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New to the commuting thing

Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

New to the commuting thing

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Old 10-22-09, 01:46 AM
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Speedwagon98
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New to the commuting thing

I haven't yet, but plan to start commuting to work soon. The route to work is about 8 miles one way, and I can either go down an open stretch of 4 lane divided state highway(That is also a bike route on the very large shoulders. For anyone familiar with Denver, it's the southernmost tip of Wadsworth/121.), or through the state park. Either way, a lot of this will be at night. I work 4 days a week, 1730-0530. So in the dead of winter, it's dark on both ends of the trip, with no street lights to help out. And being in Denver, it will be somewhat cold without the sun to help.

I know I'm going to need some lights, but I'm not really sure what the big difference is between a $100 and $500 light. I'm guessing the cheaper $30 lights won't do much for me. Traffic is relatively light for the times I go to/from work though, so that is a plus.

As of right now, I have no real cycling gear, and only limited wicking type clothing. However, I would like to start getting some, because I think it will help me a lot while snowboarding as well. Up until now, I've always just worn jeans and a sweatshirt under the outer layers. But I've been doing some homework, and discovering all these fancy wicking/layering things one can wear instead. So hopefully, I'll be more comfortable both boarding and cycling from now on.

Any steering in the right direction, would be much appreciated, while I try and find as many things to search for as possible.
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Old 10-22-09, 06:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Speedwagon98 View Post
I know I'm going to need some lights, but I'm not really sure what the big difference is between a $100 and $500 light. I'm guessing the cheaper $30 lights won't do much for me. Traffic is relatively light for the times I go to/from work though, so that is a plus.
My experience is that the low-end, $30 lights are mostly good for making you visible. They don't do a whole lot to light up your path. They'll help a little, but mostly they are a "be seen" light. That said, I rock a $30 light because it's what I can afford.

Originally Posted by Speedwagon98 View Post
As of right now, I have no real cycling gear, and only limited wicking type clothing. However, I would like to start getting some, because I think it will help me a lot while snowboarding as well. Up until now, I've always just worn jeans and a sweatshirt under the outer layers.
I have some polyester base layers that I like to wear up top. They make a difference in winter versus a cotton t-shirt. I especially notice the difference when I stop for a break after having been riding and sweating. The non-cotton base layer really improves comfort.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but if it's not actively snowing, I will often wear cotton jeans over a poly or wool base-layer. For a ride of a mile or two, or three around town, I find that combination adequate. Often I just wear the jeans and base-layer all day long. That way, I can hope on the bike and run errands whenever, without having to mess with changing my clothes.

Bottom line: going to synthetic and wool base layers has made for a HUGE improvement in comfort and warmth. And that's true even though I'm still sometimes suboptimal in wearing something cotton on top of those layers.
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Old 10-22-09, 06:11 AM
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There is another thread posted today on lighting - go check that out. I have an 18.5 mile commute but it has streetlights for all but about two miles. So I have cheap battery LED lights - I'm only worried about cars seeing me, not so much about having to see the road. To that end, I have a little LED "mullets" in several places: on the back of my helmet, a tail light on the seat post, and another LED taillight on the rear rack. Then a flashing LED mullet on the handle bars, and a cheap LED headlight which is good for being seen but not for seeing. If you're riding on dark streets, spend some money on good lights.

As for cold - uh, I live in FL so I don't even go out on my bike if the temp is below 35F. I don't know how you guys ride in colder temps, but I suppose I would find a way if that was my only choice.

For my sub 40 days, I Love my Under Armor long sleeve shirt and gloves, and skull cap, which would be the first layer I guess for you snowbirds. On top of that all I ever need is my long sleeve windbreaker jacket, and I have a couple of pairs of thermal tights for the legs, but I only use those when its below 45 or so. For sub 30's temps, I don't have a clue!

