Plus tires aren’t just for mountain bikes anymore. With the success of oversized tires firmly established in the dirt, the originator of the plus tire movement is moving to road bikes as the next likely target. Yes, Road Plus is a thing, and in a lot of ways, it might be an even better application of oversized tires on smaller wheels.
Designed to fit into endurance road bikes designed around midsize 700c tires (28-35), the Byway (and its knobby-less cousin, the Horizon) claims to add comfort and versatility to drop bar bikes.
The Byway uses a dual compound, with firmer rubber in the center for speed, softer on the sides for cornering grip. The tan sidewall is a good compromise between thin and supple or thick and supportive. I like the transition from slick to file tread to slim cornering knobs.
Tubeless setup on a set of Sun Charger wheels was accomplished with a floor pump, and I stuck to 40 psi for the entire review period. At those pressures, the Byways rolled along pavement much like a wide 700c tire, but the 540 gram weight was noticeable when picking up the pace or trying to chase down a wheel. I won’t be entering any road races with these tires, but outside of that, they won’t ruin your day, even if your ride is solely on pavement.
But not riding dirt on these tires would be a crying shame. They absolutely shine in dry, loose conditions, adding a level of comfort and control that had me wishing for a dropper post to go get just a little more rad. I’ve spent some time on Horizons, and they can get pretty sketched out in loose gravel, the Byways manage to keep it all together. Those tiny cornering knobs don’t look like much to riders used to mountain bike tires, but they make a noticeable difference. Those knobs give up some corner speed to the Horizons on the road, but since most of my road riding is done getting to the dirt, I’ll take that trade-off.
They aren’t ideal in wet conditions, as the side knobs become very unpredictable in off-camber situations. That slick center doesn’t offer much traction for braking in the slime. That said, they do a lot better than expected, and being gentle with pedal, steering and braking inputs kept me upright through a lot more slop than I expected. WTB recently released the Resolute, a slightly skinnier tire with similar side knobs and actual tread in the middle of the tire, which should make it a better choice when things get sloppy.
I’m going to guess that most riders of my weight will be fine at pressures lower than 40 psi, but I was happy with the cornering and sidewall support at 40, and combined with a steel frame and fork, these tires are a magic carpet ride, even compared to the 700×38 tires I was previously using. I’ve become pretty adept at pinch flatting on dirt roads, even with pressures as high as 55 psi in 700×40 tires, so I’m very happy to have some proper tubeless tires that can handle my dirt-road antics.
I tip my hat to WTB for the design of these tires. It would have been easy to stick bigger knobs on the Horizon casing, but this minimalist approach keeps weights reasonable while keeping the positive on-road ride characteristics almost completely intact. Its only real weakness might be that it only comes in 650bx47. A few 700c sizes would probably sell like wildfire.
Make no mistake, these tires are more about pavement and dry dirt than smashing berms and shredding gnar. But there are literally dozens of tires that do that. This tire provides just enough confidence to always want to find out what is down that dirt road or gravel path or not-too-steep singletrack, while rolling well. And I’m not going to lie, that tan sidewall is hot as hell.
This review originally appeared in issue 201 of our sister publication, Dirt Rag. Are you interested in mountain biking, gravel riding, bikepacking and anything dirt related? Check out the magazine and subscribe today!Tweet Print
By Adam Newman
Initially launched on a crowdfunding site, the Torch was an immediate hit with investors and is now has been in full production for about a year or so. Available in eight colors, it has a fairly typical in-mold construction and meets the usual CPSC and CE safety standards. It’s only available in one size, though there are two sets of pads included, and the dial retention system can adjust through a pretty wide range, from a claimed 54 to 61 cm.
The Torch has two separate lighting systems front and back, with their own batteries, on/off switches and charge ports. The helmet comes with a special Y cable that charges them both from a USB source. The connection is a proprietary, waterproof port, so keep that cord close at hand, a standard micro USB won’t work. I haven’t verified the claimed six hours of runtime on steady with a stopwatch, but I’ve been topping off the helmet about once a week and haven’t had it run dead. Torch said that the battery should be good for 500 cycles and that if there’s an issue within two years of the sale they will take care of it.
