Crime and Punishment : Chapter 1

I WAS OUTRAGED. It’s hard not to be outraged whenever you read about something that’s happened on our roads. It’s particularly difficult when that affects one of our own. Cyclists are vulnerable, squidgy and deserve protection. We’re out there, minding our own business, doing what we love, when, suddenly, time’s up, game over, time for the outrage to start.

Whenever you read about a cycling related case and its outcome you might be half expecting it to be about someone’s cat getting run over. There’s very little tragedy, very little humanity. It’s almost as if serious injury and death are the inevitable consequence of sharing the roads. Oh well, that’s the risk we take. But it shouldn’t be like that. There should be questions, there should be recrimination (if it’s right to do so) and society should learn from it, improve, be a little bit better.

We’re frequently told that all road users should show tolerance to others. That’s a pretty weird way of putting it. That suggests that each category of road user fundamentally disagrees with the other’s choices but chooses to accept it through gritted teeth. It’s not how things should be. We shouldn’t be tolerant. We should be welcoming. We should be understanding. We should all get along, not because we are told to, but because we are human beings and what better way to demonstrate our humanity by looking out for our fellow humans.

Well, it’s a noble ideal. And that ideal, it seems, is as far away today, at least in the UK, as it ever was. We’re bombarded with click bait pieces about attacks on cyclists, poor infrastructure causing deaths, attacks by cyclists, camera wielding commuters, sportive road closures and bloody road tax. And the more we read all of this stuff the easier it is to be OUTRAGED!

There’s an inherent problem with the reporting of any legal case whether it’s about a cyclist killed by a driver who claims the sun was in his eyes, or the trial of a newspaper executive who logs into your Facebook account twice a day. The problem is that trials are long, boring, and full of facts. Absolutely full of facts. You could fill a daily paper with the facts from even the most simple of trials. You wouldn’t want to read that stuff, so you get a précis. And that’s the problem. You can’t really get a legal case unless you hear every fact, listen to every word, understand every nuance. Indeed, it’s hard to offer up any opinion on any legal case because, just like Vietnam, you weren’t there man.

What this piece seeks to do is to give you some understanding of the legal process in England and Wales, to explain how we get cases to Court in the first place and to attempt to explain why some cases may not go the way that you expect. This isn’t an effort to collate everything but an attempt to make some sense of, it not all, then some of it. It’s an epic, just like the book of the title. Though I don’t think it will take you quite as long to read and, if the BBC do decide to serialise what I’ve written, I’d expect less onscreen sex. It’s part 1 for now, I’ll get round to some more in depth analysis in due course. What I wanted was to get away from the sensationalism of media and have a look at why cases are the way they are. I have my own theory, and I’ll get to that in the follow up pieces. This isn’t a thesis, not yet. It’s just an opinion piece. If I get the time it might grow into something a lot larger.

If you want to start with outrage then you have to start in the right place. You need to feel some indignation, some injustice, something to be outraged about. So, with no particular weight attached to it at all, it’s just a recent case, have a look at the following. It’s not even a cycling one, but it does involve vulnerable pedestrians. So it’s not a bad place to start.

Read this in order to be OUTRAGED!

So, you read that one? 15 months for leaving a child with brain injuries. Doesn’t sound particularly good does it? You’d get more than that for………..well……….quite a lot of things actually. And let’s see what he was charged with…….“Llewellyn admitted perverting the course of justice, failing to stop after an accident, driving without insurance, theft, failing to surrender to bail and breaching a suspended sentence. The court heard he had 17 previous convictions for 29 offences, including failing to stop after an accident and failing to report it, and driving whilst disqualified.”

To his credit, he pleaded guilty. In our Courts we give “credit” for that, up to a 1/3 reduction in your sentence for pleading guilty before a trial. You can debate whether that’s fair at some length. Perhaps we should have a starting point of “what you get if you plead guilty” and then ADD a 1/3 if you are found guilty. We could do that but we’d just have to rejig all the current starting points. We’d end up lowering them and the total sentences handed down would probably remain the same. So, don’t get too angry, not yet.

No, the real problem with the above case is how it’s reported. It’s a bloody serious case. A boy was left with serious and life changing injuries. But the media report is notable for what’s absent rather than what’s present. Half of the offences are “administrative,” however serious they may be. Perverting the course of justice, failing to surrender and breaching a suspended sentence are absolutely nothing to do with the driving that occurred that day. Those offences did not lead to an accident which caused brain injuries. Indeed, they all came later. There’s a theft and that’s pretty serious as well. It’s not very clear what the theft was in relation to. The motorcycle we must assume. And there’s likely to be a clear correlation there, people who steal stuff are often poor drivers. The same goes for driving whilst disqualified and driving without insurance. This is really not a person you want on the roads. That much is evident. Frankly, his lawyer did an amazing job to get him a mere 15 months especially with that many previous convictions. We’ll look at sentencing in a later piece, but, for now, 15 months is likely to have been the length of the longest sentence handed down for the worst offence. Probably the perverting the course of justice. He may well have received prison sentences for the other offences as well. But, most of the time, sentences run concurrently, that is to say you serve the length of the longest sentence. But let’s not complicate this, for now.

There’s something notably absent in the above case though. There are no actual driving offences. That is to say nothing to do with the manner of his driving. That might surprise you. There are plenty to choose from. Careless driving, dangerous driving and the new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. There are offences of causing death by careless or dangerous driving but, of course, mercifully in the case, the boy survived. Yet he wasn’t charged with any actual driving offence. It seems clear cut. This is a villainous type. He’s clearly up to no good and hits someone who’s just crossing the road. So, why wasn’t he charged, at the absolute minimum, with careless driving?

Well, it all comes down to the evidence. We have to take a dispassionate view of what can be proven. Can we demonstrate that, in this case, there is evidence that the standard of driving fell below the standard expected of a competent driver or that he did not show reasonable consideration for other pedestrians and vehicles on the road. Evidence is key. There has to be something tangible on which to base a prosecution. Are there independent witnesses to the driving? Is there any CCTV evidence? Are there brake marks on the road indicative of a certain speed? It’s not about implication or inferring evidence, though those matters may come into play, it’s about whether a thing can be proved to have happened or not.

Before I deal with how our system works let’s have a look at a case in which some evidence is present but a lot is not. Prepare to be OUTRAGED!

Revenge is a dish best served with a D Lock

Interesting case. Your mind wanders to how on earth this kind of stuff happens. Is the driver deceitful? Did he swerve, as one witness suggests, towards the cyclist? Has he got away with it? Or is he just a bloody useless driver, of which there are many.

There appears to be evidence of a collision here. But it’s unclear. If there is a collision then you’d think that there should be, at least, a charge of failing to stop/report an accident. Yet there’s nothing other than having to go on an awareness course. Meanwhile the cyclist gets done for criminal damage because, as a result of the red mist descending after almost being flattened, he decides to take up his righteous indignation. And, during the argument, he smashes the window with a D lock.

Evidence. Why is the evidence of what the cyclist did any better than the evidence of what the driver is alleged to have done? Well, because he did it. We know that because he pleaded guilty. There’s likely to have been independent witness evidence as well, but, evidentially this is an easy one to deal with. The ONLY question here was whether it was in the public interest to charge him. As soon as he was charged there was really only one outcome, a guilty plea.

But I can sense that you are still OUTRAGED! The Magistrates considered that the motorist’s actions amounted to provocation. The problem there is that the defence of provocation (which has now been renamed the defence of “loss of control”) is a defence only to murder. And even then all it does is to reduced that offence to one of manslaughter. It’s no use in this case other than to reduce his sentence because of it.

