Lights, no camera, action

This isn’t a discussion of lights generally. Though I will deal with what you need to be legal. This is a discussion of the lights that I have and why I chose them. Since publishing this first I’ve been asked to comment on the purposes of “seeing v being seen.” To an extent the rear lights I’ve reviewed here will get you seen. And them some. The fronts will let you see very well indeed. Because of that they also fulfil the brief of being seen. But it’s a good theme and one I hope to come back to with a part 2 of this review incorporating some real world pictures and videos.

I have each of the above lights attached to either my bike or me. My commute is lengthy and even if the return trip starts in the light it often ends in the dark. I can’t put a premium on survival so I’ve developed, over the years, a combination that I feel offers me as much protection as I can. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty much as good as I can make it. I’ll tell you how I’d improve it later on. But first we need to talk about the law.

Old law for modern solutions

Cycling law, as it relates to safety requirements, and specifically lighting,  is outdated. It exists from a time when we used to attach Ever Ready lights to brackets on our forks and seat stays. I used to use an Ever Ready front light on Halloween when playing in the lane at the rear of our house. My hollowed out swede with candle produced almost as much lighting.

The main piece of legislation, (the Road and Vehicle Lighting Regulations (RVLR)) came into force in 1989. That was well before LED’s became the go to cycling lamp of choice. Lighting technology from 1989 is like a bygone age. The law has been amended a number of times since. But it’s more a case of tinkering away at the edges. There is no real recognition of the pace of technology. The overall focus is safety. And that’s rightly the case. But it’s a hotch pitch of references to BS standards (or equivalents), candela and other technicalities. It’s a rigid approach to safety.

The RVLR requires a cyclist to be lit between sunset and sunrise. That’s not darkness. Indeed, in the summer, it may still be light when the sun goes over the horizon. Turn your lights on or you may get stopped.

Remember that motorists only need to turn their headlights on in actual darkness. They can drive with sidelights on after sunset until it gets dark. If you’re a cyclist, once its sunset you’ll need all your lights on. So, on the assumption that the sun has disappeared below the horizon, what do you need to comply?

Reflectors first. You need to have a BS standard red one at the rear at a certain height. That’s between 250mm and 900mm. That’s right, almost a metre at it’s highest. Most people stick one on the seatpost. But that’s a real estate issue. What if your rear light is already there? You may not have the space. I have mudguards on my commuter. There’s a reflector on the rear of the rear guard just above 250mm. It’s not marked to BS standard though but it should be enough. Enough for what? Well I’ll deal with that a little later.

You don’t need a white front reflector despite the fact that new bikes come with them. You don’t need wheel reflectors either but may feel that they help. Every little helps after all. I have reflective sidewalls on my tyres (Vittoria Hyper Voyager) and I find that a more effective approach than annoying fragile, noisy wheel reflectors.

You also need amber pedal reflectors if your bike was built after 1985. You need 4 of them. So a pair for each pedal, once facing forward, one facing rear.  The practical effect of that is you need them because your bike is unlikely to be that old. That’s some of the weirdness of the RVLR right there. It this is about safety why should an older bike get away with it? It may be that older bikes couldn’t easily fit them. A similar issue to cars of a certain age not needing retrospective fitting of seat belts.

Ironically it’s not old bikes that are affected by this rule. It’s modern ones. If you are one of the large amount of cyclists who use lipless pedals then it’s likely that you won’t have any reflectors. The surface of the pedal is too small.  There are attachments available so that you can you can turn your Shimano (other brands are available) SPD pedal into a RVLR compliant pedal with the addition of some clip on reflectors, but it’s a faff. You can do it for road pedals as well. But you’re generally limited to one rear facing on each pedal. That contravenes the RVLR. It’s useful but it isn’t legal. Of course, the reality is that much of the clipless market exists between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Using those pedals is perfectly legal then. After hours you need reflectors. You can substitute options in here such as reflective tape, or even flashing ankle bracelets. Those options might be even more visible but they are not a legal replacement option.

Then you need lights. They need to be marked to BS standard if capable of emitting a steady light or, if only capable of emitting a flashing light, rated to 4 candela. I have no idea what 4 candela is. But from a quick google it’s not very much. It’s also quite hard to find one. Most packaging tells you how many lumens a light is and you’re going to have to do some science to figure out whether you have the requisite candela output. My view is don’t worry about it. Most lights to commute with, to see with, have a solid and flashing mode. So we’re back to the need to comply with the the BS standard.

Sadly, BS standard doesn’t seem to be what it once was with very few firms bothering to go through any sort of certification process. Outdated law, modern technology. You can find lights marked with the standard. They are often cheap and are, crucially, legal. You might also conclude that they are relatively ineffective. You might be able to be seen with them but  you may well not be able to see with them. Finding information on whether your selected light is BS standard is often difficult. If it’s not there, then assume it isn’t.

There is a way around this. If you can find something certified as meeting German light regulations then buy that. That will meet the definition of equivalent standard. The German market is tightly controlled and you can be certain that a light available for sale there will meet the test of equivalence. I would exercise some caution in that approach. One of the drivers for the German approach is the need to protect other drivers from unsuitably high outputs and dazzle which may cause accidents. That means that the outputs of German lights are lower than many of the available lights in the UK. You may consider that they are not suitable for your commuting because they aren’t bright enough. That’s a lengthy discussion to have. For now let’s move on.

