Category Archives: product reviews

Belle accessories for your bike

Look closely: do you notice anything different about my tire?

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A ladybug is hitching a ride!

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This pair of cuties (one for each tire) is made in Poland and came to me as a gift from Gosia of Bike Belle, who recently visited Chicago from London/Krakow.  Bike Belle carries a fun variety of bike accessories, much of them handmade/painted/knitted.  From the Bike Belle About Us page: “We design, make and sell designer bicycle accessories to make your bikes easier to use, prettier and more you.”  Sounds good to me!  Bonus: they ship worldwide.  :)
untitled-11These ladybugs (and other designs) are called “jewelry for your bicycle” – love it!  I guess these would be Oma’s earnings.  More beautiful jewelry: this rosy bell would be perfect for spring.

I also got this adorable, waterproof seat cover, staying with the polka dot trend.  (Why do I want this mouse one so much?? It’s mesmerizing.)
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If anyone has always wanted a full ladybug kit for her bike, look no further.

Here are Maria of PoCampo, Gosia and me after a lovely brunch.

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I’m so glad I had the chance to meet Gosia, hear a lot about bicycling in Krakow (sounds a lot like cycling in Chicago, actually), and learn more about her shop.

She also has a Bike Belle blog, with plenty of beautiful pictures, so you can enjoy it even if you don’t speak Polish.

Yay for cool, entrepreneurial cycling ladies!

Does your bike wear jewelry?  :)

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Review: Bike USB Rechargeable Lights

Good morning! Daylight savings time might be right around the corner, but night-time visibility has always been a cyclist’s dilemma. One possible solution? Bike USB Rechargeable Lights, which I received for review from Uncommon Goods.

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I have been impressed with these small, sturdy lights They come in sets of two: One front, in white, and one rear, in red. As shown in the photo above, they attach easily to your bike with an attached rubber band, not unlike other small bike lights such as Knog Lights. There is a groove in the top of the light so that the elastic band is held securely. These lights will not fall off your bike, but they’re easy to remove if you live in a city where bike light theft is a concern.

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The bonus with these little lights? No new batteries: just plug the lights into your computer with any mini-USB cable to recharge. (Fellow NOOK owners: your charging cable is now multiuse.) According to the website, you can get 5 hours of use before needing to recharge—I’ve used the lights for at least 20 minutes a day for about 20 days and have not needed to recharge them, so they may actually last slightly longer. Attaining a full charge takes about 2 hours.

A red light indicates that the light is still charging.

A red light indicates that the light is still charging.

Like most bike lights, these have a blinking mode as well as a steady mode. Just click the button on the top to toggle between modes and on/off.

nightlightrear And the front light is bright enough to help you see rather than just be seen.  It rivals my CatEye.

nightlightAt $49 for the pair, these are a bit pricier than Knog, but the convenience of not needing to replace batteries just might be priceless. (Also, shhh, Uncommon Goods often has sales or coupon codes available.) The final verdict: Worth checking out if you need a little extra illumination!

{ These lights were provided by Uncommon Goods for review, but the opinions expressed are my own. }

 

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Review: Carrera Unisex Foldable Helmet

Let me start out this post with an “I’m Switzerland in the helmet wars” disclaimer. Though I wore a helmet daily for the first year or two after I started cycling, over time, on my most familiar routes, I more or less abandoned it. Why? For many of the reasons Dave mentions in this post as well as the fact that in summer, in Tennessee, heatstroke is a much greater threat than head injury.

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front of the helmet

That said, there are times when I do want to wear a helmet, or am required to wear one—and I’m always looking for one that is cool, comfortable and relatively attractive. So when I saw the Carrera Foldable Helmet online, I had high hopes that it was the helmet holy grail.

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First things first: the “foldable” aspect of this helmet is pretty minimal. Common sense suggests that folding a helmet is not a logical expectation…and that common sense would be right. There’s really only a couple of inches difference between the helmet’s folded and expanded size—the figure they use is 20% smaller and that seems accurate to me.

Carrera helmet: folded

folded helmet

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When folded, you can secure the helmet with a provided strap, which has a carabiner attached so that you can clip it to your bag or purse or the frame of your bike when not in use.

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Carrera helmet folded, with carabiner and strap for attachment to a bag, lock or purse

The strap has a reflective tag and can do double-duty by holding your pants leg away from your chain if you’re into that sort of thing.

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I got this helmet in glossy white, to match Le Peug, but they’re available in lots of pretty colors. The size small/medium fit my puny head perfectly straight out of the box, but there’s an elastic at the back that can tweak the fit as well.

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The interior has removable, washable pads that are very comfortable. I hardly knew I was wearing it during my metric century.

 

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Best of all, the multiple air vents totally deliver—this is definitely the coolest, lightest helmet I’ve ever worn. (My other is a Bern Berkeley and I have spent a lot of time wearing Dottie’s Nutcases when in Chicago. I had a cheap-o Bell helmet from Target when I first started riding.)
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On the shallow side, I also really, really love the sleek fit and look of this helmet. Someone told me it looked like a hat—while I think that’s a little bit of a stretch, it’s definitely the most hat-like helmet I’ve ever worn. I didn’t have that mushroom head feeling at all while wearing it.

To get a little more serious, the helmet complies with EU safety standards (Carrera is an Italian company best known for sunglasses) so the actual protection factor is up to snuff.

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The only real drawback to this helmet is the price: I paid $80 on eBay, which is $20 more than the Nutcase (it’s the same as the MSRP for my Bern, but you can almost always find a Bern sale somewhere). There’s also a “premium” version, which includes a light and a “multiuse scarf” and retails at about $130—if you can find it anywhere online.

