Road-Tested, Inexpensive Holiday Gift Ideas For Cyclists

Unlike the tongue-in-cheek Christmas gift ideas I posted a couple of weeks ago, our guest poster Jeff Hemmel has some ideas that might actually merit a spot under the tree.

HemmelsRide2Recently I was asked to write a Holiday Gift Guide for one of the publications I write for in the real world. The task got me once again thinking of all the great things I’ve assembled over the last year for my bike. Looking back, my favorites aren’t pricey, high-end items. Instead they’re simple, smaller products that just make day-to-day riding a little bit easier.

Need something to get the cycling enthusiast on your shopping list…or more likely, a few hints to drop for a stocking stuffer? Here are a few of my road-tested suggestions, all available for under $30.

Fix-It Sticks ($29.99)

I like to keep a small multi-tool in my saddle bag, but my former tool had a few limitations. The most obvious was that its jackknife-style tool design didn’t allow me to generate a lot of torque when trying to loosen or tighten a bolt. I also didn’t like the way it rubbed up against things — like spare tubes — in my compact saddle bag.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.15.28 PMFix It Sticks are a pretty cool alternative. Rather than the typical “jackknife-style” multi-purpose tool, Fix It Sticks are literally two separate aluminum “sticks” that fit together (each stick has a hexagonal hole in the middle to accommodate the other) to form a T-handle wrench. When not in use, they sit side-by-side in a cool, slim case made from recycled tubes. When it’s time to go to work, just fit them together so that one stick forms the handle and the other the working end. The setup generates far more torque than possible with a mini tool, yet takes up less space.

You can get Fix It Sticks in a variety of combinations, depending on what you need most for your bike. I like the simplicity of the original version, with its fixed bits. A replaceable bit version is also available.

aLOKSAK ($8.39/3-pack)

I throw my phone, license, credit card, and a $10 bill in my jersey when I ride. To keep them together and sweat free, I’ve long opted for a bag like the Jersey Bin. It protects the items within, allows me to use the touchscreen of my iPhone through the bag, doesn’t cost much, and is a lot more durable than a Ziploc sandwich bag.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.17.56 PMBut while I still like the Jersey Bin, this year I was given a thinner, more flexible bag from LOKSAK. Made from a polyethylene blended film and guaranteed to be 100% water and air tight, the aLOKSAK pouch offers all the advantages of the Jersey Bin, but has so far been able to resist the cracking that could plague the latter product with frequent use. aLOKSAKs are favorites of divers, as they’re certified to a depth of 200’. I just know they’ve kept my phone safe — and usable — for about the last 10 months with no problems.

aLOKSAKS are available in a wide range of sizes in three packs starting at $8.39.

Bar Fly 2.0 ($24.99)

Like a lot of riders I use a Garmin Edge bike computer, but I don’t like the stock rubber O-ring attachment setup. It just seems a little flimsy, plus I like the idea of getting the computer out ahead of my handlebars where it’s easier to see. There are a number of products on the market that solve the problem, but my favorite happens to be one of the cheapest — Tate Labs’ Bar Fly.

For starters, it’s simple. Just loosen the plastic clamp and slip it over your handlebars, then tighten at your preferred angle with a 3mm Allen key. Once in place, just attach your Garmin with the familiar 1/4-turn mounting system used by the stock attachment. The BarFly 2.0 offers two attachment points, stacked one atop the other, to handle a wide variety of Garmins, including the 200, 510, 800, 810, Edge Touring and Edge Touring Plus. As the mount is Delrin plastic, it won’t dig in or damage the tabs on your Garmin through repeated attachment and removal. The Delrin construction also means you don’t have to worry about over tightening and damaging carbon handlebars.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.19.42 PMBarFlys come in a variety of cool colors, have a lifetime warranty and a “buy one and you’re done” crash guarantee. If you’re lucky enough to run Shimano or Campagnolo electronic shifting, you can also mount the shifting module on the underside.

