"Evaluations: Bicycling & Touring Gear" Archives

Aug 11 2017

A Kickstand Support Keeps Your Bike Upstanding and It’s Absolutely Free! by Tamia Nelson

Road shoulders aren’t always wide and paved. More often than not, the verge is adrift with sand, loose gravel, or unconsolidated soil. This doesn’t bode well for cyclists who use a kickstand to keep their bike upright when they pull off the travel lane to get off the bike. Why? Because you may walk away from your parked bike only to hear it topple over before you’re more than a few steps away. Luckily, there’s an easy way to prevent the slow subsidence that sometimes topples our bikes: the kickstand support. Tamia tells you how.

Are you tired of having your bike’s kickstand sink into sand or slide sideways in gravel? Here’s an easy solution to this common problem, one that weighs very little and costs absolutely nothing — a stout metal jar lid. Almost any lid will do, though a wide lid works better than a narrow one.

The principle is simple. The lid spreads out the load, providing a stable base of support for the kickstand leg and reducing the likelihood that it will punch down into soft sand or slip on loose gravel. Just put the lid on the ground with the threaded flange uppermost. Then maneuver the kickstand’s leg into place. That’s it. Mission accomplished.

My kickstand support is a lid from an empty jar of salsa, if you’re interested, but just about any metal jar lid will do. It’s a good idea to check that the lid doesn’t shift when you release your grip on the bike — and that the kickstand leg doesn’t skate across the metal surface. Sometimes you have to move the lid a bit to find a more stable lie. But that’s about all. Once your bike is standing pretty, you can walk away, confident that it will remain upright.


After many months of use, however, your support may begin to show its age. When it starts to look like it’s been hit with birdshot, it’s probably time to consign it to the recycling bin and get a new lid. But you’ve really no cause for complaint. The price is right.

Will this work with a two-legged kickstand like the Pletscher? I haven’t tried it, but I can’t think of why it wouldn’t. You’ll need two lids, though —and it will probably be a bit fussier to get the legs where they have to go. Anyway, even if you need two supports, they shouldn’t weigh your down, and it’s not hard to keep it stowed but handy. I slip my lid into the map slot of my handlebar bag:

It's Not Heavy

But if you don’t use a bar bag your can probably find room in the seat pack that holds your spare tube and tools. (You do carry a tube and tools, don’t you?) Or just tuck your lid into your jersey or jacket pocket.

However you decide to haul your support around, you can now leave your bike on its kickstand without a qualm, knowing that you’ll find it upright and undamaged on your return. That’s a happy state of affairs, isn’t it?

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jul 06 2017

The Performance Transformer Jacket Transformed by Tamia Nelson

The Performance Transformer jacket is a lightweight wind shell. It’s got a lot going for it: It’s reasonably priced and the hi-viz color stands out to alert drivers you’re there. Moreover, the polyester fabric not only blunts the edge of cutting winds, it sheds light drizzle, too. Best of all, the jacket can morph into a vest by unzipping the sleeves. But there were two complications Tamia had to overcome before it went from good to best.

Some eight or nine years ago I bought the Performance Transformer jacket on sale from online retailer Performance Bike. (Amazingly, an updated version of the Transformer — the Elite Transformer — is still carried by Performance, though with a critical alteration as well as a much higher price.) Though not available in a women’s version, the Transformer appealed for several reasons. It’s a lightweight wind shell made of polyester, which blunts the edge of cutting winds and blunts a light drizzle. It’s predominantly hi-viz yellow, though unfortunately with black sleeves, shoulders, and chest pocket. The black swatches reduce the Transformer’s overall brightness, though as the photo panel below indicates, the hi-viz is very bright, bright enough to throw off my camera’s sensor.

Performance Transformer Jacket Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

The jacket folds up into a tidy packet for carrying in my handlebar bag or small pannier. But best of all, the Transformer lives up to its name — the jacket can morph into a vest by unzipping the sleeves. The mesh upper back help reduces condensation even when the sleeves and cape are in place, as a scoop vent at the cape’s lower seam allow ventilation. And if a bright jersey is worn beneath the vest, its color will show through the vest’s mesh. Did I say the Transformer is light?

Performance Transformer Jacket-Turned-Vest Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

So far, so good. I planned to wear the Transformer when the weather was too warm for my heavy-duty foul weather Canari Barrier Commuter jacket, but still too chilly for just a long-sleeved jersey. And I looked forward to being able to zip off the sleeves when I warmed up. But, there were…


The first annoyance? Zippers that join the cape and sleeves to the vest jam very easily. Secondly, the Transformer is cut for a man’s body, and a slim man’s body, at that.

I’ve come to terms with the zippers. (I no longer try to unzip on the move.) The tapered fit defied easy accommodation, however. Most women’s bodies are hourglasses, not inverted pyramids, and mine is no exception. When I pulled my Transformer down over my hips I felt as if I was riding in a badly fitted straitjacket. Which, in a way, I was.

After wearing the jacket for a few months, I concluded that it didn’t live up to its promise. But I’m loathe to give up on anything. Especially when I can’t find a suitable substitute at price I’m willing to pay. Convertible jackets are rare beasts. So instead of leaving my Transformer to gather dust in the closet, I decided to tackle the fit problem head on. And that meant…


This meant sewing. Now I’m not one of nature’s eager seamstresses, but my mother was a genius with a sewing machine, making many of her own and her kids’ clothes from scratch, as well as remodeling ready-made garments to fit her (and us) better. I figured I’d see if I could live up to her example. After all, what did I have to lose? As it was, I had a jacket which was so uncomfortable that I rarely wore it. If my alterations failed, I’d be no worse off. But if they succeeded, I’d be ahead of the game. So I grabbed a sheet of paper and sketched out a plan:

Sketchy Business Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

My Transformer had black triangular gussets separating the hi-viz front and back panels. I began by slitting these gussets (step 1 in the sketch) from the hem to a point just below the arm hole and opening them up by some four inches (2) on each side. Next, I split the seams of a hi-viz nylon stuff sack I found on the verge of the highway. This gave me a large rectangle with a preformed drawcord hem, from which it was child’s play to cut two additional triangles of fabric (3). (I used a laundry maker to trace the outlines before cutting.) Then I heat-sealed all the cut edges — and almost set fire to the jacket. Polyester is tricky stuff!

Turning the jacket over so that the inside was facing up on my work table, I matched the cut edges of one green nylon insert with the cut edges of the corresponding black gusset, being careful to align the tunnel hems (4). Then I pinned the insert to the jacket to hold everything together and stitched it in place (5), doubling the lines of stitching before going on to tackle the second gusset. In just a few short minutes it was time to try my newly tailored jacket on for size. And the result? Perfect. No more straitjacket! It was just loose enough to accommodate a long-sleeved jersey under a light fleece top. Here’s what one side of finished garment looks like:

The Finished Product (c) Tamia Nelson

You can see the black lines left by my laundry marker. I should have placed them on the inside where they wouldn’t be seen, but I can live with it. The green color also clashes with the hi-viz yellow, but I can live with that, too. Someone with more skill and patience than I would have done a far neater job, I’m sure, but I’m pleased with my transformed Transformer. It’s now the versatile garment I wanted when I bought it. and has been keeping me warm and dry for many years.

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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.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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!

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