Urban Velo

Halo Vapour Wheels

halo vapour wheels

Halo is a UK-based brand founded in 1995. Their initial focus was on bikes that were designed to take flight, but they’ve expanded their line to include cross country mountain bike and road bike wheels. And with stateside distribution they’re set to make their mark on the US market.

DSC_1698When I set out to build my latest city bike, I knew that I didn’t want wimpy wheels, and I didn’t want anything proprietary—not even straight pull or bladed spokes. Even though I’m not known as a wheel crusher, I do like to go off road whenever possible, and my shortcuts often include some of the roughest alleys and parking lots in town. Plus, the bike in question, a Surly Straggler, is spaced for a 135 mm mountain bike rear hub. Enter the Halo Vapour wheelset.

Designed for serious mountain biking, but not necessarily racing, the Vapour wheelset features 32-hole, deep section, 26 mm wide rims. Made from heat treated T10 aluminum, they’re double walled with eyelets for durability. For the duration of this test the rims held 700 x 35c steel beaded tires. I would think the wide profile wouldn’t work well with anything smaller than a 700 x 32c.

DSC_1699The rims come laced to forged alloy hubs. Both front and rear feature international standard six-bolt disc rotor mounts. The rear hub uses six double-point pawls which equates to 12 points of engagement. I really can’t ask for more when it comes to responsiveness, and whir of the freehub sounds like that of a very expensive hub.

Aesthetically, these may be a bit flashy for a city bike, but I like them. The red anodized nipples offer a splash of color without looking gaudy, and the rim graphics warrent a double take. That’s neither silver ink nor faux-brushed aluminum decals—the graphics are laser etched into the rims.

DSC_1712The rims are tubless compatible though the rim strips and valves not included. The hubs do include an assortment of hardware and adapters for 15 & 20mm axles.

As tested the wheels weighed 872 g front and 961 g rear. Retail price is $199 front and $295 rear. Check out www.halo-usa.com

New Albion Homebrew

New Albion Homebrew

In 1579 Sir Francis Drake landed in northern California and dubbed it New Albion. In 1976, Jack McAuliffe founded the now defunct New Albion brewery in Sonoma, which was regarded as the first American microbrewery. And in 2012, New Albion Cycles formed with the idea of bringing classic bicycle designs to the market. The Homebrew is their flagship model.

The Homebrew is best described as a classic roadbike with a hint of modern technology. It joins just a handful of bikes on the market with downtube shifters. The steel frameset is lugged and TIG welded, and of course readily accepts racks and fenders. The fork features a 1” quill stem and eyelets for a mini rack and fenders.

The Homebrew offers a classic cycling experience that countless cyclists have enjoyed in recent years by restoring second hand bikes from the 80’s. But not only are those old bikes becoming harder to find, their downfalls are eventually exposed, namely poor braking, a lack of hill-friendly gearing, and limited tire clearance. The Homebrew takes care of all of those things with aplomb.

New Albion HomebrewIf you’ve never ridden with single-pivot brakes you might not appreciate the mechanical advantage that dual-pivot side-pull caliper brakes offer. But it’s night and day, and so thankfully New Albion decided not to go that retro. The IRD B57’s have clearance for up to 32mm tires, which is good because the Homebrew can accept them. It ships with 700 x 28c Kenda Kwick tires.

The tires might be more aptly named Komfortable, as they’re rather high volume and low pressure (85 psi max) makes for an incredibly comfortable ride. The tires are mounted to 32-spoke polished aluminum rims.

IMG_3632The drivetrain is predominantly composed of Sun Race components. I have nothing but good things to say about this groupset, and the pairing of a 50-32 crankset with an 11-32 cassette was highly appreciated. Pittsburgh, like San Francisco, is a city known for its steep hills.

Downtube shifters aren’t for everyone. They’re not as convenient as STI or even bar-end shifters. But they get the job done. They also make for a clean looking handlebar with less cables to interfere with a front rack, should you choose to go that route.

IMG_3665I did, in fact, ride the Homebrew with both front and rear racks for the majority of the test. I occasionally strapped packages to the rear rack, but I rode with a handlebar bag nearly every single time. The additional weight on the bars was quite obvious at times, especially on rough roads and when locking the bike up. But for the most part it wasn’t a hindrance. And because I was usually able to fit everything I needed for the day in said bag, I was able to commute on the hottest days of the year without a backpack or messenger bag. For someone like me, who almost never rides without one, the experience is refreshing.