Despite the somewhat high price, if you wear a helmet frequently and care about 1.) looks and 2.) lack of head sweat, the Carrera Foldable Helmet is definitely worth your consideration. It was definitely the Helmet Holy Grail for me.

Do you love your helmet? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

 

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A wooden crate as a bike basket

When I posted about riding my Dutch bike last week, Trisha noticed that I have a new crate on the front.  Yes, and I love it!

As I explained in my Oma review, I purchased my bike with a heavy duty front rack that attaches to the frame, making a sturdy base for up to 50 pounds of cargo.  I was using a Hershberger’s Baker Basket on the front rack, but two years of heavy use was more than the delicate basket could handle.  First the leather strap in the front broke, causing the top to fly open in the wind, then one of the small leather straps on the back of the lid broke, making the top sit crooked.  The wicker became dried and bleached by the sun.  Basically, the poor thing fell apart.

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Baker Basket in better days

For a while, I detached the front rack and used a pannier on my rear rack to carry stuff.  Then one day Mr. Dottie found a wooden crate in an alley behind a Mexican restaurant, which he thinks was used for avacados.  The crate has “Made in Mexico” stamped on the side.  He attached the crate to my rack with a bungie cord through the bottom and a few zip ties all around; it does not move an inch.

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My new Mexican crate

I love the crate for both aesthetics and utility.  I can fit so much stuff in there, and I tend always to be carrying a bunch of stuff – for example, two full grocery bags and a purse.  I can also easily and quickly reach my bag when stopped at a red light.

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The crate is heavy – it’s all solid wood and nails.  But so is my bike!  When I’m riding Oma, I’m slow and steady and generally traveling no more than five or six miles, so extra weight is not a big deal.

Does anyone else use a wooden crate like this?

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Review: Detours Ballard Market Pannier

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Recently I have been testing a new bike bag, the Detours Ballard Market Pannier, a large shopper that easily transforms from a pannier to a tote to a backpack.

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The website describes the bag as follows:

If you’re rolling up [to the market] on a bike, this is the perfect pannier to take with you. An easily hidden padded shoulder harness lets you wear the pannier as a backpack while browsing the stalls, and two simple yet sturdy pannier clips attach to your rack for the ride home. A lightweight waterproof base keeps your bag dry from street spray, and a removable rain cover protects your goods when the skies cloud over. Interior organization makes this a great option for casual office commuting as well!

The bag comes in red (shown), black and “dalia print,” which is my favorite – grey with a little flower painted on front.

The bag hangs from the rear rack by two clamps.  The system was a bit tricky on my Pletscher rack because I had to raise the rack’s clamp while attaching the bag, but once in place, the bag fit well.  The large rack on my Dutch bike works perfectly with the Detours’ attachment system.

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The bag appears to droop a bit when loaded, but always feels securely attached.

There are adjustable straps on the front, which come in handy when the bag is used as a backpack.

The long handle straps are useful when carrying the bag, but they hang awkwardly when the bag is mounted and could be long enough to interfere with the wheel.  I tied them together and tucked them into the bag as shown below.  Another option is to tuck the straps in the front pouch, but neither solution is very elegant and I wish there were a better solution.

The bag, as you can judge by its size, holds a substantial amount of stuff.  In addition to the cavernous interior, there is a small internal, zippered pocket, plus three external pockets (two small on the side, on large on the front).

The bag I’ve been using for years as a large shopper is my Basil Rosa-Mirte Shopper, but that bag must be hand-carried by a handle – super annoying when trying to shop and/or when carrying a heavy load.  The Detours bag is not as cute, but wins over the Basil for ease of carrying with the shoulder strap and backpack option.

I’d say the Detours Ballard Market is most comparable to the Ortlieb Bike Shopper that I reviewed last year.  In that showdown, the Detours bag wins hands down.  Both bags hold a lot and have smart and easy attachment systems, but the Detours has useful outside pockets, holds more, is easier to close, turns into a backpack and costs $30 less.  The Ortlieb wins only in waterproofness.  The material on the Detours is water-resistent, but the drawstring top leaves it vulnerable.  A full, neon yellow water cover is included, though, so as long as you keep it in the bag, you should be good to go in storms.

The Detours logo on the side of the bag is reflective, but I was disappointed not to see more.  I wish companies would incorporate more reflective markings on bike bags.

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The two clamps on the back are fronted by a fabric panel…

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…which can be zipped up to hide the clamps and protect you from being poked.

When carried, the pannier functions as a long, substantial tote bag.  As you can see, it has a sporty feel.  Not something I would feel comfortable carrying to important meetings or court, but suitable for a regular day at the office.

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For daily use, I prefer a more professional-looking bag like Po Campo.  I’m not crazy about the sporty/bookbag-esque look of the Detours, which does not mesh well with my professional lifestyle.  The black or “dalia print” colors are better professional options than the bright red.  That said, the Ballard Market Pannier is marketed as a farmer’s market bag that could double for casual commuting, and the design is appropriate to that purpose.

Overall, I like the Detours Ballard Market Pannier a lot.  The bag fits a huge amount, while also being easy to attach and detach and convenient to carry, either as a tote bag or a backpack.   For a bike bag that are designed to carry substantial loads, the Detours is the best I’ve come across so far.

And a HUGE bonus of the bag is its nifty transformation to a backpack.  I did not get a photo wearing the pannier as a backpack, so please watch my video to see how easily this works.

Review: Detours Ballard Market Pannier from LGRAB on Vimeo.

The Detours Ballard Market Pannier retails for $69.  The company is based in Seattle, and I’m not aware of any local Chicago stores that carry the brand.

