Safety Equipment

Review: Planet Bike’s Blitzen Shoe Covers

As with last week’s Planet Bike glove review, I waited and waited for some gnarly winter action in which to test the Planet Bike “Blitzen” shoe covers…alas, an unusually mild midwestern winter left me with chilly temps and some rain, but hardly any snow. No matter, really — my feet get cold very easily and I’ve been in the market for decent shoe covers even before I moved to Ohio. Yeah, even Florida gets chilly enough that shoe covers can be used from time to time…


Here’s a little something about the Blitzen shoe covers straight from Planet Bike’s website:

-Windproof fabric with microfleece lining
-Neoprene front panel for added warmth around the toe box
-Durable bottom with open design for a variety of pedal platforms and cleats
-Full Velcro back closure for greater adjustability and sizing
-Toe box retention strap keeps front of cover in place
-Reflective side logos

The Blitzen shoe covers are a fairly simple affair — a windproof, fleece-lined bootie with an open bottom and Velcro closure along the back to secure the bootie over one’s shoes. The cuff and toebox include neoprene; the former to help protect against cold and the latter to offer better sealing (and a little stretch) to the ankle area. The bottom is open and in reinforced with a rubberized coating. There’s a sewn-on “strap” of sorts to help hold the two sides of the bootie against the shoe inside. This opening also allows the cleat system of your choice to poke through with no interference. There’s also a smaller opening at the heel to allow the sole to poke through. This protects the shoe covers’ fabric from being worn away if you find yourself walking instead of pedaling.


The shoe cover material only has a tiny bit of stretch in the main body, so shoes with aggressive knobby soles can be a tight fit. My Adidas MTB shoes were a bit of a squeeze getting into the size “L” (the Blitzen covers come in sizes S through XXXL, but the site doesn’t indicate exactly what shoe sizes those letter designations actually cover). Once snugged on, there is no excess material flapping and everything was tight to the shoe. Regular “street shoes” may or may not fit within the Blitzen shoe covers; I would imagine something low-volume might fit, but you’d have to try your own shoes to see for sure. These covers are designed for cycling shoes, not “universal fit”, and if you don’t wear cleated cycling shoes, there may be better cover options on the market out there for you.


The covers come in basic black with constrasting-color reinforced stitching, and there’s a handy reflective logo on the side. I’d like to see some additional reflectivity on the back of the shoe (a reflective patch or piping along the Velcro closure). Here’s a shot of the reflective in action:


One thing I discovered is that with shoe covers having an open bottom, wind and cold can enter around the cleat area. The metal cleat and screws can transmit cold right to a sensitive part of one’s foot. My quick remedy for that was remove my shoe’s insoles, then I cut squares of felt to cover the cleat interface from the inside and taped it all down with a couple layers of duct tape. BOOM! Cold transmision conquered!

The covers are not waterproof, but they shrugged off some of the rain I experienced. After longer rain rides, my shoes and feet got pretty wet, but for the shorter stuff it wasn’t too bad…a little dampness here and there that I could live with. I wore these covers down to around 12 degrees, and while they didn’t keep my feet toasty warm throughout, the cold they DID let through was bearable. For me, the low temp for these covers is around 20 degrees…lower than that and I really wished for something more insulated. Not everyone can afford (or needs) a pair of Lake or Sidi winter boots, so these Blitzen shoe covers offer some of the benefits of a dedicated winter cycling shoe without the astronomical price. The Blitzen shoe covers retail for about $45.00, and serve best as a good cover for moderately cold, mostly dry conditions. If you need more insulation, Planet Bike also offers a full neoprene shoe cover called the Comet.

I am so glad Planet Bike took pity on me and offered to let me test both the shoe covers and the Borealis gloves…they made my first real winter in over 20 years a bit more bearable — thanks, PB!!! As always, Planet Bike offers a wide range of products for all types of cycling. Swing on over to their website to take a look for yourself!

