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Accessories, Bicycle, Gear, Reviews, Uncategorized

Fear of the Dark: Serfas TSL-1800 Trail Light Review

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If you have a day job like most people do, chances are, your only time to ride during the work week is either during the morning before dragging your ass to the office, or after work when you’re free from the evil talons of corporate America.

In either case, a good set of trail lights are in order to make sure you make it out of the woods alive. They’re also a good addition to the road bike if you ride in rural areas with little or no artificial light.

On top of being a cheap ass, I also have terrible night vision. I’m the guy who gets up to piss in the middle of the night and ends up busting his head open on the door frame–true story.

So, when shopping for trail lights, I spent hours scouring the interwebs, innerwebs, outerwebs and spider webs reading reviews on sub-$200 light sets.

After changing my mind approximately 235,000 times, I settled on the Serfas TSL-1800, which happened to be on clearance at my semi-local bike superstore BikeTiresDirect.com for half-price.

Total out the door price: $160.

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Accessories, Bicycle, Gear, Travel

Review: DeLorme inReach Explorer

It doesn’t take long to go off the grid here in Alaska. You can be a couple miles from your house, in the shadow of the mountains- and out of cell range.

Last year I purchased a DeLorme inReach Explorer– for my own safety as well as the piece of mind of my loved ones. Put simply, the inReach is a 2-way satellite text messaging unit. The inReach Explorer model offers mapping (though no maps,) whereas the inReach SE does not. There are other options out there, such as those offered by SPOT- but I chose the DeLorme because you can actually have a 2-way conversation. Whether on the boat or in the woods, I’m often out of cell range and the ability to keep in touch with my lady puts her mind (more) at ease. The SPOT can send out preset messages, but that can be limiting if you want to let people know you’re somewhere in between “OK” and “SOS.”

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With the DeLorme- it can be synced via bluetooth and you can email or text from your phone easily, accessing all of your contacts. When you send a message, your Lat/Lon is given as well as speed, elevation etc. For those that are interested, you can update to Twitter or Facebook as well. There is a 160 character limit on sent messages.

This past fall I made my trip across the Copper River– a place that can feel as desolate as the planet Mars. At about mile 32, cell phone coverage stops. Traveling alone in wild Alaska is exhilarating, exciting and potentially dangerous. With the inReach, I was able to keep my lady, as well as Elmer (the guy with a plane that could come save my ass if need be) apprised of my location, what my intentions were, and Elmer kept me updated as to what the weather was going to do on the ever changing Copper River Delta.

When I head out- I track my route, and then when I come home and sync with the online DeLorme site, it brings my track into a map that is far better than Google Earth- at least for the locations I’m traveling in.

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This is the zoomed out route I took on a raft/bike trip to Sheridan. (The one on the right is a bike/raft loop I did to McKinley Lake)

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Zoomed in, the detail gets considerably better than what I’ve seen on Google Maps.

After the MSRP of $379 for the inReach Explorer, you pay for service. You can elect to go with the $25 annual “Freedom Plan” and shut it off when you’re not using it, or sign up for a 12-month contract which starts at $12 a month- and keep the safety plan on (I use the “Expedition” plan in the summer and the “Safety” plan in the winter.) I won’t focus on the monthly charges, they are a bit confusing on the DeLorme site, but they do make a little more sense when you get your bill.

As a stand-alone unit, there are four buttons and a lock switch used for the SOS feature. Simple- though if you are trying to text, it can be time consuming. There is predictive text, which helps- but it’s really hard to beat using the phone (iPhone or Android compatible.)

The DeLorme Explorer boasts a long list of features including:

  • Digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
  • Odometer and displays useful trip statistics while in the field, such as trip time, max speed, moving average, trip distance
  • Color screen and virtual keyboard with predictive text for standalone two-way messaging
  • GPS accuracy to +/- 5 meters
  • Water rating: IP67 (withstands incidental water exposure; tested for submersion at one meter for 30 minutes).
  • Rugged, dustproof and impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock; IP67 for dust).
  • Internal lithium polymer battery (2,450 mAh capacity at 3.7 V)
  • SOS messages are received by GEOS, a worldwide emergency response coordination center with 24/7/365 staffing
  • Email, SOS and tracking functions work anywhere in the world; SMS availability may vary by country.
  • 100% global coverage via the Iridium satellite network, which is the world’s furthest-reaching satellite communications network.
  • Weight: 6.7 ounces

It’s advertised that the unit has a battery life of up to 100hrs on 10minute tracking- I haven’t tested the full time, but from the 36hrs that I used mine on my trip across the Copper River, with texting and using other features, the math didn’t quite add up that it would last that long.  After 36hrs I was down to 45% battery life, and that was shutting it off over night.

Though DeLorme claims that the unit has a water rating of IP67 (withstands incidental water exposure; tested for submersion at one meter for 30 minutes,) when I was riding, and the sun came out- the whole screen fogged up- presumably from water that got inside. It didn’t affect the functions and eventually went away- but I have to question the water rating- having not dunked it underwater at all.

