Browse Category by Reviews

Product reviews. Probably bike related, but maybe not…

Gear, Reviews

Review: Mio Alpha heart rate monitor

Heart rate training.  If you are taking your training seriously, a heart rate monitor is something that is crucial in building endurance and getting your fitness to the next level.  I got to take the MIO Alpha strapless heart rate monitor for a spin and here is what I found out. 

Having no prior experience with heart rate monitors, I was attracted to the MIO Alpha because I’ve heard the common chest strap can be annoying as it starts to slide down the chest when running or during aerobic activities. To test this theory- I borrowed a friends chest strap monitor and used them both.  Though I wasn’t exercising during this test (not sweating, which I imagine would be the time for slippage) I didn’t really like the feel of the chest strap.  That and you still need a watch, mayhap a fulfilling Garmin Forerunner 235. With the Mio Alpha, it’s just the watch.

Out of the box: Setup was easy enough- a couple buttons and you can get the time set.  When used as a watch (without the heart rate monitor [HRM] the USB chargeable battery lasts a few days.  When you have the HRM activated, the battery drains much faster.)  The wrist band is wide, and it’s not a small watch, but it’s not as long as would be comfortable for my wrist.  I was using the last hole on the band to keep it attached.  The Mio Alpha has features that are great for training helping keep you within your target heart rate, keeping an elapsed time, showing your max. and min. heart rate for your workout.

Another cool feature is that the Mio Alpha will sync with your bluetooth compatible phone.  I used it with the Map My Ride app on my iPhone (5s) and it worked well.

The Mio Alpha seems like a great tool to bring your training up to the next level.  If you don’t like the idea of a chest strap heart rate monitor- the Mio Alpha is a good option.

The Mio Alpha retails for $199 and is available through them directly or through a number of other retailers.

Accessories, Bags, Gear, Reviews

Road Runner Bags: Medium Anything Pack

Road_runner_backpack_01

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

Clothing, Gear, Reviews

Review: Chrome De Haro Windbreaker

Chrome sent over their De Haro Windbreaker for review at the end of the summer. At first it didn’t get much use as we had a fairly warm late summer and early fall here in Seattle, but as the days got shorter and the temperatures dropped it has come in quite handy on a number of occasions. The De Haro is a simple and lightweight nylon hooded jacket that packs up nicely into itself by turning the large rear pocket/pouch inside out. Let me start out by saying that I wouldn’t consider this jacket a technical piece, rather it is a “life-style” jacket. It is not waterproof and it does not breath well. “We made the De Haro for bombing hills and crashing parties” claims Chrome’s product description.

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When I first put the De Haro into rotation for casual rides and commuting I was pretty disappointed. If you are riding hard you very quickly discover that the jacket does not breath. I arrived at my destinations soaked in sweat under the jacket. Their are three small side vents on both sides of the jacket, but they didn’t seem to do much “venting”. Opening the front two-way zipper is the only effective way of getting air-flow into the jacket. I also quickly found that “water resistant” doesn’t cut it on a rainy Seattle day. If I got on the bike wearing the De Haro and was going to be riding for more than 15 minutes I was committing to being damp at best, possibly sweat-soaked when I got to where ever I was going.

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Bicycle, Clothing, Gear, Reviews

Review: Cleverhood Raincape

Okay.  Below is a review of a product- and it’s taken way too long to make happen.  Between using it in the fall of last year, moving back to Alaska, my video review process shitting the bed, then it being summer- the time wasn’t right.  But as can happen, fall has arrived once more, and it’s time for folks to start thinking about the rain that comes with it.  So here is my review, as originally written, with photos from last week.

cape

A couple months back I got the opportunity to put the Cleverhood Rain cape through a long term review process. I of course jumped on it because rain capes have seemed like a good idea to me since I first saw them in the Rivendell Reader.  I have a tendency to run hot-  when wearing a waterproof shell I often get to my destination soaked from sweat, not rain;  the thought of not needing a waterproof jacket and pants when the clouds open up was like a breath of fresh air.

