"Evaluations: Bicycling & Touring Gear" Archives

Jun 11 2017

The Relaxed Alternative to Finding Your Cycling Comfort Zone by Tamia Nelson

Bicycling isn’t only for jocks in lycra, and there are alternatives to a traditional diamond-frame road bike, too. So if you’re looking for a more relaxed ride, consider one of these bikes.


My article on a friend’s Day 6 Dream semi-recumbent bike sparked the imaginations of readers who wanted for more information about a kind of bike which they’d never seen before. Clearly there are plenty of folks who would go cycling if they had a choice beyond the mountain bike or road bike. They like the idea of a more relaxed frame geometry, because that gives them a bike with traits such as these:

  • Upright position when cycling
  • Little to no pressure on hands and wrists
  • Comfortable seat
  • Feet can be placed flat on ground while sitting in the saddle
  • One size of bike frame can fit a range of riders
  • Lower center of gravity inspires confidence
  • Easier to straddle than diamond frame bikes, especially if the bike has a step-through frame

Bikes with qualities like these are known by a number of terms, including:

  • Comfort Bikes
  • Crank Forward Bikes
  • Semi-Recumbent Bikes
  • Relaxed Geometry Bikes
  • Flat-Footed Bikes

Whatever they’re called, one thing is universal—bikes of this design allow a cyclist to put his or her feet flat on the ground while still sitting in the saddle. That seems to be the most appealing characteristic for most folks, and it’s easy to see why. If your back or hips have a limited range of motion, or if your balance is wonky, you don’t need to be quite so concerned about toppling over when you slow down and stop. Furthermore, saddling up is easier, especially if the bike has a very low top tube or a step-through frame (often seen on women’s bikes, but also with some unisex frames).

Here’s a diagram showing six different models of relaxed frame bikes, with a Surly Long Haul Trucker at the top for comparison’s sake:

Name That Bike

You can see how the main elements of the different bikes compare with one another and with the more traditional diamond frame of the Surly. Note hot the saddles on relaxed frame bikes are below the level of the handlebars, rather than on the same level like with the Surly. The pedals are very much further forward of the saddles of the relaxed frame bikes, too. Moreover, your sitting position is lower to the ground with a relaxed frame. All these features endear the relaxed frame bike to folks looking for a more relaxed ride.

RANS Crank Forward Bike Photo (c) Vik Banerjee

The six bikes in my graphic are but a sample of what the marketplace has to offer. So, if you’re intrigued by a bike which offers comfort and sure-footedness when you come to a stop, you can find a model to suit your needs and pocketbook. Prices range from below USD100 for a sale bike in Walmart to a few hundred US dollars. They’re becoming more popular, and it’s possible you might even find one used. Before long, I’m betting you’ll be finding your comfort zone with a relaxed alternative to the diamond frame bike.

This article is an update of one originally published on 22 August 2009.

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Jun 11 2017

The Day 6 Dream Crank Forward Semi-Recumbent Bike for Finding Your Comfort Zone by Tamia nelson

Have you given up on cycling because of a bad back, or because you’re nervous about not being able to plant your feet flat on the ground? Then consider doing what my friend Les has done—get yourself a crank-forward bike.


A friend from college spends her days in a commercial bakery hefting heavy crates, manhandling 50-pound sacks of flour, and carrying large trays of fresh bread. Twenty years of this work has given Les a dodgy back. A back which became so bothersome she had to give up on riding a roadie and move to a mountain bike with high bars. After a time she couldn’t even tolerate that. Les has been living car-free for most of her adult life, and she didn’t want to give in just because her back was a pain. Her solution was to buy a Day 6 Dream bicycle. Day 6 calls their comfort bikes semi-recumbents, and you can see why:

Day 6 Bike

Les hauls groceries and supplies in panniers, and intends to do so even when the roads aren’t dry, so her Day 6 is outfitted with fenders, a rear rack, and Jandd panniers:

Day 6 Bike

The thickly padded wide saddle is augmented with an adjustable padded backrest:

Day 6 Bike

Behind the backrest, a large zippered pocket can hold necessities where they’re accessible but out of the way.:

Day 6 Bike

Les’ alloy-framed Dream weighs in at about 34 pounds, shifts through 21 speeds, has SRAM twist-grip shifters, linear breaks, 26″ x 1.95″ double-walled rims and Kenda Komfort tires, Shimano derailleurs, platform pedals, a kickstand, and the usual assortment of reflectors. Look at the length of that chain:

Day 6 Bike

Les has short arms, so her bike shop reversed the stem to improve the fit:

Day 6 Bike

I was glad to see a rearview mirror, but not so pleased to notice that the folks shown riding Day 6 bikes on the manufacturer’s website aren’t wearing helmets. Still, I imagine that there are plenty of folks like Les, who find a crank-forward (or semi-recumbent) bicycle of this kind admirably suits their requirements. No need to swing a leg over a top tube. No need to dismount to place feet flat on the ground, come to that. And the backrest in combination with high handlebars makes it possible for folks with troublesome backs to get out on two wheels. That’s all to the good in my book.

This article is an update of one originally published on 15 August 2009.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

May 10 2017

The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System: Small Is Beautiful by Tamia Nelson

Quenching your thirst is surprisingly difficult, whether you’re cycling through rural country or trekking in the backcountry. You just can’t assume that wild water is safe to drink. Which explains why clever people have devised many ways to disinfect questionable water. Tamia has weighed her options for how to treat wild water, and the winner is… the Sawyer Mini.


Whether I’m heading out on a long bike ride along back roads with no services, paddling a lonely stream, or bushwhacking into a favorite beauty spot, I have one nagging worry: drinking water.

The Adirondacks, my backyard, is a well-watered place, but trekking is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if wild water is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.”

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside a stream or spring hole. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times without any qualms. But times change. Nowadays there’s likely to be a 100-unit second-home development just a mile upstream. Or maybe the last person to pass by thought the spring hole was the perfect place to take a bubble bath. Or the trail might be popular with local dog-walkers, all of whom think pooper-scoopers are for city folk.

Which is probably why you don’t see many tin cups by streams these days — and why I’m left with only Fletcher’s Law to guide me: If in doubt, doubt. And then? Treat the water! It’s not as if there aren’t a lot of options. But before deciding on the best method for my trips, I thought I’d better get a clearer idea…

WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST

The answer? Just about anything I cared to name. Pathogenic bacteria. Protozoan parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. The eggs of infectious tapeworms (Echinococcus). Even waterborne viruses. Not to mention chemical contamination — that devil’s cocktail of subtle, insidious poisons that we regard as the inevitable price to be paid for progress and prosperity.

That said, I’m not likely to find all of these in one cup of water. But who wants to play Russian roulette with her health? If in doubt, doubt, and take reasonable precautions against foreseeable risks. The bad news? The risk posed by the chemical contamination of surface waters and aquifers can’t really be assessed or addressed in the field. While the activated carbon filters found in some portable filters may indeed improve the taste of water,…

ACTIVATED CARBON FILTERS DON’T REDUCE THE BURDEN OF TOXIC ORGANIC CHEMICALS

Is this a concern? Yes and no. Though there’s not much heavy industry in the Adirondacks, there are mines, commercial forests, farms, and lawns, all of which are fertile sources of noxious pollutants. (Yes, even lawns. Could any McMansion owner forgo having a vast sweep of lawn, maintained with an arsenal of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? Certainly not. What would the neighbors think?) There’s also direct contamination of surface waters by runoff from parking lots and highways, not to mention the oil-rich exhausts of the outboards, jet-skis, ATVs, and snowmobiles beloved of many outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen.

The bottom line? The water flowing brightly under the road bridge, gurgling down the trailside stream, or passing under my keel may well be chemically polluted. And there’s nothing I can do about it, except hope that the risk is small. Or drink only bottled water — not really a practical alternative on long trips away from “sivilization.” Having said that,…

SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT PATHOGENS AND PARASITES

In fact, when it comes to disinfecting water, I have an embarrassment of options. I can boil it. I can dose it with a germicide. I can filter it. I can even zap it with ultraviolet light. That’s almost too much choice, which is why I decided to narrow the field before coming to a decision, weighing the merits and demerits of each method in turn, beginning with …

Boiling.  What could be simpler? Fire up the stove. Bring a pot of water to a good, rolling boil. Then — since I won’t be camping above 14,000 feet — I’m done. But nothing’s really this simple, is it? Boiling water has to cool before you can drink or decant it, and I’d need a big pot (and plenty of fuel) if I were going to boil up enough to see me through a sweaty day. In other words, boiling makes sense if I’m just brewing a pot of tea or making coffee for breakfast, but it’s an awkward and time-consuming way to meet all my drinking water needs.