Once you’re wearing the Torch it’s pretty easy to forget you’re wearing anything special. It weighs about as much as many other full-coverage commuter helmets (360 grams), and the retention system fits me both with and without a hat on underneath. The shatterproof LED covers give the lights a soft glow, and the switches protrude a bit so you can feel them with your fingers, though it can be difficult to tell if the lights are on or not while you’re wearing it unless it is very dark. While it’s nice to be able to operate the lights independently, I can’t think of a reason why I would ever want to do so.
Overall I’ve been really impressed with the Torch T2 and its subdued style and practical safety.
This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times 45. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get content like this delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday. Keep reading: More reality-tested product reviews here.Tweet Print
By Stephen Haynes
The Sherpa 100 Solar Kit is a robust system in a small, portable package. Consisting of a 98Wh power pack (Sherpa 100),20 W solar panel (Nomad 20) and a detachable AC inverter, the kit has everything you need to set out on an adventure and keep your devices charged.
Think of the Sherpa 100 power pack as the command center; it stores energy and it’s where you plug in all of your stuff. The face of the Sherpa 100 sports an array of output and input ports and buttons including: USB to charge phones, tablets, etc.; a 6 mm port used mostly for proprietary extras like Goal Zero lights and a regulated port for direct charging of laptops.
The Sherpa 100 Solar Kit also comes with an AC inverter, attached to the left side of the power pack, which provides you with a traditional 3 prong plug and a steady 110 volt stream.
You charge the Sherpa 100 in one of three ways: plugging it into a wall outlet which takes about three hours from fully drained, charging it up while you drive, which takes about four hours, or with solar panels, which takes between 12 and 20+ hours depending on how direct the sun exposure is. All three of these functions are ridiculously easy to operate thanks to Goal Zero’s deliberate color coding ports and cables.
The Nomad 20 solar panel charges the Sherpa 100 power pack via the sun and is super user friendly. Simply plug the foldable, three-panel Nomad into the power pack and expose it to sunlight. Done. A light on the panel illuminates when it is receiving power. The panel will glean energy from even the slightest sun exposure (though it will take much longer to charge the power supply of course) and is more or less element-proof (I inadvertently left it out in the rain for a full 13 hours and it works just as well now as it did before). The panels can also be daisy-chained, so you can cut your charge time in half by purchasing a second Nomad 20.
My family and I took the Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Solar Kit along on a three week camping trip to Maine over the summer and used it to keep our phones, laptops and devices charged. We would charge the power pack during the day while we were out adventuring, then recharged our phones and devices at night while we slept.
This system works really well if you have a constant stream of sunny days, but the inevitable rainy day (or rest day) comes along and you have to be more conservative with your power usage. Unfortunately, when it rains, the devices come out, so subsequently, the want for power becomes more pronounced. My wife and I were also trying to keep up on our inboxes and do a bit of work while we were on the road, and rainy days presented us with the ability to head into town and plug in at a cafe guilt free.
Because we stayed at campsites that didn’t have electrical hookups, and because we brought along nine different electronic devices (!), the Sherpa was one outlet for our charging needs, as was our truck and the occasional restaurant or cafe. It wouldn’t have kept all of our electronics charged all the time if it was our only source of power, but if we cut down our devices from nine to two, it would have been plenty, even with the infrequent rain-out.
At $550 the Sherpa 100 Solar Kit is not a product that most of us would buy on a whim. There are cheaper alternatives out there that boast similar output and hook-ups (you can get a gasoline generator for less than $200). The difference here is weight (the Sherpa 100 kit weighs less than 10 pounds), footprint (the Nomad 20 folds down to 8.5 x 13 x 1 inches, and the Sherpa 100 power pack measures in at 5.8 x 1.5 x 5.25 inches), ease of use (color coding and no-hassle hook ups) and silence (gas generators, while effective, are noisy). Add to that the array of extras you can get from Goal Zero, like lights and speakers, and the value of the system starts looking pretty good.
Whether you find yourself daydreaming about the possibilities of a life lived on the road (#vanlife), or simply want an easy backup power supply for your electronics in case of power failure, Goal Zero has a sun-powered solution for you. Check out their range of products at goalzero.com.Tweet Print
Tester: Helena Kotala
Sizes: M (52-58 cm, tested), L (56-61 cm), XL (61-65 cm)
Let’s face it, helmets are not exactly the “coolest” thing about riding a bike. But, they’re one of the most important bits, and having a helmet that is comfortable and fits well does make all the difference. Having a helmet that does all those things and adds to your visibility and safety in addition to the obvious function is even better. The ABUS Urban-I 2.0 offers a comfortable helmet with added features to increase safety on the road.