I'm still riding to work in my bike sandals. Tuesday I had to wear socks with them. Guess it's time to buy some winter shoes.
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Old 10-22-09, 06:19 AM
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since your considering your bike a vehicule, and riding on the dark will be a daily thing, then you should consider forgerting about the budget a bit...you really really need good lights specially on foggy or snowy terraine.... peterwhitecycles specializes in lighting you can read a lot there, and his store carrys some of the best lights, ranging from 100 to 1500
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Old 10-22-09, 06:24 AM
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From a lighting stand point, the difference in a $100 lighting system and a $500 system is typically going to be more in durability more than in light output. For $100 you can get a Magic Shine light, which I use, or for a little less you can get some P7 flashlights and brackets and mount them to your bike. In the $300 to $500 range you won't get a whole lot more light output but you will get some some more recognizable company names with good history, like Dinotte, Night rider, etc. Personally, I go with the Magic Shine and figure if something happens, I can order another brand new one and still be under the cost of some of these more expensive ones.
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Old 10-22-09, 06:28 AM
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We can give you some better info if you can provide some more info concerning your situation:

1. How far is the commute route? Have you rode the route? If yes, how long did it take.
2. How are you carrying your gear, if any - rear rack with rack trunk and/or panniers? handlebar bag? seat bag? backpack or messenger bag?
3. What type of bike? flat bar or drop bar? rear rack?

There are some very good options for lighting & clothing that are relatively inexpensive, but specifics are easier to list if we know more about your situation.
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Old 10-22-09, 06:35 AM
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The route to work is about 8 miles one way,
I work 4 days a week, 1730-0530.
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Old 10-22-09, 07:36 AM
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Originally Posted by 10 Wheels View Post
The route to work is about 8 miles one way,
I work 4 days a week, 1730-0530.
Thanks, I missed the 8 miles.

Assuming you don't have a dynohub or bottle generator, for a headlight, either a P7 or a MagicShine should be plenty...both would be better yet for redundancy. For tail lights, the Planet Bike Superflash is a good choice, but other options may be considered depending upon your mounting options.

Clothing is easy - I'm gonna assume you are not wearing cycling shorts/bibs or using clipless pedals (not that you can't).

1. Base layer - Wool or poly undies with flat seams or a gusseted crotch. Cheap poly tee from Target/Costco etc, wool socks.

2. Mid layer - cheap wool (merino is best) sweaters can usually be found at your local thrift shop. Target/Costco often carries inexpensive merino wool sweaters too. Wool/poly blend long johns.

3. Outer layer - a decent wind/water resistant jacket with plenty of ventilation options like pit zips, vents, adjustable cuffs, etc. (like a Novara Express jacket from REI), plus a decent pair of wind/water resistant pants (like Novara Headwind pants from REI).

You're also gonna want a decent pair of gloves and a wool/poly cap and a decent pair of shoes/boots with plenty of room for sock layers.

Layers are your friend.
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Old 10-22-09, 07:46 AM
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You working at the Lockheed facility down in that area?

I would get some redundant lights. I just got a NiteRider Minewt Mini-USB. Should be plenty of light to ride down that road. Then, get another light, something cheaper that you can keep strobing and is barely bright enough to serve as a backup in case the NiteRider dies on you.

Then, get a super bright tail light. The Planet Bike SuperFlash should be plenty.

Just layer up to stay warm. Think of wearing thin layers, so that as you warm up, you can take off more layers.
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Old 10-22-09, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by chipcom View Post
We can give you some better info if you can provide some more info concerning your situation:

1. How far is the commute route? Have you rode the route? If yes, how long did it take.
2. How are you carrying your gear, if any - rear rack with rack trunk and/or panniers? handlebar bag? seat bag? backpack or messenger bag?
3. What type of bike? flat bar or drop bar? rear rack?

There are some very good options for lighting & clothing that are relatively inexpensive, but specifics are easier to list if we know more about your situation.
Haven't ridden it yet, but plan to on my first day off.
As of right now, just a backpack. But my searching tells me I'll probably end up wanting a rack of some kind. And a Specialized Sirrus.

Originally Posted by chipcom View Post
Thanks, I missed the 8 miles.
1. Base layer - Wool or poly undies with flat seams or a gusseted crotch. Cheap poly tee from Target/Costco etc, wool socks.

2. Mid layer - cheap wool (merino is best) sweaters can usually be found at your local thrift shop. Target/Costco often carries inexpensive merino wool sweaters too. Wool/poly blend long johns.

3. Outer layer - a decent wind/water resistant jacket with plenty of ventilation options like pit zips, vents, adjustable cuffs, etc. (like a Novara Express jacket from REI), plus a decent pair of wind/water resistant pants (like Novara Headwind pants from REI).

You're also gonna want a decent pair of gloves and a wool/poly cap and a decent pair of shoes/boots with plenty of room for sock layers.

