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Product Review: Serfas Thunderbolt lights

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Front and back views.

I’ve been running the Serfas Thunderbolt headlight and taillight for about 6 months now, and have used them on a variety of bikes and for a variety of applications.

These lights are USB-powered and use micro-LED strips rather than bulbs. Let me tell you – the LED strips are BRIGHT!! It hurts to look at them even obliquely. This is both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because you get around 180 degrees of visibility from each light – way more than you typically get from either headlights or taillights, and it gives a degree of confidence that you can be seen from the side nearly as well as from the front or rear. The negative? Well, you can’t mount them quite everywhere you might want to without getting blinded! Despite the brightness, these are definitely more in the “be seen” than “see” category of lights – they don’t light up enough road/trail to function in that fashion, but that’s OK since it’s not what they were designed for. I liked using them in tandem with a brighter headlight, and mounting the Thunderbolt to my fork. However, I couldn’t do this with every bike, since on some of my bikes the structure of the fork meant that a decent bit of the light actually went back up into my eyes! Not really a fault of the light – but a note for those who might be thinking of using a light in that fashion!

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Mounted on a road bike fork

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Mounted on a seat stay

The lights are encased in a silicone rubber body with straps that allow quick attachment and detachment to/from just about any part of your bike. I initially thought they might not last very long, but so far the only thing that’s happened is that the (white) models I received are no longer white, and the little flap that covers the USB charge port is a little loose (not a big deal, since that bit sits pretty tightly against the bike frame/handlebar/etc). The flexibility of being able to put a light pretty much wherever I want is AWESOME. I don’t know why more light manufacturers don’t use this method. I’ve attached the lights to bars, forks, seat stays, racks, and a trailer. No problems with them staying anywhere! Once attached they stay put.

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On a suspension fork!

According to Serfas, “burn” time is “1.75 hours (high beam); 7 hours (low beam); 3 hours (high blink); 9.5 hours (low blink).” My experience would indicate that these numbers are a little on the high side, but I can’t say for sure as I often wasn’t running them totally in a single mode for a single use (I definitely never used them on low blink for 9.5 hours). I DO know that the front has run out in under 1.5 hours of total use (two 45-minute trips in the dark, separated by about 2 hours). Similarly, I think the other modes run out in a bit less time than advertised. The only one where I’d say this is a true negative is with the high beam for the front. Most of the time, that’s the mode I want it in – and since I do ride for longer periods at night, it’s possible for my ride to last longer than the battery. I’d also say that for anyone who is not commuting to a destination where a friendly USB charger awaits, this might be a little short for longer there-and-back-in-the-dark commuting. However, it probably will cover 90% of potential users just fine.

The on/off button also functions as a mode switch (short hold to switch modes, long hold to turn off). Pretty standard commuter light function, and I never had any issues. The only (slight) beef I had with the switch is that it’s a little tough to manage in winter gloves – on multiple occasions I had to remove a glove to turn a light on. Those of you in warmer climes (or who are only fair-weather riders) won’t be bothered by this.

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Mounted around/over the stem faceplate

TL;DR summary: the Serfas Thunderbolt lights are a solid set of be-seen lights that offer unparalleled side visibility and impressive brightness for their size. Run times may be on the shorter end, but the attach-anywhere flexibility brings the Thunderbolt solidly into the “good buy” category.

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Mounted on a seatpost

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

Sneak Peek: the Latest Lineup on Lights from Planet Bike

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A great set of bike lights are a must for any bike commuter. But, sometimes there are an overwhelming amount of choices at you local bike shop. My no-brainer go-to? Planet Bike: a fantastic company with standup values and reasonably priced products that perform well.

Sometimes you can’t make a decision on what lights are best for your bike commute, so you just have to put on your neon jacket.

My last set of lights were from PB, and they lasted me over 4 years, only to be bequeathed to my sister along with my orange Le Tour II as I left my bikes behind for a year of travel – (to my knowledge, all still in working condition). When I arrived back in the states, RL hooked me up with a welcome package of PB goodies to review.

Here’s a sneak peek at the lineup for the latest evolution of PB lights that I will be reviewing shortly:
Micro features:

  • High and low-power beam along with SUPERFLASH™ mode
  • Optically-advanced lens provides superior beam patternSUPERFLASH™ mode is highly visible, even in daylight
  • QuickCam™ bracket mounts, adjusts or removes in seconds w/o tools
  • Up to 64 hours runtime (flashing) on 2 AA batteries included
  • 139 Lumens

Turbo features:

  • One Watt Power LED plus 2 red LEDs for visibility up to 1 mile
  • New attention-grabbing Turbo flash pattern
  • Turbo flash mode is highly visible, even in daylight
  • Ultra compact vertical design is weatherproof, lightweight and durable
  • Includes bike mounts and clip mount for multiple mounting options
  • Soft-touch power switch accesses flashing or steady mode for up to 100 hours of run time on two AAA batteries
  • Weighs 75 grams with batteries

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The Micro Blaze 2W headlights run for $39.99 MSRP a piece and the Micro + Turbo front and rear combo sells for $74.99 MSRP. For the quality, the price can’t be beat! I can’t wait to test these guys out after my satisfaction with the longevity of my original 1W Blaze headlight. That’s about 10 bones a year, if you don’t lose it after four years!

