Appalachian Motorcycle Pen Battle: Round 1

12 06 2011

Round 1, because all of these pens will need to be re-evaluated again after more motorcycling and abuse. These are just the results from a single 4-day motorcycle trip.

You will recall the intended contenders:

The Fisher Space Pen I've tested extensively before. It (or more accurately, a similar model not pictured above) was my default motorcycle pen. That's the standard to beat.

I switched from the basic bullet-style Space pen to one with a Maglite attached both for functionality (hey! I have a pen AND a flashlight! I’m a wizard!) and for the simple fact that I had a hard time finding the slippery little standard Space Pen in my jacket pocket. The clip my standard Space Pen came with is of no help; it has come off so many times in bags and pockets that its whereabouts currently remain unknown. But I rarely want to pull the whole pen-and-flashlight operation out of my pocket; doing so tends to launch a cascade of receipts to the ground. Using the Space Pen with no cap on, it’s too small to comfortably wield and is a bit slippery. A different pen was needed. Let’s take a look at the Fuel Log from my trip and get into the good and bad with each of these pens.

Yes, this is a Moleskine info book. In spite of my loathing of this paper, it /is/ conveniently pre-tabbed; something I'm far too lazy to do to a book with good paper.

Riding over to meet up with my family Thursday evening I used my Space Pen, just for reference.

The most ineffective nunchucks I own

Day One featured use of the Tombow Airpress.

Designed for rugged Japanese construction workers. And also me.

What I like: pen is lightweight, has a decently sturdy and secure clip, compact body, satisfying plunger mechanism. The whole surface of the body is a kind of non-slip rubber, and there’s a lanyard clip. There are a lot of little features here. And it’s not so expensive that I’d be outlandishly upset at losing this off the side of a mountain.

What I don’t like: I want the clip to be even sturdier. Sturdy enough that I feel like I could ride with it clipped in my pocket, instead of zipped securely away. And what is that black arrow piece on the clip for? It confounds me.

Judgment: I wonder how much abuse it will stand up to. I worry it would probably melt if I accidentally dropped it on the motorcycle and it hit something hot. At the same time, I think it has the right kind of look and function for what I need it for. Definitely one to keep around.

Day two  I brought out the Lamy Pico.

I have a lot to say about this one

What I like: Design, design, design. The size is fantastically compact, very low-profile in the pocket, but expands to a full-size pen:

Looks pretty cool, right?

This pen has that screaming jet-black aesthetic you expect from motorcycle things. It’s an item where, eventually, you’ll pull it out to write something down and get asked about it. The body is thick, which makes it easier to hold with gloves on, and it has a nice weight to give it presence.

What I don’t like about the design: one, there have been several times where I pushed the end in but didn’t push it in enough to get the mechanism to catch. You don’t look very cool when you have to push the end of your pen any more than once to get pen functionality. Two: no clip. What Lamy could do, however, is take that little silver logo bit and make it out of a powerful magnet, with the word “LAMY” recessed into the metal. Then you could at least magnetically clip the pen to your bike. I say this because I drove halfway to Asheville with a magnetic pocket tire pressure gauge on the side of my bike, and did not notice till I stopped for gas and saw it was still there. Just a thought.

What I really don’t like: The ballpoint cartridge is crap. I don’t think there was a single time where I started to write with it that it wanted to write right off the bat. Which brings me to another thing I really don’t like: this pen is ludicrously expensive for a ballpoint pen, especially one with a shoddy ballpoint cartridge. And being so pricey, I think I’d have a small heart attack if I lost this pen.

Judgment: The pen is made to look cool and feel cool, but not actually be worth more than a Bic disposable in terms of writing performance. Unfortunately, the cartridge for the pen is oddly shaped, so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to find a better cartridge to hack into the pen to make the price worthwhile. Accept this pen as a gift, but don’t buy one for yourself.



Day Three I intended to use the Uni Power Tank, but first ended up using my Lamy Vista EF nib with Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses (I wanted to see how a fountain pen would do in my pocket on a hot summer day). Fountain pen ink on Moleskine paper was as suboptimal as you’d expect, but I otherwise saw no difference in performance of the pen. What I really liked about the Lamy Vista was the clip.

I think this clip alone is worth the cost of an entire Lamy Pico

The way the end bevels up makes it super easy to slip onto a pocket, but the way the rest of the clip hugs the barrel makes it reassuringly secure. I rode with the Vista clipped upright in an unzipped pocket and had no worries about it flying away.

Alas, Day Three was a short ride; I only fueled up once, so I had to use the Uni Power Tank to note my mileage at the end of the day.