ABUS is a security company, most well-known in the bike industry for locks, but they also produce things like alarm systems for home and commercial properties. And bike helmets. That’s a form of security, after all–the security of protecting your noggin.
The Urban series is meant for “people who use their bike every day, see their bike helmet as an accessory or prefer simple elegance to go with their business suit.” I’m not sure I would call the blindingly bright color of this helmet “elegant” in any way, shape or form, but that’s okay. I also don’t, and hopefully never will, wear business suits. I still like this helmet though.
The main feature of the Urban-I 2.0 is the large triangular light strategically mounted on its rear, offering visibility to motorists from behind and to some extent, from the sides. The entire surface of the light acts as a button to turn it on and off and is very tactile, making it easy to do by feel. The red beam has two settings—steady and blinking. One click for steady, two for the blinky. The light pops out of the helmet for battery replacement and takes the readily available CR 2032 lithium battery.
I treated the light feature as a second measure of safety and still used a red blinky mounted to my seatpost, as the helmet-mounted light wasn’t quite bright enough for me to feel comfortable riding with it alone. However, it’s a lot better than nothing in the event of a forgotten or dead primary blinky light. Two reflective patches on the back of the helmet add even more visibility.
During the day, the neon orange color is pretty hard to miss. The shell seems to glow, even in the daylight. In fact, while on a group ride, a buddy of mine did remark that he “could see me from a mile away.” Good, that’s what we’re going for. If orange isn’t your shade, there are plenty of other blindingly bright color options to choose from, including purple, green, yellow and blue.
At 280 grams for a size medium, it’s a fairly light lid, and as summer hits in full force, it’s been easy to gravitate towards the Urban for my head protection option. For rainy or cold days, ABUS does offer a rain cap and winter kit that fits on top of the helmet for added warmth.
The fit is comfortable on a rounder head like my own (very similar to a Bell), and can be adjusted via a dial on the rear of the in-molded plastic half ring. Each turn of the dial results in a satisfying click, and the retention system stays put all day long. The straps close under the chin via a magnetic slide mechanism, which took me a few rides to get used to, but once I did, I liked much better than a traditional buckle. The buckle area has a strip of padding under the chin, making it comfortable to actually wear the helmet as tight as you should.
The comfort of this helmet and added peace of mind that comes with the neon colors and the built-in rear light has made the Urban-I 2.0 my go-to for road rides lately. It’s a solid choice for any commuter, cycle tourist, or anyone who finds themselves riding on the road on a regular basis.Tweet Print
By Eric McKeegan
I was first introduced to the importance of the dropper post during the BC Bike Race, a seven day mountain bike stage race in British Columbia. The idea of riding unfamiliar technical terrain at higher speeds made the dropper post on my loaner bike very much an “Ah-ha!” moment. But how does that translate to a dropper post on a drop-bar bike?
For those that aren’t familiar with this technology, a dropper post allows for seat height adjustment while riding, most often via a handlebar mounted remote. A lower seat allows for more room to move around on the bike, in turn providing more control on steep and/or rough terrain.
I’ve been using this post on a Specialized AWOL, which has a sloping top tube and quite a bit of exposed seatpost. You’ll need at least 163 mm of post from the seat collar to the saddle rails to make this work. The stock remote lever only works with 22.2 flat bars, but I got a prototype 31.8 lever that worked very well mounted next to stem.
The Rainier works as well as any dropper I’ve used, sliding up and down smoothly. Even without an adjustable return rate, I never thought it was too slow or fast. The 80 mm of drop is scant compared to the 125 mm to 170 mm that is standard for mountain bikes these days, but seems plenty to make things more fun and controllable on drop-bar bikes.
On long road descents it is nice to have another position, whether tucked in low or just loafing on the lowered seat. For improved cornering, there really is nothing like dropping your center of gravity to feel connected to the bike and the road. When venturing off the pavement it is hard to describe just how much it can improve the riding experience.
Instead of needing to get as far behind the saddle as possible on steep descents, you can crouch over the seat, keeping weight on the front end for traction, but keeping that weight well behind the front axle. Staying closer to the bar allows your arms to stay more bent, helping to steer and absorb bumps much better than the straight arm position that is the result of being stuck behind the saddle.
