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Author Archive: Elizabeth

Review: Mountainsmith Bike Cube

If you ever travel with your bike — and by travel I refer to packing your bike and gear in your car and driving to the start of your ride — listen up. This past summer Mountainsmith sent me their Bike Cube Deluxe to review. The deluxe refers to a souped-up version of its Bike Cube.

cube

Per the Mountainsmith website,

The Bike Cube Deluxe features a roll-up tool organizer, padded changing mat, a padded eye-wear pocket, specific spots for helmet, shoes, etc., it ensures that you never again show up at the trailhead with just one shoe. The Bike Cube Deluxe offers excellent organization and keeps all the essentials for your next road, cross or mountain bike ride at the ready. Works well as a stand alone piece or in conjunction with our Modular Hauler Systems. Feel like a pro at your next race and arrive in style!

Features:

Tri-panel load access
Organizer pockets for tools, food and accessories
Interior shoe & clothes divider (orig.: interior mesh sleeves for shoes/helmet)
Coated mesh for ventilation
Fleece-lined eyewear pocket
Roll-up bike tool organizer (original: zippered bike tool compartment and tool organizer panel)
Removable, padded changing mat
Adjustable shoulder strap included
Padded haul handle

Materials:

150d Baby RipStop Poly
210d Rip Stop Poly
840d Ballistic Poly (added)

Dimensions: (same as bike cube)

15″ x 15″ x 15″ (38 x 38 x 38 cm)

Volume: (same)

3417 cu. in. / 56 L

Capacity:

All the necessities for your next bike ride

Weight:

4 lbs 5 oz / 1.98 kg (original: 2 lbs 1 oz / .9kg)

I set out to put their advertised claim to the test that this cube would help for ride day – organizing “helmet, pump, shoes, and accessories well stashed and ventilated for that next impromptu outing; spend more time in the saddle and less time gathering up your gear.

The original bike cube comes in basic black; this deluxe version comes in red. Now I’m a sucker for the color red and bikes, so this deluxe bike cube immediately had my attention. Though not exactly something to use for the daily grind of bike commuting, I did find myself using this bag for regular weekend bike adventures (escapes from the urban jungle for daily rides) and even to ride my first ever Tour of the Mississippi River Valley (better known as TOMRV) earlier this year. This cube held all my needed bike gear for the daily outings, plus accommodated my overnight essentials for the weekend TOMRV adventure.

The removable padded shoulder strap (included with this deluxe model, sold separately for the basic) is definitely the way to travel with this cube. It’s like a large gym bag – cube shaped – but I never found it too unwieldy to tote. In the past I’ve sometimes refer to myself as the bag lady… as my former method of toting my gear was to use multiple reusable shopping totes. Though a great method, I often found items getting smashed into the bags and nothing having a definitive place; stuff just landed in a random bag and often was difficult to find. This cube keeps my stuff consolidated in one easy to handle bag — haul by shoulder strap from door to car and then by the handy handles for lifting into and out of the car.

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I found myself improvising with how to best use the pockets and space within this bag. The mesh sleeve for the helmet worked great; the helmet fits perfectly! I also used another sleeve for my gloves and cap. I just put my shoes in the bag (no sleeve). I found myself using the extra mesh pockets to stash extra nutrition (bars, powder mixes) and mp3 player.

It was great to be able to pick up the bag and be ready to go. All my bike gear just stayed with the bag, so no more forgetting my shoes when traveling with my bike (yes – once drove out to a weekend invitational ride sponsored by a local club – only to realize I had forgotten to pack my shoes!).

Now – it’s all there at the ride destination –
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Instead of all those multiple bags I used to carry, Mountainsmith’s deluxe bike cube helps you distribute all those necessities for easy access once you arrive at your destination and need to get ready — to ride, to race, etc. Since I already have my tools in a case and/or in my bike’s seatbag, I did not much use the roll-up tool organizer.

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However, my friend had recently purchased a separate bag to roll and carry his tools and I realize the usefulness of such a compact carrying organizer; I’ve since thought of reorganzing my tool case to travel in this roll-up organizer and using it with my commutes, too.

