Urban Velo

NiteRider Lumina Micro 220

niterider micro220NiteRider has taken their very successful Lumina headlight and made a lighter, more compact version. They’ve kept many of the features the same, including the mounting system and the one-button control. The styling is also virtually unchanged.

The Lumina Micro 220 is still impressively bright—220 lumens, as you might have guessed—but it’s notably smaller and at 126 grams it’s 46 grams lighter than the Lumina 650 we reviewed last year.

Burn times are similar to its high-powered brethren—1:30 on high, 2:45 on medium, 4:00 on low and 14:00 in “walk” mode—but remember it also has a smaller battery. The upshot is that it’s fully charged in 3:30.

Even on low power, the Micro 220 does the job admirably in the city at night. If you feel as though you need more power, NiteRider has plenty of offerings including the Lumina Flare, which we’ll be looking at soon.

The Micro 200 retails for $70. Check out www.niterider.com

Timbuk2 Mission Cycling Wallet

Timbuk2 Mission Cycling WalletDesigned in cooperation with San Francisco’s Mission Cycling Club, the Mission Cycling Wallet protects your smartphone from the elements without losing the ability to use the touch screen. The weatherproof zipper is highly water resistant, and the 840D nylon construction elsewhere creates a durable, lightweight product. On the back of the wallet there are three pockets that can hold your license, a credit cards, cash, etc.

At less than 3″ x 5″, not all mobile devices will fit. My iPhone 4 fits just fine, but it’s a relatively trim fit. Call me clairvoyant, but as larger smartphones become increasingly popular, I envision Timbuk2 releasing a larger version in the coming months.

The Mission Cycling Wallet retails for $29. Check out www.timbuk2.com

Dahon Formula S18 Review

dahonI’m going to come right out and say that I’m not a folding bike aficionado. Whereas folding bikes are the norm in ultra-dense metropolitan areas, I live in a small, rebounding rust belt city where many of the neighborhoods within a 10-mile radius of downtown could be mistaken for the suburbs. Multi-model transportation is seldom a concern, and that seems to be the major benefit of bikes like the Formula S18.

I am, however, an unapologetic lover of bikes. And so when the opportunity to temporarily add a Dahon to my stable arose, I jumped at the opportunity. At $1399, the Dahon Formula S18 is designed for folding bike riders who want more than just convenience—they want performance. This is most clearly illustrated by the inclusion of Avid BB5 disc brakes. Along with its color matched Schwalbe tires the bike simply looks more serious than some of the other folding bikes out there.

The one size fits all frame is made from 7005 aluminum alloy, which is stiffer and lighter than 6000-series alloy, and of course more expensive. Though it’s hard to imagine that the same frame can suit such a wide range, Dahon claims that the Formula S18 is designed for riders between 4’8” and 6’4” (though not over 230 lbs).

There is a massive amount of adjustability afforded by the 580 mm seatpost. Really short riders may actually need to cut the stock seatpost down in order to get the seat low enough. The bike features a telescoping “handlepost” that allows you to tailor the handlebar height via quick release. This is a good place to mention that the lack of a traditional stem makes the steering feel quite unique. The bike’s geometry is tuned so that the bike is stable, even at speed, but to me it just feels a little twitchy, especially when I need to stand up and climb.

It’s interesting to think about how 20” wheels effect the performance of a bike. With a 56/46 crankset and an 11-25 9-speed cassette, you’ve certainly got the gearing to get up to speed (26-95 gear inches, to be exact). But what I seem to notice is that the small wheels are pretty ineffective at smoothing out road vibrations. Pebbles, broken concrete, manholes, and the like all seem like significantly larger obstacles than on a 700c equipped bike. More than anything, the “feel” of 20” wheels limits my willingness to go really fast. I should note that some popular folding bikes use 16” wheels, so maybe I should count my blessings.

All in all, the bike is rather fun to ride. It accelerates quickly and the disc brakes make it stop on a dime. The frame feels solid enough to forget that your entire bike is designed to quickly fold in half. The aforementioned handlepost assembly does occasionally creak, but not so much in a disconcerting way, but just enough to remind you that it’s probably not a good idea to wheelie drop any tall curbs.

