BikeCommuters.com

Author Archive: Noah

First Look: Light & Motion Vis 360º

At Interbike last month, Light & Motion introduced the Vis 180º and Vis 360º commuter lights. They were kind enough to send us a Vis 360 to review. I’ll save the all-lit-up photos and beam shots for the final review. The Vis 360 comes as a headlight and combination battery pack, reflector and tail light held together with a coiled wire. It’s designed to be helmet-mounted and comes with all the hardware you’d need to mount it to pretty much any helmet. The light is charged via USB, and it charges fully in about five hours.
L&M Vis 360

L&M Vis 360

The days are getting shorter, so I’ll be putting this light through its paces in the coming weeks. The headlight is rated at 115 Lumens, which is very bright for a “to be seen” light but probably not bright enough for high speed road riding after dark. We’ll be back in a few weeks with the final results.

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

Rainy Day Biking reflective fender mudflaps

Last month, we got a pair of reflective mudflaps from Rainy Day Biking. They come in red or white.

IMG_3138

They’re not just reflective, though. They use engineering-grade prismatic reflective material. It’s the same stuff used on emergency vehicles and high-quality road signs!

A front mudflap keeps road grime away from your feet and downtube. The closer to the ground it reaches, the better it works. On the rear wheel, a mudflap dramatically decreases the “rooster tail” effect. This is mostly a courtesy to those who may happen to be riding behind you, but with these mudflaps, you’re also giving a highly visible clue to your place on the road. These mudflaps shine like daylight.

I mounted them to the Planet Bike Cascadia fenders on my daily commuter. Admittedly, these fenders already have integrated mudflaps, but I’ve had several other pairs of flapless fenders. I bolted the front mudflap to the outside of the stock one, because the stock one is so long it would almost completely obscure the reflective material. I found that mounting it this way allows the reflective mudflap to move around a bit. During my testing, I drilled a second hole and added another bolt to hold it sturdily into place.

I mounted the rear mudflap in the recommended way, inside the fender (and inside the rear mudflap, on my bike) which resulted in a much sturdier mounting due to the way the internal curvature of the fender grips the new mudflap.

To test, I even whipped out my cheap camera phone, which features a tiny, dim LED as a “flash”. This dim light was more than enough to completely wash out the photo. To the right, you can also see the reflective piping of my seat wedge.

I also leaned my bike up against a sign in my parking lot and hit it with my car’s low-beams from about 100 yards. They light up just as bright as my PlanetBike SuperFlash tail light, but cover much more area. Reflective material shouldn’t be used in place of proper lighting, but every bit helps. These, combined with my reflective vest, SuperFlash and FlashBak safety light makes for a bike that’s really difficult to ignore.

Final Review: 2010 Wabi Cycles Special

I’ve been flogging the Wabi Special for just a little over a month now. This sleek, light fixed-gear bike is designed right here in the US. Fixed gear bikes are quite popular among urban commuters due to their utilitarian form, efficiency and reliability. Here’s another look at the Wabi Special right after I took my first ride on it in early July:

Note that I had mounted some cheap resin platform pedals to it. They were the only loose pedals I had laying around at the time. I rode it like this for about a week. This was my first time riding fixed gear. Says the late, awesome and infinitely wise Sheldon Brown of this:

Sometimes, novice fixed-gear riders will try to use plain pedals with no form of retention system. I strongly advise against this. Riding fixed with plain pedals is an advanced fixed gear skill, only recommended for experienced fixed-gear riders.

Frankly, this never really gave me any problems. Still, after a while, I swapped my SPD pedals over from my road bike. I was able to maintain a much higher cadence and keep better control of the bike’s speed down hills. I thought that uphills would be slow going or that fixed gear would otherwise slow me down quite a bit, but the truth is that fixed gear offers a different riding experience. You really have to try it to know what I’m talking about. I highly recommend it. This isn’t about riding fixed gear, though. It’s a review about the 2010 Wabi Special.

