Urban Velo

Osprey Pixel Port

Osprey Pixel PortThe Pixel Port is part of Osprey’s Portal Series, which puts an emphasis on carrying and accessing your personal technology—your mobile phone, your laptop, and of course your tablet. One thing that I can’t deny is that Osprey knows how to make a good backpack, so even though the Pixel Port isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I knew it would be someone else’s. So I handed the backpack off to a friend who just happened to be researching backpacks already. Here’s what she had to say:

Things that are cool about it:
• Adjustable sternum strap that fits my small frame
• Bright green lining
• Front zipper pocket that’s not too deep, so I never have to fish around for my phone/keys
• Key clip on the inside
• Lots of organization
• My 15.6-inch laptop fits snugly. And when my roommate’s Macbook Air was in there instead, it still felt very secure.
• iPad window—works. But when there’s not an iPad in it, I still used the pocket for small nick-nacks that I didn’t want to have to fish around for (small bottle opener, thimble, pair clips—although there are also other pockets you can put these things in). Once, I left a notepad in there that was open to my to-do list for the day, and that was awesome.
• I like how low-profile this bag is. And also how light it makes three bottles of tequila seem.

I wish it had Velcro so I wouldn’t have to use the clips all the time when I’m running around town with this bag.

The Poxel Port is available in four colors: pinot red, black pepper, chestnut brown and grey herringbone (pictured). Dry weight is 1 lb 10 oz. It retails for $119. www.ospreypacks.com

DZR Marco SPD Polo Shoe Review

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The DZR Marco is a polo-specific SPD-compatible high-top built around a nylon shank that provides a strong, stiff platform for efficient power transfer on the bike, in a style you can wear off. Polo can be a rough sport on the ankles, but the Marco’s high-top design includes a surprising amount of protection. The ankle padding feels like a cross between a lightweight hiking shoe and the pillowy interior of a skateboarding shoe without making them look like a set of clogs. I’ve never really been one for wearing high-tops, but after taking a few knocks, I have to say that I may be converted.

The Marco’s sole is well designed for both clipless and flat pedals. While I ride clipless for polo, I was impressed with the grip the sole had on flat BMX pedals. On the clipless side, the new fiberglass filled nylon shank is noticeably stiffer than earlier DZR models, and reportedly much more durable under serious abuse. The recessed cleats rarely touch the ground, a huge plus for folks using soft cleats, though be prepared to use a spacer under your cleat if you prefer clipless pedals with a platform. Another benefit of the large cleat area is that I didn’t have a problem with mud gumming up my cleats when the weather turned sour. Despite the stiffness of the soles, I was very comfortable wearing the Marcos for the full length of a polo weekend including the six-hour drive to the tournament.

Stylistically I really dig the black with gum sole, and the embossed mallet on the lace strap. The toe box and sides of the Marco are perforated to allow for better ventilation in warmer weather. Given the perforation, I was surprised to notice that my feet never felt as though they were sloshing around in the shoe, even in a torrential downpour. My feet were very wet, but the ventilation made sure that the shoes didn’t fill up with water.

The DZR team has been very receptive to comments from the polo community with regards to what players want from a polo shoe. The $130 Marco addresses the issues I’ve had in the past with other clipless shoes for polo and is worthy of being the first purpose-built polo shoe. www.dzrshoes.com

Contributed by friend of Urban Velo and ever-traveling polo player Nico Paris.

Swiftwick Sustain

Swiftwick SustainSwiftwick’s Sustain line is the only sock on the market that’s made using Repreve post-industrial recycled nylon. These American-made socks feature compression technology and antimicrobial properties, as well as all of the other features you would expect from a purpose made athletic sock.

I know from experience that Swiftwick makes a high-quality product. I got my first pair in 2008 and those socks are still in regular rotation with no real signs of wear and tear. And their merino wool socks are some of my all time favorites.

The Sustain socks have a nice bit of padding on the soles—not too much, but noticeably more than most cycling socks. Swiftwick makes a point of distinguishing themselves in the compression sock market by focusing on the food bed, not just the calf. I can’t say whether they’ve improved my cycling performance, but I can attest to the fact that they’re really comfortable.

The socks in the Sustain line are available in black or white and in a variety of sizes and cuff heights. Retail prices range from $12 to 17. Check out www.swiftwick.com

Five Ten Freerider VXi Elements

Five Ten Freerider VXiFive Ten’s Freerider VXi are high-performance cycling shoes for use with flat pedals. Their primary features are the use of Stealth Mi6 rubber, their new Contact outsole, and DWR treated uppers.

Those familiar with Five Ten know that Stealth Rubber was designed for rock climbing. Several iterations later, they’ve tuned their rubber technology for the cycling world, adding durability and additional shock absorption to their remarkably sticky outsoles. It’s hard to quantify how much traction these shoes provide, but rest assured it’s immediately noticeable.

