Archive for the 'Evaluations: Bicycling & Touring Gear' Category

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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Further Reading

Dec 19 2016

Winter Bicycling: The Agony of d’Feet? by Tamia Nelson

The first year I rode my bike through a northern Adirondacks winter I outfitted my feet in an inexpensive pair of suede ankle-high boots with a rubber sole, an aggressive tread, boxy toe, and rubber reinforcements around the toe and heel. For grocery runs of 25 miles round trip on hilly roads, these boots worked surprisingly well. There was plenty of wriggle room for my toes, the rubberized reinforcement kept wind and water outside where they belonged, and the sole was grippy enough to cope with slop and ice when I placed my feet on the ground. Those 25 dollar Walmart specials lasted two years before becoming hopelessly cracked, but they served me well for utility cycling in rotten weather, even if they were heavy and clunky.

My replacements were cycling shoes designed for mountain biking, and they were superior to my old stompers. A stiff sole reduced foot fatigue, which I developed after about an hour of pedaling with my old boots. A knobby tread gripped the pedals just enough to improve efficiency, while giving me a good bite when I had to walk. They’re lightweight shoes, and just airy enough so I can avoid “hot foot syndrome” on sultry rides. Overall, they’re great shoes. On the other hand, they’re not wind- or waterproof, so the first time I wore them on a sloppy winter ride to town, I returned home with…

The Agony of d’Feet  Feet take a beating in winter. Cold wind slices through most bike shoes as if they’re made of tissue paper. Slush plasters pedals and feet. Salty road spray soaks shoes and socks. The result? Numb soles, frostbitten toes, and misery. But life doesn’t have to be hard, and it IS possible for your distal appendages to be warm and dry when bicycling in snowy, frigid, wet conditions. But you don’t have to wear hiking boots to achieve this happy state of affairs. My first line of defense for battling the cold and the wet of winter with my mountain-biking shoes was to wear…

Hiking Gaiters  After my first bout of cold feet in the Performance shoes, I bought an inexpensive pair of urethane-coated nylon gaiters from Campmor and wore them over my legs and the tops of the shoes. Gaiters keep my feet and lower legs warm and dry — too warm on some days. The downside? Gaiters are generous in their girth and the extra fabric rubs against the chain. But they’re a versatile and cost-effective alternative to buying the more specialized…

Neoprene Toe Covers  These are little more than cups that fit over the front of your shoes. Here’s what mine look like:

Keeping Toes Warm

The left photo shows Performance toe covers worn over roadie shoes (the logo is reflective). What you can’t see is the cutout on the bottom which alows shoe cleats to engage clipless pedals. The right side photo shows how little space the nested toe covers take up. I just stash them in my handlebar bag where they’re ready in case I’m caught out in foul weather. They keep out wind and wet, and are cozy down to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When it’s colder than that, I resort to…

Lined Neoprene Booties  They’re stretchy, up to a point, and fit snugly. These ankle-high overboots are intended to be worn over your bike shoes. Features include a rubber sole (surprisingly “sticky” when walking in snow), a zipper up the back, reflective strips and logos, and a fleece lining. Here they are worn with tights:

Booties in Action

When temperatures drop below freezing, these booties are wonderfully warm and dry when worn with wool socks and my mountain-biking shoes. When worn over my roadie shoes, however, the booties are too tight and compress my toes. Why? Because the roadie shoes have a doubled strap over the instep, while my mountain bike shoes do not.

Finding the right size bootie can be a challenge, so try them on over the shoes you intend to wear, and start with a bootie that’s two sizes more than your shoe.

Pulling the bootie on over shoes helps warm me up for the ride to come, but it’s not an easy job. The secret seems to be to nest the shoe’s toe firmly into the bootie, then smooth the neoprene from front to back. The zipper does not have a tendency to work down while riding or walking, though the snug ankle fit doesn’t restrict spinning, and the bootie slips easily into my toe clips, with room to spare. No danger of my foot refusing to pull free at a stop light.

What about after the ride? Are the booties as hard to remove as they are to put on? No, they’re not. Unzip, peel back the sides a bit, hold the bootie heel with one hand and push down while lifting your shoe up. Slide back out of the bootie and you’re done.

