Category: Safety Equipment

A few weeks ago, Perry from Velo Orange sent us a courtesy (read: “free”) pair of their new anti-theft skewers to test out.

vo

We’ve discussed wheel security strategies in the past, and some of the drawbacks of existing “non-QR” skewers have been addressed by Velo Orange in their design. Read on!

Many of you have noticed that most new bikes (even ones billed as “urban” or “commuter friendly”) come with wheels that have traditional quick-release skewers installed. Obviously, this creates additional security headaches…without a good locking strategy, those wheels are quite easy to steal and could certainly use more protection.

Enter the non-QR skewer — replacing the cam lever with a fixed head that accepts a 5 mm hex key. While not foolproof, these non-QR skewers surely deter casual wheel thieves, but many savvy criminals now carry hex keys to swipe wheels and components off poorly-secured bikes.

Those non-QR skewers weren’t good enough for Velo Orange, so they set out to create an inexpensive alternative to Pitlock/Hublox-style skewers by using a standard “security fitting” on the head of the skewer. The Velo Orange skewer’s hex fitting has a raised “pin” in the center, defeating standard hex keys by requiring a special key with a centrally-drilled hole. Here’s a look at the VO skewer head:

head

And corresponding 5 mm “security” hex key:

hex

The VO skewers are made of chromed steel for the skewer itself and anodized aluminum for the clamping ends. Most non-QR skewers on the market have serrated faces on the aluminum ends, and I’ve experienced quite a bit of slippage over the years using such skewers on horizontal dropouts. VO did their homework on these skewers, as there is a serrated STEEL face pressed onto each aluminum end. It’s an extra touch that means these things will not slip once tightened down. Here’s a look at the nonslip face:

face

As a test platform, and in keeping with the spirit of the Velo Orange company (lovers of all things French), I installed the skewers on my 1971 French “Astra” citybike…well, not quite. Currently, VO offers the skewers in a length to handle a standard 100 mm front hub and 135 mm rear hub spacing. My Astra has a 126 mm hub with a short axle, so I couldn’t use the VO skewer on the rear. Velo Orange indicates that other sizes will be available soon. For now, the rear skewer went onto my Xtracycle (which had a QR skewer with the lever pipe-clamped to the subframe of the Xtra).

The test platform:

astra

As for testing these skewers, I can say this: once they are clamped down, those serrated faces do the trick. The wheel will NOT slip within the dropouts. I’m loathe to test the anti-theft nature of these skewers by parking my bike in a high-crime area, but I’m confident that these skewers will convince all but the most dedicated scofflaw to move on to easier targets.

I only have one negative to include about the VO skewers…only one special hex key is included in the package, and replacement keys are not yet available from VO. So, for now, don’t lose the key!!!

Currently, the Velo Orange anti-theft skewers are on sale for $12.00. They’re worth twice that in peace of mind.

We’ve got some other Velo Orange products in the review pipeline, so stay tuned in the next few weeks for more.

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

Full disclosure: I’ve resisted cycling mirrors for a long time…I’ve never really felt the need for such a device. If I wanted to see what’s going on behind me, a quick turn of the head has satisfied my curiosity. Even when I drive a car, I rarely use the mirrors (other than to check out who’s behind me at stoplights). Chalk it up to years of racing coaches who drilled into us that a quick glance back while holding a line was all we ever needed…coupled with driving instructors who insisted that nothing took the place of a glance back to check out the “blind spots” invisible to mirrors.

So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I received Cycleaware’s Roadie Mirror for review — how was I going to remain objective and give this device a fair shake? Well, the jury’s still out on that, but here goes anyway:

roadie

The Roadie mirror is quite simple…one rubber plug that replaces the left-side handlebar plug on traditional road drop bars and a mirror assembly that fits into the plug. Installation is a breeze (30 seconds max), and the ball-and-socket design allows for quick adjustment and a vibration-free view.

parts

The mirror assembly is solid but lightweight…made out of good firm plastic. The mirror itself is acrylic and is convex-shaped to allow a fairly wide view of the road behind the rider. The whole assembly seems fairly aerodynamic.

How did it work? Well…it certainly offers a pretty wide view of the things going on behind me, but I found that because of the convex shape, I was unable to determine distances of objects behind me and really had to analyze the view in order to make sense of it. I resorted to looking at the mirror and then turning my head to get a better understanding of the goings-on behind me. Kinda defeats the purpose of having a mirror, doesn’t it?