Review: O2 Rainwear’s Calhoun Jacket

We showed you the O2 Rainwear “Calhoun” jacket in a teaser a few months ago…and at the time, it was dry and hot here in Ohio. Well, as many of my neighbors told me it would, the rainy season set in around mid-October and hasn’t let up. Being cold is tough for a longtime Florida resident. And, as a Florida resident, I’ve gotten caught in many a rainstorm, but our rainy season there was during the heat of summer, negating the need for stifling raingear. Being cold AND wet is about my least-favorite sensation, and since it seems to rain about every other day here, the Calhoun received a thorough test before I put my thoughts together for the review.


Let’s recap a bit with a list of the details of the jacket, straight from O2’s website:

Product Details
100% 2.5Layer Rip-Stop Nylon
Waterproof, fully taped internal seam
Waterproof, Breathable, Lightweight, Compact
Supreme Wind & Water Protection
Waterproof, full length front zipper with garage
Reflective elements for low light visibility
Welded waterproof front Napoleon pocket
Form Fit
Pit Zips for additional ventilation
Breathability: W/R; MVP: 10,000g/m2/D
Waterproof: W/P: 10,000mmH2O;
Weight: Avg. 13 ounces depending on size

Normally, I wear a size small in cycling wear…as I mentioned in our sneak peek, Adam Ziskin, the owner of O2, sent me a medium based on my dimensions. As it turns out, the medium is just right — roomy enough to fit over an insulating layer on truly cold days. Thermal cycling jerseys/baselayers or even a fleece jacket fit under the Calhoun with no problems. Of course, like any self-respecting cycling jacket, the Calhoun has an extended tail to keep your butt dry in the rain. Off the bike, the jacket feels boxy…not particularly form-fitting and with gorilla-length arms. Once I got onto my bike, the genius of this jacket’s “cut” was immediately apparent: the jacket’s arms are long so that your arms are still covered when in the drops of a road bike, and there is no bunching or restriction as you stretch out into riding position. It’s still not a body-hugging fit and there is some flapping of the jacket’s material in the wind, but nothing I couldn’t live with.


The fit can be tailored somewhat using the hidden drawcords at the waist and neck:


The sleeve cuffs have simple hook-and-loop fasteners with enough adjustability to fit over heavy gloves or mittens…and help seal in the warmth.


Because extra visibilty is key when the weather turns nasty, the Calhoun comes in neon yellow, and it has effective reflective accents on front, back, and sides. For those of you who don’t want that screamingly bright color, the Calhoun also comes in blue. Seriously, though, being seen by motorists when the rain is blowing sideways trumps fashion any day…yet it’s nice that O2 offers a choice.


One thing that surprised me is that the Calhoun jacket doesn’t feel clammy when I put it on. I’ve worn some inexpensive rainwear over the years — you know, the stuff with the thick polyurethane lining or the rubberized fabric ponchos popular with campers. The Calhoun simply feels like a quality jacket. The interior of the jacket has a slick look to it, but it feels good against the skin, for what that’s worth. I can’t tell you how breathable the 3Flow Performance fabric is with any concrete quantifiers, but I never felt like sweat was bottling up inside the jacket. Granted, my rides have been in the teens to the low 40s and I just don’t sweat at those temps. When I did feel like I was starting to get a bit too warm, the pit zips did the trick to cool me down a bit. Simply unzip them, pull the main zipper down a bit and flush out the excess warmth before zipping it all back up. Worked like a charm!


One of my favorite features is that the Calhoun packs up small…about the size of a big burrito (but perhaps a bit lighter). When the weather is iffy, the jacket can be rolled up and carried along in a jersey pocket, pannier or bag. A more practiced hand could probably roll this thing up even smaller!


After all this, you’re probably wondering, “well, how does it work in the rain?” Rest assured, this jacket is waterproof to a fault. I still hate riding in the cold rain, but the Calhoun makes it substantially less miserable. And, the jacket’s fantastic windproof ability also makes it my go-to choice when it is clear and chilly. Take a look at the picture below — the coldest bike ride I’ve been on in 25 years or more, with starting temps in the low teens and highs in the low 20s. I was rocking a thermal jersey and baselayer, fleece-lined bibtights, wool balaclava, shoe covers and lobster gloves. I was afraid I looked like Randy from the classic “A Christmas Story”. What can I say? I ain’t designed for cold weather. Anyhow, the jacket accommodated all those layers and kept the heat in where I needed it. Thumbs up all the way!


