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Product review: The Knog Oi bike bell

Product review: The Knog Oi bike bell

Black Knog Oi bell looks good next to a GoPro mount

Black Knog Oi bell looks good next to a GoPro mount.
(Photos and video by Ted Timmons)

I’ve been unhappy with bike bells in the past. I’ve found that standard ones take up too much room (for me) or rattle, and some don’t work well. So I’ve placed and replaced bells over the past few years, currently none of my bikes have a bell mounted.

Until now.

Knog, the Australian company that makes lots of little flexible-mount lights, went to Kickstarter to launch a new bike bell. I really like the shape, as it doesn’t take up much space on my bars and blends in nicely. Plus I’m a sucker for Kickstarter projects, so I backed it for a limited-edition model (under $24 including shipping).

They raised over $1 million (AUD, or about $750k USD) for the project, shipping the bells about eight months after the project. Granted, the shipping was almost three months late, but by crowdfunding standards that isn’t bad.







The bell came in a nice retail-friendly box. I carried it around for a week or so until I had time to mount it and get pictures. As you can see in the pictures, the mount is flexible enough to fit around bars. It uses a single screw- with a 2.5mm hex head. I wish it was 3mm, because I keep four different hex drivers within reach on the bike, but that isn’t one of the four. (perhaps I’ll talk about the hex drivers in a future post)

The semi-circle of the bell is mounted so it can move around- necessary to get a good ringing noise. The clapper is easy to flick, making the bell easy to use. Unfortunately the sound is on the soft side- it’s sufficient but no more. (keep in mind it’s louder than is in the video- I’m limited in camera gear and editing while on the road)

Edit- after riding some more miles, it’s far too quiet. It might work on the quietest of MUPs but even pedestrians will have trouble hearing it. I’ll try some of the bells recommended in the comments.

Verdict? For $25, it’s a stylish bell that I’ll add to all my bikes. I talked to Gladys Bikes, who said they are carrying the bell- I don’t know if they are in stock yet, but they certainly should be soon.

Programming note: I won’t be putting up a weekly video roundup, as instead I’m cycling in Southern Utah. That’s where I’m filing this review.

– Ted Timmons, @tedder42

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Product review: The Islabikes Beinn 20 children’s bike

Product review: The Islabikes Beinn 20 children’s bike

Testing the Islabike Beinn 20-4.jpg

When a kid has the confidence to do little tricks, it’s a good sign they trust their bike.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

When he was finally ready, his bike was more than up to the task. That’s how I think about my five-year-old son Everett’s evolution to becoming a confident bike rider.

It wasn’t easy. He first learned to ride a regular pedal-bike (after learning on a balance bike) over two years ago. But for some reason he didn’t keep it up. He parked the bike and seemed afraid or nervous about it whenever we urged him to get back on the saddle. Even getting a shiny new red bike didn’t inspire him! I was completely at a loss. I was so frustrated that I just stepped back and stopped even talking about riding (absent dropping a few hints here and there).

Then one day while I was out of town, I got a text from Juli. It was a video of Everett riding his bike. “This just happened,” she wrote.

He got his bike out and just started riding it. All on his own. I guess he was finally ready.

And thankfully, his bike was too.

Since that day Everett has fallen in love with riding. And with his bike — a Beinn 20 model made by Islabikes.

Islabikes is a UK-based company with its US headquarters in southeast Portland that specializes in children’s bikes. That doesn’t mean they put cartoonish stickers and crappy plastic bits all over their bikes — that would be the children’s equivalent of the “shrink it and pink it” approach some bike companies have taken towards “women’s bikes”. Instead, Islabikes creates bikes for kids from the ground up. Their entire approach, from fitting to making their own components, is based around customers who have smaller-sized hands, legs, muscles and brains.

So, how does that approach translate into a good cycling experience for kids?

One of my issues with crappy kids bikes (the ones sold in toy stores and big box retailers across America, which are the only option for many people due to their price and availability) is because they often fail to deliver on the promise of cycling. To get someone hooked on biking, regardless of their age, their experience needs to be as simple and fun as possible, right from the get-go. That thrill of balancing on two wheels that only you control, while coasting effortlessly with the wind in your face: That’s the feeling that creates a lifelong love affair with cycling.