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I also never used the padded changing mat, which stashes unobstrusively in a side pocket.

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I have friends who mountain bike or who ride cyclocross who would appreciate this pad more than me.

Most importantly, I had ample space for clothing — whether it be a change of bike clothes and/or off the bike clothes, extra layers, off-the-bike shoes, etc; I could easily pack enough to account for those surprise weather conditions when traveling with the bike.

There is no right or wrong way to pack this bag — organize it your way to make it work for you.

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There is a convenient pad to divide up the center storage area/pocket, so you can store your shoes and clothes.

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I appreciated all the ventilation this cube offers, too, especially to let my gear breathe and keep my gear from stinking up a “stuffy” bag.

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When I rode TOMRV, this bag got hauled by the vans to and from the overnight destination. At the end of day 1, bags were strewn about a lawn. This bright red cube stood out from the pack – both due to its shape and color

Since it was rainy the morning of day 2 when I had to set the bag outside for the crews to pick up, I simply placed clothing items I didn’t want to get soaked into plastic bags and put them in the cube. Then I put the cube on the top of the heap of bags to be loaded into the truck… and set out – worry-free.

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Conclusion? After a summer of use, the Mountainsmith Bike Cube Deluxe barely shows signs of wear, so this rugged bag is designed for the long haul. It’s a great investment – at an MSRP of $79.95 – if you find yourself driving to the start of trail, ride, or race.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Review: Vaya Bags Pannier Hybrid Bag

Over the summer Vaya Bags sent me one of their most recent bag designs — a Pannier Hybrid Bag — to review. The bag they sent me to review can be both a backpack and a pannier (hence the name “hybrid”) – in turquoise and orange material, with accents of recycled bike tubes.

Vaya Bags Pannier Hybrid Bag

I first met the women behind Vaya Bags in March at the Women Bike Pop-Up Shop at the Women Mean Business Bike Forum in Washington, D.C.

Over the past couple months riding with this backpack/pannier, I’ve gotten plenty of positive feedback from friends and fellow cyclists. And I must say that hearing others sing the praises of the bag certainly added to my impression of Vaya Bags.

Vaya Bags describes its Pannier Hybrid Bag as…

A nifty little design that combines the load carrying ability of the pannier with the carry-with-you convenience of a backpack. This bag easily clips onto your bike rack to carry those loads you don’t want on your back. When not on your bike the pannier converts into a backpack for a comfortable way to carry your belongings with you. Even more, we’ve added mega cool new features such as U-lock holder, reflective tape and expandable front pocket.

The quality of this handmade in NY product is evident. The exterior material is durable and water repellent — all Vaya bags are made with canvas that is “recycled and scrap Sunbrella® Fabric from local sailboat factories;” the interior is lined to make this pack fully waterproof.

Vaya pannier/backpack waterproof interior lining – also quite vibrant!


It has a rolltop closure, with velcro and a clip to keep the bag securely closed – whether packed to the max or just minimally packed, ensuring no water seeps into the bag during a downpour. Fortunately I didn’t have to endure many downpour bike commuting conditions during my time with this bag; but I did put it through the paces.

rolltop closure secures with both velcro and clip

An interior laptop pocket or other such divider could have been a nice bonus, but not necessary. On the couple occasions I decided to travel with my laptop or work iPad, I just used a padded sleeve and slipped it right in the bag.

The bag also boasts a small exterior front pocket with velcro closure. That pocket was great for stashing keys and other small items that I might need to access on the fly, but I did find that small items could escape from that pocket if not secured well. I wished that pocket had a zipper or other means of keeping the contents safe. It would have also been nice to have a key strap to secure keys for easy reach.

For a daily commuting bag, this pack is about the right size — small enough to not be too voluminous but large enough to expand to carry those extra groceries you decide to pick up on the way home. It was also a good size for me; as a petite female, I often find that most unisex backpacks are just too big for me and cater to folks with larger/longer torsos. This Vaya bag did not have that issue of being oversized…. could it be that woman’s touch on the design?

