BikeCommuters.com

Reviews

Arctic Heat Cooling Vest in Florida

Moe received an Arctic Heat Cooling Vest last month to test, and the technical specs, activation and his impressions of the vest can be found by reading his article.

After he got a chance to test this vest, he sent it over to me. You see, I had a theory that in a place with higher relative humidity, the vest would stay cool longer (more moisture equals more cooling). Well, we’ve got humidity in spades here in west-central Florida…today’s reading was 75% humidity coupled with temps in the low 90s. It was a perfect day to try out the vest!

As soon as the vest came in the mail, I activated it by soaking it in water for about an hour. Then, once the fabric was fairly dry to the touch, it went into the freezer…where it remained for the next four days.

Here it is straight out of the freezer — oooh, frosty:
frosty

I tried the vest without a shirt underneath at first, but MAN was that cold! A summerweight cycling jersey was the ticket to initial comfort, and the jersey helped to spread any moisture out over my torso.

Sure enough, my humidity theory seemed to pay off — I got about 50 minutes of active cooling from the vest (about 20 minutes more than Moe’s experiences), and the vest could have passively cooled me for another hour or so due to its dampness once the viscous gel had reverted from a hard-frozen to a mushy state. My bike ride was fairly low-intensity and slow-paced, but faster speeds would have only meant more evaporative cooling — it would not have affected the “frozen time” of the internal gel.

I rather liked the vest — on a day like today, the cooling definitely took the edge off the heat, and I was pretty comfortable for most of my recycling ride. The extra weight (almost three pounds) was unnoticed — I was expecting to be aware of a heavy weight surrounding my torso, but that just wasn’t the case. Plus, I got to rock Moe’s “blue Power Ranger” look:

power ranger

I wonder how many freeze/thaw or activate/deactivate cycles this vest will withstand? The reason I ask is that some of the internal channels didn’t feel full of gel, despite a vigorous and lengthy soaking to plump up the dry crystals. In those channels, the fullness tended to congregate over spine and sternum, so that turned out to be the best cooling location anyway…

Anyhow, if you live in a hot, sticky climate, this vest might be just the thing for rides of up to 90 minutes or so. It will definitely keep you cooler!

Ostrich Panniers Review

Another video review from Epicurean Cyclist that I thought might fit here too:

PROS:
-Looks darn classy
-Nice heavy material
-Good closures
-Some “overstuffability”

CONS:
-A little too small for longer tours
-Not as quick to remove from the rack, like say with an Ortlieb pannier..but with practice you get pretty fast
-Wish that the lacing was more functional…unlacing would actually expand the bag

Minnehaha Bags — Retro Flavor and Serious Style!

Our friends from Banjo Brothers sent a little tidbit of information our way today. They’re announcing an offshoot company called The Minnehaha Bag Company which will specialize in classic (and classy!) canvas and leather bicycle bags.

These bags evoke many of the styling characteristics of classic bike bag makers such as Carradice, Gilles Berthoud and Ostrich…stout canvas and harness-leather strapping. Mmmm, it’s some good-looking stuff. Details are a bit sparse just now, but the Bikecommuters.com crew will get their dirty little hands on these bags when we meet with the Minnehaha crew at this year’s Interbike. Stay tuned for more details…and in the meantime, feast your eyes on these beauties:

Small Saddlebag:
small bag

Larger Saddlebag:
larger bag

Grocery pannier:
grocery

Traditional pannier:
pannier

Shoulder bag? (not sure what this one is…but that’s my guess; perhaps the folks from Minnehaha will chime in with some additional details):
shoulder

Also, keep your eyes on the Minnehaha Bag Company website for additional details and more photos of these gorgeous bags.

Just Ask Jack — Good 26″ Commuter Tires?

A question I get a lot around here is “what is an appropriate and good tire choice to convert my mountain bike into a commuter?”

Back in the early 90s, there was a tremendous mountain bike boom — everyone wanted one , and now it seems that nearly everyone still has one hanging around in their garage. I’ve long believed that a mountain bike makes an ideal platform for a commuter bike in many respects, and I’ve written about that before. The frames are tough, the 26″ wheels are inherently strong and there are often good mounting points for racks, fenders and other crucial commuter accessories.

But, those knobby offroad tires have GOT to go — nothing soaks up your energy faster than wrestling against tires designed to grab hold of mud and loose sand and not lose traction. A simple swap to a more “road friendly” tire is a quick and relatively painless way to get things rolling faster!

Where do we begin, though? There is a bewildering array of tires on the market, and I’ve been unable to test the vast majority. I tend to buy whatever’s on sale that meets my criteria for a decent commuter tire: puncture resistance, minimal tread and a total width less than 1.5″. So, think of the following as a “roundup” of available tires from several major brands. These are not meant to be endorsements or recommendations; this article is merely intended to guide our readers toward appropriate types of tires for the road.

Strangely enough, there was an article in yesterday’s New York Times about good commuter tires. Check it out by clicking here.