Clear as mud then. Get something that’s not easy to find and which may not work all that well. Indeed, if you fitted an eBay Ever Ready at the front and rear you will comply with the RVLR. And might find yourself dead next week. It’s a bit of a quandary.

Breaking the law

So it’s here we need to think about what breaching the RVLR means. It’s a criminal offence. Not one of those proper ones though. It’s one of those quasi civil criminal offences that brings you a fine. It’s a summary only offence in the Magistrate’s Court. Though in most cases you’ll get a warning or a fixed penalty notice. That’s the risk. The real world purpose is to ensure some sort of compliance. You’re unlikely to get fined for absent pedal reflectors or the absence of a BS standard light if you are running good, decent alternatives. Certainly if you’re wearing a helmet and high vis, neither of which are legally required, you’re likely to be overlooked 😉

But it’s the civil law that could potentially create the bigger issues. If you get knocked off, how does non compliance with the RVLR apply? Well in UK civil law, if you’re injured, the other party may claim that you contributed to your injuries through your own negligence. That’s called contributory negligence. If you’re injured you face arguments from the other party that your actions might amount of contributory negligence. Unless you can settle then you proceed to trial and if the judge accepts that your actions were in some way to “blame” then your damages will be reduced by a certain percentage to take that into account.

There’s not a huge amount of guidance in relation to cyclists actions generally. There’s some obiter on helmet use in Smith v Finch. No Court has yet definitely deal with lack of lights. In Phethean-Hubble v Coles the cyclist was heavily penalised for his actions of jumping off the pavement onto the road. But the Judge accepted he could be plainly seen and his lack of lights was not causative of his accident and/or injury. That’s helpful. My professional view is that if you are properly lit within the spirit of what the law requires you will be protected. Technical breaches of the RVLR will not be enough to establish that you are in any way at fault. Indeed, there’s an argument that complying with the RVLR with a set of Ever Ready lights might be foolish and lead to arguments that you could not been seen.

So, let’s deal with the lights I chose. None of them are BS standard. They all exceed the requirements of the German market. I don’t consider that even an over zealous policemen would stop me. I don’t consider that a judge would find me contributory negligent for using them. I believe that they are a good balance to ensure that I make it to my destination every day.

Forgive me for starting at the rear. It’s important to maximise your visibility there to ensure that you are seen as early as possible. It’s best to run with more than one light so as to provide more visibility. It also leaves you with a back up should one fail. USB recharging is arguably better in many respects but don’t underestimate the risk of forgetting to charge your lights and balance against that the ability to carry a spare battery.

See Sense 125see sense

My main light is a See Sense 125 lumens (version 1). There’s a new version coming this month called the Ikon. I hope to test that. The see sense isn’t a cheap light but it is an enormously effective one. It’s a smart light and it does things that most other lights just don’t do. It flashes at a decent rate when you’re cycling and, as you’d expect from 125 lumens, is very bright. You could happily run in the daylight with it as well. There’s an argument that it is too bright and might annoy waiting traffic and that’s a debate worth having. But, for now, let’s leave this at the fact that it gets me seen. If I’m seen I generally make it home.

What else does it do? Well, this is the techy bit. It changes behaviour depending on what’s happening in relation to itself and the world around it. If you’re tootling along on a dark road then it’s happily flashing away in a relatively calm manner. If you brake then the accelerometer senses this and starts flashing quicker. Effectively it’s a brake light. Now, any driver behind may not know this, but in my view the increased rate of flash is a useful cognitive indicator. Let’s go back to that dark road. If your light senses a car’s headlights coming from behind it starts to do its flashy thing again. So it’s light sensing. Stop at some lights and it goes back into calm mode. Pull off, it speeds up until you’ve once again reached cruising speed. And the beauty of all of this is you just leave it alone to do all of this. No interference. It feels safer than other options. I have no science to base that on. It’s anecdotal. But I would not ride without it.

The construction is odd on the face of it. There are no on and off buttons. It’s also auto off. You leave your bike alone and it turns itself off. Move your bike, back on it comes. If you want to turn it off you point the light at the floor. To turn it on you rotate it left/right 3-4 times. You can do all of those actions when it’s on the bike. There’s a small rubber flap over the charging socket. I’ve been running mine for over a year and the build has been flawless.

There are other modes. You can have it steady, flash, reduced flash, different patterns etc. Getting to those is difficult. There’s a manual with a flow chart of how you have to move the light to access them. It takes a bit of patience. But, the stock setting is so perfect I don’t bother. A full charge lasts about a week or more, which is impressive. There’s a slightly less powerful version available and a mega powerful (195 lumen) one. The latter is possibly unnecessary with my view.

The see sense is also quite visible from the side and that’s very useful on junctions and roundabouts.Fitting is easy. It’s the traditional wrap around big rubber band thingy. There are several notches on the band to make it fit snugly to its destination of choice. The rear of the light has a slightly curved surface that matches the curve of a seatpost. It may fit an aero seatpost, it may not. The makers suggest using sugru to fashion a holder if you’re desperate to get a perfect fit. It won’t fit so well on the seat stay as it’s bit bulky for that overall. But it stays nicely connected to your seatpost in all conditions.

