs brass brazed) against the main 1/1/8 .035 tube, to reduce distortion, and allow good seat post fit. It provides a lot of strength where the end of the seat post is.  So far it seems quite stiff and is probably a better design than the previous, heavier, straight post.
Some folding attachment details
I’ll end this post with some photos of the little metal gizmos I made that allow me to fold the bike up quickly and securely. Nothing fancy here, just simple bits that work every time and don’t get in the way. I’ve make a lot of them over the years, trying to improve them with each version. They take a long time to make.
The tube sticking out of the fork crown fits into the rear pivot opening. The fender wrap-around attachment is easily seen.
Rear wheel pivot; wheel folded under. Chain held in place by small rail tab. Rear brake clears chainring by a few millimeters.
A tube with an opening fits into this thing. The screw is turned once, it enters the opening, and the tube along with everything it’s attached to stays there. This secures the truss tubeset. If you understand all that, you are really paying attention.
Close up of the (green) seatpost extender in place. The main tube extends into the seat tube only a couple inches. The rear part braces itself against the rearward tube and aligns the assembly at the same time.
The (green) end of the handlebar stem indexes against the collar that sets the headset adjustment. When I put the handlebar stem in, it’s aligned with the wheel automatically.
That’s a nail with a coin brazed at the end that keeps the lower tubes together. When I put the main truss tubeset into its place, I tighten the clamps. But the lower tube can still pull out a couple millimeters under heavy pedaling because it is under tension (the upper tubes are in compression). So I drop this nail in it to lock it in place. This simple solution has worked great over many of my bikes for tens of thousands of miles.
Pin seen in place here. If I forget to drop the pin in, I can hear it jingle against the tube while riding.
Rear brake, and rear wheel hinge seen.
The 2 items clamped to the seat post hold the seat post assembly against the frame are seen here. Upper post fits into main rear wheel pivot. Lower device pivots up and is captured in its mating tube; then secured by one turn of a bolt.
Front fender. Struts held in place by set screws.
Rear fender. Mudflaps are from a plastic peanut butter container. I added another strut after this picture was taken.

bike ride to boulder lake

Boulder lake, a wilderness lake at the southeast flank of Mt hood, has been a spot I wanted to visit for a long time. I thought it would be a good out-and-back, or overnight ride. It’s a long days ride from Portland, but there is a bus that can give me a boost up from Sandy to Government Camp. I can ride the 20 or so miles to Sandy mostly on the springwater trail, get on the bus, and then get off at Government camp and ride the 15 miles from there to the lake.

The Mt Hood Express bus costs $2 and taking your bike along is free. There is a bike rack in the front that holds 2 bikes, and during the summer months there is a trailer on the back that holds a dozen bikes. Nevertheless, I folded my bike up and put it in the seat next to me because I can. On the one hour ride up the mountain, we stopped in Rhododendron, where we picked up about 6 mt bikers and their bikes. The idea is that you get the bus ride to Timberline and then ride down various trails all the way to Rhododendron, where you can stop at the Dairy Queen, and then do it all again.

The lake itself is in an unspoiled area of the forest that has never been logged or developed, where towering stands of fir, cedar, and hemlock dominate the area.  But it is not (yet) designated as wilderness. That means that you can ride your bike to the lake! I suggest you do so before it gets the wilderness designation it deserves.

Following my planned RideWithGPS loop route I got pizza and a caffeinated drink from the general store at Government Camp, and headed east on 26. The Old Barlow route at mile 3 is paved, and a nice 3 mile alternative to the busy highway. Arriving at Bennet Pass turnoff, I rode to the far end of the lot to start my ride up the dirt Bennet pass road.

The Bennett Pass snopark. With pit toilet. The dirt road is just beyond.
Narrow gravel road works it’s way along a ridgeline with expansive views of Mt Hood


This narrow cliffhanger of a road sees little use.
You need to be rather brave to drive your 4WD on it
The road becomes quite narrow and off camber at spots, with a yawning chasm off the side here and there. It is used as a ski route in the winter, and is also known as the “Terrible Traverse”.


