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Tag Archive: commuter

What’s the Deal with Gravel? (In a Jerry Seinfeld voice)

So I feel like the kid in the 1950s pot commercial; I rode gravel once and now I’m hooked and my whole life has been turned upside down. I just can’t see the road the same. I now see cars and replace them with trees, signal lights are now steep hills, cement streets are now dirt paths… Everything has flipped and I love it.

I had tried cross and it was plenty fun. Not like every day fun, but fun once-in-awhile-fun. I will/must/don’t want to admit how bad I am on a mountain bike. On a road bike is where I was the most comfortable. Gravel does not come natural for me even if I’ve tried most of what cycling has to offer. For me it’s not the descents because I’m not all that confident in my skills. It’s the views as I suffer and drag my 200 pound butt up these climbs that normally lead to some hike-a-bike situations. The climbing can be brutal but like the Instagram inspirational quote with a majestic background says, “It’s just a hill, get over it.” If you can, then you will get a new perspective; your eyes will open to everything you’ve missed on a road bike or a mountain bike.

On a road bike you ride with your eyes wide shut. That’s the appeal for me, a lot of it is just not thinking and just going; you can zone out on a climb and even forget about the views. On a mountain bike you are more aware but there is still a level of letting the bike do it’s job and going for it. The closest thing to riding gavel (on a rigid bike with drops), in my opinion, is riding a fixed gear bike. On a fixed gear bike you have to be aware of everything around you. From the cars to the road conditions, the signal lights to the pedestrians, you are on full alert all the time. Not having real brakes will do that to you. Gravel is somewhat like that, you have an idea of control but it’s more controlled chaos then precision.

The real beauty of gravel [(…and I get a ten-cent commission every time I type G R A V E L)- Gravel] riding is that it’s not just about riding, hiking is also a big part of the experience. On a road bike you can take another route, on a mountain bike you have a lot of gearing and a more capable bike, so when you get to a section that’s above your pay grade you either push yourself or hike-a-bike. You go on a ride and you really don’t know if you are going to be able to ride every section of it. How much of a route you can manage changes as you improve and get more confident/stronger. I tend to fall more on the climbs than the descents. I’ve also done a lot to improve my gearing.

Nonetheless, gravel is my new obsession. So much so that this summer I am planning a Summer Adventure Gravel Series (SAGS) around the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. The adventure part is that there will be no routes given out. We will have to stay together, this will help avoid douchebagery. This is not a race. This is not about being first, fast, or better. This is about the people next to you, the landscape that surrounds you, and the route in front of you. Aside from maybe the Cannondale Slate [(with a gearing upgrade) no pun intended] there will not be a perfect bike for every situation. After, I hope we question our bikes but not our time in the saddle. I’m currently doing recon for the S.A.G.S ride- details will come.

Product Review: Continental Super Sport Plus Tires


SONY DSCSo a lot of us commuter types end up riding road (ish) bikes with road (ish) tires. Unfortunately, this often means we end up using road tires meant for racer folks, not commuting folks! While they’re not the only players in the game, Continental definitely brings a good solution to market with the Super Sport Plus tires we’ve had on long-term test. They’re equipped with an anti-puncture belt, which according to Continental is “Nearly impenetrable.” The Super Sport Plusses (henceforward referred to by me as SSPs) have just enough tread to lend a bit more confidence on the slightly-sketchy stuff (for super-sketchy stuff you’d be better off with something like this, or possibly this!). The SSPs also come with extra-thick tread – something us commuters can appreciate (because hey, tires can get expensive!). My set was 700×25; they also come in 700×23 and even some 27 inch sizes for those of you riding what I’ll call… “classic”… bikes.



So how do they ride? Well, I mounted them up to my old Bridgestone single speed to test them out, and the verdict was… Smooooth. Also pretty fast for a tire that isn’t that lightweight (no I didn’t weigh them, who do you think I am?). Riding unloaded, I was able to maintain pretty respectable speeds over the course of an hour or two. Recommended inflation on the 700×25 size was 95-120 PSI, but I found 90-95 was the sweet spot for me.
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In terms of wet – they work well there too. No real sense of lost grip (though I’ll warn that might change with the narrower sizes – it’s hard to tell what was because of the tire and what was because of the tire size). I would recommend against snow though (sorry E, they’re not gonna be your Chicago winter tires!).

The verdict on flat protection? Well, it’s always hard to prove a negative… I didn’t get any flats on these! I’m not usually riding any glass or tack-studded roads though, so it’s hard to say. I did hit one sharp-edged bump at about 20mph… so I CAN say at a minimum that they don’t pinch flat easily!SONY DSC

Street price for these babies seems to average around $30/tire, though there are a few deals out there depending on which version you’re after. My verdict? Worth the money. You won’t find a heck of a lot that’s much cheaper, and knowing that you’ve got quality tires under you is worth quite a bit.
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Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Bandbox Helmet Review

“Ninety-one percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 weren’t wearing helmets.”