Cutaway Neck Gaiter ($18.00)

Hardcore riders don’t stop when the weather gets cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s always fun…or comfortable. Last year I added a Cutaway Neck Gaiter to my wardrobe, and it’s really made a difference on those really cold rides.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.23.13 PMOne of the best things about a neck gaiter is its versatility. Sure you can use it just to protect your neck, but gaiters can also quickly turn into headbands, or open-top beanies to cover your ears. I like to pull mine up to over the lower half of my face balaclava-style and fend off the wind chill. The lightweight microfiber is comfortable and breathable. It’s also moisture-wicking, meaning your hot breath won’t end up making it all damp and nasty.

Cutaway’s Gaiters come in a variety of cool prints, including one dedicated to popular Cannondale/Garmin rider Ted King.

Cutting It Short

With the end of the semester rapidly approaching, I’m spending more time at the university, putting out fires that flare up regularly as students realize they haven’t done enough to get that A they so covet. And with standard time bringing about darkness earlier than before, I’m not getting in a lot of riding at the moment. So when the weekend comes, I’m ready to saddle up and hit the road.

But this past weekend didn’t pan out the way I expected. On Saturday, I set out to do about 25 miles, just on roads in my immediate area. It’s easy to rack up the miles without straying too far from home, and that would keep me close to get back for the Christmas shopping my wife had planned for the afternoon.

But as I set out Saturday morning, I had a vague sense of unease — that something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, and I headed for the part of my route that would take me farthest from the house.

And then I realized what it was. I had an inordinate amount of flatulence. So much so, that I finally decided to pack it in. I headed back to the house, and attended to the problem. Then I tried to figure out what I had been eating that brought this situation on. Never did figure it out — my diet over the last two days wasn’t really any different than it normally is. Oh, well. Sixteen miles still isn’t that bad — at least I got in an hour’s worth of pedaling. It would get better Sunday, right?

Sunday’s weather was similar to Saturdays: chilly and overcast, but with a dampness in the air that led me to add leg warmers to my wardrobe. There wasn’t much in the way of wind, so that was a plus. The bike seemed to be rolling all right — a little snik-snik-snik noise coming from the wheel, but that wasn’t anything important.

I climbed the nice hill on Blazyk Drive, and hit 32 mph roaring back down. Then, I clattered over the chip seal on nearby Zyle Road for a few miles. Out along State Highway 45, the newly-resurfaced shoulder made for a fast section. On the return leg, I turned into a nice residential neighborhood to take advantage of a smooth asphalt loop where the houses haven’t been built yet.

But the snik-snik-snik was getting louder, and when I glanced down at my rear wheel, my heart sank. It was out of true, and wobbling noticeably. I pulled over to the curb, got off the bike, and spun the wheel. Sure enough, it was still clearing the brake pads, but it wasn’t good. I put my spread fingers across the spokes, and immediately found a broken one. On further checking, it was the only broken spoke on the wheel, so I thought I could get the bike home if I went directly, and didn’t continue on my planned route.

The homeward-bound trip was made without incident, although I pedaled more slowly than I normally would. Instead of 30 miles plus, that I had planned for the morning, I wound up with 19. Again, not a bad ride, but that was two weekend rides in a row I had to cut short. I need to make up for lost time on the bike, especially in view of my total mileage in November that came in at less than 200.

The bike will spend some time at the mechanic’s this week, and I’ll have it overhauled in addition to the work on the wheel. By the time the really cold weather gets here, I should be ready to roll. I just hope the rain will hold off.

Avoiding the Mud

A beautiful fall day. It’s hard to imagine that on November 30, the temperature reached 80 degrees (26C). Who wouldn’t go biking in that weather? I sure would.

For the second ride in a row, I took out my mountain bike. Usually, Sundays are reserved for longish rides on the road bike, but it’s been giving me problems in the shifting department lately, and I’ll have to take it to my mechanic. So, the mountain bike it would be.

