Outfitting for Winter

Labor Day is less than a week away, summer is mostly behind us, and thoughts are turning towards the coming fall and winter.  To avoid the rush, I’m getting my shopping done early for the cold-weather biking season.  After a bit too much excitement with icy roads last winter, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought a set of studded tires.  After careful consideration, I went with the “Marathon Winter” tire by Schwalbe.  These tires have been well reviewed, and seem to be best suited to the type of riding I’ll be doing:  mainly paved roads, with occasional icy patches.  I got the 26″ size and will put them on my mountain bike.  I plan on putting the tires on in early to mid November, and riding them all winter.  I’ll be sure to post my experiences.  If they work out well, it’d be nice to get a set for my single speed, which should be able to take 700cx32 tires with studs.  However, there wouldn’t be enough room for fenders.

For the past 3 winters, I’ve been using a NiteRider “Sol” headlight.  It’s not super bright, but good enough for commuting.  Unfortunately, the cable that plugs the light into the battery pack died recently.  I can make the light come on if I flex the cable just so, but as soon as I let go, the light goes out.  I’m a bit disappointed that the light didn’t last longer.  I’m now in the market for a new light.  Quality issues notwithstanding, I was thinking about going in a different direction for my next headlight anyhow.  The NiteRider, while functional, isn’t the best for commuting.  It has a proprietary battery pack that’s expensive to replace, and the o-ring handlebar mount is difficult to deal with when you want to move the light from one bike to another.  After 3 years of night commuting, I have a very clear list of things I want in a light:

  • It must use non-proprietary batteries, preferably NiMH rechargeable AA or AAA cells.
  • It should be as bright, or slightly brighter, than the Sol.
  • It should include a daytime flashing mode for visibility, something the Sol lacked (though most of NiteRider’s newer lights include this feature).
  • It should be easy to transfer between multiple bikes.

I researched lights, and quickly turned up the Planet Bike “Blaze”.  On paper, this looks like the headlight of my dreams.  Self contained, takes regular batteries, has a flash mode, has a quick-release mounting bracket, extra brackets available for other bikes, and best of all, ridiculously inexpensive.  I actually ordered 2 of them, a 2-watt and a 1-watt model, plus 2 extra mounting brackets, all for less than I paid for my NiteRider back in 2008.  I’m already a fan of Planet Bike, but I’ll be an even bigger fan if all this gear works out for me this winter.  Stay tuned.

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