Product Review: SlipNot Traction Systems

To achieve better traction for winter biking there are many different options to choose from including tires, studs, studded tires and chains.  Each of these has their pros and cons and the riding conditions determine what will work best.

SlipNot Traction Systems of Bayfield, CO has designed bicycle tire chains that are supposed to provide better traction on snow, ice and mud.  After seeing them at Interbike 2013 and talking with the owners of the company, I wanted to test them out in a variety of Minnesota winter conditions to see how well they would perform.  Testing would take place on a 2014 9:Zero:7 equipped with 65mm Surly Marge Lite rims and 45NRTH Hüsker Dü 4" tires.  Since SlipNot does not make a chain set for 4" tires (only 3.7"-3.8" tires) they sent me a pair of their 85mm rim chains to accommodate the extra width of the Hüsker Dü's.

Installation of the SlipNot Traction Systems Bicycle Chains was pretty easy and took about ten minutes requiring some repositioning to get the proper alignment of the chains and cables on the tires.  This became quicker after having done it several times and removal was even faster.  The included extension pieces were needed to connect the turnbuckles and secure the chains in place.  They come with a mesh bag for storage that also works great for cleaning them, simply rinse them off while in the bag and hang to dry.  For those concerned about adding extra weight to the bike, this particular set weighs in at 3.6 lbs.  Once installed I would test them out with different temperatures, tire pressures and a wide variety of trail conditions including fresh powder, ice, packed singletrack and snowmobile trails (loose and packed). 

The first ride with SlipNot Traction System chains would be on singletrack at the Minnesota River Bottoms.  There had been a recent snowfall on the trails and not too many riders had fully repacked them yet.  This gave me a good opportunity to see how they would perform after a fresh snowfall.  They gripped the trail excellently providing extra traction to keep me rolling fast.  The most significant areas where this was noticed was on hills, I was able to climb right up them without any rear tire slip.  For fresh snow on trails, they definitely passed the first test. 

My second ride would be a couple days later after a warm front had
passed through making the MN River Bottoms trails rutted, cupped and icy.   This is where the SlipNot chains failed.  I thought the additional traction they provided in powder would bite into the ice but they actually caused more slipping, especially laterally.  Rolling fast along the icy surface of the trails caused the SlipNot chains to slide in the winding sections and turns causing me to put a foot down several times.  Cupped and rutted sections were tough to ride because my tires would slide towards the center from the raised edges due to the cross pattern of the chains resulting in loss of balance.

On glare ice, they did not give me the piece of mind and traction I was used to with studded tires.  When braking, I slowed down but the chains would allow the tire to slide forward across the ice biting in only slightly and sometimes slipping laterally outward.  This same slipping also occurred when accelerating.  For surface ice they did not do the job like I expected and I would stick to studs or decreased tire pressure (with or without the chains) for these conditions.

Out on the snowmobile trails, SlipNot Traction System chains really excelled.  I tried them out on several trails of varying conditions including packed, loose pack and fresh powder where they definitely gave me increased traction for forward momentum.

They worked great on terrain with rolling hills.  On the downhills they grabbed the trail giving me the confidence to ride fast and on climbs, the traction to zip up hills without rear tire slip to slow me down.

Blowing and drifting snow covering portions of the snowmobile trail is very common out in open terrain and SlipNot chains helped me plow through the deep spots cutting down on hike-a-bike time.

I have been asked by a few fatbikers if these chains tear up the trail or cause trail damage and I would say no, they lay down a track no deeper than a tire without them installed would.

As displayed by the imprint in the picture above, you can see the extra traction that chains give in addition to the tire tread without rutting up the trail.

In fresh powder, whether it be riding singletrack, snowmobile trails, bike trails or on the street, SlipNot Tractions Systems bicycle chains seemed to work the best.  For deeper snow, I did ride with lower tire pressure to give me a larger footprint with more floatation.  Riding in these conditions with SlipNot chains did help keep me rolling through areas I might have had difficulty with had I not had them installed.  They also worked worked very good on packed trails as long as they were not iced over.  For iced surfaces, I would probably go without them installed or run a lower tire pressure to get a better hold onto the trail.

SlipNot Traction System Bicycle Chains come in a variety of sizes for fat and skinny tires.  Fat tire models are available in sizes to fit 3.7"-3.8" tires on 65mm and 85mm rims but as demonstrated in this review, 4" tires on 65mm rims can be accommodated by installing the 85mm rim set.  For those rolling the big tires, there is a set that will fit 4.7" tires on 100mm rims.  Fatbike sets retail for $104.99 and are available directly from SlipNot Traction Systems.

