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Review: Our Experience With Laptop Cases From WaterField Designs

Posted September 24th, 2011

Old and New Laptop Cases (Waterfield Designs) A round-the-world bike tour is a good way to test any piece of gear, and the laptop case we bought from WaterField Designs (SFBags.com) was one of the things that stood up best to our 3-year trip.

Our first experience with this company was way back in 2006, when we bought a case for our small netbook. The laptop sleeve is still going strong.

It was pulled in and out of bicycle panniers on a daily basis and thrown carelessly around our tent but aside from a few minor scuff marks, you can hardly tell the difference between the old one (on the right) and the new one we just bought last month for another laptop.

Continue reading our review of Laptop Cases From WaterField Designs

Posted in Equipment, Review

One Tough Bag: The Laptop Sleeve From WaterField Designs

Posted September 24th, 2011

A round-the-world bike tour is a good way to test any piece of gear, and the laptop case we bought from WaterField Designs (SFBags.com) was one of the things that stood up best to our 3-year trip.

The short version of this review is that we heartily recommend these cases as a great way to protect your gadgets from dust and bumps on the road.

Although this post focuses mostly on the laptop cases, WaterField also has bags for iPads, Kindles and cameras, customized to fit many different models.

Our first experience with this company was way back in 2006, when we bought a case for our small netbook. The laptop sleeve is still going strong. It was pulled in and out of bicycle panniers on a daily basis and thrown carelessly around our tent but aside from a few minor scuff marks, you can hardly tell the difference between the old one (on the right) and the new one we just bought last month for another laptop.

Old and New Laptop Cases (Waterfield Designs)

When you see the bags in person, this isn’t surprising. It’s very clear that this is a high quality product. The outer nylon fabric is durable enough to stand up to daily bumps and scrapes and there’s a good bit of padding inside as well. There’s no need to worry about this bag scratching anything you might put in it, and because the bags are custom made to fit your laptop, they wrap snuggly around the computer.

Laptop Case (Waterfield Designs)

Velcro keeps the bag sealed. You can choose either a simple velcro strap, which keeps your laptop from sliding out but leaves the top mostly open, or a flap that completely covers the top of the case.

Velcro Closure on the Laptop Case (Waterfield Designs)

On the back, there’s a sleeve that’s big enough to fit a few papers or a power cord, and at the bottom is a little loop that you can slip your finger through, so you always have a good grip on the bag. You can also order a strap, if you like, though for a bike tour it’s probably not necessary.

Laptop Case with sleeve at the back for magazines, papers (Waterfield Designs)

Loop at the bottom of the laptop case for easy holding (Waterfield Designs)

After buying our first laptop bag, we purchased more things from WaterField. These included a gear bag, to hold things like batteries and power cords during our world trip, and most recently a Kindle case for our Kindle eReader (see our review on the Kindle for bike touring).

Kindle Case (Waterfield Designs)

The customer service has always been great, and the bags have always arrived in just a few days, despite needing to be shipped halfway around the world, from San Francisco to our home in the Netherlands.

Overall, we couldn’t be happier with the bags we’ve purchased from WaterField. We’re fully aware this review sounds a bit too much like gushing, but this is one product that we really happen to like and have no problems recommending.

Yes, the bags are a bit more expensive than others on the market, but the quality is far better than other bags we’ve seen. WaterField also offer a greater range of sizes than most shops, so you’re almost guaranteed to find a bag that will fit your gadget perfectly.

This review is based on products that we bought ourselves. We have not been paid by the company or been given any freebies in exchange for the review.

Why We Won’t Be Buying The Gekko fx Folding Trike

Posted September 13th, 2011

We spent last week testing the Gekko fx, the “nimble foldable touring trike”, if you believe the manufacturer’s hype.

Gekko fx

Why a trike? Because we could rent one for a reasonable price from Maia Ligfietspunt (curiosity is a pretty good reason) and because the idea of having a bike that doubles as a chair in the evening when camping really appealed to us!

Why the Gekko fx? We could have rented any number of other trikes (an IceTrike, for example, or a Kettwiesel) but since we live in a top-floor apartment and we often take trains with our bikes, a trike that folds quickly and can be stored compactly is obviously appealing. Apparently, you can fold the Gekko fx in just 10 seconds (more on that later).

Unfortunately, the Gekko fx didn’t live up to our expectations. If you don’t want to read any further, the short answer is that we won’t be buying one. You can skip ahead to our complaints, or keep reading to find out first what we DID like.

The Good:

1. Very comfortable - We instantly felt at ease in the seat and the positioning was natural. A quick release on the back of the seat makes adjusting the angle quick and painless.

2. No charge on the train (in the Netherlands) - Instead of the usual €6 bike fee, our trike was treated as a normal folding bike, even though it’s twice the folded size of a Brompton.

3. Amazing cornering - This trike handles beautifully. You can accelerate into corners with an ease and speed that we never feel on our normal touring bikes. Fun!

4. Surprisingly visible - Almost the first thing people do when they find out you’re riding a trike is warn you to be careful of cars but we found the Gekko fx was so different that every car driver was looking straight at us. We always easily made eye contact at intersections, and we didn’t feel vulnerable, despite being much lower to the ground than on a normal bike.

5. Adaptable to diversions and construction – We deliberately didn’t avoid things like construction areas and barriers while testing the trike but we were always able to work our way around obstacles without much trouble. We never had to get off the trike, just to go around something.

As you already know, however, not everything about our Gekko fx test was good. Here are the things we were less thrilled with.