One thing that bums me out about the unit is there is no map feature. You can plug in waypoints and routes, but they are just on a white screen. A topo map would be pretty handy- bridge the gap between the communication and a separate GPS unit. You have to go home and plug back into the computer to see what the terrain was.

Side note: I also purchased the DeLorme Topo North America map set but was disappointed to learn that it isn’t Mac compatible, and it doesn’t do a damn thing with the InReach. It was a waste of money in my opinion.

If you find yourself going off the beaten path and out of cell range- this unit is a great investment. I’d be curious about ways to charge it (they seem to work with Goal Zero on some power options) or else a dynamo hub (which costs an arm and a leg.) It seems costly, but it is more dependable than a cell phone and it may just save your ass. So go do something awesome.

Accessories, Gear

Review: JBL Clip

This little ditty has been a fun little thing to play around with since it came my way a few weeks back.

A clean design and decent sound quality make the $50 JBL Clip a worthy sidekick for your summer full of picnics, bike rides, park beers and porch livin’.

It weighs very little (158g) and can be clipped onto something due to it’s integrated carabiner.  It’s currently sitting at about ear level in the wheelhouse of the boat I’m currently on.  You can stream wirelessly with it’s built in Bluetooth®, or use the integrated audio cable that is neatly stored on the device.

I’ve mostly been using it via Bluetooth, then coupling it with the 1/8″ outlet to link to a larger set of computer speakers.  It gives me the wireless capability, but adds a little more bump.

It also has a built in microphone, allowing you to answer phone calls.  Since I mostly text message and email, I don’t find this feature very useful- but for those that still use their vocal chords to communicate, JBL is looking out for you.

At 3.2W you aren’t going to be fueling any house parties, but with a battery life that lasts up to 5 hours, you can sure knock back a few beers watching the sunset in the park.  The sound quality isn’t earth shaking, but for a $50 portable speaker I think it’s adequate, even if it’s a little on the tinny side.

Accessories, Gear, Reviews

Review: ABUS Granit X-Plus U 54 Mini

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The ABUS Granit X-Plus U 54 Mini (quite a mouthful isn’t it?) has been my daily use lock for the last three months since ABUS sent it over for review. When it originally arrived it looked a little more like this: First Glance. I used it for about a week, and while it did its job well (my bike was secure), the bulky plastic cover over the main body of the lock was bothering me. It made the lock unnecessarily bulky and in my opinion looked tacky.

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Here is how I removed the plastic cover: unlock the body of the lock from the shackle and remove the key. Take a flat head screwdriver starting at the small tabs on either end of the plastic body, and carefully pry the silver and black plastic pieces apart, starting at one end and working to the other. I was able to separate the black and silver plastic pieces without damaging them so they could be reinstalled if I so chose. Underneath I found the bare metal body of the lock, which had a nice clean appearance and resulted in a more compact lock. To be specific the body of the lock measured 170mm x 50mm with the plastic cover and 155mm x 36mm with just the bare metal. Continue Reading

Accessories, Bags, Bicycle, Gear

Chrome reflective camo 2nd issue

I’ve got three things for you from Chrome.

  1. Deceptively safe.
  2. Made in USA.
  3. Guaranteed for Life.

Welcome the 2nd issue of Chrome’s reflective camo.  Unnoticeable by day, reflective at 100 feet under light.

Using a Swedish M90 Geometric Camo, overlaid with a reflective glass bead rain camo pattern, it looks like they’ve got something good going.

Because reflective doesn’t have to be a yellow jacket.

As always, support your LBS- but if you live on the moon, or some other place you can’t get Chrome gear, check them out online.

Accessories, Bags, Gear, Reviews

Road Runner Bags: Medium Anything Pack

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New bag day is a good day. Especially when a sharp looking backpack like the Medium Anything Pack from Road Runner Bags shows up at your door. I carry a lot of things by bike and more often than not I do so on my back. Brad and Brianna at Road Runner were kind enough to send over this custom pack finished in real leaf camo for review. My initial impression with the bag: very impressed. The quality of workmanship is top notch, it fits great, is comfortable both heavily and lightly loaded, stays in place while riding and is much lighter than previous similarly styled backpacks I’ve used. Continue Reading

Accessories, Commuting

Buca Boot: The Bike Trunk

The Buca Boot is a basket that doubles as a lockable trunk for your bike. The Buca Boot is waterproof when closed, lockable and attaches to your existing bike rack from the inside making it as secure as your bike, or rather your lock job. When opened the top panels swing to the sides and reveal fabric pannier-style side pouches. When open you can carry larger or fragile items in the hard case, with additional cargo on the sides. It looks like a pretty slick design offering equal parts utility and style. The kickstarter is already fully funded, but you can still pre-order your own with a wood top for $195 or a plastic top for $145. Seems like a perfect sort of product for Seattle based Hub and Bespoke to carry.

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