As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a fan of rain capes.  They might not be the most stylish piece of gear, but they keep you dry, and they also keep you from sweating in comparison to wearing a shell and rain pants.

About a year ago, I saw a very stylish rain cape at the Toronto Bike Show, and given that it was made “domestically” (in this case meaning the US) by a small company that says all the right things about “livable cities” on their website, I picked one up from the nice folks at Allo Vélo.


It is a Cleverhood, which has gotten some nice reviews in the bike press.  Lots of nice features such as slits for the hands for when you are off the bike that snap closed with magnets. I noticed that it was picked up as a retail item by the Spacing Magazine store here in town.

So how does it compare with my very cheap plastic Chinese rain cape?  Of course it is much higher quality, and the fit of the hood is quite good. Of course there are limits to how good it looks since we are talking about a rain cape: you can judge for yourself how it looks.


Compared to this:


Much delayed first impressions:

When I rode off for the first time, I was using the built in thumb loops. I immediately figured out that this made it impossible for me to signal my turns. For me, for the way that I ride in the city, this is the single biggest bone that I have to pick with this cape. Of course it is possible to ride without using the thumb loops, in which case you have to take some care in holding a corner of the cape with your hands on the handlebars.

My cheap Chinese cape has a clip in the front that fastens the centre of the front hem to the stem or handlebars, and this is surprisingly effective.


So I put some velcro onto the same spot of my Cleverhood to do the same thing. First a square of loop velcro on the cape:


then a length of double sided Velcro that can be laid sideways or vertically, depending on whether you want to fasten the cape to your stem or handlebars.


With this simple mod, I find the Cleverhood to be as useful as the other rain cape. If the vendor wanted to consider a more permanent solution, that would be great. A possible alternative would be to have two sets of thumbloops, with the second set further out on the cape in order to give enough slack in front to allow for hand signals.

The Cleverhood comes in several different fabrics. I chose the electric houndstooth for the look (just what you would want if it happened to rain during a Tweed Run) but it is fairly heavy and bulky in the pannier. If this is a concern, I’d suggest one of the the lighter fabrics.  Or, a sub $20 vinyl cape from ebay……



Retiring my rain boots

I’ve been using a pair of Tretorn Strala Vinter rain boots since about 2010.

Last year, I noticed that they started leaking, and this fall it was obvious that the rubber uppers had cracked. It was time to retire them.

They have served me well. I used them on rainy days, and also biking through most of the winters, supplementing them with thick wool socks.

They have been replaced by a much more expensive pair of Bluntstones, which were a birthday present.

(BTW you can get them for 20% off at the Australian Boot Company if you are a Cycle Toronto member.)
Impressions after a couple of months:

  • They certainly have much better traction.
  • They are probably a touch warmer than the Stralas.
  • They are much more comfortable. The vertical slit in the rubber upper of the Stralas that was behind the elastic panel was always an issue.
  • Also, my girls no longer point at my feet and say that I’m wearing duck shoes.

So far so good. We’ll see how they hold up.

From the pictures posted to Twitter, it looks like Cycle Toronto got a good crowd out for today’s ride.


I wish I was out there with everyone. Instead, I’m stuck indoors doing stuff like this:

It’s a comparatively balmy -7°C right now, the wind is not too bad, and we had some snow just a couple of days ago to make things pretty. Ride safe everyone!

Here’s my report from 2013

and from 2012

Update: some exceptionally nice photos of the event here.

