Our very own Adam Perry recently participated in the first-annual Eroica California vintage-only ride in and around Paso Robles, California. His recap, for Bicycle Times, is available for your reading pleasure here.
PRODUCT REVIEW: Vaya Black Tea Pannier/Backpack
by Adam Perry & Irene Joyce for IronVelo.com
For the last couple months, Irene Joyce – who I am lovingly tackling Ride the Rockies with this summer – has been using Vaya’s beautiful “Black Tea” pannier/backpack around Boulder, Colo., on and off her Bianchi Volpe. Irene and I take setting an example for our daughter, Sidney, seriously. Part of that is not taking life too seriously; part is trying to bike Sidney to and from school as much as possible. Vaya’s handmade (in New York City) Black Tea has helped make that intention a reality, and generally made Irene’s training for Ride the Rockies (by biking between school, work and home and doing longer rides with me and solo) smoother as well.
Becoming more accustomed to commuting and touring by bike over the years, trying out panniers and backpacks and pannier/backpacks has made it obvious that designing a pannier/backpack is incredibly difficult. It seems as though they always work better as a pannier than a backpack, or vice versa. As for the Vaya Black Tea ($215), it’s no doubt one of the best as combos go. Irene “all-around” loves it. When we both leave by bike in the morning, seeing the joy with which Irene prepares things for her day inside the Black Tea is inspiring as someone who took about four years to find a pannier/backpack (the Vaude Cycle 22) to his satisfaction.
Specifically, Irene loves the Vaya Black Tea’s “overall look and design, the industrial sleekness; the waterproof inside and bottom; the big buckles; the fold-over or expansion potential on the top closure; the front pocket and its reliable Velcro,” along with the pannier/backpack’s size, which is perfect for just about any adult. The Black Tea’s rear reflective stripes and U-Lock holder help keep Irene and our daughter safe and secure, too.
Irene is not so in love, however, with “the D-rings from the crossed buckles when [the Black Tea] is a pannier.” She says they occasionally get caught in the spokes of her Bianchi.
She’s also frustrated sometimes with “the difficulty of securing [the Black Tea]” to her rear rack “when it is heavy [full] and one hand is holding it while the other fumbles with the two sides of a buckle.”
“The thing that seems like a toss up,” Irene concludes, “is the totally boxy bottom. It is wonderful for economy of space and for books and for setting the [Black Tea] down without it toppling over and all your stuff falling out. However, it is often in the way of my heel when I am pedaling to the back.”
On a bike with a large chainstay, such as a Surly Long Haul Trucker, the heel-kick problem Irene describes would probably not be a problem. But the Bianchi Volpe she rides is not really meant for fully loaded touring, though I did camp with it successfully across Switzerland two summers ago.
On that subject, it’s clear that the Vaya Black Tea will be perfect for our week-long Ride the Rockies tour, which will not require that Irene and I carry our own camping gear. The Black Tea is incredibly stylish; it’s very functional as a commuter bag, and as a light-touring bag we’re sure it will excel in carrying snacks, accessories, tools, clothing, etc., and look damn good doing it.
PRODUCT REVIEW: Prendas Ciclismo Sublimated Pro Winter Hat
by Adam Perry for IronVelo.com
February 23, 2015
Some companies in the cycling industry are way too racer-oriented for my taste, with clothing, gear and/or bikes built only for speed and pretense. Other companies seem to focus only on fashion – aesthetics – rather than keeping function, i.e. “The Unracer,” in mind. Prendas Ciclismo – the English stalwarts of biking gloves, jerseys, socks, hats, bibs and other necessities – strikes an impressive balance. Their products – such as the Windstopper Fuga winter-cycling jacket, which I covet – are stylish, classy and highly functional. Prendas’ products also aren’t ridiculously expensive, compared to some of the big-name European brands.
This winter, I’ve spent a lot of time trying out cycling clothes and gear my on cold, wet, sometimes downright apocalyptic commutes in Boulder. Some have kept me warm, dry and comfortable but not been to my liking aesthetically, while others look hip but don’t function well enough to recommend. The Prendas Sublimated Pro Winter Hat is so far my favorite cycling product this year, excelling at both style and design.
Anyone knows me can tell you black and yellow are my favorite colors, having been born and raised in the Steel City of Pittsburgh; still, I loathe the neon-greenish yellow that’s ubiquitous (yet smart and safe) on cycling jerseys and jackets. The Prendas Pro Winter Hat, significantly overstated compared to the company’s beautiful standard Winter Hat, uses the aforementioned nearly-green yellow tastefully, wrapping the back of the warm, soft Belgian-style nylon hat in a badass yellow that’s just a smidgen shy of obnoxious. An important smidgen, at that.
The Prendas Pro Winter Hat keeps my ears warm on frigid Colorado commutes, and the big bill – which I keep flipped-up without a helmet off and keep straight with helmet off – gives great shade on sunny morning rides. It’s snug and warm but comfy and breathable. To be totally honest, however, my favorite thing about this hat is that it makes me look like a member of Suicidal Tendencies circa 1983.