Layers are your friend.
I didn't realize Costco carried that type of stuff. I never really considered shopping for clothes there, but I do shop for food/dog food there. I'll have to check that out. I have a nice softshell that I got on sale at REI last week, which I happened to learn about soft shells while I was there at the time. Had no idea. And after posting this, I went looking at REI for a base layer/underwear. Never occurred to me to look for such at REI before.


Originally Posted by mikeshoup View Post
You working at the Lockheed facility down in that area?

I would get some redundant lights. I just got a NiteRider Minewt Mini-USB. Should be plenty of light to ride down that road. Then, get another light, something cheaper that you can keep strobing and is barely bright enough to serve as a backup in case the NiteRider dies on you.

Then, get a super bright tail light. The Planet Bike SuperFlash should be plenty.

Just layer up to stay warm. Think of wearing thin layers, so that as you warm up, you can take off more layers.
Yes, I work at the LM plant there. I was looking at the generator thread, and followed some links posted in there by mechBgon about the flashlights. For the cost of those, it's hard to not pick one up with a handlebar mount. Especially with the amount of light output they are getting from such a small and portable device.
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Old 10-22-09, 05:24 PM
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Welcome to the CO commute. I do 3 days a week around 30 miles Round trip. For lights I am getting one make locally here in Denver

http://classifieds.mtbr.com/showprod...t=39808&cat=27

http://amoebalight.blogspot.com/

I have seen what they can do first hand.. Trust me for the price you will not be it!

For a rear light Palnet bike has the best I have seen.
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Old 10-22-09, 05:56 PM
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I would go with Dealextreme dot com's P7 flashlights and twofish holder up front and superflash's in the back.
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Old 10-22-09, 06:58 PM
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Find out how long your commute will take you on your current setup and how you feel. Do a dryrun first before you start going out and purchasing a lot of things. Perhaps just go 4 miles one way and 4 miles back and see how long it takes you and what you experience. Does your butt, knees, hands, back, etc. hurt? Are you to cold (or hot) and where at (hands, head, arms, legs, feet, etc.)?

The most important thing is to be comfortable while riding. A comfortable saddle, perhaps some barends for different hand positions, and good platform pedals (basically your three contact points on the bike) should be of primary importance. Experience is a good teacher.

After that your purchases should be based on what you experience. The first few times I started commuting I didn't have my current light setup, my current saddle, the same grips, or even the same wardrobe. I pieced things together as I went along. I couldn't even fix a flat or have an airpump at home. Don't wait to have everything in place before you start commuting. Just ride and learn. Don't be afraid to visit other forums (Winter, Advocacy & Safety, Electronics, etc.) as well and do searches.
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Old 10-22-09, 09:10 PM
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I started my little commute with literally my bike, a helmet, and a backpack. Bought some cheap lights (my ride is well lit 90% of the way, so it's mostly for visibility by others) about a month later. Now, as it's starting to get colder, I'm looking at clothing.
I second the advice for taking a dry run, and just doing it, though! Good luck, and have fun!
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Old 10-22-09, 09:25 PM
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You know, there aren't many situations that call for the expensive and really bright light output of a Dinotte 140L, but I think travelling down a 4 lane state highway (what's the speed limit? 55mph?) is one of them:
http://store.dinottelighting.com/sha...t=products.asp



Even with a bike lane, if traffic is going 55mph you're going to need a really really bright light behind you so people actually see you before they get to you while traveling that fast. I would then also run a regular blinky as a backup just in case something happens to the dinotte (loose wire, forgot to charge battery, etc). Maybe a superflash, though I'm partial to the Planet Bike Rack blinky myself.

If you go through the state park, and no 55mph roads, that would be overkill and 2 regular blinkies would certainly be enough.

For light, I would just say that generally get at least 200 lumens. I think more is helpful, but IME that's been where I feel like I have "enough" light to bike with at night. More light is more comfortable, but that's where my line has been, at least.

Do you actually get snow and freezing temperatures in Denver? If so I would suggest getting a bike enough clearance for studded tires (minimum 35c). A Sirrus might not have that. But if you don't have those temps, don't worry about it. :-)

As for clothing, one of the biggest things for cold weather cycling is a windproof jacket. I guess it depends *how* cold, though. If cold for you is 60 degrees a windproof jacket may be to much. (Ok, I just looked it up - average high is 44, average low is 16 degrees, plenty cold for a windproof jacket).

