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Review: Bolle “Copperhead” polarized sunglasses

Just before Interbike, the good folks at Bolle sent over a pair of their “Copperhead” sunglasses to try out. We’re big believers in protecting our eyes when we ride, whether it’s to the corner store or across town, so we jumped at the chance to check out a new pair.

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The Copperhead glasses come in a padded case with a microfiber cleaning cloth included. I got the “Shiny Black” color; the glasses come in five other color combinations. The frames are nylon with small hydrophilic rubber pads on the ends of the temples and at the nosepiece to prevent slipping when things get sweaty. The lenses themselves are polarized to help fight glare, and are coated with both anti-fog and anti-smudge treatments. The glasses themselves are suited for smaller faces, like my own — our pal Jim Katz, the PR man for Bolle, helped determine that these would fit my face better than some of Bolle’s other styles.

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As you can see, these are more of a casual style — lending them the ability to go with office attire as well as cycling togs. I found the temples to restrict my vision a bit, which may be an issue for those of you who prize extra peripheral vision while dodging traffic. The frames around the lenses are suited for riding more upright bikes; I also had obstruction issues when I rode my more aggressively-set-up road bikes. Hardcore roadies might be better served by rimless lenses.

Despite the minor issues with the frames getting in the way, the Copperhead glasses fit nicely, provided great coverage for my eyes, and stayed in place. No one wants to fuss with readjusting glasses on the go. The temples hugged close to my head, allowing me to tuck them under my helmet straps (decidedly “un-PRO”, but hey, I’m not fooling anybody).

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The lens clarity is great and the polarization really helps, especially when going from brightly-lit areas to more shaded parts of the road. And the glasses are pretty stylish — I didn’t feel like I was wearing sportswear; in other words, the glasses didn’t clash with my casual work clothes.

After I wore them for a bit, our friend Wesley (an alumnus of our mountain bike racing team) reached out to us — he was training with the U.S. Navy near Chicago and desperately needed a pair of sunglasses he could wear out on the water. Always one to support our troops, I got the glasses into Wes’s hands in short order with the request that he snap a photo wearing them in uniform:

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Wes reported that the glasses worked perfectly for him, and also looked pretty snappy with his “blueberries”. I wholeheartedly agree!

The Bolle Copperheads retail for around $99, and are available directly from Bolle or at retailers near you. If you’re looking for a casual pair of sunglasses that have performance features, but you’re not sitting on a fortune, these might do the trick nicely.

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

Review: SKS Raceblade Long fenders

Surely you know that we’re big fans of fenders around here…they keep you and your bike happy and dry and clean, even in the worst weather. And, most commuters see them as a “must-have” accessory for a commuter bike. We couldn’t agree more.

Mir’s recent article about her quest for fenders got me to thinking about more fenders for my own fleet. I happen to have a few road bikes I sometimes use for commuting, and on rainy, yucky days I do NOT like to bring them out of the garage. Cleaning my shiny, sparkly road bikes is a chore I do not like. What if I could find full-coverage fenders for one of these skinny-tired roadsters?

First problem: the bike I wanted to add fenders to does not have eyelets on the fork or rear dropouts. Second, there’s not a lot of clearance to work with. Third, some of the other fenders suited for these kinds of situations aren’t full-coverage, and can be fiddly to install/maintain/stay in place while riding. I wasn’t about to have to deal with that, so off I went to the Intertubes to search out a solution.

Enter the SKS Raceblade Long. Full-coverage, easily removeable if needed, good reputation from a company that knows a thing or two about fenders. I took a trip to my friendly neighborhood Performance Bike to spend some holiday gift card money, and they gladly ordered me a set to add to my bike. About $60 and a couple days later, I was ready to install them.

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The SKS Raceblade Longs are made of chromoplastic, with stainless steel stays and hardware. They clip to small metal bridges that are mounted under the brake bolts and to metal tabs that are held in place by the wheels’ quick-release skewers. The concept is very similar to the legendary “River City Reacharound”, but there is no cutting of fenders required. Here are a couple shots of the clips and the way they mount to the brakes:

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Each fender is in two pieces; a longer rear section and a shorter front section. Each fender is supported by a double, adjustable stay set in stainless steel. SKS thoughtfully supplied soft plastic mudguards to screw onto the ends of the fenders:

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Installation is pretty simple: loosen the brake mounting bolts, slip the bridges in and tighten the bolts down. The bridges come in three lengths to fit most bikes. At the wheel, remove the conical springs from the QR skewers, and fit the mounting tabs underneath the skewers:

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The fenders clip directly to those bridges and tabs, and feature quick release buttons to remove them rapidly if desired:

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I installed the Raceblade Longs yesterday, and took them out for a test ride today. The ground is still damp from snowmelt and rain, so I could really see how clean they kept me and my bike. What’s the verdict? They work! No muddy stripe up my back or in my face, and my bottom bracket area is pretty clean.

The Raceblade Longs are not perfect, of course. Right at the brake bridge area, there’s a pretty sizeable gap in coverage (necessitated by the design and lack of clearance on modern road bikes). I found a lot of road spray and goop covering the brakes that will need to be hosed off periodically.

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The rear fender stops short behind the seat tube (again because of the design), so the back side of the bottom bracket shell gets a layer of road “deposits” on it:

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Also, the front stub of the front fender rattles like crazy on rough roads. It’s pretty annoying, and I will try to figure out some way to quiet it down, perhaps with a shim where the bridge enters the back of that stub.

Obligatory Mir.I.Am-style crappy cameraphone pic:
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Dings notwithstanding, I think these are a pretty good solution for people who want to ride their roadies in all weather conditions. They cover enough that maintenance and cleaning are reduced, and mount solidly enough for year-round use.

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

Review: Bushnell SolarWrap Mini

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.

Outdoor Tech Buckshot: The Little Speaker That Can.

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.

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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.

Review: Mountainsmith Bike Cube

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.