Bonny Meadows campground. Trees, creek, tables. Nobody was there on this perfect late June weekday.
The start of the 2 1/2 mile trail from Bonny Meadows to the lake.
Yes, bikes are allowed, just not the ones with motors.
Windfall trees were very frequent.
I spent a lot of time lugging my bike over obstacles, or doing hike-a-bike over jumbles of rocks. I was able to ride perhaps half of the distance, which was all downhill. This trail is best with a bikepacking setup. Panniers would make it harder to heave the bike over the frequent windfall tree trunks.
I heard pikas (a small furry mammal related to rabbits) squeaking along the bouldery slope on the way to the lake. Check out this short documentary about them.
Boulder Lake
I was alone at the lake on this perfect weekday. It has about 8 primitive camp spots. I suppose it gets more use on the weekend. There is a dirt road leading to it, which ends at a trail on its east side. But the 1 mile of trail hiking reduces the numbers of those who would otherwise visit it.
Leaving the lake the next morning along the trail on the east side, I reached gravel road 4880. Turning right on 4881 (signed: To Hwy 35) pavement resumed for the rest of the route.
Mt Hood forest has lots of narrow paved roads like this one.


I took the bus from Government Camp back to Sandy, and I then rode home. The whole trip took 27 hours.



A pocket respirator for bicyclists

Where I live in Portland, OR, the air is generally clear. There are very few days each year that I consider smoggy, although that’s coming from someone who grew up in the Los Angeles area in the 60s, where on one of the many bad smoggy days, you could only see about halfway down the block..

I want to show you a palm respirator I put together. You can make one too. Grab it when you hear the diesel school bus preparing to pass you, before the noxious cloud descends. But first you must read my diatribe.


We are all exposed to the concentrated toxic fumes of motor vehicles. Cars emit less fumes compared to years past. But when the engine is cold, or an old model car chugs its way past you, the air you are forced to breathe is about to get very unhealthy.

But the worst fumes come from diesel vehicles. You can hear it coming. It sounds like a bucket of bolts rattling, and evolves into an ear-splitting clattering with a whistling sound before it roars by. Next come the poisonous sooty fumes as it passes.

And when the clattering sound of a diesel approaching from behind tells me that I am about to get soaked in a cloud of carcinogenic particulates,  all I can do is try to get a few deep and relatively clean breaths before the deluge. After it passes and I can’t hold my breath any longer, I am forced to breathe the toxic cloud into my lungs. Somehow we just accept these sorts of toxic fumes in our public spaces, even though the technology for drastically reducing diesel exhaust can simply be bolted to the vehicle. It’s painful to see a crowd of children lingering about the school bus, breathing the carcinogenic soot deep into their developing lungs. Here is an interesting primer on diesel air pollution in Oregon.

I grew up in an era where walking or bicycling to school was the usual thing to do. It was the age where nobody used helmets. Or bicycle respirators. My grade school had a bike rack complex that could hold up to a hundred bikes! Even on rainy days there were dozens of bikes there. Today, that school has no bike racks. At all.

Meanwhile, to avoid the toxic fumes we must filter the air we breathe. While big and awkward, a face mask respirator is one option.

This stylish device will eliminate the fear you have of motor vehicle exhaust pipes.

It’s the perfect device for pedaling around Beiging, China, or where the air is uniformly terrible.  I have found the GVS elipse works the best for me when I work around a table saw or in dusty conditions. Low profile and very comfortable. I can pull it down and out of the way easily, as needed, but leaving it on for hours is not a problem.

There are bicycle-specific masks you will find on the internet. They tend to make you look like you are fleeing a hazmat incident, or are preparing to rob a bank. The smaller ones lack an exhalation valve, which is a problem. If you are going to the trouble of filtering your air, you want to do it right.

But I was looking for something to get me through the minute or two after a smoky diesel vehicle passes me until the air clears. So I attached a nasal CPAP nose mask to a single respiratory cartridge. 

A CPAP nasal mask
A nasal CPAP mask nose fitting, with a respirator filter attached. I just taped it on the back. CPAP masks are medical equipment normally sold by prescription. Maybe a medical equipment supplier will sell you or give you just the nose fitting. Or you can find one on craigslist. Or your uncle has a spare.