There’s a new model coming with smart phone connectivity. Still does all the same things as the old one. But more features like pothole reporting and the like. The really great addition to the new model is that you can remotely change all of the settings with your smart phone. You can buy the original see sense lights here, the original rear ranging from £44.99 to £79.99. The new ikon is priced higher, but looks like a great piece of kit.

To buy one click here

I’ll be clear that for me this is a piece of essential kit. One of the few pieces of cycling kit that I’ve owned and been absolutely happy with. And one which I will own for a long time.

Lezyne Strip Drive Prostrip drive

To buy one click here

For specifications click here

I bought this to supplement the see sense. It’s a mega bright multi pattern light which is mountable in a number of different places. It’s USB chargeable and in its most bright flashing mode will last around 5 hours. So my commute demands it be charged every 2-3 days or so.

You could definitely use this as your main rear. Indeed, that’s what it’s designed to be. I talked earlier on about the cycling light arms race. It wasn’t so long ago that 50 lumens was the normal high setting on many lights. This puts out 100 lumens. That’s a lot but not quite as much as the see sense above though it’s still very punchy. There’s an argument that such lighting is anti social and dangerous. Indeed it’s notable that most Lezyne products don’t meet the German regulations at all. They now sell a bespoke micro drive StVZO. It puts out 5 lumens. But let’s leave that argument aside. You have to decide on whether you feel that something like the Strip Drive provides you with a decent amount of protection. One of the settings is Night Rider mode. The lights run in sequence like the front of Kitt. That’s pretty cool, right?

Mounting the strip drive is the same as the see sense. Grooved back and rubber band, tighten as appropriate. The groove is deeper and less wide. It stays still on a seat post but doesn’t really fit it. But it really excels on a seat stay where the groove on the back is of a similar thickness. That’s where I’ve been attaching mine (on the right hand side). I find that this is useful when tiled very slightly off centre. It still lets the cars behind know you’re there but it also provides a reference point (or target) when passing junctions. You could, if you were feeling flush, run one on both seat stays. But you could get into a little bit of flash overkill. I run mine less bright than the see sense and with a constant slow flash. It lasts for ages and is nicely visible. It’s clearly very waterproof and be of good quality.

In terms of whether its worth it I’d say that it’s properly constructed, lasts for ages, has a good USB method of charing and is effective. It’s worth the money. I can’t say whether it’s 5 times better than a Smart Lunar from Planet X but I’m quite happy with the investment. When the summer comes I think it will make a good day running light on my best bike.

Fibre Flare Shorty (non USB)

fibre

Click here for tech specs

Click here to buy the red one

The Fibre flare is an oddity. It’s a sort of flexible tube. But you can’t flex it too much as it will break. They do sell a more flexible version for hanging on a helmet. There’s also a USB one. Mine is the blue version and it’s the shorter one. It takes AAA batteries, one on each end. It has two slotted hooks on each end and some rubber attachments. You slide the rubber attachments onto the hooks and wrap them round, for example, the seat stay. Indeed, these don’t really work on a seatpost. They are too long. They work best on seat stays, forks and down tubes. They cannot possibly be a light to light your way. Their purpose is simply about being visible. There are only two modes, solid and flash.

I used to have a few of these. They don’t last for years. Whilst the rubber coating is effective at keeping rain and road spray out, the circuits do eventually give up. Leaving batteries in there over the winter will only exacerbate this. They are of decent quality rather than being over engineered like a Lezyne product.

This might sound negative. It isn’t meant to be, it’s simply a practical observation. The reason why I like these lights is because they are so damn visible. Even the short version here can be seen from a good distance. There is a very short version called the micro. That offers nothing and should be avoided.

I attach a fibre flare to the left hand seat stay. Again, I angle it slightly outwards. I leave it on solid and it’s like a giant glow stick. Good from the the rear. Great from the side. It’s just one more useful thing to have in the armoury. The hooks are useful. You can detach the rubber bands and hang this from clothing or a rucksack. It hangs down nicely. It’s available in red, green, blue or yellow. I’ve pictured the blue because it creates an interesting effect. Sometimes a sea of red light gets lost when you’re commuting. Adding something to break up the effect can be beneficial. Though I accept there are arguments against. The RVLR requires red at the rear. But it does not prohibit any other colour being present. I’d advise against white as that is implicitly a front colour. But adding another colour can promote safety.

What about blue? Is that even legal. Good question, and I’ll let you consider this. Regulation 27 of the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations is unclear. It prohibits the fitting of a (blue) warning beacon. The definition of that beacon appears to exclude a static non rotating light. Equally, if you were to hang a fibre flare on your rucksack it would not be “attached to any vehicle.” As such you’d be safe there. Remember, this is about the RVLR. You could, in theory, get a fine for having a blue, or green, or yellow light. But they’d have seen you, and that’s rather the point. In practice you’re never even likely to get pulled over.

