BikeCommuters.com

Safety Equipment

Review: Velo Orange “Squeal Free” Brake Shoes and Pads

Brake pads. Those little devices are something we generally don’t think about until something goes wrong…squeaking and grinding against our rims or being unable to stop when needed. I faced both of these situations within my commuting fleet, and so it was with great interest that I agreed to test the “squeal-free” brake pads and V-brake shoes from Velo Orange.

pads

VO wasn’t terribly forthcoming with details about the pad compound…they had some research documents as they were developing these products but didn’t share them with us. So, I don’t know anything about the compound used and the hardness rating (durometer). I can say that the pads feel about as firm (using the trusty “fingernail test”, which really doesn’t tell me anything) as other major-brand pads in my parts bins.

The black brake compound has tiny flecks of a tan-colored material mixed in…I don’t know what that material might be or if it improves braking ability; it’s just something I noticed. The pads have the required shape to fit modern Shimano-style pad holders, including the little scalloped depression at one end for the holder’s setscrew.

pad

The V brake shoes have the same tan-flecked black material and come stock with orbital washers and spacers to simplify toe-in. These are the threaded-post models; straight-post models for traditional cantilever brakes are also available.

shoes

In the spirit of VO, I installed the pads on a genuine French bike…my 1971 Astra citybike. This bike is equipped with the original Weinmann sidepulls, which aren’t particularly powerful even on a good day. Luckily, I had some spare Kool-Stop pad holders and bolted the combination right on. Here they are installed and ready to accept a wheel:

installed

I installed the V-brake shoes on the front end of the hardtail mountain bike I occasionally commute on — this bike was in DESPERATE need of new shoes as you can see here:

shoes

The VO shoes have a bit more overall length than the stock pads being replaced. I thought I might have some fork leg clearance issues, but didn’t. That extra length had a positive effect on braking performance, too…everything felt more solid up front.

The conditions I ride in are fairly flat, and at this time of the year very dry. Most of my riding consists of stop-and-go city riding and a good bit of “urban assault” riding in the green spaces, parking garages and city structures when time allows. Come summertime, I expect to spend a lot of time slogging through torrential rainstorms.

Well, how do they work? I’ve ridden both bikes for a couple months with pads and shoes installed, and I can honestly say that I’ve noticed a pretty big improvement in braking performance. Both bikes stop more quickly; in the case of the mountain bike, I don’t get any of the banshee-like wail I was used to with the old shoes. On my Astra, the anemic Weinmann sidepulls now feel like they’ll actually stop me in a panic situation! In both cases, there were no squeaks or squeals from the very first ride…some other pad/shoe brands tend to squeal for the first couple rides until the pad is broken in. I haven’t had an opportunity to ride either bike in the rain yet, though, and this is often the best way to truly test a brake pad for performance. I’ll report back once I’ve had a chance to get wet with them.

Are they the best pads and shoes I’ve ever tried? Well, the jury’s still out on that…I do have a salmon-colored favorite that lives on many of my other bikes, but I would strongly consider these VO models as replacements when my other pads wear out. Besides, they’re a great deal whether you need the pad inserts or the pads/holders or the shoes — substantially less than a couple of the other big names.

The pads definitely work!

nose wheelie

You may notice that when visiting the Velo Orange product page, their pad compound is show as brick red rather than the black of our review pads. VO claims the compound is unchanged; the brick red is just a more appealing color to them.

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

Bike Brightz

I just received these nifty lights as a test sample from a fairly new company called Bike Brightz.

If you visit their website, you’ll notice that they have a glow very similar to a neon light, but in fact Bike Brightz are LEDs, and they don’t cost as much as the neon light company’s products. When you order, the package comes with a few zip ties, velcro, rubber gasket/grommet, batteries and the LED unit. The LED unit has 4 modes: constant, flashing-slow, medium, fast.

Price per unit is $19.99
Available in 4 colors – Red,Green,Blue,Yellow

I mounted the blue and red lights on my bike, and you can see that it’s pretty bright and it will get you some attention and will definitely be seen by motorists.
bike brights LED bicycle lights

I installed one on the chainstay and one on the down tube.

The Bike Brightz do not get in the way at all. I’ll be testing these lights out on both off and on-road conditions to see how well they do.

FTC Disclaimer

Review: Velo Orange Anti-Theft Wheel Skewers

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.

Review: Cycleaware’s Roadie Mirror

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…

Review: Planet Bike’s “Blaze 1W” Headlight

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.