That’s a quote from a website dedicated to Bicycle helmet statistics. (According to Bandbox LLC’s website the number is 95!)

It’s sad that that number is so high especially when plenty of styles could be worn to make it more fashionable–there are helmets in the style that skateboarders use to helmets designed by companies with roots in extreme sports like snowboarding.

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But even with the many options available with, people still ignore the dangers of riding without a helmet all for the sake of avoiding “looking goofy”.

Bandbox LLC, a company similar to Rockinoggins, aims to increase helmet use by designing “attractive bicycle helmets”. While Rockinoggins makes add-ons for helmets, Bandbox LLC makes helmets that deceivingly look like hats.

A couple months after Bikecommuters.com profiled Rockinoggins, Dr. Cheryl Allen-Munley sent Bikecommuters.com a helmet to review. And after a couple of months, here is the review for the model!

 

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Is it a hat?

When I first received the helmet, I asked those around me to see what they thought of the helmet. I wondered if people thought it looked more like a helmet or if it passes off as a hat. The result? People couldn’t tell if it was a helmet or if it was a hat. I suppose somebody could argue that the product doesn’t fully meet its goal in that some are not totally fooled but one thing everyone mentioned was that the helmet looked good.

Safety?

Bandbox Helmets adhere to the U.S. Law–the CPSC Standard which stands for Consumer Product Safety Commission. http://www.bhsi.org/standard.htm#CPSC

But there is one thing that may prevent some buyers purchasing a Bandbox Helmet–the helmets do not have a surface that can slide upon impact (Bandbox Helmets have fabric for an exterior instead of plastic) I personally think that anything that can increase helmet use is okay so if not looking cool/fashionable is preventing a bicyclist from wearing a helmet, I recommend purchasing a Bandbox Helmet.

 

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Can I use it everyday?

Because the helmet is not ventilated like performance helmets, getting a sweaty head can be an issue. I personally wouldn’t recommend to commuters that like to go fast or to those that have commutes that are longer than 5 miles. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky but I certainly don’t want to arrive to work being more sweaty than I need to.

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Bottom line?
I think it’s an excellent product. It fills a need in the market for helmets since plenty of people hate the idea of looking stupid or foolish (use whatever adjective you like) in a helmet. We all agree that any cycling death should be prevented especially if it’s something as simple as wearing a “stupid” helmet.

Our FTC review disclaimer.

Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag Review

Photo Credit: LSJ Photography

It’s long overdue but it’s time for the final review of the Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag! The folks at Brenthaven and Kona teamed up and created the Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag and were nice enough to send us one to test! I wrote my first impressions of the bag awhile back and gave an opinion of it. After some time, my impression has stayed pretty much the same—I like it.

Style meets function

The first thing I noticed about it is how stylish the bag is. To my hipster friends who treat bicycles as an accessory like some who purchase cars that “fit” their personality, this messenger bag is a good complement to their everyday life. Like I mentioned before, it’s got a very streamlined design—nothing looks out of place from the trapezoidal shape of the bag to the inclusion of metal buckles and emblematic light in the middle.

It’s quite a spacious bag. Even the two zipper-pockets (shown below) were quite roomy; in the larger zippered compartment I was able to put in two medium-sized shirts unfolded without a problem. In the smaller compartment, a wallet, cell phone, toothbrush and toothpaste can fit. The bag’s main compartment is kept closed by three things—Velcro, two buckles and two side magnetic flaps. Inside, the bag is separated into three compartments with the middle being a “pouch” that can be closed via Velcro.

15.4 inch Laptop, Size 10 Shoes, 34x30 Jeans, 2 Shirts + Book (not shown)

Cellphone holder + 2 Adjustable Straps

Turned around, the bag maintains its functionality. The wide adjustable strap is held together by a big metal buckle. The strap also has a pouch for a cell phone. The bag also has an additional smaller strap that buckles onto the main strap to keep the bag stable while riding.

Here are the specs (again):

  • Name: Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag- Blue
  • Model #: 6102
  • Weight: 3.2 lb.
  • External Dimensions: 21.5″ W x 16″ H x 8″ D
  • Fits laptops up to 16″
  • Built in safety light with replaceable battery compartment
  • Bomber, water-shedding 1000D Cordura fabric
  • Waterproof internal compartment for laptop, electronics
  • Comfortable shoulder strap with quick release phone pocket
  • Large capacity, expands to 1300 cubic inches
  • 100% lifetime guarantee and then somePatent pending magnetic Hydro FlapsTM keep your gear dry

Very much a cyclist’s bag

Static/Intermittent Light

“Okay, okay, we get that it looks good and functions like any other bag but how is this a cyclist’s bag?”

