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2012 Holiday Gift Guide: Our Top Picks for Your Wish List!

Well, well, well, Bike Commuters – the 2012 Holiday Gift guide is here, in case your favorite mail-order catalog is all out of Leg Lamps for you, your bikey friends and family.  We’ve reviewed a ton of products this year but only a few made the list!  Click on the images to link to the product’s shopping website.  (FTC Disclaimer)

Gifts for Under $20

Loop EVA Bar Tape

Loop EVA Bar Tape

Planet Bike 25g Twinpack CO2 cartridges

PB 25g Twinpack CO2

Jimi Wallet

Mir loves her JIMI Wallet

Fyxation Loop Eva Bar Tape: The quality, durability, low price and color choices make it a great product for any bike commuter to use. $13.95 and available in 5 colors: black, pink, orange, green, and white.

Planet Bike 25g Twinpack CO2 Cartridges:  Need to fill a high-volume tire on the go? You could carry a handful of smaller cartridges or just one of these mini-SCUBA tanks from Planet Bike and be on your way in no time!  Two for $20.99.

JIMI Wallet: clip your keys to it and stash it in your pack, jersey, fannypack, whatever.  Water resistant and with a lifetime guarantee (I’ve tried it and they sent me a new one!) and comes in many colors for $14.95.

Clothes

Hiviz yellow O2 Rainwear Calhoun Jacket

Ghost Rider's all about the Rainwear Calhoun Jacket - $119.00

Pedal Power Wind Shirt white

Mir.I.Am felt flossy-flossy in the Lululemon Wind Shirt for $59.00!

O2 Rainwear Calhoun Jacket:  This quality jacket performs admirably when the weather turns sour.  Rainproof, windproof, and you don’t feel clammy! It looks nice, it has good features and visibility, and it is packable enough that there’s really no excuse not to bring it with you.

Lululemon Duds: Lululemon makes small batches of high quality, stylish commuter clothes for women and men.  We loved the Pedal Power commuter fall lineup for women, especially this snazzy blouse/windbreaker.  The lineup is constantly changing… a nice gift with a nice price, since all the Pedal Power items are on final sale for half the price.

Planet Bike Borealis Gloves

Jack gave the PB Borealis Gloves two lobster claws up!

Novara Stratos Gloves

Matt also likes the Novara Stratos Gloves, $38.00 at REI.

We liked the Planet Bike Borealis “lobster” gloves because they bring together a warm inner liner and a windproof outer shell. They also keep your last 2 digits a lot warmer than regular separated gloves, without losing any of the function you need while riding.  All for the cozy price of about $42.00.  Matt also recommends the Novara Stratos gloves, which are along the same lines as the PB Borealis but without the removable liner, and with the addition of handy draw cords for a windproof fit!

Though this item was not necessarily reviewed on BikeCommuters.com, our sister site MtnBikeRiders.com loved these unique socks that are partially made with Possum hair…yes Possum hair! We figured the BikeCommuters.com readership would appreciate them: Pearly’s Possum Socks
Pearly's Possum Socks on MtnBikeRiders.com

Packs

Screen shot 2012-12-02 at 7.08.42 PM

Henty Wingman suit bag

Module 25 Waterproof Commuter Women's Pack

Women's Velo Transit Module 25.

Velo Transit Edge 40

Men's Velo Transit Edge 40.

For those of us who don’t have the option of dressing down, the Henty Wingman is the best suit-carrying pack we know of.  A pricey option, but if you are wearing suits to work, it’s worth it for a $180 suit bag. For any distance on a bike that requires carrying a suit with you, this pack is the way to go.

We reviewed two Velo Transit packs (women’s Module 25 and men’s Edge 40)  and came away really impressed by both. Waterproof, comfortable, and with pockets for everything, the only reason not to get these is price (about $160 for the women’s and $225 for the men’s)… but we’d still recommend getting these and scrimping elsewhere (ramen really isn’t that bad…). Get one and you’ll thank us! Velo Transit has several size options and colors to fit any commuter’s wish list.

Bikes and Components

Xootr Swift

Mir's new best friend: the 8-speed Swift folding bike.