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Everett’s Islabike weighs just under 18 pounds. That means it has nimble handling and doesn’t take big muscles to speed up and slow down. It also has components that are easy for him to use and easy for us to adjust and service as needed. We’ve had a lot of kids bikes come through our household (I also have two older kids aged 11 and 13) and the cheap ones are nearly impossible to keep running smoothly. When I need to put my hands on the Beinn it feels like a mini version of one of my own bikes.

Over the weekend I installed a new set of fenders and it took me about five minutes. Everything was in the right place and they went on flawlessly. To me, that’s a sign of a quality bike.

It’s worth noting that the Beinn from Islabike costs $499.00. That’s about five times as much as a bike from Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer. Is it worth it? That’s up to each person to decide for themselves.

Our experience with Islabikes has value beyond the product. To get one, we went direct to the Portland showroom. (Islabikes are only sold direct, so if you can’t make it to Portland, you call and talk to a sales person to make sure you get the right bike for your kid.) After sizing up Everett, we decided on the 20-inch-wheeled Beinn. It’s got flat bars, an aluminum frame, and a 7-speed grip-shifter that’s easy to twist.

The company behind the bike is also first-rate. Not only are they local, they support our community in more ways than one. Islabikes is also behind an inspiring new initiative called the Imagine Project that aims to reduce waste and change the bike-buying paradigm.

But enough about all that: Everett loves this bike! He’s not old enough to really describe what he likes about it; but it’s easy to tell that being on it makes him happy. Whether it’s our daily ride to school (where there are half a dozen other Islabikes in the racks!) or weekend adventures, his bike is growing with him.

Everett’s not the daredevil type by any stretch; but I watch him gain confidence every time he goes out. We’ve been watching videos of the Red Bull Rampage (a famous downhill MTB event) lately and the other day while riding during his sister’s soccer game he came to a steep hill. Nervous, he paused at the top. Then he rolled forward, yelled, “Red Bull riding!!” at the top of his lungs and took the plunge.

Testing the Islabike Beinn 20-10.mp4

That’s all the evidence I need that this is the right bike for him.

Islabikes.com

Disclaimer: Islabikes provided me with a bike for Everett at no charge and with no expectation of editorial coverage.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

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Industry Ticker: New bikes from Islabikes, new bag from North St

Industry Ticker: New bikes from Islabikes, new bag from North St

North St. Bags' new Morrison backpack/pannier and the new Cnoc 20 from Islabikes.

North St. Bags’ new Morrison backpack/pannier and the new Cnoc 20 from Islabikes.

Portland is full of seriously top-notch bike companies. Two of our faves are North St. Bags and Islabikes. They’ve both released new products and we’ve got the scoop and photos below…

North St. sews, designs, and sells their bags out of a storefront just off inner Southeast Clinton. You’ll also find their growing product line at hundreds of retailers nationwide. This week they introduced a new waterproof bag called the Morrison. It’s combo backpack and pannier that retails for $189 and comes with loads of great features. Below are a few more pics and more info from North St.:

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Take it off your rack and use it as a backpack too.

Take it off your rack and use it as a backpack too.

Morrison bag is equally capable as a pannier.

Morrison bag is equally capable as a pannier.

The Morrison backpack and bike pannier is designed to protect the essentials against the foul weather and integrate with the bike rack seamlessly while also having the benefit of being worn as a backpack when off the bike. The waterproof pannier integrates a classic hook and simple bungee cord mounting system to secure the bag on the bike. Easily stow the lightweight shoulder straps safe and out of the way for a hassle-free ride. Once the cyclists parks their bike, simply detach the hook and wear as a backpack. Made from fully waterproof nylon, this waterproof bike pannier also features a drawstring closure, waterproof flap and padded laptop sleeve to store and protect all of your necessities.
The Morrison Backpack Pannier Features:

● Waterproof
● Converts from backpack to bicycle pannier in mere seconds by tucking straps inside pocket and connecting the bungee hook mount
● Easy access external zipper compartment and side sleeves for quick access items
● Internal Velcro mounts enable adding or swapping out pockets as needed
● Bright lining makes finding items fast and easy
● Internal padded laptop sleeve
● Built with 1000 denier CORDURA® nylon shell fabric
● X-Pac™ VX21 waterproof ripstop nylon drop-in liner
● Dimensions: 5″ x 11″ x 17.5″ – 1100 cubic inches /18 liters
● Weight: 27.3 oz / 773 g
● MSRP: $189









And Islabikes is a UK-based company that has its USA headquarters on SE 7th near Division. They are children’s bike specialists and they’ve just come out with two new models to fit their ever-expanding range of little customers. Check out the company press release and photos below:

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The Rothan balance bike.

The Rothan balance bike.

Leading children’s bicycle brand, Islabikes, introduces new models, Cnoc 14 Small and Cnoc 20 as well as a host of updates that include new colors, graphics and Islabikes’ own custom designed tires.

Whether learning to ride a bike or competing in a children’s cross race, Islabikes are made withthe young biker in mind. The first of two new models includes the Cnoc 14 Small which is specifically designed for the tyke who’s confident enough to start riding but isn’t quite big enough for the Cnoc 14 large. The Cnoc 20 on the other hand, is targeted at riders around the age of 5 who are physically taller than average but benefit from not having the added complication of gears.

The development of the Pro Series led to enhanced specs among all models of the standard range, with the Creig and Luath receiving noteworthy updates. The Creig now comes with a new narrow/wide aluminum chain ring paired to Islabikes’ low Q Factor chainring. This works in conjunction with SRAM’s GX 10 speed rear derailleur, providing reliable, simple shifting. The Luath, like the Creig, now goes 1 x 10, offering a lightweight feel as well as 11-36 cassettes to maintain an excellent range of gears.

The Luath 24 and 26 have also been upgraded with smaller diameter handlebars, designed to improve grip and provide shorter reach to the brake levers. Islabikes have retained fender compatibility on the Luath by developing a new stealth fender mount in the rear of the seat tube, which is not only easier to fit, but also looks cleaner. Islabikes also renovated their frames across the board such as the new low Q Factor chainring, first unveiled on the Pro Series. The new lower bottom bracket heights are superior to already low stand over heights, making pedaling more comfortable and efficient for the child.

In addition to their detailed construction, Islabikes now feature their own newly developed tire featured in the Rothan, Cnoc and Beinn models. Designed with the same multi purpose tread pattern seen in the Pro Series, these upgraded tires are designed to grip well on grass and light tracks but also offer low rolling resistance to aid smaller riders. Each tire is sized proportionally to the dimension of the bike and has 72tpi casing, which delivers a more comfortable ride. Reflective sidewalls provide additional safety and remove the need for spoke reflectors, while puncture protection keeps children rolling trouble free.

Learn more about Portland-based bike companies in our Industry Ticker archives.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Local company wants to make bike security a cinch

Local company wants to make bike security a cinch

Wilsonville-based Otto Design Works thinks most bike locks are too big and clunky – especially for people riding fast and light road bikes who want something slim and compact.

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The Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for their new OTTOLOCK launched today and has already raised over $8,000 of its $50,000 goal.

We’ve been following the development of this product for a few months now. Even though we are huge advocates for only using u-locks, we think this product might have a niche among a certain biking demographic.

Here’s their pitch:

OTTOLOCK is an all-new cinch lock for both cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts who value their gear and need a small, safe, and lightweight solution for their lifestyle. It’s far more secure than a cable lock, and much lighter than a U-lock… There is simply no excuse not to carry a lock now!

The initial idea behind the lock was to create something you could stow easily in a jersey pocket (it weighs less than a 1/4 pound) or a seat pack along with your tube and tire levers. The concept came from local professional road racer Jacob Rathe (who we’ve covered several times in the past) who started thinking about the idea after he got his bike stolen during a brief coffee stop during a ride.