The Formula S18 weighs in at roughly 26 lbs, which isn’t exactly light, even for a fully geared city bike. But when it’s folded it feels lighter than it actually is. Folding the bike is an absolute breeze, and the folding pedals and magnetic tabs that hold it closed are just plain cool, in my humble opinion. When folded the bike measures 11.3” x 31.2” x 25.7”. While not the most compact folding bike on the market, it’s still plenty versatile.

Looking around the bike there are an equal number of house brand and name brand parts, all of which seem to be on par with what you should expect from a bike at this price point. I know from years of personal experience that WTB makes quality rims, and Shimano’s Tiagra drivetrain components are built to last. Avid’s mechanical disc brakes set the standard for the entire industry, and even their entry-level BB5’s perform exquisitely. Dahon’s house-brand cockpit components are comfortable, and seem to be as durable as their name brand counterparts. Schwalbe’s Kojak tires are high-performance commuter slicks with puncture protection and reflective labels so you get from point A to point B quickly and safely.

Check out www.dahon.com

Osprey Radial 34 Review

DSC_9640The market for commuter backpacks is saturated to say the least, but few companies have dedicated as much energy and effort to the almighty backpack as Osprey. Founded in 1974, Osprey has built their reputation by making premium backpacks for serious backpackers. Initially, every pack was sewn by owner and founder Mike Pfotenhauer. Eventually he moved to Colorado and expanded his fledgeling business by hiring local women from a nearby Navajo reservation (one of whom now oversees all Osprey repairs, some 20 years later). When outsourcing became inevitable, Mike moved his family to Vietnam and stayed for four years, overseeing the overseas operation that Osprey is unabashedly proud of.

I’ve been using an Osprey Talon backpack for a number of years, and I’m confident in their product’s materials, design and durability. I’ve yet to find a need for their All Mighty Guarantee, which seems to be one of the best in the outdoor industry, but it’s refreshing to know that my pack is covered for life.

In recent years Osprey has ventured further into the bike market, and the Radial series represents their take on the ultimate commuter backpack. It offers 30+ liters of cargo capacity (including a padded laptop compartment), an incredible array of organizational capabilities, and a number of features that are seldom seen all in one pack.

One thing many companies try to accomplish but fall just short of is creating a backpack that allows air to pass between you and your pack. Osprey’s AirSpeed backpanel does this better than any pack that I’ve ever used. It uses a combination of stretched mesh which rests against your back and a curved, rigid panel with contoured padding to hold the pack away from your back. The packs main straps are also made with mesh and perforated foam to increase ventilation without sacrificing comfort.

I was pleasantly surprised by Osprey’s unique LidLock helmet holder. When you’re off the bike, you can use this elastic mounted plastic clip to securely hold your helmet to the outside of the pack. It’s incredibly simple, and undeniably effective.

The Radial 34 features an exterior lock pocket which I found incredibly handy. I also like the zippered side pockets, which are great for items that you take on and off such as gloves, arm warmers and sunglasses.

Rather than attempt to build a waterproof backpack, which typically compromises the pack’s accessibility and aesthetics, Osprey opted to include a retractable rain cover. While this may not be the ultimate solution for extreme situations (for example, a rolltop with a floating liner is almost certainly the most watertight), it’s definitely effective and it’s completely out of the way when not in use.

The size M/L Radial 34 measures 22″ x 15″ x 12″ and weighs just under 3 lbs. With such a lightweight design you might suspect its durability, but as I said earlier, Osprey packs are built to last. My Talon pack has been ridden hard and put away wet for years, seen its share of brambles and tumbles, and save for a smattering of mud stains, it’s still every bit as good as the first time I put it on my back. I have no reason to expect anything less from the Radial 34.

The Radial 34 is available in S/M or M/L and comes in black or green. There’s also a smaller Radial 26. The Radial 34 retails for $169. Check out www.ospreypacks.com

NiteRider Stinger USB Taillight Review

DSC_9617The NiteRider Stinger USB taillight uses a single high power ½ watt LED to keep you visible from up to a half-mile away. Designed to be mounted on a seatpost, the tool-free mounting system works on both traditional and aero posts.