PRODUCT REVIEW: Topeak DryBag
by Adam Perry for IronVelo.com
February 12, 2015
A few months ago, I saw Topeak’s sleek Tri DryBag being sold online for just $19 and had to get it. I’m sure part of my interest was the DryBag’s black-and-a-little-yellow color scheme, but mostly I was excited about having a little weather-proof frame bag near my handlebars for easy access to snacks and my Blackberry, as well as a place to store my wallet and keys on long local rides (like Boulder to Denver) without having to take panniers.
The DryBag, which weighs just 2.2 ounces and is made of coated nylon, is aesthetically beautiful, especially on my black Kona Splice 29er. It’s made of coated nylon and is about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide, and attaches to your bike’s top tube and head tube with three Velcro straps. Inside the bag are two cushy yellow pockets perfect for smartphones, energy bars, multitools, wallets, etc.
I’ve been using the DryBag all winter for snowy, rainy, freezing-cold rides and it’s been amazing. Last weekend the bag got its first real test, however, on the 100-km Oskar Blues “Old Man Winter” ride, and two pet peeves emerged: #1, on extended climbs, it’s tough not to rub your knees against the bag, which stands on the top tube rather than resting beneath it, like my non-weather proof (but beloved) Roswheel bag. And #2, the DryBag is hella noisy. Every time I moved my handlebars even a smidgen, the faux-leather coating on the DryBag creaked. I didn’t notice that much when I was blasting And Justice for All… on my Blackberry’s speaker while climbing Lefthand Canyon. But the creaking is pretty annoying.
For about $20, though, Topeak’s DryBag is a good value. It’s functional and stylish and cheap; biking through storms with the knowledge that my phone, wallet, etc. is staying dry and close at hand, a little creak will be the last thing on my mind.
PRODUCT REVIEW: Biltong by Mile High Dry Goods
by Tim Franklin for IronVelo.com
If you’re like me, you only eat energy and other food bars in emergencies. I have had my fill of them over the years and now prefer to eat real food when I ride. It’s hard to find portable, whole-food snacks that have a lot of protein. I recently tried biltong – a dried, cured meat snack from South Africa – and I am hooked. Also hooked are my kids, co-workers and everyone else who has tried it.
I got my first taste of biltong as a sample from Mile High Dry Goods. According to the back of the package, biltong (pronounced Bill-Tong) is derived from the Dutch words “Bil” (meaning “rump”) and “Tong” (meaning “strip”). Thus, biltong is strips of dried meat flavored with spices. Biltong is apparently a staple in South Africa. Every South African family has their own cherished and guarded recipe that is passed from generation to generation. The Hicks brothers, immigrants from South Africa who now reside in Denver, co-own Mile High Dry Goods and are now producing their family’s biltong for the masses.
I was provided with a package of the “traditional” flavor biltong and I packed it along on a few bike rides and in my brief case on my last work trip. The biltong, supplemented with an apple or some nuts, provided energy for me and staved of cravings when traveling until I could get some non-airport food. The taste is fresh, which sounds strange for a dried meat, but it is fresh, with nice light hints of vinegar and pepper.
If you like jerky, you will likely love biltong. Indeed, the Mile High Dry Goods website states, “Biltong, it’s not jerky, it’s better!” I would have to agree. Most jerky you get today is highly processed, as the meat comes from scraps and is shredded into tiny pieces and then pressed together and formed into strips that look like chunks of meat. Additionally, modern jerky contains preservatives and a host of other nasty ingredients. According to Angus Hicks, Mile High’s biltong is made from top round and bottom round, which is then cut into long strips (steaks) and then cured in spices and brine for two days. After it’s brined, they hang it for twenty-one days and then slice and package the final product. On the back of the package I enjoyed, the ingredients are: beef, salt, brown sugar, black pepper, coriander and vinegar. That’s it. For true paleos, Mile High is going to produce biltong without sugar in the near future.
The package I had was all natural beef and was 4oz, suggested retail of $10.95. You can get grass-fed beef for $3.00 more and both the grass-fed and natural come in spicy flavor as well. Spinelli’s in Denver’s Park Hill currently sells the Mile High Dry Goods’ biltong, and more stores may carry it in the future, but he best way to get it is to order it directly through the website.
Aero Tech 3M Scotchlite Reflective 360 High Visability Full Zip Cycling Jacket
by Adam Perry for IronVelo.com
Aero Tech, a cyclewear company based about 20 minutes from Pittsburgh, is about to move to the Steel City’s North Side, planting itself more firmly in my underrated hometown’s rebirth as the Portland of the East. With more bike commuters by the day – thanks in part to progressive new mayor Bill Peduto – the Great Allegheny Passage bringing cyclists from all over into town during the warmers months, and cheap rent bringing artists from places like Brooklyn and San Francisco, Pittsburgh is becoming a forward-thinking, hip little city, and its cyclists are going to need clothing that works well for riding as well as hanging out at Over the Bar.