Disclosure:  SlipNot Traction Systems provided the review sample for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.


Product Review: ColdAvenger Pro Softshell

I first heard of ColdAvenger from my friend and ColdAvenger Athlete Bonnie Moebeck, who raved about its performance in the coldest of weather.  She really put it to the test at one of the world's toughest ultra-endurance races, the Arrowhead 135, that takes place each year in the "Icebox of the Nation", International Falls, MN.  Bonnie tells me she couldn't compete having asthma without the protection that the ColdAvenger mask provides for her lungs.  With a testimonial like that, I had to try out the ColdAvenger myself.  The subzero temperatures we have been experiencing in Minnesota this winter would be perfect for testing its performance.

Image Credit: Bonnie Moebeck

I would be testing the ColdAvenger Pro Softshell half-mask by Talus Outdoor Technologies, who also makes full protection balaclava models.  The Pro Softshell is made with breathable, water-resistant next generation "soft shell" insulating fleece.  It covers the neck, face and ears providing a protective barrier from wind and cold.  The soft medical grade polyurethane ventilator is designed to warm and humidify cold winter air and is not supposed to impede breathing during rigorous activity.

Image Credit:  Bonnie Moebeck
I put the Pro Softshell to my first major test on Global Fatbike Day, December 7th where temperatures during a group ride with friends ranged from -4º to -8º F.  After nearly five hours out in the extreme cold my face, ears and neck remained nice and warm.  This initial test was enough for me to include it as a vital part of my cold weather riding gear.

One of the first things I noticed when wearing the Pro Softshell was the way it warmed inhaled air.  This made it much easier to breathe, especially during rigorous activity.  I can see how this feature alone would make it a great product for people with asthma or COPD.  Unlike other facemasks or balaclavas I have worn in the past, it kept the exhaled moisture off my skin keeping my face warm and dry.  This moisture condenses and collects in the ventilator where it drains out through ports located at the bottom.  At first I thought that the ventilator may restrict free breathing, but after many physically demanding rides and a race, it never interfered with lung function.

Hook and loop fasteners make it easy to put on and get a proper fit.  The soft fleece material that covers the face, neck and ears is very well insulating and cuts the wind entirely.  I just wish it was a little longer in the neck area so I can better tuck it into my jacket.  Otherwise the cut is perfect to be worn with goggles thus offering full face protection.  The half-mask design allows me to choose a proper head covering for the temperature.  I will wear a beanie, hat or headband for just the right insulation to stay warm without overheating.

When pairing the ColdAvenger mask with goggles in very cold temperatures, I did experience some fogging.  This usually happened when I stopped riding resulting in decreased air flow that usually keeps the goggles fog-free.  When I got rolling again, the fogging would disappear.  The other instances happened when I became overheated from increased exertion causing perspiration vapor to condense on the inside of the goggles, but I did not attribute this to exhaled moisture from the mask.  To decrease this fogging, I used this little trick and it worked pretty well.

Image Credit:  Russ Lowthian
This is a cold weather mask and using it while riding in warmer temperatures (around freezing) might cause a rider to get a little too warm, but when the temperature drops, it does the job nicely.  No wonder it's the choice of Arctic explorers and winter adventurers.  The ColdAvenger Pro Softshell has made it possible for me to stay out longer, enjoy riding in the cold more comfortably and have increased lung function in very cold conditions.  I would recommend this product to anyone that enjoys getting outside for their favorite winter activities.

The ColdAvenger Pro Softshell is available for $59.95 from the ColdAvenger Store and Penn Cycle & Fitness.  Penn Cycle also carries the ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava.  Call your nearest Penn Cycle & Fitness location for availability.

Disclosure:  Talus Outdoor Technologies provided the review sample for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.


Upcoming Winter Cycling Events for February 2014

February is loaded with winter cycling events from fatbike races, alleycats and ending with the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout. 

The Frozen Frolic Winter Race Series is a series of six races co-sponsored by Freewheel Bike and Maple Grove Cycling and takes place at two venues, Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove and Murphey-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage.  Race Three is on February 1st at Elm Creek, race four is February 8th at Murphy-Hanrehan, race five is February 22nd at Elm Creek and the series wraps up March 1st at Murphy-Hanrehan.  Registration begins at 10am and races start at 11am.  Online registration for all six races is available by visiting the link above.  Awards and door prizes will be given out after each race.  Helmets are required and studded tires are permitted.  Brought to you by the Three Rivers Park District.