The Stinger USB features a 25 lumen output and four modes that should cover you in most situations: High steady (4 hour run time), low steady (16 hours), flash (16 hours) and flash 2 (10.5 hours). NiteRider is a believer in using lights during the day, as well as at night, and so they refer to the 16 hour flashing mode as “daylight safety flash mode”. They also refer to low steady as “group ride mode” for obvious reasons.

DSC_9619The unit is USB rechargeable, and a full charge takes less than two hours. This means you can easily recharge your light during the workday, even if you forget about it until well after lunch.

DSC_9625Aesthetically, I think the Stinger USB looks pretty cool. More importantly, it’s easy to use. You actually press on the light itself, and single clicks cycle through the four modes as well as on and off. You know when you’ve reached the “off” mode because the bulb flashes momentarily before the unit powers down completely. If the battery charge is greater than 20% when the Stinger USB is turned
off, it will flash blue 10 times. If the battery charge is 20% or less when
turned off, it will flash red 10 times. It’s simple enough to operate with gloves or even mittens.

The Stinger USB retails for $35. Check out www.niterider.com

Avid BB7S Mechanical Disc Brake Review

Avid BB7SAvid first released the Ball Bearing mechanical disc brake back in 1999. Because of their power, reliability and serviceability, they were pretty much instantly deemed the industry standard for disc brakes. SRAM acquired Avid five years later and wisely continued to produce the brakes under the Avid moniker without significant changes, other than separating the line to include an entry level product, the BB5, and the flagship BB7. Once there was a demand, along came road versions of the BB5 and BB7, which were optimized for road brake levers (which pull less cable than mountain levers).

Avid recently unveiled the BB7S, a sleek, black version of the venerable BB7 with stainless steel hardware. Like its predecessor, the BB7S features tool-free inboard and outboard pad adjustment, organic compound brake pads and Avid’s “tri caliper positioning system”. This system primarily consists of a series of concave and convex washers that allow for precise alignment of the caliper. I’m sure there may be a few people who disagree, but in my opinion the BB7 makes for the easiest brake setup on the market.

The new BB7S brakes ship with the HS1 rotor, which is said to be an improvement over the classic G2 Cleansweep rotor in that it displaces heat a little better and works better in wet weather. It certainly looks the part, and likely weighs a hair less. Speaking of weight, the BB7S caliper weighs just 197 g as opposed to the classic BB7′s which eclipsed 212 g.

I have to confess, I’m totally spoiled because I have the luxury of using Avid’s Speed Dial Ultimate levers ($263 per pair) to actuate these brakes. It could be argued that such high end levers would make any brake seem better, but I prefer to think that they just don’t interfere with the inherent power and modulation of the BB7S.

The Avid BB7S brakes retail for $120 per wheel. Choose between road and mountain versions, and 140 or 160 mm rotors. Check out www.sram.com/avid

Light & Motion Taz 1000 Review

Light & Motion Taz 1000Light & Motion has always been at the forefront of the high-powered commuter light market. The venerable Vega came out more than 10 years ago, and at the time 85 lumens seemed more than impressive for a self-contained, rechargeable headlight. I ran that thing for years, and eventually gave it to a young cyclist who’s still using it to this day. That speaks volumes about the quality of Light & Motion products.

The market has seen tremendous advances in technology, and now the 1000 lumen Taz isn’t even the brightest light on the market. As you might surmise, it’s way more light than most people need, but there are folks out there who want or genuinely need such a light. There are definitely roads in my city that are pitch black at night, but you could still coast at more than 20 mph. Head out into the suburbs and the number of similar situations is multiplied.

DSC_9498And let’s not forget the potential for using the Taz offroad, as I have been doing extensively. I used to own a top of the line 600 lumen mountain bike light that was twice as expensive as the Taz. It had a heavy battery and cables that never ceased to get in the way. Imagine how happy I was the first time I hit the trail with an unencumbered 1000 lumens beaming from my handlebar.