OK. Boiling’s out, at least for disinfecting water in bulk. But I can always fall back on science, can’t I? What about …

The Pharmaceutical Option?  There’s nothing easier than popping a pill or two in a bottle of water, is there? No, but many devils lurk in the details, nonetheless. To begin with, two old campaigners are off the list. Halazone [4-(dichlorosulfamoyl)benzoic acid], the chlorine-releasing tablets handed out to GIs during World War II and still in widespread use as late as the 1960s, start losing their oomph almost as soon as you open the bottle. And tetraglycine hydroperiodide (the original Potable Aqua), though made of sturdier stuff, with much greater staying power than Halazone, is off-limits for anyone with thyroid disease, a cohort that now includes both me and Farwell. That leaves chlorine dioxide. The upside? Treated water still tastes like water, rather than disinfectant. The downside? Treatment time is four hours. And the tablets aren’t cheap. Moreover, it’s by no means certain that any chemical germicide is effective against the embryonated eggs of hydatid tapeworms, an emerging concern as Adirondack waterways become busier (and doggier) places.

My verdict? The pharmaceutical option was also out. But I thought I might have found my answer in another fruit from the tree of technology:

The Lightsaber.  This is Farwell’s whimsical name for the SteriPEN, a portable ultraviolet (UV) generator that bears a striking resemblance to an electric carving knife. UV radiation doesn’t kill microbial pathogens outright, but it does damage their DNA, limiting their ability to reproduce and thereby preventing them from overwhelming a human host’s defenses. The SteriPEN is an ingenious device, light in weight and easy to use. That said, it isn’t without drawbacks. It’s fragile, for one thing. For another, its efficacy is somewhat impaired in turbid water, and not all Adirondack waterways are crystal clear. But here’s the clincher: I’ve found no evidence that it inactivates the embryonated eggs of the hydatid tapeworm, surely one of the nastier surprises lurking in wild waters. Bad luck, that. Looks like it’s Worms 2, H. saps 0.

And that’s three down, with only one to go:

Filtration.  Portable filters have been around for a long time, and they do a good job holding back pathogenic bacteria, protozoan cysts, and tapeworm eggs. But many that I’ve seen (and used) have struck me as impossibly fussy and rather accident-prone. One of the best, the venerable Katadyn Pocket, is not only breathtakingly pricey, but it also boasts a ceramic filter. The filter is easy to clean, and it lasts a long time in ordinary use, but if you drop it on a rock, you’re back to boiling water. Moreover, like many other portable filters, the Pocket allows pathogenic viruses to slip right through. That said, an MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter has been our go-to solution for bulk water purification for some years now, though we also zap the filtered water with the Lightsaber to hobble any viruses. As the AutoFlow’s name suggests, it has no pump, and that’s a very good thing, indeed. Pumping is always a bit of a nuisance, and the absence of moving parts in drip filters like the AutoFlow eliminates many failure points. Still, the MSR is rather bulky, and packing it up is a little like wrestling an octopus. Ours is also getting a little long in tooth.

Which is why I started looking around for a smaller (and hopefully cheaper) alternative. And I found it on the shelves of the local HyperMart:

THE SAWYER MINI

Sawyer calls it a “water filtration system,” and I won’t argue, but it’s really just a small filter cartridge paired with a sturdy laminated “squeeze pouch” and a short length of rubbery tubing, plus a plastic syringe thrown in to make backwashing easier. And at around 20 (US) bucks a pop, it’s pretty cheap.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Photo A above shows the Sawyer Mini in its retail garb. Stripped of its packaging, the entire “system” — filter cartridge (B), rubber tubing, rolled squeeze pouch, and a 60-mL syringe (C) — weighs less than four ounces. Simple it may be, but the Mini is nothing if not versatile. You can …

  1. Use the squeeze pouch to force water through the filter into any handy container (Photo D below).
  2. Attach the tubing to the intake end of the filter — do NOT confuse the intake and outflow nipples! — then immerse the end of the tube in a water source and suck away at the outflow till your thirst is quenched (E).
  3. Screw the filter directly onto a plastic seltzer or soda bottle filled with “wild” water and drink from the outflow nipple.
  4. Mount the filter in the line leading from a hydration bladder.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

I mostly stick to Option Number One. And how does the Sawyer Mini work? I’ve no complaints to date. It’s easy to pack and simple to use. But does it do the job? Good question. Sawyer has lab data supporting the filter’s efficacy against bacteria and protozoan cysts, and the filter itself seems reasonably sturdy.