The Penn Ice-Cycle Loppet is on Saturday, February 1st at the lagoon located between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.  Beginner Men heats start at 11am wrapping up with the Advanced Men finals at 1:10pm and the Women's Race (all categories) at 1:45pm.  It will be a short track race of heats in a criterium format.  Top riders from each heat advance to the next round.  Cash prizes will be awarded.  There is no race-day registration for this event.  Online registration is open through January 31st.  If you're not racing, come out and be a spectator for these exciting races.  Below is video from last year's Penn Ice-Cycle Loppet.

Saturday, February 1st is Stupor Bowl 17 put on by the Minneapolis Bike Messenger Association.  Participants will meet up at One on One Bicycle Studio for day-of registration or check-in between 11am until 1:45pm and race starts at 2pm.  Online registration is now open for only $15 and includes a t-shirt, patch, spoke card and manifest.  There are two options for this one, race for speed or race for stupor.  Check out this video from Stupor Bowl 15 to see what it's all about.


For more street racing, meet up at the bandshell on the northeast end of the Stone Arch Bridge at 6:30pm for the No Name Alleycat Race  February 2nd.  Race through the streets of Minneapolis with a manifest of unmanned stops.  Make sure to bring a bike lock, pen, lights, map and your helmet.

The Penn Cycle Fat Tire Loppet will be held on Sunday, February 2nd and starts at 2 pm.  Because this race will take place on the ski loppet course, fat tire bikes only are permitted to enter.  The race will start out at Wirth Park and Penn Cycle gift cards will be awarded to the top three male and female finishers.  Online registration is now available.  In-person registration will be available on January 31st and February 1st. 

The Winona Area Mountain Bikers will be holding the Winona Snow Bomb Fat Bike Race on Saturday, February 8th.  This is a criterium-style race that will consist of several laps around Lake Winona.  Any bike can be raced but fatbikes are recommended.  Prizes will be awarded in both Men's and Women's categories.  Online registration is available through February 7th.  Day-of registration will be available from 8:00 until 9:30am with the race starting at 10am.  Updated details can be found on the Winona Snow Bomb Facebook Event Page.

The 2014 Twin Cites Bike Swap takes place on Sunday, February 9th from 9am to 2pm in the Expo Center at the National Sports Center in Blaine.  Admission is only $5 and that gets you into 11,000 square feet of everything from mountain, BMX, road, cyclocross and vintage bicycles to equipment and parts.  All proceeds go to support the National Sports Center Velodrome.  For directions, click here.

The Fatbike Frozen Forty is back for its third year and is expected to be bigger and better than ever.  Race day is set for Saturday, February 15 and will take place at Elm Creek Park in Champlin, MN.  Online Registration is now open until February 10th and will be capped at 200 race registrants, but register soon as the roster is almost full.  The format for the race will be solo 40 mile (men and women categories) and team 40-mile (any combination of 2-4 people).  As the name implies, this is a fatbike-exclusive race requiring a tire width of at least 3.7 inches or wider.  This year's race will include a cash purse with equal payout to the first 3 places in both Men's and Women's categories.

The Frozen Gopher Fat Bike Race will be held on February 15th at the U of M Nordic Ski Center in Falcon Heights.  This is a fatbike-specific race and all bikes must have tires 3.8" or wider.  The Frozen Gopher will take place on the 6' wide groomed ski trails and consist of a series of 3-mile laps (Recreational-3 laps, Advanced-5 laps).  Pre-registered racers get a 2014 Frozen Gopher t-shirt and can register by calling the Outdoor Center at 612-625-8790 between Noon-6:00pm, Monday-Friday or email Mitch Hoffman, Race Director, at mitch@umn.edu.  Day-of registration opens at 10am and race starts at 11am.  Door prizes and awards for the top racers will be handed out after the race.