And that might be the essence of the Homebrew, it’s a refreshing change of pace. It’s not a technological wonder, it’s a classic. The kind of bike your parents rode, the kind that made millions of people fall in love with cycling. It’s also worth noting that the bike is simply beautiful, as countless people pointed out during my time on the Homebrew.

IMG_3648Detractors may point out that the frame and fork are made from high tensile steel and not chromoly, but the difference is predominantly a matter of weight, not performance or safety. The decision of course is a matter of cost, which might seem unlikely since at $999 the Homebrew doesn’t fit into the category of affordable, but I contend that it’s worth considering. You’re not going to see a million of these on the streets of your city, and some people like to have a bike that no one else has. But I digress.

At the moment I have 16 working bicycles at my disposal. Even though another one might be more appropriate for a given ride, I keep opting for the Homebrew. That pretty much sums it all up. Check out www.newalbioncycles.com

Timbuk2 Especial Raider Backpack Review

DSC_1680The Especial Raider backpack was designed for people who don’t just want to ride to work, but who want to log some miles before they punch in. People like the Mission Cycling club, who collaborated with Timbuk2 to design this backpack. The main parameters were that it had to be a lightweight bag that wouldn’t impede your performance on the bike, but it also had to carry all of the essentials. And that includes not only clothes, but shoes, as well.

DSC_1679Timbuk2 really rose to the occasion. The Especial Raider weighs less than one pound thanks to its primarily ripstop nylon construction. It features ventilated padding on the back and shoulder straps, but not so much that it feels bulky. The shoulder straps are adjustable, and so is the sternum strap (it can slide up and down so you can adjust the height). On the outside the bag features one zippered pocket across the top and two stretch pockets on the hips. There’s a blinky light tab and a hook and loop tab to hang your helmet on once the ride is over.

DSC_1673Inside the bag, things get much more interesting. Though the bag has a rather trim profile (roughly 10 x 18 inches) it offers more than 1000 cubic inches of carrying capacity. The bag has two internal shoe compartments that basically keep the bottom half of each shoe in place. Then there is the back panel pocket, which includes a plastic folding board and a hook and loop strap. This system allows you to fold your clothes and keep them neatly pressed against your back. Finally, the bag has a built in metal hanging hook that allows you to conveniently suspend the bag while you change.

DSC_1670As someone who works a 9 to 5 and has to adhere to a business casual dress code, I truly appreciate this bag. Even when I’m not heading to work, I like the light weight and functionality of the bag. And I like the way it looks, it’s clean, simple and black (though there are now new color options). The bag fits me quite well, and unlike a lot of commuter specific bags, it’s quite appropriate for off-road riding, too.

IMG_3371My only real nits to pick with the bag largely revolve around wishes, not truly complaints. First, I wish the bag were more water resistant. I mitigated this by riding around with an extra-large Ziplock bag for my phone, wallet and other valuables that aren’t waterproof. I wish they had provided a convenient way to deal with the excess straps (I took care of this with rubber bands). And I wish the exterior pocket was a little deeper because once you unzip it all the way, things have a tendency to fall out.

The Especial Raider backpack retails for $79. Check out www.timbuk2.com

Vaya Bags Blue Lagoon Rolltop Backpack Review

vaya_simple_rolltop-1
Single strap messenger bags were the epitome of urban cycling chic for well over a decade, but now is the era of the backpack. Backpacks are more comfortable and more practical for most anyone besides working couriers, with small day packs like this rolltop from Vaya growing in favor.

