Category: Gear

Remember a couple months ago, we reviewed Pearly’s Possum Socks? Well, Duke from Pearly’s has some good news to share with everyone:

Pearly’s volume has grown significantly over the last 12 months and we are now getting far better prices on our raw materials…which allows us to lower the list price. So…I am really excited to share that Pearly’s now have a much lower list price of only $38 bucks a pair!! We are so stoked to be able to do this price reduction, I think it is going to open up the awesomeness of Pearly’s up to a much larger group of people.

That is huge news, indeed. I am sure a few people stayed away due to the high price of these wonderful socks, but now the lower price point means they’re much more affordable. Do yourself a favor this winter, and track down a pair of Pearly’s…your feet will be glad you did!

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Most of us have met commuters who need to dress a bit more formally around the office, and must carry their dressier clothing via pannier or Monday-morning car delivery. While there are a variety of ways to bring a suit to work, sometimes the best solution is to just wear it. After all, in other places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, cyclists don’t really see a need to get dressed for the ride in anything that isn’t regular work clothing. It works for them, and it can work for us.

Enter Parker Dusseau, a men’s clothier based in San Francisco. They’re making a “commuter suit” with a lot of details bicyclists can really get behind.

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The suit checks a lot of boxes…performance fabrics, deep pockets, hidden reflective trim, pit zippers, etc. Best of all, it LOOKS like a suit. Too much “commuter clothing” turns out to be fancified jeans or other attire not suitable for a more formal work environment.

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The Parker Dusseau pieces are available separately, and there are corresponding shirts and even chinos for less formal affairs. More information available at Cool Hunting or by visiting the Parker Dusseau information page.

Just before we went off to Interbike, our friend Jim at Bushnell sent us a sample from their new PowerSync line of portable solar chargers. The sample we received was the SolarWrap Mini:

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Some details directly from Bushnell’s website:

-Durable, flexible solar panels roll up into a small lightweight package for easy storage
-High solar collectivity even in less than full sun conditions
-1x USB outputs for charging your devices
-1x Micro USB for charging from a wall outlet
-On board dual long-life Li Ion batteries

Also, according to Bushnell, the SolarWrap Mini will:

-charge the internal batteries via wall outlet in 4 hours
-charge the internal batteries in full sun in 10 hours
-provide 2.5 charges to camera or GPS, 2 charges to an MP3 player or 1 charge to a smartphone.

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The solar panel itself is made of a very thin and flexible film over a woven nylon backing. It’s pretty amazing how far solar technology has come in the last 20 years — no heavy plastic or glass panels here!

Rolled up, the SolarWrap Mini is about the size of a BMX handlebar grip (about 4″ x 1.25″). It easily fits into a pocket or bag. The SolarWrap Mini comes with a “bikini-style” endcap system (rubber caps, elastic cords) to keep dust out of the USB ports. There’s a port on each end; one side houses the Micro USB “input” end (with LED charge/full indicator), the other has a standard fullsize USB port for output.

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Unfurled, the device is just a hair over 18″ long. Hook-and-loop fasteners on one side of the solar panel keep everything tidy when it is rolled up. There’s a sewn eyelet on the end of the panel to lash the device to something. I would have liked to have seen additional lashing points so that I could securely strap this device to the top of my rear rack or over the top of my backpack as I rode.

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(carabiner clip shown not included)

As claimed, the SolarWrap Mini charged in about 4 hours via wall outlet, and about 6 hours via computer USB. In the most direct sunlight I could find, I left the charger out for 12 hours and the red charging lamp was still lit. I have no way to test how much charge was in the internal battery, but the red lamp indicates that there was additional charging room to spare. Granted, the sunlight shifted throughout that period and I may have gotten some inadvertent shade at times — this is why being able to securely lash the device out into full sun would be a great addition!

The SolarWrap Mini was a godsend during our trip to Interbike. With all the time spent in airports on my way to and from Las Vegas, I put the hurtin’ on my smartphone’s battery. By plugging in the SolarWrap Mini, I was able to fully recharge the battery. Eventually, I just used it as an auxiliary battery, leaving it plugged in to my phone while I texted, chatted, and Facebooked in the various terminals I visited. The SolarWrap Mini also came in handy out in the desert — allowing me to trickle-charge my phone via solar panel while I walked around the Outdoor Demo.

The Bushnell SolarWrap Mini retails for $89.99. I think that’s a reasonable price for this device — a little extra power when you really need it can be a lifesaver! Other than the issue of securely lashing the device, the SolarWrap Mini worked as claimed and kept me in contact during long trips away from electrical outlets.

Bushnell offers a few other sizes in their PowerSync line. That means there’s a charging solution for everyone’s needs!

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

Earbuds and cycling are not a good mix in my opinion, though there is obviously controversy with this statement. Just look at the variation of law by state regarding headset use in cars (and bicycles) (1). In California, for example, “wearing headsets or earplugs in both ears is not permitted while driving or operating a bicycle” (1). Not sure about you, but a huge pet peeve of mine is listening to anything with just one ear. Most of us were born with 2 ears, making stereophonic perception the “norm,” if I may use that term.