What about the sentence he got? Surely, given the provocation, he should have just got a slap on the wrists. Well, in reality, he did. He was given pretty much the lowest sentence it was possible to give. There was no option to find him not guilty, he’d pleaded guilty. Equally there was no option to give an absolute discharge, it wasn’t within the powers of the Court to give such a sentence. So, on this one, please don’t be outraged. There was insufficient evidence to bring any prosecution against the driver. There was sufficient evidence to bring a case against the cyclist. Plain, simple, dispassionate. Sometimes it goes “our” way. So have a read of the next case before we move on.

Bloody Audi drivers

She contested that. And lost. The evidence was good. The red mist descended and she lost it. What’s notable in that case is that she was convicted, along with dangerous driving, of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm. Effectively using a vehicle as a weapon. That doesn’t happen too often and it’s good to see it being taken so seriously. Loads of evidence here and no evidence to support her rather spurious defence. She claimed that the car had malfunctioned. The PC who examined the car found no evidence f that. Indeed, it would be surprising if such an expensive, powerful car, had suffered a fault at the very moment that an altercation had taken place.

No outrage here. But no victorious punching of the air either. It is what it is. An idiot driver getting what they deserve. Because the evidence supports it.

This is how it works…………..

Police, CPS, Judges, Juries, all clueless, inept, corrupt, dumb. In those cases where the driver “gets off” you’ll see those themes. There’s a belief out there that we’re hard done by, that, if you wanted to bump someone off, you’d be better doing it with a car than with a knife. Cyclists, the cockroaches of the highway, no rights, not really victims, they were asking for it. It’s hard to untangle the emotion. It’s impossible to pin down the facts. But, let’s have a go. But we have to go way back, start at the beginning. Let’s deal with what we know. The first step on our journey is knowledge. This piece is about the legal system of England and Wales. But there are some constants that apply to other legal systems. Read it with that in mind.

In the UK we can broadly divide our legal system into the Civil and Criminal law. They operate quite differently, though there are some constants. Each has a different aim. Let’s consider, for example, our cyclist. He’s being a good boy, waiting patiently at a set of red traffic lights. Whilst waiting he’s hit from behind by a speeding, drunk driver. He’s seriously injured. What happens next?

1 What does the Civil law want?

In general terms it’s fair to say that the Civil law looks to the victim. It aims to compensate the cyclist for his losses and, as far as is possible, to put him into the position he would have been in had the accident not happened. Given that we do not yet possess a TARDIS, and that our lack of possessing a TARDIS is a pretty good indication of never being able to possess a TARDIS, then the only practical way to achieve this is by monetary compensation. We value the injury, we pay back the lost wages, we make things “better” as much as they can be. Hopefully he will recover fully and the compensation is good enough to cover everything that’s happened to him. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Very often the injured party is left with a permanent injury. We just can’t fix that. All we can do is provide compensation for “pain and suffering” and hope that that’s enough. It’s an imperfect system. I’ll return to the civil law in a later chapter.

In order to succeed against the motorist the cyclist must demonstrate a number of things. First, he has to show that the motorist owes him a “duty of care.” This is an established legal concept. It’s pretty much a given that road users owe each other a duty of care. Second, he has to show that the duty has been breached. He will base his claim in negligence. He’ll show that the motorist was negligent in driving at speed, driving whilst drunk and, in all the circumstances, failing to take sufficient care. And, finally, he will need to demonstrate that his injury and losses were caused by the accident. In the example given much of this will be straightforward.

Civil law claims of this type are brought by the injured party. We call them the Claimant. There is no state involvement.

2 What does the Criminal law want?

Let’s switch now to the criminal law. Arguably the focus changes.  The victim is still important, indeed, generally, without a victim there’s no case.  But the criminal law is more concerned with the motorist and seeks to determine whether the driver should be punished for his actions. Although the evidence of the witness is important in relation to convicting the motorist it is not really about the victim at all. It looks at whether a specific criminal offence has been breached and, if it has, whether that person should be punished for their actions.

Criminal law prosecutions are brought by the State. In England and Wales the body that prosecutes cases is called the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

These two systems are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, in the above example, it would be quite common for the criminal and civil cases to run in tandem. The motorist will be punished by the criminal law and the cyclist compensated by the civil law. Evidentially, it’s better for the criminal case to finish first so that the cyclist can rely on that conviction in his civil case.

3 The burden and standard of proof in the Courts

In both the civil and criminal courts the onus is on the party bringing the case to demonstrate that it should succeed. That is what is known as the “burden of proof.” There are some exceptions but they are quite rare, so let’s leave that for now. The “standard of proof,” i.e. what is needed to find in favour of the party bringing the case, differs in the civil and criminal courts.

In a civil claim the Claimant must demonstrate that the Defendant is liable for the accident and resulting injuries and losses. The Claimant’s must prove this “on the balance of probabilities,” that is to say, more likely than not. Or, if you want to put a value on it, 51%. A Judge in a civil case cannot sit on the fence. He has to decide whether that thing has taken place, or not.

In a criminal case the Prosecution must demonstrate that the Defendant has breached the criminal law. The Prosecution must prove its case so that the person hearing the case (a judge or jury) can be “sure” that the thing has happened. You may not hear the words “beyond reasonable doubt” anymore but being sure means the same thing.

Civil claims don’t cause too many difficulties so I’ll return to them at a later date. Let’s look at the criminal law and how cases start.

4 The birth of a criminal case

It’s the criminal cases which cause so much consternation. Defendants acquitted because they were blinded by the sun, Defendants exonerated of driving carelessly, and Defendants given lenient sentences by namby pamby liberal leftie leaning Judges. How did we get here? Even getting to debating the outcome of a case requires a massive amount of hurdles to be jumped. It’s stacked against the cyclist from the start.

The first thing that is required is an investigation. Think about that for a moment. Ever come across an accident? What happens? Well, everything happens. Vehicles get moved, phone calls are made, panic sets in, bodies are covered, obfuscation, chaos. Remember that burden and standard of proof? It all starts here, before the police come. Someone needs to start keeping a record, someone needs to preserve the evidence. There’s only so much that forensics can assist with. Eventually the Police arrive and take statements, take photos, carry out their measurements, try to ascertain what has happened. No one is yet concerned with a criminal case, that comes later. If there’s a camera recording all of this stuff then that’s great. It’s also rare. Cast your mind back to that D lock incident. One witness claims the car drove at the cyclist, another that it swerved to avoid a traffic cone. It’s difficult, from the off. Mistakes and omissions here will have a huge impact later on.

Then it’s done. Evidence collected, analysed. Witnesses, and we hope there are some, are interviewed. The Defendant may be arrested, he will certainly be interviewed at some point. If he has an explanation he should give it. But he doesn’t have to, he can stay silent if he wants. He has that right. It may not help his case in due course. We have something called “adverse inference,” that is to say, in layman’s terms, if you stay silent in an interview and then, at trial, you tell a story, why didn’t you say that in your interview, is it because you made it all up after? Ok, it’s more complicated than that, but you get the point.

So, evidence collected, a case is formed. The police refer what they have to the CPS. The CPS decide whether there is sufficient evidence on which to base a case. This is the first stage in the decision to prosecute. Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a “realistic prospect of conviction” against each defendant on each charge. They must consider whether the evidence can be used and is reliable. They must also consider what the defence case may be and how that is likely to affect the prosecution case. A “realistic prospect of conviction” is an objective test. It means that a jury or a bench of magistrates, properly directed in accordance with the law, will be more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. (This is a separate test from the one that criminal courts themselves must apply. A jury or magistrates’ court should only convict if it is sure of a defendant’s guilt.) If the case does not pass the evidential stage, it must not go ahead, no matter how important or serious it may be.