Image Credit: Tom Warner
The Cold Bear Challenge Winter Racing Series returns for the 8th year at Hillside Park in Elk River.  This fatbike race series consists of two races in January and wraps up with the third race and FatBike Fest on February 16th.  The course is a 7.8 mile loop lap of wooded and cross-country singletrack.  Race classes are Advanced Men (2 laps), Recreational Men (1 lap), Open Women (1 lap) and there will be prizes for the top three finishers in each class.  Racing starts at noon.  Entry fee is only $15 and includes Fatbike Fest.
The  Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout closes out the month in grand fashion.  The festivities take place February 28th and March 1st in Crosby and Ironton, MN.  Events include the Friday Night Dinner & Amazing Swag Raffle and Yawkey Night Fat Bike Ride & Snowshoe Tour on February 28th and the main events, the Iron Yeti SnoXross Fat Bike Race and Serpent Lake Ice Bike Race on March 1st.  Online Registration is available through February 26th.  After that participants must register on Friday, February 28th at the Ironton American Legion from 5 to 9pm.  There will be no day-of registration March 1st.  The Cuyuna Lakes Avalanche Pass will get you an all-access pass to all the events listed above.  So sign up, have a good time at the Whiteout and help support the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew, the trails and next year's Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout.


Light & Motion Rechargeable LED Lighting That Lights Up the Night

Taz 1000 headlight and Vis 180 Micro taillight

Light & Motion has been developing high quality lighting for cycling at their Monterey, California factory for over 20 years.  When it came time to choose what lighting I would like to test and use regularly, testimonials from other cyclists, Light & Motion's reputation and the fact they are designed and assembled here in the USA made their products a clear choice for me.

Stella 500 headlight

I wanted to go with a three light set-up; a powerful headlight with a wide beam, a small and lightweight helmet-mounted headlight and a compact brightly lit taillight, all with Li-ion rechargeable batteries for convenience.  This combination would suit me for whatever type of riding I would be doing, whether it be on gravel roads, singletrack and in town after dark or daytime use in traffic and on snowmobile trails.  After some research, the Taz 1000, Stella 500 and Vis 180 Micro became my selections for testing, review and everyday use.

Taz 1000

The Light & Motion Taz 1000 is a compact light that is bright as a motorcycle headlamp. It's an ideal lighting choice for just about any cyclist whether you're a commuter or mountain biker.  There are two modes that include seven lumen output settings to give you the light and run times needed for all types of ride conditions.  These include Cruise Mode:  High-1000 (1:40), Medium-500 (3:00), Low-200 (6:00), Pulse-200 (9:00), Flash-200 (18:00) and Race Mode:  Race Hi-800 (2:00), Race Lo-350 (4:00).  In addition to the flexibility of  light output, the Taz 1000 also has amber lights on each side that gets your profile seen.  These side lights can be turned on or off with a second power button.  The light beam is powered by three high power LED's configured to throw a pattern out ahead and down in front of  the the rider.

After using the Taz 1000 in many different lighting conditions I have come to really like having many choices of lumen output.  I can use the Pulse or Flash mode for daytime use, Medium or Low for urban riding, High for shorter rides at night on singletrack or gravel and Race Mode for longer run times that allows me to switch back and forth between Hi and Low.  After using it for some time, I have a come to learn how much battery life is remaining during a ride by the indicator light (lights up green, amber or red) on the main power button.   It also has a low battery warning and automatic shut off that prevents damage to the battery.  Its sealed, waterproof  to 1 meter design is one feature I like, riding in rain, freezing drizzle or snow is not a problem. 

Taz 1000-Low
Taz 1000-Medium
Taz 1000-High

I have never had a problem over driving the High beam on the Taz 1000, even when riding fast downhills.  This light really throws a beam far out ahead, even on the Race Hi and  Medium settings.

The tool free mount held very secure when I took it out on singletrack mountain bike trails and gravel roads so no adjustment was necessary due to bumps.  The Taz also swivels left and right so can be aimed properly with just about any bar set up.  Charging it can take some significant time using a .5 Amp USB slot (13 hours) so I recommend using a 1 Amp (7 hours) or 2 Amp (3.5 hours) adapter for a quicker charge rate.  I really like using High on Cruise Mode for gravel road rides out in the country at night, only problem is the battery gets run down pretty fast (1½ to 1¾ hours).  To extend ride time, I have to switch to a lower mode or use it in tandem with the helmet-mounted Stella 500.  I'm pretty impressed with this light and take it with me on all of my rides to see and be seen during day or night.

The Taz 1000 has a two-year warranty against manufacturer defects and is available from Light & Motion, Penn Cycle and other fine bike shops for $249.99.

Stella 500

The Light & Motion Stella 500 is a very compact headlight that has the versatility of being mounted on handlebars or a helmet.  It is very light weight with a focused beam and like the Taz 1000 there are two modes, Cruise Mode and Race Mode.  Long run times are what the Stella 500 is known for making it a good choice for longer rides.  Lumen output and run times are as follows:  Cruise Mode:  High-500 (2:45), Medium-275 (6:00), Low-140 (12:00), Pulse-140 (24:00) and Race Mode:  Race Hi-500 (2:45), Race Lo-275 (6:00).

