Product Reviews

P.A.C. Ultimate – $320

This is undoubtedly my favorite piece of equipment. PAC, owned by a former Toronto courier, has been making bags since 1989 and is responsible for engineering most of the modern features now standard on messenger bags industry wide. When I started planning our trip I knew there was only one company capable of making a bag comfortable and durable enough for this kind of touring. At the end of a long day of carrying 20-28lbs, my back is the only thing that doesn’t hurt. PAC features an elaborate strapping system to fit any situation with thick padding on the shoulders, rib, and waist. Unlike most bags with straps attached to the ends of the bag, PAC has the straps attached about 1/4 of the way in and adds side compression straps to keep your strap centered on your chest no matter how much or how little you are carrying. The bottom compression straps and the anti-sway strap have velco ends to tuck away neatly on the front of the bag, and the X-Strap clips back on the flap when not in use. The waist strap($34 extra) can be folded back or removed completely. This bag also includes extension straps for the main flap. At 2600 cubic inches, this bag can actually carry more volume than my 2850 cubic inch R.E.Load. Lining the front side of the main compartment are a few tight pockets sized to fit everything from notebooks to u-locks to waterbottles. Along the back of the main compartment is a divider flap which I use as a pocket for my 3L water bladder, but also works great for wet or dirty clothing. Behind that is a sleeve for the removable padded back. Every Ultimate also comes with a 6×9″ tool pouch.

Bottom Line: Probably the most expensive messenger bag on the market, but flawless and worth every penny.

P.A.C. Pro Lite Small – $229 (with X-Strap)

As a relative novice to the fixed gear scene, I have not had extensive experience with different types of messenger bags. I have used a Rickshaw, Crumpler, and a couple of different backpacks, all of which were acceptable, but none of them have been as comfortable or as functional as my PAC. Being fairly small, one of my biggest problems has been finding a bag that sits comfortably across my back and chest, particularly when carrying a lot of weight. With the exception of backpacks, most of the bags I have used left too much room across my chest, even when pulled as tight as possible. I would usually have to compensate by tightening the anti-sway strap too far, which would cause the bag to sit unevenly on my chest (and the strap would dig into the left side of my ribs). Even with the regular sized strap, I have yet to experience that problem with this bag- and PAC even offered to send me a smaller strap if the one provided was too long for my torso. For me, two features stand out the most as for making the bag comfortable- the padded back and the padding on the rib strap. I can pull the straps as hard as I need to prevent sway, and I still don’t experience any pain from straps or things in my bag digging into my body. My bag has a few less features than Jon’s, but it is still perfect for everything that I am carrying. No mesh pockets on the inside, but the two zipper pockets and Velcro compartment hold everything I need. No compression straps on the bottom, but with the size of the bag they are not necessary. I also don’t have a waist strap, but once again, I’m not carrying anything large enough that I need the extra stability- although if I needed to I could. Other than those things, the Pro Lite still has all of the same features as Jon’s Ultimate, and is still every bit as perfect as a messenger bag can be for the size and price. For $20 more you can get it in the same size as the ultimate. This bag is not currently listed on PAC’s site- e-mail them for details on ordering.

Kazane Track Frame and Fork – $600

Whether you don’t want a frame that has already been crashed or you are just too tall for a used NJS frame, Kazane’s lugged steel track frames are a great alternative to a real Keirin frame. Kazane uses Keirin specs without the stamp. Lugged with double-butted 4130 by an experienced builder in Taiwan, it’s no custom Japanese steel but it’s no Chinese assembly line either. All the frames have bright, beautiful paint jobs with gold flakes, unfortunately it could use a few more clear-coats as it didn’t take me long to get some nice scratches on it. I suppose if you use it exclusively in the velodrome it will hold up just fine. The best thing about this frame, however, is also the most important: the ride. This bike is one of the fastest and smoothest bikes I have ridden. The seat tube is nice and forgiving on rougher roads but the added stiffness of the slightly oversized down tube provides great power transfer. I had a chance to ride around Austin on this bike a few days before Nikol, and I left and was amazed at the difference between the Kazane and the Volume Cutter (also double-butted Chromo) I had been riding previously on the same roads. It felt like I floated over some of the bumps that severely jarred me on other bikes and I was effortlessly hauling ass around the city!

Bottom line: All in all, I love this bike. A lugged frame with a proven geometry. You won’t find a better ride in this price range. And rumor has it they are upgrading to name brand tubing for the next batch of frames. Keep your eyes peeled.

Spokiz 1Unhinged – $80

Spokiz are a revolutionary new style of sunglasses that combine the fastness of ski goggles with the look and feel of normal glasses. The genius of these glasses is in the hingeless frames. Spokiz runs spoke nipples attached to a cord through the frame rather than folding arms making them more durable and harder to lose than other glasses. Each pair is custom built with your choice of size and tint and the color of each piece of material.

Apparently, they are gaining popularity with everyone from kayakers to SWAT teams because I didn’t get my pair until we got to Colorado due to a back order of supplies. However, It was still great to have them because the sun is very bright at higher elevations. They worked great over or under my helmet or hat. The dark amber lenses I chose were great for dimming the sun yet still making colors appear vibrant. Peripheral vision is good and when you are hunched over in your drops looking out the top of your eyes they won’t be sliding down the tip of your nose. They are quite comfortable and feel so securely fastened I’m willing to bet they could survive a collision with a motorist (although I’m sure that that would be the least of your concerns at that point).

Bottom line: They look good, they feel good, and they are designed to survive rigorous activities.

Continental Gatorskin Hardshell – $55(folding)

I have been riding Gatorskins for a long time and always thought they were the best tire for a fixed gear. They are not too thick, they are just a really slow and evenly wearing hard compound. Even after weeks of skidding on them they still provide a smooth ride and puncture resistance. Well Continental has taken it to another level with the Gator Hardshell. This new version has everything I love about the original Gatorskin plus a thin extra layer of protection for even more puncture resistanc and a longer skid life. The only sacrifice is 10% more weight.

This tire slid down several mountain sides between Austin and Moab without a single flat our whole trip. I finally wore though my first tire coming off Vail Pass, but even then it didn’t blow out. If I hadn’t been riding on it before leaving Austin, I’m sure I could have made it to Moab on just the one tire. Without a doubt my new favorite tire.

RavX Athena – $60

I have had a tendency to wear through saddles really quickly- either because I abuse my equipment or they are simply not of the quality that I need. This saddle, despite only having it for about a month, has still held up better than anything else I have used the last couple of years, other than the Bontrager saddle I started the trip with. It is infinitely more comfortable than the Bontrager, however, and is holding up wonderfully with very little sign of wear. The middle of the saddle has great flex to it, which is what I credit most for the comfortable ride. All of the chafing and soreness that I was experiencing was eliminated almost immediately upon switching saddles.

I’m not going to get into dissecting the details and product features as I honestly would only be making a guess as to how they affect my ride (click on the link if you want to read over them yourself). All I know is that this is the single most comfortable and durable saddle I have ever used, and other than complete destruction, I have no reason to replace it.