Category: Gear

Last week I met with one of the owners of the Companion Bike Seat, Michael Babb for lunch. During our meeting we discussed the intricacies of the bike seat and how it became an actual product. We hung out for about an hour eating delicious Korean food that we had no idea what it was called.

Michael gave me a test unit to review and I’ve finally installed it on my wife’s bike. This was the only bike I had in my stable of 15 rigs that would work with the Companion. But more on that later. The installation only took about 10-15m minutes. All I needed were my basic tools such as a ratchet, extension and 15mm socket (for axle nuts). The Companion comes with 5mm allen key so you can tighten the rack onto the pegs.

companion bike seat

The seat cushion is VERY comfortable and soft. It also acts as a lockable trunk unit in which two keys are provided.
companion bike seat on bikecommuters.com

The trunk compartment has enough room for your lock, lunch, beer, cigars or whatever you want to keep safe.
Companion bike seat preview

So let’s go back to what I meant by using this seat on my wife’s bike. You see her Nirve Scurvy was the only bike I have in our collection that would allow for me to install those pegs. I can’t use it with a Quick Release or a bike with a Nexus shifter. Upon my first test ride with me being the passenger, basically all I did was scoot myself far enough to sit on the Companion and I have to say that cushion is like sitting on a pillow. Very comfy and even with my weight (202lbs, 2lbs above the suggested limit), the seat felt stable.

The Companion has an MSRP of $149.95.

I plan on reviewing this in the next few weeks and give you a low down how it does once we put it through the paces.

I thought I was doing just fine with my current bike light setup—yes, my front light is secured with electrical tape and it needs to be encouraged to turn on with a good smack or two. And yes, rear lights mysteriously disappear en route between my apartment and the office on a regular basis. Ok, who am I kidding, I need a new bike light system. Luckily for me, I’ve been tasked with testing out a couple different options. First up, Dorcy Hawkeye lights.

1-Dorcy Hawkeye Light

Dorcy doesn’t mess around with lights. The company’s products range from personal flashlights and headlamps to heavy duty spotlights and signal wands (for directing traffic). The Dorcy Hawkeye LED bike lights promise to pack a punch with the front light boasting 200 lumens, guaranteeing to light the path 200 meters down the road and to be seen from even further away—same goes for the rear light.

2-Dorcy lights in package

The Dorcy LED bike light  is not a dainty addition at nearly half a pound including three AA batteries. Even with the option of using rechargeable batteries, I’m not a big fan of battery powered devices, if only because I never seem to have extra batteries when I need them most.

3-Dorcy light out of the package

The battery cartridge has a satisfying barrel-like design, reminiscent of a revolver’s bullet chamber. Not sure why I like that so much, but I do. Though it doesn’t help the overall weight, which seems a bit hefty to me.

5. Dorcy light size

The light itself is much larger than most, nearly five inches long. But this is no ordinary bicycle light, my friends. Thanks to a patented quick release feature, the “durable aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, corrosion resistant” light chamber pops out of the bike clamp, transforming into a handheld flashlight. Snazzy.

With the rubber-padded bracket attachment, the light stayed secured to my handle bars with no obnoxious rattling (which is just the worst) or movement up and down. Dorcy claims that the bracket will fit any bike on the North American market, so I’m guessing this light will fit just as securely on nearly any bike.

4-Dorcy light on roy

The Dorcy Hawkeye features a wide-angle, rectangular light beam rather than a traditional focused beam, which helps to illuminate the entire road ahead while limiting (unnecessary) spread of light upwards. They also claim that this feature “will not blind pedestrians.” I tested this assertion by making my friend, Sarah stand still while I rode toward her, light blaring. Sarah still seemed to cringe way from the light, but once I rode closer, the beam did indeed remain below her eyes.

Dorcy

On to the rear light: the Dorcy Hawkeye Tail Light features three super high brightness LEDs that can be seen from 200 meters away. Like the front light, the rear light’s mounting clamp is tool-free and adjusts easily to fit snuggly on any 24 – 32 mm diameter seat post. Plus, the patented bracket adjusts for a horizontal or vertical orientation.

6-Dorcy rear light

Personally, I appreciated how the adjustable pin and padded clamp allowed me to really crank the bracket on for maximum security. No more losing a rear light on a packed train car or bumpy road! (Notice the velcro remains of a previous light still clinging to my seat post?)

7-Dorcy rear light mounted

For my first ride with these lights, I ventured out through Golden Gate Park to catch the sunset and make sure that it was good and dark for my return ride.

