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Wednesday, July 11, 2007
  Instant electric bike lane
By Yokota Fritz 
The Sideline is a wrap-around bicycle bumper that mounts to the rear axle and emits a condensed, focused beam of light about two feet off of the left side and parallel with the chain stay. The beam moves with the bike to alert drivers to the minimum amount of space the rider needs.
See more info and photos of this instant bike lane at the Dirt Rag Mag blog. Via Commute By Bike.

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Monday, July 09, 2007
  Pollution filter for cyclists
By Yokota Fritz 

This "Breathe Air" helmet was created by 22-year-old Brunel University industrial design and technology student Luke Pannell. This helmet and face shield covers the cyclist's nose and mouth with an air filter to remove particulate matter from the breathed air.

Air pollution is a concern for me, but I don't think I'll rush out to get this particular helmet. There's no comment on how much this thing restricts air flow, and it looks unbelievably hot to me. Fishbowl wonders what happens if you sneeze while wearing this? Many cyclists also know that mucous buildup in the throat and nose that collects while cycling and must be periodically cleaned out.

Read more in the London Times Online.

See also the Puma Vexed Cycling jacket which also features a built-in air filter.

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Friday, December 22, 2006
  Product review: 2007 Princeton Tec Switchback LED bicycle light
By Yokota Fritz 

Princeton Tec Switchback 2 Summary

Good for: Casual trail riding, epic five hour treks into the backcountry (and back), long training rides on dark roads, any kind of city riding. If you bike commute and actually need the 5+ hours of burn time, I salute you. Except you probably don't have time to read this review.

Probably not for: Competitive singletrack at night. The Switchback 2 provides enough light to illuminate the branch just as it thwacks you in the head. Get something brighter, like the Switchback 3.

What about the Switchback 1? Princeton Tec markets the Switchback 1 as "the perfect secondary light," but at $199 it's a bit spendy for that. A good LED backup is a good investment for those relying on high power HID systems, some of which are prone to sudden failure. The Switchback 1 is certainly brighter than the dim blinkies that most night cyclists use. If you need a primary light, I'd spring for the extra $70 and get the Switchback 2.

Princeton Tec has been selling lights for outdoor enthusiasts for 30 years. In 2005, Princeton Tec began marketing a couple of their existing headlamps to cyclists by modifying straps to make them helmet-mountable. Lights designed for 1 mph hikes, however, don't provide much visibility for cyclists.

For 2007, Princeton Tec has introduced several good bike-specific designs, including three versions of the "Switchback" LED light. The Switchback is a reincarnation of a now-discontinued incandescent headlamp; I happen to own one that I used for backpacking before the advent of LED headlamps.

Princeton Tec has designed the Switchback with endurance racers and commuters in mind. I don't ride singletrack in the middle of the night, so I'll give my views from my perspective as a year-round bike commuter.

Switchback bike light specs

Princeton Tec Switchback bicycle light comes in three models: Switchback 1 with one 3 watt LED, Switchback 2 with two 3 watt LEDs, and the Switchback 3 with (wait for it) three 3 watt LEDs. Each of these lamps features a quick smart charger with universal plug adapters, hours of burn time, lightweight lithium-ion battery, voltage regulated to ensure constant brightness, 12 volt car charger, helmet and handlebar mounts, and extension cords and cable straps. Here are the specifics of each model.


Model Burn Time Weight MSRP
Switchback 1 5.5H Flash, 4.5H High, 6H Medium, 10H Low 436 grams $199
Switchback 2 6H Flash, 5.5H High, 7H Medium, 16H Low 586 grams $269
Switchback 3 6.5H Flash, 6H High, 12H Medium, 50H Low 826 grams $389

Using the Switchback 2

Click on photos to see large.
Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light mounted on handlebar
The Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light mounted on my handlebar. Two 3 Watt LEDs provide illumination that can be seen even in light.

Battery pack for Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light
The battery pack mounted on the top tube of my bike frame. The battery can also be mounted on the handlebar or placed in a hydration pack or jersey pocket.

Princeton Tec Switchback 2 bicycle light
Battery and light connected. Instead of one annoyingly long cable, the headlight has a short cable. If you need the battery further away, use the included extension cable.

I've tried the two LED Switchback 2. I don't have any way to scientifically measure the lumen output of this light, but the two 3W "Maxbright" LEDs are comparable in brightness to 10W+20W halogen systems that many of us are familiar with. The lens focuses a fairly tight and round beam, easily illuminating obstacles and debris several yards ahead. I can comfortably ride about 20 mph on a dark road with this light at high power.

The flash mode is interesting and useful in my opinion. Most LED lights have a "blink" mode to preserve battery life and enhance visibility by motorists, but it can be difficult to navigate when the front light constantly strobes. The Switchback's blink mode blinks rapidly twice then stays steady for a second before cycling back to blinking. I haven't tried this yet in real conditions, but this seems to provide the "be seen" benefit of a blink with the "see" benefit of a steady bright light.