I altered between carrying the bag like a backpack and letting my bike haul it as a pannier. I must say that I wished the conversion from backpack to pannier and vice versa was quicker, but I soon got the hang of it. Just a bit of tucking in and clipping straps before mounting the pannier and then untucking and reclipping the backpack straps to use as a backpack. As a backpack, it took me a bit of time to get used to the unpadded seatbelt-material straps; these unpadded straps, however, did allow for ease of tucking the straps away to use the bag as a pannier. I did appreciate the chest strap to keep the shoulder straps in place and the bag more stable on my back.

Seatbelt-like backpack straps tuck away into pocket when used as a pannier


as a backpack

Riding with a backpack

The reinforced bottom allows this bag to stand on its own when set down on the ground.

reinforced bottom


When I first started using this bag as a backpack, the bottom of the bag hit my lower back at a weird angle when just walking around, but it was fine on the bike; I don’t notice it anymore but just the other day I did wish the back offered a bit of padding.

For use as a pannier, the bag connects to any rear rack with the use of d-rings and small carabiner style clips.

Vaya pannier hybrid on the bike


I was impressed how the bag remained anchored on my bike with just those two attachment points.

carabiner clips and d-rings mount the pannier to the bike’s rack


I fretted that the back of the bag would get dirty when used as a pannier and that it would put a damper on my wanting to use it as a backpack, but I never had that problem (I also didn’t use it as a pannier in much foul weather when crud could have gotten kicked up onto it).

This Vaya pannier-backpack hybrid comes with reflective tape on each side of the bag for great visibility when in use as a pannier hanging off the side of the bike.

Backpack – side view (photo taken with flash to show how the reflective tape adds visibility)


But I wished it had some reflective tape on the front of the bag that would be visible when in use as a backpack (similar to how the Vaya backpacks have reflective tape on the back) and a loop for a rear blinky light.

On the side of this pannier/backpack are a few loops — one velcro and one hanging loop for a u-lock. The velcro strap is just one more way of securing the bag to the bike – which I rarely used (and only figured that feature out after viewing some of Vaya’s product photos online). The hanging loop for a u-lock did not fit my Kryptonite lock. But I usually just clip my lock to my rear rack for transport, so that wasn’t much of an issue…. except on the odd day that I rode a different bike with a rack and found myself searching for the best method to haul the hefty lock.

Overall, I give this bag two thumbs up – especially for design and aesthetics. With a new and improved model on the way, I look forward to seeing just how much niftier this dual bag becomes. I noticed that some of the features I was looking for when I used this bag as a backpack already come standard on the regular Vaya Backpacks; the nice thing about this bag is its ability to morph into a pannier, too.

In a recent correspondence with Vaya Bags, we confirmed that a few improvements (which may also address a few of my concerns) are in the works on the revamped design of this Pannier-Backpack hybrid, including:

– We did update the U lock holder so that it is adjustable and put velcro on it to help stabilize the U lock
– We added reinforcement to the back of the bag to prevent rubbing
– We changed the clip system to a strap system to make it easier to put on and off the bike!

We look forward to the new product, which we will get our hands on within a few weeks. It will be interesting to see how the updates to the bag work in comparison to this model.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Review: Torker T300 for my commute

Following the theft of my beloved commuter bike – Toro – last summer, I had the good fortune to test ride some bikes…. and at long last I’m letting you know my thoughts on this Torker bike that I previewed for you.

T300_white

Torker graciously sent me their T300 step thru model to ride for review. (After a bit of a snafu, I was finally up and running on this great new ride!) Quite a snazzy set-up. Almost reminds me of a Dutch-style bike.

I must admit that I was initially a bit skeptical of the sloping step through configuration. While I have always loved the look and comfortable feel of the bike, I never bought one of my own. Both the heft and the awkwardness of carrying such a steed up and down the rear steps to my apartment have led me to prefer a bike with a diamond frame so I could haul the bike up by the top tube.