Freedom Cruz 29ers

Matt upgraded his ride with these Freedom Cruz 29ers!

Xootr Swift: If you know anyone who’s looking to get into the fold, without sacrificing the speed on their commute, the Xootr Swift could be your new best friend!  Hills are a breeze with the multiple speeds and the BMX tires ensure a durable commute.  The Swift packs up fast and light for $750.

Freedom Cruz Tires proved to be great for those with 29ers (or 700c bikes with lots of clearance) wishing for a road-oriented tire. Big and smooth-rolling, they’ll make you question why you ever thought 700×25 was a good idea.  $34.99 to upgrade your ride.

Motiv Electric Bike

RL was a big fan of the Motiv Electric Bike starting at $1749.00 with customizable colors for frame, rims, and tires.

Motiv Electric Bicycle. We liked Motiv because there are so many options you can go with when ordering a bike. From tire, rims, cockpit colors and battery/power options, a person can customize their bike to have it built just the way they want it.

Ridekick E-Trailer. We liked it because it turns any bicycle into an e-bike, plus it has storage capabilities.  The RideKick is a great way to repurpose your old ride with extra speed and extra space. The price for the trailer ranges from $699 to $1359, depending on features.  It’s a blast to ride, too!

ridekick

RL's test ride on the Ridekick was a blast. Put it on your wish list if you want to upgrade to electric.

Miscellaneous

We recently featured Balance Insurance for the sake that it would be a great thing to have for bike commuters. With annual premiums as low as $63, you just can’t go wrong.

Balance insuranceAs cyclists we all know that at some time we might come off our bikes and hit the ground hard. Most cycling accidents are relatively minor. Some will require medical attention. And then there are those life altering accidents that can cause hospitalization, permanent injury or death. For those latter injuries we created Balance For Cyclists. Balance For Cyclists pays large lump sum cash benefits over and above other insurance to cyclists who are injured in serious cycling accidents. Limits are available between $50,000 and $250,000 and all benefits are paid directly to the insured or their family.

Review: LED by Lite – Version 1, kinda…

LED by Lite Bumblebee2

Don't mind my dirty handlebars - here comes the review for Version 1, sort of...

Alright, alright, alriiiiight dear readers if you love blinky lights like crack candy for your eyeballs and safety like I do, you must have been excited when we received a kit of LED by Lite’s System 36 Plus Version 1 to test back in April.  Back in the springtime, RL emailed out to the team and it went a little something like this:

RL: You guys recall that product from Interbike?
http://www.bikecommuters.com/2011/09/21/interbike-2011-led-by-lite/
Well they want to send us a test unit. Anyone want to test it and give it a good shake down? Please respond ASAP.

****10 seconds later to receive message from cyber space and respond INSTANTLY!****

Me: I want SO BAD!!!  TURN SIGNALS!!! please 🙂

I wiiiin.  Like a Chinese Olympic Gold Medalist, I was proud and honored…  But, before we platform dive a triple-and-a-half gainer into this review, let me share a not-so-surprising announcement that I gleaned from the LED by Lite website:

“We want to thank all of you for your support.  At this time we have suspended sales on version 1.  We’re developing version 2 and realigning our distribution chain.”

Booo!!!  Major disappointment that the release of the version 1 Signal kits had been postponed, I cried like any second-place U.S. Olympian taking home a silver paperweight.  However, I think it was for good reason considering the glitches I encountered while attempting to give this product a deserving review.  Anyway, I wanted to share my honest review with your readers – not as rose-colored as usual – in hopes of helping out President Brandon Smith of LED by Lite, since I am crossing fingers for a successful execution for their Version 2 in the future.

Let’s talk about SPECS, baby:

Product Description

System 36 Plus

The LED By LITE bike light Systems include up to 36 state of the art, High Intensity LEDs to provide a cyclist with the most radiant 360 degree “to be seen” visibility. The LEDbike lights are encased in  flexible polyurethane/silicone straps making them waterproof and extremely durable.

