Product Review Archive

Holiday Lights

Posted December 18, 2012 By Frank

This weekend two friends in two days asked about that bike light post I wrote.

One wanted a good light for a gift, the other for cold, dark nights in Maryland.

Because I’m running one or two blogs too many, plus Facebook, I understand it can be hard to find something.

My local bike advocate pals have been going a little overboard with with bike lights as the days have grown shorter, but it’s hard to find fault with being as visible as you can be.

It’s catchy, too. Dan Murphy summarized a common sentiment, “I was concerned about battery life, so I wasn’t turning them on.” He’s since been persuaded that he should be more concerned with distracted drivers.

On my bike I’ve added a $4 part that allows the blinky to connect to the rack, keeping the light vertical. Previously, I had the light dangling from my trunk bag – not good enough for our new ‘Lights On’ campaign. I’ve got 2 red tail lights and a blinky with a high powered beam on the front.

Shadows are long and office parties are many — get yourself some holiday lights.

Planet Bike's Binky Superflash tail light

Planet Bike’s Blinky Superflash tail light

Santa’s Bike Workshop

Posted December 17, 2012 By Frank

He doesn’t ride a bike, but he’s handy with tools; my friend Sean was over last weekend.

“Come on down to the garage, I have something I want to show you.”

This doesn’t fool him one bit; he’s enjoying a glass of wine and knows he’ll be drafted into some bike repair project. He’s right.

the Park PCS-10 Repair Stand

the Park PCS-10 Repair Stand

I’ve only done a few maintenance projects on the bikes — swapping tires and tubes mostly, a brake cable, new brake pads, tightening a shift cable — such is the range of my skills.

I spent a week in Portland this past July at the UBI Introduction to Bicycle Maintenance class, but like most things, it’s use it or lose it. Since I’m not tuning bikes all day every day, I get rusty. About the only thing I’ve retained is how to use the tools; that’s good, but many tasks become more challenging than they were in class. I don’t have an instructor to ask for help, instead I’ve tuned into Youtube. There’s a video for just about every job you’re about to tackle, especially bike component upgrades.

First, it was time to upgrade the bike repair stand. Why did I wait?

the Park Tool Work Tray

the Park Tool Work Tray

I’ve had the Park PCS-10 Home Mechanic Repair Stand for over 2 years. Don’t buy it without ordering the work tray, too. I’ve balanced nuts and bolts on top of bike saddles of other bikes that aren’t going under the knife, so to speak, as I attempt to organize the taking off and putting back on of components – how rookie. I’ve had the tray for only 3 days and it holds the rag, the bolts, the wrench of the moment and the grease tube, the Isopropyl alcohol, which was always precariously perched just out of reach. I’m more organized and sometime soon I’m sure this will equate to improved productivity.

The tray hasn’t had any impact on my number one problem in the garage: removing components that are on too tight. For help I go to Two Wheels One Planet in Costa Mesa, where on Friday morning, right as he opened, Will Skeeter saw me wheeling in the half-put-together bike in need of a little professional help. I couldn’t get the grips off the handlebar to replace the brake handset that went with the new sidepull brake that went with the new steel fork. All this stuff is related and one item that’s on so tight I can’t budge it slows down the entire effort. I waited until I had 2 little issues and then I hauled the bike into the shop. Child’s play for Will, amazement and appreciation for me as he sends me out of the store 20 minutes later having tweaked 2 items I was stalled on and corrected a third I didn’t know was a problem.

As he’s walking back and forth to the storeroom I hand him a configuration for a touring bike I want built – he takes a quick look at it and says it’ll be no problem. As I depart he won’t charge me the nuisance fee that I deserve.

Next up: Monday I’m waiting for the new bottom bracket. Of course, I’m hoping it will go on the bike no problem, that is once I get the old bottom bracket off — it’s stuck way too tight.

A new brake handle

A new brake handle

New sidepull brakes

New sidepull brakes to go with the new steel fork

Which bike is this going on?

I’ll spend some time reflecting on this question; certainly this will be mounted on a prized bicycle.


“It looks like a musical instrument,” observes my wife. I don’t argue; it does. It’s like a flute you want to place your lips on…

Why this interest in a pump?

My first new bicycle in 35 years came along in 2009. Since then I’ve had few flats – 2 last month, but only 4 in 3 years – so it’s not flat tires that compel me to sample some mountable bike pumps. It’s the self-sufficiency I need, so I can keep the tires properly inflated on light touring overnight rides. It makes a difference, especially because I’m carrying extra weight; I want ’em pumped for smooth riding!

This was a problem on last year’s Erie Canal ride; I had a pump, but neither Kent nor I were pleased with it. Maybe it wasn’t the pump, but we damaged a stem while topping off one morning and we never got the tire pressure where we wanted it.

Not a problem on my recent Halifax excursion though, the difference was quite apparent. This little pump that was crammed into the top bag, not mounted, did a fine job firming up each morning. So now that I’m home, reminiscing instead of riding, I’ve ordered a few pumps.

the Blackburn Mammoth AnyValve pump

Let’s start with the Blackburn Mammoth AnyValve Pump; it’s as close to the pump I had in Halifax as any I could find online.