Taped to a single standard replacement respirator cartridge. A single cartridge is enough. Barely.


When that blue cloud is headed my way, I grab this unit and slap it on my nose, and hold it there every time I inhale. The air I breathe thru my nose then becomes sweet and clear! I exhale thru my mouth.

It’s a bit weird to do this and I have to hold it over my nose with each breath. Doing this leaves only one hand on the handlebar. I ease up on pedaling effort since I don’t want to breathe in thru my mouth. The key is having it accessible, like hanging on the handlebar, or in a top tube bag.
bicycle · bike · carradice · poncho raincape · rain

Making a bicycle rain cape

This is an essay on my experience with various rain capes over the years, and how I came to make one of my own.  


Here is a guy who is doing it right. Bike has fenders; cape drapes over handlebars covering hands and legs, and it fits him very well with minimal flapping in the wind. Carradice DuxBack cape pictured.

It took many years of riding bikes in the rain before I eventually gave the rain cape a serious try. Having tried all sorts of expensive Goretex or H2O-No jacket and pants, and Showers pass E-vent garments, it just seemed there had to be something better. All bicycle rainwear eventually will fail me if the ride is long enough. I will be wet from the rain, mixed with my own sweat, which can’t evaporate fast enough. When I arrive at my destination, I am dripping outside and wet inside, and I bring a puddle into my destination where ever I go. Stripping off the failed garments just spreads the water to other parts of my body in cold, wet rivulets, and creates a lake on the floor underneath me. Easy to find the wet spot where the bike rider arrived. The only thing worse was trying to put all those cold wet garments back on for the ride home.

My very first bicycling rain cape was a plastic thing I got as a teenager from a camping store. Riding in the rain caused it to flap and snap, while my legs got wet. I would slow down to reduce the flapping. All the flimsy fabric seemed like a parachute. Riding thru a short downpour worked well though. It was quick to put on and remove. While it would help in a downpour, most of the water would come up as spray from the wheels. I didn’t realize yet that fenders were required for using a rain cape. Decades and lots of other raingear passed by before I would give the rain cape another try.
My first good quality rain cape!
 was from the Center for Appropriate Transportation (CAT), the Ultrex model, still available, about $80 without the hood.
Mine did not come with the optional hood
It is made of nylon with an Ultrex (similar to Gore-Tex) layer applied to the inside. The outside has a DWR (durable water resistant) finish on it that should be renewed at least twice a year, so that the water beads up and rolls away. The easier the water does falls off the outside of your cape, the dryer you and the cape will be. Renewing the finish is easy; just wash it with a DWR fabric product, and tumble dry it, or use an iron set on low it to set the treatment. When this is done, any water falling on the cape wants to badly roll the HELL off of it in the shape of a ball. It’s like magic.
It was a revelation using this cape while riding with rain. So easy and simple. I stashed it in my bag and left it there. I was never concerned about a cloudburst again. I would always arrive at my destination relatively dry no matter what clothing I wore, even if it was an hour bike ride away. Riding in the rain was FUN. During this time, I started waxing my leather shoes with Sno-Seal, which would keep my shoes and socks dry as well. I stopped looking at weather predictions, knowing that I was always ready for rain. And where I  live in Portland, OR, it’s a good idea to be ready for the rain all the time.
A close up of the commuter of the year photo I submitted. Normally my hands are covered by the cape.

I was “Commuter of the Year” according to River City Cycles in 2008; they saw this photo as a testament to my resolve as a bicycle commuter. 26 miles round trip; 3 nights per week no matter what the weather. In the picture, my hands are exposed (normally they are covered by the cape). Protecting the hands with the cape is one of the best things about using a cape. As long as I kept up the DWR coating (washing/ironing once a month or so during heavy use) it did a good job in repelling water. This CAT cape for me had less than ideal amount of fabric to protect my hands in the drop-bar position.