Vaya is a one woman shop out of the borough of Queens in New York City, handcrafting messenger bags and backpacks out of recycled canvas and surplus Sunbrella sailboat fabric. The Blue Lagoon Rolltop is a compact day bag measuring just 9.5” x 5.5” x 15” closed, featuring an interior laptop sleeve, expanding front pocket, minimalist straps and a u-lock or bottle holder. The bag is made from waterproof Sunbrella fabric, with an 18 oz vinyl coated liner and seatbelt webbing straps, with an attractive blue color scheme incorporating repurposed tubes on the body. The Blue Lagoon has just enough space for the work commute essentials like tools, a laptop, and an extra layer but not much else—you won’t be stopping by the grocery store on the way home from work unless you don’t mind things hanging out the top of the bag. Rolltop closures are nice because of the way they allow you to overload when necessary, with the extra long strap helping to keep cargo in place but otherwise swinging around a bit more than I’d like when walking. The outer expanding pocket is nice for easy access to lights, gloves and your phone, and doesn’t interfere with the interior capacity, but is not totally waterproof like the rest of the bag.

Reflective patches on the sides and strap are always welcome, as is the reinforced base for long wear and added protection when putting the bag down on wet ground. I like the minimalist straps, you’re simply never going to fill this bag up enough to warrant heavy pads, and the seatbelt webbing was comfortable even with just a t-shirt. The side bottle holder is great for keeping liquids far away from electronics along for the ride, and handy for carrying a u-lock otherwise. Some of the stitching isn’t as perfect looking as some other bags I’ve seen, but overall construction is solid and clearly well thought out by someone who rides and cares about the bags leaving her shop. I expect to get many years out of this bag from Vaya. Available for $195, or in a single color as the Simple Rolltop for $175.

Fuji Feather CX 1.1 Bike Review

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Cyclocross bikes have long been a choice for the rider looking for a versatile machine—enjoyable on long road rides, capable on trails and light singletrack, able to handle a light tour and near perfect for the committed medium to long distance commuter. As cyclocross racing has grown the selection of bikes under the ‘cross umbrella is wider than ever, from thoroughbred race machines to traditional steel frames and performance commuters.

Trickle down tech is at the core of most any consumer industry, and the Fuji Feather CX 1.1 takes advantage of what has become the new normal at the high end of spec and brings it to a $1220 complete bike ready for the 9-5 and your next mixed surface adventure. The butted aluminum frame features a post mount disc brake, a tapered headtube with a 1 1/2” lower bearing, and a press-fit BB86 bottom bracket. The carbon blade fork has a durable aluminum steerer and dropouts, and a post mount disc brake as well. Single fender eyelets adorn both the frame and fork, with seatstay mounts for a rear rack and a pair of bottle mounts for when the miles start to rack up. Geometry wise the CX 1.1 borrows heavily from Fuji’s race bikes with a few tweaks to fit larger volume tires that ends up with an 11 mm longer wheelbase overall.

The component spec of the Feather CX 1.1 is nothing much to write home about—a 9-speed Shimano Sora drivetrain and industry standard Avid BB5r brakes with 160 mm rotors do the name brand duties, with no-name Vera wheels and house brand Oval Concepts parts otherwise finishing off the bike. The 50/34 chainrings and 11-32 cassette provide a well thought out, wide gear range and while 9-speed isn’t the newest in new it has proven a durable choice with some long time adherents. The wheels are an odd mix of bladed spokes and mountain bike width 19 mm rims — very likely to stay true over many a pothole, but sluggish feeling on a long ride. Disc brakes come with their own weight penalty, coupled with overbuilt wheels the Fuji Feather CX 1.1 weighs 23.9 lbs. Contrary to the spec sheet our 58 cm review bike came with 170 mm cranks, definitely short for the people riding this bike and something I would have asked a dealer to swap before purchase. The blacked out, gloss on matte finish on the frame and fork is hard to beat, it’s a shame the Oval components don’t match.

City streets, light trails, dirt roads—the Feather CX 1.1 has the person that can’t keep their bike clean in mind. Add a full set of fenders and it makes a solid choice for an everyday vehicle that should last the long haul, stock it is more than up for hitting that dirt road loop a dozen miles outside of town. The geometry isn’t dumbed down in the name of relaxed commuting, giving the bike the handling character so many love about cyclocross bikes.

The frameset is where you should be spending your money, and the Feather CX 1.1 gives you a platform to grow with over the years. The press fit BB86 bottom bracket makes the bike compatible with any number of high end cranksets out there, and while I had no problems throughout the test I’m not the only one still skeptical of the benefits of press fit bottom brackets. Post mount brakes are welcome, even if I had issues with the stock spacers deforming during setup. I do wish that the full-length rear brake housing had another cable stop along the top tube to curb what is an otherwise annoying rattle without a loop of electrical tape, even if it’s an easy DIY solution.