I see this post working well for a few types of riders. Mountain bikers who have grown to love the dropper post can now have the same thing on their road-oriented bikes or experienced riders that want to make their all-around bike (like the AWOL) as capable as possible. Finally, for beginner riders who are timid, the ability to lower the seat at the touch of a button can add an impressive amount of confidence.
This may seem like another “gadget” for your bike, and, admittedly, you could go through your riding life and enjoy yourself immensely without a dropper. But I see the dropper as an amplifier that can turn the fun factor of your ride experience up to 11 at the touch of the remote. It is up to you if that is too loud, or not.
This review was originally published in Bicycle Times 43. Check out more of our reviews online here and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get fresh content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!Tweet Print
By Adam Newman
Handlebar Pack -$130
In the name of simplicity and secure attachment, Ortlieb chose to design its handlebar bag to hang below the handlebars, where it stays put and doesn’t slip or bounce, rather than trying to cantilever it out in front. The laminated, ripstop nylon waterproof body has a roll-up closure at each end and Ortlieb lists its volume at 15 liters. I found it plenty large enough for a lightweight solo tent and sleeping bag. There are a myriad of ways to attach things on the outside too, beyond just the accessories pouch. The compression straps can hold extras like your tent poles or a second stuff sack, and there are some bungee cords on the exterior for a jacket. The attachment system is very secure, with a few foam spacers to make room for your brakes, shifters and cables. A super heavy-duty strap secures it in place and a secondary buckle strap cinches it up tight. The build quality is worth a shout-out, as I never once feared tearing a seam with repeated stretching, pulling, crashing, stuffing and smashing.
Accessories Pack -$75
If you go with the Ortlieb handlebar pack, you should really pick up the Accessories pack too. It attaches with the compression straps from the Handlebar pack and is big enough for several days worth of food. Having my snacks right on the handlebars made them easy to access, and when I needed to hang a bear bag at night I simply detached it and strung it up tire combo in here. It can also be attached to the handlebars on its own as a daypack, or worn around your waist or shoulder with the included waist strap.
Seat Pack -$160
Here Ortlieb chose to refine a common design rather than reinvent the wheel. The volume is adjustable from 8 liters to 16 liters, and it attaches to the seat rails with two quick release buckles and to the seatpost with heavy-duty Velcro straps. At the base of the bag, extending about a third of the way from the seatpost, is an internal cowling that gives it shape and keeps it from bulging. A really cool feature is the addition of a purge valve, which lets you squeeze all the air out of it after it’s been rolled. Getting the seatpack to work well comes down to proper packing. I found that one big item like a sleeping bag worked better than a collection of small items like clothing. Also you need to make sure the contents are stuffed firmly into the bottom of the pack, because otherwise you’re guaranteed to suffer from Droopy Butt Syndrome. After a few days of struggling with it sagging I took better care with packing and the results improved. I also started putting my tent poles in there for more support. One curious design quirk is that even with the bag nearly full I was maxing out the adjustment straps that secure the roll- top, seen here just above the Ortlieb logo. They’re also impossible to tighten while buckled, which makes adjusting them a chore.
Ortlieb has always built some insanely bomber gear, and after working these bags hard I have no doubt they’ll last a while. I would definitely recommend the handlebar pack and accessories pack for their simplicity and carrying capacity. The seat pack, on the other hand, faces much stiffer competition (intentional pun) from designs with rigid frames. It requires careful packing and its massive size is a blessing and a curse. It’s a solid choice but not a home run.
By Adam Newman
Specialized Pizza Rack – $90
The Pizza Rack derives its name not from the payload size of its top platform, which is a size small pepperoni only, but rather from its packaging. The top platform is a separate piece from the two sides, which ship disassembled in a pizza-shaped box. It goes together with a handful of screws and is adjustable to mate with a wide variety of bikes, as long as they have mid-fork eyelets. I used it with the Tumbleweed Prospector reviewed in this issue. One nice feature of this design is that it doesn’t require eyelets near the dropouts, which these days are often cast aside in favor of more complex axles and dropouts. Even some carbon fiber forks have mid-fork eyelets these days, including the one found on Specialized’s own Sequoia.
Built from aluminum with 13 mm tubes, I can tell you from first glance this rack isn’t something you’re going to want to use to drag the entirety of your belongings on an around-the-world expedition. It is, however, just fine for light duty and it’s rated to 33 pounds, which is enough to make you rethink piling that much stuff on the front end of your bike.
