Friday, February 28, 2014

The Long Winter Blues

Here's one for everyone (still) spinning away on the indoor trainers:

Yep, I'd say that just about captures the feeling.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Razor Blades, Upgrades, And Blissful Ignorance

Long, long ago, when the first wispy hairs sprouted upon my adolescent chin, I learned to shave with a pretty simple razor. Given my Luddite tendencies, you might think it was one of these, sharpened upon a leather strop:

You got me. This is only here so I could use the word "strop".

Alas, I am a geezer, but I'm not that geezerish. But my (modern safety) razor had just one blade (or maybe two... my geezerish memory fails me). And I shaved with that thing for years (changing the blade as it got dull, obviously). And it was fine.

However, as anyone who's shaved any part of their anatomy over the last two decades knows, the razor companies have been in a bit of an arms race. Three blades. Four. Five. Goop-strips to make them slide over your face or other anatomy. Pivoting blades. Bendy blades. And at some point during that arms race, a marketing flack for one of the razor companies got the brilliant idea to distribute some free samples of their many-bladed breakthroughs to potential customers. I got one of those free samples. And while there was absolutely nothing wrong with my existing razor, I figured I had it, it was free, so heck, might as well try it.

You see where this is headed, right? I loved it, and now I feel like I can't live without that multi-bladed monstrosity, mortgaging my kidneys so I can afford replacement megablades. I could still scrape the barnacles off my face just as well with that old one-blader, but now that I've felt the caress of a half-dozen blades behind a goop strip, I can't go back. Thanks, jerk who thought up the free sample idea.

What is all this doing in a bicycle blog, you ask? Well, your "real bicycle journalist" (as opposed to us schlubs banging out prattle in our undies) gets a whole lot of free samples, a.k.a. "schwag". Keep that in mind when a magazine review tells you that an upgrade is a "must-have" that you "can't live without." These aren't bad people, mind you. In most cases, I honestly don't think they're trying to get you to buy something you don't need. They're just bike geeks (in the most loving sense of the word) who get to enjoy all the best stuff without having to mortgage their kidneys. It's a recipe for unbridled enthusiasm, because they never have to ask, "Do I need this? Can I afford this? Does this improve the experience of riding enough to justify its cost?"

(Full disclosure: Bloggers get freebies too, and are not immune to their siren song. During the life of this mediocre blogularity, manufacturers have gifted me the sum total of one helmet lock, one pair of shoes, and one water bottle. I did my best to make that clear in my reviews and not be influenced by the freebies, but I'm human.) 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lighting Nerd Chronicles: Riding Safe With The SafeRide

Realized much to my chagrin that I'm behind on my review of the Philips SafeRide, so here's an update for the lighting nerds.

I confess that I still haven't taken it out for an extended ride in pitch blackness. The weather just hasn't been conducive for "real" night riding, at least when you're a big wussbag like yours truly. However, it has served as my one and only light for urban commutes in the morning and evening, through all sorts of weather. As such, I feel at least mildly qualified to review it on that use case.

In my early impressions of the SafeRide, I focused a lot on the (perceived) construction quality of the light, and those initial impressions are still holding up after several months of actual use. While so many other bike lights feel like plastic toys, the SafeRide feels like a bike light for grownups. I've even dropped mine a couple times on concrete (in the interest of science... yeah, that's the ticket!) and it hasn't flinched. Even in the extreme-bordering-on-insane temperatures we've been "enjoying" this winter, the mounting bracket closes with the same confidence-inspiring "clack" every time -- no signs of brittleness or cracking.

Which is all well and good if you're packing for ultralight bike camping and want your light to double as a mallet for driving tent stakes -- but how does it work as a light? Pretty darn well, it turns out. I have no way of testing this scientifically, but my perception is that the number of cars pulling out in front of me or right-hooking me has gone down since I started using the SafeRide. I don't think it's the raw brightness of the light -- after all, there are plenty of lights out there that can beat it on pure, retina-searing power. I really think it's the size and shape of the reflector. From a distance, it has a presence in the lane that so many of today's laser-pointer bike lights lack. It doesn't look like a car headlight thanks to the weird rectangular shape, but it looks like something big and worthy of note.

Downsides? Well, if your commute is longer and/or darker than mine, I imagine charging could get tiresome. I run my light on the low setting (high just seems to be overkill on a route with a lot of ambient light) for about 20 minutes a day, and find myself topping off the charge once every two weeks. For reference, I'm still running the stock batteries that came with the light, and charging them via the stock charger. Time will tell how many cycles they have in them. It would also be nice if spare handlebar brackets were easier to come by -- I'd like to move this thing around the fleet, but it looks like I'll have to place an order across an ocean to make that happen (no big whoop, as it is a small world, after all).

There's also that size/weight ("chunky and massive") thing I mentioned in my early review linked above, but I see that as the flip side of the "able to drive tent stakes" durability and the large reflector size. You just can't get those features into a featherweight penlight. Considering the number of cheap (and not-so-cheap) plastic lights I've destroyed and patched up with duct tape over the years, it's a compromise I'm happy to make.

Okay, so all I owe you now is an extended night ride test. If you can send some warm weather to Iowa, I'll get right on that. 

As usual, the disclaimer: No bribes of product, money, coffee, or pizza changed hands as compensation for this review. However, if my purple prose has inspired you to buy a SafeRide of your own and you do so via the fancy Amazon link below, I'll get a tiny kickback from Amazon. Hooray for internet commerce!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Cycle Answers Stupid Questions: Part 1 of (Sadly) Many

I made the mistake of looking at a feature in our local rag (er, "fine, print-based journalism") today that they call "Your 2 Cents' Worth". Basically, it's a column for people to vent short, uninformed, anonymous opinions at the world (or at least the seven people who still read our local rag) -- think Twitter printed on toilet paper.

The comment that got my goat today came from "East-Side Grandma", but you'll hear similar nonsense being spewed by folks of all ages from all sides of all towns. ESG writes:

"I'm getting ready to get my car tags and pay for the use of the roads we drive on. I think the bike people who use the roads and trails should have to buy tags, too. They should pay for the use and upkeep, not taxpayers who don't ride bikes."

Uh, I got news for you: Those "bike people"? I'd bet that 99.999% of them OWN A CAR. Case in point? Here's mine:


Now, before you get all excited that it doesn't have "car tags" on it, this was the day we bought the thing. I did my civic duty (even though it's a Fit -- see what I did there? Little Honda pun. You get that for free.) I paid my money to the gub'mint, and it's been properly dressed in "car tags" ever since. Oh, and it runs on gasoline, not discarded deep-fryer oil, so I'm paying gas taxes too. In short, I AM A TAXPAYER AND CITIZEN JUST LIKE YOU, AND AS SUCH, I HAVE AS MUCH RIGHT TO BE ON THE ROAD -- WHETHER ON MY BIKE OR IN MY CAR -- AS YOU DO.

(Even if I sold the car and stopped paying for "car tags" and gas, I'd still have every right to be on that road. But I guess it's the "freeloading cyclist" argument that pisses me off the most. You really want fairness? Then make people pay for how much they use. I'll gladly pony up for the space my bike takes up and the damage it does if it means that every jerkwad taking up 1.5 lanes in a 3-ton Hummer is held to the same standard.)

Calming down, calming down, switching to decaf...