Perhaps my only gripe with the Calhoun is that the one chest pocket is nice, but I prefer to carry things in a pocket on my back. Perhaps I am just used to having jersey pockets for long rides, but a heavy smartphone just felt weird in that chest pocket. After a short time, I transferred the phone to my saddlebag. Luckily, O2 has other jackets to choose from that have other features you may desire. Also, I must say that at first, I was thinking, “gee, I really wish there was a hood on this jacket”, but I understand that hoods can be more trouble than they’re worth. I DO need to figure out a decent technique for keeping the rain out of my helmet, though.

The Calhoun jacket has an MSRP of $119.00. That’s pricey, but I feel you get what you pay for — this is a quality jacket that performs admirably when the weather turns sour. 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 when you ride. Check out O2’s full product line by clicking here.

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

Preview: Winter Gear from Planet Bike

A week or so ago, the good folks at Planet Bike sent us some courtesy samples of winter gear to test out. I could just see the marketing people at PB: “man, this guy Jack is going to be facing his first midwestern winter in over 30 years…he’s the perfect candidate to try out some of our winter products. Poor sonofabitch doesn’t know WHAT he’s gotten himself into!!”

First up is the Borealis winter glove system:


From PB’s website:

-Windproof back panel and forchettes
-Removable liner for quick dry time
-Ultra-soft Fleece thumb and index finger
-Reflective piping for night visibility
-Water resistant, reinforced Serino palm
-3-in-1 design allows flexible temperature range by using liners, outer shells only, or outer shells with liners
-Neoprene cuff/pull tab with hook and loop closure

Next up, the Blitzen shoe covers:


-Windproof fabric with microfleece lining
-Neoprene front panel for added warmth around the toe box
-Durable bottom with open design for a variety of pedal platforms and cleats
-Full Velcro back closure for greater adjustability and sizing
-Toe box retention strap keeps front of cover in place
-Reflective side logos

We’ll be putting these goodies through their paces over the next couple months…it’s already gotten quite chilly here, with low temps in the 20s and highs of only the mid-50s. Having lived in Florida for the past two decades, I was woefully underprepared for truly cold-weather riding, so these Planet Bike items will hopefully keep me toasty as I test them out. Stay tuned for reviews — I am hoping to try these items out in the snow, if possible.

Review: Levi’s 511 Commuter Jeans

A couple months back, one of our PR friends offered to send us a courtesy pair of Levi’s newly-announced 511 “skinny” commuter jeans. Being that I’m of the narrowish nature, the boys in California decided that I should be the one to try them out. I received a pair in the “chinchilla” color (they’re also available in indigo). I’ve ridden in them for a number of bike adventures and am ready to share my thoughts…read along.


First, a bit from Levi’s website description:

Stretch fabric provides mobility and comfort;
water-repellent NanoSphere® nanotechnology and antimicrobial Sanitized® technology
Utility waistband specifically designed for U-lock storage;
higher back rise offers more coverage
3M™ Scotchlite™ reflective tape on interior cuffs provides the visibility of 500 candles
Reinforced belt loops, double-layer back pockets, and seat
Twill, 98% Cotton, 2% Elastane, 9.8 oz. – Imported

Fit & Sizing
Skinny Fit Sits below waist, 10 1/8” front rise
Skinny, 14 3/4″ leg opening
Measurements are based on a size 32W x 32L

These jeans are packed with features. The folks at Levi’s really did their homework in terms of the types of features bicycle commuters might want on a pair of pants that could go straight from the bike and into the office. The execution of some of those features, however, have me scratching my head. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The fit of the Levi’s 511 jeans is quite snug, but the little bit of stretch built into the fabric makes quite a difference. I never felt like the snugness hampered my movements. Some folks have questioned whether Levi’s addressed the inner crotch seam — and wonder how anyone can ride a bike with that seam pressing into one’s “tender bits”. The seam is still there, but I didn’t unduly notice it…but I’m pretty sure these jeans wouldn’t be my first clothing choice for a really long ride. As a concession to movement, Levi’s gusseted the crotch area for a bit extra room down below, and that helps with on-bike comfort (diagonal stitching in the photo below):


A really nice feature of the fabric is its stain-and moisture-repellency. As we all know, the odd rain shower or chain grease stain doesn’t do well for our appearance once we arrive at our destinations, and the “nanosphere tech” on these jeans seems to do a reasonable job of keeping water and stains at bay. Don’t believe me? Check out the coverage of the Levi’s rollout party in San Francisco, as reported by the dashing Stevil Kinevil of All Hail the Black Market…folks getting stoopid, pouring beer on one another and marveling as it beads up and rolls away.