The side panels have rails for attaching small panniers, but the emphasis is on “small.” These won’t be mistaken for proper low-riders. It works great with the Pizza Bag, but I would have liked to see Specialized add those small nubs on the underside of the rack to prevent bungee hooks from sliding off. If you want to secure a cardboard box, for example, you have to be crafty with your hook placement.
The Pizza Rack is a simple and less-expensive option for folks looking to get their toe into the flat-rack lifestyle. I wouldn’t recommend it for expedition use, but for around- town grocery-gettin’, it goes just fine.
Specialized Pizza Bag – $100
Designed specifically to pair with the Pizza Rack, this boxy bag is held on by big Velcro straps that keep it stable and secure. It retains its shape thanks to some internal padding, and its slick, urethane-coated exterior kept my contents dry when I used it in extended rains. I wouldn’t call it waterproof, but it’s certainly “weatherproof.”
The roll-top design helps here, since there is no zipper to leak. Just close the opening with a single snap then secure it with the large Velcro strap across the top. I wish this strap were a bit longer to facilitate overstuffing the bag, but I could see how you could easily get carried away. It was long enough to shove a jacket under it when the bag was closed, which is handy. It also held an axe I found on the side of the road, but I don’t really think it was designed for that.
The features here are pretty spartan, with a mesh inner pocket and two exterior pockets. The vertical webbing on the front is reflective, but I would have rather it been horizontal like a traditional MOLLE webbing so you could strap things to it or hang a blinky light on it. I’d also love to see a shoulder strap so you could detach it and bring it with you.
In fact, this has been one of the big hangups for me in terms of “philosophy of use.” For touring or adventuring, it’s a nice way to keep items handy or carry bulky items like stoves, food or tools, as long as you don’t overload it and make your steering a nightmare. For around town, it’s far too much of a theft magnet, and with no way to remove it and bring it with you easily, I would much prefer a basket.
Words and photos by Jeff Lockwood
The Italian bicycle brand Bianchi has been an icon in the world of cycling for well over 100 years, and its celeste green paint is lusted after by legions of bicycle lovers from all walks of life. While Bianchi regularly sees its bikes in the pro peloton, the brand is also known for building a solid stable of rigs for mere mortal cyclists. For example, Bianchi produced a very popular series of singlespeed mountain bikes, like the SiSS, in the early- to mid-2000s.
We know from watching races like the Giro d’Italia and Strade Bianche that Italy has some rough roads and that Italians love to ride bikes. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Bianchi’s All Road collection offers a couple of bikes to be ridden atop such surfaces. As part of this collection, the All Road Disc 105 hits a market that prefers a bike that can handle the rugged white roads in Tuscany as well as riding to the local café or winery. While that sounds quite utopian, more practical applications for the All Road for the rest of us means we can ride the bike around town during the week and then take it on some modest adventures on the weekend.
The aluminum All Road frame is designed to be ridden in a variety of scenarios, on differing surfaces—sometimes all on the same ride. While people sometimes simply opt to buy cyclocross bikes for off-road riding, the All Road offers some features that are more specific and useful to the average cyclist—and offers more comfort than a racy cyclocross frame.
Bianchi’s own marketing copy positions the bike as a capable all-terrain steed, “The All Road best suits the needs of riders looking to enjoy endless miles ‘off the grid’ — whether their excursions take them up fire roads, down gravel roads, over mountain bike trails or ‘all of the above.’” However, I find the bike does better with riding situations closer to home. Without failing miserably at being too many things to too many people, the All Road deftly presents a product that wisely offers three important characteristics needed for varying types of riding.
For starters, the amusingly (yet appropriately) named 35 mm Kenda Happy Medium tires offer a tread that will roll nicely on smooth tarmac, grab enough on loose dirt roads and absorb some impact from neglected city streets. The fender mounts are key if you’re more into commuting to the office, as well as light touring. The 35 mm tires are about as wide as you can fit here, but there’s still plenty of room for the fenders. While the rack mounts offer a certain level of utility by allowing you to attach some bags and other bits, I wouldn’t say this bike is quite suited to heavy touring or bikepacking.