{As always, I received no compensation for this review, other than the bag itself.  Trust me, my opinion’s not that cheap!  ;-)  You can see my entire collection of bags in this video.}

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Video: Bicycle Bag Basics

We here at LGRAB get a lot of questions about which bike bags we use and recommend.  Over the years, I have accumulated quite a collection!  I’m constantly switching from bag to bag – usually between my two Po Campo panniers, my regular purse and canvas shopping bags.  In this video, I go through my entire collection and discuss which styles I like best.

I figure this post will be a resource for new bicyclists searching for ideas about how to carry stuff on their bikes, so please share your bike bag recommendations in the comments.

Brands:

Wald basket

Basil

Arkel

Detours

Po Campo

Fieldguided canvas

Patagonia

Chrome

P.S.  For more info on my bicycle, see my Rivendell Betty Foy video.  Also, my bungie straps and Po Campo review.

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United By Blue Organic Canvas Bags

We receive a lot of emails and press releases about bike-related products and campaigns, but this one really stood out to us: Organic canvas and leather bike bags by United By Blue.

United By Blue, which has an established business producing canvas bags, recently created a prototype bike bag line that’s ready to go into production with the help of Kickstarter funding. Basically, by contributing to the campaign, you are purchasing one of their bags pre-production – and the dollar amounts look reasonable in comparison to similar bike bags on the market. As a bonus, for every product sold, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company organized and hosted cleanups.

$25 gets you the Organic Handlebar Pouch.

$60 gets you the Organic Handlebar Bag.

$90 gets you the Organic Pannier Bag.

All of the bags come in four beautiful colors.

If, like me, you do not need another bike bag but would like to support the effort, you can give $5 or $15.

UNITED BY BLUE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN

{We received no compensation for this post.}

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Review: Bird Industries Bike Garter

When I saw bike garters from Bird Industries available in one of those email flash sales a few months back, I decided to give one a whirl. This particular bike garter had been recommended a few times in our comments section, and I have a few skirts I like to wear on my bike that give me occasional modesty issues. The bike garter is pretty simple: It’s a garter with a clip much like an actual garter, but the clip is meant to grab your skirt, not a stocking. The Bird Industries garter I chose was a bright pink and size large since I wanted to make sure it was not too snug. The inside of the garter has a silicone grip, and it stays put on my leg without pinching (though it’s not the sort of thing you really forget you are wearing).

The clip is not difficult to use, but the way it works was not intuitive to me: instead of pinching the end of the clasp to make the end that opens open, you push it up to open the clasp.

The first time I wore the garter, I fixed the clasp to the hem of my skirt, on the side. It made a bit of a bubble hem, but looked pretty normal.

Skirt with garter clip clipped to the hem—note the slight bubble

You can also attach the clasp to a spot on the underside of the skirt.

rear side of skirt clipped to garter

skirt with the garter clip clipped to the underside of the skirt

Both clasp methods worked to keep the skirt from flying all the way up, and did not impede my pedaling ability. However, neither kept the garter from showing. This is clear on the Bird Industries store, so it isn’t like they’re misleading anyone, but I was surprised by the way exposed garter made me feel. It still seemed that something was showing that ought not to be—and that “something” was bright pink! I didn’t take pictures of this situation for that reason. But it was easily resolved by tucking a small portion of my skirt hem under the edge of the garter at the side. I am not sure I would feel comfortable wearing this garter with a shorter skirt, like the ladies in the Bird Industries photos. Which is odd, because I don’t consider myself that shy about that sort of thing—it took me four years to buy one of these, after all.

Garter clip in action, with garter safely covered.

As I mentioned, I bought my garter clip on super clearance through one of those “final sale” flash shops, but the normal retail price is $12. Overall, it is an effective method of keeping your underwear under wraps, as long as you don’t mind flashing a garter instead.

Do you use a bike garter?

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The Best Everyday Pedals

I believe there is no such thing as bad shoes for everyday cycling, only bad pedals.  :-)  Although I rarely wear high heels (preferring not to feel hobbled), I do not want my bike to prevent me from pulling them out on those days when I feel inspired.

My friend Chika recently wore these fabulous high-heeled sandals while riding her new Linus Dutchie.  Although she looked kick-ass, she admitted that the heels were very difficult to bike in, as her foot kept sliding off the pedal.

Chika’s heels

While some may say, “Um, don’t bike in heels,” that’s not how we roll around here.  Instead, I commiserated – been there, experienced that – and encouraged her to consider replacing the Linus’s stock pedals with inexpensive Dimension rubber pedals. Chicagoans: you can buy them locally at J.C. Lind Bikes.

Dimension rubber pedals

I discovered these particular Dimension pedals while borrowing a De Fietsfabriek bike for a group ride.  During that ride, my normally difficult, high pumps stayed glued to the pedals as if by magic.

Prada pumps and Dimension pedals

I soon bought the same pedals for my Oma and they have been going strong for over two years.  The rubber has not lost its grippiness over time and the heavy use has not worn them down.

As I said before, the ability to bike in any shoe is all about the pedals.  Well, okay, maybe these extreme(ly badass) heels of Trisha’s would be difficult even with these pedals.  But maybe not!

What kind of pedals do you have on your bike?  Do your shoe soles ever slip?  Do you have your own recommendation for “best everyday pedals?”

Colorful Bungie Straps for Betty

Betty Foy has brand new, beautiful, red bungie straps!  For years, Betty has had navy blue striped ones that did not match her aesthetic well.  I’ve always wanted pretty straps for her, but found only boring colors in the past.  The old straps were slowly becoming more slack, so when I saw these new bungie straps in a rainbow selection of colors, I knew it was time for a change.

