Monday, November 12, 2018

Strap In

My long-ago promised long-term test of lots of light-reflecting, leg-strapping technology has at long last arrived! (See, you thought there wasn't even a blog here any more, didn't you?)

In a nutshell (so you can stop reading and go back to cat videos): I am duly impressed by this Leg Shield stuff, especially their ankle and wrist bands. Sure, it's hard to get super excited about reflective ankle bands, but if you're going to make (or buy) a reflective ankle band, why make (or buy) a crappy one? The price difference between "lousy" and "really well done" is about the price of a fancy coffee, and it's safety we're talking about here (though one could argue that not giving me coffee is also a safety hazard).

Nothing illustrates that "safety" point better than this photo I just snapped in our top-secret testing laboratory here at The Cycle World Headquarters:

In the interest of science, I grabbed all the reflective bands I could find in the garage (er, laboratory), wrapped them around the basket of my commuter mule, turned on the flash on my phone camera, and snapped away. The two visual representations of the word "meh" on your right are the sort of thing you can find at just about any sporting goods store (I think the brand is Nathan), while that retina-searing, sci-fi-movie special effect on your left is a Leg Shield ankle band. The Leg Shield folks confirmed that their reflective material is not made by 3M (for now), but jeez, looking at these results, who cares? Not I. The thing is so bright, it even summoned the ghost of another reflective band which you can see on the floor next to my front tire.

So let's talk about the less-photogenic Leg Shield, which is the product I was really interested in at the start of this test. Sure, I have a chain guard on the mule photographed above, but my go-slightly-faster bike sports no such built-in pants protecting technology, and I often ride said go-slightly-faster bike in human clothes on my morning commute. As such, I need something to keep chain grunge off my pants, it needs to be easy to take on and off, and it shouldn't make my calf gross and sweaty during my commute.

I'm happy to report that after several months of testing, the Leg Shield hit 2.5 out of 3 of those requirements. It keeps crap off my pants, both of the chain variety and the "puddle scum that got around my front fender" variety. It's easy to put on and take off. And for my short, relatively low-exertion commute, it doesn't trigger my Sweaty Calf Syndrome. However, in the interest of science (yet again), I wore the Leg Shield over jeans a couple of times this summer and took my "long way home" (about 10 miles) in legendary Iowa humidity as a "worst case scenario" simulation of what someone with a longer commute might encounter. In those admittedly sub-optimal conditions, the sweat was pretty prodigious (even for me), leading to one obviously wet and wrinkly pant leg when I took the shield off, even after stopping to loosen it up for improved airflow.
In response to my initial concerns (since confirmed) about Sweaty Calf Syndrome, the good folks at Leg Shield had this to say: "We tested various materials (perforated neoprene, felt, spandex) but they weren't much cooler... if we make the shield smaller it's not as effective. Neoprene is durable, flexible, and not as flimsy, so it's easy to put on." Fair enough. So my recommendation would be, in cooler temps or areas of the world with less humidity, go with a Leg Shield. When the temperature (or your commute distance) climbs, use the ankle band instead. It's wide enough and grippy enough to keep your pant leg off the chain but doesn't have enough surface area to fire up the sweat glands... and you get more reflectivity to boot.

With all that said, it's now shifting to winter here in Iowa, and I'll be switching almost exclusively to the chainguarded klunker for my commute needs, so I won't have much use for leg shielding for a while... which is why I'm going to share my test samples with a Mystery Guest Reviewer (stay tuned!) to get even more opinionated blather. I'm wrapping a couple straps around strategic parts of the klunk-muter, though -- no way I'm letting something that bright go to waste during the darkest months of the year.

I said it before, but it bears repeating: I was not bribed, coerced, or otherwise unduly influenced to review this stuff favorably, though the Leg Shield folks did send me free review samples. I am susceptible to schwag but tried not to let that influence my opinions.

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