Lezyne Deca Drive

deca

For tech specs click here

Click here to buy the NEW version

Ok, here’s where we get into controversial territory. How much is enough? How much is too much?

As we discussed earlier, the German laws are strict. So you get a tiny amount of rear light and not much more at the front. The deca drive is illegal in Germany. It’s not BS certified either so doesn’t meet the RVLR in the UK. So what the hell is it for? Well, the RVLR is, as noted, from a different time. What we have here is a good light for seeing where you are going. As long as you don’t blind traffic coming the other way then it will keep you safe.

The Deca Drive attaches via a traditional clamp and knurled screw affair. The light then attaches to the groove in the bracket and clicks home safely. Make sure it’s in before you ride off. To release it you press the tab at the front and take it off.

Charging is by USB. You open the rear flap and charge the battery using micro USB leads. They don’t supply a charger. Charge time is between 6 and 12 hours depending on whether you use a 1 or 2 amp charger. Well, that should be the case. Let’s say that Lezyne charging is idiosyncratic. It’s true that 1 amp charging takes 12 hours. Lezyne will sell you a 2 amp charger for around £20. When you use that the top indicator light flashes blue to indicate fast charging. You can get that effect with the original iPad charger as well. You should be able to get it with a 2 amp Samsung charger. But that flashes green to indicate slow charging. Annoying. But most lights require the buying of a charging plug if you don’t already have one so bear that in mind.

There are two different modes. In Race Mode only Overdrive (900 lumens) and economy (250 lumens) are available. In normal mode you lose overdrive but keep endure (400) blast (700) economy (250) and some flashing modes.

Once it’s charged it should, in theory, last around 1.5 hours at 900 lumens, the top setting. Other settings will last longer, of course. This is theoretical and this is an area in which Lezyne lights can exasperate. The top light indicator is green when the charge level is 100%. The manual then says yellow indicates 50% and red is 10%. Once it flashes red, get home quickly.

In my experience, on 900 lumens, the indicator changes to yellow after 10-15 minutes of a ride. Assuming that battery drain is linear that suggests that a run time of 30 minutes is in prospect. The practical truth is that the yellow light remains on for at least an hour and I’ve not yet seen red. It’s not clear whether that’s a faulty indicator or that the manual is not explaining matters well. After all it cannot maintain a 100% battery and green level for any substantial amount of time. It’s possible that the yellow means between 50 and 100%. But that means that red is less than 50. So it’s confusing in principle, somewhat clearer in practice. It’s for that reason that I’d suggest investing in the spare battery (around £20) and keeping that one charged. It’s a bespoke battery so you can’t swap any old battery in there.

Again, that sounds a little negative. It’s irritating but not a deal breaker for me. The quality of the light is otherwise excellent. I paid £69 for mine which is a good price. The new version is much more expensive (RRP) but the uprated new model Power Drive almost matches the output of the older Deca Drive. That level is more than enough for commuting in my view.

Beam spread and distance is very good with the Deca. It doesn’t appear to blind oncoming traffic. Perhaps the small hood at the top of the light disperses the light adequately. It’s excellent on dark lanes and very useful off road as well. For commuting it makes for a very good light. When you’re on a shared use path (like the last 5 miles of my commute) you can use the indicator light to change quickly to a more socially acceptable 250 lumen output.

I like the Deca Drive but it’s not perfect. The charging process and display of what charge is left is something from the dark arts. You know it will work but don’t always trust it. If you can get a good deal then it’s a good buy. I hope to trial the new model to see if they can deal with the flaws of the old.

UPDATE: 5th January 2015. Sadly, it got a bit more annoying. Sometimes it would flash and not show a full charge. Sometimes the orange light came on too quickly. It worked fine. Seemed to be fully charged and still lasted. But, well, it’s a trust issue when you’re out in the dark. So, I’ve swapped it with a Cateye Volt 1200 which seems solidly reviewed overall, and in particular in relation to its charging indicators. Full review of that one up soon.

Lezyne Superdrive XL

XL

Phew. The end of the review. This is a cute and effective little brother to the deca drive. It’s surprisingly capable. But because there is a single emitter don’t expect so much of a spread. It has the same attachment system as the smaller deca drive. It has the same overdrive mode. So you get access to 700 lumens there and 350/500 lumens (and some flashy stuff) in normal mode. Run times are on a par with the deca drive overall. It charges in the same way, remove the rear flap and plug in a micro usb. That same 1 or 2 amp charging issue appears here as well. But the indicator seems to work slightly better on run times for the superdrive, which is interesting.

I use this on a steady flash mode in addition to the solid mode of my deca drive. It’s also useful as a back up should the other run out of juice. The 500 lumen mode is more than enough to be seen and to get you home. Indeed, the 350 lumen mode is more than enough as well. It’s a good light and is engineered very well. It’s possible to get the loaded version (with an extra battery) for less than £50 now. That’s a very tidy deal indeed.

Loaded version for £49.99

My thoughts?

The title of this review was lights, no camera, action. That was alluding to the fact that I don’t have a Go Pro or any equivalent. I did have. And I don’t like what it made me. It was useful for dealing with the occasional poor pass. But it made me all to aware of every minor indiscretion. It wasn’t particularly useful at night either. So I ditched it.

