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Review: Bluff Works commuter pants

Over the winter, Stefan Loble, the founder of Bluff Works, reached out to us to see if we wanted to try out his company’s pants. As it was still brutally cold where I lived, I agreed but knew it would be a while before I could give them a proper on-bike shakedown.

Well, many months later and we’ve finally gotten a good bit of use out of the pants. RL and I teamed up to offer our thoughts and observations of the pants for your review.

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First off, the pants themselves. Here are some details straight from the Bluff Works website:

* 100% technical, breathable quick-dry polyester. Nylon pockets.

* Zippered front hidden internal security pocket to deter pickpockets. Large enough to hold your passport.

* Rear zippered pocket sized for an oversized travel wallet.

* Discrete side pocket phone storage to keep you from sitting on it. Fits an iPhone or a Galaxy S4.

* Hidden loop to clip keys or a security badge inside your front pocket.

* Nickle-free jean tack closure.

* Interior pocket images made to inspire.

* Designed and manufactured in New York City, of imported fabric from Taiwan.

* Machine washable. Line or tumble dry.

One thing to make clear right up front: these pants are not marketed for bike commuters, nor do they have any bike-specific features. The features the Bluff Works DO have turn out to be great for we bike commuters, even if they were not specifically intended for us.

The stitching is tight and even, and the fabric feels like a very quality material. The Bluff Works are put together very nicely. They come in four colors: charcoal, classic grey, velvet brown, and light khaki. I got a charcoal pair to wear, and RL got khaki.

The zippered pockets and key-hanging tab are great for an active lifestyle. You don’t have to worry about items falling (or being lifted) from your pockets on the subway or the bike. The soft nylon inner pockets feel great against the skin, and are roomy enough for pretty much anything you need to carry. Best of all, the care instructions are printed right on the pocket liners!

Zippered inner pocket:
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Key tab:
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Instructions:
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Jack’s thoughts:

The polyester fabric is soft, and has a slight sheen. My wife didn’t care for the sheen, but I rather liked it. I think these pants make me look pretty good, and I think they make RL look good, too. As you may remember from our previous review of the Levi’s commuter pants, I think commuter-friendly pants should actually look the part of business-appropriate attire, not dolled-up jeans. The Bluff Works answer my prayers in that respect! I felt perfectly comfortable in casual situations as well as more formal events. Hell, I even wore these beauties to a memorial ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, and a couple people remarked on my snappy duds.

The cut was overall pretty perfect for my body. I did find the waist-to-crotch measurement a bit snug, and you’ll see that RL did too. Otherwise, the pants were comfortable and stayed looking nice — no ironing needed after a wash.

As I mentioned, the pants aren’t geared specifically toward cyclists, so all the seams and whatnot are just where you’d expect them to be in a pair of regular street pants. That being said, I didn’t notice any discomfort riding with the Bluff Works pants on. They stayed nice, too — with the fabric warding off splashes and stains and staying wrinkle-free, you really could go directly from bike to boardroom in these!

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I give the pants a solid thumbs-up, but I’d love to see perhaps a reflective inner cuff or something to make them a little more bike-friendly for our purposes. And, at $88 for a really nicely-made pair of pants, designed AND manufactured in New York City, I really applaud that. I’ve spent more for lesser pants that didn’t look (or perform) half as nicely.

RL’s thoughts:

I liked the way they fit, a bit more slim than my other slacks, but they’re nothing like skinny or hipster jeans. It’s super hard for me to find pants with a 29″ inseam…yes, I’ve got short legs. When I received them I wore them to various holiday parties and events without having the need to iron or even wash them. Yes that’s correct, I didnt’ wash them for about 3 months! During those 3 months, I wore them about 5 different times. I didn’t have to iron them either. Basically after I wore them, I hung them on pants hangers, the kind that you clip the waist to. That allowed the fabric to relax and not get wrinkled.

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The material used isn’t as soft as some of my other slacks,but it is more durable. With that said, it’s thicker and rougher to the touch. They almost remind me of a better quality of Dickies work pants, but much more stylish. I dug the zippered pocket in the rear and the other in one of the side pockets. Speaking of side pocket, the right side had this cool loop that you can clip your keys onto for safe keeping.