Then there’s the public interest test. Crown Prosecutors must then decide whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest. They must balance factors for and against prosecution carefully and fairly. Some factors may increase the need to prosecute but others may suggest that another course of action would be better. A prosecution will usually take place however, unless there are public interest factors tending against prosecution which clearly outweigh those tending in favour. The CPS will only start or continue a prosecution if a case has passed both stages.

Are you exhausted yet? It may not sound like much but there’s a lot going on here. And every mistake is a mistake that will come back to haunt you. Even the best case can fall apart due to lack of evidence. They’re getting away with it, already. So, let’s assume that we get that far. We have a fairly solid case. The CPS agree to prosecute. There’s a realistic prospect of a conviction. Where do we go next? And, in this next part, we’re operating on the assumption that the Defendant will plead not guilty. If they plead guilty then there will be no need for a trial at all. There will be a sentencing hearing.

5 In which court do criminal trials take place?

The next step is to choose the Court the case will be tried in. There are two to choose from. They are the Magistrate’s Court and the Crown Court. There are some pretty fundamental differences between the two. All cases start in the Magistrate’s Court. Depending on the seriousness of the case they either stay there, or are transferred to the Crown Court.

5.1 Categories of offences

There are three categories of offence. They are, summary offences, either way offences and indictable only offences. Summary offences can only be tried in the Magistrate’s Court (there are a few minor exceptions). Indictable offences can only be tried in the Crown Court. Either way offences may be tried in either Court. For those cases, in theory the defendant can decide which Court he would like to be tried in. He might, for example, decide that his “story” is more likely to be believed by a Jury of his peers and opt for a Crown Court trial. Or he might decide that he’s swayed by the lower sentencing powers of the Magistrate’s Court and wish to be tried there. That’s the simple version, there are other considerations. Ultimately, the choice may not be his.

The Prosecution get the first go. They make representations that the case is “too serious” for the Magistrates. The Defendant makes representations in response.  If the Magistrates agree with the Prosecution then the case will be sent to the Crown Court for trial.

If the Defendant opts for Crown Court trial there will be no objection from the Prosecution. That choice is the Defendant’s right. The case will be sent to the Crown Court for trial.

Finally, if the Defendant opts for Magistrate’s Court trial and the Prosecution (and Court) agree, then the case will remain in that Court.

Any either way offence tried in the Magistrate’s Court will, if the Defendant pleads guilty, or is convicted following trial, normally be sentenced by that Court. However, if the Magistrates believe that they do not have sufficient sentencing powers then they can send the case to the Crown Court for sentencing.

5.2 Trials in the Magistrate’s Court

Magistrate’s Court trials are determined by a Judge or a panel of Magistrates, depending on the seriousness of the case.  There are no juries. The Judge or Magistrates listen to the evidence and, at the conclusion of the case, determine which evidence they prefer. If they consider the case to be proven then a conviction will follow. A range of sentencing options are open to them ranging from a fine, through community penalties and up to a prison sentence. But the maximum prison sentence a Magistrate’s Court can impose is generally 6 months. So, even if the case were tried in the Magistrate’s Court then, if the offence is so serious that a penalty in excess of 6 months is a) provided for in the definition of the offence and b) is, in the view of the Court, required, then that case can be sent to the Crown Court for sentencing purposes. That relates only to either way offences. Most summary offences will not, by their very definition, attract a sentence of more than 6 months.

5.3 Trials in the Crown Court

The thing about Magistrates Courts is this. Most of the time it’s being heard by Magistrates and, frankly, they’ve heard it all before. They’re battle hardened and cynical. So, quite often, with that in mind, if there’s an opportunity to take your case to the Crown Court then that’s where you go. Because then you get to be tried by a Jury of your peers. 12 of them, most of the time. And, to convict you, most of them need to agree. 12 ideally but, if that doesn’t happen, then a minimum of 10. A trial by your peers, people like you.

The thing is……for most criminal cases, you know, the really criminal ones then your peers aren’t really like you at all. They are decent hardworking people who would never find themselves in that position. But driving cases? Well. Thing is now. Your peers. They drive as well. They are just like you. They sympathise with how difficult it is to see when the sun is low, how hard it is to wait for the screen to demist and just how bloody annoying cyclists are. Yes. Let’s get tried by them………….they’re just like me. It’s to that we’ll return in part 2………………

5.4 Typical offences

Let’s just have a look at some of the most common types of motoring related offences and where they should be tried:

OFFENCE COURT MAX CUSTODY OTHER
Careless Driving Magistrates None Points and fine
Dangerous Driving Either way 6 months / 2 years Mandatory disqualification and fine
Causing serious injury by dangerous driving Either way 5 months / 5 years Mandatory disqualification and fine
Causing death by careless driving Either way 6 months / 5 years Mandatory disqualification and fine
Causing death by dangerous driving Crown Court 14 years Mandatory disqualification and fine

Those are the common ones. There are a few more. What’s alarming is just how few there are. The sentences are maximum ones. So, in relation to dangerous driving a Magistrates Court can sentence up to 6 months in custody and the Crown Court up to 2 years. Even if the case started in the Magistrates Court it can be sent to the Crown Court if the Magistrates thought it was an appalling example. Equally, if that case was tried in the Crown Court the Judge, if the thought it a fairly run of the mill case, hand down a sentence no greater, or indeed less than, that which may have been handed down by the Magistrates. In a later piece I’ll deal with how sentencing works, the entry points, the factors that need to be taken into account and now some it might cause you to be outraged.

What’s alarming in relation to the above list is just how few there are. And there’s a massive omission. Where is causing serious injury by careless driving? That’s a huge issue and the subject of quite a lot of debate. Will we see that offence? Let’s hope so. It won’t be soon enough.

And, finally, that question. Murder. Manslaughter. Does that ever happen? We’ll have a look at that as well. But, for now, let me say this, the very existence of the two “causing death by” offences is as a result of the reluctance of the state to consider charging people who drive like idiots with, at the very least, manslaughter. But we’ll return to that.

And there we go. You might still be outraged, for now. But there’s more to come. Not just the criminal stuff either. Let’s talk about helmets and why society feels the need to show its undying love towards you. Let’s deal with reflective clothing and why it might be your fault. Let’s talk about why people who get high on drugs and kill two people don’t get done for murder. There’s a lot to talk about. Prepare to be outraged. But only if you’ve come into it with an open mind………………….

Parentini Mossa.2 :Baby it’s cold outside

It’s colder. I wouldn’t describe it as arctic, yet, at least not in terms of day to day sustained cold. But it’s under 5 degrees now on most of my rides, with small forays into sub zero. It’s also drying up a little. At some point the possibility of riding my best bike rather than my commuter or cyclocross might raise its head. We can but dream. Now that the conditions are a little more suitable for proper testing I can tell you how I fared with the Mossa.2.

The Mossa.2 is not, perhaps confusingly, version 2 of the Mossa. Indeed, the Mossa has been through a few iterations itself to get to its current version. No, think of it as Mossa+, a more heavyweight version of the Mossa suitable for lower temperatures. But that’s not really the whole story. In principle making something warmer is pretty easy, just add insulation. You can do that in a variety of ways but by far the easiest way is to add some form of fleece. Not real fleece, of course, but synthetic fleece. Most of the “softshell” jackets out there are based on that same principle. A windproof outer layer with some fleecy lining. Warmth will depend on how thick the outer is and how substantial the fleece is. Warmth can affect breathability. Breathability can affect warmth. It’s tricky getting it right. So, while I was waiting for the Mossa.2 to arrive, I didn’t really know what to expect. I guess I was expecting Mossa with added fleece. But what I got was a whole lot more.

