Tag Archives: Reviews

Minnehaha pannier long-term review

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I snagged one of these Minnehaha canvas utility panniers last year (on sale at Restoration Hardware – weird, right?) and have put it through daily rides since then. Minnehaha touts the “Utility without a utilitarian look”, which I think means it doesn’t look super sporty like the Ortliebs and others. It passes my can-I-take-this-into-a-meeting-at-work test. They retail for $64.99.

The design is simple without frills. Black canvas, leather fastening strap, one interior pocket, 2 top hooks, and a shoulder strap.

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With a 13″ laptop, pants, a shirt, spare tube, and a paperback book, there was still a little bit of room for lunch. It’s by no means a large pannier, but I’ve adapted my grocery runs to fit this bag for the last year, except when I ride the xtracycle (and buy way too much — economies of scale).

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The rear profile shows the approximate volume of the bag, which is to say it’s much slimmer than my bargain-bin Nashbar pannier (nicknamed “The Tumor”) by this guy.

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The interior pocket is big enough to fit a tube, phone, multi-tool, and a candy bar. During a downpour, I put my cell phone in it, and it stayed dry. On that note, the pannier isn’t waterproof, but Minnehaha says you can use a trash bag as a waterproof liner. I spray the pannier with some Nikwax before it rains, and it seems to help the rain bead and roll off a bit.

The upper mounting hooks have stayed put, but I lost the lower bungee-hook thing, so I replaced the hook with a cheap carabiner. Before I replaced the hook, I learned the hard way that the pannier will bounce off without a lower mount. Oops.

Overall, I’ve been pleased with the bag, and I think it’ll see a few years of good use. It’s great around town, good for an overnight bike camping trip, but not stout enough for a long tour.

For roughly 3 times the price, the Philosophy bags take canvas panniers to a new level – waterproof, made in US, touring-grade mounts. The Minnehaha pannier is a great place to start.

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Xtracycle: one year review

3 words: Desert, Island, Bike.

xtracycle against beautiful cloudy sky background

  • It can carry heavy things, big things, or nothing
  • It rides like a cruiser: easy and comfortable
  • I installed the kit on a free 1980′s Diamondback Ascent frame
  • Installation is easy: add the rear frame, chain extension, longer brake and shifter cables
  • It can carry 200 pounds, but over 125-150 feels kinda wobbly and scary
  • Long distances are no problem; I commute on it, and I’ve ridden it 30 miles at a time
  • It is heavy, and I wouldn’t want to lug it up stairs
  • It’s long, so I put it wherever it fits and is out of the way
  • It excels at carrying balanced loads and long things

When I sold my car three years ago, I could carry about two bags of groceries home on my road bike in panniers.  With that much weight over just the rear, steering got wobbly and scary, and I couldn’t carry as much as I wanted to.  So I bought a used Burley D’lite trailer off Craigslist for $100.  Now I could haul 100 lb loads, but I had to plan accordingly and hook up the trailer.  The bike and trailer were a little long to park at some bike racks, and the connection & disconnection was a little tedious.  Finally, I bought an xtracycle kit.  Why didn’t I buy a Big Dummy?  Because this was much cheaper and I liked the way this uses a repurposed bike frame.

I combined the kit with a free 1980′s Diamondback Ascent MTB frame, and some cheap parts from Querencia Community Bike Shop.  Installation was easy and took about an hour, and you get the rear xtra frame + long brake/shifter cables, and a chain extension.  I added a CETMA cargo rack on the front, Ergon GP1 grips, Schwalbe Big Apple tires, and a Brooks B17 saddle.  I wanted the bulletproof tires because getting the bike upside down or raised to remove the rear wheel is quite a task, so I opted for the Schwalbe tires plus slime tubes.

So far, I’ve carried six bags of groceries at once, one person, an amp and a guitar, two folding tables, and hundreds of parts for Querencia.  It carries almost anything with ease.  Almost.  When I’ve tried to carry an unbalanced load, such as a guitar amp on one side only, the bike leans unless I carry a counterweight (a cinderblock does fine).  If I carry the amp up on the wooden snapdeck, then the bike feels like it wants to tip over.  In the absence of a counterweight, I still prefer to carry dense and heavy things, like my 3 ton floor jack, on my trailer.

To carry children, xtracycle sells their own Peapod seat.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I wonder if you can carry more than one child?

To carry large side loads, I purchased the wideloaders, which stick out like wings and can support large, heavy loads.  To be fair, I hardly ever use them, but when I need them, they’re really useful.  90% of the time I can carry anything I need to with the normal (now old style) Freeloader side bags, which have straps that can extend surprisingly far to go over really big objects.

So beyond this discussion of cargo capacity, the xtracycle does something that none of my other bikes do: it connects with people, and it brings out a friendly curiosity.  Strangers regularly ask me “did you make that yourself” and pay compliments to the extreme practicality. No other bicycle I own receives this much attention, particularly from people who don’t cycle.  There’s something to be said for that intrigue.  I know, a bakfiet would get just as much attention, but I simply can’t afford one.  A bakfiet, with the cargo-forward design, carries loads up front, which gives it a range of advantages and disadvantages well-covered by the Austin-On-Two-Wheels blog.

In short, this is my desert island bike, the one I would keep over all others.  It’s just too damn useful to do without.  It rides like a cruiser, and that makes me a relaxed rider.  The extended wheelbase makes it feel very stable and predictable, loaded or unloaded.  I don’t mind riding it long distances.  Neither do these folks, who rode from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina.  There aren’t many things in this world that make you feel capable of anything.  This is one of them.