This red color matches her heart lugs – a subtle detail that is important to me!

These straps snapped on in a matter of seconds, since I already had a base for them on my rear wheel.

For now, I’m using the bungie strap to hold only my lock, but these bad boys are stretchy and strong enough to hold big boxes on the rear rack.  I’ve used simple straps to carry cases of 24 bottles of beer!

Sorry, I do not know the brand (no markings on the product), all I know is they are from Holland and locals can pick them up at J.C. Lind Bikes, where I got mine.  I’ll update this with the brand name when I figure it out.

With a front basket, plus a rear rack with bungie cords and panniers, a regular bike can hold a lot of cargo.

Who else loves bungie straps as much as me?

:)

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Guest Review: Cambridge Raincoat Company

A photo from Cambridge Raincoat's website

A lovely raincoat caught my eye a few months ago at a women-who-bike brunch, worn by fellow lady April.  When I mentioned the coat, April was excited to tell me all about it.  I was interested to hear that the raincoat is the clever and stylish creation of a bicycling woman in England, who started Cambridge Raincoat Company.  Since I get so many questions about bike friendly raincoats, I asked April to review hers for LGRAB.  She kindly agreed and the following review is written by April Galarza, who writes at www.ecocanary.com.  Thanks, April!

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“Cycling in the rain, cycling in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again…”

Now just set that to music and imagine me in rain boots and a trench coat holding an umbrella and swinging around my bike as if she were a lamp post.

Ok Ok, that picture is a bit too Pollyannaish, even for me.

To tell you the truth, for a long time I avoided cycling in the rain. It figures that Chicago has been so very rainy this year!  Even sunny days have included light showers!   I never mind riding in a downpour on Saturdays when I am dressed for gardening; who cares if I am wet on top of dirty?  But biking on work days had become at best a challenge and at worst downright failure to launch.  I braved out a few rain storms, trying to pick days when the rain would be heaviest during my evening commute.  I even covered my bike up with a tarp when I parked it outside my workplace to keep it dry, but honestly, those were miserable commutes—cold, wet and stressful.

Is it just me or do moderate, tolerant drivers turn into speeding-for-the-sake-of- speeding, squeeze-me-off-the-road and turn-in-front-of-me-even-though-I-am-lit-up-like-a-Christmas-tree-and-am-wearing-a-construction-worker’s-vest-over-my-raincoat jerks whenever it rains?  My old rain jacket, a packable hiking windbreaker, the color of a starless night just didn’t cut it. Besides being dark colored, it is short. My legs were completely exposed, resulting in soaked work pants or skirt!

So instead of braving the weather, I turned to the radar game:  “Spin the wheel and hope you get a sunny day,” says the host in his sparkly blue suit, slicked back hair and bright red tie as I put my hand on a wheel composed of 12 slices, 11 of which depict rain clouds and one a dull yellow sun mostly hidden behind a big gray cloud.  I spin the wheel and the dial lands on torrential downpour.  “Congratulations, April, you’ve won a trip to work on the train!”

Then I heard my fellow cyclists on Chainlink saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather for biking, only bad clothing.”

It was time to get some rain gear.  First came new boots.  They are made from post-consumer recycled rubber and Italian silk designed by a Canadian company called Kamik.   They are super comfortable, really sturdy, totally water proof, flexible, eco-friendly (I can recycle them! Kamik has a take back program) and to top it all of stylish!

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Now all I needed was a good raincoat.  Let me tell you my wish list and then I’ll tell you about the jewel-of-a-find I ended up buying.

  • Really bright color and maybe even reflective features built in (I hate wearing the vest. I feel about as cool as a crash dummy.)
  • Long enough to cover my lap and knees. (I refuse to wear rain pants. I would like to maintain a modicum of dignity riding to work.)
  • Made of a high quality fabric, something warm enough to cut the wind, but breathes well enough to wear on muggy summer days.
  • Style: doesn’t make me look like a racer or a saran-wrapped sandwich.   (I believe you should be able to integrate cycling into your daily life, wearing normal clothes and riding upright at moderate speed).

And now ladies (and gentlemen) may I present the Cambridge Raincoat!

The only raincoat that meets all of my demands and does it with style and flair!

I searched far and wide before I found the Cambridge Raincoat Company.  The American market wanted to dress me like a racer or a hiker but never an upright Dutch-style biker (sorry I’m a writer I couldn’t resist the rhyme…).  I enjoyed perusing traditional London macs and Dutch capes but nothing spoke to my needs.  Most of that rain gear was rendered in dark colors or earth tones.  Few (namely only the racing-style cyclist jackets) had reflective features and among those only the Cambridge Raincoat fit my taste and style and would coordinate with my outfits and make me feel Cycle Chic.

After emailing the owner and innovator extraordinaire Sally Guyer (Sally had the idea for the raincoats and collaborated with Savile Row graduate designer, Elizabeth Radcliffe to create them) who answered my every question and assured me she could ship to the U.S., I was sold!   Now I only had to decide what color I wanted.

The beautiful raincoats are made in a trench-coat style, however they have a decidedly fitted feminine shape, which calls to mind something worn by a 50s silver-screen starlet.  The collar is adjustable and can be worn in three ways, much like my beloved canvas navy-blue short trench coat that I wear everywhere.  The fabric is specially engineered for outdoor activities, being waterproof, wind cutting, lightweight and breathable. Perhaps the best feature of all is the integrated reflective ribbons on the belt, the buttons and the cuffs.  They are an ordinary gray color until light shines on them and then, look out!   At the time I bought my coat, there were four bright colors to choose from: Aspen Gold, Poppy Red, Iris Orchid and Vibrant Green (now there are even more!).  Each one is so chic and exciting that it took me over a week to decide on the one I wanted! Be sure to check out all of them on Cambridge Raincoat’s website!   After much deliberation I settled on the Iris Orchid color, a perfect match for my Kamik rain boots.

