Review: Bern FL-1 helmet

Bern FL1 helmet-1

Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $100 ($120 with MIPS)

Bern helmets are common in urban environments, ski slopes, skate parks and dirt jumps. While Bern’s skate-style helmets are stylish and functional, the FL-1 is the company’s first product for bike riders with a sporty mindset.

The FL-1 retains some of Bern’s signature look while dropping weight and adding ventilation. I got my hands on an early sample, and it is quickly becoming a go-to helmet for me. The BOA fit system is effective and comfortable, and the 18 vents and internal channels provided plenty of airflow.

I wore this helmet on tons of rides, including a 70 mile dirt road race, an afternoon in the desert outside Las Vegas, and dozens of shorter commutes and mountain bike rides, and it never felt out of place.

Visually it might not work so well with a full Lycra kit, but maybe that’s just me. I dig the style of this helmet, an interesting blend of urban sophistication and roadie performance, although I’m not a huge fan of the gloss white colorway. If white doesn’t trip your trigger either, you can pick from matte black, dark silver, or neon yellow.

A version with a visor is coming as well for the more dirt oriented among us. Good looks, good price, MIPS options and plenty of ventilation, this is a great choice for a rider looking for roadie performance without the in-the-peloton looks.

More info: Bern FL-1

 

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Review: 4 bike locks to protect your ride

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Tallac Vier

Price: $90
Tester: Eric McKeegan

Tallac is a small company in southern California specializing in a few small bike accessories. The Vier lock is an interesting take on the long-established U-lock. Made up of four pieces that can be quickly disassembled and stored in the included zippered pouch, the Vier provides full-size U-lock performance in a bundle the size of a burrito.

The pouch can easily be slipped into a bag or strapped to the saddle rails or in a bottle cage. Tallac is also working on a special carrier that mounts to the bottle cage eyelets. Only one side of the Vier locks, and the shackles attach to the other end with a quarter turn. Everything about this lock looks and feels extremely high quality, with a fit and finish as good as anything I’ve used.

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The shackles come in three lengths: 5.25, 7.25 and 9.25 inches. I used the middle length and found it big enough to lock a steel frame and front wheel off the bike, but just barely. The larger size looks big enough to secure at least two bikes.

The Vier lock started life as a successful crowd-funded campaign, so the demand for this lock exists. While my locking needs are often met with a U-lock shoved into a back pocket, riders with a need for high security in a small package should take a look at the Vier.

More info: Tallac House

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Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini

Price: $114
Tester: Justin Steiner

Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit Mini is a burly little lock. On Kryptonite’s 1 to 10 security scale, this beefy lock registers a 10 thanks to an 18 mm, triple-heat-treated shackle and an oversized, hardened steel barrel. Because both ends of the shackle lock, it would need to be cut in two places to be defeated.

With that promise of security comes a big anti-theft protection guarantee of $4,500 should your bike get stolen. This protection is free for the first year, but must be renewed afterward at $10 for a second year or $15 for a second and third year of coverage. Of course, you’ll want to register your lock and read all the fine print on that agreement to make sure you’re in compliance.

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As great as the security and protection may be, living with the Fahgettaboudit Mini has its challenges. The 3.25 x 6 inch opening inside the shackle can limit your locking options, particularly on bikes with wide tires.

If you’re running narrow tires you’ll be able to remove and lock the front wheel with the frame and rear wheel, but the odds of doing so decrease as tire size increases. It’s also a chunker, weighing it at 4.6 lbs. If you live in an area that requires high security, you don’t have much choice. Outside of areas requiring ultra-high security, the Fahgettaboudit Mini might be overkill.

More info: Kryptonite Lock

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Abus Bordo Centium

Price: $150
Tester: Adam Newman

Here at Bicycle Times we’re big fans of the Bordo family of folding locks from Abus, and the latest Centium model continues our love affair with the German craftsmanship. If you haven’t used one before, the Bordo locks are made from a series of steel plates that unfold into a kind of rope. It’s utterly fantastic for locking to strangely shaped racks, looping through a wheel and making locking up a lot easier than it would be with a small U-lock.

Abus rates the Centium as a 10 on its scale of theft prevention, out of a possible 15, so it’s got you pretty well covered against most kinds of attacks. In highly vulnerable places I’ve taken to using a U-lock through the rear wheel with the “Sheldon Brown method” and the Bordo on the frame and front wheel. You can also order one with a specific key code, so if you have multiple Abus locks with the Plus cylinder you can use them all with the same key. With more than 250,000 key possibilities, that could come in handy.