The key aspect of the bike’s versatility, in my opinion, is the fact that it’s a bicycle that is quite stable and comfortable on rougher roads for long distances. However, it’s still nimble enough that it can confidently cut and dice around traffic and errant pedestrians as you ride from your apartment to those glorious dirty stretches of road. And, of course, everything in between.
While you could theoretically use the All Road to test the waters of a cyclocross race if you’ve never done one before, the bike has a more relaxed and comfortable geometry and measurements than its racy siblings. The chainstays are a bit longer, which offers more straightline stability, yet the front end of the bike remains on the short side. This lets the bike get snappy when you need/want it to be.
Its taller headtube puts the rider in a more upright (read: comfortable) position, which is always good for those long days in the saddle. This comfortable position is bolstered by the compact handlebars, which offer a shallow drop and slightly flared drops. I love the comfort and confidence this cockpit offers. It’s not often that I find myself riding in the drops on road or ‘cross bikes too much, so it was a pleasure to get into such a position with the All Road.
The All Road is spec’d with a wider diameter seatpost (31.6 mm). Combined with its aluminum frame, I was expecting a rather rigid and unforgiving feel—especially on rough roads. I was pleasantly surprised that the bike muted some of the vibrations on rougher roads. While it didn’t offer steel-frame-level forgiveness, I found it to be plenty comfortable. Sure, this is mostly thanks to the wider tires, but the whole package rode really nicely.
Let’s be honest. The All Road is not designed, or priced, to be a hard-edged racing machine. It’s meant to be more of the trusty Swiss Army knife you have at the ready for whatever might come your way. However, since it’s billed as something to play in the dirt with, I sought out to see how the bike would perform on some tasty singletrack. It’s definitely no cyclocross bike, nor can it withstand truly technical trails with gnarly rocks and roots. But when the path was smooth, flowy and tacky, the All Road was fun. As long as I approached turns with a bit of care, the All Road stuck nicely to the trail.
The component spec on the All Road is typical for what you would find on a similarly priced rig. Shimano 105 takes care of the drivetrain. The 105 group is the workhorse of the shifter/derailleur world, and it’s hard to beat its performance-to-cost ratio. Disc brakes are a must for a bike like this, and Shimano’s road-specific hydraulic brakes offer smooth modulation and confidence. The aluminum stem, bars and seatpost, all branded as Bianchi’s Reparto Corse products, do their respective jobs with neither complaint nor fanfare. The carbon fiber fork is a nice touch. It tracks nicely and doesn’t really chatter on the rough stuff, which is welcome for more dirty sorts of riding.
While the Reparto Corse DRAW 1.9 Disc wheels and the Happy Medium tires performed well during the testing period, I would have preferred to run a tubeless setup. I understand that would have priced the bike a bit higher, but the performance gains, and confidence, offered by tubeless tires is key for such off-road specific bikes like this. I did worry about pinch flats when I would drop the pressure to further smooth out the ride.
While it was designed and built to be primarily ridden off-road, I found the Bianchi All Road more adept at rides along varying types of surfaces, rather than a pure gravel machine as marketed. If you’re into riding what you want, when you want, the All Road is certainly worth consideration. It may lack the sexiness that Bianchi is known for, but it’s a reliable rig that’s versatile, comfortable, decently spec’d and comes in below the $2,000 threshold.
Sizes: 50, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61 cm
Weight: 24.3 lbs
This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #44. Read more reviews online here, and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get content like this delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday.Tweet Print
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s a lot of history spun up in these tires. With a tread design crafted by Joe Murray decades ago, the Rock N Road has been recapturing interest with the resurgence of gravel and mixed-surface adventure riding.
When framebuilder Bruce Gordon starting building touring bikes with big tire clearance, he wanted a larger tire to fit his bikes. The original 700x43c Rock N Road bikes and tires were a precursor to the modern 29er mountain bike. The new 650b version takes the same ethos and applies it to the smaller size, plus adds a tubeless kevlar folding bead.
Made in Japan by Panaracer, the Rock N Road tires sealed up well on a pair of Stan’s NoTubes rims. Getting them to seal isn’t idiot-proof, but if I can do it with a floor pump you probably can, too. I installed these wheels as an experiment on a Specialized Tricross that was designed for 700c wheels. Because the diameter of the 650x43c version is very close to that of a 700x28c tire it was a good fit and didn’t drastically affect the bike’s handling.
