The longer I've been in the bicycle industry, the shorter this list has become.
When you're new to the industry, the shop discount and pro deals are like having keys to the candy store, and you tend to go a little crazy. After nearly 18 years in the industry before finally retiring from it, I can tell you that the lustre wore off some time ago. I simply don't buy as much stuff these days; and everything I use regularly has had to earn its place in my stash of gear.
Category One: products
1. Rivendell ShinShields ( http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/ar5.htm ) -- These, like last year's Rivendell Splats ( http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/ar3.htm ), were affordable enough for me to take a chance on in spite of their goofy look. When they arrived, had to wait for a reasonably rainy day to give them a true test. In order to simulate the conditions suggested by Rivendell's stock photos I used them with the Splats and a J & G Cyclewear rain cape ( http://www.bicycleclothing.com/Rain-Capes.html ).
--They work pretty well at keeping your lower legs dry in a normal rainfall.
--They look goofy -- supremely goofy, even goofier than the Splats.
--When used with the Splats there can be a gap at the ankle that lets water in. This may be more the Splats' fault but it's there, and occasionally annoying.
--It's another piece of apparel to figure out how to live with efficiently as a commuter -- instead of rainpants and a jacket, I would have to pack and stow Splats, Shinshields and Rainlegs (which I use often on merely drizzly days -- http://www.rainlegs.com/en/home ) with a rain jacket -- or skip the Rainlegs and jacket and use the cape.
--The clincher was that, on my skinny legs, they barely fit. I was able to cinch them sungly enough with only about 1/4" to 1/2" of useful velcro overlap around my fully-clothed legs. That pretty much killed it for me, and since then they've been relegated to the bottom of the gear bag. I will probably sell them to someone with bigger, more muscular legs.
Bottom line: Maybe useful for others, but not so much for me. I'll sell them to someone else.
2. PDW Radbot 1000 taillight ( http://www.ridepdw.com/goods/lights/radbot™-1000 ). When building up the Sekai as a rough-stuff town/touring/rando bike, I wanted a bright taillight that would be visible from very far away, and that offered a blinky option other than the typical "radpifire seizure-inducing speed" found on nearly every rear taillight today. It also had to fit on the seat stay because I wouldn't be using a full rear rack on this bike.
--A large and truly useful red reflector panel for daytime use.
--A very bright LED light that can be seen from several blocks away.
--Blinky options that include not only "rapidfire" but also a much slower, fade-in-and-out mode that is far less annoying to drivers and cyclists behind me -- and therefore less dangerous. (Tons of newer studies are showing that rapidly blinking taillights actually cause vehicle operators behind to fixate on the blinking light -- to the distraction of all else on the road.)
--The PDW Radbot, made in the same factory is the Planet Bike lights, fits on the same brackets -- which made swapping in the Radbot for my old Planet Bike Superflash very easy. It can also be mounted on a rear rack using the additional brcket supplied (again, identical to the Planet Bike bracket so if you've already got this on your rear rack, just swap lights).
--The Radbot is a bit bigger than the Super flash, but still fits on the seatstay with sufficient clearance of the rear wheel. (In the USA, mount it on the left seatstay.)
--It takes AAA-sized batteries, which come in rechargeable models. (Yay!)
--Good waterproofing gasket around all sides of the light.
--None that I can see, but I've only been using this light for a couple of months.
Bottom line: For anyone who prefers a battery-powered light, this one is a solid win all around.
NOTE: There is a fender-mounted version of the Radbot ( http://www.ridepdw.com/goods/lights/fenderbot™ ) that is not exactly the same. I will probably try one in 2013 so come back for a review next December.
3. Carradice Bike Bureau ( http://www.carradice.co.uk/index.php?page_id=product&product_id=64 ). This is not a new product by any means -- Carradice has been making it for years and Citybikes (my former shop and still the only place on the US West coast where you can buy Carradice) has offered it almost from the start -- when Carradice has actually filled orders for it. When the cosmic arm of the universe began nudging me towards shrinking my role at Citybikes and I began preparing for a more loaded teaching schedule, I realized I'd need a larger pannier to carry binders and textbooks in. The shop had a couple of these in stock and I used my sizable shop credit and worker discount to buy one.