The Trouble with Kickstarter

Over the past three or four years, I’ve funded various bike related projects and products on Kickstarter. Of these, I’ve reviewed the Torch Bike Helmet and the Blaze Laserlight in past blog posts. Both are examples of unique products that were brought to market by entrepreneurs via crowdfunding, and I’ve been pretty happy with both. However, if I look at all of the bike related Kickstarter projects that I’ve helped fund, I can see that my Kickstarter experience has been somewhat of a mixed bag. This table summarizes all of these projects. Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 5.49.09 PM As you can see, funded projects range from printed things (comics, shirt, posters), bike accessories (lights, camera), documentary films, and the latest: a complete cargo bike. Vendors ranged from individuals to established companies. There are a couple of patterns. The most obvious one is that in cases when a completely new product has to go from a prototype that is just at the stage where launching the Kickstarter is possible, all the way to a product manufactured in large batches, things can be delayed significantly. The most overdue project is a high intensity bike headlight that promises not only to be exceptionally bright, but to have well designed optics for a beam pattern that has a sharp vertical cutoff. Given the rapid development of LED’s over the past two years, I now question whether the light will be competitive with recent commercial lights such as the latest from Fenix. The Blaze light and the Torch helmet were less late, and also had the advantage that both were arguably unique products, with no direct commercial equivalents. In both cases, a steady stream of updates during the long delays made the waits more bearable. The other two product Kickstarters that I am waiting on are the Haul a Day Cargo Bike, and the Bitlock electronic bike lock. These are quite different projects. The Haul a Day involves Bike Friday, which is a very well established manufacturer that was raising capital in order to be able to expand their ability to built cargo bikes on a larger scale. I already own two of their bikes, and I have every confidence that their bike will be of high quality, and that their after sales customer support will be great. Thus, it wasn’t much of a risk to support them, and as a cargo bike user, I also support their larger goal of popularizing longtail cargo bikes for everyday utility biking. The Bitlock falls more into the category of the Torch or Blaze: a first time group that is still working out the bugs in supply chain, etc. The delay means that their product will no longer be that unique. There have been a couple of other bike locks on Kickstarter since then, and there is a crowdfunded solar powered competitor as well. This won’t necessarily affect the unit that I will get as a result of the Kickstarter, but it certainly would affect the viability of the Bitlock as a commercial product in the long run. I have also supported projects that I have a personal connection to, such as the two Aerovelo projects, and more peripherally, the Graeme Obree film. In all three cases, I’m more than willing to cut the projects a little slack. Finally, there are some projects related to bike culture or bike advocacy such as the Less Car More Go, or Cars vs Bikes documentaries. Here again, I am basically supporting a cause and am not so concerned about what I actually end up with at the end of the day. I had to support the second one as I am actually in the trailer for the film. Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.47.32 PM (from Bikes vs Cars trailer, footage taken during the Henry Mejia Memorial Ride) What do I consider when I back a project? If it is a bike widget, I look first for uniqueness, tempered by the expectation that I might end up with something that is not fully sorted, and that might not have any meaningful warranty support in the future. Given that most of these things are made in small numbers, I’m not necessarily going to get something that is a screaming good deal, as it is very very difficult to compete on price with established bike accessory manufacturers. I do take care in reading the descriptions of the projects, but in some cases I still end up with something that I won’t necessarily use that much. Case in point: the Fly6 video camera. I didn’t realize at the time that this unit only mounts on a seatpost, and on all my bikes, I either don’t have enough exposed seat post, or there is a pannier, rack or bag that will block the view of this unit. I’ll figure out how to use it eventually, but in the meantime, there have been plenty of other small video cameras that are capable of loop recording that have come down in price. Of the product projects that do get funded, I’m not sure how many will survive as retail products. The Blaze Laserlight is a very nicely designed product, but the price point is quite high, and the safety that it provides is probably not more than what $200 spent on other bike lighting products would provide. I do get lots of comments on it though. Similarly, I get lots of questions about the Torch Helmet, so there would appear to be a market for it as well.

One bike project that attracted a lot of funding was the Vanhawk bike, which promised to integrate smart electronics into a carbon fiber urban bike. I wasn’t that interested in the bike as I didn’t buy into the concept, and I had some reservations about the apparent lack of bike design smarts as presented on the kickstarter page (their prototypes clearly had some issues), but it was fascinating to read the backer comments and expectations during their campaign. Here was a bike promising all sorts of things at a price point that was pretty low. The other thing about the project was there were all sorts of bells and whistles to be added to be bike such as disc brakes and belt drive at various stretch goals. Delivering a carbon bike with embedded electronics and haptic feedback for $1000 was going to be a challenge ($1250 with a NuVinci hub). With the over the top success of their campaign, they now have to provide belt drive and disk brakes as well at the same price point, something that I think would be a challenge for an established bike manufacturer. For example, here is a non carbon bike with similar bike spec without the whizz bang electronics for $1400. It looks like they have hired some good people so I hope that they pull this off, and it was amazing to see the buzz during the campaign, but I hope the backers of this project will not be disappointed.

Here is an interesting article about kickstarter and crowdfunding gadgets in general.

Update: Aerovelo delivered the ETA Speedbike swag today, so they made their February deadline!

My year on bikes 2014

It’s time to sum up my year in terms of bike activities. Firstly, my mileage totals, which are significantly off the average since I was on leave for six months, as well as the fact that my riding year ended early in December. Nevertheless, there were a decent total number of rides, reflecting the large number of errands that I ran by bike.