If you aren’t as flexible as you once were, you might want to consider leaving the shoes inside the booties. Peel back the sides, reach in and untie the shoes, and slip your feet from the shoes, leaving them inside the bootie. Leaving shoes inside booties isn’t the best way to air them after a ride, but if they haven’t been soaked by sweat, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The Bottom Line?  Keep your feet warm and dry when riding in cold, wet, or sloppy conditions. Hiking gaiters might work for you, or a sturdy pair of mountain bike shoes designed to shed water and stop wind. But for versatile footwear that won’t break the bank, consider outfitting yourself with cycling toe covers for moderately chilly weather and rainy days, or booties for times when the temperature drops. They’re cost-effective yet very weather effective alternatives to avoiding the agony of d’feet!

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Jul 30 2015

Going to Ground: In Search of the Ideal Groundsheet

Going to Ground

I’ve rolled out my sleeping bag in some pretty unlikely places: scree slopes, abandoned graveyards, the platforms of deserted railway stations, fetid tussocks next to sewerage outflow pipes, in ankle‑deep mud on riverbanks, on the floor of a (supposedly) haunted house… And often there was nothing under my bag but earth or splintered wood. But my days of roughing it are, I hope, behind me. I certainly don’t need to prove anything to myself anymore, and I’ve learned that, far from detracting from my enjoyment when I’m in the backcountry, a modicum of comfort enhances it. Which is why I always tuck a groundsheet under my tent or sleeping bag now. You could say I’ve come to the conclusion that groundsheets are fundamental… Read more…

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Jun 02 2015

For a Few Ounces More: Swapping Out Water Bottle Cages

My Long Haul Trucker has a 42 cm frame. It’s the smallest LHT that Surly builds, but it still boasts three sets of bosses for mounting water bottle cages. Two sets are located in the usual places on the seat tube and down tube. The third can found on the underside of the down tube. Take a look:

Hauling Water

It’s a generous provision. Still, this is a small frame, and clearances are tight. While the primary down tube site will take a 1-liter bottle, there’s only room for a 0.6-liter (20-fluid ounce) bottle underneath. That’s no surprise. But I was annoyed that my seat tube cage wouldn’t accept a 0.7-liter (24-fluid ounce) bottle. Every ounce counts on a long ride, and rewatering places are often few and far between. (I ride in well-watered country, but many local bodies of water are heavily polluted, and public drinking fountains are now all but extinct. As for general stores… Well, let’s just say that Norman Rockwell’s America is long gone.)

Not Enough Bottle

OK. That was the problem. But I thought I had a solution. If I could drop the cage just a bit, I’d be able to shoehorn a 0.7-liter bottle into place on the seat tube. The original cages didn’t lend themselves to re-engineering (see photo above), but I found a couple of inexpensive Zéfal cages that were slot-drilled, allowing some latitude in placing the mounting screws. I figured that one or the other would be sure to do the trick. And I was right:

Enough Bottle

The Zéfal Spring bottle cage (about USD9.00) gave me just enough room to carry a 24-ounce water bottle on the seat tube. And while I was at it, I also replaced my primary down tube cage with a new Zéfal Pulse (about USD8.00). It doesn’t give me any more capacity — the original cage also accommodated a 1-liter bottle — but the old cage was developing ominous cracks around the braze. I figured it was time to retire it.

Was this a lot of trouble to go to for an extra half-cup of water? Yes. But I can remember times when that extra half-cup would have been mighty welcome. After all, as Jerome K. Jerome famously observed, “Thirst is a dangerous thing.” I’ll drink to that. What about you?


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May 26 2015

Dog Tags: ID That’s as Tough as You Are

Whether on two wheels or two feet, I like to stray far from the beaten path — to explore hidden places and follow the gravel lanes that branch off from unsignposted town roads. I track wild creatures through hawthorn thickets and scratchy spruce hells, and I watch them from hastily improvised hides on the shores of lonely ponds. Sometimes these excursions leave me standing in driving rain for hours. At other times, they require that I trudge through seemingly bottomless mires.