This review is about my lights, what I think and why I use them. It’s not a suggestion that they are the best out there though I do think the see sense falls into that category. There are a load of decent alternatives. Planet X have a load of cheap rears at the moment, a lot of which are worthy of purchase (Smart, Lunar, Cherry Bomb etc).

The legality of the RVLR is confusing. But as long as you stick to the spirit of it you’re unlikely to be pulled over. What’s important is to be visible. Lights are part of that. Reflectives and high vis are a debate for another day.

I’d like to give an honourable shout out to one light which I think is almost perfect. The Philips Saferide 80. Takes 4 AA batteries and runs for about 2 hours. German certified. It’s like a headlight. Not too much power and lights the road well. It’s socially acceptable. The bracket is awful but otherwise I think the light is actually nigh on perfect. I sold mine earlier in the year when I was thinking about my lighting solutions. That was a mistake. I wish I could find another one to buy. They aren’t cheap though as Philips have discontinued them. If you can find one, get one. Best, light, ever.

God it’s wet: Madison Apex Race Jacket

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Rain jackets. One simple purpose. To prevent you getting wet. But they can’t, depending on your definition of wetness. To me dry is dry. My measure of dryness is whether a jersey exhibits the same level of dryness during or after a ride as when I put it on. Of course, as  method, that’s patently unfair. A jersey will get damp relative to how fast you’re going and/or what the temperature is. And that’s pretty much my point. if any jersey can get damp then sticking a jacket over the top of it ain’t going to help.

The rain jacket is simply a sub category of rain wear. An ever burgeoning collection of things to use when the weather is foul. The Velominati rules are clear; “harden the **** up” and “if you are out in bad weather then you are a badass, period.” Those things are clearly true. And it is right that we should stick to them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t offer ourselves some protection along the way. Indeed, challenging the weather Gods whilst laughing in their faces with our technical apparel is the very definition of noble pursuit.

There are a number of very different solutions where rain wear is concerned. One approach is to maximise protection and to make sure nothing gets in. Another is to allow water in but use it to your advantage. So, there’s a fragile coexistence between the favoured commuter option such as the Altura Night Vision Evo and the racier options such as the Castelli Gabba and Rapha Pro Team Soft-shell. They have their advantages and their disadvantages.

A bin bag is waterproof. Try it. You put your mostly empty soup can in there. Soup runs out. It stays inside of the bag. There’s no way out. No permeability. Marathon runners wear bin bags at the start of races because they are disposable. They keep the rain out. To an extent, being utterly impermeable, they keep heat in too. But they also trap moisture. Cycling, even at moderate pace, produces heat and quite a large amount of moisture. Bin bags would work. For a while you’d be dry. Then you’d be wet. Then you’d be cold. Then you’d sit at the side of the road with a puncture and begin to cry……..

I should say, at this point, that I am a racer second and a commuter first. A big distance 365 day commuter. Well, that last statement isn’t quite true. They give me weekends off. Hell, I don’t go in that often on Fridays, pretending….um, preferring instead to work from home. But it’s near as dammit 40 miles a day most days so you get the overall picture. Rain or shine. Sleet or snow. I’ve worn loads of jackets over the years. I feel I’m qualified. Sometimes I wear a Gabba and get wet. A few times I wore the Rapha Pro Team softshell and got utterly cold (sorry Rapha). The Rapha rain jacket was a good one but commands a hefty premium. The Night Vision is cheap and really visible. It’s also like wearing a luminscent bin bag with a nice meshy bit inside. The best one yet is the Rapha Hardshell. That’s great in November, not all that useful in April.

Getting the balance right between a material that can protect you and one which is breathable is cycling’s holy grail. Once upon a time W L Gore and Associates came up with a magical material. They weren’t necessarily first. But they got on with it. So, in 1969 they patented a breathable, lightweight, waterproof fabric called Gore Tex. And waterproof kit was born. Theirs was patented with the brand name GoreTex but there are a number of different approaches out there to the same problem. Let water vapour out. Don’t let water in. The science is techy. The reality is everyday.

Ignoring items such as the Gabba this review is about a specific rain jacket. The Madison Apex Race jacket isn’t made out of goretex. It’s made out of a proprietary 2.5 layer fabric. Madison claim a waterproof rating of 15,000mm and breathability of 15,000g/m^2 for both layers. I have no idea what this means. But I do know that it’s ballpark similar to jackets made from eVent and goretex. Which is nice.

So, the Holy Grail. What feels nice, works well (enough) and doesn’t break the bank is a hard ask. So that’s where the Madison jacket comes in. RRP is around £99. Shop around and you’ll get it for less. In fact there are some on eBay for less again. Be wary of sellers like that. I got mine from Paul Milne cycles and they were excellent.

There is no doubt that this jacket is waterproof. A recent torrential rain storm proved that. There is no doubt that it’s breathable. It’s a 2.5 layer fabric. It would be going back if it could not meet that claim. The question for me is whether it can compete with the seasoned alternatives out there. Can it achieve that balance?
I’m of the view that it can. There are little flourishes which help it breathe. Two big arm zip vents to allow the air out when working hard. And, even if open when raining they cover themselves slightly so as to continue their venting. There are two little zips on the sleeve as well to do the same job and they operate in the same way. The zips are quite easy to operate “on the fly” which is essential for gloved hands at this time of year. There’s a decent amount of reflective as you can see from the photos below. A nice little touch is the reflective cuffs which aid visibility to passing motorists when you’re trying to signal.