I also found the location of the mirror to be fairly awkward. At the base of the drops, it’s in an area I just don’t look at while I’m riding, so I had to consciously remind myself to look down into that zone. More seasoned mirror users may not have that same problem…

mounted

Finally, I often struck the mirror with my knee or leg when dismounting my bike, knocking it out of alignment. This is a pretty small gripe because the ball and socket arrangement offers very easy readjustment…fiddling with it for a few seconds put everything back in its place.

Verdict? Well, I’m still not a mirror convert — but I can’t blame that entirely on Cycleaware’s mirror. The mirror itself is a clever, well-made product — fairly unobtrusive and easy to adjust. For me, undoing decades of conditioning is the real sticking point…perhaps with a little more road time I will “see the light” and find mirrors like this more useful.

Cycleaware has a wide range of other safety accessories on their site. It’s worth a look. For me, I’m going to keep plugging away with the concept of mirrors on my bike and may give others a try to see what all the fuss is about…

A few months back, Planet Bike sent us two versions of their “Blaze 1W” headlight to test. Russ got the dynamo-powered version, and I got the battery-operated model.

blaze 1w

The light is only a bit bigger than many of its cousins; a slightly wider body and about 3/4″ longer than other PB lights. Much of this extra length comes from a cast aluminum heatsink that separates the head of the Blaze 1W from the rest of the body. Here’s a comparison shot of the Blaze 1W next to two other PB lights, the Beamer 1 and the Beamer 5:

comparo

The light has two brightness settings and one flashing pattern. The flash setting is the same one used by Planet Bike’s class-dominating “Superflash” taillight, and it sure gets attention…two half-power blinks followed by a full-strength blast. A friend riding in front of me stated, “it’s like being chased by the paparazzi!”

Other similarities between the Blaze 1W and other lights in the Planet Bike line include power from 2 AA batteries (I use NiCad rechargeables) and the exact same handlebar mounting clamp. I’m not a huge fan of the mounting clamp; while it is adjustable to fit a wide variety of handlebar diameters, I’ve found the mount can slip if you don’t get it as tight as it’ll go. I learned a trick from our longtime reader and friend Quinn McLaughlin…his suggestion was to add a strip of hockey-stick griptape to the handlebar just under where the clamp sits. This works like a charm and eliminates any of the slipping gripes I have with the PB mount.

I was excited to try this high-powered light — having used only low-power LED lights for years, I’ve often “outrun” the beam as I ride home from work in the dark. And, truly high-powered lights can be tremendously expensive, keeping me away from them. PB intends this light to to split the difference between “to see” and “to be seen” lights on the market…with a 1-watt Blaze LED, this light cranks out an impressive blast of light.

Let’s compare that beam to the other PB lights I have on hand…my nighttime picture-taking skills leave a bit to be desired, but I hope you’ll get the idea. In the following photo, I have the Blaze 1W, the Beamer 5 and the Beamer 1 arranged from left to right. Using freshly recharged batteries and a white backdrop, I’ve got the following beam comparison:

beam comparison

Hard to tell which is the brightest, isn’t it? I thought so, too, so I set up another comparison between the two I considered brightest, the Blaze and the Beamer 1. These next two shots are from a distance of 25 feet in near-total darkness. First, we have the Beamer 1:

beamer 1

The bicycle the light is aimed at is barely visible (but my “yard art” shines nicely!). Now, let’s take a look at the illuminating power of the Blaze 1W:

blaze 1w

Perhaps still a bit hard to tell, but in real life the difference is pretty impressive! Details are far more visible than with lesser-powered lights…and this extra visibility is crucial for dark commutes on poorly-lit routes where cracks and road hazards loom.

It is possible to “outrun” this light, too…but you’ve got to be traveling pretty fast to do so. And, of course, this light isn’t suitable for offroading or 24-hour racing…it’s not THAT bright. For around-town riding, though, if you really need more light than this baby puts out, you’re looking at big bucks for another brand’s HID/LED lighting system.

For bike commuters on a budget, this light is totally worth the price and should be at the top of your list for affordable nighttime riding. It offers impressive performance at a fraction of the price of a really high-end light system. Even if you only use the Blaze 1W in flashing mode, you WILL get the attention of motorists — this light is well-neigh impossible to ignore.

Check out more information on this light and the rest of the line of commuter-friendly products by visiting Planet Bike’s website.

