Quick Review: Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus Rear Trunk Bag

A couple of years ago I decided to get a rack on my Trek FX7.2 to enable me to carry more stuff when using my bike for commuting or running errands. Since my bike is a Trek, I got a Bontrager rack. However, to save a few dollars I ended up getting some semi-decent bike panniers from Banjo Bros. to tie me over until I figured out what I really wanted.

This past April, there was a sale going on at Freewheel Bike on the Bontrager trunk bags. My friend Chuck has an Interchange bag and loves it. So I decided to head over to the store and check out the selection and see if I found something I liked. I did some examinations of the three different models, and as soon as I showed my wife the features on the Deluxe, she insisted I invest in the higher end model. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier.

DSC09244The Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus rear trunk bag is the top of their Interchange line. The Interchange series simply means that it hooks into a Bontrager rack easily and quickly, without any velcro straps. The front of the bag hooks into the front metal loop on the rack and then it clips into place on the rear. It’s a super simple system, and it’s solid and foolproof.

The main compartment is around 10L of capacity, and I use it to store all the essential bike gear, such as tire levers, CO2 canisters, and a spare tube. The beauty though, of this model, is the expanding side panniers that allow you to increase your total storage to a full 36L. You unzip the side pockets, and they expand into a full pannier on each side that velcro’s to your frame at the bottom. It’s quick and easy to expand, as well as simple to pack away again.

DSC09247I used this rack for a shopping trip this past Sunday and the expanding capacity was perfect. I used a single pannier for my laptop on the way down to the co-op and coffee shop, but then once I finished shopping I extended the other pannier and loaded it down with groceries. I also had a fair amount of space left over in the main trunk that I could use as well. It was the perfect amount of space for a small grocery shopping trip. If I hadn’t had my laptop with me, I could have even fit more into my bags, but as luck would have it, I didn’t need the additional space.

DSC09246-2My bike was pretty weighed down by the time I started heading back home, but the bag stayed put, and I never noticed any type of rattling as I rode. As I rode I also encountered another wonderful feature of this bag… a rain cover. I came across a short sprinkle on my journey, but all I had to do with pause quickly and pull out the hidden rain cover that is stored under the lid. It doesn’t cover the side bags, but the main trunk stayed nice and dry.

Despite the expense, I can’t say enough good things about this bag. I love not needing the full panniers for most casual rides, but love the flexibility to expand my storage when I need it. I’d recommend keeping your eye out for a sale to ease the sticker shock, but even at full price, it’s a great piece of gear that I hope to use for a long, long time.

Shoe Review: Saucony Peregrine 7 ICE

This past winter I was looking for a new trail shoe for my runs on the local trails, as well as something that I could use on the roads around my house when they’re in sorry shape from a big winter snow or ice storm. I came across the Saucony Peregrine 7 ICE shoes when searching online, and since they were on sale, I decided to pick them up and give them a try over the colder months. Although this review is focusing on the version 7 of the shoes, there doesn’t appear to be many changes in the new Peregrine 8 ICE, so I would expect that everything I’ll say here applies, minus the rock plate that left the Peregrine for the v8 edition.

One of the things that appealed to me about the idea of the ICE shoes was the Vibram Arctic Grip outsole, which claims to be able to grip ice much better than a regular outsole. I got a chance to run on ice a little this winter, and found that the shoe performed OK, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations when it came to gripping ice. Maybe that’s because I never noticed the times when it added grip, but overall I still felt like I had to be somewhat careful, or switch over to using my screw shoes, for really icy conditions.

However, I did find one scenario where these shoes completely blew away my expectations… wet and slippery boardwalks. As spring dawned on the area, I found myself at a local trail that has many boardwalks along it. These were all soaking wet which usually means that they’re phenomenally slippery. However, the Peregrine 7 ICE shoes acted like sandpaper and gripped the wood amazingly. I still took my time and was careful on the boardwalks, but at no point did I ever feel even a bit of slippage. It was really amazing, although an unintended benefit of the shoe.

From a fit and comfort perspective, these shoes are what you’d expect from the Peregrine line. They’re soft and light, and feel nice and responsive. The standard lugs are well sized for light trails, and the shoes react well when climbing and turning around rocks and roots. With a 4mm drop, the shoes feel low, but still not zero-drop territory. I never had any ankle or Achilles trouble, despite being more of an 8mm guy.

I’m on the fence as to if I would buy these again. They got a lot of use this winter, and I loved wearing them, but I’m not sure the ICE technology was worth the extra premium (had I not gotten them on sale). If you can find these on clearance, you can’t go wrong, as they’re a solid trail shoe. You might get some benefit from the ICE protection, but even if you don’t, they still will give you many miles of durable use.