The feel of the jean fabric is one of toughness. Despite the stretch, these jeans feel durable. Of course Levi’s is known for their tough stitching and reinforcement of pocket corners, belt loops and other high-stress areas, and they didn’t skimp on the 511s. Another plus of the fabric is that it stays relatively wrinkle-free and looks “crisp” even after repeated wearing.

Let’s talk about some of the built-in features. First, the reflective cuffs: Levi’s stitched two strips of 3M Scotchlite reflective tape onto the inner leg seams of the jeans. Simply roll them up a few inches (my jeans had a bit of excessive length, as my legs are short), and that reflective tape is revealed for the world to see. It’s a nice touch, but I question the placement of the tape on the sides rather than the back of the leg. Think about this…when you’re riding at night, you really want those car headlights to illuminate you from pretty far back. And, the rhythmic bobbing up-and-down motion of a reflector as one pedals really catches motorists’ attention (that’s why pedal reflectors are so useful). On these jeans, I’m afraid that the side strips of tape simply don’t catch the light at the right angle. Yes, side visibility is important too, and we all know that sometimes such visibility is lacking in our choices of front and rear lights and bike-mounted reflectives pointing behind us. I’d like to see more reflective fabric incorporated in the Levi’s jeans — in particular, a band that goes all the way around the leg the way Betabrand’s “Bike To Work” pants do.


The waistband of the 511 jeans has a built-in U-lock holster (sized for a Kryptonite Evolution Mini or other brands’ equivalent). The holster is situated right above the back pocket so that the U-end of the lock slips right in. That’s a nice feature if you’re not carrying a bag or other means of toting a lock around. Here’s the funny thing, though: that holster is along the same plane as the belt loops, so if you’re wearing a belt, the holster is covered. Of course, you can use your belt as a holster in that case. Maybe folks don’t wear belts these days…in any case, the holster is a neat if rather curious addition.


Sewn into the right front pocket is a divider, ostensibly to protect your cellphone from scratches and dings. However, the combination of the snug fit of the jeans, the smallish pocket openings, and my giant hands conspired to keep me from using that divider successfully — the inner pocket created by the divider served as a “black hole” where change and small items hid. I just about had to take the jeans off to fish anything out of there! I’ve seen other jeans and pants with discrete (and completely separate) cellphone pockets, and such a pocket may be useful on a future version of these jeans.

Now, let’s talk about something — as these are created as and billed as “commuter jeans”, able to go from the bike to the workplace, I wonder what sort of workplace Levi’s has in mind? Despite the office-friendly color and the crisp-looking fabric, these still look like jeans. You won’t be fooling anyone into thinking you’re wearing snug chinos, in other words. I don’t know about you, but MY workplace frowns on jeans except on casual Fridays. In my mind, jeans should be jean-colored, and office chinos should, well, look the part by being a neutral color and having a more traditional chino cut. Perhaps I am not the demographic Levi’s intended for these jeans…I know a lot of other workplaces in the “creative class” industries have a more casual dress code, and perhaps these jeans are better suited for day-to-day wear for some of them.

The 511 Commuter jeans retail for $78. That’s a bit more pricey than a lot of we frugal commuters are comfortable with, but the built-in features and the attention to detail drives the price up a bit. I have no qualms paying that kind of money for well-made and durable jeans, but my personal feeling is that I wish these were a bit more flexible in terms of “look”…something that bridges the gap between jeans and office chinos style-wise.