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There’s a nice little rear pocket as well. As you can see it’s storm sealed. So useful for your phone. It’s not perfect. It’s possibly a little small and being offset can feel slightly odd. But it’s at least as good as other jackets.20151128_144609

The main zip at the front is also storm sealed. Nothing gets through there. And the collar is nicely high, correctly sized and fleece lined. It’s all good.

The fit is racy. That is to say if you get the right size then it will form fit. I opted for a large on a 41″ chest and have enough room for a jersey or base layer underneath. That’s more than enough and turns a rain jacket into a pretty effective softshell. There is absolutely no flapping at speed. The waistband is excellent. There’s a decent drop tail at the back. The cuffs are sized correctly. It all works. That’s no real surprise. It was designed with input from the Madison Genesis race team. They know what they want. And generally what they want translates well to use by us punters. Arguably some other Madison jackets might suit you better as a commuter or a MTB’er. (See the Madison Addict for example). But the base tech is all fairly similar and should perform in the same way.

The Holy Grail? No. For me that would be something that you never ever cause any condensation in at all. It’s probably impossible, certainly when you want it to be slightly warm at the same time. But it’s not a compromise. I like the Gabba, it works. But it is a compromise. A reaction to the fact that it’s difficult to create a jacket which trades off protection and breathability. For my purposes, given I’m not on the Paris Roubaix on my commute, this works better. Indeed, of the jackets I’ve owned it feels like the one that achieves the balance the best. At half the price of the Rapha equivalent, given the extra technical flourishes, it may yet be the best jacket ever made…………..

(Oh, and get the blue one.)

http://www.paulmilnescycles.com/madison-road-race-apex-mens-waterproof-jacket—blue-curraco-3051-p.asp

Shimano R171 shoes; Batman wouldn’t wear them……

I’ve had a lot of shoes. And I mean a lot. I’m practically the Imelda Marcos of cycling shoes. Though, in my defence, I don’t generally own them all at the same time. I’m great at up cycling as well. Buy something at a good price, look after it, sell it for a good price. And so on. It means I don’t really pay out much and get to wear some really good shoes.

So I feel well qualified to talk about shoes. I’ve had some great ones. The Rapha GT shoes. So lovely. Wonderful construction and based on one of the great shoes (the Giro Factor). But they needed to be cared for. A scratch on the front and in comes my OCD. Not a shoe for wet days. But neither is best bike. The Sidi Wire were great. Beautifully constructed, easy to adjust, light. And stiff. So very stiff. But Sidi fit is a personal thing. I could get into them. They didn’t kill me. But they never felt as comfortable as the Rapha ones. Then there is the Factor itself. A wonderful fit. Not sexy though. Not really. Though the new AAC versions make the Rapha look overpriced (and they are essentially the same thing). Then there were the Empires. Wow. Wonderful, lovely things. Laces. Laces are actually great. Easy to get a good fit. But not easy to adjust on the fly.

So, with all these shoes, why am I on a pair of R171’s? Why couldn’t I just be happy? Well, the explanation is a simple one. I wanted something cheap to wear between now and Summer. Cheap was key. I didn’t really care what it looked like. So I came across these R171’s on Wiggle at £75. I needed some other kit so, with a voucher code, they were effectively £60. Yes. £60 for a pair of full carbon soled, micro fibre upper, race shoes. Worth a punt. I mean, they looked glossy enough to be cleanable so fitted the bill of winter wear.

But, those looks. Let’s be clear. Batman wouldn’t wear them. No TWO FACE would wear them and Batman wouldn’t be seen dead in his nemesis’s cycle wear (though they do come in all black). The looks of the R171 are divisive.

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Just look at them. Full white one side. Full black the other. Two faced. But do they really have a split personality?

Actually, when you get them, they’re really quite nice. Very well made as one would expect from Shimano. But, in a weird way, aesthetically pleasing. And is it actually such a bad idea having one half of your shoe being black? That’s where the chain is. That’s where the oil can be found. They will never look dirty. Never mess with your OCD. I do confess that I’m not a fan of the Shimano lettering. But, there we are.

There are two ways of looking at this. Are they a good cheap shoe for knocking around in? Or just a good shoe full stop. Indeed, the RRP is only around £129 anyway which is a reasonable price for a full carbon shoe that weighs next to nothing. (480g for a pair of 40’s if you’re interested, pretty much on par with a pair of Giro Factor with their Easton supplied carbon sole).

Construction is slightly different to the norm. The white section wraps over the foot inside the shoe in a sock like way. The black section fits over the top of it. The main fastening buckle is attached to the foot flap rather than the side of the shoe. The fastening strap is then attached to the side of the shoe and you thread it into the buckle rather than the other way around. A different approach. I don’t know why they did it. It works as well as the alternative, but not better. The velcro straps work perfectly well for the other anchor points. It’s interesting that Shimano continue to eschew any form of lace up or boa dial approach. I confess that the Empires were very comfortable. But hard to adjust on the fly. I do prefer some adjustment when you’re riding. But that’s a personal thing.