The Mossa.2 is, like its faster paced sibling, made from Windtex Storm Shield. Remember that the fabric is 100% waterproof but also windproof and breathable. The fabric is very good in terms of keeping you warm. It gets warmer as you get warmer and doesn’t release that heat too quickly. Indeed, the tag line on one of the attached labels is, “making your sweat work for you.” That’s nice, I like my sweat working for me. It’s certainly preferable to it skulking off and working for someone else behind my back. Anyhow, it’s the addition of that inner fleece lining that really elevates this from the “temperate” Mossa to the really rather toasty warm Mossa.2. As you can see below the fleece is a nice weave and fairly substantial. You can see that the stitching is uniform and good quality throughout. This is certainly a premium piece of cycle clothing.

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So, Parentini supplied me with the black version of the jacket. Orange and lime are the alternative colours. The overall design is slightly different to the Mossa. Simply put, there are more bits to it. Each arm has a separate centre panel of contrasting colour, white on the black version, black on the others. The front, sides and back consist of a number of panels.

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The zip is of good quality and, as you can see, the tog is sufficiently large to ensure that getting to it with even heavy winter gloves is a straightforward affair. There’s the useful addition of some front reflective trim, of which more later, and, at the end of the arms, a nice double layered cuff made of some sort of warm super roubaix type material.

I like the design. It’s sufficiently modern without being too space age. I think that the contrast of the white and black works well and sticking an arm out to signal is assisted by the white on black of the sleeve. Would I choose the black one? I’m not sure. Possibly. It’s slimming, of course, and, post Xmas that’s a pretty good thing. It’s arguably not as visible at dusk but, after dark in the absence of a light source, everything is pretty much equal. You’ll note that there are no complex waistbands on offer here either. Just an elasticated stitched section. It works with no fuss and no drama. Nothing rides up and the jacket retains its position throughout the ride.

The collar consists of a number of different elements which provide significant protection from the wind. You can see, towards the right of the picture below, that the red fabric is not sewn into the collar along its entire length. In my experience that allows for greater articulation of that section. The collar is very nice indeed and slightly larger than the collar on the equivalent on the standard Mossa. That’s good to see. Very often a manufacturer replicates the size of its range exactly with little regard to what’s being worn underneath and what conditions the garment is going to be used for. I’d say that the Mossa.2 feels a few mm larger and, as such, there’s more scope for going with a thicker base layer if you want to. That red material is absolutely lovely against the skin. Perfect for cold mornings.

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The rear pockets are more substantial and larger than on the Mossa. There are only 2 on this occasion, but their volume is arguably better for that long slow winter ride. There’s a zipped waterproof pocket as well. Once again there’s a useful section of reflective trim running along the top of the pockets.

In my review of the Mossa I noted that although the ribbed nature of the material next to the zip offered a substantial degree of rain protection there was no storm flap per se. So on the Mossa.2 it’s good to see that there’s a quite substantial storm flap on the inside of the zip section. You can see that in the picture below. It serves the dual purpose of keeping the rain and wind out. In the event of water getting through the zip, which is highly unlikely, it’s simply going to run down the storm flap and out the bottom again. I do have one slight niggle here. There’s a zip garage at the neck, an extension of the storm flap into which the zip sits when done up to the top. The zip garage could do with being a few mm bigger to allow the zip to sit more flushly into it when zipped all the way to the top.

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In terms of safety features, this thing is bright. If you ride at dusk, dawn or in the middle of the night then a good smattering of reflectives is important. It’s often overlooked and I noted that the otherwise excellent Castelli Alpha jersey suffered in this regard. It doesn’t take much design flair to include reflectives and it won’t add much to the cost of the jacket. It’s simply a matter of stitching some reflective tape on. The Mossa was particularly good in this regard and I’m pleased to say that the Mossa.2 is even better. It goes to great lengths to get you seen. As you can see from the rear shot (with flash) below, there are 4 separate reflective strips on the back alone. Two running vertically at the sides, one running horizontally on the pockets and another up at the collar for luck.

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At the front of the jacket the vertical reflectives are present again. That’s another excellent addition. Even where manufactures add reflective trim to the rear of a jacket it’s often missing from the front. I’ve little doubt that you’d be very visible in a car’s headlights from a decent distance back. In terms of fore and rear reflectives this is the most visible jacket I’ve owned since the Gore Cosmo from a few years back. That had giant triangular reflectives on the back which very noticeable. It’s great to see Parentini take safety seriously and a few others could take note. It’s not quite up there with something like the Altura Night Vision range but that’s arguably a quite different market. Kudos to Parentini for this addition.

The construction of the jacket is excellent. It’s not high tech in the sense that it’s made out of weirdly named or numbered fabrics, it doesn’t claim to be “game changing” particularly. Indeed, you might even describe it as a bit old school. That is to say we’re not talking about laser sealed seams, flatlock construction, giant bits of elastic around the waist etc. It doesn’t have the Castelli Alpha approach to insulation (effectively a sewn in gilet). The thing is, old school still works. Much of what is currently sold is still old school. Whilst the zeitgeist may be the minimal approach of something like the Castelli Alpha the truth is that this jacket is as able as any I’ve tried.

Ok, let’s deal with the important stuff. This jacket is as warm as pretty much any other warm jacket I’ve ever worn, and I’ve worn a few. It’s as warm as the Castelli Alpha and Espresso Due. It’s almost as warm as the Assos Bonka. It’s for really cold conditions. Indeed, today was very cold. I didn’t realise how very cold it was until, after arriving at the office, I went back out again. Base layer, merino jumper and raincoat. Short walk into town and back again and I was absolutely freezing, just couldn’t warm up. And it got me thinking about my ride in and how I didn’t think about what I was wearing at any point. Now, of course, when you start out, fresh out of bed, you need a mile or so to warm up, but after that I was warm and comfortable. That’s a pretty good test of a piece of equipment frankly. If you don’t have to think about it, then it’s doing its job.

It’s great as a winter jacket but it also has the added attraction that if it turns out to be wet then it’s water proof rather than water resistant. Just like the Mossa the Mossa.2 is coated with a rain repellent so the rain will run off it. Of course, if there is a lot of rain it will eventually start to settle on the surface and, being a heavier fabric than the Mossa, it will take a little longer to dry out. The USP is that you’d stick this jacket on when it’s going to be cold and wet. But, I think that’s not actually the way to view it. For me, the fact that it can ALSO deal with wet conditions is a bonus. If I’m out in the cold and it starts to rain then I know that I have that waterproofing in the armoury to help me out.

I’ve now tested it twice in conditions where it was both wet and cold. One ride was that incessant drizzle and dampness that frequents winter days. The result was a clear pass for the jacket, warm and dry. The second, and I wrote about this in my Prendas review, was a day that was never intended to be a test of rainy conditions. But, just over half way home, the rain became heavy and, crucially, horizontal. It’s those sort of conditions when you need all the protection that you can get. And once again the Mossa.2 passed with flying colours. The material was a little damper, when I arrived home, than the Mossa would have been. But that’s because it’s a little thicker. It took slightly longer to dry in the airing cupboard but we’re talking an hour or so rather than overnight. Would I head out for a 100 miler in the Mossa.2 in heavy rain? No. I’d rather go swimming or stay indoors frankly. That’s not fun. But, if I wanted to, I could.