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Surprisingly the Bluff Works pants never caught a stain nor did any of the stitching come undone. I wear these pants anytime I am going to a business meeting, church, or on a hot date with my wife. She actually likes the way these fit on me. One thing you have to look out for, MOOSE KNUCKLE. That’s the boy version of Camel Toe. Ya these pants are notorious for showing off your package especially if you’re sitting down. I noticed this when I was at church. I was sitting and when it was time to pray, I looked down and WHOA! I had to use my Bible to cover up and be modest!

Other than the Moose Knuckle, no complaints about these pants. They wash easily, wrinkles come out if you just let them hang, doesn’t stain and no odor! Yep, even the most humid of days that produce the worst swamp balls/ass, no stank.

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Again, the Bluff Works might not have any bike-specific features, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking these out. Outstanding fit and finish, smart features, and a polished look are worth the price of admission. Bluff Works is planning other products in the future, so keep your eyes out. In the meantime, swing over to their website, where the pants are available for online purchase.

Companion Bike Seat Review

Earlier in the spring we got a chance to test out something called the Companion Bike Seat. Basically, this product gets installed on your bike much like any pannier rack would. The difference is you can actually carry a passenger (up to 200lbs). In addition, it has a lockable storage area to place anything you want that could fit in there.

The only bike in my collection that I was able to install the Companion on was my wife’s Nirve beach cruiser.

Installation was a breeze; no more than 15 minutes using basic tools such as a socket set and allen keys. What you see below allows the rack to be secured onto the seat post. You can fully adjust the pitch of the seat. If the bike was bigger or the post was further away, you can adjust this strut to ensure a proper fit.

Reflectors on the rear of the seat. You can see from this angle the lock for the trunk.

Heavy duty constructions allows for a 200lb passenger. Notice the pegs? That’s where the passenger places their feet and they are what the rack mounts onto. The rack itself has a wide stance, which means that it mounts somewhat wide onto the pegs. This makes the seat stable especially when you’re turning or if you’ve got a heavier passenger. One of the tests we did was to see if it would flex/sway when taking sharp turns. When riding through sharp turns with an adult male on the back, the rack didn’t sway/flex. If anything it’s the passenger who ends up getting nearly tossed off the seat. Just keep in your mind that this rack is pretty burly and VERY stable.

Lockable storage trunk. Perfect for food, electronic devices, cigars and donuts.

It is in our opinion that the Companion Bike Seat is a well made product. During our testing phases, nothing broke or had any type of issues. Our passengers all said that the cushion was very soft and that the rack felt stable. Our only complaint with this product…actually two complaints:

The first one would be that you can’t use it with a quick release wheel. It has to be installed on a bolted axle. This means it won’t work with a Nexus hub or any other type of internally geared hub that has a shifting mechanism on the other side of the dropout. Another complaint would be the inability to hang panniers. Sure you can place things in the storage trunk, but what if you’re picking up your kids from school and they have books to carry or if you’re doing a groceries run? It would be great to see their future models have some sort of mounting/hook system that gives that option.

Other than that, it’s a pretty great idea. There really hasn’t been any other products to my knowledge that works like this. Most rear racks have a load capacity of no more than 60lbs. But the Companion
Bike Seat is capable of carrying 200lbs. If you think about the alternatives in the bike world in regards of being able to carry 200lbs, you’d have to spend quite a bit of money for a cargo bike or something like the Xtracycle. I’ve owned cargo bikes and an Xtracycle before. They’re great and all, but they’re big and bulky. Yes I do realize that the Companion doesn’t have the same load capacity of an Xtracycle, but I used mine to carry my kids about 90% of the time that I owned it. So with that in mind, having a product that costs a fraction of the price of a cargo bike, but gives you the ability to carry a passenger would be a WIN WIN in my book. Just think about it, $149.95 isn’t much. With this simple product you can now carry your kids, go on a date with the wife/girlfriend or go bar hopping (you as the designated driver).

The Companion has an MSRP of $149.95.