The fit is excellent. But, come on, these are shoes. They fitted me. I’m a 45. A 44 in every day shoes. I need a 45 in Shimano shoes, a 45 in Giro, a 45 in Sidi. I’m a freak in that respect.

Do I feel them when they are on? No. Not once did I feel any hot spot. Not once did I question whether I’d got the right size. The felt perfect. That’s not easy to achieve in a shoe. There’s often some trade off. So when you get something that works, stick with it.

I approached these shoes thinking they would do till Spring. Having worn them I actually think I’ve found the ones. For a shade over £60. Could they  be bettered? Probably. I mean, the R321 must exist for some reason. I do quite fancy trying my hand at baking those bad boys. But I’m happy with my choice. Perhaps Batman would wear them. It’s all about function with him. But I do think he’d get the all black ones…………

dhb, coming of age…..

I make no apologies that in the past I’ve been a kit snob. But not from the desire for an outward display of peacock aesthetics. Instead, arising from the notion that if I feel good, I cycle good.

It is still fundamentally true that you get what you pay for. Be that the aesthetic charm of a Rapha piece, the pro kit quality of Castelli or the sheer bonkers R&D of Assos. The oft used adage is buy cheap, buy twice (or indeed more) and that buying expensive is a sound investment. This new range aims to challenge what you thought you knew.

I’ve dabbled in the cheaper market before and much of it is good. But in truth a lot of it has never really satisfied me in terms of how it’s made, how it looks but, crucially, how it feels. For a cyclist that last part is so important.  The development put into products by the likes of Castelli at al often leads to a product which meets the requirements of form and function.

My previous experience of dhb products is that they’ve always offered value for money and performed well in relation to that price point. I have a pair of cheap roubaix tights which come out when I don’t want to kill something expensive. But I don’t feel great wearing them. They work. But not as well as other pairs of tights. Honourable mention here to the almost naked feel of the Castelli Sorpasso. By comparison my old dhb are a little baggy in places, lack some of the more technical touches of the Castelli and make me remember that I’m wearing them. My view, which may not be universally shared, is that good kit is kit that you can forget about.

So, I approached dhb’s new Aeron range with interest. The price point is slightly higher than the old Vaeon ranges but not by much. As I write this piece Wiggle are rotating some big reductions on these newly released products. The question is not whether the products have improved per se. That would assume that they were not good products. No, for me the question is whether they can truly compete at the highest end and, essentially, make kit choice a no brainer.

Wiggle are selling the Aeron range as a complete range of kit. dhb-Aeron-Roubaix-Long-Sleeve-Jersey-Long-Sleeve-Jerseys-Black-Orange-AW15-TW0184-65

Kask helmet aside, the suggestion is that all of it works well, looks good and can be bought for the price of a high end jacket from the usual suspects. There’s a decent amount of reflective and some vibrant colours to make you stand out on the road. Let’s have a look at some of the pieces.

The Aeron Full Protection Softshell JacketWord1

That’s full protection. No half measures here! What does that mean in practice? It means full softshell. No roubaix fabric round the back. The fabric is Windtex, a well established stretchy alternative to Gore Windstopper. So, you’re getting a windproof layer that offers, like other membranes, a good degree of waterproofing. The rain will find a way in, eventually, once it gets past the impressive DWR type coating and the non taped seams. There is an omission here. Unlike the Castelli Alpha the zip is exposed to the elements. Rain can get through here. So can wind. It’s an omission. Not a great one but perhaps the Aeron Mark 2 could deal with that upgrade. There is a flap behind the zip. That offers some protection. But in my experience, and having seen it added to the Gabba Mk2 (and Alpha Mk1), it’s wise to have that extra flap outside.

You get three very good pockets round the rear and one internal zipped one with a waterproof lining. And, each of the pockets has a good degree of reflective lining. Cuffs are excellent and the collar is high. Perhaps a few MM too high actually. But I have a short neck. So we’ll let them off there. Ventilation is good. No fancy arm zips but there’s a storm flap at the rear neck area to let the heat out but no cold or rain in.

So, what’s it like? I wore it on one commute at zero degrees and another at around five. That’s celsius if you’re reading this overseas. The zero degree ride began with no warmup. Straight out there. One word? Toasty. That’s what you want in a winter jacket. Keeps you warm. Very warm indeed. There are a raft of alternate approaches out there from the fleece like mega warm option to the ride fast lightweight Rapha option. I err to the warm option in the winter. My riding isn’t blisteringly fast. A lot of it is commuting. I found that the softshell was very warm without there being any need to unzip. The arms, in particular, standout. Great fit, great warmth. Again, a different and, arguably, non technical approach to something like the Assos Bonka or Castelli Alpha. It’s a windproof layer lined with a roubaix type fabric. There’s a hill on my commute where I can reach 40 mph for a good amount of time. I’m warmish by the time I get here. So it’s an opportunity to see how the windchill of 40 mph affects the fabric and what lives underneath. And the Aeron flew that test. I could feel the icy bite in my face but the heat was radiating throughout the body of the jacket. No flapping. Form fit. A win overall. As to size I take a medium in most clothing, sometimes a large. But in cycling clothing generally an XL. 41″ chest. 36″ waist. In Assos and Castelli I need and XL. And the same was true here. Italian type sizing then. That generally commands premium pricing.