On the road the thin, supple sidewalls paired with the low pressure afforded by the tubeless setup give a comfortable, forgiving ride. The tread pattern might look retro but it rolls really well on smooth pavement while still allowing for some bite when the going gets soft. The gum sidewalls look fantastic but the tires are available in all black if that’s more your style. The Rock N Road tires are available straight from Bruce online or at your local bike shop.
Price: $57 each
More info: bgcycles.com
Like a lot of people, my fingers are one the first things that succumb to the ravages of cold weather biking. The combination of cold air rushing over the glove surface and sweat trapped inside can sometimes cut my frosty rides a bit short. And that’s a shame, because some of the most beautiful rides happen on those cold, bitter days when the streets and trails are devoid of people who are instead hiding inside, warming themselves on their couches and watching reruns.
To combat this problem, I’m always searching for gloves that offer warmth and breathability. Thankfully, there are quite a few good options on the market. One such option is the Windstopper glove from Gore Bike Wear. I have been using a pair of their Element Urban Print version for a few months and am quite happy with them.
Besides having a layer of water resistant, windproof, moisture wicking Windstopper material, the Element Windstopper glove has a plethora of neat features that make for a glove that performs well in daily use.
First up, the inside of the glove is a comfortable, soft fleece material that draws moisture off the skin to evaporate through the Windstopper material and keep your skin dry. This process worked well in most instances. Only occasionally did I find that the glove couldn’t keep up with the amount of sweat being produced by my hands. Generally this was when I was working hard in temperatures above freezing.
There are a few things worth noting on the exterior of the glove, starting with the always-important snot/sweat wipe on the thumb. The absorbent patch is soft and big enough to deal with any moisture problem you have going on with your face.
Next up is the palm. It’s almost completely covered with silicone dots that do a great job of providing grip. The dots are interrupted only by a gel pad on the outside edge of the palm, reinforced material between the thumb and index finger, and touchscreen friendly material on the tip of the thumb and index finger. While not the easiest thing to do, I was able to use my iPhone without removing my gloves.
The back of the glove has some features designed for your ride into work, or pedaling to the trailhead. Besides the nice bright material on the edges of the fingers, there are three reflective pieces of fabric, and one reflective logo on each glove that do a decent job of catching the eyes of the drivers around you. Perfect for signalling a turn or alerting oncoming traffic to your approach.
Finally, there is the overall fit and design of the glove. Of course the camo is cool, but the fit is just as important. The glove goes a bit past the wrist to provide good coverage under or over a jacket, and features an easy to use Velcro strap in addition to an elastic wrist cuff to keep the cold and wet where it belongs—on the outside.
Gloves are not the most exciting things in the world, but Gore Bike Wear did a great job of designing a pair that kept me dry and warm in temperatures ranging from low single digits to 45 degrees. They have also held up very well to my repeated urban and singletrack excursions. If the camo isn’t your cup of tea, Gore makes several different Windstopper models.
More info: goreapparel.com
Even with all the modern materials found in clothing, Merino wool has rightfully retained a place in the hearts of the outdoor enthusiast. Café du Cycliste’s Celeste cardigan sticks with that tradition, blends in some polyester, and adds a super soft fleece lining to make things that all that much better. Café du Cycliste is marketing this cardigan to the urban cyclist who finds the need for a bit of insulation during the brisk autumn months.
As a mid-weight top, the Celeste is great option on chilly outings but won’t keep you from shivering when the real cold blows in. On those days you’ll have to add some sort of wind resistant outer layer to bolster up your defenses.
The Celeste features a sturdy metal zipper, a two button neck flap, and a single rear pocket. That zippered vertical rear pocket contains a reflective flap that strangely can only be seen when the pocket is unzipped. The flap is sewn on to the inside of the pocket and secured by a single button on the outside of the cardigan. I don’t know if I’d trust it to transport anything of importance as I can easily pull a set of keys out of the pocket when it’s only secured with the flap. Obviously when it’s zipped, you’re fine…but you lose the reflectivity.
The Celeste is extremely comfortable, but it would be even better if the neck was also fleece lined instead of just wool. I think overall this is a good looking cardigan that lacks a few features I look for when shopping for cycling clothing.
$186 – cafeducycliste.com
Loulou Neck Warmer
We here at Bicycle Times love our buffs. You can even find one in our online store. A buff is the single most used piece of gear in my cold weather arsenal.