The LED bike lights are powered by our BlackBox, a 12 Volt single cell Lithium Ion Battery Pack, which produces intense lighting without sacrificing run time. The technology of the microchip circuitry includes “dimming pulsating” modes, not blinking on and off. The BlackBox can be recharged with the wall adapter or from a computer using a micro USB cord.

The Plus of this system is our innovative LBL Wireless Dashboard.TM A wireless controller mounted on the handler bar controls both pulsation mode and directional turn indicator system. Your bicycle becomes a more relevant vehicle for the road. The LBL System 36 Plus improves your safety as a cyclist by illuminating your turning intentions and helping you to see and be seen.

  • Total of 36 LEDs front and rear
  • Weighs in at 250 grams
  • 12 Volt single cell Lithium rechargeable batterypack

Full Mode 3 hrs, Front on Rear Pulsating 4.5 hrs, Front and Rear Pulsating 6 hrs

  • Easy to detach cables, for quick system setup and break down
  • Wireless Dashboard: Turn on and off Pulsation and turn indicators

When I received the semi-sweet chocolate kit, I assembled it according to the diagrams that came in the box.  Brandon Smith emailed me to tell me that it was the second calibrated set to be released from their home base in Utah, and the buttons may need a little “breaking in,” but other than that, it should be pre-programmed and ready to go!  Apparently, my skills of reading graphic instructions (just put this nubbin into the little clicky clacky over there, zip tie this doo-dad and stick it to the frame with some butterscotch) was sub-par to say the least.  Apparently, allen-keying together a ZORGLFJORD from Ikea is no indication of your skills for correctly assembling the LED by Lite 36 plus kit.  I emailed Brandon the following photos for a quick diagnosis:

LED by Lite Bumblebee8

LED by Lite Bumblebee5

LED by Lite Bumblebee4

Problem #1: I could only get the front lights to work and was having a terrible time charging the battery pack enough that it could be unplugged from the wall to light up even just the front.  Brandon checked out the photos and told me I had one of the connections backwards in the “Y” shaped cable.  They are working on better diagrams to provide with Version 2.  After all was good and righteous, I then discovered that the dashboard buttons I received weren’t syncde up with the battery pack, so I sent all the black boxes back in exchange for new ones.  Problem 1 solved – properly plugged in and rigged up with a synced up dashboard.

Olympic Qualifying Move:  Brandon was very helpful and promptly answered my emails and could even figure out the problem despite my craptastic photo skills.

Problem #2: As for the battery pack charging, I figured out that if I left it plugged in standing vertically, it charged overnight.  Although, one swift paw of a kitty cat could set me back for the whole night again, so I charged it in a hidden spot, inaccessible to kitties.  Problem 2 solved – or so I thought.

Problem #3: Excited to show off my new blinkers to all those between my house and a dinner party in Makiki, I took the lights out for a 9pm test ride, only to find that (apparently) Problem #2 had caused me to lose battery power after 15 minutes of my 25 minute ride – good thing I had my backup everyday lights and the charger in hand.  Crash landing avoided!  I patiently charged the LED by Lite set up at the house (eating left-handed and playing slow-motion charades to give the charger it’s best chance), waiting for a successful test ride home!  Problem 3 avoided with helpful advice from Michael Westin in Burn Notice.

Olympic Qualifying Move: These LEDs are BRIGHT and make you feel like a bike commuter in Tokyo Drift with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.  SBS (straight baller status) for brightness!  See and be seen!

LED by Lite with Rear Rack

Image from LED by Lite website. Cables accommodate xtracycles and rear racks!

Problem #4: All charged up and ready to roll home, turn signals and all, I get hit with a sheet of late spring rain like a power washer at a Chevron drive-thru.  I’m talking Hawaii downpour, if ya gnome sayin’.  I couldn’t see anything in front of me, and the controls to press buttons on the dashboard were the least of my concerns, so I blinked without taking advantage of the turnsignals all the way home.  Since my bike is fenderless (I stampede in the rain and change clothes when I get home) and the LED by Lite battery pack was tucked right under my seat, the entire system was moist to put it lightly.  Also, Brandon mentioned that Version 2 will include waterproof connections along the cables.  The entire battery pack was done after the first night.  Damnit, and I just got the rear lights working again!  Brandon solved the issue by sending me yet another battery pack.  A week or so later, I finally got to do some “normal” test rides.

