Category: Accessories

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.

OT buckshot laptop compare

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.

If you ever travel with your bike — and by travel I refer to packing your bike and gear in your car and driving to the start of your ride — listen up. This past summer Mountainsmith sent me their Bike Cube Deluxe to review. The deluxe refers to a souped-up version of its Bike Cube.

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Per the Mountainsmith website,

The Bike Cube Deluxe features a roll-up tool organizer, padded changing mat, a padded eye-wear pocket, specific spots for helmet, shoes, etc., it ensures that you never again show up at the trailhead with just one shoe. The Bike Cube Deluxe offers excellent organization and keeps all the essentials for your next road, cross or mountain bike ride at the ready. Works well as a stand alone piece or in conjunction with our Modular Hauler Systems. Feel like a pro at your next race and arrive in style!

Features:

Tri-panel load access
Organizer pockets for tools, food and accessories
Interior shoe & clothes divider (orig.: interior mesh sleeves for shoes/helmet)
Coated mesh for ventilation
Fleece-lined eyewear pocket
Roll-up bike tool organizer (original: zippered bike tool compartment and tool organizer panel)
Removable, padded changing mat
Adjustable shoulder strap included
Padded haul handle

Materials:

150d Baby RipStop Poly
210d Rip Stop Poly
840d Ballistic Poly (added)

Dimensions: (same as bike cube)

15″ x 15″ x 15″ (38 x 38 x 38 cm)

Volume: (same)

3417 cu. in. / 56 L

Capacity:

All the necessities for your next bike ride

Weight:

4 lbs 5 oz / 1.98 kg (original: 2 lbs 1 oz / .9kg)

I set out to put their advertised claim to the test that this cube would help for ride day – organizing “helmet, pump, shoes, and accessories well stashed and ventilated for that next impromptu outing; spend more time in the saddle and less time gathering up your gear.

The original bike cube comes in basic black; this deluxe version comes in red. Now I’m a sucker for the color red and bikes, so this deluxe bike cube immediately had my attention. Though not exactly something to use for the daily grind of bike commuting, I did find myself using this bag for regular weekend bike adventures (escapes from the urban jungle for daily rides) and even to ride my first ever Tour of the Mississippi River Valley (better known as TOMRV) earlier this year. This cube held all my needed bike gear for the daily outings, plus accommodated my overnight essentials for the weekend TOMRV adventure.

The removable padded shoulder strap (included with this deluxe model, sold separately for the basic) is definitely the way to travel with this cube. It’s like a large gym bag – cube shaped – but I never found it too unwieldy to tote. In the past I’ve sometimes refer to myself as the bag lady… as my former method of toting my gear was to use multiple reusable shopping totes. Though a great method, I often found items getting smashed into the bags and nothing having a definitive place; stuff just landed in a random bag and often was difficult to find. This cube keeps my stuff consolidated in one easy to handle bag — haul by shoulder strap from door to car and then by the handy handles for lifting into and out of the car.

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I found myself improvising with how to best use the pockets and space within this bag. The mesh sleeve for the helmet worked great; the helmet fits perfectly! I also used another sleeve for my gloves and cap. I just put my shoes in the bag (no sleeve). I found myself using the extra mesh pockets to stash extra nutrition (bars, powder mixes) and mp3 player.

It was great to be able to pick up the bag and be ready to go. All my bike gear just stayed with the bag, so no more forgetting my shoes when traveling with my bike (yes – once drove out to a weekend invitational ride sponsored by a local club – only to realize I had forgotten to pack my shoes!).

Now – it’s all there at the ride destination –
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Instead of all those multiple bags I used to carry, Mountainsmith’s deluxe bike cube helps you distribute all those necessities for easy access once you arrive at your destination and need to get ready — to ride, to race, etc. Since I already have my tools in a case and/or in my bike’s seatbag, I did not much use the roll-up tool organizer.

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However, my friend had recently purchased a separate bag to roll and carry his tools and I realize the usefulness of such a compact carrying organizer; I’ve since thought of reorganzing my tool case to travel in this roll-up organizer and using it with my commutes, too.

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I also never used the padded changing mat, which stashes unobstrusively in a side pocket.

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I have friends who mountain bike or who ride cyclocross who would appreciate this pad more than me.

Most importantly, I had ample space for clothing — whether it be a change of bike clothes and/or off the bike clothes, extra layers, off-the-bike shoes, etc; I could easily pack enough to account for those surprise weather conditions when traveling with the bike.

There is no right or wrong way to pack this bag — organize it your way to make it work for you.

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There is a convenient pad to divide up the center storage area/pocket, so you can store your shoes and clothes.

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I appreciated all the ventilation this cube offers, too, especially to let my gear breathe and keep my gear from stinking up a “stuffy” bag.

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When I rode TOMRV, this bag got hauled by the vans to and from the overnight destination. At the end of day 1, bags were strewn about a lawn. This bright red cube stood out from the pack – both due to its shape and color

Since it was rainy the morning of day 2 when I had to set the bag outside for the crews to pick up, I simply placed clothing items I didn’t want to get soaked into plastic bags and put them in the cube. Then I put the cube on the top of the heap of bags to be loaded into the truck… and set out – worry-free.