After riding in many heavy rainstorms on my bike under the cover of my lovely and impervious iris colored raincoat, I officially gave the Cambridge Raincoat my stamp of approval.  I carry it in my pannier if there is the slightest chance of rain.  I am told that I have an elegant and retro look while wearing it.  I love the bright cheerful color and the reflective fabric on the cuffs, buttons and belt accessory.  Also, the silk polka-dot lining is darling.   There is no better word to describe it.

Logistically it meets all my needs. It covers me from my neck all the way down past my knees. There is an extra hidden button located just below the knee in order to hold the coat closed over your lap while cycling.  Each time I have biked during rainstorms I have arrived at my destination completely dry.  I also feel that I am well seen by drivers.  There is less buzzing and honking and more than a few friendly smiles and wave-throughs.  The coat fits me well so there is none of that unsightly and annoying billowing up around me that I have noticed with other rain gear, such as ponchos.  I did notice that the coat performs slightly better when I am sitting completely upright and pedaling at a steady pace.  If I pedal too hard the coat tends to ride up a little and expose my knees.

Sally has told me that she intentionally designed the coat not to have a hood because it obstructs the periphery vision of a cyclist. I agree with her about not using a hood while biking, but I would like to see a detachable hood in future designs.  I love my raincoat and also wear it when walking to close destinations such as the library and the grocery store or taking my dog, Lola, out to play in the puddles. On these occasions a hood would be very convenient because I could forgo an umbrella and thus have my hands free to carry groceries and hold the leash. Sally has assured me that she will be designing some matching hats soon and I look forward to seeing them!

In the hot muggy days of summer, the coat was a little less breathable than I would have liked but when the cold rains of fall and winter arrived, I was no longer complaining.  It is just as impervious to cutting wind as it is to water.  It turned out to be the perfect top layer for all my winter riding.  Not only was I protected from the wind, I also felt safer during my commutes home during the dark days of winter due to its bright color and reflective features.

Of course the best part of the raincoat is that it is a stylish and fashionable item, unlike the majority of rain gear designed for bikers. I love the cut of it, how it flairs at the waist and complements the retro A-line skirts I like to wear.  I love the three ways that I can wear the collar to adjust to weather conditions and my fashion preferences.

All in all, I am extremely pleased with my raincoat.  As a daily cyclist who uses her bike as her primary form of transportation, the only time I ever dreaded and avoided riding was because of the rain.  Now I embrace it. I love it.  I find myself laughing out loud as I zoom through puddles and, yes folks, even singing a tune or two as I pedal.

A new line of raincoats has just arrived. There are additional colors and features. Check them out today!  Please keep in mind that since this is a U.K. company, the sizing is different.  Refer to this chart for size comparisons. My coat is a U.K. size 12. 

This designed and made in England coat is not cheap.  Readers of LGRAB can get a 30 pound (~$50) discount as long as supplies last by clicking the following link: www.cambridgeraincoats.co.uk/LGRAB

A photo from Cambridge Raincoat's website

Review: Ortlieb Bike Shopper Pannier

While test riding the Civia Twin City, I also tested the Ortlieb Bike Shopper rear pannier.  My Basil pannier, designed to fit my large Dutch rack, did not fit the Civia’s smaller rack, so Jon gave me the Ortlieb to go with the bike.  The hooks on this pannier can be adjusted to fit any size rack.

The pannier is waterproof.  This is the main attribute, as most of the panniers on the market are only water-resistent.  Personally, water-resistence has been adequate for my needs, as my cargo has never gotten wet, even in thunderstorms, and I always keep a plastic bag handy for extra emergency protection.

The second stand-out attribute of the pannier is the mounting system, which Ortlieb calls the “QL2″ system.  This allows you to attach and remove the pannier with barely any effort and with only one hand by pulling on a small strap handle, while the pannier remains securely attached otherwise.

The system is hard to describe, but it totally works wonders, so I made a quick video to demonstrate.  Note that I was able to detach and reattach the pannier all while holding a camera with my other hand.

Unfortunately, this ease of use does not extend to the plastic zipper, which is ridiculously hard to open and close.  I had to use both hands and pull hard just to get the zipper to slowly move.  Perhaps this gets easier over time, but over the course of three days and at least 10 tries, it did not.  Another awkward thing about the pannier is the way the shoulder straps simply dangle when the bag is mounted.  They are not long enough to get caught in the wheel, but the design should have been improved to provide the straps with a home.

The inside is large and holds about as much stuff as my Basil Design Shopper.  There are a few interior pockets to hold your keys, cellphone, and other objects you need to access easily.  I do not like how the bag narrows at the bottom, but I guess that is to prevent heel strike, although I’ve never had a heel strike problem with other panniers.

The pannier comes in several different colors.  I had the ice blue-gray color, which is the prettiest by far.  (Other options include neon green and black.)  I would like to see Ortlieb apply their awesome mounting system to panniers that are more attractive.  I am not interested in carrying into the office or the store a bag that looks like athletic equipment.  I consider a commuting pannier successful when the design allows for an easy transition from the bike to the rest of my life.

I must point out that all the photos on Ortlieb’s website are of men, making the company look out of touch with the current sea change in bicycle commuting.  As in – women do it, too!  Of course, Ortlieb is entitled to focus their market narrowly, but that does not mean I have to like it.