Highlights and Recap: All color commentary aside: I had high high hopes for the LED by Lite kit, with wireless remote dashboard and turn signal capabilities.  They weren’t lying when they said this thing is bright!  Running the lights in the daytime, I even heard pedestrians shout “Hey look, the bike has turn signals!” so people do get the picture.  If charged properly it lasts at least a full day (several 10-20 minute jaunts per day).  It is easy to dismount the lights (just rip em off the rubbery stays) but time-consuming to take all the cables down since the connections are not waterproof, and often I leave my bike in an uncovered parking spot.  When I was dismounting everything from the bike except the rubber holds for the LED strips, I would remind myself of how much time I would have to take to find a parking spot if I were in a car instead… Patience is a virtue!  Water is a big issue that they need to correct in version 2 that would help with battery pack failure as well as speed of dismounting the system, since the cables could stay attached to the bike.  The dashboard is odd – buttons are hard to push – making it inconvenient/distracting to light up the signal prior to turning.  Overall, it’s not of the quality one would expect for a $100+ light system.   Let’s hope Version 2 ends up taking home more golds then Michael Phelps instead of disappointing like Version 1.  You can do it Team LED by Lite!  Go for the gold!

Michael Phelps Gold Medals

LEDbyLite - go for the gold in Version 2 - we're counting on you!

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

Review: ElectroStar Wireless Signal Pod Turn Signal

A while back, ElectroStar sent us their Wireless Signal Pod Turn Signal for review.  ElectroStar is an LED company by background – their parent company, Buztronics, manufactures LEDs for a very wide variety of uses (RL, you should get some scooter lights!) – so we were happy to test out the Signal Pod.  The Signal Pod retails for $49.95, a price ElectroStar justifies given its wireless capability (a wired version sells for $10 less), and comes with the Pod unit, a control unit, a seatpost-mount bracket, and pre-installed batteries. With the controls, you can signal a right turn, left turn, or turn your “hazard” lights on by having everything blink (though I’m not sure I want people to start thinking of me as a hazard as I go down the road!).

All lights blazing

Out of the box, things looked good – the LEDs were very bright, and the wireless signal works from well over the required distance (I tested it at up to 30 feet).  It mounted to my bike fairly easily as well, and the signal buttons were pretty intuitive.  I also liked that the turn signal was sequential – each chevron lights up in sequence, making it very clear which direction you’re turning! Unfortunately, that was where the good things ended (had I known this, I would have taken more pictures earlier on… sorry folks!).

Pod controls

One of the advertised features is that the Pod beeps when the turn signal is on.  While some sort of noise is definitely a good feature since you can’t see it, the beep is incredibly annoying.  It’s not bad if you’re taking a turn on the go, but sitting at a traffic light for a couple minutes is somewhat brutal.

The noise wasn’t the worst part though – the worst part was that it only has a seatpost mount, and when I got on my bike the backs of my legs hit the pod!  I’d like to say it’s because I’m just so muscular, but I’d be lying…  I’m sure it works for some bikes, but it didn’t work for my commuter… and I’d never thought it was an unusual design.

All set up... and in the way

Determined to get this thing through a more extended test, I jury-rigged a setup (using an old piece of PVC and an extra stem I had laying around) to attach the mount to the back of my Burley trailer.  I had trouble getting the signal mount off my handlebars though, and ended having to cut one of the bolts off.  Before I could get a replacement bolt in, my kids (ages 9 months and 3) bumped into the signal pod (still mounted on the back of the trailer) a couple times and broke that bracket.  SO… that was the end of the test for me – and somewhat of a deal-breaker, since if my 3-year-old can break something by walking by it, I know it’s not going to stand the test of staying on the trailer for a long time.

Signal Pod on the Burley

While I can’t give this a huge thumbs-up as is, I think there are 4 things that could make these some killer lights:

1. Different brackets.  Almost everything else I buy to put on my bike (lights, fenders, computer, etc) comes with multiple mounting options or at least a flexible fit system – I think this should too.  I’d especially like to see a rack-mount option – most commuters use rear racks, and what’s on the rack often blocks the view of a seatpost.

