Karen Voyer-Caravona is a some-time city cyclist living in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a founding member of Phoenix Spokes People, which is dedicated to promoting bicycling as a viable transportation option in the city of Phoenix. When she is not conspiring socialist plots against her city’s infamous car-centric culture, she is studying for her masters degree in social work at Arizona State University.
Being car-lite in Phoenix, Arizona brings many challenges, but the great cycling weather is usually and easy trade off. Except during the summer when temperatures soar well above 100 degree.
“But it’s a dry heat,” is the refrain commonly heard during the height of the summer’s scorching temperatures. Entering my second summer in Phoenix, I now understand this catch-phrase is just a means of coping, and is said tongue in cheek.
It’s hot. It’s damn hot. The reason why you don’t see anyone outside between 10 AM and after dark is that we are all protecting ourselves from the overwhelming desert sun.
Still, those of us who are car-lite, sometimes we have no other choice but to schedule mid-day appointments. Business needs to get done even when temperatures otherwise suggest an all-day, three month siesta might be a good idea.
Last year, though, I discovered biking in the high heat isn’t that bad if you do a few simple things: Carry a bottle or two of frozen water, wear light colored clothes made of wicking fabrics if at all possible, carry a sweat rag for mopping your brow, and give yourself enough time to freshen up with some wet-wipes after you arrive at your destination.
Really, the major problem I found last summer when I was out on my bike was when I had to stop for a light. Without shade, I found myself baking at traffic lights, with perspiration pouring from my forehead like an open faucet. Veteran Phoenix cyclists advised me to seek out spots of shade wherever possible when I have to wait at a light. In the dry heat, shade is the key and creating shade is a goal of Phoenix urban planners as a means to encourage greater use of public transportation, and walking and biking as a means of getting around.
Enter the Uberhood! The company tag line is “Be cool, stay dry and keep riding!”
The Uberhood is an aerodynamically designed umbrella (or parasol, if you will) that mounts to your bicycle handlebars and offering protection from sun and rain. While I’ve seen plenty of images on Copenhagen Cycle Chic of European cyclists successfully maneuvering busy city streets carrying umbrella in one hand (and sometimes holding cigarettes, cell phones and cups of espresso in the other). I’m just not that coordinated, so the Uberhood seemed like a safer alternative for me. I recently installed and tested the product with the help of my friend Lisa and here’s what we found.
Installation: Always read the directions!
In almost every product review I write for Commute by Bike, I remind the reader to always thoroughly read the directions beforehand – usually because I made the mistake of not doing this during my initial phase of product testing. Had I done this, along with consulting the informative Uberhood Website, I would have known that having a 14 mm wrench is quite essential for proper installation. Really. You’ll save yourself time and heartache if you just make sure you have the recommended sized wrench.
I strongly suggest you mount the Uberhood with the help of another person. The mounting hardware comes in several pieces and the product itself a bit awkward, so I just found having an extra set of hands extremely helpful, especially since my husband’s set of wrenches included every size but a 14 mm.
It probably took us about 20 minutes to install the mounting hardware, center stabilizer piece and the umbrella but I’m sure not having the right wrench made the process more difficult than it needed to be.
Once installed, the Uberhood rises 39 inches above the handlebar. Uberhood does not recommend the product for use on low or drop handlebars because head clearance would be limited. With the umbrella open, the product provides 53.5 inches of coverage. When the umbrella is closed and folded, the product is about 13 inches above the handlebar, which for me is not ideal and a potential safety problem that I’ll discuss later.
Hitting the road with my traveling shade structure
Because I found that my women’s Breezer had a flat tire that morning, I decided to test the product on my husband’s larger diamond-frame model. Not ideal for me, but I don’t think it affected my experience of the Uberhood.
My immediate reaction to the product was feeling discombobulated by having the umbrella stem interfering with my field of vision. The stem didn’t create blind spots; I just had to learn to look past it and pretend it wasn’t there.
The next thing I had to contend with were the two cyclists down the street headed toward me and their good-natured teasing at the sight of an umbrella attached to my handlebars. I have to admit, I felt a little bit like the safety-obsessed cyclist wearing a head-to-toe safety green and reflective fabrics adorned with no less than 20 blinky lights.
If you are one who prefers to move through life without attracting a whole lot of attention, this product may cause social anxiety. On the other hand… I was shaded. And I loved it!
My head, shoulders, upper back and arms were completely protected from the sun’s rays, which would have otherwise been beating down upon me. I especially appreciated this at stop lights where the sun and heat just seems to intensify.
I tested the product on a day with a moderate breeze. I was a little worried about being blown over by sudden gusts of wind catching on to the umbrella. My fears did not materialize, however. Although, Uberhood says that the product can withstand high winds, I don’t think that I’d use it during 50 mph winds, but I tend to stay off my bike in those conditions anyway.
Since, I’ve had the product we haven’t had any rain conditions that I’ve been able to test it in. With Monsoon season coming up mid-summer, I’m certain to do so however. I don’t think it will provide sufficient coverage for intense, blowing monsoon rains but I’m pretty confident the product will be helpful during periods of light, continuous rains. I will probably try and combine the Uberhood with the Cleverhood rain poncho I tested last year.
The Uberhood appears to be a well constructed product and not at all flimsy. The mounting system and mid-stem stabilizer were very secure.
For $59, it offers much needed function for the daily bike commuter, and comes in four attractive colors. For people who get around almost exclusively by bike, I’d say this product is almost a must. I will definitely be using it this summer.
I’m a little concerned that the umbrella will be too tall when open to use cover pedestrian and bike bridges that cross Interstate-10 so I’ll likely have to stop and fold it before crossing. I’m also concerned that product could get caught on low hanging tree branches along some of my routes thus necessitating that I move out of the bike lane.
Suggestions for further product development
I mentioned earlier that I have some safety concerns about the product when it is folded closed on the handlebar. I’m just a little nervous that if I have to come to a sudden stop, or was thrown over the handlebars, the projecting umbrella would put my eye out. I can just hear my mother’s warning “You could put your eye out!” so maybe I internalized that message too much. Regardless, I’d rather be able to easily remove the entire stem from the handlebar when not in use and toss it in my basket or pannier.
Which brings me to my next suggestion: I just hate the mounting system. It was a hassle to install, requiring a second set of hands, and those aren’t always available.
I can’t just quickly remove the mounting system from my bike, either. Instead, I have to carry around a 14mm wrench. I have enough to carry around without having to worry about carrying around another tool. I will carry around an Allen wrench but nothing more. Uberhood states on their website that they are searching for a more ideal mounting system, and I hope they are successful.
I’d like to see a mounting system made of the same materials as the stabilizer, and designed with some type of quick release mechanism so that they entire system can be removed from the handlebar without tools.
The current system is just ugly, and Uberhood admits it can scratch the finish of the handlebar. For me, ease of use and aesthetics are deal breakers. I don’t want to break out a set of tools to remove hardware, and I can’t be happy leaving ugly, clunky, steel hardware on handlebars when I’m not using the product. Leaving the mounting system on my handlebars leaves less room for other items that I might need to attach such as a bike basket or a coffee cup holder.
I do want to use this product but I will be less likely to do so if it is not easier to attach and remove. For the sake of protecting my nose, neck and shoulders from a blistering sunburn, I hope Uberhood finds a solution quickly.