Overall, the Ortlieb Bike Shopper pannier is a high-quality and functional bag with an excellent mounting system that makes attaching and detaching the bag a breeze, even one-handed.  Unfortunately, this ease disappears when dealing with the zipper and arranging the awkwardly dangling straps.  For someone who absolutely needs a waterproof bag and is willing to invest $100 (a fair investment for years of bike commuting), the Bike Shopper is a good choice.  But if a water-resistant bag is good enough for your purposes, there are many other options that I would recommend, especially if you desire a bag that transitions from the bike to the office with more aplomb.

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Review: Lululemon Ride On Crop

Lululemon sent a pair of Ride On Crops along with the other items in the Ride On collection, but the sizing and style weren’t quite right for me. So I passed them along to one of the most faithful members of our bicycle gang to assess! In addition to being a badass cyclist who bike commutes from East Nashville to downtown more often than not, Lauren is a talented seamstress, so her opinion on clothing is probably worth a lot more than mine anyway. :) Without further ado, here’s Lauren’s take on the Ride On Crop

Let me preface this by pointing out that I don’t wear cycling-specifc clothes—nothing against those of who do, I’m just the kind of girl who rides in what she happens to be wearing. Which is usually something tacky like denim cut-off shorts and a ratty tank top. So I was pretty delighted to be given the opportunity to review these sweet little cropped pants.

As both Trisha and Dottie have pointed out, the sizing is kind of weird in this line. I was given the size 8 and it fits perfectly in the legs and bum, which is interesting since I normally wear a 2 or a 4 in ready-to-wear. The waist is a bit large, but I have a fairly substantial hip-to-waist ratio so I’m not necessarily going to blame the pants in this case. [ed: this seems to be common throughout the LL Ride On line; I had the same issue with the shorts. But I also have the waist-to-hip thing going on.] There is an (elastic!!) drawstring on the inside of the waistband, which cinched them to the correct size. The pants I was given are a greyish white, although they also come in indigo and black.

I really like the way these pants are engineered. As a seamstress, I love lurking the insides of a piece of clothing to see how it is constructed—especially something with such a high price tag! The very first thing I did when I got my hands on these pants was to flip them inside out and start inspecting seams. As Lululemon boasts on their website, the seams of these pants are specially engineered to avoid chafing—they are serged completely flat, so there isn’t any bulk to rub against. I’ve never had a problem with chafing (despite the aforementioned denim cut-offs), so I can’t really weigh in on that matter. But it does make for some very strong seams—and combined with how hefty the fabric is, despite the stretch factor, I feel that these pants are pretty hard-wearing.

The extra details (both fashion and functional) are what really sold me, however. The bottom flips up and buttons closed to make your pants into cropped length—and exposes the reflective trim. Can we all stop for a second and admire how cute that reflective trim is, by the way? It looks like rick-rack! So sweet, but it doesn’t scream GIRL’S CYCLING GEAR! Another feature I really love are all those mesh pockets at the hip—yes, those are pockets, and there are three of them.

I like to carry my phone and iPod in my pockets while I cycle, so I appreciate a good pocket. These pockets are awesome! I dropped my iPod in the back pocket for my ride into work (don’t worry —I keep my headphones around my neck while I’m riding :)) and it stayed put the whole way. The mesh is stretchy, so the elastic at the top keeps your stuff from popping out while you ride. Much more secure than pants pockets—I have definitely had my iPod push its way out of my back pocket before, and drop itself into the street! I also really loved that the drawstring at the waist is elastic. I needed to cinch in quite a bit to get the pants to fit at my waist, and the elastic kept everything comfortable so there was not digging into my midsection whenever I bent over.

I was excited to try the “moisture wicking and breathable” fabric—I am definitely a sweat-er and I need all the help I can get when it comes to staying cool :) And you know what? I think the fabric actually does a pretty good job! I was still pretty warm—cycling in 80*+ weather will do that to ya—but my legs didn’t get all sweaty and I found that I cooled down much more quickly than if I’d just been wearing jeans. It’s nice to have a pair of pants like this for cycling, especially since the mornings here start out pretty cool and then progress into those higher temperatures later in the day.

As far as the price is concerned . . . well, $92 does seem a little steep for what is essentially a pair of yoga pants. I will say that I think these pants are really well-made and have great details that definitely push them above your standard stretch exercise gear. And they are stylish enough to wear for non-cycling purposes—which is like getting two pairs of pants for the price of one. My butt has been getting a lot of compliments in these pants, which I’d say is definitely a plus!

{Thanks for your take on these pants, Lauren! This review is Lauren’s personal opinion and she was not paid to write it, although she is keeping the pants. :)  Lululemon is not a sponsor of LGRAB. Find out more about Lululemon here. Find out more about Lauren and her sweet handmade wardrobe here.}

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Review: Lululemon Pedal Pusher

A good handlebar bag is hard to find. Lululemon has entered the competition with The Pedal Pusher, a small baguette-style handlebar bag. I received this bag in the dune/fossil color combination, but it’s also available in black.

 

This bag has one main compartment and two external pockets on the front and back. This is a small bag that will easily carry the basics of purse, phone, chapstick, camera, etc,  but not much more. It has a comparable amount of interior space as my Po Campo Pilsen Bungee, though the soft nylon sides do allow for some cramming.

Inside, there are two mesh pockets—one zip, one not—and a strap to secure your keys.
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I love the pinstripe lining.

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Exterior, with a phone pocket. There is reflective piping along the edges of the zipper pocket. This piping is in the back of the bag also and is the only reflective material on the bag.

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Baguette-style bag

 

lululemon ride on collection

Straps with D-rings and clips to attach the bag to the handlebars

 

Straps to go around the stem.

External rear pocket, and straps to go around the stem.