The point is, wearing earbuds in both ears while cycling, I believe, can present a significant safety hazard by preventing the rider from hearing critical audio cues, such as another cyclist attempting to pass you, a siren, an approaching car, a pursuing dog etc. On the other hand, wearing an earbud in only one ear, while legal in most of the United States, is annoying. There are some alternative designs of headphones out there, most notably, Aftershokz’s ® open ear sport headphones that rely on bone conduction (as opposed to air conduction seen in conventional headphones/ earbuds) (2). However, review of these headphones has revealed relatively lacking audio quality, especially in the bass frequencies(3).

Outdoor Tech (OT) ® presents another approach to the issue of safely listening to your media while cycling by creating a simple, portable, durable speaker that can be mounted on your bicycle. As an introduction, OT is a Los Angeles based company whose goal is “to address the ever growing issue of blending a modern lifestyle in the age of mobile technology with the drive to be outdoors” (4).

They present a unique array of products including apparel, mobile phone cases, and pretty innovative wireless audio equipment. Featured in this article is a review of the OT Buckshot ®. Here are some stats:

Dimensions: 3.5in (9cm) long1.5in (3.8cm) diameter

Weight: 5.5 Oz/ 150 grams

10 hours on a single charge

Rechargeable lithium-ion battery, micro USB charging compatible

Built in microphone for conference calls

Bluetooth-enabled with range of up to 33 feet from device

Handlebar mount accessory

IPX5 dust and waterproof standard: will protect from water jets at any direction.

OT Buckshot fullOT Buckshot 3-4OT Buckshot profile

 

Construction (5/5): Mfirst impression of the speaker when it came was the quality, simplicity, and beauty of the construction. Very Bauhaus. It was a monochromatic (matte black) cylinder. The outer protective layer consisted of a geometrically texturized rubber sleeve. On one end of the cylinder was the metal speaker grill: solid construction. At the other face of the cylinder were three push buttons (the 2 volume buttons, and a “link” button) and a micro USB charge port nearly hermetically sealed by a thick plastic cover; these were harmoniously arranged. Overall, the the speaker felt good and solid in the hand. No clinking of internal parts when shaking it vigorously, not even after dropping it (accidentally of course) from about 5 feet.

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Ease of use (5/5): Perhaps they did this on purpose, but OT ® never sent me the instructions for the Buckshot ®, and I am glad they didn’t. Because it gave me a sense of the ease of use of this robust little speaker. There are only three buttons, two of which are to raise and lower the volume. The only other one to tweek around with was the “link” button. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out, but basically I enabled my phone’s Bluetooth then held down the link button for a good 4-5 seconds. After a few beeps and some blue and red LED flashes, I was connected. Phone calls, stored media, streaming media etc. were all connected.

Charging is a cinch. And what’s cooler is that the Buckshot ®  takes the very common micro USB port, which charges many smart phones. I actually forgot the Buckshot ® charger on one occasion but was able to charge the speaker with my own phone charger. Once again, simplicity of design, ease of use.
Finally, mounting the speaker to my bicycle handlebar (aerobar) was pretty easy to figure out.

Sound Quality (4/5): I was impressed with the sound, both as an indoor speaker and one to use whilst riding. Regardless of it being a monophonic speaker, I was able to enjoy listening to music and other audio programs through the speaker over extended periods of time. I had to turn the volume all the way up (both on the speaker and my phone) for the music to be audible in 40MPH traffic rushing by me, but it was still audible. Poorer quality of course, but audible. Not unlike car speakers in a noisy old car.

Being a cylinder, the Buckshot ® tends to concentrate sound towards whatever it is pointed at. So I felt that when biking outdoors, my own ears made up the majority audience, i.e. not as much “noise pollution” as I might expect that may or may not annoy other riders, pedestrians, etc. However, people still noticed when I rode around with the speakers on. As a pet peeve of mine is loud music blasting from neighboring cars, I tend to be more conscious of what emanates from my own vehicle (in this case my bicycle). However, I did not get a strong impression that the speakers were disturbing anyone elses’ peace.

Speakerphone Capabilities (2/5):  Having a speaker phone conversation was very good indoors. But when on the road with 40mph traffic rushing by, I could neither hear the other side of the conversation, nor could the other side hear me even when I was shouting into the speaker. I must have looked like a crazy man, screaming into my aerobars, “What’s for dinner tonight?!”

And even when the cars had passed, and it was just me, the road, and the passing breeze, I really had to raise my voice and put my ears close to the speaker to carry any semblance of a conversation, and even then, it was butchered at best.

OT Buckshot mounted CloseOT Buckshot Mounted profileOT Buckshot Mounted

Utility(3/5): Admittedly, I dropped the speaker a few times during this review, but the sound was unflinching. The Buckshot ® was also very portable and was easily packed into the top pocket of my pack. It hasn’t rained much in SoCal, but I had to test the water resistance, so I played some M83 through a row of sprinklers, and it was unscathed and unfazed. I made sure the water sprayed into the speaker grill too and there was no change in sound quality. Plus it was cool seeing the water vibrate when the music hit certain notes!

