Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gear Review - Nashbar Jacket, Lightman Xenon Strobe

A year or so ago, I purchased a Nashbar Premium Rain Jacket in hi-viz (NA-PJK at the Nashbar website). They say the "retail price" is around $80, but it's pretty much always on sale for around $40. It replaced my bright-yellow bike specific Gore-tex jacket, which wore out after 8 years or so. My comments about the Nashbar jacket are based on only a half-dozen or so wearings; the upcoming winter season will see major use.

What I like so far: The high-viz color is excellent. If it's precipitating, visibility is limited and everything you can do to be visible is beneficial. (If you get smashed, it won't really matter whether or not you get wet.) It also has some reflective piping. It would be nice if it had some big reflective patches, but I'll probably wear my bob-t-inspired hi-viz vest over it on most occasions. The fabric is very similar to brand-name Gore-tex in appearance and texture. (It kinda reminds me of that teflon thread tape on the inside. If you don't do plumbing work, that may not be helpful.) Next to the skin, it feels downright clammy; typically a long-sleeve shirt will remedy that. (My old jacket had a mesh lining which was very nice; the new one doesn't. That may have a bearing on how quickly it wears out; time will tell.) It's got a nice collar that feels a little like suede when it's zipped all the way up.

Just in case you're not familiar with Gore-tex... 20 or 25 years ago, it revolutionized outerwear. It's a membrane that's typically sprayed onto nylon; it has "micro pores" that allow water vapor to escape out, but prevents water drops from entering. The brand-name stuff is phenomenal; my experience with copycats is that they're good, but never quite as good as the original. This new jacket seems to follow that trend... it's probably completely waterproof as advertised, but so far it seems not quite as "breathable" as genuine Gore-tex.

Other features: It has a zippered pocket on the back. The back is cut extra long for bike coverage; the sleeves are also long... that can be a problem with jackets that aren't designed with the cyclist in mind. The cuffs have elastic and velcro adjustment. The waist also has an adjustable elastic cord. There's a velcro rain flap over the zipper. It rolls into a very small size for packing. (You could bungee it onto the bike for "just in case" rides. I also took it with me motorcycling last summer... but thankfully didn't get a chance to test it very much.)

What I don't like so far: Construction quality... ? Time will tell how it stands up. Every other bike jacket I've owned has lasted several seasons, and I hope this one does, too. The zipper seems like the cheap/flimsy model, but hopefully my first impression will be wrong. (Of course, it wouldn't be fair to expect a $40 jacket to be as sturdy as an $80 one, I s'pose.) Nashbar is very good about warranty... if you feel like you've been let down by something you bought from them, they'll let you return it for refund or exchange.

Correspondent and friend Bob T introduced me to the Lightman Xenon strobe light. As soon as I saw it, I knew if I could afford it I had to have one. I found it for $12.99 (!), plus shipping, at the "Code-2" website. (NOTE: It's marked as "closeout," so will likely not be available long-term.) Code 2 has it in blue or amber; I ordered 2 amber ones. The package arrived quickly, and with tracking info, etc. I can recommend the Code-2 folks based on my experience.

The light is larger than typical bike taillights; it's a triangle shape and each side is slightly longer than an AA-size battery. 2 such batteries provide the juice, and are supposed to last for 16 hours of operation. (I can't verify that yet.) It has a rubber-covered on/off switch on the back. It's made in China (what isn't?!?), but construction quality seems top-notch. It has a 2-year warranty. The $13 kit includes a vinyl storage bag and several mounting brackets; one nice feature, IMO, is that you can customize almost any mounting option, because you can spin it onto a "tripod screw." (I believe 1/4-inch coarse-thread. If you're not a hardware geek, that may not be helpful.) I have it attached to the rear rack on my old beater Peugeot with a couple of zip-ties. (Thank GOODNESS I hadn't installed it on my stolen bike!)

The documentation says it's visible for more than a mile; I believe that. It blinks 80 times per minute, which is slower than most bike-specific LED taillights. But it seems very bright, and I expect it's as good as any at penetrating fog and darkness.