Fat Bike, meet Bike Rack

One of the things that I discovered very quickly after getting my fat bike was that my old Yakima Holdup bike rack wouldn’t work anymore. The wheel trays were just too small for a fat bike tire, and all of the modifications I saw online, to make it work, were larger than I wanted to tackle. They also looked like something that wasn’t very stable, and I don’t want my bike falling off my car… ever.

Thus began the process for trying to find a new rack that would work with fat tires. First though I had to sell the old one to help fund this new rack. It took over a month to sell the old Holdup, but eventually I found a buyer. Now I just had to decide on what rack to purchase next. I did a ton of research, but decided to go with the default upgrade, the Yakima Holdup Evo. We had some gift cards at REI and decided to go ahead and purchase the rack there. I brought it home and started assembly.

img_4058It was very familiar to the old Holdup, and everything made sense, except for one small thing. The anti-rattle mechanism was no longer a simple bolt in the receiver, it was a weird mechanism that involved a long threaded screw and a piece of metal that was supposed to lock the rack to the receiver. However, I just couldn’t get it to work right. I managed to secure it once, but after that I wasn’t able to get it to reliably fasten anymore. The piece of metal that serves as the brace kept sliding into the casing of the hitch mount, and I couldn’t get it to stick.

img_4057I know some people like this mount style, but I think the one I had was just plain defective. I just didn’t like the complexity of it, and decided I didn’t want to have to deal with it. So I brought the rack back to the store, and decided to try out a Thule, specifically the T2 Classic. Years ago the Thule line was on my radar, along with the Yakima, and so I was familiar with the brand, and it seemed like just as solid of a rack.

img_4063My only qualm was that the T2 Classic didn’t come with all of the locking mechanisms. Initially, it looked like I would have to spend another $60-$80 to get locks that would secure the bike AND the hitch. However, after doing some research, I discovered that all I actually needed to do was spend $20 to get two additional key cores that were identical to the keys that came with the rack. This ended up making the T2 Classic cheaper than the Holdup Evo, which is a solid win in my book. Plus, the race used a simple anti-rattle bolt, instead of a fancy locking mechanism.

img_4065I brought home the Thule and got it assembled. Frankly, it was a lot easier than the Yakima. I was able to assemble it in a fraction of the time, and I didn’t have to do any weird balancing acts to attach certain parts. Within an hour I had everything locked and loaded on the car and I tested to make sure the bike fit like it should. Everything looked good, and the next morning it got it’s first workout, as I got a ride back from my wife’s choir gig. I’m pleased to report that my bike made it home just fine.

The Thule also has the great feature of being able to tilt backwards, giving access to the trunk of my vehicle without having to remove the bikes. The construction felt sturdy, although some of the mechanisms felt stiff. I’m assuming that will soften up more in time. The arm locks felt solid and clicked into place without any issues, and the ratchet straps worked as advertised. I did have to follow the instructions to make the ratchet strap work for my fat tire, but that took no more than 1 minute to adjust.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my purchase, and I’m looking forward to getting out more often with the fat bike now. In fact, we’re getting a ton more snow this weekend, so perhaps Sunday will be another adventure ride!

Catit Flower Fountain

For those of you who are not pet owners, this post will probably be silly and boring, but for those of us with a couple of feline companions, I want to share our experience with a cat water fountain we’ve been using for a month or so. It’s called the Catit Flower Fountain, and it is an electronic, filtered, water fountain designed for cats.

Just like humans, it’s important for cats to get enough water. Cats also don’t care for water that’s been sitting in a dish all day getting stale, much like humans as well. If you’ve ever experienced your cat jumping up onto the bathroom sink to drink water from the faucet when you turn it on you know know true this is. The Catit Flower Fountain helps with this by continually running  water through a small pump on the inside, which also has a simple filter to keep the water clean. You can add and remove parts from the flower to give a different level and type of flow until you find one that works for you and your cat.

img_0422We’ve been using this for a month or so and we’ve noticed a marked difference. In particular, we’ve found that our cats don’t touch their secondary water dishes nearly as much anymore. They spend their nights in the basement, and previously, those water dishes would often be dry in the morning. Ever since we started having the Catit available they’ve stopped needing to drain those dishes dry. We’ve also seen a marked decrease in their desire to drink from the bathroom sink or tub, which used to be a daily occurrence.

The Catit is relatively quiet, but if you don’t have the pump seated firmly you may get some undesirable buzzing. It took a little bit of fiddling for us to get ours to be as quiet as we wanted. We also experimented with the different flower attachments, and found that taking out the center flower piece worked best for getting the cats some pooled water in addition to the flowing. Every cat is different, but the ability to adjust the product makes it very flexible.

Needless to say we’ve been very happy with the fountain. It’s given our cats a lot fresher water than we could provide on our own, and it’s helped keep them hydrated and healthy. I’d highly recommend it for other cats, and encourage you to check out their self feeder as well if you have a cat that maybe eats their food too quickly.

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