The Contact design is treadless beneath the ball of the foot. This allows the rider to adjust their foot position without hanging up on the pins that are often used on flat pedals. While not of the utmost concern for the average rider, myself included, this feature is especially useful for technical applications such as jumping and trick riding. And rest assured, the soft and sticky nature of the Stealth Rubber more than makes up for the shoe’s lack of tread, even in wet conditions.

Speaking of wet conditions, the uppers are DWR treated for water resistance. They’re extremely well crafted with an emphasis on durability, and they feature a bit of moisture wicking insulation for cold weather riding. Honestly, I didn’t notice the insulation, I generally expect skate-style shoes to be warmer than others. Considering there is additional foam, I suppose the Five Ten design breathes and wicks better than average. One other thing worth mentioning is that the uppers feature an asymmetrical welt, which provides additional durability for the side of the shoe that faces the crankarm.

I suppose most people will either love or hate the styling. I actually appreciate the rather bold color choices for a change, as these shoes remind me of the skate shoes I used to wear back in the 90′s. In addition to the Ocean Depths color scheme pictured here, there’s a slightly more subdued Dawn Blue/Pewter model.

The Freerider VXi Elements is available in US men’s sizes 2-15 and retails for $120. Check out www.fiveten.com

Swift Industries Pelican Porteur Bag Review

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Racks, baskets and on-the-bike bags are essential accessories for making cycling a part of everyday life, at least as far as I’m concerned. Most people start off with whatever bag they already own slung over their shoulder, gradually making their way through messenger bags and backpacks up until that epiphanic moment of realizing that the bicycle makes an ideal beast of burden and and can carry cargo directly, rather than just on the body of the passenger-engine. Rear racks and panniers are the first choosing of most if for nothing other than availability and general ease of installation, but over the years I’ve learned to love front racks and baskets for most of my cargo hauling. Full touring brings out the traditional side mount panniers, but day to day it’s a backpack for the essentials and front rack for everything else.

Enter the Swift Industries Pelican Porteur bag, an 11″ square bag made specifically to fit the CETMA 5-rail cargo rack. The bag has the classic Cordura outer and vinyl tarp interior combo to keep nature’s elements on the outside, with a set of four clips and straps to attach the bag to the rack at the corners. The square bag has a rolltop design that stands tall for overloading, with a large flap and long straps to keep everything secure. Inside there are a few side pockets for organizing pens, tools and small items with a single zippered outside pocket on the front perfect for the removable shoulder strap and a few other small bits. Besides the rack itself the bag has removeable corrugated plastic inserts in the sides to give it shape — while the rolltop is pliable, the body of the Pelican bag is rigid. Reflective strips, a light loop and a top-mounted clear map pocket round out the bag. For what it’s worth the bag weighs 3 lb 14 oz empty.

Over the course of the summer months I used this bag for daily errands and an overnight camping trip, maxing out the capacity and giving it a run at what I’d imagine most people are using it for. The capacity is more than enough for most anything I’d imagine wanting to commute with on a daily basis; my camera, laptop, lunch, and a change of clothes all fit. The weatherproofing keeps it all dry in a downpour, enough that I wouldn’t worry about electronics in anything but a deluge you shouldn’t be riding in anyway. You can haul a fair amount of groceries home in this Swift bag, especially paired with a backpack, and the rigid sides help to protect delicate fresh cargo. The bag swallowed up my weekly CSA half-share without a problem. For an overnight trip I was able to fit my lightweight tent, sleeping bag, camp kitchen, change of clothing and food for two (check the last image in the below gallery). The finer points of keeping the extra long straps out of the way of the wheels even when unloaded shows that Swift Industries is paying attention.

While the bag is easily removed and reattached to the rack, I found myself leaving the bag at home for some in-town trips as I didn’t want to fuss with it at every lockup. Not an issue with longer commutes, but for running into a few different places in short order (post office, bank, lunch, pharmacy…) I found removing and reattaching it a burden. Cough it up to me being impatient when it comes to my bike being ready to ride. It didn’t help that the carrying strap is on the top, rear corner of the bag, making it awkward to hold as it pitches forward and jostles your cargo (make sure those straps are secure). You could use the removable shoulder strap of course, but that would make the on/off process that much more involved with four clips to the rack, and a clip on either side of the shoulder strap every time you want to remove/reattach the bag. Like any front bag it can interfere with bar mounted lights, and while the bag has a front blinkie light loop, the days of riding around with nothing but an amber blinkie up front are over me. And particular to my use of a front rack I tend to be carrying small boxes here and there frequently, something anything but an empty rack and a few bungees can hurt more than help. The Swift Pelican Porteur is more for backpack replacement or all day rides than box carrying capacity, not an issue for the majority of rides.

