BikeCommuters.com

Accessories

Review: Planet Bike’s “Blaze 1W” Headlight

A few months back, Planet Bike sent us two versions of their “Blaze 1W” headlight to test. Russ got the dynamo-powered version, and I got the battery-operated model.

blaze 1w

The light is only a bit bigger than many of its cousins; a slightly wider body and about 3/4″ longer than other PB lights. Much of this extra length comes from a cast aluminum heatsink that separates the head of the Blaze 1W from the rest of the body. Here’s a comparison shot of the Blaze 1W next to two other PB lights, the Beamer 1 and the Beamer 5:

comparo

The light has two brightness settings and one flashing pattern. The flash setting is the same one used by Planet Bike’s class-dominating “Superflash” taillight, and it sure gets attention…two half-power blinks followed by a full-strength blast. A friend riding in front of me stated, “it’s like being chased by the paparazzi!”

Other similarities between the Blaze 1W and other lights in the Planet Bike line include power from 2 AA batteries (I use NiCad rechargeables) and the exact same handlebar mounting clamp. I’m not a huge fan of the mounting clamp; while it is adjustable to fit a wide variety of handlebar diameters, I’ve found the mount can slip if you don’t get it as tight as it’ll go. I learned a trick from our longtime reader and friend Quinn McLaughlin…his suggestion was to add a strip of hockey-stick griptape to the handlebar just under where the clamp sits. This works like a charm and eliminates any of the slipping gripes I have with the PB mount.

I was excited to try this high-powered light — having used only low-power LED lights for years, I’ve often “outrun” the beam as I ride home from work in the dark. And, truly high-powered lights can be tremendously expensive, keeping me away from them. PB intends this light to to split the difference between “to see” and “to be seen” lights on the market…with a 1-watt Blaze LED, this light cranks out an impressive blast of light.

Let’s compare that beam to the other PB lights I have on hand…my nighttime picture-taking skills leave a bit to be desired, but I hope you’ll get the idea. In the following photo, I have the Blaze 1W, the Beamer 5 and the Beamer 1 arranged from left to right. Using freshly recharged batteries and a white backdrop, I’ve got the following beam comparison:

beam comparison

Hard to tell which is the brightest, isn’t it? I thought so, too, so I set up another comparison between the two I considered brightest, the Blaze and the Beamer 1. These next two shots are from a distance of 25 feet in near-total darkness. First, we have the Beamer 1:

beamer 1

The bicycle the light is aimed at is barely visible (but my “yard art” shines nicely!). Now, let’s take a look at the illuminating power of the Blaze 1W:

blaze 1w

Perhaps still a bit hard to tell, but in real life the difference is pretty impressive! Details are far more visible than with lesser-powered lights…and this extra visibility is crucial for dark commutes on poorly-lit routes where cracks and road hazards loom.

It is possible to “outrun” this light, too…but you’ve got to be traveling pretty fast to do so. And, of course, this light isn’t suitable for offroading or 24-hour racing…it’s not THAT bright. For around-town riding, though, if you really need more light than this baby puts out, you’re looking at big bucks for another brand’s HID/LED lighting system.

For bike commuters on a budget, this light is totally worth the price and should be at the top of your list for affordable nighttime riding. It offers impressive performance at a fraction of the price of a really high-end light system. Even if you only use the Blaze 1W in flashing mode, you WILL get the attention of motorists — this light is well-neigh impossible to ignore.

Check out more information on this light and the rest of the line of commuter-friendly products by visiting Planet Bike’s website.

Review: Planet Bike Cascadia Fenders

It seems like my bike fleet is always undergoing modifications…25 years or so of collecting components and hardware means that sometimes I get a “wild hair” and decide to reconfigure one of my bikes into something new. I got the idea to put together a real “Frankenbike” — a cyclocross/MTB/all-weather commuter, and to pull it off I needed fenders for this project.

Enter our friends at Planet Bike. They were gracious enough to ship over a pair of their Cascadia ATB fenders for this project.

cascadia fenders

Made of a spine of polished aluminum and covered with a soft-yet-unbreakable polycarbonate shell, these fenders promise to be sturdy as well as stylish. Planet Bike really did their homework with these fenders — the details, included hardware and features are all top-notch. Heck, they even come with built-in mudflaps…crucial for keeping you and your bicycle clean when the rain comes down!

mudflaps

The included hardware is all stainless steel, down to the washers. Even the fender stays are stainless — a nice touch. The nuts are “nylock” to eliminate any rattling or loosening of the fenders during use…nothing is more annoying than a rattling fender! One of the great features of this hardware kit are the included cylindrical spacers:

hardware

These spacers allow fender installation on bikes equipped with disc brakes…the cylinders provide enough “stand off” to let the stay pass the brake body without interference. This is a spectacular addition to the kit, as fender mounting on disc-equipped bikes is otherwise somewhat of a nightmare.

Mounting the fenders is pretty simple…a 15 minute process if you’re slow. Adjusting the fenders to follow the contour of the tire and to provide clearance for wide tires takes a little bit of finesse, though. Planet Bike’s sliding stay clips make the process straightforward…simply loosen the nut at the clip, slide the fender up or down on the stay and retighten the nut. A little trial and error is in the works to get the alignment perfect.