In the meantime, if you are without bike lights, get out there and enjoy these long summer days and stretch our your evening commutes. Laters, Cycle Gators.

 

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No lights necessary: Indian Summer – Dottie’s ride in 2012. Courtesy of Let’s Go Ride a Bike.

 

Review: Torker T300 for my commute

Following the theft of my beloved commuter bike – Toro – last summer, I had the good fortune to test ride some bikes…. and at long last I’m letting you know my thoughts on this Torker bike that I previewed for you.

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Torker graciously sent me their T300 step thru model to ride for review. (After a bit of a snafu, I was finally up and running on this great new ride!) Quite a snazzy set-up. Almost reminds me of a Dutch-style bike.

I must admit that I was initially a bit skeptical of the sloping step through configuration. While I have always loved the look and comfortable feel of the bike, I never bought one of my own. Both the heft and the awkwardness of carrying such a steed up and down the rear steps to my apartment have led me to prefer a bike with a diamond frame so I could haul the bike up by the top tube.

Now for the specs:

• Stylish alloy twin top tube frame in 2 styles.
• Sturmey Archer 3 speed internal hub.
• Dependable rear coaster brake.
• Includes fenders, chainguard, & rear rack.

Available sizes: 15”, 17”, 19”,
15” step thru, 17 step thru”.

Torker sent me a 15″ step thru to fit my 5’4″ stature. This bike also comes in a more “unisex” style diamond/mixte style frame.

You’ll notice that this bike comes with a rear coaster brake and front hand brake. Since this is a Friday review, I’m including a Friday musing with this review….. “how did I ever ride a bike with a coaster brake?” After many years of riding free wheel bikes with hand brakes, I missed being able to reposition the pedal after I stop so that I can push off again (known as the power pedal position). And I think I’ve forgotten “how” to get started (without some awkward shove off) after I do stop when I ride with coaster brakes. Oops. Is there a trick I’m missing or have forgotten?
Note: I didn’t let this forgetfulness slow me down with my riding and I did adapt.

But this bike is fun and riding it around Chicago made me feel like a lady.

Riding in style (and value)


My friend rides the T300 around the parking lot; the 15″ frame bike accommodates a wide range of heights and even comes in a larger size.

Its upright riding position is suited for city navigating and being able to see around traffic.

the cockpit


View from the saddle (riding along Chicago’s first 2-way protected bike lane)

This bike already comes standard with fenders, rear rack and chain guard, so you could wear your suit or dress to the office without worry. Its plush saddle means you don’t have to worry about needing padded shorts; plus, the rear of the saddle is reflective, which is a great safety factor after dusk. The pedals also nicely work with any shoe – even dress shoes – as they are not made with sharp metal edges that could scuff or damage nice shoes. As an added bonus, the pedals also have reflectors built in, so they’re noticeable in headlights when out pedaling after dark.

plush saddle with reflective material facing rear and pedals with reflectors

The upright position maybe slowed me down from the speeds I’d grown accustomed to attaining on Toro which was more of a road bike. For my usual sub-5 mile bike commuting route there wasn’t a considerable time difference. I did notice the difference when I pedaled to a further work location and it took longer.

With 3 internal speeds this bike is suitable for most conditions, especially in the flatlands of Chicago. But the gearing gaps are sizeable and I sometimes struggled with finding the best gear. In most cases I stayed in the middle gear (the usually “just right” sweet spot).

Internal gearing and rear coaster brake


Front rim brake

For carrying my work necessities, the rear rack accommodated my panniers – and I tested out multiple brand panniers with this bike’s rear rack – without an issue.

The Detours Ballard Bag easily clips to the rear rack

Out of the box, it was such a convenience to not have to worry about equipping the T300 with the necessary commuting accessories of fenders, rack and chain guard, plus reflective accents on the saddle and pedals.

Ready for urban riding right out of the box – with fenders, chain guard and rear rack

At the pricepoint of $439 for this Torker T300, I recommend it to anyone seeking a comfortable entry level urban bike.

While it was challenging at times to haul this bike up and down to my apartment, I did find a manageable way to carry it. By simply grabbing the bottom of the sloping tube with one hand and the handlebars with the other to steady the bike, I could lift it just high enough to carry it down the steps.

Some evenings I was able to haul it back upstairs in the same manner. Other nights (maybe I was too tired) I had to implement the technique I used to use to haul my old Schwinn mixte frame upstairs — by turning the bike around and hauling it upstairs rear wheel first; in this case I would grab the seat tube and the sloping down tube and be lifting the heavier rear end up first.

Bottom line — I have enjoyed riding this Torker T300 bicycle around town, especially for its comfort and style. And that makes this bike a winner for me.