Biking on the Humber River

Icycle 2014

Bikecentric urban design in Tokyo


HPV Racing at Waterford, MI


The Sunnyside Bike Park: a fantastic, family friendly facility on the lakefront in Ward13.


A visit to Bedford Unicycles


Checking out the Cornwall Bikeway in Vancouver

Jenna Morrison Memorial Footpath

Memorial ride for Immanuel Sinnadurai; one of three memorial rides this year in Scarborough.

Ward13 Audit Ride with Sarah Doucette and Peggy Nash We are working to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians going to and from the Lakefront.

The team gets ready for BM2014

Open Streets TO, take two

World Human Powered Speed Challenge 2014; hanging out with the world’s fastest cyclists once again.

The Reading Line: a great books and bike event.

Watching the steady progress on the Harbord Bike Lanes

Installing Atlas (the human powered helicopter) at the Ontario Science Centre


Checking out the very active social bike scene in Baltimore

My riding for the year comes to an untimely end.

Very much looking forward to getting back on the bike next year.

Safe riding in 2015, everyone!

The PDW Lars Rover 650 is typical of the latest generation of battery operated headlights, and it is interesting to compare it to the lights that I was testing a couple of years ago. Almost all this type of light now recharges with USB, and use an internal battery that may or may not be removable. I have mixed feelings about this; I still prefer removable NiMh AA and AAA cells since the lifetime of these batteries is not infinite. However I understand the convenience of USB recharging; you don’t have to have a separate charger, and you don’t have to open up the light to get to the batteries, which means that the light can be designed to be more resistant to breakage.

I will point out that this is probably also the last headlight review that I’ll write for the blog since there is a website called “the bike headlight database” that has a fantastic amount of information on all sorts of lights for all sorts of riding. However, they haven’t looked at this particular light in detail.

The Lars Rover offers a bright (650 lumens) at a price point (US MSRP is $110) that seems to be pretty competitive. For example the L&M Urban 500 offers 500 lumens at $100, and the Cygolite Expilion 720 is nominally brighter for slightly more money. What makes this light a good deal in Canada is that MEC sells it for $85.

DSC04882 In the package, you get the light and three different mounting brackets: a helmet mount with Velcro strap, a standard clamp on handlebar bracket, and a quick detach handlebar mount that uses an elastic strap.

You also get the mini USB cord to recharge the light.

Here are a couple of pictures comparing the light to the earlier generation PDW Cosmic Dreadnought. The new light is slightly bigger than the old one, although it is slimmer in profile.
DSC04883 The bluish front half of the housing is metal, which I assume helps dissipate heat from the LED.

Looking from the side, I guess they decided that throwing light directly to the side is no longer important. DSC04884 The elastic strap works surprisingly well on a range of handlebar diameters, but in practice I would wrap enough electrical tape on any given bar so that the light doesn’t get moved by riding over bumps.

In terms of performance, the quick summary is that the 650 lumens mode is much brighter than any of my other lights, to the point where it is almost stupidly bright for use in the city. I can imagine that the light would be pretty blinding to on-coming car traffic, and would be insanely annoying on flash mode. There is a good summary of advice on the bikelight database that can be summarized as follows: during the day, there is no harm in using a very bright light in flash mode to grab attention, but at night it is inadvisable to use a very bright light in flash mode as it runs the risk of disorienting drivers.

However the Lars Rover has one nice feature to address this issue: it has a slow pulse mode that is much less annoying than the flash mode, and this is now my preferred mode at night since it still attracts more attention than a steady light, but it shouldn’t induce anyone to go into a epileptic fit.

One situation where the high intensity would be useful is in trail riding. I didn’t get a chance to do any trail riding at night with this light, so I can’t comment on this application, but this is what the helmet mount would be for. I wouldn’t use the helmet mount in the city unless I deliberately wanted to blind drivers.

Here is a timelapse video showing the runtime of the light on steady high intensity mode, and the slow flash mode.

The high intensity runs a little longer (2:15) than the claimed two hours, but the pulse mode runs shorter (7:20) than the claimed 10 hours. In both modes, there is a low battery/low intensity mode that will let you limp home without totally losing all light. It lasts about an hour, which is much longer than the 15 minutes stated on the PDW website. These run times were measured indoors at room temperature. Run times out in the cold seem to be shorter, but again, it is helpful to have the red LED to indicate that you are running on fumes.