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Conclusion? After a summer of use, the Mountainsmith Bike Cube Deluxe barely shows signs of wear, so this rugged bag is designed for the long haul. It’s a great investment – at an MSRP of $79.95 – if you find yourself driving to the start of trail, ride, or race.

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

This was sent to us to review recently — it’s called the Divoom Bluetune Bean. It retails for $29.99. We agreed to test this because I know there are many of you, including myself, who enjoy listening to music…especially when riding.

Here are the features so you can understand what this is:

    Pocket sized speaker
    Built in Microphone
    Big wireless sound
    Clip on design
    Built-in rechargeable battery
    Sporty look

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The contents of the package reveal the Bean, clip, USB cable and instruction booklet.
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With the clip, you can pretty much attach this thing anywhere, such as on your backpack or your basket.
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Here are the specs just in case that kind of stuff tickles your fancy:

    Output: 3 w
    Speaker Dimensions: 68L* 45W* 92Hmm
    Frequency range: 80Hz-20000kHz
    Impedance: 4 Ohm
    Charging Voltage: 5V
    Charging Voltage: or AC/DC,
    adaptor=4.2B ; 0.3A

So let’s get down to it. The Bean is cute, it’s pretty durable for what it is. I’ve accidentally and purposely dropped it in my kitchen, on my back porch, and on the street to see how well it would hold up. So far so good. The Bean is still playing music. What’s surprising is how well the sound is coming from this little Bean. The bass is pretty deep and the treble isn’t so high that it distorts at higher volumes.

What caught my attention with the Bean are the Bluetooth features and microphone. I liked that I didn’t have to attach it with a cord to listen to music. Plus I liked the idea that I could take phone calls with this and use it as a speaker phone — that is what sold me on it. Before I go on, I do want to mention the music quality on the Bean is superb! Bluetooth connectivity is pretty easy and battery life is also impressive. They rate it at 6 hours between charges. I’ve had it on at my desk for going on 8 hours and the life indicator still shows about 1/4 left.

The only down side to the Bean is the microphone’s capability. What the caller will hear is a loud buzzing sound. In fact, one of my friends called me on it and he asked if I was shaving. I said “no, why?” He explained that it sounds like I’ve got an electric shaver on. I wanted to hear what he was talking about, so I called my cell phone from my home phone. Sure enough…BBBBBZZZZZZZZZZ. It was pretty loud and the actual mic levels were pretty low. This means that whoever was talking with the Bean would have to raise their voice a bit louder just so the other person can hear you.

If I were to rate the Bluetune Bean from a scale of 1-10, I’d give it around a 7. Like I said, sound quality is excellent, but it was the buzzing sound where the Bean lost points.

Our FTC Disclaimer

Have you ever had your shoelaces get caught in your chain, or wrapped around your pedal, or gotten chewed up by your cranks? I have…all three scenarios and a few more. Sure, there are a couple of creative shoe-tying techniques one could use to minimize such entanglements (or one could just get a chaincase), but accidents DO happen.

What to do? How do we keep our shoelaces protected from the ravages of our bicycles’ drivetrains? Enter Hickies, an elastic shoelacing system. The kind folks at Hickies graciously sent me a couple pairs to try out…one for me, and one for my school-age child to test.

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The Hickies are made of a stretchy and durable elastomer. They basically consist of a looped length with a plastic “head” on one end that the loop goes around. 14 come to each package…enough for a pair of shoes with seven lace eyelets. The packaging is neat (and recycleable!) and comes with clear instructions. Simply lace the Hickies through the shoe’s lace holes and pass the lopped portion around the head. Viola — instant slipons!

All laced up and ready to go:

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The Hickies work quite well — they are incredibly stretchy, so they accomodate a fairly wide range of shoe sizes. How the shoe fits after installing the Hickies, though, will be up to the shoes themselves and your feet. I have fairly narrow feet, and the Hickies were secure without binding. My son LOVES his…no more shoe-tying squabbles in the morning, and plenty of security for playgrounds and P.E. classes! As you can see from the photo below, if the Hickies prove to be too loose, you can try weaving them differently (all covered in the instructions and company website). In our case, the top runs were too loose, and crossing them as shown in this picture took up just enough slack to work:

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If they are too tight, though, there’s no way to lengthen them — I had to remove the topmost run on my shoes since they were too tight to allow my foot to enter the shoe. No worry…the shoes now fit like slippers, with even snugness the length of my foot. This was especially handy during plane trips, where I could slip in and out of my shoes at TSA checkpoints and on the planes themselves.

Over the past couple months, the Hickies have proven to be very durable…no breakages to note. If I had anything negative to say about the Hickies, it’s this: I had the topmost loop pop off the head of the device a couple times when pulling my shoe on. The Hickies sort of roll a bit as my foot slides in, and that was enough to pop them loose. If the groove that runs around the circumference of the Hickies head was a little deeper or wider, that may ensure retention.

Hickies come in a rainbow of colors to match nearly any shoe, and the heads are interchangeable so you can mix-and-match to your heart’s desire. Match your bike, your bag, your shirt, your shoes! The Hickies retail for $19.99 per package, and offer a fun and effective way to eliminate shoelace tangles.

Please take a look at the Hickies website for more details, instructive videos, and their creation story.

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