You may wonder why I haven’t put one through the paces already if it’s been in my mind for so long.  In one word: cost.  Quality rain gear is expensive and rain capes are no exception.  I’d seen Carradice and Brooks rain capes over the years, but they were difficult to source (being from across the pond) and over $250 a pop.  That, and they were made of waxed cotton- which though aesthetically pleasing, is fairly bulky, dries slowly once saturated and they take maintenance (more maintenance is needed the more it is used in the rain, the wax being something of a sacrificial element.)

So now that we’ve established that I’m a cheap bastard frugal, we’ll get on with it.

Cleverhood was born in, and still based in Providence, Rhode Island.  They are made in the United States and inspired by the slow bike movement, or in their words: “the simple, elegant way the bike is affecting broad change in our cities.”

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Gear, Reviews

Review: 200+ Miles with the Chrome Bravo Night

bag-cross

From the start, I knewI was in danger of this being as much a review of riding with a backpack as it was the bag itself, but it’s unavoidable. I am a fan of the practicality and aesthetics of shoulder bags, and despite being interested in a dual-strap bag, I had yet to find one I cared for. Enter Chrome’s Bravo Night.

Billed as a commuter backpack, the bag consists of one large, welded/waterproof roll-top main compartment with a weather-proof large, flat outer compartment divided into two deep pockets, nearly the size of the bag (the outer has some organizer inserts, the inside without) and a smaller zipper pocket. Judging by the description, and the photo on the site of this guy happily stowing away his MacBook:

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(on second glance, maybe it’s not his)

…the intention is to use the unadorned of the two outside pockets for your laptop. In practice, I never use it for that. I find it a little tight even for my 13″ HP, and I’d just rather have it in the roll-top compartment that I trust to be waterproof (although even in downpours, I’ve still had no problems in the outer compartments).

The main compartment itself is bigger than it initially seems. Not only do I find myself being able to stuff more in than seems physically possible, if you do manage to fill it to the point where rolling is impossible, there is a built in nylon extension that folds out and Velcros shut to hold even more.

I was shocked at how much the bag could hold when you need it to. After one particularly overzealous grocery run, I found my bag maxed out to the limits of even the extension:

bag-full

When I arrived home, I figured I would document exactly how much stuff that was:

stuff in bag
(this is the proper ratio for a Red Bull and vodka)

As a means of comparison, I decided I’d take the contents and shove it into my Bagaboo – a full-sized custom messenger bag – and was surprised to see it nearly filled that as well.

mbag-full

While the Bagaboo carried the load more comfortably (the Chrome’s extension tends to impede looking up when wearing a helmet), it still got my goods home.

One other cool feature on this bag (and all the others in their “Night” series) is the 3M reflective panel on back. Visibility is an extremely important part of bicycle safety, but not all of us want to show up for a day-glo dinner date either. The 3M panel is undercover reflective. In indirect light, it just just looks like a black bag. When light hits, you get a face full of pure white reflection. Below is a demo using a crappy AA powered headlamp:

Pretty cool, right? And it’s small enough to bring into the bar or restaurant without taking out the other patrons around you.

Negatives? I found very few. I occasionally missed the accessibility of the shoulder bag, and I do wish it had a dedicated loop for a light. The compartments are so deep, I often found myself carry around more stuff than I intended to because I simply forgot what was buried at the bottom. Unpacking the full bag to find a wayward tire lever is annoying, but I appreciate the having the space instead of useless and unused organizers.