That raised a new concern — the condition of the trails. We had two solid days of rain a week ago, which was a blessing for our drought-afflicted area. But the ground became saturated, and standing water in the area has just begun to disappear. The best mountain biking trail close by — Slaughter Creek Trail — remains closed because of some muddy spots. I figured I would head to my go-to trail, because odds were better that it would be usable.

My go-to trail is Dick Nichols Park. It’s a good-sized metropolitan park, a little over a mile from home. To get there, I can take some trails through the neighborhood that I discovered during my mountain biking epiphany over the summer. One little loop of about seven-tenths of a mile winds sometimes rocky singletrack through woods. It looked okay, so I set out on it.

It was mostly okay. I hit a patch of deep mud that was only about five feet long, but required some powerful pedaling to keep from bogging down. That clogged the tread of my tires with heavy, wet mud, that got thrown against the bike frame and me as we kept on. But when I hit another dry and rocky stretch, a lot of the mud fell off.

I continued on to Dick Nichols Park, dodging dog walkers along a wide part of the trail that is dedicated to multiple use. In the park, a paved walk winds in a wide circle around the park, and although I have to ride it a ways, I can jump off and take some of the unmarked trails that have popped up there.

One leads north, where it exits the park at a local library. This is a particularly enjoyable path, because it’s got a couple of nice features — an abrupt hill that leads around a small pond. Near the pond, a sign explains its role in the ecology of the area. Our recent rains have been great for the pond. I’ve never seen it as high as it was today.

Along my route is this huge spreading live oak that is dubbed "The Learning Tree," because it can shelter an entire class of school children (Note the tables). The trail heading past the tree was damp, but not muddy.

Along my route is this huge spreading live oak that is dubbed “The Learning Tree,” because it can shelter an entire class of school children (Note the tables). The trail heading past the tree was damp, but not muddy.

The trail along here is hard-packed earth, and it might have been damp, but it wasn’t muddy at all. Back in the park proper, I took some more unmarked trails through the woods, and found that spots in the shade — in almost constant shade — were still a bit muddy. In most cases, I could stay right at the edge of the path and miss the bad stuff.

One thing I’ve discovered about riding a mountain bike: When you’re on a trail, it dares you to go fast. I pushed a little too hard for a little too long, and had to stop for a breather. It takes twice the effort to pedal a mountain bike as a road bike, and on a day like this, maybe even more. For me, an hour and a half on the mountain bike is a great workout. I knew I could count on a good night’s sleep after this jaunt.

The bike got a much-needed bath after I got home. Looking pretty spiffy, now.

The bike got a much-needed bath after I got home. Looking pretty spiffy, now.

I headed home, happy that I was able to get in a couple of good rides over the weekend, and looking forward to the end of the semester at the university — when I’ll once again try to ride every day. That never happens, but I can dream, can’t I?

Gifts for the Cyclist

As an internationally-renowned bike blogger, I get hit up on a regular basis from entrepreneurs who would like to some help publicizing their products. I generally resist such entreaties, because this blog is not in the business of giving free publicity to consumer products (Although I’ve done it before, and will probably do it again).

Anyhow, with the holidays approaching I’ve been besieged with more requests than usual. So I figured, what the heck? Let’s feature some of the more interesting ones that have come my way. Maybe you’ll be interested enough to back these budding billionaires, or maybe just buy their products for Christmas gifts for your cycling buddies.

First — Dappercap! It’s a British-made cycling helmet for the urban cyclist, that aims to bring a touch of style to a much-maligned cycling essential. The helmets will be hand made in Cornwall and tested to European standards.


Dappercap will launch with these four colors, but expects to add more.

Dappercap will launch with these four colors, but expects to add more.

Sorry — it’s not available in time for Christmas this year. They expect to introduce it in Europe in April, 2015, and reach the U.S. and Canada in September next year. But if you’d like to support them, their Kickstarter program is open until December 5.

Wearable technology is all the rage now, and a company called 1 Voice hopes to fill a perceived need among workout fiends who can’t be without their music. They’re introducing the 1Voice sports headband. It’s got a built-in Bluetooth receiver, which eliminates the need to hard wire your MP3 player. The headband has built-in earbuds, which the company says will not fall out during a workout.