Here’s a shot of the sliding stay clip:

stay clip

Just a little bit of tinkering later, I wound up with this:

Front fender mounted:

front mounted

Rear fender mounted:

rear mounted

There is enough adjustment in the stays to allow for all but the widest, most aggressive knobby tires. The SweetskinZ “Nightwing” tires I used for this build have fairly wide side knobs, and they just barely clear the edges of the fender. The tires are well-covered, though, and won’t spray dirty water past the edge. Slightly narrower tires (more typically used on a commuter bike) would fit with no issues whatsoever.

So far, the only nitpick I have about these fenders is getting the “fender line” perfect on the front of my bike. Forks with a generous axle-to-crown measurement may have too much of a gap for the fairly short front fender “crown strap” to accomodate. This is a purely aesthetic concern on my part — it has no bearing whatsoever on the functionality of the fender — but I’d like to see that strap just a few millimeters longer. Here’s what the fender line looks like currently:

fender line

Since we’re undergoing a drought here in west-central Florida, I haven’t had a chance to ride with the fenders in the rain…but the rainy season is coming. I’ll let you know how it all works out when I can actually put these to the torture test.

Check out Planet Bike’s complete line of well-designed bicycle accessories by visiting their site.

An Interesting Bike Storage Idea

Our friends over at Palm Beach Bike Tours posted a review of a very interesting bike storage idea…a device called a “Cycle Tree”:

cycle tree

Check out their full review and additional photos of the Cycle Tree by clicking here.

For those of us who are bike hoarders, this looks to be a great way to free up floor space in your storage area!

Tool Review: Pedro’s Vise Whip

Several weeks ago, Pedro’s USA sent us a couple of tools to review. The first is their “Vise Whip“, an ingenious tool that eliminates the hassle and potential breakage of using a traditional chainwhip.

vise whip

Here’s a little about the tool from the Pedro’s USA website:

–Locking jaws that won’t slip
–Fits cogs from 11T to 23T*
–Compact enough for the toolbox
–Heat-treated steel tough enough for everyday use

Anyone who has used a traditional chainwhip to hold a cassette or freewheel in place while cogs or lockrings are unscrewed knows that such tools can be tough to manage. They’re fiddly and they have a tendency to snap retaining pins just when you’ve got a lot of torque on the tool. The Pedro’s Vise Whip eliminates all of this hassle…it locks solidly onto cassette or singlespeed cogs and will not move if set correctly.

Based on the toolbox staple known as Vise Grips, this Pedro’s tool adjusts with the same style of threaded screw and locking lever. Clamp it onto the cassette and apply lockring remover/wrench to unscrew the lockring. Simple as that!

clamp

The Vise Whip works wonderfully for folks who run singlespeed bikes, too. For singlespeed MTB riders who want to change up their gearing for specific conditions or people who run 3/32″ fixed cogs on the street or track, this tool makes such gearing swaps very simple.

singlespeed

The people who run 1/8″ track cogs are out of luck, though…the Vise Whip’s jaws are listed as not big enough to fit over the larger cog width. I haven’t tried this myself, though, as I had no 1/8″ cogs around. Perhaps if the demand is there, Pedro’s will make a version for 1/8″ cogs?

Overall, the tool is sturdy, easy to use and really ingenious…why didn’t anyone think of this before? I’ve used it about a dozen times since I got it in the mail — everything from replacing 8- and 9-speed MTB cassettes to fine-tuning the gearing on my singlespeed MTB/Road “Frankenbike” (tentatively named Craptain America).

This tool has a permanent home in my toolbox — it’s that useful.

More Product Reviews Coming Soon

We’ve got a slew of new products that we’re in the midst of testing. Here are a few I’m working on:

Pedro’s Tools
Pedro’s sent us a pair of tools to test…the Vice Whip and the Trixie. The Vice Whip is a clever device intended to replace the pesky and cumbersome chain whip used to remove cassettes and some freewheels. According to the packaging, this tool was designed by none other than legendary mechanic and VeloNews technical correspondent Lennard Zinn.

vice whip

The other tool is “Trixie” — a multitool aimed squarely at the fixed-gear/singlespeed rider. Combining a 15mm axle nut wrench, a lockring spanner, a 5mm hex key, a graduated slot for metric nuts and the mandatory bottle opener, this tool is really all one might need for some quick on-the-road repairs or a fast gear change.

trixie

Bike Glow
This lighting device has gotten some traffic on other cycling blogs, and we were lucky enough to score a sample for review. Based on electroluminescent (“EL”) wire, the Bike Glow kit adds much-needed side visibility to the bike (or rider) for nighttime commutes.

bike glow

IT Clips
These clever little devices from the folks at IT Clips let you put your old inner tubes (and who doesn’t have a pile of these laying around?) back into use by converting them into custom-length bungee cords OR tiedown straps. The versatile IT clip’s design serves as both and comes with steel hooks to facilitate this. Folks who ride cargo bikes or who routinely carry a load on their regular bicycles should find these incredibly useful for strapping down some goodies for the trip home.

IT clip
(sorry about the shaky photo…I drank too much coffee that morning!)

Stay tuned for reviews of these items (and a few more) within the next couple of weeks…