Now for the specs:

• Stylish alloy twin top tube frame in 2 styles.
• Sturmey Archer 3 speed internal hub.
• Dependable rear coaster brake.
• Includes fenders, chainguard, & rear rack.

Available sizes: 15”, 17”, 19”,
15” step thru, 17 step thru”.

Torker sent me a 15″ step thru to fit my 5’4″ stature. This bike also comes in a more “unisex” style diamond/mixte style frame.

You’ll notice that this bike comes with a rear coaster brake and front hand brake. Since this is a Friday review, I’m including a Friday musing with this review….. “how did I ever ride a bike with a coaster brake?” After many years of riding free wheel bikes with hand brakes, I missed being able to reposition the pedal after I stop so that I can push off again (known as the power pedal position). And I think I’ve forgotten “how” to get started (without some awkward shove off) after I do stop when I ride with coaster brakes. Oops. Is there a trick I’m missing or have forgotten?
Note: I didn’t let this forgetfulness slow me down with my riding and I did adapt.

But this bike is fun and riding it around Chicago made me feel like a lady.

Riding in style (and value)


My friend rides the T300 around the parking lot; the 15″ frame bike accommodates a wide range of heights and even comes in a larger size.

Its upright riding position is suited for city navigating and being able to see around traffic.

the cockpit


View from the saddle (riding along Chicago’s first 2-way protected bike lane)

This bike already comes standard with fenders, rear rack and chain guard, so you could wear your suit or dress to the office without worry. Its plush saddle means you don’t have to worry about needing padded shorts; plus, the rear of the saddle is reflective, which is a great safety factor after dusk. The pedals also nicely work with any shoe – even dress shoes – as they are not made with sharp metal edges that could scuff or damage nice shoes. As an added bonus, the pedals also have reflectors built in, so they’re noticeable in headlights when out pedaling after dark.

plush saddle with reflective material facing rear and pedals with reflectors

The upright position maybe slowed me down from the speeds I’d grown accustomed to attaining on Toro which was more of a road bike. For my usual sub-5 mile bike commuting route there wasn’t a considerable time difference. I did notice the difference when I pedaled to a further work location and it took longer.

With 3 internal speeds this bike is suitable for most conditions, especially in the flatlands of Chicago. But the gearing gaps are sizeable and I sometimes struggled with finding the best gear. In most cases I stayed in the middle gear (the usually “just right” sweet spot).

Internal gearing and rear coaster brake


Front rim brake

For carrying my work necessities, the rear rack accommodated my panniers – and I tested out multiple brand panniers with this bike’s rear rack – without an issue.

The Detours Ballard Bag easily clips to the rear rack

Out of the box, it was such a convenience to not have to worry about equipping the T300 with the necessary commuting accessories of fenders, rack and chain guard, plus reflective accents on the saddle and pedals.

Ready for urban riding right out of the box – with fenders, chain guard and rear rack

At the pricepoint of $439 for this Torker T300, I recommend it to anyone seeking a comfortable entry level urban bike.

While it was challenging at times to haul this bike up and down to my apartment, I did find a manageable way to carry it. By simply grabbing the bottom of the sloping tube with one hand and the handlebars with the other to steady the bike, I could lift it just high enough to carry it down the steps.

Some evenings I was able to haul it back upstairs in the same manner. Other nights (maybe I was too tired) I had to implement the technique I used to use to haul my old Schwinn mixte frame upstairs — by turning the bike around and hauling it upstairs rear wheel first; in this case I would grab the seat tube and the sloping down tube and be lifting the heavier rear end up first.

Bottom line — I have enjoyed riding this Torker T300 bicycle around town, especially for its comfort and style. And that makes this bike a winner for me.

Chicago’s Bike to Work Week

This week Chicago celebrates Bike to Work Week – a month after the National Bike to Work Week. Usually by June Chicago has more favorable weather to attract more folks to get out on bikes.

Friday morning is the Bike To Work Rally at Daley Plaza from 7-9am. The city invites all bike commuters to celebrate the bike as a mode of commuting.