Sheer brightness is only part of the story here, as the Taz has some of the best light distribution I’ve ever experienced. The lens is designed to spread a softer beam directly in front of you, while the road ahead is clearly illuminated for a long, long way.

Light & Motion Taz 1000The controls are simple, but rather sophisticated at the same time. The main button handles on/off duty, and lets you cycle through the modes. The secondary button allows you to “lock” the light while not in use (helpful if you carry it in your back during the day) and also controls the optional side lights (which help provide 180° visibility).

The mode selections include 1000, 500, 200, flash and pulse. The light also has “race mode” which limits you to just two settings, 800 and 350. This is especially handy for off-road riding, where you need to switch between high and low more often, but don’t want to spend time cycling through as many modes. Expect to get about 1:40 burn time on high, and up to 6:00 on low.

DSC_9499Like most lights these days, the lithium ion battery is USB rechargeable. Depending on your device it can be fully recharged in as little as four hours. The mount is tool-free and unlike some of the rubber strap-style mounts I’ve used in the past, this one holds tight, even on the bumpiest of rides. Color me impressed.

The Taz 1000 retails for $249. Check out www.lightandmotion.com

Fyxation Mesa 61 Alloy Pedal Review

fyxation_mesa_61_alloy_pedal-1Platform pedals, with or without straps, are some of my favorites. Nothing says everyday bike utility like being able to ride in most any shoes you just happen to have on. And as countless BMX riders have shown you don’t need to be attached to your pedals with a cleat or straps, a platform is enough to fly. Over the years I’ve grown to prefer low profile platforms on my street bikes for cornering clearance, foot strap compatibility and of course looks. The Fyxation Mesa 61 alloy pedal is the highest end pedal from Fyxation yet, the top of three in the Mesa line following the form of the previously reviewed nylon-bodied Mesa, and the metal-pinned Mesa MP.

fyxation_mesa_61_alloy_pedal-2The Mesa 61 features a 6061 aluminum pedal body with replaceable steel pins for grip, providing a large 106 x 100 mm platform with the durability that only metal components can give. The pedal spins on a chromoly spindle via a sealed outside bearing and inner bushing. Most striking is of course the 12 mm platform body height — beyond looking cool it maximizes the cornering clearance given the width of the platform, and allows you to set your seat a few millimeters lower for a slightly lower center of gravity. The slim platform also lends itself to the new-school foot retention systems, allowing the flat nylon straps to easily slip into cage without folding.

At 380 g per pair the Mesa 61 carries a mere 60 g penalty over the nylon bodied Mesa, making the choice between them more about function than the scale given the design. It’s all about the large, nearly square platform and the support it gives across your foot. I have big feet, and the large platform prevents my feet from hurting when wearing flexy street shoes, even after pedaling all day on overnight bike camping trips. The metal body seems durable, though for what it’s worth my original nylon Mesa pedals are still limping along a few years after the initial review. I say limping as the end of my Mesa pedals has deformed around the bearing cap, something the Mesa 61 should be more resistant to over the miles. After a solid six months on the bike I’ve yet to lose a traction pin, and the pedals spin as good as new. All is well with the Mesa 61 going into the fall and winter boot season where the extra large platform is even more appreciated.

fyxation_mesa_61_alloy_pedal-3The Mesa 61 is a top-end platform pedal with an alloy body and sealed bearings and commands a premium at $97. If that’s too much to swallow, check out the $30 Gates Slim for a similar form with loose ball bearings and a nylon body.

ABUS Bordo 6100 Combination Lock Review

1b51a3d2d59aaab86c59c7c6802a4071There are three important items of equipment necessary to be a bicycle messenger. The first is the bike. Next is the bag, without which packages get damaged or lost. Third and most importantly is the lock, the leash for the bike while one retrieves and delivers packages. My perspective on bicycle locks is different than the average consumer. I live and work in one of the busiest cities in the world with a notorious reputation for bicycle thieves. I alternate between riding and locking my bicycle to poles, trees, and racks in all weather conditions year round.

