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.
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.
The 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
The 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.
The 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
Pretty 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Both the red and white lights are available in five different body colors and retail for $35.29. Check out www.ilumenox.com
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.
Like 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.
The 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
The 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
The Zoic Downtown Jacket is a simple, stylish softshell that’s also reasonably priced and very well thought-out.
Like much of my favorite cycling apparel, it only comes in black. The Downtown Jacket has some subtle blue accents as well as a small amount of reflective trim for safety’s sake. The soft, stretchable fabric looks good and feels good. It’s 86% polyester and 14% spandex with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating.
I’m always surprised at how well modern DWR softshells repel water, and this one is no exception. But keep in mind, you have to treat them right to maintain their performance. That means limit their trips to the washing machine (Zoic claims their treatment is good for 30 washes) and when you do wash it, it’s probably a good idea to use a DWR specific detergent such as those offered by Nikwax.
The jacket features a rather casual cut, which combined with the subtle branding makes it a nice choice for those of us who aren’t racer-boy slim. It’s also good for uurban riders who don’t like to stand out in a crowd. It features four zippered pockets, two for your hands, one on the lower back and one on the arm for your MP3 player (with internal cable routing). And while it is a relaxed fit jacket, it still offers a traditional drop tail, as well as an adjustable waistband.
The Downtown Jacket retails for $115 and comes in sizes M-XL. Check out www.zoic.com
If memory serves correct, my very first blinky light was a Cateye. The classic design used two AAA batteries and required a coin to pry the two halves apart from the yellow rubber gasket. That thing cost less than $10 and lasted for years until I either lost it or gave it away.
To say the blinky light market has evolved would be a gross understatement, but Cateye seems to have kept up with the times. The Rapid X features a state of the art COB LED module and a 200mAh USB-rechargable lithium ion battery. It weighs just 23g, which should make it an appealing option for road racers and weight weenies alike.
One of the best features of the Rapid X is the side visibility. It’s nearly as bright from 90° as it is from the back. Interestingly, the light isn’t overpoweringly bright. It seems that Cateye put more value on runtime than lumens, as the light is claimed to run for up to 30 hours in flashing mode. Regardless of which of the six modes you are in, when the battery gets low, the unit automatically switches to flashing mode, ensuring you an hour of burn time. Back home on the range, you’ll need just two hours to completely charge the battery.
Construction seems solid, and the tool-free elastomer-based mounting system is as simple as can be. While I used to be loathe to trust a rubber band to hold my light on, I’ve grown more confident as light manufacturers have obviously stepped up their game. One of the two provided mounting straps will allow you to mount it to 12–32mm tubes.
At first I was going to complain that the rubber back panel comes off fairly easily, which could cause you to lose parts of the unit when charging or transporting it, but then I realized that won’t be a problem if you leave the mounting strap attached.
The Rapid X retails for about $40. Check out www.cateye.com