After a 2 or 3 years with a LOT of use, the Ultrex coating started to peel off at the areas of the most abrasion; the hands and the collar. The cape was flappy and was starting to look a bit tattered so I looked for something else, and ended up with a Carradice Pro-route, a bright yellow cape.

A properly applied Carradice Pro route cape. This person likes it so much, he wears it  in dry weather.
While a bike shop may order this for you, few would stock it. It’s a very bright yellow affair with a bit more material up front to cover the hands on a drop bar bike. One size fits all. It is designed with an upright riding position in mind. On my drop bar bike, it would be a bit tight; stretched between my waist and hands/brake levers. I liked mine, but after a couple of years it started to wear out just like the last one. A waterproof membrane began to peel away from the heavy used areas. It was light (about 12 oz dry, without the hood that I cut off) and rolled up into a small bundle.  Both this and the CAT cape needed a complete air drying before stowing, or they would get a moldy smell. While I did like how it was light and easily stowed, similar to the CAT poncho, I was ready to try something heavier and more substantial.
Next, I tried the Carradice DuxBack (pictured on the top of the post), a waxed cotton rain cape. It comes in regular and large size (unless you are very small get the large!).
This Duxback (water rolls off the ducks back) is a very different type of rain cape because it is made of waxed cotton. It’s noticeably heavier than the previous capes (about 20 oz without hood, compared to 12 oz). The coverage was great, and there was less flapping because of the heavier material. I felt like I was riding with my head poking out of a stout tent.

The hood comes attached to it. It’s an odd looking conical thing that limits vision and seems too small to accommodate a helmet,  so I just cut it off. While riding in the rain I found it to be quieter and less flappy. Like the CAT cape (and unlike the Pro-Route cape) it was not tight around my waist and hands on my drop-bar bike. The cut was more generous. It has straps that cinch around the waist and hook over the thumbs or brake levers, which help keep the cape in place. These straps proved unnecessary except in the highest winds, because the fabric was heavier.  I loved it! It was easily rolled up into a lump that I could fit somewhere. Not that much bigger a load than the ProRoute or CAT cape.

After a year or two of using the DuxBack intermittently, I had a ride in a heavy rain and over the course of an hour got rather wet! Water seeped in thru the fabric and along some seams. This garment is meant to be waxed now and then, and I guess it was time. Carradice makes their own wax, which is not easily found in the US, but I used a fabric wax bar that I found locally. A great how-to on re-waxing the garment is here. The next heavy rain event showed that the cape was (mostly) water tight. But the way water gathers on the waxed cape is different than on a DWR surface. Instead of balling up and rolling off, beads of water tend to crouch and cling. The cape stays wet much longer, and when water gets inside it, it will stay wet inside.  Putting on a cold wet cape is not fun. I can hang the wet DuxBack cape up in the cold dark garage, and it will still be wet 3 days later. I still loved my waxed cape, but I couldn’t help thinking that there was a better material out there.

Advantages of rain capes:
1) It covers the hands, arms, torso, most of the legs, and most of the bike, with just one easily applied and stowed garment.
2) It’s very fast to apply and remove. Less than 10 seconds; without getting off the bike. Between cloudbursts, I can ride without any rainwear!
3) Movement of the bike creates a considerable amount of ventilation underneath. Fabric that is breathable is hardly necessary.
4) Removing the cape takes only a few seconds, and doing so will not make me wet like jacket/pants rainwear does. I can arrive at my destination dry, in normal clothing, and looking like I just stepped out of a car.
Disadvantages of rain capes (with my observations):
Fenders are required.  (they protect from mud and dirty street water whether it is raining or not).
Not very aerodynamic (adds a few minutes to my hour long commute).
 Flaps in high wind. (it can flap depending on wind/fabric/and fit. A cape that fits well and made of stout material may hardly flap at all).
A headlamp must be located away from the handlebars so it won’t be covered up by the cape. (There is no way around this. The headlamp mount must be at front brake or rack)

Electronic devices mounted on the handlebars will not be visible. (no way around this)