I live on the edge and use this for my phone, not just as a “strap garage.” (I find the type instructions on what goes where to be annoying—both twee and dictatorial!—but realize others might not be bothered.)
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Like most handlebar bags, this one suffers a bit when it comes to actually attaching it to the handlebars (ah, the reality of brake cables!). The main problem here is that the straps that are meant to attach the bag to the stem for extra support (shown above) tend to come loose as you ride along, so that the bag will bounce as you go over bumps, and droop lower. This could be a problem if you have a short stem and no fender or front rack, since it could rub against the wheel.

On the plus side, the clip-on style makes it fast and easy to secure the bag to the handlebars. And the design, while a bit sportier than Po Campo, doesn’t scream “bike!”, nor is it obnoxiously girly. I find the herringbone strap particularly attractive. The material is water resistant and the straps and clips are very sturdy. The price ($58) is competitive. Those in the market for a smaller handlebar bag should take a look at The Pedal Pusher.

{This review is my personal opinion. I was not paid for the review, but the bag was sent to me to keep. Lululemon is not a sponsor of LGRAB.}

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Review: Lululemon Ride On Blazer

Dottie and I got the opportunity to review a few of the items from Lululemon’s Ride On! collection, a limited run of cycling clothes being released this month. (See her review of their rain jacket here.)

I’m also starting out with the item from the collection I liked the most: The Ride On Blazer.

I was sent this blazer in “fossil” in a size 6. If you have never tried Lululemon, know that they do not vanity size: definitely get a size up from what you wear normally. This jacket is a bit snug on me and fits more like a 2/4. Because it is a stretchy jersey-esque fabric, though, it’s not that big a deal.

Like the other items in the “Ride On” line, the blazer has specific details that were conceived with cyclists in mind. For example, the collar of the jacket has a fleecy insert that can be zipped up to your neck to keep out the chill, as shown on the model below. This piece can be removed.

detail photo from Lululemon's site

LIke the rain jacket, the blazer is longer in the back—no fear of showing anyone anything you don’t want them to see while you’re pedaling. I absolutely love the peplum effect that the back has.

Flaunting the back of the jacket

Note the small reflective detail near the elbows, almost a reflective rick-rack. There is another similar reflective detail on the collar if you pop it up, although that would normally be covered by my hair.

Yes, my seat is too low.

The jacket is cut with a generous pleat in the elbows, leaving lots of room for movement. The sleeves, however, are quite long, as you can tell by the fact that the reflective strip is on my forearm and not actually at my elbow. They do have thumbholes so you can keep the wind off your hands.

detail photo from Lululemon's site

There are two pockets with trendy exposed zippers. The fabric is some Lululemon trademarked thing that is breathable and moisture-wicking.

Overall, this jacket is a win for me. Though the fit is not perfect, it is comfortable, I’ve gotten countless compliments on it in just a week, and it has a lot of thoughtful functional details that prove it was made with cyclists in mind. The one thing that surprises me is that they weren’t a little heavier on the reflective details—as with the rain jacket, there are no reflective pieces on the back of the jacket other than the one on the collar. I would love to know why this didn’t happen. Maybe they’re worried about limiting the market, despite it being a cycling-specific collection? In most of the online reviews of this product, the purchasers make no reference to bicycling.

And then there’s the price: $168. Not outrageous for this sort of well-made piece, but certainly not an amount of money I’d throw down without a little bit of inner turmoil. Your mileage may vary, of course! Still, if you are looking for a unique, stylish jacket with cyclist-specific details to wear on your rides, the Ride On Blazer is the cutest I’ve seen yet.

More on the jacket on Lululemon’s site.

{This review is my personal opinion. I was not paid for the review, but the jacket was sent to me to keep. Lululemon is not a sponsor of LGRAB.}

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Review: Lululemon Ride On Rain Jacket

When Lululemon approached me and Trisha to review some products from their new Ride On collection, we were intrigued. First, because we are fans of Lululemon (I love their yoga pants and tops with built-in bras). Second, because free stuff is fun, as long as it does not suck and waste room in our closets. Finally, because it’s really cool to see a mainstream brand acknowledge the growing popularity of transportation bicycling.

We recently received several pieces each and overall we are impressed, especially since the collection is not covered in pink and flowers (not that we’re opposed to such, but we see a bit too much of that in women-specific bike wear). We definitely have mixed reviews on some of the items, which we will talk about later, but I wanted to post specifically about the product that I absolutely fell in love with: the Ride On Rain Jacket.

Lululemon Ride On Rain Jacket - Unzipped

As you can see, the Ride On Rain Jacket is similar to a classic rain trench, but it is optimized to be worn for transportation cycling AND it’s super elegant.

The fit of this jacket stands out as unique among all rain jackets I have seen. The fabric is light and drapes beautifully. The waist is cinched by pulling two drawstrings on the inside of the jacket. Brilliant! This allows for a perfect fit and makes the shape so much more flattering.

Soft lining, inside pocket, waist cinching drawstring

Zipped with waist cinched

The fabric is breathable and not heavy, which is important for a rain jacket, because I’d rather get wet by the rain than by sweat. I wore the jacket in 30 degree weather by simply layering a cashmere sweater underneath. This jacket performed well in light rain and windy conditions. I have not had the luck to test it in heavy rain yet.

On the bike

The hood is large to fit over a helmet, although I usually find a helmet alone sufficient to keep my head dry and a hood could interfere with peripheral vision. There is a drawstring on the hood to keep it in place the also helps with vision.