Visually, the Wabi Special’s frame is stunning in its simplicity. It has gorgeous crafted lugs and svelte tubing. The Burnt Red color has a brilliant metallic finish. Of all the builds and colors Wabi Offers, this has to be my favorite.
The Lab-O-Ratory

The Lab-O-Ratory

Wabi Special offers a parts combination that at first glance is somewhat run-of-the-mill. FSA Headset. Visually Unremarkable rims, cranks, and brakes. Inexpensive Kenda Tires. In a way, the build really keeps the focus on the frame, but complements it well and brings a complete bicycle (sans pedals) that’s very simple and elegant.

Functionally, this build is very solid and never misses a beat. With pedals, my review bike weighed in at just a smidge over 19 pounds. While that’s not an ultra-light bike, it’s the lightest bike I’ve ever ridden. I’m used to riding aluminum road bikes, and the Wabi’s thin-walled Reynolds 725 steel tubing brought a very mellow road feel that I quickly came to enjoy. Once it gets moving, it feels like a cannonball barreling down the road. The geometry is great for a commuter bike. It’s not at all aggressive, but it’s still easy and comfortable to get into the drops and hammer away. I found the brake levers a bit of a stretch for my smaller hands, but I managed to find a hand position over the hoods that worked just fine for braking.

I thought that the 23mm tires would be a bit of a problem on my route, which is through a blighted industrial area that runs along the railroad with 6 different crossings on each direction of my commute. The only problem I had was during the rain, when railroad crossings are treacherous for everyone on two wheels. Even then, I was able to keep the shiny side up. It’s easier to keep traction on a fixed gear bike. The tires held up to all kinds of abuse, and the steel frame made the torn-up pavement quite tolerable.
Santa Fe Trail Drive

The OEM Saddle was a bit uncomfortable for me, especially since I was sporting some extra weight in a backpack. Saddles are definitely a personal preference kind of thing, though. Half-way through my review, I swapped the saddle from my commuter bike over, and it was a world of difference. My clydesdale butt doesn’t seem to do too well with narrower ass-hatchets, but it wasn’t any fault of the bike. Many people change saddles when they get a bike.

I can’t get over how smooth and silent the Wabi Special is. There was not a single noise from the drive train at all. One day, I averaged 18.6 MPH for my homeward trip, which is pretty good when I’m my road bike. Under my normal cycling effort, my average commute time didn’t drop at all with fixed gear, and it was a genuine pleasure to ride. I don’t know that I would choose to commute on a fixed gear every day, but I can say I certainly “get it” now more than ever. What a blast!

I already discussed Wabi Cycles’ competitive pricing and different models back in July. After spending a month with this beauty, I can truly say it’s a quality ride if you’re in the market for a new fixie. Alas, I’ve packed her back up and she’s headed back home to Los Angeles. She’ll be missed, for certain!

Spec and order your own Wabi Special | Other Wabi Cycles | Wabi Cycles Home

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

P.S. No-Hands Danger Panda!
Renner Blvd & W 116th St

Gutter Bunnies

Gutter Bunnies are cyclists who ride on or outside the fog line, on the shoulder, or on the narrow concrete road gutter. There are certain times that it’s beneficial to use this paved real-estate, but those of us who ride regularly might want to think twice about using the gutter all the time. Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. The gutter is unkempt: It’s usually riddled with road debris, pot-holes, storm drains, and other bad stuff. The cyclist either has to risk damaging the bike and possibly losing control, or has to be prepared to dart out into the lane to avoid these perils. Neither option is safe.
  2. Motorists aren’t expecting anything on the shoulder or in the gutter. The guy 2 cars behind you probably can’t even see you until he’s right on top of you, thanks to the car between you and him obstructing the view. If that motorist is driving too far to the right, you get clipped or at least have a close call.
  3. The Right Hook: A right-turning motorist is likely to underestimate your speed and make a right turn directly into your path.

