Under Test: Velo Orange Fenders

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Velo Orange fender mudguard Honjo Lefol Berthoud

Image courtesy of Velo Orange

 

Metal fenders’ popularity dates back to the golden age of constructeur bicycles. In recent years they’ve experienced a bit of a renaissance thanks in part to the folks at Velo Orange. The Maryland-based company’s fenders feature classic styling, but cost about the same as competitors’ plastic fenders.

Stay tuned…

First Impressions: Blackburn Design Outpost Packs

It’s no secret that bikepacking has exploded in popularity over the past few years. And as more and more riders sought out two-wheeled adventure, a cottage industry of bespoke bag makers helped satisfy the need for specialized gear. In 2014, Blackburn Design threw their hat in the bikepacking ring with the company’s introduction of their Outpost line of products.

Blackburn’s Outpost bags include a top tube pack ($44.99 MSRP), handlebar roll ($74.99 MSRP), and seat pack ($99.99 MSRP). Each Outpost bag attaches directly to the bike–no racks are required. When a company that practically built itself on racks delves into the rackless bag market, you know that bikepacking has officially crossed over to the mainstream.

To test Blackburn’s new Outpost packs, GRAVELBIKE enlisted the help of local cyclist Noah Schabacker. Having grown up along Colorado’s Front Range, Schabacker is no stranger to riding his bicycle on dirt and gravel roads. After putting the Outpost bags through the wringer, he shared his thoughts on Blackburn’s bikepacking goods.

Top Tube Pack
Blackburn’s Top Tube Pack has a number of useful features that came in handy when riding a century, or when there wasn’t room for a conventional seat bag. The Top Tube Pack has a mesh top pocket that closes with Velcro, an open pouch on the side, a zippered side pocket, and a main pocket with a zipper that runs around the top of the bag. There’s also a clever divider that attaches with Velcro to the sides of the main pocket, but can be moved anywhere inside the bag–if you want to divide the compartment in half, or ¾, or have it uninterrupted, that’s easy to do. The main compartment’s zipper opens wide so you can see everything inside; on the other hand, the need to run it all the way around the bag to really get into the pocket makes it slightly more difficult to use when pedaling.

I like to carry extra food and some small tools in a top tube bag so that I’m prepared for whatever I might encounter, and the Top Tube Pack swallowed some jerky, two Bonk Breaker bars, a mini chain tool, and some hand sanitizer without complaint. The side pockets are a little difficult to get into because of their small size–not quite the right size for a credit card–but they would accommodate some folded cash and coins. The top mesh pocket will take a gel packet.

When I was commuting using the Outpost Seat Pack, I could fit a tube, a mini tool, and a tire lever with plenty of room to spare–that’s when the divider came in handy to help control the space and keep things from shifting around.

Handlebar Roll
Blackburn’s Handlebar Roll ($74.99 MSRP) is the item that really stands out the most from the systems that are most common in the bikepacking world. Rather than using straps to attach the (included) drybag and wrap (kind of like a burrito), Blackburn instead relies on a nylon mount with a quick release. It takes up a little extra space on the bars and requires some angling when not using bars with a wide flat section, but it has the advantage of allowing you to quickly release the roll and carry it using the included strap. For my commuting use, I appreciated that easy on-off; but if you’re touring, you’ll want to bring it with you because the roll is so easy to detach. The mount itself seems sturdy, but it would be worthwhile to keep an eye on it if you’re depending on it in the backcountry, to make sure that it doesn’t loosen from your bars or develop any cracks over time.

The Handlebar Roll fit fine on my drop handlebars (46cm width), but the drops also limited the amount of stuff I could fit into the drybag. As seen in the photos, I also tested it on a bike with mustache handlebars–this required angling the mounting hardware so it was above the bar. The Handlebar Roll is best suited to flat bars such as standard mountain bike bars, or variants like the Jones H-Bar. You’ll also want to make sure you have about 2.5 inches of spare space on either side of your stem in order to mount the quick release hardware.