The battery has a built-in battery life indicator -- red and green LEDs shine through the transluscent case to show the level of charge. I've lost my lights in the middle of a ride from a yanked cable, so I appreciate the locking cable connectors.

Quite a bit of thought has apparently been put into the design of the Switchback bicycle light. The light itself has a sleek, low profile that I like much better than the bulky headlights I usually see from other vendors. The handlebar mount is a little large, but I like the design, it works on good range of handlebar sizes (unlike some mounts I've tried), and the quick-release works very well. If you need to change the direction the light points because, for example, you mount the light on a curving part of the handlebar, a small allen key is required to loosen a bolt to allow adjustment.

Velcro straps to mount the light to a bicycle helmet are straightforward. A unique rubber case with wide velcro straps allow the battery to be mounted on the frame or handlebar or even the saddle rails. A provided extension cord provides additional flexibity in battery location.

The Switchback 2 bike lamp probably isn't quite enough for singletrack racing at night, but it provides plenty of light for night time training rides and the evening commute home.

Buying the Princeton Tec Switchback LED bike light

Because Princeton Tec traditionally hasn't sold bicycle products, they do not have a presence in the specialty bike store channel. They say they're working to change that with an expanded sales force dedicated specifically to local bike shops, but right now Princeton Tec products are mostly available in sporting goods and outdoor shops such as REI. Currently, the only bike retailer selling the Switchback is ColoradoCyclist.com.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005
  Socks: SmartWool vs Bridgedale
By Yokota Fritz 
Comparison of three hiking socks

Smartwool socks

Smartwool socks seem to be universally endorsed among experienced winter cyclists. The New Zealand merino wool used in Smartwool socks is extremely comfy, the socks are reasonably priced and the company is based here in Colorado.

I own several pairs of Smartwool socks and I also recommended Smartwool socks enthusiastically. In the summer, I hike and climb mountains wearing these socks. In the winter, I hike, snowshoe, and ride my bike in these Smartwool hiking socks.

The two bottom photos to the left shows two pairs of my Smartwool hiking socks after two years of this use.

Bridgedale socks

Eventually, I asked the local hiking shop for socks that won't fall apart on me. They recommended Bridgedale Socks. I bought the Trekker from them, a midweight sock similar to my Smartwool socks made of merino wool designed for trail running, hiking and backpacking. After two years of use, my Bridgedale socks have held up significantly better than my Smartwool socks. There is no hint of sagging in the cuffs. The socks fit my feet better, meaning there don't blister like I do with the Smartwool socks on my peak bagging runs (the discolored areas on the Smartwool socks are blood stains).

Fall Clearance 7/22-8/22/05

Buy Bridgedale Trekker Socks from Altrec.

Because they're made of the same Merino wool as Smartwools, the fabric is just as comfortable. The Bridgedale's are a little bit pricier but the construction and quality are significantly better.

The top photo shows a Bridgedale Trekker sock after two years of use similar to what I've done with the Smartwool socks. There's absolutely no thinning and the sock fits just as perfectly as when I first bought them.

I currently own two pair of Bridgedale Trekker socks and I'll buy more in the near future. I now enthusiastically recommend Bridgedales to anyone who asks.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005
  Serfas
By Yokota Fritz 
I have a few accessories from Serfas: a bike helmet, a couple of front lights, and a tail light. Here's the short of it: The products look nice, but they're all cheap junk and I'll never buy another Serfas product again.

Here's the longer detailed version.

Helmet: It's a nice looking, comfortable, well fitting helmet. I especially like the knob on the back by which the helmet is adjusted. Unfortunately, the knob fell off and the adjusting strap is free to slide around. This helmet is a $50 piece of styrofoam junk, now.

Front light: I have the Serfas WhiteLED front light on one of my bikes and my son has one on his bike. I really like the fast flash mode and the five LEDs seems to work well to get the attention of motorists in front of me. It's small and unobtrusive on the handlebar and, frankly, I think it's the nicest looking light out there. Unfortunately, these lights are also cheap junk. My son's light has never really worked properly -- it has a tendency to just switch off spontaneously for no apparent reason. Hitting any reasonable bumps results in the cover popping off and spitting out the AAA batteries.

Rear light: I have the Serfas RedLED attached to a seatstay of my fixed gear bike. Like the other Serfas products I have, it looks sexy. The lack of a prism lens is a minor shortcoming, and the light is significantly less bright than any other rear LED light I own. No matter how much I tighten the bracket screw, the light won't stay in position -- it continually droops down so the light is pointing at the ground instead of toward the rear. It also has the spontaneous turn-off problem that my son's front light has. On a positive note, I've never lost any batteries with this light.

I also own Vistalight and Cateye lights. They're ugly but they've been rock-solid dependable for me.

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