At $180, the Bravo Night is not a cheap bag (neither in cost nor quality), and one I think the average commuter might find themselves using on a daily basis for a long time. It’s comfort, collapsible size and downplayed looks make it bag I don’t mind carrying even when not on bike. In life past the 200 mile review mark, I do find myself going back to my shoulder bags sometimes, but overall it has won me over to commuting with two straps.

cats stuff(it looks like I’m not the only one)

Gear, Reviews

Review: The Abus U-Mini 40 U-Lock by Comparison

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For most of us, our locks are often overlooked. I give mine hardly any thought until the day I accidentally leave it home. That’s not to say I don’t have opinions about locks. Some are too garishly styled. Others have “sticky” keys. Still others have a shape or size I find too big or too small to work the way I’d like. But when it comes down to it, availability is generally what dictates what I ride with, despite using it every day.

When I sat down to review the new U-Mini 40 by Abus, I figured it was time to take a more critical (or at least more informed) look at the other locks I use as well. After a few weeks of riding with the Abus, I decided to compare it to the current versions of two other locks I’ve been using for years, Kyrponite’s Evolution Mini and OnGuard’s Bulldog Mini.

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Right off the bat, the Abus is a more intimidating lock. Both barrel and shackle look thicker, and it seems heavier in the hand as well. Because it is:

Abus OnGuard Kyrptonite
Width (A) 4 3/8″ 4 3/4″ 4 1/2″
Weight 2 lb, 4.3 oz 1 lb, 12.4 oz 1 lb, 14.9 oz
Shackle (B) 13.9 mm 12.8 mm 12.7 mm
Inside Length (C) 5 1/2″ 6 1/8″ 5 3/8″
Indside Width (D) 3 1/8″ 3 9/16″ 3 5/16″


lock-measure

The lock mechanism itself is smooth. After a week or so of riding with it, I realized the only time I was doing the “key-jiggle” I was so used to with my other locks was when I inadvertently used the wrong key. With the right key in hand, using the lock feels like a step up from the others.

The barrel locks to both posts of the shackle, which means it does not employ the “hook” end on on side like the Kyrptonite does:

IMG_0506

I’m okay with this. The hook end can give you leverage in a tight spot, but also forces you to put the barrel in one direction (which can be a pain when the keyhole is off center like it is on the Kryptonite).

Overall, the Abus seems to fill a niche between these u-locks and the beefier Pitbull (OnGuard) and New York (Kryptonite) series locks, and the price reflects that at $60. If you’re looking for a little extra peace of mind or just a more “premium” feeling lock, this could be the place to find it.

Gear, Reviews

Review: Boombot2 portable speaker

The fine folks at Boombotix sent one of their wireless Boombot2’s over for review a while back now. In that time I’ve moved out of state and have been using it intermittently- though I’ve been quite impressed with the way it’s performed so far.

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I will say that out of the gate, I was a little put off by the design- I am not typically a fan of “Japanese urban design,” or the color purple (unless it’s Purple Rain or purple drank- of course.) I put aside my preconceived notions and opened the box. Seemed simple enough with two ports: one for charging and one for a speaker input(?). Looking closer- this was a blue tooth speaker. Nice. Since I no longer have my Lifeproof case for the Iphone, I try and keep my phone protected in a pocket- so connecting via cord is not something I’m trying to do with a speaker that would likely be put to use in inclement weather.  Not a problem with the Boombot2.

So I sync’d my phone to the speaker (super easy to do) and in minutes was playing music plenty loud for riding a bike or hanging outside with about a picnic table’s worth of people.  Success! I also found a waterproof speaker that I can take in the shower. It’s amazing! I decided to try and give the 1/8″ jack a test- and this is where things got pretty awesome.  If you are one of the behind-the-timers that don’t have Bluetooth on your music playing machine- just plug in an 1/8″ cord into your device and the Boombot2 and Shazam!  You’re playing music on the speaker.  If you do have Bluetooth- good on ya, and you can really crank up the jams by wirelessly playing your music into the Boombot2 and THEN…. wait for it…. plugging the 1/8″ jack into a stereo AUX input and you can use it to play onto your home stereo.  20130712-114904.jpg

It sold me.  I may not be a fan of the looks- but function outweighed form in a big way for me and I’m really into this little guy now.  I’ve ridden my bike with it- used it at a jobsite that I was working on, I’ve used it tinkering in my shop quite a bit… But mainly- we use it around the house for some tunes when we’re sitting on the porch.