A few weeks ago, Chris Cobb of BikeGlow sent us a sample of their bicycle safety lighting to test. I’ve had a chance to install it, play with it and ride several nights with it.

bike glow

Powered by two AA batteries, this light kit is comprised of a ten-foot length of EL wire and quick-disconnect battery pack. The light functions in both steady and flashing modes. Included in the kit is a full roll of electrical tape. No mounting brackets are included…the electrical tape is meant to both seal the battery pack and to mount the light tube and battery pack to the bicycle. At very first, I was a bit taken aback by this mounting method, but quickly realized that it makes the light incredibly versatile…no brackets and a full roll of tape means that I can swap the BikeGlow from bike to bike as the mood strikes me!

I had some concerns about water resistance of the kit (I have an uncanny knack for getting caught in the rain), and asked Chris for his input:

One of the beauties of the tape, besides the ease of use and flexibility, is that you can literally wrap the whole battery unit and connector wire in tape. It then becomes completely weather resistant. The light [tube] itself is waterproof.

I haven’t tested the waterproofness of the light yet, but at some point I KNOW it’ll get soaked. I’ll report back if I have any problems with it.

Mounting is simple — simply wind the light tube around the bicycle’s frame, affixing it at a couple points with a strip of tape. Pick a place for the battery pack (the pack comes with a belt clip, too), tape it into place and plug the light tube into the pack. Done!

The flashing mode is more of a pulsing effect — and it catches the eye with a mesmerizing glow. The beauty of EL wire is that it can be used to outline pretty much any part of the bike you want…you could even use the BikeGlow tube to accent your body, your backpack, your panniers or whatever your heart desires. It is incredibly flexible stuff.

The light itself isn’t particularly bright — it doesn’t need eye-searing capabilities like rear blinkies or a headlight. However, it is amply bright enough to help motorists distinguish you as a bicycle in those crucial side-vision encounters nighttime cyclists face, where blinkies and headlights don’t offer much in the way of side visibility.

in action

BikeGlow comes in eight colors: aqua, blue, green, pink, purple, red, white and yellow, giving the color-coordinating cyclists among us the perfect color to accent our bikes. And, for the price of $24.95 for the kit, that’s a pretty good deal for adding some visibility to your night rides. I have been unable to test the battery life beyond running the light for about 8 30-minute nighttime commutes, but BikeGlow estimates that a pair of AA batteries will last 120 hours. Not bad at all!

For more information or to order your very own BikeGlow lighting system, please visit the BikeGlow website.

A couple of weeks ago, we were contacted by the community manager for Mission Product. He wanted to know if we might be interested in testing and reviewing their line of athlete-oriented skincare products. Of course we said a resounding “yes” (who DOESN’T love free samples?), and a few days later, the products appeared at my door.

mission

Here’s a bit about the company in their own words:

“When ultra-endurance athlete Charlie Engle came to us to talk about running across the Sahara Desert, it was clear that he was the definition of an athlete on a MISSION.

After 111 consecutive days in the most grueling terrain on the planet his plea was simple: “In my 30 plus years of training and competing, there has never been a skin care product that has met my needs.” Charlie needed products that could keep up with him, and we quickly discovered that he wasn’t alone…

Teaming up with scientists and skincare industry veterans, we’ve established an entirely new category — high-performance, athlete-engineered skincare™. Engineered in MISSION Labs, the entire MISSION Product line is designed, and has been proven, to meet the specific needs of athletes and sports enthusiasts across all sports.

By agreeing to test and review these products, the staff here at Bikecommuters.com has joined the ranks of sports greats such as NBA’s Steve Nash, pro triathlete Hunter Kemper and gold-medal Olympians Mia Hamm and Amanda Beard.

Wait a minute…what do WE have in common with world-class athletes? Well, not that much. But, even if you ride a bicycle solely for transportion and not for fitness, you’re exposing yourself to wind, sun, cold and muscular stress. Do you ever come home from a long day of work feeling tired, chapped and sore? Wouldn’t it be nice to protect your skin, your “saddle area” and your lips from the ravages of the elements?

That’s where Mission products step in. The five items that came in the pack were “Daily Offense SPF 30 Stick” sunscreen for face, ears and anywhere else, “Lip Protector SPF 20” for the lips, “Revive Gel” to moisturize sun- and wind-burned skin, “Anti-Friction Cream” for the saddle area or anywhere else hotspots appear and “Foot Synergy Gel” to soothe tired, aching feet. All of the products are preservative-free and free of PABA and parabens…and are cruelty-free (always a plus in my book). Several of the products are scent-free, too, and those with scent have a mild, pleasant fragrance — you’re NOT going to smell like the perfume counter at Saks Fifth Avenue after applying these products (another plus)!

We’re excited to try these products, and we’ll be posting some first impressions as well as long-term reviews, so stay tuned for that.

more mission