Join thousands of cyclists for live music and FREE continental breakfast provided by 7-Eleven. Also, all cyclists will receive a FREE T-shirt as well as use of the complimentary Kickstart by Mountain Dew Free Bike Valet.

Chicago's 2013 Bike Chicago T-Shirt (front)

Chicago’s 2013 Bike Chicago T-Shirt (front)

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I try to attend this rally every year because each year I find myself reuniting with friends and meeting new bike friends.

At last year (2012)’s Bike to Work Rally with bike friends.

Except for the horrific storms in the Chicagoland area on Wednesday, this week has been a great week (weather-wise) to be on the bike (commuting or riding just for fun).

To conclude the week of events, this Saturday Bike Chicago is hosting a feature event called Make Way For People Bike Tour. The Tour goes from 9:30am-12 noon; meet at Millenium Park. Register here.

May every week be bike to work week for you.

All SMILES at Bike the Drive

Chicago’s annual Bike the Drive event was yesterday, Sunday, May 26, 2013 – when Lake Shore Drive gets shut down to motor vehicle traffic and opened up to bicycles only for 5 hours of open riding. What great traffic — despite the chilly morning air, 20,000+ bicyclists riding over 30-miles of open roads — thank you, Active Trans.

Look ma! No cars!

Packet pick-up at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago was run like a well-oiled machine… high tech and ready to serve the thousands of riders who registered.

Packet Pick up

They even offered on-site registration … including from this overpass on the south section of Lake Shore Drive.

On-site registration from an overpass

This year I rode southbound first to the Museum of Science and Industry, pausing for a photo opp and people watching before heading back north…. but not before my morning coffee to propel me along the way

Coffee (hot and iced) offered by Chicago’s very own Dark Matter Coffee Roasters

Cheering section as riders enter Lake Shore Drive southbound

elliptigo bikes

Me and my shadow enjoying the ride

Sparkle!

Coming into the rest stop at the Museum of Science and Industry

Rest stop

Even the bikes took a chance to lay down on the grass before heading back north:

Bike nap

Meanwhile, along the lakefront bike path —

razor scooter-ing

All Chicago fans came out

Blackhawk fans

Volunteer smiles

Even the volunteers — at the job since before dawn — are full of smiles mid-morning

Park construction….

I opted not to ride too far north (since I already traverse the northern section of LSD enough and know the road conditions — ahem, potholes — are worse).

The Director of the Active Transportation Alliance takes a Divvy Bike Share bike for a test ride around the post-ride festival. Chicago’s Bike Share (Divvy) debuted at Bike the Drive.

Taking a Divvy bike share bike for a test spin


Divvy’s debut


Divvy bike share bike up close with Chicago’s 4 stars and the “sharrow” graphics


Hello, Divvy

For me the morning concluded under the “Big Top” tent where several advocacy/non-profit bike organizations and clubs had tables. I worked alongside the folks from Chicago’s online bike network – The Chainlink – and the Chicago Cycling Club; I was there with info about the annual Ride of Silence.

Ride of Silence in between The Chainlink and the Chicago Cycling Club

Also under the Big Top:

Working Bikes and folks from Northwest Indiana’s bike network South Shore Trails, plus Climate Cycle, Major Taylor Cycling Club (not in photo)

At the post-ride festival, participants could register to win a folding bike from REI, win prizes or buy a smoothie from Jamba Juice, pick up numerous samples and swag, shop for bike clothing, meet bike clubs and groups, and even climb the rock wall.

REI’s Novara folding bike up for raffle


Win a Jamba Juice smoothie?


samples…


bike gear shopping at a discount


Rock climbing in Grant Park

To be involved with the festival (setting up a table before and taking down after) gives me a greater appreciation for the scope of Bike the Drive… and any city-wide event wherever you may live that brings together so many folks for a like-minded fun activity. It’s a lot of work… and usually a LOT of fun.

This year’s party has packed up…

packing up, clearing out of the park

Hope you enjoy this year of fun bike activities (big or small).

So many cyclists… so many smiles! Please share your cycling smiles with us here or on Facebook.