 

Diamondback Ascent MTB

before

 

 

xtracycle after conversion

after

 

 

xtracycle with 4 large grocery bags

4 large bags of groceries = no problem

 

 

xtracycle carrying a heavy guitar amplifier

guitar amp carried on top = tipsy

 

 

xtracycle carrying guitar amp on side

guitar amp on side + counterweight = stable

 

 

xtracycle carrying bike frames and wheels for qcbs.org

carrying frames for qcbs.org shop move

 

 

xtracycle carrying many qcbs.org supplies

carrying a very heavy load for qcbs.org

 

 

xtracycle towing another bike

towing another bike with just one bungee cord

 

 

xtracycle hauling air conditioner window unit

hauling an AC window unit

 

 

xtracycle hauling garage sale booty

xtracycle hauling garage sale bounty

 

 

xtracycle pulling trailer

Burley trailer carries heavy load better, attaches to xtracycle frame

 

xtracycle in field

xtracycle in field

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All Hail The Wool Sock

I am a huge fan of wool socks.  I’ll admit that right off the bat.  I’d rather own 2 pairs of wool socks than 20 pairs of cotton.  I know, wool is pricey, but you get what you pay for.  Wool doesn’t stink (I wash after 4-7 days), it wicks moisture, it feels cool in the summer, and it feels warm in the winter.  People are usually surprised when I tell them I wear wool socks in the summer, but the thin wool socks feel fantastic even at 110 degrees F.  I am now so loyal to wool that I get *really* disappointed if I don’t have any clean ones to wear.

I honestly can’t think of anything good to say about cotton socks.  They make my feet hot in summer, cold in winter, they bunch up, they stink after one day, and they hold moisture like a sponge.  Cotton socks (and underwear), we’re through.

So which socks do I wear and when?  Let’s get right down to it:

  • over 50 degrees F = thin wool, usually Smartwool brand, like this but whatever is on sale
  • 30 to 50 degrees F = thicker wool, like these or these
  • under 30 degrees F = thin alpaca wool, like these, or thick sheep wool socks

Wool does have a few caveats though:

  • 100% wool usually needs special washing care and detergent
  • moths like to eat it, so store it with mothballs, cedar wood, or essential oils
  • 100% wool can stretch if you wring it out to dry
  • If you play guitar in a wool shirt, your belt buckle will wear little holes in the shirt (believe me, I wish someone had warned me about this)

The 80/20 wool/synthetic blends prove very durable, you can typically launder them with the other clothes, and they don’t loosen up and stretch out like full wool.  Hence the huge popularity of smarwools, wigwams, and other 80/20 blends.  Maybe they’re slightly less warm in the cold, but I really don’t know for sure.

Shoe caveat: obviously, the type of shoe you’re wearing is hugely influential on foot temperature.  If I wear airy sneakers, my feet will still get a little cold under 30 degrees even with wool socks.  If I wear leather shoes, they hold in the heat much better.

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Dinotte 200L-AA Light Review

dinotte-mounted

I’ve spent too much money on cheap plastic lights that never even came close to this awesome bang-for-the-buck.

  1. You can actually see the road with this light.  With the light angled fairly level, I can see at least 50-75 feet in front of me.  I can see traffic signs light up 1/4 mile down the road.  200 lumens is damn respectable.
  2. It’s bright.  Bright enough that cars take me much more seriously than before.  They’ll wait and yield to me in situations where previously I might’ve been cut off.  I love the new yield respect I get at night.
  3. There are 6 settings total.  There’s high, med, low for the steady beam.  Then there’s rapid flash, pulse flash, and slow flash.
  4. The beam pattern is a spot, and it doesn’t flood out to the sides like the Niterider MiNewt lights.  The light color is somewhat bluish, and not as yellow as the Niterider lights.
  5. I use the 4 AA battery version, because I didn’t want a proprietary lithium-ion battery to get stolen off the bike.  Additionally, spare 4 AA clips are $1.50 at Radio Shack, and I can bring spare batteries very cheaply.
  6. I’ve gone for 3 hours on the high setting with 2650mah rechargeable batteries, and I’ve never run out of power.  I believe the low setting does 7+ hours.
  7. The mounting system is perfect.  Every light should mount this easily.  Since the light is a cylinder shape, a rubber O-ring mounts the light body to any handlebar in mere seconds.  Also, the included larger O-ring works nicely for mounting the light directly to my helmet (Giro Atmos).  I did buy the $29 helmet mount system from Dinotte, and I haven’t ever needed it.  While many lights are difficult to mount/dismount with gloves in cold weather, the Dinotte is easy to deal with in freezing temperatures.
  8. The AA battery pack pouch mounts to the stem, handlebars, frame, or helmet with velcro.  It’s a little bit floppy and doesn’t mount very tight, but it’s totally fine.
  9. The build quality on this light is top notch.  The body is polished aluminum with a thick plastic bezel and endcap.  The assembly seems waterproof, and the housing stayed dry inside through numerous downpours.  The rubber damper that goes between the light and handlebars fell off, and now I have a piece of tube there, and it seems to work fine.
  10. I would helmet mount this light for MTB riding, because it does some bizarre strobe effect when jarred hard enough.  I get this about once a week under normal riding, but there’s no lasting effect besides the indicator LED turning RED.

Overall, I wish I had bought this exact light years ago.  It’s sometimes on sale for $95 directly from Dinotte, and the normal price is $119.

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