Look, other softshells are available. As I’ve noted elsewhere, anything that’s windstopper based will, to an extent, keep the rain off you. But the Mossa.2 fulfils, for me, the brief of a winter jacket. It’s 100% waterproof, that’s the nature of the Windtex storm shield membrane. It will let water vapour out but won’t let any rain in. And, even if it did, you’d never suffer any cool down because any water that did get in would, along with your sweat, work for you. On this waterproofing though I would offer a caveat. As I noted in my review of the Mossa there are no taped seams. Parentini are of the view that taped seams compromise fit and breathability. Given the absence of taped seams it seems clear that there is the opportunity for ingress. Of course the water repellent coating takes care of much of that opportunity. I noted that opportunity in my Mossa review and, it has to be said, the Mossa.2 has a contrast panel on both sleeves rather than one. It may be better if the arm was a single panel but that would mean that the very visible contrast trim is lost. It may be that that could be dealt with in the sublimation printing process. I don’t know. It’s something I will feed back to Parentini. What I will say is that they listen and take feedback very well.

The price? Actually, this is where it’s excellent. £170. That’s a very good price for a winter jacket. Indeed, it’s ball park mid range in the “premium market,” if we discount sales and price cuts for some of its competitors.

Parentini wanted me to consider whether this was better than the Alpha (jacket). They realise I’m a big fan of that jacket. The Alpha jacket costs considerably more (£240 rrp) but, at the time of writing, it’s been heavily discounted at a lot of online sellers. In some places below the price of the Mossa.2. So, in making any comparison, that has to be borne in mind. Is the Alpha worth £70 more than the Mossa.2? I don’t think it is. Is it a better jacket when they are the same price?

Well, that’s the question. But, the thing is, I’m not actually all that convinced that the comparison needs to be that conclusive. They are winter jackets. They do similar things. The Mossa.2 has that bit more water protection. They are both very warm. The Mossa.2 feels a bit more hardy and seems like it might be a little more durable. It’s hard to choose a winner. So I won’t. It’s interesting, making choices and wondering whether you, dear reader, should make that choice as well. At the time of writing Castelli sell 9 different jackets, 5 of which are for temperatures of 0-10 degree celsius. Sportful, their parent company, sell so many I can’t really figure out how many are for which temperature. Even by individual company there are a raft of alternatives. Choose the one that suits you and what you do.

And, that’s the thing isn’t it? There are alternatives for your hard earned money. This is a very good jacket indeed and what I think is particularly important to conclude on is this, Parentini deserve to be taken very seriously. They’re producing some really well thought out pieces of kit. Too non-committal for you? Ok, if I had to choose then, personally, I prefer the style of this jacket to the rather plain Alpha. It flatters me a little more and it’s that little bit warmer for the really cold days. You might prefer the looks of the Alpha, and that’s ok. We’d live in an odd world if we all had to conform. But I was never all that keen on conforming anyway.

UPDATE 16th February 2016. It’s been very cold in the mornings. -3 Celsius today with some pretty penetrating frost. So, it’s update time. It’s ridiculously warm and, for me, easily the best winter jacket I’ve owned. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it. At the price it’s less than some of the big name competitors and should last you years. You simply cannot go wrong with it.

Torm, this is how I feel.

There’s an elephant in the room. You can’t really write this review without looking at the elephant. Damn, that’s a stylish elephant. It looks like some other elephants I saw once. Those elephants had more expensive taste, racing elephants, elephants with heritage. Look, an elephant is an elephant. It’s very hard to make something that’s an elephant not look like an elephant.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about it’s this. Torm make sportwool jerseys. Rapha make sportwool jerseys. Torm jerseys look a bit like Rapha jerseys and they are made out of the same sort of material. No shiny lycra here, this is wool, a man’s cycle racing material. So, it’s fair to say that when Torm first came along and introduced their plain wool jersey with a stripe, it didn’t go down all that well with Rapha. So some tweaks were made, and they made up, and everyone lived happily ever after. And we will speak no more of it, save for me to opine that, well, there are only so many ways to make a sports wool jersey or an elephant.

Torm are the little guys. Specifically two of them based at SP Cycles in Kent. And they like it that way. Being small means that they get to keep a personal touch and can still get out and meet customers and, above all, get out on the bike. Their USP is the clean, simple and classy design. They deal virtually exclusively in jerseys, short and long sleeve, but also a few other items such as base layers and arm warmers. All of the jerseys are made from sportwool. They have 11 men’s versions and 3 women’s versions. They have a good range of designs, but all have that retro cool feel. Their new special edition jersey is quite the looker.

Let’s talk about sportwool. It’s a merino wool and polyester blend. How much of each is present alters the blend. The weight also differ between manufacturers. Torm’s jerseys are 165gsm weight. If you forced me I’d describe them as a mid weight jersey. With the right base layer (or even without) you can use these jerseys in a variety of conditions. Indeed, that’s rather the point. The short sleeve ones are comfy in the summer up to some pretty high temps. And the long sleeve ones keep you warm in the spring and autumn down to some low ones. Add a base layer and you go even lower. Indeed, add a gilet as well and, if you run warm enough, you could do some pretty chilly conditions indeed.

This review is about the long sleeve T5 jersey. I’ve owned this jersey for a year or so now and have used it more times than I can even remember. Here are some pictures of the front and rear of the jersey. It’s been washed, it’s been dried. It’s been abused and chucked in kit bags. It’s never faded, stretched or shrunk. It’s exactly like the day it arrived.

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There’s nothing overtly technical about the construction here other than sportwool itself. It’s a modern fabric, it doesn’t itch, it doesn’t get smelly, it transfers your sweat away very well and it keeps you warm when it’s cool and cool when it’s warm. It’s a pretty cool classical design as well. It’s bright and the white strip on the arms aids your visibility a touch.

Up front it’s all very simple. A YKK full length zip takes care of fastening duties and it lives in a small fabric zip garage when fully zipped to the top. The collar is a good size and doesn’t constrict even when fully zipped. The waist section is a full length silicon gripper which performs brilliantly in keeping everything where it should be. The quality of the stitching is excellent with flat locked seams to ensure that there’s no irritation. Make no mistake, you can wear this with a base layer or, when spring or autumn allow, without out. There is absolutely no irritation at all. It’s simply wonderful next to the skin.

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There are three rear pockets and all of them are a decent size. There is one zipped waterproof pocket. You can see that in the pictures below. The interior of each zipped pocket is lined with a plastic liner. In theory water could get in through the zip but it would be very unlikely to happen. So, to all intents and purposes, those pockets are waterproof. The zips are are of excellent quality and, despite their diminutive size, easy to operate whether you are wearing gloves or not. The most important thing to say is that the pockets absolutely do not sag, even when full of stuff.

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You’ll note that there are two reflective strips on the back. For a jersey such as this, that’s enough, and, as you can see from the picture below, they are pretty noticeable under flash light.

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So, what’s it like. Well, it isn’t waterproof, it isn’t water resistant, and it isn’t even windproof. It’s just a jersey made for riding in dry conditions. Mine is a large and that’s a spot on fit on a 41″ chest. It doesn’t flap and, whilst it isn’t race fit per se, there is no bulging or movement when on the bike. It’s just a lovely thing to ride in.

And so, we get to value. It’s £59. Yeah, you read that right. Not £159, just £59. For that you get an advanced modern material, YKK zips and high quality construction. You really can’t go wrong at £59. It’ll last and last.

So, the next time you go and look at your favourite elephant page on the internet remember that other elephants are available. Have a look there instead. Buy with confidence and enjoy your elephant for years.

Click here to go to Torm’s website

Prendas : Aqua Light Overshoes, Aqua Repel gloves and some lovely socks.

