Category: Safety Equipment

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.

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.

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.

Back in the early springtime, the good folks at Seattle Bicycle Supply (SBS) sent me a courtesy pair of their company Pryme’s “Trailhands” full-finger gloves to try out.


The gloves are very simple and lightweight…Amara palms (sort of a synthetic suede), a terry wiping surface on the thumb and a stretchy spandex mesh back. There is no padding to speak of, and the wrist closure is a simple strip of hook-and-loop material with a rubberized pull tab. These gloves are aimed squarely at the mountain bike crowd, where handlebar control trumps the need for comfort, so palm padding wasn’t a consideration. With typical mountain bike grips and flat bars, these gloves are utterly unobtrusive and grippy without the need for any silicone dots on the palms. On road bike-style drop handlebars, some folks may want a bit more padding, but I found them comfortable when paired with foam bartape…up to about 20 miles or so. Beyond that, I could use a little more cushion for the nerves in my hands.

The mesh back is airy and comfortable, letting a cooling breeze in at all times. That mesh extends the full length of the fingers, too, and is incredibly lightweight against the skin, even in summer temps. If you’re planning on cooler-temperature rides, these may not offer enough insulation for sensitive fingers. I wore them in temps down to about 60 degrees; below that, my thin fingers cried out for more warmth.

Cool mesh:

One of the features I enjoyed about the gloves is the reinforcing gusset at the connection between thumb and index finger. I’ve blown out dozens of gloves in this area, both on- and off-road. I have big, flexible hands and my hands seem to terrorize gloves in that location. The gusset on the Trailhands gloves prevents any stretching or blowout in that crucial spot, and I appreciate it. By nature of the way a MTBer grips their handlebars, this area is a weak spot on many other glove models. Good engineering, Pryme!

Amara palm, reinforcing gusset:

As I mentioned in my Ergon gloves review, I really need a soft nose-wiping surface on my gloves. The Pryme Trailhands have me covered…with an entire thumb covered in luxurious terry and not a rough seam in sight. Sheer snot-wiping bliss! What seams ARE located in this area are covered over with spandex piping, making them soft and scratch-free. Also, I like gloves with simple closures — a big flappy pull tab gets in the way and annoys me to no end. The Trailhands gloves are stretchy enough to fit snugly around my hands, and a simple, narrow pull tab is all that is needed to keep things secure.

Terry thumb, simple pull tab:

Does a bike commuter really NEED gloves? Perhaps not, at least not in the way that a mountain biker might. I like the added protection for my hands, although I don’t always wear gloves when I am riding. And, I do love something to wipe my nose on…keeping your hands clean on the way to work is always a plus as well. For a retail price of about $24.00, these gloves are reasonably priced for what they offer — a simple, grippy, light solution to basic hand protection.

Check out the rest of the Pryme accessories line by visiting their site…they even have a whimsical pair of basic bike gloves that ties in nicely with our “Zen and Bicycle Commuting” article yesterday!

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

Ok, as a brain refresher here is a link to the original post:

Well folks. It’s a unanimous decision. The Super Flash TURBO is a winner! Although my initial post was dated in March, I had been using the TURBO since late January. Day and Night, Night and Day. Rain – CHECK. SNOW – CHECK. SNAIL – CHECK.

The TURBO light pattern is VERY attention grabbing. AND the 1 watt LED is BRIGHT! My wife usually whined about riding behind me.

The original batteries that came with the light held up the entire time. In fact they just barely gave out last week. 4+ months run time is not bad at all! The light began to shut off on it’s own, so I shelved it and grabbed my old standard Super Flash in the interim.

So Monday morning, I slapped in some brand new ‘AAA’ batteries, jumped on my commuter bike – a 5″ travel mountain behemoth (take that Selk!), and pedaled frantically so that I would beat the lines at VooDoo Donuts. Since I hadn’t a minute to spare AND I didn’t have the PB seatpost bracket mounted, I simply utilized the tail light loop on my messenger bag. “Good enough”, I thought.

2 miles into my 5 mile commute, I heard what sounded like plastic hitting the pavement. I figured it was my 2.3″ tires kicking up some road debris. The lines at VooDoo were out the door already, so I pedaled on to the shop.
I arrived at work feeling fresh as always. As I pulled my bag over my head to set it down..GASP!!!!
The Super Flash TURBO had vanished!
That sound I heard was the TURBO hitting the pavement…

So, in the end here is what I determined:

PB Superflash CLIP

If PB could work on the clip grip, my grade is “A++” , but for now I simply give it an “A”.