Here is the beam pattern of three different lights (all taken at dusk, 10 m from the garage, 1/6 sec, F 1.8, ISO 1600

The PDW Cosmic Dreadnought, which had the brightest hot spot of my older lights, with not much light outside the hotspot.

The Ixon IQ Premium, a German light that was state of the art a year ago. Nominally 80 lux.
DSC04892 Note that the beam pattern has a sharp horizontal cutoff, and lots of light spread out evenly below the cutoff.

However, it should be pointed out that the Ixon IQ is quite a bulky light, taking 4 AA cells. It is also heavy enough that I found that it would often rotate downward when I rode over bumps; it looks like it is too much light for a handlebar mount that is barely bigger than the PDW mount.

The Lars Rover. Lots of light all over the place.DSC04890

The one thing that would make this light (or any of its peers) a segment leader would be if it had better optics so that the light would throw a beam pattern with a sharp horizontal cutoff, similar to that of the Ixon. I was disappointed to see that the Lars Rover has essentially a round beam pattern. It throws a lot of light on the road, but does it in such a way that it can also blind oncoming traffic. I see that B&M has a new light called the Ixon Core that is USB rechargeable and much smaller than the Ixon IQ Premium, but it appears also to be less powerful at 50 lux. The market awaits a more powerful, more widely distributed version of this light.

In summary, the Lars Rover 650 is a light that is powerful and has some nice features, but is not necessarily ideal for the city.

What I liked:

  • relatively small size
  • the choice of three different mounts
  • the fact that you had to keep the power button depressed for two seconds to turn it on
  • the light remembers the last mode that was used
  • tons of light
  • the slow pulse mode
  • looks more durable than than my older lights (such as the Planet Bike Blaze: all of mine have basically died at this point)
  • I’m finding the elastic mount very convenient

What I didn’t like so much

  • too much light all over the place for use on city streets?
  • inferior optics (related to the above)

On balance, the Lars Rover 650 qualifies as “tried and liked”, although I’ll be running it in the slow flash mode. I’ll note that some PDW taillights also have the slow flash mode, such as the Danger Zone.

Update: as noted in the comments, Light and Motion make an excellent line of bike lights, and they are made in the USA. Many of them (like the aforementioned Urban 500) are rated very highly on the bike light database.

Given that my biking is done for the year, it’s time to sum up some impressions of the new gear that I tried this year. I’ve had a Torch T1 Bike Helmet since May, when I posted my initial impressions. Since then, I’ve been quite happy with it. One thing that I’ve noticed is that I get a lot of questions about it. My impression is that people either think it is terribly geeky, or that they want one, and it is only the second kind of person that asks me about it. I steer them to the torch website, but now I see that they are out of stock for the moment, which I hope is a good sign for their company.

Here is me on Canada Day. The helmet has been accessorized with a really good bike mirror, for that full Fred look.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here I am at Battle Mountain.

Sharp eyed readers will note that the colour of the helmet has changed. What happened was that that the rear light on the original helmet started to cut out intermittently. At the same time, the lens had worked loose. I contacted the company, and they were extremely proactive in getting me a replacement. I had had second thoughts about the black, so I asked for either white or red, and red is what showed up.

In Baltimore with the red one.

Added earflaps when it got cold.

Here is the helmet in its present state.
r2 You can see that it is a little worse for wear, and the transluscent layer that seems bonded over the colour bearing layer is scuffed up. Granted, this helmet has seen hard use. One thing that I’ve done is to pack it a couple of times into a suitcase with a bike, which isn’t the best thing for its health.

The other thing that I did was to crash this past week, and you can see some dents just forward of the rear lens, so I guess I did hit my head, in addition to breaking my collarbone.

All in all, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the product. I have just a few niggles:

  • for the next production run, I hope that they revise the dimensions of the triangular plastic pieces that bring together the straps before they enter the buckle. The straps get out of adjustment just a little too easily.
  • the lights still cut out occasionally when I’m biking in a strong rain, but after the helmet dries out, all is good again.
  • I have some reservations about the long term durability of the lights, but again, I haven’t exactly been babying the helmet.
  • The runtime for the lights might not be quite what it was, but on the other hand, this might be the effect of cold weather.

Here is a video testing the runtime of the red helmet as delivered.  The lights are on high, and they cut out around two hours, just as advertised.  I generally run the front on high or low solid, and the rear on rapid flash.

Thanks to Torch Apparel for a unique product, and for their very good customer support. It’s been a long haul since the beginning of their kickstarter project, but I’ve been happy with the result.


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