2. Durable construction.  I won’t say I never break stuff… but I don’t usually break stuff unless it’s on my mountain bike and I crash.  These lights are meant for commuting – they should be able to take a hit from another bike in a bike rack, for example.  Currently, the brackets just aren’t durable enough.

3. Incorporate some bar-end signals for forward and side visibility.  When sitting at a stop sign, I still had to use hand signals, since those coming from other directions couldn’t see the light.  I’d be excited to buy something with that capability – and ElectroStar already makes bar end lights.

4. Change the beeping noise!  Yes, it’s a minor complaint, but I was frankly relieved when I didn’t have to listen to it anymore.

Look What the Postman Brought in! Preview: LED by LITE System 36 Plus

LEDbyLITE

System 36 Plus Bike Light & Turnsignal Kit - Ultimate Blinky O-face.

WOOOOHOOOOOO!  Look out night riders, we have been ogling the LED by LITE Bike Light Kits since RL spotted them at Interbike last year! And we all know that a great set of blinky lights is a must-have for all ye Cycle Monsters out there bike commuting in the darkness.  The good people from LED by LITE (pronounced “lead by light” in case you were confused like me) have sent us a System 36 Plus demo kit to test out!  Let’s check out the obligatory cut and paste specs from their website, since I know I would be too lazy to browse the site for data if I were reading this post! (wink face):

System 36 Plus

Price:
$150.00
Weight:
2.00 LBS

This shows how the system works. The 48 System Plus is pictured, which has longer LED strips than the 36 System Plus we'll be testing.


Product Description

System 36 Plus

The LED By LITE bike light Systems include up to 36 state of the art, High Intensity LEDs to provide a cyclist with the most radiant 360 degree “to be seen” visibility. The LEDbike lights are encased in  flexible polyurethane/silicone straps making them waterproof and extremely durable.

The LED bike lights are powered by our BlackBox, a 12 Volt single cell Lithium Ion Battery Pack, which produces intense lighting without sacrificing run time. The technology of the microchip circuitry includes “dimming pulsating” modes, not blinking on and off. The BlackBox can be recharged with the wall adapter or from a computer using a micro USB cord.

The Plus of this system is our innovative LBL Wireless Dashboard.TM A wireless controller mounted on the handler bar controls both pulsation mode and directional turn indicator system. Your bicycle becomes a more relevant vehicle for the road. The LBL System 36 Plus improves your safety as a cyclist by illuminating your turning intentions and helping you to see and be seen.

  • Total of 36 LEDs front and rear
  • Weighs in at 250 grams
  • 12 Volt single cell Lithium rechargeable batterypack

Full Mode 3 hrs, Front on Rear Pulsating 4.5 hrs, Front and Rear Pulsating 6 hrs

  • Easy to detach cables, for quick system setup and break down
  • Wireless Dashboard: Turn on and off Pulsation and turn indicators

*Price subject to change after pre-sale ends

*Using your arm is still considered a universal turning signal

Blinky Light Lust!! I - I - I Lufff Eeet! <3

Thanks LED by Lite – shout outs to Salt Lake, UT! I love blinky lights more than robots that do chores for me! I think I might buy the postman a 6-pack of beer.  Until the review…!

Review: Monkeylectric’s M210 “Mini Monkey Light”

As many of you may know, we here at Bikecommuters.com are huge fans of the creative geniuses behind Monkeylectric. We’ve been lucky enough to test out their original M132/133 wheel lights, and we’ve visited with the Monkeylectric crew at Interbike over the past few years.

When they announced the new M210 “Mini Monkey”, we clamored for a chance to get a review sample. Lo and behold, about a month after Interbike 2011, one appeared on my doorstep. I’ve been running this thing ever since and am ready to share my thoughts and photos with you.