Even so, the Handlebar Roll also performed well–the attachment was rock solid, but still released with just a twist of the wrist when I wanted it to. The wrap and the drybag attach to each other with Velcro, which was convenient for the initial attachment while connecting the buckles that hold everything together. The drybag is shaped like an hourglass, so thinner (and denser) items should go in the center, and then more voluminous items (like clothing) are better suited to the outside. The carry straps double as extra support for the wider outside sections. Again, things stayed together well, with no unwanted movement or interference with steering. One advantage to the mounting hardware is that it moves the Handlbar Roll far enough off your stem that it should avoid interfering with a cantilever brake cable. My one complaint is that the drybag is pretty stiff, which makes it a little tougher to roll down tight for smaller loads. This is a setup that wants to carry near full capacity.

Seat Pack
Blackburn’s take on the Seat Pack is innovative. Instead of a roll-top bag, or a completely open carrier that requires a drybag, the Seat Pack allows you to use a drybag (included) or pack various smaller items into it. The tail of the Seat Pack is also kind of like the floating front panels on some larger backpacks, allowing you to carry wide, cylindrical or oblong objects without having to find a place to cram them (a yoga mat or a sleeping pad would be ideal here). The Seat Pack attaches to your seatpost and saddle rails, and then snugs against those to compress and control the load. The drybag is different from a standard one in that it’s multilayered: The outer layer is an abrasion resistant nylon, followed by a very thin padding layer, and finished off with a waterproof layer. I don’t know whether Blackburn recommends it for rafting, but it seems ideal for use on the bike.

My inaugural ride with the Seat Pack was an exciting 30-mile commute that featured mud, snow, and freezing temperatures. The Seat Pack drybag swallowed several days’ worth of clothing (including button-down shirts for the office) without complaint. That same drybag lived up to its name–I arrived at the office with clean and dry clothes. The Seat Pack held snug, with no swaying or bouncing (I forgot it was there until I pulled up to the office). I especially liked the daisy chain nylon across the rear of the shove-it tail–I was able to attach two rear lights there so cars could see me, and I imagine it would hold other lightweight items well. Additional rides weren’t quite as exciting as the first one, but the Seat Pack never disappointed.

Blackburn is doing some interesting things with their new line of rackless bags. The bags have innovative features that help them carry well. My favorite feature remains the beavertail on the Seat Pack; being able to slide in a sleeping pad or a sleeping bag in sideways (in its own drybag) would solve one of the difficulties with carrying that sort of bulky-but-light object in other rackless bag setups.

Disclosure: Blackburn Design provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

Special thanks to Noah Schabacker for his contributions to this review.

First Impressions: JustOne Custom Saddle

Finding the right saddle can be a real challenge. It’s even more frustrating if you want something other than the limited color choices offered by the big saddle companies. Whether you’re looking for the perfect seat to complement your new bike, or you want to spice up an older rig, JustOne Custom Bicycle Saddles has just what you need.

You won’t find JustOne saddles at your local bike shop. Marcus Williamson, JustOne’s founder, sells the one-of-a-kind saddles exclusively through Etsy. Selection varies, but at the time of this writing, Williamson had more than two-dozen saddles available. JustOne saddles start at $59, which is a downright bargain when you consider that each saddle is unique, and all covering and finishing is done by hand.

Williamson offers multiple saddle styles, and we tested the classic-inspired model which features cro-moly rails, lightweight high-density padding, and is finished off with solid brass screw posts. If you’re thinking that the JustOne saddle resembles Selle San Marco’s venerable Regal model, you’re not mistaken–the two saddles’ dimensions and profiles are very similar. Weight for our 150 mm x 279 mm test saddle was 302g.

We tested the JustOne saddle on multiple bikes, but found that it was most at home on road and gravel bikes. Dialing in the proper position was easy thanks to the saddle’s relatively flat fore/aft profile. Paired with our usual setback seatposts (Paul, Thomson, Zipp), the JustOne saddle’s rails offered plenty of adjustment. Comfort and support were comparable to similarly shaped competitors’ saddles. We didn’t experience any creaking during our test period, and the saddle’s rich leather covering remained tight and gap-free.

If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind saddle, JustOne definitely delivers the goods. The saddles’ fit, finish, and attention to detail are on par with pricier competitors’ models, and comfort doesn’t take a back seat to aesthetics.

Disclosure: JustOne provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.