Michelin City

Michelin City

I’ve been riding the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme in a 32-622 and 37-622 for the past couple of years. The Schwalbe is widely regarded as the best touring tire on the market (which also makes it an excellent commuting tire). It has a high thread count which makes it light and supple, it uses a state-of-the-art puncture-resistant layer, and it uses Schwalbes’ latest rubber compounds. The only drawback is its shockingly high price (~$75).

Often, the stock tires supplied on production bikes are not top-of-the-line. Such is the case with the Civia Bryant I purchased a few months ago. It came spec’d with Michelin’s City tire in a 32-622. The City is a relatively inexpensive (~$30) commuting tire with a low thread count (33 tpi compared to the Schwalbe’s 67 tpi) which makes it heavy and, at least theoretically, stiff. I have a set of Supremes I was planning on putting on this bike, but I have to say, I’ve been enjoying these Michelins so much that they’re going to stay on the bike until they either wear out or punctures become an issue.

On paper, the City should provide a harsh ride due to its low thread count, but I haven’t found this to be the case. In fact, I really like its road feel; it’s lively, surprisingly grippy, and it does a great job of muting road shock, even at my usual 60-65psi. It is a heavy tire, and I’m sure the rolling resistance is higher than the Schwalbe’s, but my commute times haven’t changed, so these are non-issues for me.

With flat season ramping up, the true test is coming. I also have to see how they wear over time. I’ll report back later this year and let you know how it goes. In the meantime, if anyone has been riding this tire, I’d love to hear how it’s working out for you.

Three MKS Pedals

We’re big fans of MKS pedals. They’re well-made, reasonably priced, and they’re offered in a wide variety of traditional and modern designs. Three of our favorite models are described below.

MKS Lambda (aka Grip King)
MKS Lambda (aka Grip King)

Lambda (aka “Grip King”)
The MKS Lambda (also known as the Rivendell “Grip King”) has a long but narrow platform. The extra length front-to-rear (118mm) provides excellent support for use with soft-soled street shoes, and the narrow width provides tons of cornering clearance. The Grip King lives up to its name when dry, but I’ve found it to be somewhat slippery when wet. While I appreciate the generous cornering clearance provided by the relatively narrow body, I personally prefer a pedal with a slightly wider platform.

  • Cage Dimensions (width x length): 78mm x 118mm
  • Width from Crank Arm to Outer Edge: 98mm
  • Weight: 420 g
  • Price: $54
MKS Sylvan Touring
MKS Sylvan Touring

Sylvan Touring
The Sylvan Touring has been my favorite pedal for many years. I usually have 4-5 pair around to throw on whatever bike needs a set of pedals. It’s what many call a “Rat Trap” design that looks a lot like the old Campagnolo touring pedal. The Sylvan Touring is wider than the Grip King, but shorter front-to-rear. I like the fact that I can feel the pedal through my shoes (I often ride with Keen walking sandals), though some people find this causes foot pain. The wider platform reduces cornering clearance but feels more secure than the narrower Grip King under my foot. The Sylvan Touring is a steal at under $30 a pair.

  • Cage Dimensions (width x length): 93mm x 63mm
  • Width from Crank Arm to Outer Edge: 115mm
  • Weight: 360 g
  • Price: $27
MKS Touring Lite
MKS Touring Lite

Touring Lite
The Touring Lite is MKS’ deluxe version of the Sylvan Touring. It’s lighter while providing slightly more grip and support. I’ve been told that the Touring Lite uses upgraded bearings from the Sylvan and it does seem to run smoother. Because the pedal spindle is narrower than the Sylvan’s and there’s no outside cage, I sometimes have trouble feeling the outer edge of this pedal. I still like it enough to use it on my daily commuter.

  • Cage Dimensions (width x length): 93mm x 70mm
  • Width from Crank Arm to Outer Edge: 105mm
  • Weight: 320 g
  • Price: $56

All of the above pedals use standard 9/16” chromoly spindles and aluminum bodies.

Planet Bike Grasshopper Fenders

Planet Bike Grasshopper Fender

Planet Bike sent us a set of their new Grasshopper fenders to try out. These pretty fenders are made from laminated Moso bamboo with a marine-grade finish. If you look closely, you’ll notice the blades have a subtle compound curve (the woodworkers in the crowd will have to tell us how they did that). The stainless steel hardware is the same (good) quality as supplied on Planet Bike’s other fenders.

Planet Bike Grasshopper Fender
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Planet Bike Grasshopper Fender
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As you can see, the front fender is on the short side. It’ll be fine as is for dealing with the occasional puddle or two, but for year round commuting it needs a mud flap. A Honey Brooks would look swell on this fender.

Installing the Grasshopper fenders was nearly as easy as installing plastic fenders (the process took less than 30 minutes – compare this to the typical 2-3 hours for a Honjo installation). The hardware comes pre-installed and everything was straight and where it was supposed to be. Mechanics will like these fenders.

Planet Bike Grasshopper Fender
Planet Bike Grasshopper Fender
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Here are the specs from Planet Bike:

  • Made from fast growing and sustainable Moso Bamboo
  • Durable marine-grade top coat finish and 3 ply Bamboo laminate construction
  • Hardware is all stainless-steel and pre-installed for hassle-free mounting
  • V-stays for added stability
  • Meets EN test standards
  • Release Tabs on front fender
  • Hybrid/touring (45mm)

The Grasshoppers will be at dealers in April. Retail price will be around $125-$130.

About Planet Bike
Whenever I review one of their products, I like to point out that Planet Bike donates a full 25% of company profits to grassroots bicycle advocacy organizations. Learn more here.

Planet Bike

Disclosure: Planet Bike is a sponsor of this website and provided the Grasshopper fenders for this review.