Riding with a loaded front rack takes some getting used to, and is perhaps the main criticism of the Pelican Porteur bag. With such capacity it’s easy to overload the front end which can lead to unstable handing, especially to those not used to riding with weight over the front wheel. The unsteadiness goes away with practice — with time I’ve come to strongly prefer the feel of a front rack over that of a similar load on the top of a rear rack. If I was putting in the serious touring miles or going out for multiple days I’d certainly move the load lower to traditional panniers with a lower center of gravity and better handling, but for a quick trip or around town the accessibility of the racktop bag wins out every time.

The Swift Industries Pelican Porteur bag is a lifestyle item, as at home on the commute or the overnight tour. Everything you need for the day fits and stays dry, and the construction is up for daily abuse. The $200 asking price is on par with high quality backpacks and other bags, especially given the Seattle construction out of a small shop of dedicated makers. Choose your own colors and check out the other bags from Swift Industries at www.builtbyswift.com

Road Runner Bags Rolltop Review

IMG_1454 I wanted a go-anywhere carry-anything backpack, and I’d long been searching for a big bag that didn’t swallow me whole beneath it. The second criteria: make all the essentials accessible, even when the bag is jam-packed. The essentials being my notebook, laptop, camera, water bottle, U-lock, wallet, and a jacket. The last hope I held onto in my quest for a better bag: that it would be comfortable—not just carry-able, but comfortable.

Road Runner offers high quality at accessible prices. The bag I’ve been using is the large roll-top, which has a base price of $145. A range of add-ons in the $5-$15 range make it easy to customize any bag to the perfect specs for your needs and taste. I went ahead and added on a half-dozen special pockets and straps, basically the full gamut of options. By the time I’d added the laptop pocket ($15), two side pockets ($10 each), compression straps ($12), waist strap ($15) and a reflective strip across the front pocket ($10), the total price was $217. Even with all the bells and whistles I’d barely broken $200 for a bag that could get me through a summer away from home, and still be practical day-to-day.

Roadrunner Shop Photos 010Affordable, yes, but not cheap. Brad Adams and Brianna Meli both knew how to sew before they met each other, so the pair got off to a running start when they began making bags in 2008. Five years down the line and every detail has been considered and fine-tuned to fulfill any cyclist’s survival needs.

“If you spend a lot of time doing anything you’ll be good at it,” says Adams. The pair have their production process down to a science. Working in tandem across the four sewing machines in their workshop it takes just three hours to turn the raw materials into a practical and stylish do-it-all backpack.

With a rolled height of 20 inches and an unrolled height of 28” there is ample room for clothes, shoes, books, food, gadgets, tools—you name it. The compression straps make any load secure so whatever is inside can stay put.

There’s a thin layer of padding on the back, and it’s just enough to soften the pressure of any load and keep the odd chunky object from jabbing into my back. It is not so thick that it feels bulky or creates extra heat (less “bag back”). The bag is soft from the start, so it hardly needs a breaking-in period. The reinforced strip of Cordura at the top makes for easy rolling.

The most useful standard features are the key rings on each shoulder strap and the quick release buckles at the bottom of them, making it easy to unclip a strap and get to a U-lock stashed in the side pocket with quick access to your keys as well. I found the shoulder-level position of the key rings to be more convenient than my belt loop, and handy for having a bandanna and whistle easily reachable as well. The release on the straps is also convenient for freeing yourself from very heavy loads, like groceries or a case of beer, without shimmying your arm through a tightened strap.

Speaking of beer, the inside of the bag is fully waterproof and can be transformed into full-on portable cooler, while the ample front pockets offer enough space to carry anything you wouldn’t want chilling on ice—say your phone, wallet, tools, etc. The front pockets include the laptop sleeve, one wide document pocket and two front zip pockets, each 8 inches by 8 inches. For someone who may be a bit organizationally challenged, or likes to always be prepared with anything, these extra pockets are invaluable.

There is a strap and buckle over the roll top that is useful for times when the bag is stuffed so full it van be rolled (which I found to be a rare occasion) as well as for carrying delicate items, like bread or bananas, at the top of a full bag, allowing for any cargo to be secure. Side snaps on the roll top make closing and rolling it up a cinch—another example of a thoughtful detail that, while not functionally critical, makes all the difference.

Smart design is applied to all of the straps as well, from the ½-inch padded shoulder straps start close enough in to the center that they’ll never slide off and angled out to wrap snugly around the torso. These straps are intuitive; there’s no fumbling around to slip your arm into the second strap while you’re trying to get out the door or jump on your bike. Loop pulls on the end of each should strap and on the waist and chest straps keep the excess length from dangling, and D-rings at the end of every cinch and buckle make it easy to make adjustments while on the move.

