Keith isn't actually mean to his gear, he just demands a lot from it. The hardcore cyclist and runner does tend to pile abuse on the prototypes, but it's all for the cause of developing better gear. If a fabric pills, bags, or lets in too much rain, it gets rejected. If a chamois doesn't provide effective padding, it must be redesigned. He's not easy to please, but gear that gets the nod from Keith is invariably tough enough for MEC members.
A long-distance cyclist and trail runner, Keith puts 500-600km each month on his cycling gear and another 160-220km a month on his running clothes. "Trail running is a good test of clothing because you're out in all kinds of weather, brushing against tree branches and testing a fabric's abrasion resistance. You're getting it sweaty and muddy, so you see not just how it performs during the run, but also how it washes up later. And breathability is really important with running jackets and shorts. You won't be comfortable if you're too hot or too sweaty."
Taking his mission seriously, Keith runs through Vancouver's heaviest rains, soggiest forests, and muddiest terrain. "You can't be a fair weather tester. If you don't run in the rain, you don't know how the gear performs in the rain." So when he looks out the window and sees torrents streaming down from thick, dark clouds, he decides it's the perfect day to test the new running tights. "Some tights sag when they get wet and they bag around the ankles. I'm constantly pulling them up and feeling like they were made for a giraffe."
When not on the trail, he can usually be found on two wheels. He commutes by bike daily and participates internationally in randonnée: bicycle racing across long -sometimes extreme – distances. Marathon cycling is an ideal survival test for gear that wants to bear the MEC name, because randonneurs ride hard and steady for 300-400km, then collapse in a heap wherever they can, scorning such creature comforts as sleeping bags, pads, and tents. "There have been events where we slept at the side of the road, or on the floor of control stations, or shivered in an unheated rest stop at the top of the Coquihalla in the snow."
Keith first cycled the 1200km challenge from Paris to Brest and back to Paris in 1999. "We had a catnap in an orchard the first afternoon. We slept on the cobbles of a village square the first night, in a field the second night, and briefly on a mattress the third night." When he says "briefly" he means it; while on the road he typically steals a scant three hours of sleep.
That Paris-Brest-Paris adventure was exhausting, but also exhilarating, so Keith did it again in 2007, this time through weather that could have been requested by some over-zealous gear designer in a lab. "It rained almost every day, often torrentially. Thirty percent of the 5500 people who signed up didn't even finish." Keith did finish it, and developed a strong emotional attachment to the test GORE-TEX in the process. "When you're out on the road for 20 hours at a stretch, sleeping three hours each night, and everything is wet – well, that's a good test of your gear."
In 2008, his drive to push himself, and the gear, led him to sign up for the inaugural Ultimate Island Explorer: 2000km over rugged Vancouver Island. The route went from Victoria to the wild and windswept Pacific west coast, through the mountains to remote Gold River, and north up to Port McNeill. The extreme distance and grueling climbs posed such challenges that only eight people even expressed an interest, and in the end it was just Keith and Yutaka Moriwaki from Kobe who wound up racing each other along the coastline, through towering rainforests, up 18% grades, and past elk, deer, bear and west-coast surfers.
Worn out but still smiling, both crossed the finish line in five and a half days. Keith had slept a total of 15 hours and traumatized five pairs of shorts. "On the last day my favourite shorts were standing up really well. That's when I knew how good they were."