For more information about the Companion Bike Seat, please visit their site.

Our FTC Review Disclaimer.

Review: More of Swiftwick’s socks

Remember last week, when we posted our first review of Swiftwick’s socks? I mentioned that there were two more pairs to check out, and here they are.

First up, the Swiftwick Sustain One in black:

From Swiftwick’s site:

The only sock on the market created from post-industrial recycled nylon, the SUSTAIN Line is our finest tribute to our commitment to the planet and the earth-conscious athlete in us all. From our refusal to use chemicals to wick away moisture, to our commitment to being made in the USA – we strive to be carbon neutral in our approach. Our philosophy is to conserve and recycle, while creating the best products you will ever wear, guaranteed.

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Of the Swiftwick socks I received to review, these were my favorites — the fabric is super-soft against my skin, they wick sweat perfectly, the cuff was just the right length, and they are thin enough to fit nicely in tight cycling shoes. I was a bit skeptical about the recycled nylon material at first, but it has proven to be incredibly durable…although it does collect static electricity and attracts dog hair and fuzz in droves when I’m padding around the house. The Sustain’s compression helped cradle my foot arches and helped prevent cramping (as I mentioned in the previous review).

Next up is the Vibe One in black/red/grey:

From Swiftwick’s website:

Unique in the Swiftwick family, the VIBE line is a little more plush, and a lot more colorful. Using a half height terry loop throughout the footbed, the VIBE offers a highly consistent, thicker feeling with linked toe construction and slightly less compression. To carry the color, it’s flat knit, super thin upper is smooth and snug.

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You may have remembered I mentioned in the first socks review that the no-cuff or “Zero” cuff size of the Swiftwick socks wasn’t to my liking? The “One” cuff length, on the other hand, is perfect…nice low tanline and no “Lance’s tall black socks” feel here:

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The footbed area of the Vibe socks is a bit thicker than the other pairs, but not unreasonably so. It’s very comfortable, and the thin upper ensures they will fit nicely into the tightest, low-volume cycling shoes. That extra cush is perfect for hike-a-bikes and for rides that include a bit of standing around or walking (my typical commutes, at least). Again, the compression features really do make a difference, even if the Vibe socks don’t have as strong a “hug” against my feet. And, they look great.

The Sustain socks retail between $11.99 and $16.99, depending on cuff length. The Vibes retail for $12.99 to $14.99, depending on cuff length. All in all, the Swiftwick socks are a great value and their features really make a difference on bike rides. Anytime I can avoid foot cramping makes me a happy cyclist!

Check out Swiftwick’s full line of socks for a variety of sports by visiting their website.

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

Review: Swiftwick’s Aspire and Pursuit Socks

A couple of months ago, I received a treasure trove of socks to test from Swiftwick‘s PR person. We got four different styles to try out, so for today’s review we’re going to start with the shortest and longest of the four pairs.

First up, the Swiftwick Aspire Zero in red:

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From Swiftwick’s site:

The ASPIRE™ Line is thin and light for serious runners, cyclists and athletes of any sport. We eliminated the toe seam using linked-toe technology, which means no bunching in the toe box.

Made of a thin synthetic, the Aspires are available in 9 colors, 5 cuff lengths (Zero, 1″, 4″, 7″, and 12″) and four sizes. There is even a military-compliant version, which means (I think) no visible logo on the cuffs.

The Aspire Zeros fit my feet great. I have an unconscious tendency to curl my toes inside my shoes when I am battling up a hill or really putting down the tempo, and that leads to cramps in my toes and foot arches. The compression nature of the Aspire socks helped keep me from doing that. See the whitish band visible under the surface on the photo above? That’s additional elastic that helps support the arch of my foot. That and the ribbing make for a very comfortable, supportive fit, indeed. My foot felt like one solid “unit”, if you can imagine that.

The omission of the toe seam means that even in snug shoes, there is no painful chafing. I think we’ve all experienced socks with pronounced seams in that area, and that’s no fun, especially when you’re out on your bike.