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While it’s not as secure as a quality u-lock or heavy-duty chain, the little strap is tougher than you might think. OTTO gave one to the Portland Police Bureau Bike Theft Task Force and the company’s Jake VanderZanden says, “They were surprised they couldn’t cut it.”

The lock is made from several layers of stainless steel bands (coated in plastic) and one band of Kevlar®. “Under load,” reads OTTO’s marketing copy, “the bands slide upon one another and effectively reduce shear forces. Conventional theft tools like wire or bolt cutters are just not enough to cut the OTTOLOCK.”

You might recall OTTO’s last product, a “Tuning System” that attaches to your derailleur and interacts with your smartphone to help adjust your shifting.

We’ll be getting an OTTOLOCK in to test soon. In the meantime, learn more over on the Kickstarter campaign page.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

The post Local company wants to make bike security a cinch appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Local company makes tote bag for front basket of Biketown bikes

Local company makes tote bag for front basket of Biketown bikes

North St Bags bike share tote -1.jpg

North St.’s new “Townie Tote” model. It also comes in dark grey.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

In just the latest sign that Portland has gone head-over-heels for bike share, a local company has added a Biketown-specific bag to their product line.

Southeast Portland-based North St. Bags has adapted their “Tabor Tote” model to fit snugly into the front rack of a Biketown bike. The new “Townie Tote” comes in two colors familiar to Biketown users: dark grey and Nike orange. Other features in the new, Biketown-edition Tabor Tote are an internal zippered pocket, reflective side tabs, and an optional set of straps that will attach the bag to the rack. The bag has a 25-liter capacity and is made from 1000 denier Cordura nylon.

North St.’s new tote will sell for $45 (the straps are an extra $10). Kevin Murphy, the company’s product marketing manager, said the bag will be available soon on the company’s website. They’re showing it off to Biketown staffers today and they hope to make it available direct from the BiketownPDX.com website. Murphy says he’s heard grumblings from local bike shops about the loss of business due to Biketown, so he thinks offering the Townie Tote might be one way for shops to draw bike share customers in.

Murphy also said since the Biketown racks are similar on all the bike share systems that use bikes made by Social Bicycles, they can easily work with other cities as well.

Is this the first in a long line of products to complement the emerging “bike share lifestyle” market? Which company will be next to capitalize on this new transit system that has taken Portland by storm?

Here are a few more images:

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Optional straps with buttons can tether the bag to the rack so it doesn’t pop out when you hit a pothole.
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Curtis Williams launched North St. in his home in 2009 using a sewing machine he bought off Craigslist. Today his company has grown to eight employees and his bags are sold by over 60 dealers and distributors around the globe. All of their products are made in a 1,200 square foot space just off of Southeast Clinton at 23rd that includes a retail store, offices, and a full production facility. Check out the rest of their offerings at NorthStBags.com.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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For $29, ‘Portland Bike Reflector’ offers a snap-on visibility aid

For $29, ‘Portland Bike Reflector’ offers a snap-on visibility aid

Here’s an interesting new local product aimed at people who like to be highly visible on a bike at night but prefer not to resemble a mirror when they get to their destination.

The Portland Bike Reflector, which launched on Kickstarter this morning, is a simple concept: a two-piece “magnetic, removable reflector” that attaches to a jacket, backpack or saddle bag when you’re on the road.

It’s created by Erik Roby, a Portland-based mechanical engineer who’s been working through various prototypes produced using a 3-D printer. The Kickstarter versions will be molded plastic in one of four colors.

colors

(Photo: Laki Karavias)

Because the early backers will let Roby distribute the cost of the first injection mold, it’s a perfect all-or-nothing crowdfunding project. If the project reaches its $30,000 funding goal, the first 100 backers will get a discounted $22 rate.







The big idea is that the reflector can attach to lots of different things and then be easily detached and stored when not in use on the road.

reflector in use

(Images: Design at Random)

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Here’s one noteworthy disclaimer from the product description:

In order to create a product that would attach very securely to a wide range of apparel and equipment with different material thicknesses, very powerful magnets were used. The product should be kept at least four inches away from anything that could be negatively impacted by a strong magnet, including pacemakers, ICDs and other implanted medical devices, magnetic media such as credit cards and computer disk drives, watches, televisions, CRT monitors, and other electronic devices.