Pricing is excellent. It’s £100. That’s low end Castelli though. Does it compare? Yes. I had a high end Espresso Due once. This is at least it’s equal. It’s probably not quite as effective (and we are talking a tiny degree here) as the Alpha. But the RRP of that is £249. I got my dhb for £62 taking into account various reductions and other offers. For that money, it’s a steal.

The Aeron Softshell Gilet

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This review will be short. It’s the softshell again. Without arms. It really is that simple. As far as I can tell the roubaix maybe a bit thinner. The pockets are slightly different. They are covered over with a flap and there are two. There’s no rear storm flap. But, otherwise, another toasty garment. What’s particularly welcome, for me, is that dhb haven’t fallen into the trap of making their gilet measure the same as their jersey. Too often that happens and the effect is that the gilet becomes too tight when worn over the top of something of equivalent size. Here dhb have added a few MM extra into the fit to ensure that, if you buy the matching jersey, they partner each other well. That applies to the windproof gilet as well so you can partner each up with confidence.

How is it to wear? Well, despite the differences above, it’s effectively an arm less softshell. So it’s great. And another bargain. £45 at the time of writing. There’s nothing quite like that for value and function out there.

The Aeron Roubaix Jersey

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I’ll be honest. This is my favourite. It feels so nice to wear. I was struggling to remember a jersey which felt just so right. Then it came to me. It feels like wearing the Assos Tiburu jersey. The same race fit, second skin feel. Ok, we lose the pure technicality of the material of the Assos. But it works just as well. And looks, well, a lot less S&M. There’s no wind proofing here. It it’s cold, you’ll be cold in it. So you’ll need to layer up. Add a base layer and, preferably, one of the gilets. If you run warm you could get buy into single figures. In the spring I can see this being the go to jersey of choice.

The picture above makes it appear to be a half zip. It’s not. It’s a full zip with some reflective material. Again, there are 3 pockets round the back and some more reflective material. And another zipped, waterproof, valuables pocket.

The sizing is exactly the same as the rest of the range. And so is the value. This retails for £45 at the time of writing. I said I considered it to be the equal of the Assos. That’s in excess of £170. You pays your money…….

The Aeron Windslam Gilet

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It’s a lightweight gilet. Full windproof protection all round but a centre rear channel of mesh to let some heat out. It partners up, as noted, particularly well with the roubaix jersey. It should also pack up very well into a rear pocket.

This gilet doesn’t have any pockets of its own. A common failing in gilets and one which leaves you having restricted access to your pockets. What this gilet does, and I’ve not seen this before, is to have two angled slits at the rear. They are stretchy and they cover themselves when not in use. You slide your hand through and have access to the rear pocket of your jersey. It works extremely well in practice. If it’s been done before then it’s great that they incorporate it. If not then it’s a game changer. And all for £37.50.

The Aeron Windslam Bibtights

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I find bibs a difficult area to review. Fit can differ more than a jacket. Pads can agree or disagree with you. Everything is personal. So with that in mind…….

I took an XL in these. If they were simply roubaix I could have gone with a large. I usually wear a large in Assos but an XL in the Castelli Sorpasso. Indeed, I consider the Sorpasso to be the benchmark. But they can struggle in truly foul conditions. So, what are we comparing these £67.50 bibs against? Well, they are reminiscent of the Gore Oxygen and Xenon windstopper bib tights. They come at a considerable cost. There’s a number of different panels with a  softshell type fabric. That means that those sections are warmer and likely to resit water for longer. It also means, by their very nature, that they are less stretchy and form fitting than normal panels. And that’s what makes fit a bit more difficult. For me, these XL fitted very well. I doubt I could get into the large because the windproof panels would be restrictive.

It’s for that reason that I could not have kept the Deep Winter version of these tights. They were practically all soft-shell and I found myself between sizes. That meant that the large would have been restrictive and the XL version had creases where the material was not sufficiently stretched. No such issues with the windslam version. They are excellent. Good chamois, good fit (for me) and exceptional warmth. Good detailing as well. There are some minor points though. I’d have preferred a foot loop or a band type ankle as per the Sorpasso. These have a zip which is a little less than dainty and may cause issues inside a winter boot. The abdomen section is a little loose as well, but, as stated, that could be dealt with on sizing. The reflectives here are excellent and a subtle but welcome addition. Indeed, the entire range is well thought out from a commuting perspective.

Conclusion

It’s an exceptional range. I’ve got the socks as well. But not the gloves. Gloves are too personal so I stick with what I know works. With this range, and, from my limited exposure, the ASV range, dhb have created a proper alternative to the big name brands. Not just a value alternative, but a true one. If you can take advantage of some reductions and some voucher codes then you can build an entire wardrobe for the price of a single item from the big name brands. You’ll feel good wearing it and feel good about having bought it. Wiggle, we await your summer Aeron wardrobe with keen anticipation………..