Is the grip made of tires? It might as well be. Nothing is gonna slip on that grip; it is diametrically opposed to the common banana peel. They are like matter and anti-matter; touching the grip of a Uni Power Tank to a grounded banana peel could destroy the universe.

What I like: writes beautifully every time, solid and dark. Comes out looking very fine for an 0.7mm, which I am a fan of. I’d say, of the bunch, the Uni Power Tank has the unique distinction of both writing the best, and being the most inexpensive. I could stand at an overlook and throw dozens of these pens into a ravine and STILL buy more because it would be a pen worth having. And the grip is pretty neat.

What I don’t like: while it’s well designed for a great, inexpensive pen, I want something with a bit more oomph and dollar signs in the design. I want to put a little more money down and have a designated Motorcycle Pen. If we could put the insides of a Uni Power Tank inside the Lamy Pico, and put the Lamy Vista’s clip on all that, then we’d have exactly what I want. At the very least, I’d like a pen that’s a little shorter than the Power Tank, and with some kind of usable clip in place of the standard plastic snap-off affair.

Judgment: This pen is cheap enough and writes well enough in multiple conditions that I think it’s worth keeping a few in my saddlebags. It writes well enough to be the primary pen, but there’s a bit more I’d like from the aesthetic.

Day four I don’t remember what pen I used, unfortunately (I didn’t write down which pen I was using at the time, oops). Instead, I’ll wrap this up by noting that I didn’t get a chance to try the Sharpie pen :( and I’d like to give an honorable mention to the Ohto Capstick. The Ohto Capstick writes wonderfully and has an excellent, compact design, but if I lose the cap…

The ingenious retracting feature makes the cap LITERALLY INDISPENSABLE; you lose the cap, you might as well switch to another pen.

I can’t have my primary pen contain an integral part that’s sooo easy to lose.

As it stands, every one of the four main pens I tested (Airpress, Pico, Vista, and Power Tank) had enough good things going for them to save them from total expulsion, but no pen had everything I was looking for. As it stands, I’ll probably work on a rotation of these main four (perhaps getting my hands on an EF white body Lamy Safari with Noodler’s Polar Blue, and trying to jam every tiny cartridge under the sun into the Pico until I find something better or give up in despair), plus perhaps a nice orange-body Ohto Pieni in lieu of the Capstick. After a year of abuse, I’ll do an update to see which pens have ultimately fared better than the others. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’ll add them in to the rotation!

In order of appearance:
Tombow AirPress Ballpoint Pen – 0.7 mm – Black Body at JetPens
Lamy Pico Pocket Size Extendable Ballpoint Pen – Medium Point – Black Body at JetPens
Lamy Vista Fountain Pen with Extra Fine Nib (no link because I paid full price for mine in a fancy pen store…if you want this one, you can do your own work to find it at a good price! :P )
Noodler’s Ink Black Swan in Australian Roses Bottled Ink at Goldspot Pens
Uni-ball Power Tank Ballpoint Pen – 0.7 mm – Black Body – Black Ink at JetPens
Honorable Mention: Ohto Capstick Cap-Knock Needle Point Ballpoint Pen – 0.5 mm – Red Cap / Black Body at JetPens




5 responses

12 06 2011

Very nice comparo! Now you should take those pens hiking.

20 06 2011
A Few Random Morning Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge

[…] Fountain Pens / Writing. Ink Nouveau: Beyond the Pen: Mail Art Ink Links – The Pen Addict Drawing with the new Aqua Lamy and Iroshizuku Ku- Jaku Kaweco Sport Classic Fountain Pen Pocket Blonde: Rhodia Pad Holder No 16 with Pen Hook J. Herbin, Lamy, and Starbucks Go to CamSur and Caramoan Appalachian Motorcycle Pen Battle: Round 1 […]

24 03 2012
Lamy Pico Pocket Size Extendable Ballpoint Pen – 0.7 mm Medium Point – Black Body « No Pen Intended

[…] only design feature I’m currently not thrilled with is the logo. I stand by what I suggested previously: make it flush with the body, recessed into the metal, and make it out of a powerful magnet so I […]

14 02 2014
Ohto Capstick Cap-Knock Needle Point Ballpoint Pen – 0.5 mm – Red Cap / Black Body | No Pen Intended

[…] the cap—then you can’t use the pen (which is ultimately why I decided against making this a motorcycling pen…I could see a fumbling of gloves, and a cap dropping off the side of a mountain, never to be […]

27 11 2014
Tombow AirPress Pen – White (Review & Giveaway) | No Pen Intended

[…] had some exposure to the AirPress before, evaluating it as a potential motorcycling pen, but I forgot to get around to actually reviewing […]

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