If that’s not a dealbreaker for you, this looks like an appealingly simple product worth checking out.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Product Review: Aquilo full-fingered gloves from Planet Bike

Product Review: Aquilo full-fingered gloves from Planet Bike

Aquilo Glove by Planet Bike

Hello Aquilo.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you ride year-round in Portland, you’ve pretty much got to have a pair of gloves — or two, or three, depending on the weather. With temps ranging between 30 to 50 degrees and skies going from sunny and cold to wet and mild and every other combination you can think of these past few months, I’ve been rotating through five different pairs. Yes five. I’ve got two pairs for when it’s raining, two that I use either on their own or as liners if it’s really cold, and my newest pair: the Aquilo gloves from Planet Bike.

I’ve been a fan of Planet Bike for a long time. They make reliable and utilitarian products at a fair price and you can find their stuff everywhere. I also greatly respect that they’re committed to bike advocacy and were one of the first companies in the industry to have a full-time staff person devoted it: Advocacy Director Jay Ferm (whom I first met at the National Bike Summit in 2006). (Disclaimer: Planet Bike has also sponsored many years of BikePortland’s coverage from the Summit).

But being a good corporate citizen wouldn’t mean much if you made bad products. Fortunately that’s not the case with Planet Bike.

With their headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, they have instant credibility for making gear that works in cold weather (not to mention Madison is one of only five “Platinum-level” bike-friendly cities). They offer two models of full-fingered gloves: the Borealis and the Aquilo. The Borealis is the best option when it’s really cold and wet and the Aquilo is meant for “spring-fall” — which makes a good choice for Portland’s relatively mild winters.

Aquilo gloves by Planet Bike





Aquilo glove by Planet Bike

When I put these gloves on for the first time, my impression wasn’t great. They felt too thin. That’s not a bad thing; but I knew I wouldn’t be reaching for these when temps dropped into the 30s. On a cold day I love a nice puffy and warm glove. But larger and heavier gloves can constrict movement, overheat your hands quicker and are more of a pain to stuff in a pocket and carry around. Once I realized the Aquilos weren’t intended for the worst conditions, I began to warm up to them. In the past few months I’ve worn them when morning temps are above 40 degress and it’s not likely to rain. They’re great at taking the bite out of a chilly morning but I’ve yet to overheat in them.

Since fingers are warmest when they can touch each other (a la mitts), Planet Bike has opted for half-lobster arrangement on the Aquilos. At first I thought the lack of dexterity would bug me, but turns we only really need one of our two smallest fingers.

The Aquilos have all the features I look for in a glove: a large and soft fleece section on the thumb and forefinger for wiping water and various facial liquids; windproof material where it counts, reflective striping for safety; not too much padding (can’t stand “gel” gloves!) but enough to add some comfort; and extra material on the index and middle fingertips. I’m not a big fan of the velcro strap and the bright “Planet Bike” logo (I like my riding apparel to blend in and not be too loud or techy), but those are small nitpicks.

Overall this is a very solid pair of gloves. And the price is right too. Just $34.99 (the more stout Borealis is $41.99). That’s considerably less expensive than the other gloves I’m currently using: the $67 Winter Riding Gloves from SealSkinz and the $80 Crosspoint Softshell from Showers Pass (which I love, by the way).

Want to see more of our reviews? Check out the archives.

— This review is part of a promotional partnership with Cyclone Bicycle Supply who supplied us with the gloves at no cost. All opinions are our own.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Product Review: A warm winter cap from Bella Capo

Product Review: A warm winter cap from Bella Capo

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A functional hat that also looks nice off the bike.

I love hats! As someone who bikes almost every day year-round, hats do many things for me. They keep out the elements (rain and sun being my biggest threats), they soak up my sweat in summer, they keep me warm in winter, and they also hide my sometimes disheveled hair.

I’ve worn hundreds of hats over the years, and it takes a lot of little things to go right for one to become a keeper. For the past few weeks I’ve been wearing one that has become my go-to this winter.