In any case, carrying unprotected ID isn’t always practical. Moreover, I don’t fancy dropping my driver’s license and other documents in the ooze at the bottom of a beaver pond. Of course, I could seal my ID in a ziplock bag, but that would only keep the contents dry; it wouldn’t prevent loss. Which explains why I often leave my wallet at home. Still, I don’t like the idea of being anonymous. What if a windfall or crumbling ice cornice were to knock me senseless? What if a distracted driver crashes into me and leaves me sprawled unconscious on the highway? How would any passerby know who I was? And how would they contact my family?

While such eventualities don’t make for happy reading, they can and do happen. Every day. When a dog ran under Farwell’s front wheel some years back, the crash sent him over the bars at 20 mph and left him lying unconscious in the middle of the road. It was some minutes before he came to his senses. Long enough for the dog’s owner to spirit his (uninjured) pet away, in fact — but not, curiously, quite long enough for him to call an ambulance. To make matters worse, when Farwell finally came to, he couldn’t remember who he was, let alone how he’d come to be standing in the middle of a county road next to a broken bike, with a mouthful of shattered teeth and a haze of blood dimming the vision in his only good eye. Luckily, he rallied quickly. He had a cell phone in his ‘bar bag, and — miracle of miracles — he was just inside a coverage area. So his story ended more or less happily. But it could easily have gone the other way.

So I like to carry something that identifies me and gives any first responder enough information to guide my immediate treatment. But how best to carry it? That’s the question. At first, I considered an identity bracelet, but I don’t like wearing anything on my wrist besides a watch. Many runners and cyclists buy Road ID tags and strap them around their ankles, but my aversion to bracelets extends to all my extremities. Moreover, paying USD20 (or more) for what amounts to a tag on a strap didn’t really appeal. Then I hit on something that should have been obvious from the outset: the dog tag. It was, after all, the original all-but-indestructible ID.

The rest was easy. A Web search quickly led me to DogTagsOnline, a business which — surprise! — does nothing but make custom dog tags. Ten bucks got me a pair of the sturdy metal lozenges, two breakaway chains (one long and one short), and a couple of rubber silencers. Standard shipping had the whole package on my doorstep in four days. I now wear one tag around my neck whenever I venture out. The other gets clipped to my ‘bar bag or key ring. Peace of mind seldom comes so cheap.

Tabula Rasa


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May 14 2015

The Things We Carry: The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System

Meet the Mini

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I’m hoping to go home again this fall — largely by water. It’s a journey of some 200 miles across the Adirondack mountains, and I’ll want to get back (another 200 miles) before the snow starts flying in earnest, so I’ll be traveling light: pack canoe, rucksack, and as little else as is compatible with comfort and safety. It won’t all be paddling, either. I can count on doing a fair bit of wading, with a little lining and tracking thrown in for good measure. And then there are the portages, some of which will require that I bushwhack over heights of land. I may even have to do some light bouldering. The upshot? Every ounce counts. But at least the biting flies will have retired for the year — or so I hope.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a wilderness trek, and the country I’ll be traversing certainly isn’t the sort described in the rather purple prose of the Wilderness Act. There’s probably no place in New York whose “community of life” could be said to be “untrammeled by man.” In truth, there’s no such place on earth. We’ve left our pug marks (and our garbage) everywhere. Nor will I be journeying through a landscape where “man … is a visitor who does not remain.” Every banker, movie star, and plastic surgeon east of the Mississippi now owns a gated enclave in the Adirondack Park. (Yes, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.)

All of which being said, there’s a lot of wildness — that’s wildness, not wilderness — left in those odd corners of New York that are too boggy (or too buggy) to interest the developers. The taxpayers own a good bit of property, too, much of it enjoying at least some degree of protection under the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution. To be sure, this protection is steadily being nibbled away. But much of the Adirondacks is still blessedly free of both strip malls and rustic McMansions. And it’s my country. I’ve been knocking about in its hills and on its waters since I was a girl.

So I’m looking forward to going home again and revisiting some of my old haunts. I have one nagging worry, however: drinking water. Yes, the Adirondacks is a well‑watered place, but paddling is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if the water under my keel is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.” Of course, back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside most streams and spring holes. 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 decided the spring hole was the perfect place to do her laundry, including her baby’s dirty diapers. Or the trail might be popular with local dog‑walkers, all of whom think pooper‑scoopers are just 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? I treat the water… Read more…

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