--Waxed cotton fabric is typical Carradice, heavy in weight and very tough.
--The attachment hardware is easy to install and can easily be adjusted to fit your specific rack.
--The bag mounts at an angle on the rack to help the rider avoid heel strike.
--It comes with a padded fabric laptop sleeve that is removable.
--It is huge. My single Bureau holds two oversized metal binders and several smaller textbooks (when the laptop sleeve is removed). In fact, it's big enough that if you're temped to overstuff it, you'd be better off using another (smaller) pannier on the other side to help balance the load.
--The shoulder strap is very strong and wide, and snaps on and off easily.
--There is a secondary flap that can cover the mounting hardware when you carry the bag on your shoulder (making it more comfortable to use as a briefcase), and under which the should strap can be stowed while riding. Velcro holds it in place in either position.
--The leather straps of the flap utilize both traditional metal buckles for length adjustment, and plastic cam-buckles for quick opening and closing; the plastic is lightweight and cheap and the system is needlessly redundant. At some point I will probably customize the straps to do away with the plastic buckles and just use the metal ones.
--The laptop sleeve ismade of a lighter weight material, not waterproof and would not stand alone well in Oregon's rainy climate. If utilized it takes up a lot of room in the bag and neccessitates the need for a second pannier. As I anticipate a laptop purchase in the coming months, I will use the Bike Bureau on the left and one of my older Kendal Panniers ( http://www.carradice.co.uk/index.php?page_id=product&under=range&product_id=52 ) on the right to help balance the load.
--The bag offers no internal organizer/divider pockets. This is a relatively minor quibble, but one that required me to buy a small pouch to carry pencils, pens and small items inside the bag.
--The plastic reinforcement panel and feet on the bottom of the bag are flimsy; three months after purchase one of the feet has already broken off and there is a small crack forming in the panel. I figure that when the entire panel wears out I'll probably just remove it.
--They are hard to find in the USA. Carradice is notorious for filling only some or none of a shop's inventory orders, and that's espcially true with the larger bags. When you have five guys sharing four sewing machines in a picturesque British town, production tends to be smaller and slower. (Anyone considering bringing Carradice into their shop as a product line, you've been warned.)
Bottom line: in spite of all my nitpicking, this is a great office pannier, and I am glad I purchased one.
4. Giro Reverb helmet ( http://www.giro.com/us_en/reverb-10620.html ). I bought one of these early last spring when my old helmet finally crapped out (helmets do wear out with daily use and they need to be checked regularly -- replace when the styrofoam liner begins to show lots of dents and/or small cracks, and/or if your helmet is more than five or six years old).
--Very light weight; one of the lightest commuter helmets I've tried.
--The simple design purposely hearkens back to Giro's "Hammerhead" helmets of the 1990's with it's simple, bold color schemes and clean lines.
--Easy to customize fit -- each size comes with an adjustable band that offers three different options within a size range. Helmets come in S, M, L and XL sizes.
--Cotton visor snaps in or out easily; I prefer to wear a cotton cycling cap under my helmet so I removed mine in seconds.
--Refreshingly different from the typical, racer-emulating "angry insect" look prevalent in bike helmets today.
--In a recent test by Consumer Reports, the Reverb received lackluster scores ( http://bikeportland.org/2012/05/31/nutcase-bern-helmets-receive-poor-impact-rating-from-consumer-reports-72616 ). While not an abysmal "failure" (that was reserved for models from the hipper and more expensive Bern and Nutcase helmets), it placed lowest on the list of helmets that were considered "safe". Because I know that testing conditions seldom, if ever, reflect real-life conditions -- you can't really test helmets on living people without risking death, after all -- I take such result with a grain of salt.
Bottom line: For $60 retail, it's not a bad helmet. Discounted pricing and seasonal sales (as low as $40 retail in some places) can make it a good deal.
Category Two, tomorrow: Bicycle Activities