The Bella Capo winter cap is made in Italy for Portland-based Cyclone Bicycle Supply (suggested retail is $35.98). Unless you’re in the industry, you probably haven’t heard of Cyclone. That’s because they’re a parts and accessory distributor that sells to bike dealers and other retailers all over the country. All the Bella Capo caps stocked by Cyclone are made just for them by hand from a source in Italy.

Their winter hat is a gem. On the fabric front it’s a mix of nylon and wool. It’s got cozy ear flaps that fit all the way over my ears and — most importantly — they stay in place when I move. I’ve worn the hat in temps of 30-40 degrees. For me, it’s just the right warmth for 35 degrees or so and up (when I wore it to Mt. Hood in sub-freezing air and wind chill, I put another warm beanie cap over it). The outer fabric is also water resistant. I’ve worn this cap throughout the rain, sleet, and snow we’ve been having in Portland and it hasn’t failed me. I’m not sure how it would hold up to sustained rain, but the drops it has seen so far have beaded up nicely on the fabric.

Here’s a quick little water test I did this morning…


I switch between a lot of different modes throughout the day: In the morning I might be a bike commuter, then I turn into a reporter and sales manager, then I might throw on some lycra and do a training ride. The Bella Capo winter hat is a rare piece of my kit that works in all those environments. It doesn’t look too technical so I don’t look like a “cyclist,” yet it functions like one when I need it to. It’s warm enough to wear in near-freezing weather, yet still slim enough to fit nicely under my helmet (as you can see below).

cap-helmet

This is definitely a keeper. It will hang proudly next to my other hats* — but will mostly be off-the-hook and on my head.

You can find this hat locally at Pedal Bike Tours (133 SW 2nd Ave). If you want to carry these in your shop, visit CycloneBicycle.com

*Other winter hats I’m wearing are the Skyline Cap by Showers Pass and the Country Winter Cap by Rapha.

— This product was provided to me by Cyclone Bicycle Supply who we’ve partnered with for a series of reviews. All opinions are my own.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org


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Portland’s former urban bike farmer releases new book

Portland’s former urban bike farmer releases new book

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If you’ve lived in Portland long enough you’ve probably caught site of someone on a bike hauling yard and home improvement tools around. We have organizations that plant trees by bike, businesses that do landscaping and carpentry by bike, and we even have farmers who’ve replaced the iconic work-truck with a work-bike.

One of those farmers, Kollibri terre Sonnenblume, has now written a book about it. Adventures in Urban Bike Farming from Macska Moksha Press is what Sonnenblume calls, “Equal parts historical document, confessional memoir and social critique.”

Don’t let the title of the book fool you, based on an excerpt made available by the publisher Sonnenblume has just as many insights to share about Portland’s cultural upheaval in the past decade as he does about how to increase potato yields. “If you’re looking for a message of ‘rah rah, look how sustainable we are!’,” he says, “you won’t find it here.”

Sonnenblume moved to Portland in 2001 as an activist drawn to our town’s indy vibe, affordable housing, and reputation as “Little Beirut.” It was several years later that he found his place as an urban farmer. By the time he started Sunroot Gardens in 2007, Sonnenblume had already seen Portland change dramatically. But even so, his community supported agriculture business thrived. At its peak he and his crew cultivated 50 plots across three acres of urban land that provided food for over 24 households.


Sonnenblume and his bike were the toast of the local media — even as their coverage was a hint of what was to come: Portland Monthly magazine called him an “ecofreak” and “slightly insane.”

Then things started to change. In a very familiar story to those following Portland’s urban evolution. Here’s how Sonnenblume describes it in his introduction:

“The Portland that emerged next was “Portlandia,” a caricature of itself, a destination no longer for scrappy activists—or starving artist, their sometimes partners-in-crime—but for the app-driven digerati, with their oh-so-refined tastes and non-confrontational blue-state politics. Rents skyrocketed, hipsters pushed out hippies, and by 2015, Portland was the most quickly gentrifying city in the U.S.A. In short, no longer a hospitable place for unconventional experiments.”