Stella 500-High
Stella 500-Medium

Stella 500-Low

This is an excellent choice for commuters because of its long run times and chances are it will only need a charge once every day or two depending on the setting used.  The Stella 500 has a separate 2 cell Li-ion battery pack that is easily tucked into a jersey or jacket pocket when helmet-mounted or can be attached to a bike frame for handlebar use.  The included charger will charge the battery pack in around 2¾ hours and shuts off automatically when a full charge is achieved.  Pair this light helmet-mounted with the Taz 1000 and you really have great light setup for the darkest of nights.

I exclusively tested this light helmet-mounted and it's so lightweight that I didn't even notice it was there.  The mount for the light attaches easily using a Velcro fastener and holds tight keeping the light in place without shifting or moving.  Once the Stella 500 is attached to the mount it can be pointed up or down and swivels left and right to place the beam where you want it out in front of you.  The cord that connects to the battery pack is the perfect length for placement of the pack in my back jersey or jacket pocket.  Additional battery packs are available which is nice if I ever wanted to add a second one to bring along for those really long rides or to have an extra that is fully charged and ready to go.

Taz 1000 & Stella 500 on High
Taz 1000 & Stella 500 on High

The beam is very focused and lights up the path ahead nicely.  When riding singletrack it was easy to ride fast because the beam followed my line of sight as I rode through switchbacks and turns.  The combination of the Stella 500 and the Taz 1000 is the way to go if you do any night time off-road or gravel road riding.  It's like having car headlights on a bike.  It's tough to overdrive this set up on High in Cruise Mode.  Obstacles are seen well in advance allowing enough time to maneuver around or away from them.  With long run times, a powerful beam and helmet or bar mounting options, I would recommend the Stella 500 for commuters, road cyclists and mountain bikers alike.

The Stella 500 has a two-year warranty against manufacturer defects and is available from Light & Motion, Penn Cycle and other fine bike shops for $199.99.  Additional battery packs are available from Light & Motion and Penn Cycle for $99.99.

Taz 1000 & Stella 500 light output demonstration

Light output from Light & Motion handlebar-mounted Taz 1000 and helmet-mounted Stella 500 by themselves and in combination.  Taz 1000 (00:00-00:20) High, Medium, Low, Pulse, Flash, High.  Stella 500 (00:23-00:47) High, Medium, Low, Pulse, High.  Taz 1000/Stella 500 both on High (00:49-00:59).

Vis 180 Micro

The Light & Motion Vis 180 Micro is a bright and compact taillight that is designed to get a rider seen.  It has a 25 lumen main taillight and an amber light on each side giving it 180º of visibility.  With its locking clip it can be attached to a seat bag or backpack and a rubber mounting strap provides an option for adjustable seatpost mounting.  It has four light modes that have very long run times:  High Pulse-25 (6:00), Low Pulse-13 (12:00), High-25 (4:00) and Paceline-13 (eliminates top pulsing light) (20:00).   The Vis 180 micro is a good choice for the mountain biker, commuter and road cyclist because of its lightweight small size, bright 180º output and the convenience of a Micro USB rechargeable battery.  For road cyclists that participate in group rides, the Paceline setting is ideal because it's not blinding to following riders.

For only 25 lumens, the Vis 180 Micro emits brilliant light.  It's red LED can be seen from a long way and lights up the ground in a fan pattern behind the bike.  The side amber lights are also very bright giving me the confidence that I will be seen from all angles.  I like the versatility of mounting options it has allowing me to attach it to my seatpost, seatbag or trunk bag depending on my need.  The angle of the light can be adjusted for maximum visibility when seatpost mounting. 

Recharging the Vis 180 Micro is pretty quick at around 2 to 2½ hours and the Paceline light will go out to let me know it's done.  The long run times give me several rides out of this light on a single charge.  It has an automatic shut-off that prevents damage to the battery if I happen to run it down too far during use.  It's small size and Micro USB recharging are very convenient for me and never having to buy batteries is a big plus with this taillight.  

The Vis 180 Micro has a two-year warranty against manufacturer defects and is available from Light & Motion, Penn Cycle and other fine bike shops for $49.99.

Disclosure:  Light & Motion provided the Stella 500 and Vis 180 Micro review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.  Light & Motion did not supply the Taz 1000, it was purchased with my own money.
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