Most states have laws similar to Kansas which pertain to bicycles on the road (gathered from KansasCyclist.com):

8-1587. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles.
Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this act, except as otherwise provided in K.S.A. 8-1586 to 8-1592, inclusive, and except as to those provisions of this act which by their nature can have no application.
8-1590. Riding on bicycles or mopeds; riding on roadways and bicycle paths.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except under any of the following situations when: (1) Overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; (2) preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or (3) reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving bicycles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or narrow width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand edge of the roadway.

That is to say that in many places in the US, if you’re going slower than traffic, you aren’t required by law to be a Gutter Bunny, but you usually have to stay to the right as far as you can within safety and reason. That, to me, precludes things like storm drains, twigs and glass bottles and other things in my path.

When there’s room, I usually stay near the area where most cars’ right wheel goes.  On multi-lane roads where there’s a wide outer lane, there’s usually ample room for your bike in a safe lane position, 3-4 feet of buffer, and another car without it having to cross the line.  On multi-lane roads without a wide outer lane, this lane position makes it much more likely that passing motorists will simply change lanes to get around you.  It’s also a more assertive position that makes your place in traffic quite clear.  Turning motorists will almost always hang back.

When the roads are narrower and full of no-passing-zones, the road dynamic changes quite a bit. Most motorists have learned that they can cross the double line to get around slow moving vehicles quickly and safely, within the spirit (although not the letter) of the law. Dave Moulton wrote a great ranty piece about this phenomenon.

There are a number of debates about bike lanes, sidewalks, paths, using the road, and all that. I really don’t mind using bike-specific infrastructure, but it’s far from a requirement for getting around.

Introducing: Wabi Cycles

Wabi Cycles is an outfit in Los Angeles that specializes in fixed gear bikes. They offer three different models available as a complete bike or as a frameset.

Richard Snook, founder of Wabi Cycles was kind enough to send us the Wabi Special in Burnt Red. In my opinion, this is the most striking bike they sell.
The Lab-O-Ratory

Its lugged construction and cast horizontal dropouts combined with the deep, metallic red/orange paint really set this machine apart, visually. Mechanically, this is a no-frills transportation machine. The Reynolds 725 tubing is strong yet very light, making for a bike that’s got an amazing road feel. The lugged construction of the Wabi Special comes at a cost, though. The beauty pictured above will set you back $925 as shown, or $600 for the frameset.

The Wabi Classic is a nearly identical bike as far as components, feel and weight are concerned. This practical bike is simply TIG welded instead of lugged and brazed. It’s also very attractively priced ($675 for a complete bike, $350 for the frameset) if you compare it to the popular, heavier mainstream fixies such as the Surly Steamroller ($720, $420).

In the middle of the price range is the Wabi Lightning ($825, $500 for complete and frameset respectively.) The Lightning features a butted scandium frame with carbon fork blades, and comes in nearly three pounds lighter than its steel cousins. (Note: I had mistakenly called this an aluminum frame in an earlier revision.)

I’ve put about 15 miles on the Wabi Special so far. This is the first fixed-gear bike I’ve ridden any significant distance. My initial reaction: This bike really wants to just go. It’s the smoothest, mellowest, quetest bike I’ve ridden, and I had no problems sporting a backpack for my usual daily commute. I made it to work at the same time I usually do on my triple-crank road bike with all its gizmos and gadgets. I easily adjusted to the fundamental simplicity of fixed-gear once I learned to break myself of my coasting habit.

Some people have asked me why a bicycle commuting site is reviewing a fixie without braze-ons, doodads and widgets. That’s simple. You don’t need a purpose-built commuting bicycle any more than your co-workers need a purpose-built car to get to and from the office. Single speed and fixed gear bikes are quite popular among commuters, especially those of us who don’t have epic cross-town commutes. In fact, Richard Snook himself is a bicycle commuter, as you can read on the Wabi Cycles “About” page.

As with every review I do, the Wabi Special will be my primary vehicle for the coming weeks, and I’ll have a full review of my experience before I box it up and send it back home to the city of angels.

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