Sonnenblume shut down Sunroot Gardens in 2010. By that time, he writes, “Urban farming as a meme had lost its luster and the practice itself had been relegated to the role of one more quirky thing that existed to ‘keep Portland weird.’”

Beyond the social critiques the book should serve as a great resource for anyone interested in urban, collective agriculture and its role in cities.

The book is available in paperback from Amazon or as a digital download (featuring 100 color photos) from Macska Moksha Press.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org


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Gimmick or godsend? My review of the NiteRider Sentinel with “Laser Lanes”

Gimmick or godsend? My review of the NiteRider Sentinel with “Laser Lanes”

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The light has two lasers that project a bike lane on the road alongside your bike.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A bike light that creates virtual bike lanes wherever you go? That’s the promise behind the NiteRider Sentinel 40, a rear light that comes with a special “laser lanes” mode that projects two bright lines on the ground around your bike.

With the days being so short this time of year, I was intrigued by the pitch from an old friend who works for NiteRider, the light company based in San Diego, California. They sent me a Sentinel recently and I’ve been using it for a few days now.

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The light is larger in size than others I’ve used. It feels strong and well made. There are two buttons on the top of the light, one of them controls the light and the other controls the laser. The light and laser both have several modes so you can choose between a strobe, long flash, or steady (my preferred setting). Light many lights these days, the Sentinel is USB rechargable. The USB port at the bottom of the light and there’s a solid rubber closure attached to it that keeps the water out.

The light itself has a 40 lumen output, which is plenty bright for me.

Then there are the lasers. Lasers. I just like saying it. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but there’s still a part of me that gets excited when I think about lasers. Having two of them in my bike’s tail-light is like the coolest thing ever.

But beyond the coolness factor, are the Sentinel’s “laser lanes” really effective as a safety device? Or are they just a fun gimmick?

Testing the flashing mode on my office carpet.
via GIPHY

In their marketing materials, NiteRider says the lasers are “designed to project ultra bright laser lines on the ground, giving the rider their own virtual lane… so that cars can see when they’re getting a little too close.”

There’s no denying that the lasers are ultra bright. When I first turned them and then hit my legs, I almost felt like I should jump out of the way in case they burned right through my skin and shoes. When I snapped the light onto the mount on my seatpost (and I will point out that I like the rubber strap mount it comes with, which makes it easy to swap the light between different bikes) the laser lanes appeared just as advertised.

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They’re definitely impressive at first glance. And from my perspective looking down at them while I ride around town, they add a feeling of stature and strength. Yes it’s just a strip of light (and a darn skinny one at that), but it’s something. It’s as if I’ve drawn a line on both sides of my bike that says: “Don’t cross these things or there will be trouble.”

But the true test is whether or not other road users can see them, and more importantly, will they adjust their behavior when they do?

Here are a few shots of them in the field:

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My legs cut off several feet of the lasers toward the front of my bike. Also, as you can see, the lanes are only about 4-feet wide.
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This image was taken about 30 feet behind my bike. Do you think someone in a car could see the lasers from this distance?

While riding up North Williams the other night, a friend who had ridden up behind me said, “Cool lights.” Then when I asked if he could see them from any distance behind me he said not, “Not really. I didn’t notice them until I was right behind you.” Then there was the TriMet bus operator. He noticed them while I waited next to his bus at a red light. He was very intrigued. “What do you think of these lights? Can you see them?” I asked as he rolled down his window to get a closer look. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I can see them.”

The one test I haven’t done yet is to get behind the wheel of a car to see if the lasers are still visible as I approach someone on a bike. My hunch is that even if they were visible, the person on the bike would already be visible too, so I’d already be driving more carefully.

In some ways I’ve felt like the lights are more useful to improve interactions with other bicycle riders. I ride slowly around town and too often get passed rudely by others. With these lasers, it’s like I’ve got a personal space buffer that will keep others as a safe distance.

Like the bike lanes they aspire to be, these laser lanes won’t save your life. But if you’re looking for extra visibility, cool factor, and a fun conversation starter, they’re worth buying.

The Sentinel 40 retails for $49.99. Get more info at NiteRider.com.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org


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