There are a lot of “safety” (as in, be-seen) cycling lights out there and, to be honest, they aren’t all that different. Pick one with a style, price and lumen output that suits your needs and run it until it runs out. When CatEye’s series of Rapid lights showed up, I shrugged, put them on one of my bikes and went about my errand running and rambling.
Turns out, I quite like them. These Rapids are aesthetically pleasing and could not be easier to operate. The large, raised power button on the side of each light makes them simple to turn on and off without needing to look down or employ finger gymnastics. The streamlined, non-bulky shape means the Rapids don’t stick out obtrusively and sit tidily in line with seatposts, seatstays, fork legs and handlebars alike. Since I run many of my seatposts low enough that a saddlebag will take up most of the available space, I appreciate the ability to mount the Rapid on a bike’s seatstay.
The light emitted isn’t limited to a single, straight-ahead beam. The light beams fan out nearly 90 degrees on each side, improving your headlight visibility and making it more likely that others will see your rear light, even if they aren’t directly behind you.
The mounting system is as simple as it gets. I applaud the current trend toward lights that are quick to take off and put on without tools, allowing you to swap lights between/among bikes with ease. Each light comes with two sizes of rubber bands for varying post sizes (including aero posts, if that’s your thing) and a clip for using on a backpack or saddle bag. Also available is the “Spacer X,” which allows you to mount the light to other random things, such as rack brackets or specialized saddle clips.
Those rubber bands are easy to lose, especially when you’re regularly undoing the light to charge it. Slide the band over the light or onto the bike’s handlebar as soon as you remove it so that it doesn’t wander off. Also unknown is how long the rubber bands will last with all the stretching. That said, an old-fashioned rubber band from your cubicle desk drawer, or a hair tie, would surely work in a pinch.
The CatEye Rapid light family features three models, each available in red rear and white front lights. They are powered by LEDs and offer several combinations of flashing modes, low battery auto-save functions and side visibility. The lights are charged by micro USB cables (included).
The insanely bright Rapid X3—brighter than even the 65-lumen Bontrager Flare R we tested and liked a few months ago—utilizes two strips of LED lights, which are operated separately by the two side buttons. In all, you can get 48 combinations of light modes out of the X3 and feel more confident about being seen during daylight hours, as well as at night.
Max output: 25 lumens front/rear
Charge time: 2 hours
Run time: 1 hour on high mode to 30 hours on flashing mode
Weight (each): 22 grams
Price (each): $30
Max output: 100 lumens front/50 rear
Charge time: 2 hours
Run time: 1 hour on high mode to 30 hours on flashing mode
Weight (each): 30.5 grams
Price (each): $50
Max output: 200 lumens front/100 rear
Charge time: 3 hours
Run time: 1 hour in high mode to 30 hours on flashing mode
Weight (each): 46 grams
Price (each): $60
See all of the lights here: CatEye Safety Lights
Blaq Design Kagero – $250
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Blaq Designs makes a variety of sturdy bags out of Portland, Oregon. How sturdy? Blaq says “We believe that a bag should be able to endure being thrown on the ground, kicked to the curb, ridden through a rainstorm, sprayed with a line of road grime, and over-stuffed with sharp objects. For year after year after year after year.” That sounds like my kinda bag.
Blaq sent me the Kagero, an new mid-size, roll-top addition to its two strap line-up. A heavy-duty seamless floating tarp liner has proven to be absolutely watertight, but the zippered front pocket is unlined and only water resistant. The external material is heavy cordura, the single zipper is super-beefy and all straps and buckles feel more than strong enough for the job. Six compression straps can keep the bag small, and the contents tight; I only used the pair around the side pockets to keep my water bottle and u-lock from bouncing out. I’d be into longer straps on the bottom of the bag to secure bulky stuff like a jacket, yoga mat, or bed roll, a few more inches would help a lot.
Internal organization is limited to a laptop sleeve, which is well protected by the padded back panel. The shoulder straps are wide and comfortable, and I’m thankful for the waist belt, which keeps the bag from bouncing around when my commutes get too rad for just shoulder straps. This is well designed and executed bag.
The $250 price tag includes custom colors in the body, trim, liner and logo. For ten bucks more, you get a reflective stripe across the bottom or top. Backed by a generous lifetime warranty, the Kagero is a serious investment for the rider who asks a lot of a bag.
More info: blaqpaks.com
Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter Backpack – $160
Tester: Justin Steiner
Though Thule is a name most often associated with racks and cargo boxes, the company has been steadily branching out by producing panniers, backpacks and travel cases. We’ve been impressed with all of the Thule bags we’ve tested over the years and this pack is no different. Quality construction and materials certainly help justify the asking price.
The main compartment is accessed via a zippered, roll-top closure. Inside, a removable laptop sleeve accommodates up to a 15-inch machine and a 10-inch tablet. This removable sleeve connects to the bag’s back panel, suspending it from the bottom of the bag. With 24 liters of capacity, this bag’s middle-of-the-road size is perfect for commutes where you need to carry a flat repair kit, computer, change of clothes, shoes and your lunch.
I really appreciate the genius, hard-shell pocket on the side of the bag. It’s the perfect place to protect items like your glasses or phone. The organizer pockets on the front of the bag are well-sorted and convenient to use. A rain cover and helmet holder deploy out of the bottom of the bag when needed.