Jackets made out of "Windstopper" having a pretty good reputation for being windproof. Some of the cycling specific jackets have a more meshy, breathable back which is useful for cycling (as the "wind" is pretty much always coming from your front) but may not be as good for snowboarding, if you wanted a dual use jacket you could get one without the breathable back.

Cycling breathable raingear is also windproof as well as waterproof, if you'll end up riding through the cold and rain. A lot of people like their eVent fabric Shower's Pass gear. While it's durability seems good for biking, it's probably not as durable as windstopper fleece for snowboarding where the jacket comes into contact with the ground a lot more, though. :-)

If there's any more specifics I could help with, leave a comment!
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Old 10-22-09, 09:53 PM
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Give yourself an hour to do the commute. It won't take that long to ride, but you need some cool down/cleanup time.

I commuted for a year and a half with headlights costing $30 and less. This week I finally broke down and got one a little better, about 250 lumens for about $130. The best budget tail light is a Planet Bike Superflash, but if you're on a major highway, PaulRivers may have a point (above).

I know someone who works at the big Lockheed plant here in Fort Worth and they installed showers for bike commuters. Do you have a shower available to you?
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 10-22-09, 11:42 PM
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They have showers here, but they are at the fitness center. Not specifically for commuters, but easy enough to use, as the fitness center is open 24 hours. And yes, it is a 55mph zone. I'll have to check out those lights. I did just order a Fenix FD20 online, as I figure it's good to have a quality flashlight in the first place. The best I have right now is a large Maglight, which is far too heavy to carry as a backup on a bicycle.

Example part of the highway

And thanx for all the suggestions so far!
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Old 10-23-09, 05:17 AM
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Actually, on a highway getting your lights higher can help even more than extra brightness.
If I can find a pic of ILTB's set up, with the lights mounted on a mast, I'll post it.
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Old 10-23-09, 09:46 AM
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I would do the redundant cheap light thing at first. Honestly, if it turns out commuting is not for you, $500 lights will not feel so good.

I would allow a good hour to get there, it may well be longer at first.

The clothes suggestions are pretty good.

I have been riding with a flashlight set up, with a cheap front light I use on strobe and a superflas on the back. I think if I had your situation of no lights, and wanted to test the waters of commuting relatively safely and cheaply, I would get two flashlights, the fenix handlebar mounts, and two super flashes, one to leave on steady, the other constant. My light, mount, charger and two sets of batteries cost me $70 a little over a year ago.

Good luck
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Old 10-23-09, 11:06 AM
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If you click on the bike commuting blog link in my signature, then click on the clothing tag on the blog, it has a few entries about clothing for colder weather. Alas, I haven't commuted in anything colder than 17* F, so when it gets colder than that, you're on your own.

I bought some wicking shirts and cyclist underwear at Target for cheap. I have a few jerseys but wear them for club rides generally and not so much for commuting. For pants, I either wear jeans or mountain bike shorts, depending on my mood and the weather and stuff. I haven't spent all that much on clothes really, and don't have a problem riding in "normal" clothes.
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Old 10-23-09, 12:40 PM
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I rode yesterday near Fort Collins, and when I left it was about 35*. On top I was wearing a Under Armour cold gear shirt and my Mountain Hardwear softshell (I think it's the G50). It was pretty close to perfect. I actually had to leave the jacket un-zipped a bit because I was getting a bit too warm. For my legs I wore my shorts, and Under Armour cold gear tights. I also wore my 3/4 length slightly baggier pants over top (I'm not comfortable in all tight clothing yet ). Add wool socks and toe covers for the feet and I felt great. As is gets colder I will add some sort of mid-layer (maybe a wool sweater), a hat, and gloves. Not sure if I will need more on the legs, but we will see.

For lights I'm going with a Magicshine and a Blaze 1 W up front. The Blaze will add flashing with the Magicshine, and for in town here the Magicshine will probably be overkill. For the back I will be going with a PB Superflash. I commute a long a stretch that has about 5 miles of 55 mph two lane country highway with no lights. For what I have seen other cyclists use (I haven't ridden it in the dark yet, but my lights are on the way). This type of light set-up makes for very good visibility. It is also really dark on that section of the commute. No streetlights, and no buildings for several miles, so any light really stands out.