I think Levi’s is on the right track with the features and fabric of the 511 jeans, and I hope that in the future they broaden their offerings to cover more commuter scenarios. I also hope that they figure out a way to make the features more useful, particularly the reflective tape in the cuffs. For now, Levi’s offers 4 pieces in their “commuter wear” line. Something less jeany and more chino-y would be a fine addition to this line. If you’re looking for a tough and durable pair of jeans that you can actually ride in, these might be up your alley.

My wife does say that these jeans make my butt look nice, and to me, that’s worth every penny!


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

Review: XLC 2-LED “Bright Flex” Light Set

The kind folks at Seattle Bicycle Supply (SBS) offered us a chance to try out their house-brand XLC lights a few months back. As lighting is pretty important for many commuters — besides keeping you safe, front and rear lights on your bike also keep you LEGAL in most municipalities — we jumped at the chance to take these lights for a spin. A courtesy pair appeared in the mail a few days later, and we were off.

The set we got is the XLC 2-LED “Bright Flex” light set…a lightweight pair of lights for the front and rear of just about any bike:


The lights are simple: acrylic bodies and lenses encased in a soft silicone shell. These lights mount without tools; part of the silicone shell forms a stretchy strap that hooks to a protrusion on the front of each light. Each light contains two LEDs…red ones for the back and white ones for the front. Let’s make something clear right up front: these are “to be seen” lights, and the LEDs don’t have any impressive lumen ratings listed on the SBS website. You will be noticed by other road users, but these lights will NOT illuminate the street in front of you in any appreciable way.

Here’s a look at the strap:

The strap is stretchy enough to go around most seatposts and handlebars, even the newer oversized 31.8mm bars. The rear light cannot be aimed, so the seatpost angle may affect the rearward visibility of the light. Here, take a look at my setup:


The light is still pointing backwards, but perhaps not at the very best angle for optimum visibility. It is still noticeably bright from a couple hundred feet back, though.

Each light is powered by a single CR2032 battery, a fairly common size. The lights are claimed to have a run time of 40 hours steady and 80 hours flashing — I’ve had them for six or seven months of regular use and they both continue to shine brightly. Each light has three modes, cycled by pressing a covered button on the top of the body : steady, flashing and strobe. The strobe pattern is pretty eye-catching, so that’s the setting I usually run mine on.

XLC describes the lights as “water resistant”…and that may be true in some locales, but I got caught out in a Florida rainstorm on my very first ride with them. When the front light malfunctioned the next day, I was surprised to discover about a half-teaspoon of water inside the battery compartment. I thought that with the tight silicone housing and vinyl battery cap under the body of the light, these things could shrug off water better than that. Once I poured the water out and let the casing dry, the light started working again, but to this day it doesn’t reliably cycle through all three illumination settings on the first try. I also noticed some corrosion on the contacts between LEDs and the circuit board inside the acrylic body.

Otherwise, there’s not a lot to go wrong with these lights. The body and shell are rugged, the on/off button is protected by the silicone shell and the strap hasn’t stressed or cracked the way the rubber o-rings that come with other lights might.


The Bright Flex lights are not terrifically bright, nor are they waterproof enough for daily use, so it is hard to recommend them as primary lights for nighttime commuters. But here’s the thing…with a retail price of as little as $13.00, they are inexpensive “backup insurance”. I’ve used them in that role in three ways. First, when I go out for early or late road rides on my road bike, I stuff these lights into a jersey pocket and snap them on when they’re needed. Second, I keep them in my messenger bag for late night backup…if the batteries in my primaries fail, I can always get these out and get home safely. Third, these make great “loaners”; we’ve all been out at night with someone who forgot their own lights, and these are great to have on hand to let a fellow rider borrow. Why, my own set of Bright Flex lights have been loaned out three or four times in this way, and all parties involved got home safe!

So, for the price, these are good lights for backups. Don’t try to scuba-dive with them, don’t expect them to illuminate every pothole on your 50MPH+ downhill commute, and don’t forget to let your buddy borrow them if they forgot their own lights. As long as you keep those three caveats in mind, you can’t go wrong with these XLC lights.

XLC lights and many other products in the SBS family can be ordered through your local bike shop, and you may also find many of these items online. This particular light set also makes a great stocking stuffer for the cyclist(s) in your life.

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