I’ve mounted it on my utilitarian hybrid. This confirms my new sense of matching the pump to the bike. The Blackburn does the job with no complaints; it’s just never going to be displayed in the Museum of Modern Art.

The Lezyne Micro Drive may get there someday though, or the Smithsonian; it’s one svelte pump. And it’s smooth – the pump action is a cut above any hand pump I’ve ever stroked. This feels as nice as it looks.

I wasn’t even looking for another pump, but then my pals at Commute by Bike posted a piece on pumps. It just arrived today.

One big difference between these pumps: the Lezyne has a hose that connects to the tube valve, the Blackburn, no hose, so every bit of torque while pumping with the Blackburn gets transmitted to the valve. This is how I damaged a valve stem on the Erie Canal. Picture the setup: you’re bent over trying to balance the pump and the bike while pushing vigorously on the pump handle; not all these movements end up as smooth as you’d like and all that yaw and torque pivots off the valve stem. Picture the long hose of the Lezyne; it dampens these movements resulting in less stress on the valve stem — less stress on you, too, if you’re a ways from civilization.

This new Lezyne has me hoping for a flat tire…

Sore Knee Relief

Posted June 11, 2011 By Frank

My knees were sore and I knew why; it was my SPD pedals. I loved them for the efficiency of my pedal stroke, but I knew they were keeping my knee in an inflexible position. Then my feet started to hurt.

the Shimano SPD pedalI’ve had surgery on my right foot and like most foot surgery survivors, most aren’t that happy with the results. Biking on my SPD’s would cause me to limp around the house for the whole next day. Then I saw an ad for Speedplay pedals in Bicycling magazine. I wanted to believe the hype and talked to Will Skeeters at Two Wheels One Planet. He must be a good fisherman; he knew how to reel me in, “I’m back in the shop starting Tuesday, why don’t you bring your bike in then and I’ll let you try them”. I made an entry in my smartphone to do just that.

the Speedplay pedalIt might be hard to get a sense of the difference just by looking at the pedals, but take my word for it – the Speedplay offers a larger point of contact which provides more support. On paper I knew this could reduce some of the foot pain, but there was more to the Speedplay. It’s called float, which I didn’t get right away and Will had to repeat the term to me as I moved my hand in a lateral way to signal what I was hearing: my foot could swivel while clipped in? Yes, and again on paper, I thought this could be the relief for my knees that I sought. Just a little range of motion could possibly bring some relief.

Hey, I started this bicycle enthusiast role a little late; it won’t be long and I’ll be planning my 60th birthday party. The point is these knees aren’t the flexible, muscle-bulging knees like you probably have, mine are more brittle and inflexible. I needed some slack.

Once Will sees that I’m totally hooked on the idea he leaves me to Matt to set me up with some new shoes. Yeah, the hidden cost of these new pedals: they won’t fit my shoes, but I’m mentally committed at this point, I gotta try these pedals. Matt finds me a pair of Sidi year-end close-outs, top of the line. It’s a deal. I let Matt install the shoe mount, cause I know he knows what he’s doing; I’ll mount the pedals myself.

I’ve brought bikes in several times as I’ve tried to switch from toe clips to clip-ins, I could never get them off the bike myself. Let me assure you I’m no wimp; I can slide this mouse across my desk with ample dexterity. But twisting the pedals off, that was a different story, until I was shown how. So now I have the right tool and can easily crank them right off. All I need is that tube of grease and I’ll be all done – where did I leave that grease? I just used it the other day… Hours later, after turning the garage upside down I learn that my son’s friend Andy borrowed the tube; he could return it in just 10 minutes – mystery solved and on go the pedals. Now for the test ride.

A favorite ride takes me up the shoreline along the boardwalk all the way into Sunset Beach. It’s a serene 33-mile round trip to Fish Camp where I’d arranged to meet a friend from Long Beach for lunch. The verdict: although I’m still clipping-in clumsily, the pedals are doing exactly what I hoped for. Few things in life live up to the hype, but in my case these Speedplay pedals have instantly softened the blow from a 3 hour ride. My knees were the first to applaud; I could feel the flexibility during the ride. Just a few degrees of freedom was all it took. The foot pain? That was harder to gauge; I kept waiting for the inevitable pain, sometimes quite sharp, that followed a long ride. There was none. I felt like dancing, well as a metaphor at least.

So do the Speedplay pedals live up to the advertised claims? In this case I’m a very happy camper. There is one thing though, I’d rename them Kneeplay. 
Speedplay  vs SPD
The Speedplay on the left versus the SPD. It’s obvious why I needed new shoes; the Speedplay mount is much larger, offering more contact with the foot resulting in better support, less foot pain. The Speedplay mount allows the foot to slide about 15 degrees, swiveling inside the circular mount. It’s the relief my knees were looking for.