The front wheel is not visible, (this takes some getting used to; it’s weird at first)
 Shoes are not protected. (The feet can get wet because a cape does not provide enough coverage there. I use leather shoes that I treat with a wax (SnoSeal), making the shoes highly water resistant. A mudguard with a generous mudflap greatly lessens any spray, and it is only after cycling for a long time in heavy rain and thru puddles when my socks will get wet. Matching chaps are available for some capes, although I find them to be a hassle.)
 The head gets wet unless there is a hood. (Most capes come with a hood, but I find they make it harder to see what is behind me, and a helmet offers enough protection from water)
I will look like a dork. (or maybe I will look like Strider from Lord of the Rings)
A rain cape of Sunbrella Plus

Sunbrella fabric is used for outdoor furniture applications, awnings, and boat covers. Casting about for ideas, I thought of an umbrella we have that goes with our outdoor table. It’s made of Sunbrella fabric, and it had been out there for years in the elements.  I tested it by pouring a cup of water into a fold. The water made a giant bead and just stayed there. An hour later, nothing had changed. It was totally dry underneath. Maybe this is the rain cape material I am looking for? Time to think outside the box.

Then it dawned on me. A fabric meant for standing around or walking in is not the best choice for an activity like riding a bike at 15 mph. Now it seems so obvious.

The regular Sunbrella fabric for furniture and pillows is quite supple and about 8oz/sq yd. That’s what the umbrella I tested was made of. It’s breathable and remarkably water resistant. Then there is the Sunbrella fabric for marine applications (boat coverings and awnings) which is substantially stiffer because of the application of a resin. From this class of Sunbrella fabric, there is the regular (9.5 oz sq yd), the Sunbrella plus (which has an added polyurethane coating underneath to increase water resistance, about 10 oz sq yd), and Sunbrella supreme, which is completely waterproof/non-breathable and a rather heavy 13 oz sq yd. All the Sunbrellas are breathable fabrics except for the supreme version, which has a flocked finish on the interior.

I ordered a couple yards (60″ wide) of the Sunbrella Plus, and it came in the mail a few days later. I opened the package and found it to be some rather stiff fabric! No flapping around with this stuff. The intended exterior of the fabric (slightly darker) allowed water to bead up and roll off mostly. A film of water would remain on some of the outside material. But it IS water-tight; no water could make it thru. The other side of the fabric is completely hydrophobic. All the water balls up and rolls off, leaving the material completely dry. I liked this because it means the cape will never be wet on the inside. A bit of gravity will make the inside of the cape as dry as the Sahara.

Since the DuxBack had the best fit for me, my thought was to copy it’s design pattern. I measured the 4 panels of the cape and transferred the measurements to the new fabric.

Carradice large size Duxback measurements. Hems not included. Not to scale exactly.

Pretty simple construction. A long front panel, shorter back panel, and 2 side wings that are mirror images of each other. I added a half inch to each measurement so I had a quarter inch hem.

Some chalk lines going in.. DuxBack hanging in the background.
After cutting the pieces it was quite straightforward sewing them together. I used regular household sewing machine which worked okay on 2 layers of this stout fabric. I put it on and found the shoulders were a bit wide, so I took the hem in where it would form around my shoulders. That made a better fit. I made a cut down the collar under my chin so the opening would be big enough so I could pull it over easily with my helmet on. I didn’t see the need for a zipper or an elaborate collar.
The basic sewn cape.

Next I put reflective tape around the lower edge and collar area. During my first rainy ride, I found that the seams did not leak water. Not a drop. If I find that a seam sealer is needed, I will probably use Iosso sealer, which is what they recommend.

Reflective tape sewed on. Draped over chair. The picture makes it clear that this is not a saggy or flimsy cape.
The first ride in heavy rain left me with a big smile. This is some serious rain protection. It’s a solid tent around me, and makes the other capes seem flimsy. A downside is that it does not fold into as small of a package as the others. While I could just roll the other capes into a ball and stuff them into my bag, I really need to fold this one. But this observation is not a big deal, and I intend to use this cape going forward.
The cape folded up. It won’t quite fit in my pocket…

On a ride using other capes I would normally see sweat/condensation/moisture gathered the inside of the cape after a ride of an hour or so. There were just a few beads of water inside of the Sunbrella cape after a long rainy ride. And they fell away just by holding it upright.