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So that’s that.  Retailing at $70, if you’re looking for a rockin’, knockabout little speaker for life on the go- you should check out the Boombotix Boombot2.  And if Japanese urban design isn’t your jam- check out the Rex.

 

 

Clothing, Gear, Reviews

Review: Mission Workshop The Torre Merino Wool Hoodie

For the last two months I have been more or less living in the Torre Merino Wool Hooded Zip-Up Sweater from Mission Workshop. It has been put through a lot both on and off the bike in this relatively short time. I’ve been wearing The Torre in the shop while wrenching on bikes, in a couple of alley cat races, on some urban cyclocross rides, island bike trips and blustery ferry crossings, daily errands in the city, out to the bar and even to a dinner party where Greg’s cat completely covered it in white hair…

Torre_Hoodie_01

Here is what Mission Workshop has to say about it: “The Torre is a classic fitted zip-up sweater made with a unique 380 Gram, 18.9 Micron New Zealand Merino wool reinforced with core filament stretch nylon. This hybrid fabric was developed exclusively for Mission Workshop. Merino Wool is naturally antibacterial, an excellent temperature regulator, and it draws moisture away from the skin. With nylon woven into the fabric, it has added stretch and durability, making this a garment that will be a staple for years to come.”

Torre_Hoodie_02

Here is what I have to say about it: The Torre is an incredibly versatile piece of clothing that feels and wears casual but functions like a technical garment.

The first time I donned the hoodie I was impressed with the quality of the fabric and the fit. It is soft against the skin and instantly comfortable. The body is constructed out of five panels, the fit is slim and long, and it naturally stretches with your body movements. There are two “hidden” zippered pockets, one inside the left hand pocket, and a second under the right arm pit. The zippers feel solid and aren’t visible when closed. The Torre has a very sleek and clean look to it.

After two months of wear it still looks as good as it did when I first put it on. The fabric is proving to be very durable. There are no signs of piling or wear in the usual places. The merino wool breathes extremely well which I found allowed me to wear it at a variety of temperatures. It was warm enough when leaving on a brisk morning ride, and I didn’t overheat a couple hours later when the temperature had risen. It dries quickly and stays relatively warm even when wet. My other favorite part about the Torre is that the fabric doesn’t absorb odors. You can sweat it in, cook in it, sit around a bonfire and the next day you’d never know.

Specifically in regards to riding a bike in the Torre: The slim fit is great for riding as there is not extra fabric flapping around in the wind. The hood is also on the smaller side and stays put pretty well both up or down. The hidden pockets are useful for keeping things in place while riding, and the under arm pocket worked well for stashing an ipod/phone if you like to listen to music while you ride. The only real critique I have about the Torre is the sleeve length proved to be a little on the short side for me while on the bike. I am 6’4″ and have long arms, so this most likely will not be a problem for most people, however I would have liked a couple more inches in sleeve length to cover my wrists when stretched out on the bike.

At $235 retail, the Torre is a few bucks more expensive than other comparable merino wool pieces. But it is made in the USA and the quality of construction is nothing less than impressive. The quality combined with the durability of the Torre definitely point to a piece of clothing that will last for many years.

 

 

Bags, Gear, Reviews

Boreas: Lagunitas Backpack

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The Lagunitas backpack from Boreas has been spending some time on my shoulders over the last several weeks. It is designed to be a “hike-bike-travel-commute daypack.” If you are looking for universal backpack, try best military backpack that is  larger and more spacious. That is a mouthful, and when I first donned the pack it didn’t seem much different than any other light weight hiking day pack. What sets this pack apart though is its flexible metal frame. By pulling the blue strap the frame bows out away from your back so only the mesh portion of the pack is touching your back, leaving a couple inches of room between the pack and your back. To get more options regarding backpacks, visit the website of Backpacks.Global.

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