As far as for the cuff length, it’s just a hair too short for my taste — I prefer low cycling socks, but the Zeros were a little too close to the mouth of my shoes, and if they slipped down, there was a bit of chafing around my ankle. I think the Aspire Ones would have been perfect. Still, these lightweights are great on really warm days!

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Next up is the Pursuit Seven in black:

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From Swiftwick’s website:

Socks born from the same technology and spirit of our synthetic lines with two key differences: The PURSUIT(TM) line comes fused with the natural and thermal properties of super fine, 36 micron Merino Wool sourced from farmers right here in America AND is the only 200-needle compression wool sock on the market. In short, these socks are built of the finest, by the finest.

The Pursuits are made from a blend of Merino wool and synthetic (64% Merino wool, 29% nylon, 7% Spandex). That lends them a luxurious feel against the skin, and makes the socks thicker — perfect for cooler days, but plenty fine for warm days, too, as wool helps regulate the temps. They are available in four sizes, six colors, and six cuff lengths (Zero, 1″, 2″, 4″, 7″, and 12″). The Sevens have a bit of an unappealing “Lance Armstrong’s tall black socks” feel when worn with shorts and cycling shoes. However, the Pursuits in this length are PERFECT for wear with your office attire and regular shoes — they look, but certainly don’t feel, like regular old black socks. All the compression benefits of Swiftwick’s other sock lines are here, and the material feels great against my skin. I’ve been wearing these socks on cooler days and with regular street attire. They’re not bad on hotter days, either, but I like a thinner sock on the truly hot days.

The Swiftwick Aspires range between $12.99 and $35.99, depending on length, and the Pursuits range from $15.99 to $34.99, depending on length. That represents a pretty great value, as both pairs are made from great materials and have the advanced compression and anti-chafe features baked right in. Swiftwick makes a huge variety of other socks, too, all in a host of colors. Check them out by visiting their website.

Next week, we’ll have a review of the other two pairs of Swiftwicks. Stay tuned!

Taking care of your gear

Editor’s note: we’ve touched on the subject of cycling fabric care before — here are a variety of new tips for you to mull over as the weather heats up.

Looking After Your Cycling Clothes
If you’re a regular cyclist, then you know how important the clothes you wear are. They are an investment, keeping you at a comfortable temperature, keeping you dry and always there to prevent soreness and injury. What’s more important is looking after them so you can get the best use and value to ensure you don’t have to fork out for another set of cycling gear over and over again. Make sure that yours last with these helpful tips.

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Air It Out
Don’t let your sweaty bike clothes fester in a pile, especially if they are damp. The damp encourages bacteria to form and will make your clothes smell. Airing and drying your garments will prevent this to a certain degree.

Before You Wash
When you wash your gear, make sure that you turn them inside out, and apply pre-wash detergent to the areas that are worst affected.
Zip up any zips and close up any hook and loop fastenings before you wash, as these can damage garments. Place them in a mesh bag to prevent them being tangle and stretched with other items in the wash. Avoid putting them in with jeans or towels. Your cycle gear should be treated as ‘delicates’.

Nothing Too Complicated

The soap or detergent that you use to wash your clothes should be just that. Don’t use scents, dyes or softeners on your cycling gear.
Wash on a cool temperature, and if they don’t smell clean enough for your liking, wash them in vinegar or a specialist sports wash detergent. You don’t want your clothes to smell like detergent either, though, as this can irritate your skin.

Air Dry
If you can, always air dry your gear. Tumble drying can damage the fibres if too hot, so stick to a cooler heat if you have to tumble dryer.

Waterproofs
Waterproof cycling gear needs special care, as they are complex garments. Fabrics like Texapore, used on E-Outdoors’ collection of Jack Wolfskin garments, have a breathable, waterproof membrane that lets vapour, but not liquid through. The outer shell is often hard-wearing and coated with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating, which can wear off over time. You can re-waterproof your garments with a wash-in product or a simply spray. Wash in will waterproof the entire garment – though remaining most effective on the outer shell because DWR will only bind to existing DWR. A spray-on will only coat what you spray.

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A last tip, always remember not to tumble dry waterproofed garments as they could end up smaller than you’d like!