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The 5 mm steel links have a protective coating to prevent scratching your bike, and the stainless steel lock case—carved from a single piece of steel—has a cover for the key cylinder, a nice feature if there’s freezing moisture in the air. Ice can ruin your day in more ways than one.

The Centium comes with an attractive mount with a leather trimmed Velcro strap and a steampunk vibe. While I like the looks, it’s definitely heavier than the simple plastic holster of the other Bordo locks, so don’t be looking to save weight there. However the new bracket is side-loading instead of top-loading, which makes getting the lock in and out a lot easier. At 2.75 pounds, including the bracket, the complete unit is quite hefty, but I’ll trade a bit of weight for security any day.

There’s obviously a little flare to the Centium that you don’t normally get on bike locks, and it’s reflected in the price. For example, it ships in a very attractive commemorative wooden box built for Abus by a local nonprofit agency that empowers and teaches skills to developmentally disabled individuals. Like all Abus products it is made in Germany with more than a century of of lock-making expertise behind it. Whichever Abus Bordo model you choose I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

More info: Abus Locks

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Hiplok Gold

Price: $130
Tester: Jon Pratt

From time to time we all need to lock up our bikes in questionable surroundings. For this you need a good, strong lock. However, those kinds of locks are usually heavy and difficult to carry without bags or attachments on your person or bike. This is where the Hiplok Gold comes to the rescue.

Hiploks are easily worn around the waist and provide extreme protection for your bike. This Gold version has a 10 mm thick, hardened steel chain that carries Sold Secure’s (a U.K. security testing company) highest rating of Gold. The chain is wrapped in a tough nylon outer sleeve, which protects your clothes, bike and the object you are locking to from damage. The lock features a 12 mm hardened steel shackle and a brass locking mechanism wrapped up in impact resistant plastic.

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All that security weighs in at a hefty 5.3 pounds. However, because the chain is worn around your waist, the weight is dispersed well and not much of a bother. A handy clip secures the Hiplok around your waist, so you do not have to lock and unlock to get it on and off. It’s super simple and fast. You can also adjust the length of the belt so that it will fit comfortably on waists from 28 to 44 inches.

Since I don’t have to take something along to carry the Hiplok, it has become my go-to lock when traveling around town. Just throw it on and off you go! I have also found the 33.5-inch chain and lock long enough to secure two bikes together in most situations, and even more if you get creative.

The Hiplok Gold is available worldwide, and there are several Hiplok variations available—I particularly like the highly reflective Superbright series.

More info: Hiplok

 

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Ode to bike baskets and a Wald review

When I got into cycling 15 years ago, racks were for randonneurs and cross-country riders and people who “had” to commute by janky, clapped-out bikes (the cool kids rode fixies and carried hulking messenger bags). Front baskets were only for brightly-colored women’s-specific cruisers. In short, anything that was simply functional was dorky to me: a teenaged roadie wearing white Spandex and maniacally hammering farm roads under a brutal Texas sun. (Any irony was clearly lost on me, at the time.)

When I moved to a certified bicycle friendly city in Colorado and began running errands by bike, I carried an enormous backpack and learned to suffer under heavy loads. Fortunately, in recent years, the cycling culture has shifted—a shift that put a renewed focus on adventure travel, everyday cycling and bike-as-useful-tool. The idea of leaving your car at home to run short errands has finally trickled down from big city centers. I think one of the best things to come out of it is the general acceptance of the rack and basket.

So, of course, I had to try it. I’m not so much a trend follower as I am a good-idea follower, and a set of racks seemed like a good idea. I settled on a large, sturdy, traditional rear rack for panniers and a long, flat surface for lashing things to, paired with a small front rack platform that would leave room for a handlebar bag. Because Velo Orange already has a lot of my money—its lovely offerings constituting a candy shop for bicycle beautifying addicts like myself—I chose a few items from its stock and ordered them up.

It wasn’t without consternation that I choked down the $80 price tag on a VO Pass Hunter Front Rack with a mere 4-inch by 8-inch platform. My esophagus tightened further after I found the rack didn’t fit on either of the bikes I could have installed it on, and even further when I discovered that the cantilever brake post mounts aren’t functionally adjustable.

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Meanwhile, on my cycling-heavy Instagram feed, I started seeing a wire basket with lanky mounting legs showing up on everything from vintage bar bikes to full-on road/gravel touring rigs. I liked the idea: just shove crap in there as needed. Some were big enough for a box of pizza. All of them were big enough for a bag of donuts, a six pack, a copy of War and Peace and a spare jacket. Or, camping gear.