I was recently awarded an ABUS Bordo 6100 folding combination lock as a prize for my team’s podium performance in a recent messenger race. I decided to test out this unique folding link style of lock as spending my work day wearing a heavy chain around my hips affects my ability to walk normally. The links on the chain sometimes weigh heavily on my thighs preventing me from riding at the best of my ability. I needed an alternative.

When I first looked at the Bordo I noticed an empty pod in the packaging. I thought my prize was missing keys. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was to vigorously remind the user that keys were not necessary for the lock. This feature is marvelous. In the past I have lost keys, dropped them down subway grates that line most streets in Manhattan or simply worn them out from long term usage.

photo copyThe Bordo comes with a carrying bracket that attaches to a standard water bottle cage mounts. It has two thick 1″ velcro straps for mounting to frames without water bottle bolts. I tossed the velco straps aside, using only water bottle bolts during installation.The compact size of the lock inside of the bracket enables it to be transported efficiently without awkwardly interfering with one’s legs during pedaling. The bracket has a rubber strip at the top of the bracket to keep the lock secure during transport. There is a square hole in the strip that corresponds to a notch on the outside of the bracket. It is simple to open and close with a firm tug of the rubber strip.

After removing the lock from the packaging, I noticed the weight was fairly substantial. I decided it was a good thing. More metal means a greater obstacle for thieves. After using a heavy chain for years its smaller heftiness would still be easier to haul around all day.
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Retroshift CX2 Brake/Shift Lever Review

retroshift_cx-1The Retroshift system was born from the desire for a simpler, more dirt- and crash-resistant system than STI, DoubleTap or Ergopower combined shift and brake levers for the muddy cyclocross courses of the Pacific Northwest. It just so happens to make a reasonable alternative for commuter, adventure and other riders more interested in long term durability than the most race ready shifting. At it’s most basic, the Retroshift is a Tektro brake lever with a (patent pending) machined aluminum mount added to the front to accommodate a downtube or bar-end shifter.

Reliability in the face of abuse is a primary goal behind the Retroshift design. Rain and mud won’t clog the shifters and render them inoperable, laying the bike down is less likely to damage the Retroshifts as compared to more fragile combined road levers. They are even a few grams lighter than most other systems at 380g for the pair.

retroshift_cx-2While interested in the Retroshifts since the moment I first laid eyes upon them, I’ll admit I was skeptical of their placement. I’m a big fan of top-mount thumbshifters and have them on a couple of my personal bikes, using models from the 1980s and retrofit mounts that use downtube shift levers to replicate old models, similar to the Retrofit mounting system. Perhaps the main downfall of this style of shifter is the range of motion required due to the lack of any ratcheting system—one thing on the top of the bars, another all together on the front of drop bar levers. I was concerned about inadvertently activating the brakes, or being able to reach to shift through all of the gears.

Once installed a single ride is all it took to get used to the shift action, with my fears of braking interference immediately set aside. If you ride primarily on the hoods and like the feel of top-mount, bar-end or downtube shifters you may find yourself in love with the Retroshift system. You can easily shift through the entire cassette range with a single swing of the right shifter, and the left friction shifter works double or triple ring setups with the trim adjustment to make every gear silent. While rear shifting is snappy and easy the range of movement and force required for front ring shifts can be trying, especially deep into an all-day ride I wish the front shifter had a shorter throw. Shifting from the drops is near impossible, even with my giant hands. From the hoods however it’s an easy reach, and I happen to prefer the Campy-like shape of the Tektro hoods over more narrow types. I’d prefer that the shift housing could run under the tape for a cleaner look and to not interfere with a handlebar bag, but such a change would invariably alter the simplicity of the entire arrangement. Given my style of riding (ie. on the hoods, not racing), the Retroshifts have found a permanent home on my bike.

retroshift_cx-3Buy the Retroshift CX2 nude for $130 and use them with your own Shimano-compatible shift levers or buy them complete as tested for $190 with Retroshift branded Microshift levers pre-installed. The V-brake compatible CXV is available for $10 more, the single front ring CX1 for $40 less. Break or bend any of them in a crash and Retroshift will repair the damaged brake body, lever or shifter mount for $24.

City Reports