Because of its rather large size, I don't know that I would recommend it over some of the latest crop of bike-specific taillights, from companies like Cateye, Planet Bike, and Blackburn. Some of them are awesomely bright, and have attention-getting blinky patterns. At some point in time, I would like to do a side-by-side comparison. For anybody who is fanatical about being highly-visible, the strobe might nicely complement an LED or 2 or 3. (And the amber color would be suitable front OR back.)

NOTE: There is a "blogger controversy" right now. Some bloggers apparently do favorable product reviews in exchange for free products or other perks. I guarantee that these reviews are my honest opinions, as of the time of writing. I paid for this stuff! If somebody wants to send me some free stuff in exchange for a review, I will either review it or send it back. I wear size XL - hahaha! But I won't promise to favorably review your stuff... just honestly. My opinion. Somebody else might have a totally contrary (and therefore faulty) opinion.


Clancy said...

I am in the market for a new jacket. My puppy got ahold of mine and caused some damage. I looked at the LBS but they are all cut for racing and not commuting- no room for extra clothes. While I would like to find a deal, I also need something durable.

After reading reviews I think I have narrowed my jacket down to the waterproof breathable jacket from bicycleclothing.com It looks like it has a generous cut, waterproof and has venting (including pitzips).

I would like to see a test on those strobes. My all time favorite is the Planet Bike Superflash unfortunately not sold here in town

bob t said...

Clancy, I've seen the Planet Bike Superflash at the REI on Emerald.

Last weekend's weather made it obvious that my bike jacket and pants no longer water resistant. Since they are otherwise in good condition, I going to try to see if this product helps.

Bikeboy, when I used strobe lights I found that rechargable batteries kept the cost of operation from becoming too high. They kept me from having to replace the batteries every couple of weeks.

db said...


I've seen the Superflash and other Planet Bike stuff at Bikes 2 Boards on State Street. Call them to see if it's in stock, since they can't carry a lot of inventory.

Bob, the Nikwax stuff works pretty well. Another tip I've read is to clean the rain gear and then put it in the dryer at a lower setting. The low heat helps to refresh some of those microporous coatings.

Clancy said...

Thanks guys, I already have 3 of them. Last one I picked up at the Boise Bike Project for $6.00

Scott said...

Great reviews! And since you're doing product reviews...

I'd really enjoy an update about your BOB trailer. I read the original post (http://bikenazi.blogspot.com/2007/03/step-closer-to-motor-vehicle.html) a couple years ago, and you've had a few short blurbs about it since then, but nothing in-depth.

I'm probably going to be in the market for a Yak or Ibex in the next couple months before we move to Senegal, and I could really use a warts-and-all appraisal of it. Mainly about quality, quirks, and usefulness. Oh, and how does your granddaughter enjoy riding in it? Thanks.

Bikeboy said...

Hi, Scott.

I've been VERY happy with my Bob "Yak" trailer! In fact, after my bike was recently stolen, the first thought that occurred to me was... I DON'T HAVE MY SPECIAL BOB SKEWER ANY MORE! (I specified it on my list of stolen accessories, and my replacement bike should arrive with pre-installed skewer... but I digress.)

I will try to compose a more in-depth review in the next week or so. But honestly, my own personal experience has been totally favorable.

I read some web-chatter about bent skewers when I was trying to find a product number... but frankly I can't imagine how it could bend, since it's tensioned down. Unless perhaps the trailer was SERIOUSLY loaded! Like Third-World (Senegal?) loaded!

Scott said...

Thanks! I'd really appreciate it. From what I can tell, I'll be living 5-7 miles from work, and the commute takes anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours. I'm thinking it'd be a comfortable and consistent half hour or so on a mountain bike.

Of course the people I've talked to about riding in Dakar have all sorts of reasons why it can't be done. Most of them are the same reasons I faced when I started riding in Boise and Virginia.