1 Voice has just introduced the headband to go along with its beanie.

1 Voice has just introduced the headband to go along with its beanie.

If you’re interested, check out 1 Voice’s website.

Ever get frustrated when you signal your turns, but for whatever reason motorists don’t see you? Another Kickstarter program hopes to remedy that situation. It’s another British venture called Wing Lights, and they’re bicycle turn indicators. Attach them to the ends of your handlebars, and when you intend to make a turn, press them with your hand and they’ll start to flash.

3bf0bd8a1695dc2df3615e10c69498ca_large winglights


Wing Lights are only available for straight bar bikes. They can’t be fitted to drop bars or cruiser handlebars. For more information, check their Kickstarter page.

Finally, here’s one just for the guys. Because I know we all have this problem, right? It’s a problem unique to guys, because of our…uhh…equipment. A new product called “HappySacs” is supposed to make sure you’re not caught during Public Displays of Adjustment, as the company puts it. It’s very simple — a sack for your sac.


They claim you won’t have to worry about discomfort and chafing, and won’t have to use chamois creams, either. For info, check their website.

Now that I’ve handled your Christmas shopping needs, we can get back to biking.


A Reordering of Bike Stuff

The deep freeze that has spread across so much of the country has made its way down to Texas. We’ve had a few nights where the temperatures hovered around freezing, and we’re due for another tonight. Meanwhile, the dayside conditions have been miserable, too — with a persistent mist and a chilly dampness that you can feel right through to your bones.

So I was neither surprised nor upset when my pal Maggie texted me this morning to say she was not riding. That suited me. Although it meant that I would be off the bike for more than a week, I figured I could give it a rest and do something else.

It turned out that something else was bike-related — sort of. We’re redecorating the house a bit, and my wife wanted to give the bedroom some attention. One of the problems I faced was the big basket of clean clothes from the laundry that needed to be put away. Many of them were my biking things. But my “bike” drawer in the dresser is way past being full. So I made that my immediate task.

First, I unloaded the whole drawer onto the bed. Then, I picked through what I had, and started to cull. A couple of old jerseys are being retired, along with an unused cycling cap, some bandanas, some headbands, some socks — you get the idea.

Even with that, I couldn’t fit everything back into the “bike” drawer. The socks and bandanas and arm warmers and such get packed into a large shoebox, and that moved to another drawer. I culled some items from that drawer and added them to the discard pile. When I was done, everything fitted perfectly.

A place for everything, as they say. Jerseys on the left, base layers in the middle, shorts on the right. Arm & leg warmers lower left.

A place for everything, as they say. Jerseys on the left, base layers in the middle, shorts on the right. Arm & leg warmers lower left.

But my bike stuff has now expanded to a second drawer. I suppose that was inevitable — and overdue. I also suppose I should rethink how I store my bike stuff. Maybe a large plastic tub that sits in the closet might be a better way to handle it.

Well, as I said, we’re redecorating. That means what I think our bedroom will look like is going to change a time or three before we actually start shopping for new furniture. So I might have the opportunity to “design in” some storage space just for biking gear. And in the interests of open-mindedness, I’m going to solicit your input: How do you store your jerseys, shorts, jackets, and other biking clothing? Maybe I can add your ideas into the final product.

A Good Sign

During the summer, I expressed my concern over the resurfacing of streets in our neighborhood with chip seal. Chip seal is irritating, because cyclists are riding through small, loose gravel until it become tamped down to a sort of smooth surface.

That tamping is pretty much taken care of now, and on a ride the other morning, I saw some crews striping the streets. The striping doesn’t just trace the marking that had been in place previously. Instead, it accommodates cyclists better. Here’s a look at what I mean:

The new bike lane might be in the door zone, but there's still some room for bikes to miss doors.

The new bike lane might be in the door zone, but there’s still some room for bikes to miss doors.