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The baskets I saw most are those made by Wald Cycle Company, which has been in existence since 1905. Needless to say, I’m way late to the party in “discovering” this company. Wald’s components and accessories have been Kentucky-made since the 1920s, and yet its prices are startlingly reasonable.

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Front baskets range in price from a mere $20 to a slightly more luxurious $55 for a model with a wooden platform included. There’s even a version with a quick-release bar mount that allows you to pop off the basket without tools and take it with you to do your shopping. The price, spaciousness and universal fit of the Walds swayed me. I paid a whopping $25 for my made-in-the-USA “Multi-Fit” model and needed all of five minutes and one Phillip’s screwdriver to install it. I didn’t even need to look at the directions; common sense sufficed.

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The generously sized bar clamps work on all diameters and set the basket far enough away from the bars to allow room for even the messiest of cable clusters. The legs are just about infinitely adjustable and can mount on all kinds of forks or the hub skewer. The result is a basket that’s damn sturdy. Even when I decide to take the dirt detours into town, I don’t hear any rattling or notice any unnerving movement. With a few, cheap elastic straps across the top, there’s not much I can’t carry that I need on a regular basis. The basket’s dimensions are roughly 14.5 inches by 9.5 inches by 9 inches, with a two-inch taper at the bottom.

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Indeed, a Wald basket may look a bit gauche. It’s not sleek and understated like the lovely VO rack I started with—and really wish would have fit. Big baskets also make your bike’s front end heavy and floppy. The Multi-Fit’s heft is three pounds, but the bike I put it on is early-90s lugged steel with a set of ancient bullmoose handlebars that, alone, probably weigh as much as the rest of the bike put together. I’m not worried about the weight of the Wald.

The Wald’s overall quality seems excellent, though I haven’t had it long enough to comment on longevity or how it holds up over time under repeated heavy loads. Still, I feel plenty confident recommending it and, thanks to the four-pints price, I will probably purchase a smaller one for my 1984 Bridgestone T700 touring bike.

 

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Review: Bell Helmets Soul

Bell Soul Official

The Soul is part of Bell Helmet’s women’s Joy Ride collection. It’s an all-purpose lid with options to run an attached soft cloth visor, a hard plastic visor or roadie style with neither. The Soul features Bell’s TAG fit system to adjust the circumference around your head. “Overbrow ventilation” and 22 vents are designed to pull in cool air and push out warm air by circulating the breeze through specific channels inside the helmet.

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Bell’s helmets have always fit me nicely, and the extremely comfortable Soul was no exception. Bell’s rear fit adjustment system works as well as ever. The big, rear dial is easy to find with gloved fingers without being so bulky as to look outrageous. I don’t feel any strange pinch or pressure points when tightening the dial as far as it will go and never developed a headache on longer rides. I don’t know if a ponytail will fit through the rear opening. There is little bit of room back there, and I suppose it depends on how thick your hair is.

The chin straps and buckle are straightforward and classic—nothing to see here that will either confuse or wow you. I found their position to be just right: neither too far forward or back. I could get this helmet plenty tight without feeling like I might choke.

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Speaking of looks—while I acknowledge they are personal preference—I say Bell nailed a pleasing style with the Soul, which is why I wanted to test it. The Soul comes in well under $100 (retail is $75), offer excellent features and sports a classic appearance without looking either too plain or too pro-white-Lycra-racer-boy-ish, though I could do without the giant logo on one side. The Soul also offers a narrow front profile, which means you won’t look like a bobble-head doll while wearing it (a problem I often have).

My only complaint is that I couldn’t get the soft visor to flip down, so its value in providing shade on particularly sunny days was minimal. For those times, I just grabbed the plastic visor, which snaps on with ease.

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The Soul got a few, small fit tweaks that differentiate it from other Bell helmets. Otherwise, the primary differences between Joy Ride Collection helmets and not are unique color palates. I appreciate that every lid in the collection comes in black for those of us not wild about so-called feminine colors. The Soul is also available in a fetching white/light blue combo with a red logo.

 

Bell Soul White duo

If you want one helmet to serve all riding purposes, the Bell Soul is a great option to consider. I only wish they offered it with MIPS technology. I’d buy that one in a heartbeat. This helmet weighs 259 grams, which is plenty light enough to set it and forget it.

More info: Bell Helmets Soul

 

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