Commuter Essentials

Reid Miller Apparel specializes in a small number of high quality apparel pieces that women can use in their everyday biking lives. To keep our quality control high, we can’t make everything. For this reason, I am reviewing products I love from bags, to rain slickers to helmets so you can make sure you have all your apparel needs covered to live your life on your bike. Disclosure: I am a heavy-handed user so I therefore may put more stress on the below items then your average Jane. 


Bike lights: Giant Numen + Spark 30 LED Taillight

Bike lights are a vital piece of the bike commute. You must see and be seen on the road. After 5 years of solid bike commuting I have a basket of bike lights that for one reason or another have not been up to the task. To dim, short battery life, in a perpetual state of getting weaker and weaker until I disappear from sight on the road. And this is no small matter. When your lights are not working well you are invisible to motorists at night.

I realized this was not a “me issue” while attending the monthly cruiser rides hosted by our local bike shop, Bullseye Bicycle. A large share of the riders on this night ride had issues with their lights: front one out, back one out, front light moved to the back for safety, or no lights huddled in with a group of lit cyclist.

My fraught relationship with bike lights continues with this review of the Giant Numen + Spark 30 LED Taillight. I love the idea of reducing waist so I was eager to get a rechargeable light. The light is very strong to start out with and easy to use. The challenge is that the light goes out when it looses charge, with no warning. I found this out the hard way riding on a busy road at night when I realized, to my horror, that my light had been out for an unknown amount of time. The light only holds its charge for a few short evening rides and then goes out, so this is a common occurrence. Furthermore. I try to remember to bring it in to charge it and then will forget to put it back on.

I have concluded that with having to remember my helmet, sunglasses, lock, rain poncho, in addition to my work and food needs (and, for the love of god, I don’t even have children), it is too much to have a bike light that I regularly take on and off the bike. Especially because, forgetting my bike light in the morning means coming home early before it gets dark or finding a ride home. Riding without lights for a safety first kind of gal is not an option.
 
So here is where I appeal to YOU. Do you have a bike light that you love? Have you solved the bike light issue? Do you jump on your bike carefree, knowing that you will be visible. Can you see the small rocks, glass and sticks in the road ahead of you? The REID MILLER Apparel t-shirts are pretty sweet. There is one with your name on it if you will guest review your brilliant light.

To submit a review, contact me at reidmillerapparel@gmail.com  


The Cleverhood

For those of us on the East Coast, for a few weeks it felt as though the rain will never end. In the spirit of celebrating each day no matter how wet and sunless, I spent the week reflecting on how my Cleverhood brings some much needed joy to a rainy, cloudy day. What is a Cleverhood you might ask? It is a high quality riding cape/poncho to keep you dry on your bike on the rainy rides. And it is seriously clever. My favorite part is the fabric. I bought the Electric Houndstooth. You touch it and know that it is an exceptional fabric. Indeed it is so beautiful that it makes you second guess whether it’s for the rain. The extremely reflective stitching is perfectly hidden in regular lighting. 

But it is also clever because the Cleverhood people seem to have thought of everything. Worried that it will blow around? There are thumb loops under the front of the cape to hold it in place and the fabric is just heavy enough to stay in place while letting the rain roll off you. Where will you put your hands when you get off your bike and are walking around, there are slits in the front with magnetic closures that stay put and keep you dry when you are riding. Does your head stay dry? Yep. The hood has visor which fits under your helmet and keeps your head dry while not impeding visibility.  

And it is not just great on the bike. Last week, I had to get out of the office to walk around even though it was once again threatening to rain. So I did and it started pouring. No matter, I had my Cleverhood on (which is equally great on foot). Rather than mope around about getting wet in the endless deluge I had a skip in my walk, staying relatively dry and sporting a super fun garment that makes me feel a little like some sort of mystical super woman fairy (it IS really fun to wear a reflective cape). 

If you are planning on riding regularly in the rain this is an investment (the Cleverhood retails for $249.00), but it is the best out there and will bring you joy on your rainy rides and excursions.

There are a few draw backs that I have found.

1.     It is bulkier than your usual shell. For me this means that any day I think there is a chance of rain I have it with me and it takes up about 1/4 of the space in my Linus bag (not a huge bag but there it is).

2.     If I’m riding at night in the rain, the Cleverhood covers the light attached to my handlebars. I don’t ride often at night in the rain, but if you are planning on this, I would get a light that attaches to the head tube (the metal tubing above the front wheel).

3.     Not so much a problem for me, but my sporty lady bike friend complains that it is cumbersome. IE. If you live for speed and are used to blazing around on your bike this will slow you down a bit. 


Velo Orange Hammered Fenders

VO Hammered 35 mm Fenders on my Peugeot 

VO Hammered 35 mm Fenders on my Peugeot 

For biking ladies who ride their bikes to destinations where they want to look presentable, and who live in places where there is some rain, fenders are a must. For women new to biking, fenders are the plastic or metal barriers between the wheel and the frame to keep water from spraying up from the wheel onto the rest of the bike and your outfit. I learned the hard way that they are not optional in the rain: I took my Cleverhood, a specially made rain slicker for biking, for a spin during a rain storm and was thrilled at how dry I remained until I removed the Cleverhood and had mud running up my pants and shirt from water spraying me from underneath.
 
So I had to buy fenders. I hunted for something that would fit the aesthetic of my Peugeot and perhaps even add a bit of style. I was thrilled when my friend Rob from Bullseye Bicycles in Durham, brought these beauties to my attention: VO Hammered 35 mm aluminum Fenders. They are a bit pricy: $67, but this is comparable to other quality fenders out there.
 