Zipped up with the hood

The back of this rain jacket is the best part, in my opinion, with an elegant and stylish shape that drapes nicely over my thighs and keeps my pants dry all around. I had no problems with the back getting near my wheel on either my Dutch bike or my Rivendell (which has no skirt guard). There are cords that can be pulled to bunch the bottom up and stop it from draping.

The back

The cuffs are strongly reflective and there is some additional reflective strips around the pockets. For a jacket made specifically for bicycling, I would prefer more reflective pieces and I’m bewildered by the decision not to include more, especially on the back.

Reflective Cuffs

Reflective cuffs at night with flash

This beauty of this rain trench does not fully come through in photos, so I made a quick video to give you a better idea of the draping and fit.

Now, price – $298. Would I walk into a store and pay that much….ummmm, probably not. Would I stalk the store in hopes that it eventually would go on sale? Absolutely, although that usually does not end well for me.

I’m not saying that the jacket is not worth the price, because it seems to be very well-made and it’s so unique, but I’m not exactly rolling in the dough and I’m not the type of person to drop 300 bones on a rain coat. BUT now that I have the jacket, I want to wear it every day forever, so who knows.

Lululemon sent me a size 8 and I think a size 6 would be a better fit, but because I can cinch the waist, it’s not a big deal.

You can learn more about and buy the train trench via Lululemon.

If you’re interested, you can see the rain coat I’ve been using for years here. I bought it from Patagonia and it was not cheap (over $160) but it leaves much of my legs exposed, does not always cover my seat, and gets very icky humid inside. The Lululemon jacket is an improvement.

{This review is my own personal opinion. I was not paid for the review, I just get to keep this sweet trench. Lululemon is not a sponsor of LGRAB.}

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Review: Mini Monkey Light

For the last two months, I’ve been dazzling Nashville with my Mini Monkey Light M210 from Monkey Electric. And I really mean that—while it’s no Christmas light set, this is the sort of lighting option that draws oohs and ahs from pedestrians and is difficult for motorists to miss. Very important attributes when it starts getting dark at 4:30!

The Monkey Light is easy to install, with a battery case  (3 AA) that rests on top of the wheel’s hub and a small circuit board that fits between the spokes like a baseball card.

 

The on/off button, and the button that allow you to select which pattern you want the light to display, are on the circuit board, as you can see below—they’re labled “Power” and “Theme.”

You may also notice that there’s a “tire” and “hub” indicator, and mine is facing the wrong way.  This did not seem to affect its performance, although I’m sure it alters some of the patterns, so I changed it around after these photos were taken. I attached the Monkey Light to my rear wheel only; I felt like both would have been overkill and I was worried that the battery pack would affect the bike’s performance. That does not seem to have happened,  although my definition of “performance” is doubtless less stringent than most.

Sadly, I can’t seem to get a picture of the light at night to save my life, though I’ve made a few efforts. Whitney finally helped me out and got the best snaps yet. I believe the pattern I have selected is the red “fireball” shown here. I may look like a ghost, but you can definitely tell the lights are BRIGHT.

Luckily, they have a video that better displays what the Monkey Light can do (and has me thinking that maybe I should install it on both wheels after all?).

You can find out more about Monkey Electric and the Monkey Light on their site, or their Kickstarter page. The Monkey Light Mini will be available in February for $49.99, but you can pre-order now. While the price is a tad steep (especially if you want to use the light on both wheels) this light definitely delivers when it comes to visibility (and in two months of use, I haven’t drained the batteries).

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Beautiful Bike Accessories: Po Campo Rack Tote

A year and a half ago I met Emily and Maria, two young women who started a company designing and producing stylish bike bags in Chicago called Po Campo. Holding one of their bags, I instantly saw that it was very high quality and the chicest bike accessory I’d ever seen.  Since then, their business has really taken off and their bags are now carried all around Chicago, the country and the world.

Last April, I bought my Po Campo Rack Tote. I’m sure there are dozens of photos of my Po Campo bag on this site – almost every picture of my Betty Foy has the Po Campo on the back rack. Now that I’ve put the bag through extensive use and abuse and we’ve had time to bond, here is my full review.

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Beautiful Bicycles: De Fietsfabriek Oma

I recently test rode the De Fietsfabriek Oma for three days and thirty miles. De Fietsfabriek is a Dutch bike company and the U.S. distributor is a lovely shop along my daily commute route, owned and run by Jon Lind. (A great interview with Jon is here.)

This is the first bicycle I have tested that matches the quality of my WorkCycles Azor Oma and has features that I wish my Oma had. In fact, my Oma has now been slightly altered to incorporate one of the De Fietsfabriek’s accessories – more on that later.

I’m not saying that this bike is a rival for my love, but I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers.

Before I begin to discuss all of the components, I must point out the design touches that make this bike extra special. As shown below (the “FF” stands for “Fietsfabriek”) lettering can be die cast into the frame, between the top and bottom tubes. You can choose to spell your name or anything else you want. Now I totally want “Dottie” on my Oma!

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Review: My Basil Blossom Postmenbag

Basil Blossom Postmenbag

Dottie and I have both had a lot of questions about our Basil bags. Now that I’ve had mine for 6 months, it’s time for a review. I have the Basil Blossom “Postmenbag” in white, and have been extremely pleased with it since I bought it at Copenhagen Cyclery in June. (The bag is also available on Amazon.)

Based in the Netherlands, Basil has been producing Dutch bike accessories since the 70s, and their whimsical patterns and quality construction have made them a well-known name. They make bags, panniers, seat covers, baskets and more, and their line is becoming available in more and more bike shops across the U.S.

The Postmenbag is basically a messenger bag modified to attach to a bike rack: the back is reinforced to add structure, and the design on the nylon fabric is moderately reflective (there are two reflective stripes on each side of the bag).

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