I’ve been a customer of Prendas for a few years now. They’ve been around for a bit longer, 18 years so far. They sell a wide variety of clothing and some other bits and bobs such as books and DVD’s. Their speciality is arguably the retro jersey ranging from the classic to the more garish offerings from the 80’s pro peloton. They do quite a few accessories as well. If you want a retro jersey then head over to Prendas first. Chances are they’ll have something that floats your boat, be that the iconic Mapei jersey or, my personal favourite, the La Vie Claire, influenced by Mondrian, and ridden by Lemond and Hinault. There’s some exciting new stuff on sale as well, in particular the Santini Reef jersey which looks like a very good foul weather riding jersey.

As I write this review, they’ve just announced that they are starting to support and supply race kit to the Drops women’s cycling team. It’s great to see that kind of support from a retailer. They previously supported the women’s Horizon/Matrix teams and a proportion from every sale of their “Rocket Espresso” kit goes to the Dave Rayner fund to support grass roots cycling.

Prendas are, without a doubt, the most efficient, dependable and downright speedy online retailer I have ever used. Simply put, provided you order by 3:59 pm it will get despatched that day. And, in all likelihood, it will arrive the next day. I don’t really know how they do it. You can imagine them sitting there, packaging poised, late in the afternoon, desperate not to become the first order that takes two days. And, once your order leaves them, it’s subject to the vagaries of the Royal Mail. But, honest to God, every single time I’ve ordered, it’s come the next day. It feels very personal with Prendas.

At this time of year, protecting your extremities is so important. It makes a bitterly cold ride into something that you can enjoy rather than endure. It’s really important not to test products in isolation. A pair of overshoes when wearing bib shorts is neither a good look nor the best test. So I’ve been dressing prepared for winter. That means a warm jacket, bibtights and a good base layer. In terms of my shoes this week, I’ve been using my trusty Shimano XC50n. That’s the all weather variant of the XC50, a mid range SPD shoe. They’re all weather because there’s no mesh on them at all. So, they are somewhat warmer, and certainly more enclosed, than your summer use MTB shoes. I have used Northwave winter boots in the past. That’s a good alternative to shoes and overshoes. But it does require yet another investment whereas overshoes just let you use whatever you already own.

In terms of whether I run “hot or cold” I’d say somewhere in between. I do struggle finding the right gloves but they can be a very personal thing. I see a lot of posters on internet forums claiming that they suffer from Raynaud’s disease, which is a form of reduced blood flow to the extremities. I often wonder whether this is just hyperbole and self diagnosis or whether it is something that is very common. In terms of my toes, I am generally ok as long as I have the right socks and overshoes.

It’s turned a lot colder this week and, arguably, the products I am reviewing are meant for more spring like weather, so cool and damp rather than cold and wet. But by my logic if a product can survive in conditions where it’s not meant to, then that’s a pretty good indication of whether it’s any good. And so, as winter finally arrived, I got out there.

Aqua Light Overshoes (click the link to go to Prendas)

These are a fairly lightweight pair of windproof overshoes. They are not water proof and are not sold as such. Indeed, it’s good to see Prendas be very specific that they are not so rather than implying some greater form of protection. The thing is that overshoes just aren’t waterproof, not really. There are two massive holes in them. One at the top, where you put your feet in. And one (or more) underneath. It’s all about a trade off, balancing good protection with the need to put the thing on. And, remember, no matter how tight you pull the top section together, if you’re wearing bib tights, water will just run into your shoe because of simple physics. So it’s just about being the best you can be. Even the full on neoprene waterproof deep winter products you see suffer from the same issues.

The Aqua Light overshoes are also available in black if fluro isn’t your thing. In terms of temperature they’re sold as a spring/autumn piece rather than for the deepest winter conditions but, as I say,  a lot of this depends on whether you suffer from particularly cold feet. I tend to regard myself as being pretty normal in this respect and can quite happily eke out comfort from spring overshoes in all but the most arctic of conditions.

I’ve always liked the overshoes that Prendas sell. I have a pair of Windtex ones in my drawer and they’ve always kept my feet warm and dry. The quality is excellent and they’ve proved particularly durable.

As you can see from the photos above they are designed, primarily, for use with road shoes. However, I’ve actually been using them with my MTB shoes. You’ll note that most of the sole section is made out of a  very hardwearing fabric surrounded by a a stitched heel and cleat cut out. It’s a very strong material indeed and, given my previous experience of Prendas overshoes, will prove to be particularly durable and resistant to abrasion from the road or from pedals.20160108_112306

Despite me using these with MTB shoes you can see that the fit is still particularly effective. There is a small risk that the part of the overshoe which fits over the tread of the sole could become worn if you walk too far in them. That’s not rocket science. But, the thing is, I already do this with my wind tunnel overshoes. I don’t walk particularly far in them but they’ve never worn through. Bear it in mind, don’t lose sleep over it. The point I’m making is that these will fit both types of soles. If you’re using them with road shoes then, as long as you don’t abuse them, they’ll last for years. The quality of construction overall is excellent. The stitching is strong.

In terms of design these are slightly different to the norm.  Most overshoes are effectively once piece, like a giant sock. But, in order to get into them, you have to unzip the back. Virtually all of them are made like that. But not these. The above ankle section is essentially a giant cuff and the bottom zipped section only goes up to just above the top of the shoe. It’s probably easier to show you a picture rather than describe it.

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For me, this worked particularly well. The thing about overshoes is that they need to be snug but shouldn’t interfere with pedal motion. They also need to be tight to keep the water out. Very often, with a one piece construction, you can feel the zip at the back and you know you’re wearing something extra. I thought that this slightly different form of construction worked particularly well for me. It was easy to get the overshoe on and zip up, and then easy to get a nice snug fit with the collar just by pulling the velcro far enough around to be comfortable. And I honestly couldn’t tell that I was wearing them when riding.

In terms of their performance I’d rate them very highly. My feet were never anything other than toasty warm. But remember that there are factors at play here. My shoes are good and my sock choice is correct. We’ll get to the socks a bit later. There was absolutely no perception of wind getting through and there was none of that sweatiness that you get with some of the heavier neoprene offerings. And whilst they are not described as waterproof none of the rain or road spray ever got in. Would they provide protection in a monsoon? Of course not. But, for the reasons I discussed above, virtually no overshoe can do this. It’s all a trade off. These are a very versatile pair of overshoes and are a great addition to your off season wardrobe (that off season is pretty much all year now).

The fluro colour is very arresting and the reflective highlights provide some useful rearward visibility for approaching drivers. You may need to clean them a little more often as the fluro does show up the dirt. That’s hardly a flaw. It’s a light colour being used in awful conditions. The only thing that affects is my OCD. But that’s just me. You can get them in black if you have a problem with dirt. So far they’ve kept all of the rain out, kept me warm and I can’t feel that I’m wearing them. That has to be a win.

Aqua Light Gloves (click the link to go to Prendas)P1020660P1020661P1020663

It’s probably easier for a pair of overshoes to pass a test they weren’t designed for provided that they are well thought out. But, arguably, it’s much harder to make a pair of gloves pass the winter test if they’re designed for spring. It’s manifestly unfair to test them at close to freezing in the driving rain. But those were the conditions at hand.

Once again Prendas has tagged this product aqua light. And once again they make it clear that they are not waterproof. They’re just designed to give some protection from damp and road spray but, crucially, to be windproof. Essentially they are a windproof upper combined with a perforated palm which allows your hands to breathe. I think that’s often overlooked. In the quest to make a product windproof it’s very easy to just make it all out of windstopper and very often your hands heat up, then get sweaty, then that sweat either transits out, taking the heat with it, or builds up inside and your hands get clammy. So having a perforated palm is a nice idea.