One irritant to me when riding in the morning or mid-afternoon was the number of helicopter parents who drop off and pick up their kids at school. They had no qualms about parking their cars in the bike lane, forcing bikes out into the traffic lane. That wouldn’t be a problem, since everyone was moving at a snail’s pace, but a bike mixed in with all those cars caused consternation on the part of drivers — many of whom had no idea what to do. Of course, indecisive drivers can be a bigger hazard to cyclists than blocked bike lanes.

Well, the new markings angle that problem. There’s a parking lane for cars next to the curb, then a bike lane. The traffic lane is considerably narrower than it had been before.

It’s not perfect. The bike lane could put bikers in the door zone. But it’s a little wider than most lanes that are in the door zone, and frankly, I’m not too concerned. It appears the city is listening to cyclists and making improvements in traffic markings.

Recruiting New Riders

For some time, several of us in the club have been conducting “B”-level rides. That is, we’re not as fast as most of the folks who show up for the Sunday club ride, and it’s no fun being left behind.

Trouble is, we have a very small B group. Most often, the only ones to show up for the B ride are my pal Maggie and me. So Maggie got an idea: Why not schedule a “beginner” ride for people who we know are reading the club emails on our Yahoo group, but who for whatever reason don’t come out to rid with us?

She did one a month ago, and got my wife and one other person to join her. We haven’t seen or heard from the other person since. But not one to be deterred, Maggie posted another “beginner” ride for this weekend.

Lo and behold, she got a bite! A woman messaged back that she and her husband would come out.

We were concerned that Sunday’s chilly morning temperatures would scare them off, but at 8 a.m., two new faces rode into the parking lot at Starbucks. Diane and Mike are older riders, closer in age to me than Maggie, and they ride a lot — hardly what you would call “beginners.” But they had the impression that our club’s average speed is in the 16-18 mph range, and they’re not fast.

We assured them that we’re not fast, either. We asked about their riding habits, and it turns out they ride a lot of the routes we do on our club rides. Maggie’s thoughts of doing a simple neighborhood ride were dumped for something more interesting.

“How are you on hills?” I asked.

“Okay,” they said.

I suggested doing the Zoo Ride. It’s hilly, but the hills aren’t killers, and it’s a little shorter than most of our routes, so if the hills do tire a rider out, the suffering is not prolonged.

We started off. The pace was leisurely as we wound our way through the twisty Granada Hills subdivision, and stayed leisurely when we got to Circle Drive, where the club ride usually picks up speed. The sweeping downhill to the dead end near the zoo was fun, but then we had to climb out of it.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Mike rides a Novara Randonee touring bike with a triple chainring. “It can climb walls,” he said.

Diane’s bike is a Specialized, similar to my own. It has a compact double. While Mike spun at more than one pedal turn for every rotation of the wheel, Diane gamely pushed her way up the hill. We made it to the top, and stopped to rest.

“That’s the end of the hill,” I told Diane. “Until the next one.”

We take a two-lane road for about a mile and half that is most notable for the amount of traffic on a quiet Sunday morning. Cars and trucks have to slow to our speed before they can pass, because the small hills and gentle curves of the road can hide oncoming vehicles. When we got through it, I assured them that we had just completed the diciest part of the ride. They were relieved.

But then came the biggest hill of the ride. It’s on Southwest Parkway, and for years was my nemesis. I can ride it well now, and I swung around Maggie to attack the hill. (Got a Strava PR on it!) Then I waited at the top for the others to catch up.

“From here, we have a choice,” said Maggie. “We can continue on to Travis Country and ride some more hills, or we can turn at William Cannon Road and head back.”

They were all for heading back.

That meant the day’s ride was about five miles shorter than it would have been, but was still a great way to spend a cool fall morning. We stopped back at Starbuck’s for coffees and conversation.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand -- I'm a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand — I’m a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

We told them to watch the club’s message board for posts about future B rides, since they would fit in just fine. They’re busy next weekend, but with any luck, our Sunday B rides will be more than just Maggie and me.