The hammered metal is absolutely beautiful and goes perfectly with the silver components on my Peugeot. The fenders have an old-school feel to them and add a bit of edginess. Light bounces of the hammered metal fenders and adds a glow to my bike.
 
The fenders are very effective at keeping water from the wheel off the bike and my pants. That said, I spend more time that I would like readjusting the fenders, since they are easily bent, though I’m told this is really common with fenders. Despite this annoyance, I love these fenders each time I lay my eyes on them.
 
A quick note – you have to be mindful of rocks when you ride with fenders that don’t have release tabs on the front because it is possible to get a rock stuck in the fender.
 
More information on this product here


Linus's Harrison Briefcase 

Linus’s Harrison Briefcase is my favorite item in my daily bike commuter repertoire. First of all, I love the idea of a bike briefcase. So sophisticated. The Harrison Briefcase is high quality and well made, especially for the price: $159.00 (not cheap but reasonable next to other bike bags and for what you get with this one). The material, construction, and zippers are very durable. It wears great and I’ve been using it daily since April. 

I can fit all my work essentials in this bag with 2 compartments: 1 for my 15” laptop and the other for pens, pencils, notebooks, tea, snacks etc. The second compartment has lots of different sections with zipper pockets to keep your odds and ends organized. The leather on the handles and hooks for the back rack are nice touches. The hooks go on and off real easily – which is great for me since I seem to always have my hands full. They are also very sturdy. There is also no futzing around like with other bags where you add attachments and convert it once off the bike. You hook the bag on and easily pull it off and are ready to head into the office.

There is a nice outside snap pocket that I put keys in, though Linus built it to carry a lock (having the lock on the outside of the bag messes with the aesthetic). Lastly the material is super durable, stain resistant and seems to be waterproof. The seams of the zippers are not taped – so perhaps this is why it is not listed as waterproof. I have yet to get into a serious rainstorm with this bag and would probably put my laptop in a plastic sleeve if I were riding in serious rain in case water gets through the zipper.

Downsides: I don’t love the color choices. I settled on the Army Green to match my Stanley thermos – which has grown on me, but both colors are a bit drab. Never been an army green lady and though I usually love navy blue this is a very muted tone. Also, the bag is just a bit too small to fit everything I need for my commute in Durham, NC (I bring my lunch and snacks everyday since I’m a frugal hungry lady, I also bring my Cleverhood most days since there is almost always a chance of outfit-soaking rain). Instead I carry both “The Harrison Briefcase” and Linus’s “The Sac” to accommodate all my stuff during a regular workday. Minor last critique – a small hole has formed in the sectioned space for the pens. Not great – but the rest up the bag has held up perfectly. This is the best commuter bike bag for a back rack that I’ve found!

More information on Linus’s Harrison Briefcase here

 

 

Giro “Reverb” helmet 

I bought this helmet in “Highlight Yellow” back in the spring of 2014 and I love it to pieces. It is super comfortable, breathable, fits great, and has a super practical, neat looking visor that you can remove and throw in the washing machine. I have worn it for my urban rides year round in Durham, NC. For those of you not familiar with this locale, for 2-3 months of the year it is like being in a steam shower. My head breathed its way through this period. It also seems to allow space for jacket hoods, wool cap or whatever other layering I have needed during the winter.

Also, some notes on the color, the public health lady in me wanted to buy the most visible color possible. In some respects, neon is so over-the-top that you can sorta rock it with anything. What’s more, I really do feel safer with my head looking like a highlighter.

The only aspect I don’t like: the straps don’t hold their adjustment. Every few days I find myself readjusting things, especially so my earrings stay nicely tucked in while I ride.

Giro people: If you’re listening, please make this in other neon highlighter colors; Pink? Blue?

More information on the “Reverb” helmet 

Linus’s “The Sac”

When I bought my Linus bag I was seeking something a little classier than my beat-up backpack or 5-gallon paint bucket panniers. I really wanted a bag that allowed me to roll in to meet a friend for a beer and not have to slug around cycling garb. I also don’t like to wear backpacks (I know the hipster bike messenger crew may look down on this.) I love the feeling of having my back free and my goods securely hooked to my rack.

"The Sac" in navy and red  - paint stain not included :)

"The Sac" in navy and red  - paint stain not included :)

I was super stoked to find the Linus shoulder bag. I bought the cheaper version, “The Sac”: $69 (versus the fancier bag with leather, “The Eleanor”: $169). It has a simple design that makes it easy to throw in a notebook, lock, sweatshirt or what-have-you. There is a small compartment which fits keys, cell phone etc. The magnetic closure on the top is simple and effective. I was weary that there are no zippers or snaps to hold things in place but there is something about the design which keeps everything from spilling out in spite of my heavy-handedness.

What blew me away and won my heart was the waterproofing. The material is a nice canvas but doesn’t perform like it. I was riding around DC for the Women’s Bike Forum and it was pouring. At one point I spend a good part of an hour out in the pouring rain. When the bag is closed the top of the bag flops to the side. There was literally a pool of water accumulating on the top of the bag. When I went to open it, the water rolled of and inside everything including my electronic and paper items were dry. One thing to note, my 15in MacBook Air in it’s case fits in the bag, but peaks out over the magnet so it is a little dicey to ride with it in the rain since the top closer is impeded.

One aspect I don’t like (but has yet to prevent me from using it) is the fact that the rubber coating on the metal prongs that attach it to the wrack came off very soon after purchasing it. This could be better. 

More photos/product information