IMG_1441I have only two rather minor complaints: I wish the side pockets were a bit roomier — my large U-lock fits snugly, but it would be nice to not have to wrestle it out. The cinch straps on the pockets are handy, and another reason why a roomier pocket on an otherwise well-dimensioned bag probably wouldn’t hurt any. The second issue is this: I love that there’s a light loop on the back, but I wish it was on the left side (traffic side) or along the center of the front pocket flap rather than on the right. However I noticed that most Road Runner bags actually do have the light loop placed in the center, either at the bottom of the bag or on the flap top.

I’ve done everything with the bag from pack it for a summer-long three-month trip to use it for overnight bike camping trips; for groceries and laundry, for piles of books and cases of beer. When it comes down to it, this bag is functionally amazing, and a huge help in responding to the demands of the day, on and off the bike.

All-City Macho Man Disc Review

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Cyclocross bikes have long made great commuter bikes. Slightly overbuilt frames and parts, lower gears, stronger brakes, and clearance for larger tires and fenders as compared to most road options, cyclocross bikes make a compelling argument as the right tool for the committed commuter. Add in the ability to hit mixed surface roads and sections of single- or double-track trail and it’s easy to see why many choose ‘cross bikes for the daily grind and the weekend thrills. When I want to cover some ground and have no particular direction in mind more often than not I choose a cyclocross bike, with the All-City Macho Man Disc being my wheels of choice as the summer days turn to autumn.

With ‘cross racing booming, many bikes on the market have trended away from durable and versatile frames toward lightweight machines more suited to number plates and training rides than endless exploring. The Macho Man Disc has race-proven geometry in a full chromoly steel package, sacrificing weight in the name of disc brakes and bike lifestyle compatibility without compromising on the cyclocross heritage. The double butted frame has internal toptube cable routing for easy portage and forged dropouts with a chainstay rear disc mount. Full length housing throughout keeps the shifting and braking in order no matter the conditions. Fender mounts on the frame and lugged crown fork make it commuter friendly, and full ED coating inside and out helps to prevent corrosion when the going gets wet. An English threaded bottom bracket shell is welcome in this age of press-in bearings, and the subtle touches of a front deraileur pulley mount (for traditional bottom pull road deraileurs) and a barrel adjuster are not to be overlooked—it’s the details like this that matter and make it clear that the bike is designed by people that ride.

The stock Macho Man Disc build leaves little to be desired in terms of performance even if it lacks any particular pizzaz. The Shimano 105 shifters are finely tuned shifting machines at this point, leaving little reason besides weight and fashion to go with higher end choices. The rest of the drivetrain is a mix of Shimano with a 10-speed 12-28 cassette and an FSA crankset with 46/36 rings rounding it out. Color me impressed with the Hayes CX-5 mechanical disc brakes—they performed on-par with other mechanical versions with easy setup, plenty of power and very little fade. Wheels are easy targets for criticism with complete bikes and while the Formula hubs and v-section Alex rims perform just fine I’d prefer to see the classic looks and weight savings of shallower box-section rims and even butted spokes. The 58 cm bike as reviewed weighs 26.7 lbs—nothing that was holding me back, but it is worth noting the weight penalty that comes not only with the disc calipers but the frame bits and wheels to make them work as compared to a similarly spec’d bike with rim brakes.

On the road and on the trail I couldn’t ask for much more bike than the Macho Man Disc. It’s a predictable, comfortable ride all around but not sluggish in the least. The bike just feels fast, and makes me want to ride more miles more often. Cyclocross geometry isn’t far from road bikes these days and the Macho Man Disc is no exception, with the same bottom bracket drop as All-City’s Mr. Pink road bike but with a slightly longer wheelbase and slightly slacker head/seat angles. On pavement the bike feels more like a road bike than a slowly plodding touring bike, but those subtle geometry changes make it a capable performer for the unplanned left turn onto secret double-track trail. It’s by no means a mountain bike but I didn’t let that stop me from picking my way through rocky park trails a time or two—the stopping power of disc brakes makes riding on inappropriate trails far less daunting than underpowered cantilevers as far as I’m concerned. Sugar is sweet and so is honey, the Macho Man is on a roll.

If I had to list wishes, I could see wanting seatstay rack mounts or even a third bottle boss for the epic rides this bike is otherwise suited for. Losing some weight around the middle would be appreciated, but comes at an ever escalating cost. As it stands, a great ride—a race bike you can live with. Give me open trails or a gravel road and I’d be quite happy to rip it all day. The All-City Macho Man Disc is available complete as tested for $1795 or as a roll-your-own frameset for $650.

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

City Reports