When I first put these on I wondered whether they were the right size. They are very snug. It’s very hard for glove manufactures to cater for everyone’s finger size, length and palm girth, there are so many variables. But, like any good cycling product, what’s important is how they feel when on the bike. And, once I was on the bike they felt perfectly sized. Prendas advised me to go “one size up” from the Defeet Dura gloves I had been wearing so bear that in mind if you plan to purchase.

The overall feel of the glove reminded me a little of an XC mountain bike glove. And that’s a positive thing. They have really excellent padded palms and they were really effective whether I was using my drop bar CX or my flat bar commuter. The grip of the gloves is excellent. That white anti slip coating provides for an excellent interface in damp conditions. I cannot comment yet in relation to its durability but it appears very substantial and I have no reason to believe that it would eventually pick off or fall away.

The wrists are a super roubaix material and are double lined, so they’re effective in keeping your wrists warm. I do have a slight niggle here and it’s personal one. Because the interface between many jackets and gloves is a piece of non windproof fabric it’s nice to have a good overlap in that area. For me, and I speak for me alone, I’d like the cuffs on the gloves to be a cm or two longer, just to ensure that there are no drafty bits. But, otherwise, the cuffs are very comfortable indeed next to your skin.

The first time I tested the gloves it was pretty much as specified, windy, a bit damp and around 5 degrees. On the margins of spring, but not deep winter in my eyes. They were excellent. My fingers were warm and comfortable, there was no road buzz in the palms of my hand and there was absolutely no dampness to the glove once I took it off. I would not hesitate to use them in conditions like that. Indeed, I’m pretty much consigning my other gloves to the drawer from this point onwards. It’s a shame I didn’t have them for some of the CX rounds this winter as they’d have fitted the bill brilliantly.

And then, yesterday, winter arrived. Not so much in the morning, that was around 2 degrees and dry, and the gloves worked very well and even then, arguably, beyond their specification. No, the way home was awful. It started dry but windy, then it went pear shaped. Strong winds, depressed temperatures and driving rain. And, you know what, these are not winter gloves. But, honestly, I was fine. My little fingers were a little chilly, the gloves were becoming wet and I wasn’t as toasty as I wanted to be. But, come on, it’s not what they were for. If you are one of the lucky people who run warm, they’ll be just the ticket.

I really liked these gloves. Given that we seem to have one season a year now I can see them having a lot of use.

Thermocool socks  (click the link to go to Prendas)P1020665

I love socks. I don’t know why. When I was young I pitied my poor father getting socks for Christmas. But as I got older I understood the magical draw of them. Aside from a few posh socks for work I pretty much survive with cycling socks and my cycling accessory drawer is full of them. It’s pretty easy to make a summer sock, just come up with a nice design and make it from something light. It’s much harder to make a winter one, you need to choose between different forms of construction. On the one hand I like my Woolie Boolies and Rapha winter socks. But they’re definitely from the thick is best school of thought. It’s also true that, as they get washed more often, they lose that wonderful softness that they once had.

The other way is the technical way. Make something light but insulating and breathable. Witchcraft I tell you. On the face of it Thermocool sounds weird and suggests that the cool part is the focus of the product. It’s not meant to be, it’s just a reflection of the socks being designed to carry out both parts of an important job, keeping you warm while still being breathable. The socks are made from ThermoCool fabric which is itself a combination of Thermolite and Coolmax. The carbon merely refers to the addition of Resistex for durability.

A technical approach then. The temperature range of these is claimed to be 0-12 degrees. Look, I’ve had these in my wardrobe for a long time, well before Prendas sent me these to test. So let’s deal with durability. The ones I already own look the same as the day I bought them and they’ve seen a lot of use, from commuting to some pretty muddy CX races. They are a very versatile sock and really do have the temperature range that’s claimed for them. That is very personal though, it could be that you do suffer from cold toes and, as such you might find it better to get something more heavyweight such as the Thermolite winter sock (which utilises hollow fibres for heat retention). But for most of us, provided that we partner this sock with a good pair of shoes and overshoes it’s going to do what it says on the tin. As I write this review they are £7.95 or 2 for £15, which is superb given how long they will last.

I have no hesitation in recommending these socks if you are of a similar temperature inclination to me. The only slight niggle I have is that they can be a little hard to pull over your heel as the cuff doesn’t stretch a huge amount. It’s insignificant, once they are on, they stay put. It’s probably the resistex that does that and it’s a tiny price to pay given their durability.

Socks, bloody hard things to review frankly. Not really sexy in any way. No one really talks about socks. But they are essential things and are fundamental to making the rest of your clothing system work properly. You can never have enough socks.

Cateye Volt 1200

As the days grow a little longer, and the need for a big powerful commuting light starts to wane, there’s nevertheless a new lighting arrival at chez Roubaix. The Deca Drive has gone to a new home. I wanted something with a little more oomph. We’ll get onto that in a bit.

My daily commute is, near enough, 20 miles each way, and, when I’m taking it a bit easier in the winter months, roughly an hour or so each way. It’s rarely dark all the way in (or home) but, on the very shortest days, my main light will be required to be on one of its higher settings for a longer period of time. Once I arrive at work the business of recharging begins. I guess this isn’t ideal. I’m recharging a battery which has not exhausted itself. Given that we don’t yet have the magical high capacity one hour recharge batteries (well not using USB 2.0 anyway) having a light with a longer run time means that there’s more capacity left at the end of each commute and less to top up.

Occasionally I also venture off the roads and onto the trails. That’s certainly the case this coming March when A Cycling’s Battle on the Beach event is preceded, the night before, by the first Battle in the Dark event. If you’ve not tried Battle on the Beach, then you should. It’s a brilliant event. At the time of writing it’s all sold out, you need to stay up on New Year’s Eve to be sure of your entry. It’s a 3 lap, roughly 10km per lap, multi terrain event which utilises the beach, forest, sand, and single track winding through Pembrey Country Park. Battle in the Dark is a singe lap of the main race and takes place, as the name suggests, in the dark. Unless there’s moonlight then Pembrey will be absolutely pitch black for this event. So I wanted a light which I could use for that, but one which wouldn’t be absolute overkill for commuting.

The truth is that there is a bewildering array of lights available that can meet my requirements. Some with fewer lumens, some with longer running times, some cheaper, some staggeringly expensive. So there’s nothing that marks the Cateye out as special in the sea of blisteringly light lights. Generally, as you pay more you tend to get more lumens and a bigger run time. Ok, there are plenty of cheap cree LED based lights on eBay. There are also your Magicshine et al, with their separate batteries. But this review is about a single bar mounted headlight. Straight forward and simple. And while I may refer to other manufacturers this isn’t really a comparison piece, it’s simply about whether this light is any good and whether, if you’re after something of its ilk, its a good one to consider.

Given the sheer number of lights out there it’s perhaps surprising that I chose Cateye at all. Most people have heard of Cateye, but if you don’t know who anything about them, they are a Japanese company whose predominant range is bike lights. They sell some other bits and pieces as well, such as cycling computers and even the odd handlebar mirror, but chiefly they deal in lights. Unusually for a Japanese company they were arguably always a little behind some of the bigger players. It took them an absolute age to come up with a GPS cycling computer, by which time Garmin had pretty much cornered the market. They still sell a few but, predominantly, their cycle computer market is at the cheaper end.

But lights were always their real forte and it’s pretty much the case that an awful lot of people have owned a cateye light at some point in their cycling lives. Be that a little safety blinker or something a bit more substantial. I can vaguely recall owning one in the early 00’s in my first commuting exploits (before I was fat). But I can’t remember much about it or where it came from. I can’t remember whether it was any good or whether I used it for seeing or being seen. They’re extremely commonplace. Pop into Halfords and they’ll occupy quite a lot of space. As I write this review I’ve just returned from Go Outdoors and there was a large display of them there. They even turn up in Tesco et al. Cat Eye lights are ubiquitous.