Ride it now, keep your eyes peeled for deals on the easy weight saving upgrades and pick up a racier groupset a few years down the line when the original Sora drivetrain is worn out. While neither the lightest nor the snappiest accelerating bike out there, for the non-racer the Fuji Feather CX 1.1 proves a solid disc brake ‘cross commuter and weekend explorer. The Feather CX 1.1 is available in five sizes from 48 – 60 cm, with a lower spec’d $1000 CX 1.3 also available.

Lezyne Phone Wallet

Lezyne Phone WalletThe Zezyne Phone Wallet is a nice accessory for the minimalist cyclist on the go. You can pack your phone, a couple credit cards, your ID, and some cash into the designated compartments, then stash the whole thing in your jersey pocket or in your bag.

The touchscreen friendly window inside lets you operate your mobile device, and the pocket is large enough to make the iPhone seem puny. While it is nice (and perhaps even necessary) to be able to accommodate large devices and even ones inside protective cases, the end result is a rather large wallet (145 x 100 x 25 mm). It’s too big to comfortably hold in your front pocket, which is where I normally carry my phone.

While the wallet is water resistant, it is nowhere near waterproof. If exposed to a serious downpour it could let a considerable amount of water into the phone compartment at the point where the zipper comes to a close. On the bright side, the overall construction is top notch, and the materials seem durable enough that the wallet might outlive the phone it’s designed to carry.

The Lezyne Phone Wallet retails for $20 and comes in grey or black. Check out www.lezyne.com

Aero Tech Designs Men’s Urban Pedal Pushers Commuter Dress Shirt

Aero Tech Designs Men's Urban Pedal Pushers Commuter Dress ShirtThe Urban Pedal Pushers Commuter Dress Shirt from Aero Tech Designs is, among other things, quite a mouthful. So from here on, I’ll refer to it as the Commuter Dress Shirt. But first allow me to introduce Aero Tech Designs, or ATD if you will. Not a new company by any stretch of the imagination, they manufactured the Olympic uniforms for the 1982 American cycling team. And they’re exceedingly proud to be able to put “made in USA” on their products.

The Commuter Dress Shirt is wrinkle free, and touted as being “ideal for travel” so I took them to task and brought my two samples to Japan for a two-week cross country trip. While “wrinkle free” might be a bit of a misnomer, they looked good enough for me to eat at one of the finest restaurants in Tokyo, yet they were technical enough for me to stay comfortable while walking eight hours in Kyoto with a raincoat on top. And I think the Commuter Dress Shirt actually contributed to my bowling abilities, or at least I can’t blame it for missing that 7-10 split in Nagoya.

DSC_1294The cut is pretty relaxed, which I appreciate. Some of the casual/commuter clothing I’ve tried on as of late seems to be made for people with pipe cleaners for arms. I’m not Popeye, but I need room to move and the Commuter Dress Shirt provides it. Normally I prefer my cycling shirts to be as simple as possible—I seldom if ever use the rear pockets—but I did find myself grateful for the zippered chest pockets. I especially like zippered pockets when I travel, not so much for fear of pickpockets, but for the peace of mind that I won’t be losing anything valuable.

The fabric is very lightweight, and slightly stretchable, which lends an additional level of comfort. It’s made of 88% spun nylon and 12% recycled polyester. Unlike traditional cotton shirts, when you roll up the sleeves on the Commuter Dress Shirt, you aren’t left feeling like you’ve got a bulky mass at the elbow. The lightweight fabric also bodes well for wearing the Commuter Dress Shirt on hot and sunny days when UV protection is important. ATD claims the fabric has a ultraviolet sun protection factor of 50 plus, which should please my friends in Arizona. And for my friends back in soggy Pennsylvania, the fabric has a water-resistant coating that makes those surprise thunderstorms a little less bothersome.