8-Dorcy Light Sunset

Both the rear and front lights have just two setting: steady beam and flashing. As promised, I felt like my lights could be seen from blocks and blocks away. Seriously, I was lighting up reflective street signs as far as I could see (maybe five or six blocks). Also, the front light has two slits on either side, allowing light to filter out and illuminate the area right and left of the rider. While this is a bonus for visibility, I found it to be distracting with the light shining in my eyes.

10-Dorcy light at the beach

For everyday commuting, the front light is a bit large and hefty for my tastes; on the other hand, I would definitely choose the Dorcy Hawkeye for my pre-sunrise rides through poorly lit backroads. Not only would I be well visible to traffic, but my path would also be lit clear as day.

The Dorcy Hawkeye LED Personal Light front bike light retails for $55.00 and can be purchased directly from Dorcy.com—same goes for the LED Bicycle Tail Light, which retails for about $13.99.

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

I’ve been riding the On-One Fatty fatbike for a few weeks now, and I am ready to share some initial thoughts with you.

I also want to clarify something before we get started. We reached out to Planet X/On-One USA for this bike primarily to test for our sister site Mtnbikeriders.com after our experiences with fatbikes in Las Vegas last September. But, we thought, “why don’t we try this bike out as a commuter, too?” While we’ve long been advocates of the “you don’t need anything special to be a bike commuter” camp, there ARE times when the right tool for the job is something a bit off the beaten path. Fatbikes, as you can imagine, are definitely not a typical everyday commuter choice for the vast majority of us.

As I mentioned in my introduction, there was almost no snow on the ground when the bike was delivered. I didn’t have to wait long, though, as plenty more came only days later…and proceeded to pile up every couple of days thereafter.

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So far, it has been a lot of fun, but there’s also been a bit of a learning curve. Think of fatbikes as an overgrown mountain bike…but one capable of tackling terrain that may leave a regular MTB spinning its wheels. Riding a fatbike in hairy conditions isn’t always as easy as swinging a leg over and pedaling away, though, as I quickly learned.

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The On-One Fatty features an aluminum frame and a steel fork. I tested the 18″ frame (measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube), and it fit just right (I’m about 5′ 9″). The frame is constructed with a doubled top tube and a low standover height, crucial for when you’ve got to stop in knee-deep snow. That doubled top tube and the overall construction means the Fatty is stiff from front to back; there was ZERO flex even when horsing this brute around in the white stuff.

The parts spec was fine for my purposes — nothing exotic, and everything worked just the way it was supposed to. Remember that we are testing a 1×10 drivetrain, and the newest version of the Fatty comes with a 2×10 for some extra hillclimbing gearing or bailout range if things get really ugly.

The Fatty did well when the snow was packed down or if it was a bit damp and heavy (snow in near-freezing conditions). It did tend to bog down in fresh, dry powder (well below freezing temps) or if the snow was saturated from melting. I asked my fatbike guru Chris Follmer for advice along the way, and he mentioned that generally, ALL fatbikes exhibit the same preferences for snow conditions. Some of that depends on tire tread and pressure, of course. I would like to try other tire patterns to see if some grip better in dry powder than the stock tires that come with the Fatty.

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I did play with pressure, though…going as low as 5 psi, but generally hovering right around 7 psi for the best balance of grip and rolling resistance. On slushy roads or soft, muddy ground, the Fatty sings right along. On dry pavement…well, you can imagine that low pressures mean a sluggish ride. On dry days, I cranked the pressure up around 15 psi to see how the ride was — while there was still a good bit of rolling resistance, I was able to knock out an 18 mile trail/road ride in short order and without too much extra effort. Even with the high pressure (relative to most fatbike uses), there’s a lot of natural suspension effect going on with the huge tire volume. Talk about smooth sailing!

Most fatbikes come with wide handlebars…I mean, REALLY W-I-D-E bars. The El Guapo Ancho bars that came on our test Fatty measure 820mm from end to end! Wide bars are needed to help keep the front end from wallowing out in soft conditions, allowing the rider to apply lots of “body english” as needed. Learning to relax my grip on the bars took me a few rides; at first, I was clenching them pretty tightly and wandering all over the place. Once I discovered that I could track better by relaxing, I started doing that…allowing me to stay in tire ruts made by cars, or packed-down areas on the trail.