I noticed that the speaker was pretty wobbly when mounted “over the bar” and shifted significantly when going over even small bumps. As such, I mounted it under the bar, and it was a bit more stable. But going over larger bumps really caused the speaker to wiggle and nearly come off the mounting strap, and intermittently I had to push the speaker back into place to be resecured to the strap. Maybe it was because my aerobars are thinner than the handlebars.

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Applications:

1. Bike to work with your speakers then set up a conference call (indoors) at work with those same speakers.

2. Bicycle-picnic trip with portable music at your destination to set the right mood. No more need to lug around larger speakers/ radio.

3. Fun way to watch movies on your phone in a group. I actually leaned my phone against the speaker and the audio-visual worked pretty well.

Overall, the OT Buckshot ® is a robust speaker for playing music on bike rides that are not too bumpy or noisy. A nice beachside cruise would be one appropriate setting. Unfortunately, it did not perform well with the speakerphone function while riding. For $50, I think it is a good purchase, and besides the three aforementioned scenarios, this speaker has many unrealized applications.

Hope you enjoyed the review. Do good and ride well.

1. http://drivinglaws.aaa.com/laws/headsets/

2. http://www.aftershokz.com/

3. http://gizmodo.com/5972389/aftershokz-sportz-m2-review-decent-sounding-headphones-no-ears-required

4. http://www.outdoortechnology.com/Welcome_2/-Outdoor-Tech-.html

 

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

Winter’s here, and it’s time to suit up for battling the cold. I’m not talking to my many Florida friends here — I am looking at you, O Winter Warriors!

A few weeks ago, Duke from Pearly’s Possum Socks sent a pair of their cold-weather riding socks for us to test out.

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I had heard of these; in fact, Jeremy over at our sister site Mtnbikeriders.com reviewed a pair about a year ago. I remember being very intrigued by socks made from “exotic” materials, so when the opportunity came to try these out, I volunteered myself in a heartbeat!

Exotic materials, you say? Yes — as they say in the Deep South: “thar’s possum in thar!”

Let’s get something straight right off the bat, though…this isn’t the possum most of us are familiar with. Not the late-night garbage can-marauding, cat food-stealing, angry hissing variety found in the United States, but rather the cute and cuddly-looking New Zealand Brushtail Possum. Cute as it may look, it’s considered an agricultural pest in NZ.

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The socks, according to the manufacturer, are:

45% fine merino wool
40% possum fur
10% Nylon/Lycra
5% Isolfil (a polypropylene yarn)

The socks are THICK…the manufacturer states that they will compress into any shoe, but I will warn those of you with very low-volume shoes that these socks do take up some precious real estate. I myself had no issues, but I did have to adjust the straps of my road and mountain shoes quite a bit wider than normal. And LORD are these socks luxurious…they feel fantastic on the foot; soft and utterly itch-free.

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As you can see, the socks have about a 4″ cuff. For really cold rides, I thought to myself that I’d enjoy a little more cuff length, but I didn’t have any problems with drafts around my ankles. Extra length would have merely been a guilty pleasure (to be fair, I’ve spent a bit of time fantasizing about a possum/wool bodysuit on the frostiest days).

While the socks are not windproof, they’re tightly-woven. So far, I have taken them on several rides with temps just above freezing…all this while wearing my regular vented cycling shoes and no other foot coverings. The Possum Socks are warm enough for about 2 hours of riding before I started getting tingly toes. Suffice it to say that I am fairly blown away by that! In winter-weight shoes, or in shoes with foot covers, these socks should handle temperatures much lower than I experienced, and I hope to test that theory out as winter progresses.

Now, let’s talk about the price: these socks aren’t cheap. In fact, they’re rather stunningly expensive at $58 a pair. That stings, but consider this: we spend a lot of money on gear and bikes…why not spend money on stuff that actually WORKS and helps us get to work/school in comfort? I put the following question to Duke at Pearly’s:

Jack: What would you say to the naysayers who might balk at the price of these socks?

Duke: We typically ask them how much their bike cost, and how much their shoes cost. And then, how much are comfortable feet worth?

Generally, the answer is….well yeah if they actually keep my feet warm and comfortable, it doesn’t really matter what they cost.

Last year I had this great exchange with James McLean down in Santa Barbara. He was like “Are you crazy? I use plastic bags when its cold! ” And I was “James, how much did your bike cost?” And he goes “$10,000” and I go “You are riding a $10,000 bike with your feet in plastic bags???” Then I sent him a pair of socks and now he is a champion of ours.

For my own purposes, I am prepared to spend whatever it costs to stay warm in conditions like this:
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Pearly’s claims that their socks remain stink-free (like most wool clothing does) over several days of use. In the interest of science (and, to be fair, to mess with my child a bit), I wore these socks for about 5 days in a row and had my boy give them the “sniff test”. The results:

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Pearly’s Possum Socks are a luxurious way to keep your feet warm on cold rides. Yes, they are expensive, but they fully stand up to the claims the company puts forth. I look forward to slipping into them all winter long!

Visit Pearly’s website for a pair of your own, or stop by your local shop and demand they carry them. They are worth the price of admission.

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