First off, a bit about the new M210:

– 10 Ultra-bright color LEDs
– Hub-mounted battery pack
– Stainless steel anti-theft strap
– Waterproof!
– Up to 40 hours runtime

DSC06296

The M210 comes in simple packaging — a bag for the light head and battery canister, a smaller bag for the hardware and a simple header card that unfolds to reveal complete instructions in a variety of languages. While the light head is smaller than the original M132/M133 (10 LEDs — 5 on each side — down from the 32 LEDs on the original model), it still packs a nighttime punch. This new model addresses most of the concerns some of us had over the original model — particularly waterproofing, balance, and theft prevention.

Here’s the light head — covered in a thick, rubbery waterproofing material that seals all those chips and circuits from the elements. The switches are beefy and easy to manipulate:

DSC06293

Here’s the battery pack — a canister that straps to the hub with zipties and a soft rubber cradle. The battery canister holds a cartridge of 3 AA batteries (alkaline or rechargeable) and seals up tight:

DSC06301

One cord travels from the light head to the dongle on the battery canister, and the connection between the two is waterproof. And this connection is TIGHT — it is quite difficult to separate the two parts once they’ve been connected.

Splitting the light head and battery compartment into two components over the original’s “all on one” approach has greatly helped with the overall balance of the light. With the original M133 installed, I was able to discern some faint high-speed wobble on lightweight wheels (that wobble was mitigated when I installed the unit on some heavy disc wheels on my Xtracycle. With the new unit, I didn’t notice any wobble, even at relatively high speeds. Score a win for the folks at Monkeylectric!

Another plus of the split configuration is this: back in Florida, I was forced to traverse some DEEP rain puddles from time to time. Old streets, heavy rains and a substandard drainage system meant that some of the roads on my commuting route were flooded. Some of those flooded areas were nearly hub-deep, and my old unit would get submerged. I had to be diligent about cleaning the battery contacts to keep them from rusting. I don’t have to worry about that anymore — the truly sensitive parts are encased in waterproof materials and the contacts are inside the sealed canister at the hub.

The light can be programmed to display up to 15 different 8-bit patterns (skulls, hearts, and many more) in a choice of colors, or you can do as I did and skip the button-pressing and let the light cycle itself through all the choices. As with the original M132/M133, the M210 has two intensity modes — regular and “turbo”. The “turbo” setting blows through batteries much more quickly and is eye-searing in brightness, but the regular setting is bright enough on its own to spill out a pool of light to either side of the wheel. I took some still shots so you can see just how intense and colorful the M210 is when spinning:

DSC06285

And, as is my style, here is an unedited and rather crappy video of the Monkeylectric light in action — believe me, the “real life” effect is vastly more stunning. It doesn’t help that my neighborhood is lit up like an airstrip (streetlights every 50 feet or so):

Mounting the light head is a breeze — it sits between spokes and is held in place by rubber pads and zipties. Getting the battery canister mounted on the hub is somewhat more difficult…the more spokes one has, the more difficult it can be. Even with my long fingers, getting everything set and cinched up took a few tense moments. Once the canister is mounted, you will only have to worry about changing the batteries from time to time, and that isn’t as difficult…screw off the cap and replace the cells. Here’s the canister mounted to my front hub:

DSC06291

I was happy to see the addition of the stainless steel “anti-theft” strap — basically a metal ziptie — in the package. While I’ve never had a Monkeylectric light stolen, I am sure others in more urban areas might have to worry about such things. The steel strap is surprisingly difficult to cut with wire cutters (I sacrificed mine in the name of science), so it really does provide a measure of theft deterrence.

As I mentioned earlier, the instruction sheet foldout is detailed and easy to follow. And, it comes in several languages:

DSC06299

As we’ve discussed over and over again here, there are not enough products on the market to help with that crucial “side visibility” — while many front and rear lights spill to the sides, additional safety for nighttime commuters is always a good thing. And this is where Monkeylectric’s products really shine (pun intended). The M210 provides an incredibly effective means to get you noticed out on the darkened streets where you live, all the while having fun with patterns and colors! The Monkeylectric M210 retails for around $50.00, and is worth the price of admission. Another hit from a great bunch of creative folks!

Now, if we can only get the crew to let us borrow one of their “PRO Series” models….

Visit Monkeylectric for more details, images and video of their lights in action.

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