Tester: Jon Pratt
The Hub helmet from Bell is designed with the urban cyclist in mind. Featuring a whopping 15 large vents, this is one breezy helmet. Great for those long, warm commutes, but not so great for those chilly ones unless you wear some additional headgear.
There’s an integrated blinky clip on the back of the helmet and a good bit of protection for the back of your noggin. The rear retention dial is very glove friendly and can easily be operated with your thumb and index finger. The top of the dial housing even has an indentation that cradles your index finger for better grip. Nice. The ratcheting chin strap is very glove friendly as well. The button to lock and unlock the system is large and easy to locate but recessed enough as not to allow unintended unlocking.
The overall helmet is very comfortable, partly due to the large, soft mesh pad that runs along the centerline of the helmet from the crown of your head to the front visor hole. There is another soft mesh pad that runs along the front of the helmet, stretching from temple to temple. In conjunction with the internal retention system, these pads make for a secure fit. There is also a short brim integrated into the front pad. The brim has reflective piping along the edge and can be flipped up for an uninterrupted view of the road in front of you.
For urban environments I like the very visible black/neon option, but if it’s too much Captain Safety for you, Bell offers other color choices: matte black, matte gunmetal, matte platinum and white. The Hub runs true to size and comes in small, medium and large; weighing a reasonable 365 grams.
The only thing I see missing is a MIPS option. Yes, MIPS adds to cost, but I don’t like putting a price tag on my health. Bell’s MIPS-infused Annex helmet, which is similar to the Hub, retails for $125. The more expensive Annex also features vents that can be closed for cold weather use.
More info: Bell Hub
A while back I got a note from Barry Ward, who had started sewing handy handlebar bags. I tried a few out and quickly fell in love, so I was excited to learn that he recently founded a new company around his venture called Durango Sewing Solutions.
Ward got his start in rock climbing and was making some bomber climbing gear in the late ‘80s through the mid ‘90s. The company he worked for, A5 Adventures, was eventually acquired by The North Face. He wasn’t done creating though, and had a few other brands along the way, including Kokopelli Designs and HIFA Products. In 2015 he moved to Durango, Colorado, and a new project was born.
While these bags are a minor evolution over the previous generations, they continue to impress me with how useful they are. From commuting to touring to bikepacking to just cruising around the block, these handlebar bags keep goodies close at hand and secure. Fill ‘em with snacks, a small camera, a water bottle or really anything that you want easy access to. A good sign that the design works is that there are now a dozen or more bag makers with similar products.
Made from X-Pac and sewn by Ward himself, they have a drawstring closure on the top and a small foam puck in the bottom to help keep their shape. With a symmetric design, they can be used on either side of the stem. An adjustable loop with a buckle goes around the fork crown to keep it from swaying. This tall version will swallow a 24 oz. water bottle whole.
I’m not sure who designed these types of bags first, but Ward’s are the ones I fell in love with. His Durango Sewing Handlebar Buckets are available in short ($35), regular ($35) or deluxe ($40, pictured). The deluxe model has an exterior mesh pocket for empty snack wrappers or other small items: a $5 upgrade that’s totally worth it.
It’s rare that I ride a bike these days without one of these attached.
Ward let us know that he wasn’t the founder of A5, but joined the team early on.Tweet Print
As you’ve likely noticed from reading this magazine and elsewhere, bikepacking and rackless touring has reenergized the bike touring market. What began as a niche sport supported by products from a few boutique brands has now hit the mainstream and the major players are getting involved.
No stranger to bike touring, Blackburn is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, having been dedicated to open road adventures since day one. The Outpost seat bag and handlebar roll are its foray into the lightweight touring scene and offer classic features with some unique twists. The seat pack ($120) attaches to your saddle rails and seatpost and consists of two pieces: an outer sling and a removable, roll-top stuff sack.
Rated at 10.5 liters it is more than enough to swallow a sleeping bag and a small tent, and the extra lash points on the back let you strap even more on. The buckles have locking adjusters, which makes it really handy to overstuff as well, as you can tuck in a jacket or other loose items and keep them secure. The included dry bag is a separate piece that you can pull out and take in your tent with you. The sling works best if the dry bag is filled at least half way to fill it out and prevent it from sagging.
In use, the Seat Pack offers a ton of storage capacity, but it does wag a bit from side to side. It’s largely out-of-sight-out-of-mind, though, and I’m willing to put up with it. I had no complaints about the build quality but, compared to the boutique seat packs on the market, the material used is thicker and heavier.
The Handlebar roll ($100) uses a similar modular layout consisting of a harness that holds a dry bag. This bag is open on both ends so you don’t have to unpack the whole thing if your jacket is at the one end. It also make it easier to pack. Inside the sling harness is a Velcro patch to keep the dry bag in place. The harness attaches to the handlebars with a quick release mechanism so it protrudes a good bit out and doesn’t interfere with shifters or brakes.
The extra lash points here are also handy for overflow storage and the red security strap keeps the whole setup from rotating downward on your handlebars should you hit a big bump. I appreciated the Handlebar Roll’s equally large storage capacity but feel the plastic quick release system is largely superfluous. Because it is so easy to unbuckle the stuff sack, I don’t see the need for a second means of removing it. I would trade that convenience for a simpler, lighter design.
Worth noting is proper installation to make it function well. The bracket has been updated for fall 2016 with a wire safety support instead of the plastic one on the first version (pictured here). The red strap is also important as a secondary method of keeping the whole setup from rotating down into your front tire (see the green arrow above).
The Blackburn bags offer a good compromise of cost and features if you don’t need the lightest handmade gear. The Seat Pack especially is a good way to haul a lot of stuff without adding a rear rack.