Superflash Turbo in the Wild

Superflash Turbo

Here’s a photo of the soon to be released Planet Bike Superflash Turbo tail light in use on this morning’s commute. It’s an awesome little light that is still blowing me away with its output, diminutive size, and good runtimes on a 2XAAA power source. Due out this spring at ~$29.95.

Disclosure: Planet Bike is a sponsor of this website.

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo

I received an advance copy of the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo tail light this week. This is the new, updated Superflash that’s being upgraded from 1/2-watt to 1-watt and given a slightly different flashing pattern. As you can see in the photos, the Turbo is significantly brighter than the original Superflash (the old version is mounted on the seatpost). It’s rated for double the output (of course), and I’d say it’s at least twice as bright as the original. The flashing pattern is slower and slightly different, but it’s still essentially the same eye-popping strobe, only much brighter.

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo

This new light is so bright that you’ll want to carefully consider where and how to use the flashing mode; it may be too bright for some circumstances. Unlike the original, the steady mode is so bright that it completely illuminates the casing, dramatically improving 180 degree visibility. Honestly, I can’t see ever needing a brighter tail light than this one. The output is incredible given its size and power source. Highly recommended.

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo

Specs

  • 1 Watt Power LED plus 2 red LEDs for visibility up to 1 mile
  • New attention-grabbing Turbo flash pattern
  • Soft-touch power switch accesses flashing or steady mode for up to 100 hours of run time on two AAA batteries
  • Ultra compact vertical design is weatherproof, lightweight and durable
  • Includes bike mounts and clip mount for multiple mounting options
  • Available this spring for $29.99-$34.99

About Planet Bike
Whenever I review one of their products, I like to point out that Planet Bike donates a full 25% of company profits to grassroots bicycle advocacy organizations. Learn more here.

Planet Bike

Disclosure: Planet Bike is a sponsor of this website and provided the Superflash Turbo for this review.

Black Rose Bags

Black Rose Bags
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Black Rose Bags is a worker-owned collective specializing in custom, handmade bike bags created from recovered materials. They recently sent us a “Steam Punk” style messenger bag to try out. Our review bag measures 5″ x 11″ x 13″ and features two pockets, a brass key clip, seat belt style latch, leather flap closures, padded strap with stabilizer strap, and a cool brass-coated connector cog. It’s a beautifully constructed bag made from canvas, copper, leather, brass, and a tiny bit of nylon and plastic. The detailing and fit-and-finish are top-notch; this bag is tough, attractive, and simply a joy to use. Black Rose bags are made-to-order, so the prices vary a bit, but most are in the $149-$169 price range. We could go on raving about this bag, but we’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

Black Rose Bags
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Black Rose Bags
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Black Rose Bags
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Black Rose Bags
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Black Rose Bags
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Black Rose Bags
Black Rose Bags @ Etsy
Black Rose Bags @ Flickr

A Minimalist Lighting System

Planet Bike Blaze 2W
Blaze 2W

A common question is, “What is a simple, minimalist lighting set-up for commuting and utility riding that provides enough light to both see and be seen by, yet doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?”

In the past, the answer was not so clear cut because lights that were powerful enough to see and be seen by were neither simple nor inexpensive. Now, with the advent of highly efficient LED light emitters (aka “bulbs”), sufficiently powerful lights have become both simple and relatively inexpensive. Unless someone is participating in 24-hour mountain bike races or on-road ultra-endurance events, both of which require ultra-high-powered lighting and extremely long run times, a perfectly functional lighting system can be had for under $100.

There are a number of alternatives on the market, but my favorite minimalist system consists of a Planet Bike Blaze 2W headlight and a Planet Bike Superflash tail light.

The Blaze 2W Headlight

The Blaze 2W is a two-watt headlight powered by 2/AA batteries*. It has high and low beams plus a blinding “Superflash” strobe. Run times are excellent at 5 hours on high, 12 hours on low, and 18 hours on strobe. It has a tight, but surprisingly bright, round beam (I prefer a slightly wider beam, but that would also diminish the intensity of the beam, so it’s a fair trade-off). The casing is made of plastic with an alloy heat-sink and a rubber seal where it comes apart for changing batteries. It comes supplied with an adjustable, quick-release handlebar mount. The Blaze is a great little headlight that gets the job done with minimal fuss.

The Superflash Tail Light

The Superflash tail light strobe pattern is so bright and distinctive that it’s recognizable from a quarter of a mile away. And recognize it I do; it has become so ubiquitous among battery-powered tail lights that I see one nearly every day throughout the winter commuting season. The Superflash is popular for good reason: it’s tiny, incredibly bright, lightweight, reasonably priced, with great run times and that distinctive, eye-catching strobe pattern.

Planet Bike Superflash Stealth
Superflash Stealth

The Superflash comes supplied with a seat-post style clamp and a built-in clip. A bracket for mounting down low on a rear rack is also available (sold separately). Though it’s not necessary, I run two on my commuter; one on the seatpost and one on the rear rack. As you can imagine, motorists give me a wide berth.

The Blaze 2W / Superflash Stealth combo is a great value in a minimalist lighting set-up for commuting and utility riding. The Blaze provides enough light to both see and be seen by, and the Superflash is the class-leading tail light. Sure, it’s possible to spend a lot more and put together a high-powered battery or dynamo system, but if you’re looking for a simple and effective lighting system that’s easy to install and easy on your pocketbook, it’s hard to beat these little LEDs from Planet Bike.

Planet Bike

Disclosure: Planet Bike is a sponsor of this website. They’re also one of the most active supporters of bicycle advocacy groups in the industry. Read more about their programs here.

*Note: I highly recommend the use of rechargeable batteries. You can read my article on rechargeables here.


 
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