About the only complaint I can level at ATD is that I lost a button. One. And really, they provided extras, so I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut. The Commuter Dress Shirt retails for $50. Check out www.aerotechdesigns.com

Ilumenox Slash USB

Ilumenox Slash USBPretty much every urban cyclist needs bike lights, but almost every urban cyclist’s needs are a little different. Some need extreme brightness, others need long battery life. And different bikes require different mounting options. This keeps the light manufacturers busy, and arguably, happy. Take for example, our friends at Ilumenox. The Taiwanese light manufacturer already has an array of lights, not to mention it’s offerings under the brand names S-Sun and Skully.

Ilumenox Slash USBThe Slash USB is a decidedly modern looking light, with five SMD LED bulbs, numerous beveled edges and a narrow profile that makes it look like it belongs on a fast bike. And that’s no accident, as the Slash USB is designed to fit aero seatposts, carbon fork blades and any number of shapes. But it’s equally at home on a round seatpost, mountain bike handlebars or even strapped to a bike rack. With three different sized elastomers and an optional rubber mounting pad provided, the mounting system is extremely versatile.

DSC_1282The Slash USB is reasonably bright with good runtimes (up to 12 hours for the white light, 9.5 max for the red light). As a headlight, it’s more for being seen than for seeing, though it will get you home if the streetlights go out. As a taillight it’s excellent, providing more than 180° of visibility. Unfortunately, the headlight is also visible from more than 180°, which means it might cast light back towards the rider depending on how it’s mounted.

DSC_1278Of course the Slash USB is rechargeable. I’m a fan of this particular design, which incorporates the male USB input jack into the light unit, eliminating the need for a cable.

DSC_1289Both the red and white lights are available in five different body colors and retail for $35.29. Check out www.ilumenox.com

WOHO Flying Fender

WOHO Flying FenderWhen I was a kid, the very essence of cool was simplicity. My friends and I wanted our bikes stripped down—no reflectors, no kickstands, no safety pads. Fenders? Forget about it!

A certain part of me still hangs on to that childhood ideal. While I’m certainly older and wiser, and admit that fenders serve a very useful purpose, I generally prefer not to have them on my bike. Enter the removable fender. There have been several on the market for many years, but in recent years a few companies have introduced easily removable, foldable models. Of those, WOHO’s Flying Fender is among the best. It’s also the only model (to my knowledge) that claims to be made from non-toxic, biodegradable material, presumably a treated polyethylene.

DSC_1266Like most fenders of this sort, it’s shipped flat, cut, scored and perforated. You pop it out of the excess plastic, fold it according to the directions and use the hook and loop fastener strap to mount the fender. The Flying Fender is not only made for the rear wheel, it can be mounted to the downtube (hence the inclusion of a second strap).

Speaking of the straps, one side is coated with a non-slip material, This seems to be the key in keeping the Flying Fender from flying off to the side while you ride. I’m not saying it can’t be moved, but it stays in place remarkably well. When the fender is not in use, it can be simply rolled up and stowed away, or curled around any convenient tube on your bike.

WOHO Flying FenderThe Flying Fender comes in two sizes, M for road (70 x 10.5 cm, 45 g) and L for mountain (70 x 14.5 cm, 50 g). Both models come with two straps, and either size retails for $6. And they come in at least 10 different colors. Check out www.wohobike.com

Levi’s Commuter Work Shirt

Levi's Commuter Work ShirtThe Commuter Work Shirt comes from Levi’s Fall 2013 collection. Although it’s no longer on the Levi’s website, online retailers still a handful of these in circulation, and I imagine the same goes for a few brick and mortar outlets, as well.

Let’s get down to brass tacks—this is a sharp looking shirt. Long sleeves, hidden buttons, zippered chest pocket and technical fabric that doesn’t look like technical fabric. Said fabric is 66% cotton, 31% polyester and 3% spandex with 3XDRY treatment. It’s water-repellent, moisture-wicking and breathable.

The cut of the shirt did not exactly suit me—it’s a lot better suited for people who are truly fit. People like my neighbor Sam (pictured) who’s a certified athletic trainer, road racer and genuinely good guy. After I gave the shirt a few rides, Sam put it through the wringer and came back with positive comments, including that he was surprised at how it didn’t encumber his movements or position on the bike (Levi’s touts gusseted shoulders for improved mobility) and that the fabric felt very appropriate for mild weather (hence its origin in the Fall collection).

The Commuter Work Shirt retails for $88. Check out www.levi.com

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