I’ve been testing out Aero Tech’s affordable 3M Scotchlite Reflective 360 High Visability Full Zip Cycling Jacket the past couple weeks while biking around Boulder and Denver, and its functional fashion fits nicely between desire and need.
Billed by Aero Tech as “ideal for the dedicated athlete who goes out before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down,” the neon-green version of the 100% polyester 360 jacket is highly visible, which is a necessity for winter commuters like myself. However, I went with the more subtle black version, which almost looks like an Oakland Raiders jersey. It features reflective silver stripes down the back, along the front zipper, and down both sleeves. That’s more than enough visibility, especially if you’re also utilizing – as you should – both front and rear lights on your bike.
The 360 in black is sleek and comfortable; unlike a fully neon jacket, with the black 360 you can trust you won’t look obnoxiously dorky and out of place if your ride ends with a meet-up with friends at a bar.
Also, the iPod (or smartphone) pocket on the outside of the 360’s left breast is a nice-looking design, but I wouldn’t want an electronic device pumping Lithium battery and/or wireless signals so close to my heart. I’ll probably use it to store a mid-ride snack.
As for warmth, we’ve had enough disparate weather lately in Boulder – from around zero degrees to over 70 – to adequately decipher the 360’s versatility, and the results are good. I say only “good” because in temperatures below, say, 25 degrees I’ve had to wear a warm hoodie underneath, although on longer rides in cold weather I find that warmth from gloves and headwear is more important than serious body warmth, as you create that by cycling. In temperatures above 60, especially if you’re climbing Sunshine Canyon like I did the other day at lunchtime, you’ll want to store the 360 in your panniers and then put it back on for the descent.
The 360 is a great choice for those of us whose daily commutes by bike aren’t interrupted by little things like blizzards and subzero temperatures. In some ways the 360 – with its three rear water-bottle pockets and tiny zipper pocket – is more of a warm jersey than a jacket, and that worked out perfect for me when I climbed Flagstaff in Boulder last week. Aero Tech has several better jacket options if you’re a multi-sport athlete, a cyclist who only bikes very short distances in winter, or you just want to look cool and feel warm.
PRODUCT REVIEW: Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack
by Adam Perry for IronVelo.com
On my solo cycling adventure from Hungary to Poland last fall, I took a borrowed Arkel Bug pannier/backpack in order to avoid one of my pet peeves from previous bike tours: pushing my boxed-up bicycle through airports while also, somehow, carrying two bike bags loaded with clothing, tools, snacks, etc. Designed in Canada, the Bug is waterproof, super durable, not too heavy, and includes a lifetime warranty. Though it flew off my Long Haul Trucker at one point on a long, muddy forest descent in Slovakia, having a pannier that converts to a backpack was a serious upgrade from the off-the-bike clumsiness and annoyance I’d experienced on previous bike tours. I love my simple, cheap Avenir Excursion panniers year-round for commuting but, in my experience, standard panniers just don’t work for serious bike tours.
Santa Claus – better known as my beloved Irene – gave me an Arkel Bug pannier from Full Cycle for Christmas last month, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since, using one of my Avenir panniers on the other side, or not at all. Like Santa’s bag of goodies, the Bug fits a lot of stuff; its sharp red color even reminds me of Christmas, and surprisingly I haven’t minded forgoing the strict black-and-yellow-only code I generally adhere to with my bikes and gear.
The only two complaints I have about how Arkel designed the current edition of the Bug include one that’s fairly arbitrary (unlike the Bug I used in Eastern Europe, the newer version has no zipper pocket on the front of the bag to store a phone, snacks, small go-to tools, a notepad, etc.) and one that is fairly serious: Unlike many panniers, the Bug features clips that only rest on bike racks, rather than securely clipping over the sides of a rack. This makes it tough to get the Bug onto (and off of) some racks for use as a pannier, and makes it much more likely for the bag to fly off during descents or off-road ventures.
Overall, the Bug is a luxurious (though not incredibly expensive, compared to bags by Brooks and others) and highly functional option for use as a pannier/backpack on either bike trips or outings that combine cycling and hiking or just cycling and sightseeing. The Bug looks great and, other than camping gear, just one bag fits everything a cyclist would need for a bike tour lasting a couple days (if your tour is, say, more than three days you’ll need a second bag on the other side of your rack).
I work in an office 9 to 5 every weekday, so it’s a treat to now have a bike bag I can detach and carry into work as a backpack when I arrive. But if you aren’t often taking your panniers on and off, and you don’t do overnight bike tours, I would suggest a cheaper option, like the large Avenir Excursion dual bags, which fit enough stuff for a week-long bike tour but aren’t meant for carrying while off the bike.