I found there was more airflow as well. The nature of the stiffer Sunbrella fabric makes it tend to stand off the skin and clothing, allowing much better air circulation.  This difference is HUGE and cannot be overstated. You really have to try it to understand.

I will use the cape to cover the bike while I am at a destination, so the bike itself stays dry. Since it holds its shape so well, I can just drop it over the locked bike and leave it. I am now considering ways to lock the cape to the bike. The material alone costs about $80.

The weight of this cape is equivalent to the DuxBack; about 20 oz dry (both without hoods). But as I noted before, the DuxBack takes a lot longer to dry. This Sunbrella cape presently stays almost completely dry on the inside, while on the outside, in the same cold, dark garage, it can be mostly dry in less than a day. This is much faster drying time than the DuxBack which takes at least several days to get dry in the same environment. I like the idea of waxed canvas, but it does have drawbacks. The reluctance to shed water is the biggest one.

So far so good with the new Sunbrella cape, but many more wet winter commutes and rides is what I need to really know if it is truly the bees knees. I will update this post before summer about how this cape worked for me.

A side note: the Boncho is a kickstarter project that has received some attention. It’s a rain cape with a springy metal wire inside that allows it to keep shape as it covers the handlebar area. The whole thing folds in to a compact frisbee shaped object that is easy to carry around. I wish them success in putting this innovative idea forward. It’s a creative take on the rain cape.


Update: after more than a year.
It’s been a couple of wet winters. How is this cape on rides and commutes in steady, penetrating, light rains or heavy downpours?

This cape blows all the others I have used out of the water.

Imagine… I’m dressed like I’m going to the office for a meeting, riding the bike into a massive thunderstorm, enjoying the electrified air, without any rain gear on. When the rain arrives I throw the cape on and keep riding, and experience the dramatic weather while staying comfortable, like I’m safe inside a stout tent (I stay dry aside from my head of course, and maybe the lower pants legs. Shoes are treated with SnoSeal so they stay dry).

The feeling of dread with approaching precipitation has been replaced with a sense of (almost) looking forward to enjoying it!

I will never go back to lighter weight materials for a rain cape again.

All the other capes I have ever used before (and liked very much) are like crap compared to this one. I use this cape even if precipitation is quite light, because it’s so comfortable. The interior stays dry, and the cape always stays in place. While my plan was to install a waist strap and hand straps to hold it down in a wind, I find the straps are simply unnecessary. In blustery conditions, the substantial fabric just stays in place by itself. Even when I ride over bridges on windy days where the lighter capes would blow up over my head, this one hardly made a ruffle.

The seams are still not sealed, and they still don’t leak. Most of the sewing in the cape is just a single stitch.  It’s rather odd that it is water-tight, but that’s how it is.

I made a short cable that has ends which fit over my U-lock, and can keep the cape safe from a casual thief (its the yellow line)…

A thin cable looping thru the U-lock gives a measure of security. The cape itself  is a waterproof cover for the whole bike. The wheel of this bike is pivoted under, making the bike look short and tall.

Having the cape draped over the bike keeps the bike dry, and it is a good place to allow it to drain. At the same time, I can leave it outside with the bike, and not subject my destination to a dripping garment, causing puddles on the floor. When I walk into that coffee shop… for all they can tell, it looks like I just got off the bus or walked in from the parking garage.

Time will tell how well this cape holds up, but so far over almost 2 rainy seasons there is no change in its performance. The material remains stiff and shows no signs of breakdown. I have rolled it up to stash it in the bike bag countless times. I take it with me if there is even a remote possibility of rain. It got stained with grease/dirt in one area; I tried cleaning it, but couldn’t get the stains out. The next cape (if I make another) will be black, and made of the same Sunbrella plus material.

Will it keep it’s stout nature and water resistance over the years, especially in the places that see the most abrasion (like where the hands and brake levers are)? This material is designed for constant exposure to the elements, and is guaranteed to hold up for something like 5 years in marine applications, so I think chances are good.