Two minor gripes. First, while including a zipper on the roll-top closure provides an extra level of security; it also adds another step to the process of opening and closing the bag. Second, I’m a big fan of waist straps on backpacks designed for riding, and wish this bag offered one. The added stability is welcome for anyone who likes to jump the occasional curb on the way home from work. Ultimately, this bag’s positives far outweigh those minor drawbacks.
More info: thule.com
Ortlieb Velocity – $115
Tester: Katherine Fuller
This bag has seemingly been around forever, which is about as long as I think I’ve owned mine. While the Velocity is not new, it’s notable if what you want is a waterproof, indestructible, cavernous bag that is as simple and reliable as they come. Think of it as a pannier for your back. Capacity is 20 liters, or 1,220 cubic inches. If I’m stocked up on basics, I can stuff a week’s worth of groceries in there.
The Velocity features a stiff but padded back, padded shoulder straps, and beefy chest and waist buckles. The placement of the back foam allows for some welcome air circulation. Inside, there’s a small organizer pocket helpful for a wallet and keys that snaps to the rear of the pack (the snaps means it’s removable). There is a useful handle at the top, a place to clip a light on the back, a little reflective logo on the rear and not much else. But what else do you need?
I carry my laptop in it only after encasing it in a padded cover as there is no laptop compartment. Without anything else in the bag, the laptop will flop forward and back inside the pack, so make sure to at least stuff a rain jacket in there, or something else that will hold the computer in place.
Notably, the roll top closes best if you roll it toward the back even though rolling it down toward the front is more natural. Rolling it toward the front will cause you to think the Velcro strap isn’t long enough. If you still think that, Ortlieb sells a Velcro strap extender, as well as a cellphone holster for the shoulder straps.
In all, I really like the Velocity, which is why I bought it with my own money a few years ago. I was overwhelmed by choice in commuter packs and settled on this because it’s waterproof, unpretentious, unfussy and comfortable when loaded down. I use it all the time.
More info: ortliebusa.com
The Timbuk2 Especial Raider is a super-lightweight backpack (weighing less than one pound) specifically created to carry your clothing from home to office by bike. Designed in collaboration with Mission Cycling Club, this pack was graced with an award from the Industrial Designers Society of America shortly after its launch.
I’m generally a curmudgeon about items this specific and while I can empathize with the design inspiration—cyclists sick of using bulky and hot hiking packs to schlep their dress whites to work—I tend to lean toward universal gear.
And yet, it works. While I no longer have a daily commute, I remember the shower-stall dance of trying to keep clean clothes off the floor or in one place. The internal organization and built-in hanging hook of the Especial Raider makes this easy even in small, cramped spaces. The outside mesh pockets can be used to briefly stash your deodorant and socks while you’re hopping around in your shower shoes trying not to touch the walls. Count me impressed.
Inside, you’ll find a removable back board that provides stiffness and keeps your folded clothes from collapsing to the bottom of the bag. It includes a big Velcro strap to use in securing garments in their own, closed pouch, keeping them separate from everything else. Shoes get their own pockets that allow you to face their dirty soles away from other items and keeping access to other items free and clear. Despite a small profile, the pack is rather cavernous even after your workwear is secured. There’s plenty of room left for a rain jacket, a few toiletries, brownbag lunch, tablet and small purse. Just don’t overload it with a bunch of heavy items before a long ride or it won’t be particularly comfortable.
Outside, there’s a top pocket with an internal key clip for small items and mesh side pockets for a water bottle, a (well-sealed) coffee thermos or just a place to stash that fresh croissant you picked up along the way to the office. The bottom of the pack is made from a much tougher material that is covered with reflectivity and wipes clean simply with a wet paper towel. There’s also a place to clip a rear light.
The machine-washable ripstop fabric is paired with an airmesh ventilated back panel, shoulder straps that have one point of adjustment and a chest strap, but no waist/hip strap. That is my only (slight) peeve with this backpack. On our last ride together, I had somewhat overstuffed the pack and was hammering along the bike path to make it home before sundown. The pack wiggled around on my back, sliding on my smooth wind jacket a little too much despite how much I cinched down the available straps. Even a thin, lightweight waist strap would be much appreciated.
Otherwise, I have zero complaints; this thing is rad for it’s intended purpose. The pack lays flat once empty, making it easy to stash in a desk drawer or other tiny space for small-cube dwellers. Did I mention it is machine-washable? That’s significant for any piece of gear associated with an office. Once the pack starts to stink, toss that sucker into the wash as a courtesy to your coworkers.
Overall, the Especial Raider must be thought of as an ultralight pack. Don’t expect to also use it for hauling bulky and heavy items, on rugged mountain bike excursions through the woods or during downpours (it’s not waterproof nor seam-sealed but Timbuk2 does sell a waterproof pack cover that you might want to snag). It wasn’t designed for any of that. It was designed for bicycle commuters and, for that intended purpose, it is very successful.
The Especial Raider comes in several color variations of black, red and grey, and features a lifetime warranty. Considering Timbuk2 items trend toward being indestructible (my Timbuk2 messenger bag is nearly 15 years old), this backpack’s sub-$100 price tag is probably well worth it.
Price: $79 (some colors currently on sale)
More info: timbuk2.com