So far, so good, but…

ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES?

There are. If a Mini is exposed to freezing temperatures after its first use, it’s toast. That drawback isn’t unique to the Mini, by the way. All hollow fiber membrane microfilters share this vulnerability. And since you can’t inspect the filter element without sawing through the housing, you’ll have to take its integrity on trust. Or not. Which is why I’d be inclined to season Sawyer’s claim that the filter is good for “up to 100,000 gallons” with a fistful of salt. In fact, one preliminary study reports that samples of a nearly identical Sawyer filter succumbed to irreversible fouling (and possible burst fibers) after two years’ household use, with consequent loss of efficacy. That’s why I intend to replace my Mini every year, without fail. Better safe than you-know-what.

THE BOTTOM LINE?

The Mini ticks all the boxes: It’s small. It’s light. It’s simple. Keep it warm when the thermometer dips to freezing and below, and carry a box of chlorine dioxide tablets to serve as an emergency backup in a hard chance. The Sawyer Mini’s not perfect, but it will do the job I need done. It might be just what you’re looking for, too.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Product Evaluations Policy  TN Outside never accepts payment for product endorsements, nor do we accept product samples from manufacturers or their representatives. We write about the food we buy on our weekly rounds, and about the gear and books we’ve purchased, rented, or borrowed (from friends, family, or the public library) over the years. That said, on rare occasions we’ll write a product analysis of something we don’t own and have never used, based solely on the manufacturer’s claims, published specifications, or others’ experiences. But when we do that, we’ll tell you.

This article is an updated and modified version of one that appeared originally at Paddling.net on 12 May 2015.

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Jan 16 2017

Nashbar’s Stand By Me: Compact, Inexpensive, and Durable by Tamia Nelson

If you have a bike, then you should include a bike stand to your tool kit, even if all the mechanical work you do is to oil the chain. The stand doesn’t have to be large nor expensive. My first stand cost less than USD20 and can hide in a corner of the closet. It’s called the Nashbar Stand By Me. Here it is:

Stand By Me is built of tubular steel, with an asymmetrical X-shaped base, a vertical shaft perforated to allow a pair of hooks to be placed in such a way as to suit your bike’s geometry. This is a basic stand which can be used for bike storage, or—and this is how mine is used—for suspending the bike’s rear wheel off the ground far enough to allow the wheel to freely spin. This speeds up lubing the chain, adjusting brakes, or maintaining the drivetrain. (A Tip Brace the front wheel when using the Stand By Me, because if the front wheel rotates, the bike may become unstable and topple.) One thing to note is that some owners have had to bend the hooks, adjusting their shape to accommodate their bikes’ frames, but these have required no modification to fit my Surly Long Haul Trucker or Schwinn Sierra and Traveler.

When new, the hooks are covered with a textured rubber sleeve, and the Stand’s structural members are painted black. My 2008 model has had hard use, and while it’s still going strong, there is some rust, and the rubber sleeve on one hook cracked and fell away. The rust is my fault, caused by my failure to clean away salty slush while using the Stand to wash bikes after winter rides. A bit of elbow grease with Flitz along with some touch-up paint will take care of that, and the bare hook is now padded with a length of aquarium tubing. One last modification was made to cover bare metal hook ends with plastic caps recycled from eye-drop medicine bottles, to avoid gouging the bikes.

In practice, the Stand By Me is handy to use, and once you decide on the hooks’ placement, it shouldn’t take long to position them on your bike frame’s off-side triangle. You will have to get down low to work on the drivetrain when using the Stand By Me, to be sure, but if you don’t have a home shop with a full-sized stand ready to receive a bike, it’s so much easier to retrieve this compact stand from storage than to set up shop with a full-sized stand. And if your knees complain when you kneel or if your back balks when bending over, sit on a step stool to bring you closer to your work.

The bottom line? While my Nashbar Stand By Me shows its age and is marked by blemishes, it’s still going strong after more than eight years’ use. It’s easy to store, easy to retrieve, and not too fussy to set up. Despite our owning three other stands—two of them full-sized shop stands—this is the one that gets chosen most often. I’d buy one again. And because Nashbar is stocking the Stand By Me once more, you can buy one, too.

 

Concerned about my objectivity? Don’t worry. I’ve not been paid by Nashbar to write this article. Read our Product Evaluations Policy here.

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