Orp Smart Horn – soon to be tested here

Orp in red. Also comes in asphalt black, frostbyte white, safety cone orange, wail blue, snot green, and worm white (glorp)

With 5 days to go on this Orp Kickstarter campaign, the Orp Smart Horn is soon to go into production and we’ll be getting one to test!

As a safety conscious cyclist I value that this product attempts to make cyclists both more visible and audible on the roadways.

THE IDEA: Make bikers more visible and /or more “hearable”.
THE SOLUTION: A combination dual tone, high decibel bike horn and front beacon light.
Meet Orp.

As creator Tory Orzeck says on the page:

“Really long story short, we developed this super loud, dual decibel horn. Only after that did we discover the Piezo speaker and its circuitry barely taxed the battery to drive the sound. Sitting right there in front of us, we had everything we needed to add LEDs. So, we ended up combining two products: a beacon light and a horn into one small and (we think) beautiful product.”

This product was thought up in Portland and we’ll certainly put it to the test in Chicago.

Just the other night I was nearly right-hooked by a driver insistent on getting into the right lane to make a turn. He had just passed me and then nearly pulled in front of me. Not even my two front LED blinkies and bell got his attention; my yelling and the screeching of my squealing brakes did get his attention – “WHA…WHOA…LOOK OUT!” (or something to that effect)


Orp’s Horn has 2 modes: soft and WAY loud

The Wail Tail is the ergonomic and intuitive switch controlling the horn.

When you need to alert other cyclists or pedestrians, a small displacement {up or down} of Orp’s Wail Tail produces a friendly chirp at 76 decibels.

When you’re in traffic, and you need to let cars know where you are, then just push a little harder {up or down} and Orp’s “HERE I AM!” sound emits an ear blistering 96 decibels. This is FAR louder than the most popular bike bells.

I could use a horn!

Product Review: Henty Wingman Suit Bag

So a while ago we were contacted by yet another small Australian company (yep the Cycle Cuffs are made by some Australian guys too… what is with all these new bike-related things coming out of Australia anyway??). Right, so as I was saying we were contacted by these guys asking if we would review the Henty Wingman commuter/carry-on suit bag (not to be confused with the Airborne Wingman, which is a dirt jump bike). We of course said yes, and I’ve been in possession of this nifty bag for some time.

What sets the Wingman apart from other bags? Well, for starters it’s meant to carry a suit without messing it up (which very few bags do). However, the thing that’s truly unique is that this suit bag doesn’t fold – it rolls up, preventing the suit from ever having to bend enough to get creased (verified, though I did not get a picture of me in a suit, sorry). It also has a smaller bag (more the size of a small gym bag) that clips inside this roll, and some pockets on the outside for things you might want access to (lock, laptop, etc.). At $179 (Australian, currently equivalent to $187 U.S.) this isn’t a particularly cheap option, but it falls very much in line with pricing on other serious commuter bags, and you do get good value for the price – I was impressed with the overall construction and quality of materials.

So what’s the verdict? Well, in a nutshell – if you need to go any distance and you want to bring a suit with you, you should probably get this! If there’s a better way to transport a suit – whether across town, on a train, or through an airport – I haven’t heard of it. The suit pocket itself is easy to get a suit in (and comes with a pretty nice folding suit hanger). The inner bag – while lacking in the structure/separation you’d normally find in commuter bags – clips into place nicely and stays there (it also has its own strap for easy carrying by itself). I originally was worried that it would sway back and forth too much, but that was not the case. The outside pocket – while not terribly roomy – has enough space for the essentials. The Wingman also comes with a rain cover, which packs nicely into its own little pocket for quick access.

That said, it isn’t perfect – I did find a few things I think could use improvement. First, the strap arrangement is a little weird – the shoulder strap buckles in the middle of the chest instead of at the hip (or not splitting at all like many bags), which can be inconvenient. The side strap works fine, but has a loop over the shoulder strap, which can easily slip off when taking the bag on or off. The length of the side strap is also harder to adjust once the bag is on, as the adjustment point is where the strap buckles to the bag. Overall, I found I was messing with all the straps fairly often to try to get everything in the right place. If a version 2 of this bag comes along, some change in this area would be my top priority.

Also – like a couple other bags I’ve tested lately – the bag interfered with my over-the-shoulder vision, especially when on a road bike and leaning further forward. Now I will be a little forgiving here, since this is after all made in Australia and they drive on the wrong side of the road there – if I had to look over my right shoulder instead of my left it wouldn’t be an issue at all! Still, if this is going to be your normal on-bike bag a mirror would be a nice thing to have, as otherwise you’ll probably injure your neck trying to see what’s behind you.

Finally, I did get to try the rain cover (thanks to Hurricane Sandy for providing some serious rainfall to test in) and while after about 45 minutes my clothes were all still dry, there was some moisture that got in and got some of the exterior of the bag damp. Again not a deal-breaker, but it’s good to note that if you’re going to be in a serious downpour for a long time, you might want to investigate other options.

No those are not bike-specific clothes