Café du Cycliste’s Loulou is definitely a step up from our offering. It is made of a Merino/Poly blend and can be worn around the neck, pulled up to cover the lower face, or even over your head to keep the heat from escaping through your helmet.
Besides being made from a nice soft wool blend, what makes the Loulou stand out is the additional material below the neck line. Extending to above my sternum it kept my neck warm, even when wind snuck past my jersey’s collar and through its zipper. It’s lightweight and easy to stash in your pocket if the day warms and you don’t need the additional coverage anymore.
The Loulou is stylish, inexpensive and extremely functional. Great product.
Made in Italy. Gray or blue. $39 – cafeducycliste.com
Want to see more? Check out Café du Cycliste’s autumn/winter product launch video below.
Showers Pass has been producing rainwear for cyclists since 1997. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, they know a thing or two about staying comfortable in foul weather. New for 2015 are the Metro Jacket and Rogue Pant.
Photos by Emily Walley
Metro Jacket – $199
The Metro Jacket is an Artex 2.5-layer hardshell that’s lightweight and designed to pack a lot of performance on the bike while not looking too bike-geeky off the bike. For me, the fit is pretty trim; I’d say it runs a bit smaller than the sizing chart suggests. Definitely size up if you’d like to have room for insulating layers underneath, or if you’re between sizes. On the bright side, sleeve length is generous.
Two large vents take the place of traditional hand warmer pockets to provide abundant ventilation. Teamed with the “exhaust pipe” zippered vent at the base of the neck on the back of the jacket, there is quite a bit of torso airflow and adjustability. Unfortunately, the exhaust vent’s effectiveness decreases dramatically when wearing a backpack. Large, adjustable cuffs help tailor fit and adjust airflow through the arms, but I would still love to see some sort of underarm ventilation on this jacket as torso ventilation surpases that of the arms.
Waterproofness is excellent with no sign of the face fabric wetting through, and I’ll give the Metro decent marks for breathability as well—for a hardshell. There’s no way around it; if you’re operating at high exertion levels you will be sweaty under even the most “breathable” of hardshells.
Initially, I was a little confused by the Metro Jacket. The trim fit, elastic bottom hem, ventilation arrange and subsequent lack of handwarmer pockets point to the performance end of the spectrum. On the other hand, the subtle color palette and the name Metro imply a certain level of street cred. For me, the end result is a damn fine jacket that I’ll use mostly in performance settings; longer, more dedicated rides where weather protection and ventilation take top priority, both on and off road. For casual spins to the pub on a damp evening, I’d be more likely to spring for the similarly priced softshell Amsterdam Jacket instead.
Rogue Pant – $99
The Rogue Pant is a casual looking softshell trouser made with water resistant stretch fabric and finished with a DWR treatment to further enhance moisture resistance. The tightly woven face of the fabric blocks most of the breeze and a good bit of moisture, while a soft terry interior feels great next to skin. The Rogue pants are styled and fit like a pair of relaxed fit jeans, but offer a gusseted crotch to reduce seam irritation and facilitate movement on the bike. Fit seems to run a little on the large size. I’m normally a 33- to 34-inch waist and the 32-inch Rogue pant fit me comfortably. If you’re between sizes, you should be able step down a size without issue.
Subtle reflective cues increase visibility at night, including reflective chevrons printed inside the bottom of both pant legs that are revealed when you roll up the legs. A buttoned cinch strap is hidden in the hem of the pants to keep them out of your chainrings and to secure the pants when rolled up. There’s a hidden zippered pocket inside the right back pocket for secure storage, and a buttoned utility hook to fasten keys or the like to one of the right-hand belt loops. The only gripe I can muster revolves around the shallow front pockets. They’re a little small for today’s larger smartphones; a little more depth would increase security.
I’ve been looking for a pair of softshell pants like these for a while now because they’re so versatile through the fall, winter and spring. Wear them alone for cool days or layer underneath for comfort in much colder temps. The Rogue Pant’s combo of ample wind resistance and stellar breathability make for an incredibly comfortable pair of pants. I’ve worn them for everything from mountain biking, to rainy commutes home from work, to going out for a date-night drink. There are the rare product that delivers a casual aesthetic to blend in with most any situation, but offer the technical chops to keep you comfy in most any situation short of a heavy, sustained rain—they’re not designed to be waterproof after all. These pants are worth every penny of the $99 asking price. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.