Riding the Fatty has been like rolling along on a giant BMX bike — it encourages some horseplay and frolicking in the snow! I really enjoyed the solid lockup of the Avid Elixir hydraulic discs (yes, hydraulic — even in below-zero temps)…it made powerslides on ice an easy thing:

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And, like our friend Vince Rodarte told me, “the Fatty is a wheelie monster!” Oh, how right he was…a big, soft tire and low gearing made it a snap to pop serious wheelies:

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In our formal review in a few weeks, we’ll talk about commuting potential and the particulars of this bike’s running gear. In the meantime, if your commute requires traversing snow, deep sand, mud, or you simply like to take shortcuts over the rough stuff, a fatbike might be just what you’ve been waiting for.

This morning I was zipping down a six block descent on my way to work, eyeing a sporty black car that was creeping suspiciously down the hill. As a good defensive bicyclist, I slowed my roll, covering the brakes as I gained on the car and an approaching intersection. The light was green; I was headed straight through the intersection and so was the car until it made an unexpected, unsignaled right turn, cutting me off. Luckily, I had slowed significantly and changed my trajectory, turning right alongside the car. Not sure if the driver even noticed me.

I was lucky. Sometimes defensive biking isn’t enough to avoid a collision.

This was not my first near miss, not even the first one of the week, so when a friend told me about the BLAZE Laserlight, my first thought was, “I could definitely use a little green bicycle fairy.” Because that’s what the BLAZE light is: a high-powered LED that projects a green bicycle shape onto the roadway about 16 feet in front of a cyclist, warning drivers of an approaching rider. Hopefully, the green bike will alert space-cadet drivers and make cyclists less vulnerable to blind spots and other potential dangers.

A little green friend.

It’s true, BLAZE Laserlight is just the newest iteration of an idea that’s been around for several years—check out these laser beam bike buffers—but I have yet to see this concept in action on the street. Maybe it seems like overkill to have little green bikes (or laser beams) announcing a cyclist’s every turn.

On the other hand, maybe laser beams are just the beginning. A group of engineering students at Northeastern have taken bike safety to the extreme, creating the Interactive Bicyclist Accident Prevention System (iBAPS). The “smart bike” prototype incorporates a plethora of safety features.

Extreme safety measures.

Smarter than your average cyclist? The iBAPS features:

  • Sensors to detect cars impinging on a cyclists space
  • Laser beams (of course) that project a 3-foot wide virtual bike lane
  • If a car comes too close, the bike “emits a loud message, telling drivers to move further away.” (I think we’re all wondering the same thing, what is this message and is it customizable?)
  • When approaching an intersection at high speed, the handlebars vibrate as a warning to slow down. (Frightening.)
  • Using Bluetooth tech, the bike can sync up with a rider’s smartphone leading to all kinds of excessive data extrapolation. Like tracking riding trends to inform the biker how likely it is that their riding behavior will lead to a crash.
  • With the smartphone GPS, the bike can vibrate the handlebars, alerting the rider to make the correct turns to reach a destination. (I just can’t get over the vibrating thing. It would scare the crap outta me.)
  • As cars get smarter too, eventually the bike will be able to communicate with vehicles on the road. (Where’s  my self-riding bicycle, Google?)

Read more about the iBAPS smart bike from the Boston.com.

All these features make my measly helmet & flashing lights seem antiquated. I’m all for bike safety measures and, although some of these seem a bit extreme, to ensure I arrive to my destination unscathed, nothing may be too extreme.

How far would you go to ensure your safety while bike commuting? Is it possible that the iBAPS is missing any features?

 

Here’s an interesting article that appeared in our Google News Feed the other day — from Fast Company, folks who know a thing or two about technology and new businesses:

Bicycles, with their gears and pedal power may seem like the Luddites of the transportation family, but the technology available to improve your ride is out there, it’s growing, and it’s helping more Americans consider bikes as a method of transportation than ever before.

If you’re a cyclist, or have friends who prefer two wheels to four, you are aware of how passionate people can be about bicycles, and specifically their enthusiasm for bike evangelism.

Tyler Doornbos, of Bike Friendly Goods in Grand Rapids, Michigan, chatted with me about some of the “barriers to entry” for getting more people on bikes, and how new technologies are addressing some of those issues. I’ve taken his advice and put together this short guide to digitizing your bike commute.

Read the full article by visiting the Fast Company page here. The article serves as a rundown of emerging new tech and devices to make your commute safer and easier. You may have heard of some of the technology already, but there were a few products in the article that were completely new to me, and I try to stay abreast of the trends in the industry. The article is worth a look, in any case.