Not sure how helpful that was, but maybe it will give you something from someone who lives in a similar climate.
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Old 10-25-09, 02:50 PM
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Look at Cross country Ski clothing. You've probably have got a few of those there. Maybe they have something on sale. Sporthill keeps me warm and toasty when it gets cold. I'm comfortable to about 15f or so.

Oh, and my headlight is a Romisen RC-N3. I'll put it up against anything that's been discussed so far.
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Old 10-27-09, 09:11 PM
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Yesterday, I rode 38 miles on the bike to/from Denver, via the greenway paths. I was most tired by the time I made it home, and learned a few things. Although my legs were pretty dead last night, they weren't sore at all today. I'm going to guess that my liberal use of TheStick is probably helping in that regard, as that seems to be one of the benefits of it.

I now know what kind of a light is not adequate. I threw the Cateye on the front that I had on my MTB, and it died a little more than halfway home(only used it one way). Wasn't putting out much light in the first place though. Luckily, this was on the bike path, not on the road. I'll have to compare the Fenix flashlight to what I just used, so I have a point of reference for the amount of lumens that I'm putting out.

Today I added a rear rack and trunk bag, as not having any storage on a bike I plan to ride a lot is rather sucky. With the trunk bag though, I will need to do a rack mounted tail light, since the trunk completely blocks the seat post now.

And, I tested out some of the synthetic stuff I recently bought for boarding. The Capilene 2 underpants is probably a bit overkill, for anything over 35F. And my Mountain hardwear Alchemy is a bit warm, with a shortsleeve undershirt and short sleeve shirt.

Do all synthetic t-shirts get stinky as hell when you sweat? Can't say I've used them much before, they the one I was wearing last night certainly got some funk on it by the time I was home. I wasn't sweating all that heavily either.
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Old 10-27-09, 11:33 PM
  #24  
PaulRivers
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For a rear light rack light, I like my Planet Bike rack blinky:
http://www.amazon.com/Planet-Bike-30...6707081&sr=8-1



Or you can fit any of the Planet Bike blinkies on if you just get the rack mount (comes with the above light, or you can buy it seperately:
http://www.amazon.com/Planet-Bike-Mo...ref=pd_sim_t_2

I originally bought a Cateye rear blinky for my bike:
http://www.amazon.com/Cateye-TL-LD50...6707229&sr=1-5

But - it isn't as bright and I don't like the blink mode (stays off to long). The advantage is that it screws directly onto your rack, so no worries about someone using the quick release to just walk off with it. Later I realized I could also have achieved the same effect by super gluing the planet bike rack blinky to the rack mount. :-) (You can change the batteries without taking it off the rack)

A lot of trunk bags actually have a rear light loop on the back of them. Depending on where you're riding and your concern for you visibility, you can (like I did) attach a 2nd rear blinky to the loop. I feel, based on my own experiences driving, that the most visible lights are ones where there's a blinking light next to a steady light, so I put one on steady and the other on blinking. If you attach the light to the loop, though, be aware that they often like to jump off on their own. After a light jumped off 3 times and finally broke, I took a drill and drilled 2 very small holes in the "clip" part of the light, then ran a twist tie through them and through the bag loop and haven't lost another light yet. :-)

Synthetic materials do have a reputation for stinking. It's something about the structure of the fabric at a microsopic level. I've heard anything from "it starts to stink halfway through the ride" to 2-3 days of use before it completely reeks. The more expensive ones claim to have added anti-odor stuff, but mostly I've heard that it doesn't really work.

One of the positive attributes often touted about merino wool (merino wool, ice breaker, smartwool, etc) is that it's really difficult to get it to smell. Again, something about the structure of the material at the microscopic level. Best case estimates put it at 2-3 weeks of use before it really starts to smell. It's often recommended for the long underwear layer (for below freezing temps) for commuting because of this (among other attributes).

I have a synthetic shirt from Specialized that does not seem to stink from just one ride myself, but that's about all I know.
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Old 10-28-09, 12:51 AM
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Yea, I was looking at that PB one. I was also thinking of one that might hard mount to a fender, as I plan to add those before too long too. I find it odd that none of the PB ones seem to specifically mount to the PB fenders though. I'm thinking of the rack mount one plus maybe the superbright on the fender. It looks like I might be able to use the rack mount to mount to a fender as well, just have to do a little drilling/bending.

Last edited by Speedwagon98; 10-28-09 at 12:56 AM.
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