When I first received the bag, the first thing that I wanted to know was how this bag was any different when compared to my current laptop-backpack. This meant: did I notice how uncomfortable I was with the bag on during my commute? Or is it such a good fit that I don’t even notice that I have it on? I did a couple tests to find out. One test was to overstuff the bag, and the other test was to only put in essentials for work.

For the first test, here’s what I put in the bag (about 30 pounds):

  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • Pair of Shoes
  • 5 shirts
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • Toothpaste, toothpaste
  • Bike supplies: oil, degreaser, naval jelly, chain-tool, Allen keys (I know it’s overkill)
  • Laptop + charger

And then I was off for a short ride. During the ride, I found the bag to be so heavy that I had to stop to give my shoulder a break. With each bump in the road, the pain I felt increased. I had to stop and switch shoulders three times in order to finish the ride despite the well-padded strap.

Loosely Worn

Even though the bag is durable enough to withstand over thirty pounds of load, I would only recommend a lighter load equivalent to a laptop + charger, a change of clothes and a pair of shoes. In other words, try to keep the bag’s weight under fifteen pounds.

That said, I think my opinion on how much load I would carry with the Kona Project 2 would change if the bag had two straps that distributed the weight better like a backpack.

On a side note, I used the bag much like a duffle bag while spending weekends at a friend’s and it served me well. Since it could hold more than my backpack, I found the Kona to be much more useful than my backpack.

So, in short, the Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag is well-designed and quite suitable for the commuter on a bicycle. The guys at Brenthaven designed the bag with storage, visibility and style in mind and it shows. For the commuter who does not have to carry that much stuff and can afford a hundred dollar bag, this bag is worth a look.

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

Product Review: WTB Freedom Cruz 29er tires

So as I previously mentioned, I’ve been riding the WTB Freedom Cruz 29er tires on my Redline Monocog 29er – and I’ve now got enough time logged on them for a review!

The basics: at a 29 x 2.0″ size (they come in 26″ as well), these are not for your typical city bike or hybrid! Per product description, they’re meant to “turn your 29″ dirt-crusted steed into a quick and nimble commuter workhorse.” While in general I prefer to keep my mountain bikes on mostly dirt, I had the bike available and a new bike I was riding more, so on the tires went!

A (rather technical) caveat up front: these tires are mounted to Mavic A317 rims, which only have a rim width of 17mm. WTB recommends (per the tire sidewall) rim widths of 25mm+ (which is somewhat standard – but not universal – for mountain bike rims). So right off the bat, my experience with handling may be different than someone else’s, as a wider tire on a narrower rim doesn’t hold its shape quite as well as a wider tire on a wider rim or a narrower tire on a narrower rim. I never felt super comfortable on these on sharp turns – but that might change quite a bit if they were used with the recommended rim size.

Now back to riding impressions!

After a couple months of solid riding, I can definitely say the Freedom Cruz fits the bill for commuting! Very smooth-rolling for sure. They also seem to track well on surfaces ranging from pavement to hardpack dirt – I wouldn’t want to try them out in a lot of mud or loose dirt, but on smooth surfaces they work well (wet or dry). The suggested tire pressure is 35-65psi – after some testing, I ended up running the rear at 40psi and the front at 35psi (this for an average guy+gear load of around 160-165lbs). I also found that the tires held air pressure pretty well – I only had to add a small amount of air every couple weeks. My typical experience is that I need to add a more significant amount of air once a week, so this was a pleasant surprise. It may simply be due to the lower pressure – tire pressure on my other commuter bikes ranges from 55psi to 100psi – but it was nice nonetheless.

The hard rubber compound and sidewall on the Cruz did seem to lessen the bump-absorption properties normally associated with wide tires to some degree – I think most of my mountain tires provide a bit more cushion than these do. However, they do seem durable – after about 350 miles of riding I can’t really see any signs of wear.

For the price (MSRP is $33.99 per tire and they can be found for $6-10 less), the Freedom Cruz 29 tires are a very reasonable way to convert a mountain bike into a smooth-riding city bike. They aren’t overly beefy, and once I had my bike up to speed I felt like it took very little effort to keep it at speed. If you’ve got an extra MTB sitting around and want to give it some new life, $50-60 can get you a tire that will give you a smooth ride for a long time… and the all-black styling means your “mountain” bike won’t be hurting too bad for street cred even without the knobbies!

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