The Mediocre:

1. It’s not THAT easy to fold - After some practice, Andrew could fold the Gekko fx in about 30 seconds. However, this required quite a bit of arm strength. Friedel’s time was longer and less elegant (maybe she would have improved with more practice). If you’re a reasonably strong guy, you’ll manage this just fine. If you can’t lift and flip 16kg of bicycle, you’ll struggle a bit more.

2. Awkward going up and down stairs - We hoped that a folded trike would be almost as portable as a folding bicycle but we found the Gekko fx awkward to lug up a set of stairs. Mostly, we did it together, so that neither one of us would throw our back out. It may fold, but it’s no Brompton. Our normal touring bikes weigh about the same as the trike (16kg) but we can carry our touring bikes up the stairs without any problems.

3. Only Small Bags Please – For the price (about €2,300), we ideally wanted this trike to be set up for at least light touring. That is to say that we wanted to put 2 large Ortlieb bags on the rack but even our small Ortlieb panniers were a tight squeeze on the derailleur side of the trike. To really tour with the Gekko fx, we’d have to fit a higher rack or buy special bags designed for recumbents, and that’s an extra expense on top of an already high retail price that we’re not sure we want to pay.

 

P1030329

And finally….

The Bad:

1. Difficult to Roll – When the trike is folded, there are some small wheels that theoretically allow you to roll it a short distance, such as along a train platform. We didn’t find this easy at all. The trike nipped at our heels and was unstable even going over a small bump in the surface. Going from one end of a platform to another is not an experience we want to repeat, and if there’s no lift, you’re going to have to lug it up and down stairs (see our point above).

2. It fell apart! – This was the real clincher for us. Maybe we should put it higher up in the review, but in the tradition of saving the best (or the worst) for last, here’s our story of disaster. While riding down a small side street, the wheel began wobbling erratically and we lost all control of the trike. Mercifully, we were going slowly and no cars were around at the time. When we managed to stop, we spotted the problem immediately.

Gekko fx falls apart

The strut that connects the steering controls to the wheel is held together with a simple bolt, and that little bolt came loose. When it did, we lost control. Thank goodness we weren’t going down a hill or turning into traffic at the time! When we returned the trike, we found out that this had happened before and despite the owner’s best attempt to secure that bolt, it kept on coming loose.

Our personal opinion is that this is probably a design flaw – or at least a ‘feature’ of the design that would keep us from buying this particular trike. We prefer our steering to be put together more solidly, and not reliant on a single bolt. We know all too easily how those bolts can come loose, but on standard touring bikes the damage is normally limited to mudguards and luggage racks – not crucial operating parts.

So, Gekko fx, we’re sorry to say you’re not the trike for us. We’d still like to try more trikes but we’re looking for something more robust.

Turn Old Inner Tubes Into Bungee Cords

Posted May 31st, 2011

IT ClipsWhen we first saw IT Clips, we immediately thought they were nifty little things.

These plastic clips turn your old inner tubes into adjustable bungee cords that allow you to strap all kinds of things on your bike. You can either snap the clips together to make a closed loop, or use the hooks to secure the strap to a luggage rack or trailer.

The uses for bike touring are obvious. Instead of buying new compression straps or bungee cords to hold things like your tent to the back of your bicycle, you can recycle your inner tubes for the same purpose.

We enjoy this type of green thinking, so we got a couple pairs to try out. Over the last few months, we’ve been using the IT Clips on weekend bike tours. Here are our impressions.

What We Like:

  • They Work - We weren’t sure if these would be as good in practice as in theory but they actually do work. Just thread the inner tube through the clips, adjust the length and strap them on your bike.
  • They’re Strong – Inner tubes are incredibly tough. They don’t break or fray, like some cheaper bungee cords tend to do.
  • There’s A Wow Factor – People notice these little straps and comment on them. They’re a great conversation starter.

IT Clips In Practice

What We Don’t Like:

  • They’re Heavy & Bulky - The strap we made with an old tube from our touring bike weighs 190g. The compression strap we bought from a camping shop is just as strong and weighs 30g. There’s also a significant size difference.
  • IT Clips vs Compression StrapsThey Can Be Tough to Tighten – Our straps made from inner tubes tend to stretch and loosen a bit over a day’s ride. It’s only a little bit (nothing is in danger of falling off) but nonetheless, we haven’t yet managed to get these straps really tight and have them stay tensioned as well as our compression straps.

Our Verdict: There’s a definite appeal to the IT Clips. We’ll keep a few around home as extra straps, just in case one of our normal straps breaks or if we need to carry an unusually big load. We might even take one set of clips with us on a long bike tour, so that we could fashion an emergency strap if necessary. For shorter trips, we’ll stick to the compression straps we bought from the local camping store.

Posted in Equipment, Review

Testing The Kindle 3. Verdict? It’s Great For Bike Touring!

Posted May 19th, 2011

If you’re going to buy just one gadget to take on a bike tour, make it the Kindle eBook reader.

We know that’s a bold statement but after buying a Kindle 3 and playing with it for a couple months, we’re convinced that this is one of the best things a book-loving bike tourist could carry.

The Bike Touring Survival Guide on a Kindle

The Kindle. Small enough to fit inside your handlebar bag. Powerful enough to hold 1000s of books.

We’ve surprised even ourselves with our love for the Kindle because we never thought we’d enjoy reading books on a screen instead of paper, but the Kindle is truly an enjoyable reading experience.

Here’s what we love about it so much:

  • Light and compact. At just 240g, it weighs less than most paperbacks.
  • Great battery life. It lasts up to 1 month with the wi-fi turned off.
  • Holds up to 3,500 books. This is great for bike tours where you may not have easy or cheap access to physical books.
  • Easy on the eyes. The display really doesn’t tire your eyes out. It feels like reading a book on paper.

Continue Reading About The Kindle 3 For Bike Touring

Posted in Equipment, Review