Panaracer
panaracer

Panaracer’s Pasela, Pasela Tour Guard and T-Serv tires are perennial favorites — they feature good durability and great puncture resistance in a variety of diameters and widths. Visit their Urban tires webpage for more details.

Schwalbe
schwalbe

Schwalbe tires get a lot of good press — they were one of the first brands to offer a reflective sidewall, and their tires are legendary for style, durability and flat protection. Heck, they even make carbide-studded snow tires for winter commuting! Check out their complete line of tires on their road tire webpage…lots of styles, diameters and widths to choose from.

Specialized
Specialized

A heavy hitter in bicycling circles, Specialized has a pretty amazing assortment of tires to choose from. Their “Armadillo” and “Flak Jacket” puncture protection systems get rave reviews from riders. I seem to recall that the Armadillo models in 700c are quite popular with fixed-gear riders, as they offer a lot of durability for skid- and skip-stops. Check out their “widebody” and thinner 26″ tires on this page, and their road offerings on this page.

SweetskinZ
sweetskinz

Let’s not forget our friends at SweetskinZ, the innovators in printing a full-coverage pattern on tires, complete with reflective elements. These tend to be a “love ’em or hate ’em” choice for most riders. You either love the way they look or think they’re ghastly. I fall into the former camp, but then again, I’m not known for my fashion sense! SweetskinZ offers only one tread pattern for commuters. It is somewhat of a hybrid tread pattern with a center “file tread” section and short knobs on the outer perimeter of the contact patch. These tires excel on rough roads and offroad hardpack. They’re not particularly puncture-resistant, but I’ve not had any problems with flats. Check out their dizzying collection of colors at their website.

I think of my commuter bike as a “mission critical” device. Because of this, I insist on puncture-resistance in the form of a Kevlar or similar aramid belt, and I’m not averse to additional forms of flat protection. In fact, on my main rig (my Xtracycle), I’ve got Panaracer Hi-Road V tires with built-in puncture resistance, Mr. Tuffy tire liners AND pre-Slimed tubes. I am GETTING TO WORK ON TIME, DANG IT! Who cares that this combination is heavy, dead-feeling and probably overkill? As Moe said in an earlier article, once you’re pushing around 50+ lb. of bicycle weight, what’s a few more accessories?

Most of the big tire manufacturers, both the ones covered above and other companies like Continental and Kenda, offer plenty of choices in just about every size a bicyclist would need: 26″, 29″, 700c, 27″, etc. Good tires are a cheap investment that pays off in “peace of mind”. If any of you have particular recommendations for tires, please feel free to comment below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Featured Product: Monkeylectric LED Wheel Light

From time to time, we get some cool and fun products to ride with and feature on the site. The Monkeylectric M132 is such product.

Here are the product’s features:

· Unique and powerful graphics synthesizer system:
generates thousands of constantly changing patterns and colors
instantly customizable colors, patterns and activity to fit any situation
· 32 Full color, wide angle, ultra-bright LEDs provide nearly 360-degree visibility
· 8 mounting options fit nearly any Road, Mountain or BMX bike wheel
· Ruggedized construction designed for daily use and frequent wet weather
· Vibration-proof 3-point mounting system
· High strength fiber composite construction withstands rough riding
· Hook & loop battery strap keeps batteries secure and easy to replace
· Lead-free, RoHS compliant environment-friendly construction
· Only 65 grams without batteries
· Clear hardcoat over all LEDs keep the lights fully waterproof for the deepest puddles
· Lasts up to 30 hours on 3 x AA batteries, rechargeables provide best performance

I installed the Monkeylectric LED on my DB Transporter-Xtracycle, I figured that the bike is an excellent candidate since I like to cruise with it in the dark.

The LED is fairly easy to use, simple push the power button, select a color, pattern and speed and you are ready to go. One of the things that I really like about the LED is that is really bright and it really attracts attention. As I rode through my neighborhood during 4th of July, I got a lot of cheers from the people that were enjoying the 4th of July festivities outside in their driveway.

The only drawback of this light is that it may make your wheels imbalanced, since I don’t ride very fast on my Xtracycle, I don’t really notice, but here’s what Monkeylectric says about how to handle such imbalance:

Our more casual test riders can’t tell the difference when riding. As with any product you attach to your bike wheel or bike – it can affect the handling especially at high speeds. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the handling of your bike after installing the m132s.

Any imbalance is more noticeable on high-performance lightweight wheels, and at faster riding speeds. If this is important to you there are a couple things you can do: (1) mount the m132s closer to the hub of the wheel – this will dramatically reduce any imbalance, (2) remove the batteries when you are not using it. the bare unit is only 65g, the batteries usually add another 100g. (3) mount a second m132s, or similar weight, on the opposite side of the wheel.

Here’s a short video of the Monkeylectric in action (Sorry about the fuzziness, my camera is not really equipped to shoot in the dark):

At $64.95 it may not be cheap, but Monkeylectric seems to be sold out due to high demand. I think that if your commute is a short one or a slow one and if you ride at night, you could benefit from the Monkeylectric M132’s brightness making you more visible at night.