My perception of them was that they were popular because they were common place. Safety in volume sales. Not sexy but probably dependable.  Perception is a funny thing, easy to skew, difficult to dismiss if you don’t do your research. And the truth is, since becoming a serious commuter, I’ve pretty much ignored Cat Eye. They just weren’t even on my radar. And when I did look at them my perception was that they were playing catch up to the mega lumen cree generation. Amongst the more premium Lezyne lights and the mega premium Exposure range, I never gave them much thought.

But, over those recent years, there’s been a slow but noticeable mission change in perception. Regular visitors to the bigger cycling review websites would have noted a more modern looking product, less of the old bulb technology, less of the opticube stuff. A move to bigger output LED’s, rechargeable batteries and USB cable charging. A move into the modern world. Are they still playing catch up? Or is it already too late? Let’s be clear, they’ll always survive because of their commonality. But can they offer anything special or, if not, anything competitive to the super commuting marketplace? Let’s see………..

You should consider this review as a long term test. I’ve been using the light for a week in a variety of conditions and will continue to update the review in the weeks that pass. I’ll let you know how it, and I, fare during the Battle in the Dark.

I read a load of reviews myself before buying this light. One of those reviews referred to the design of the light as being pretty plain but of the packaging being very Apple in nature. It’s not quite true but there’s certainly more attention to detail than you’d see from some other manufacturers. A bit more in terms of aesthetics if not the practicality of the protective cases that come with some of the Exposure offerings.

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The packaging is pretty nice, as it happens. The outer box hinges up to present you with the product housed in a nice protective piece of bespoke foam. The cardboard is thick and looks like it will last, though I’ve no idea why I’d want my packaging to last. I guess it looks good if I decide to eBay it in due course. And while the packaging is clearly not Apple minimalism it’s actually a pretty nice experience, if that’s important to you. It gives the product a quality feel before we begin. This isn’t a plastic blister pack which cannot be opened with anything short of a space grade laser. It’s premium and it’s simple.

Then there’s the light itself. Here are some shots of it.

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Top shot
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2 Led system
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Bottom mount

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In the box there’s a short instruction manual, a single mount and a USB charging cable but no charger. That’s not unusual. I haven’t received an actual charged since an Exposure Strada a little while back. It helps manufacturers cut the cost and they figure most of us have one anyway.

You’ll see that there’s rubber bung covered port on the base of the light which opens to allow you to recharge the light. It’s a pretty easy thing to open and seems well protected from the elements given that it is at the bottom of the light. It doesn’t flap about and it sits tightly in the hole when pushed in. You’ll note that the charging indicator light is on the top. If you don’t want the light pushing down on the micro USB then you’ll place the light on its side or on its back when charging. So, checking whether the light is charged, via the indicator light on top, will mean turning it over. Tiny issue but, overall, it’s much better that the charging port is underneath so as to protect it from the elements. There’s no complicated door opening procedure to plug in a charger and, for me, this looks like a decent weatherproof option.

You can see that the attachment which slides into the bar mount is a separate plastic piece attached to the bottom of the light. Quite a few more component parts than a Lezyne light where the metal case forms the slot to attach to the bar mount. But it actually works very well. Once you slide the light into the mount it clicks nicely into place. You’ll see from the picture named bottom mount (above) that there’s a small button which you press in to release the light from its mount. All good, all easy. It all seems very safe and secure.

A lot of lights have ill thought out mechanisms of attachment. Many of them come with knurled bolts or thumbscrews and some come with allen bolts. Some work well. Some have all the sticking power of limp lettuce. I wasn’t sure that the Cateye one would work, certainly a lot of online reviews of their previous lights mention the mounts as being (or continuing to be) a sticking point. I’ve mounted the Volt on a fairly standard pair of 31.8mm  diameter flat bars. The mount sits right next to stem on the thickest part, i.e. the part that measures 31.8mm. That’s the over size standard and, so, these comments apply to oversize drop handlebar as well. Indeed, as long as you’re not fitting these to something like a Deda 35 then you should be fine. If you’re going to fit them on a smaller diameter then get another rubber shim in there. A medium width shim is supplied. There are no spares so if you want to go to smaller bars you’ll need to get creative.

Once the ring is round the bars you remove the thumb wheel and thread the ridged strap through a hole. Then reattach the wheel and tighten. I didn’t think this would work all that well. My previous experience, with knurled bolts,  is that considerable force is often needed to tighten the bolt sufficiently and that, occasionally, a pliers has had to be used to really tighten it. But not here. I tightened the wheel by hand and it’s very solid indeed. If I want to take it off, it will take about 20 seconds. If I wanted to cut down on this frankly irrelevant amount of time and fit it to one of my other bikes, I could purchase another bracket for about £4. A further bonus in relation to the bracket is that, as I understand it, it’s usable for pretty much the entire range of bigger lights and some other accessories.

It’s a very LIGHT light. It weighs in the region of 220g (not including the bar mount itself.) That’s very competitive. Some of the similar Lezyne lights are about 20g heavier. Indeed, my old(er) Deca Drive was about 40g more. That might not sound much but it’s pretty considerable in practice. It also helps because there’s not quite so much weight on the mount and less chance of it changing angles when you hit the inevitable pot hole.

It’s lighter because, well, it’s plastic. Tough plastic, but plastic nonetheless. How durable is it? I have no idea and I am not about to try and find out. If it hits the road it has the look of something that will survive but might be scratched or dented. But then, so will any metal light. It doesn’t scream quality to look at it but, in the hand, it feels very solidly made. I’d say it’s about as well made as any plastic light I’ve come across. It may not have the perceived quality of aircraft grade milled aluminium but, in practical terms, it’s all good.

So, to the headlines. What does it do? Well, it “does” 1200 lumens. From a bit of googling it’s not clear whether this is achieved through actual LED output or clever opticals or both. And it doesn’t really matter, as long as it does the job.

It has 2 main modes. Assuming that the light is off then a quick double click of the top button sends you into a pretty standard flash mode. Flash will last around 100 hours on a charge, which is pretty good indeed. If you are in flash mode then pressing the top button again does nothing else at all. It’s flash, or nothing. A long hold on the button turns it off. A long press on the button turns it back on. Then you’re into “normal” mode and have a choice between 4 modes within that mode. They are as follows:

  • Dynamic (12o0 lumens)  – 2 hour runtime
  • Normal  – (450 lumens) – 5 hour runtime
  • All night  – (150 lumens) – 17.5 hour runtime
  • Hyper Constant – 14.5 hour runtime

The tech manual doesn’t have those measurements. But they are on the box and there’s also a nice little app available for both Android and iOs called the Beam Chart App. It allows you to enter your light and see how each mode might light the road ahead. It also has the respective measurements. Give it a go, it’s a pretty good representation of reality. It doesn’t have all their products. Just some of the more common high output ones. It’s not absolutely up to date either. The Volt 1600 is missing for example.

Charging takes between 8 and 14 hours. As is fairly normal it depends what you charge it with. Anything more than 500mah with USB 2.0 will, allegedly, fast charge it. I can only assume that’s the 8 hour option. Anything else takes the whole shebang, but, to be fair, it’s 80% done after 10 hours. The battery will apparently last 300 charges, but, good news, it’s replaceable so you don’t have to bin the whole thing. It’s a pretty easy operation as well, undo the allen bolt at the bottom of the light, slide the case apart, pull out old battery and insert new one. It’s not cheap though, the cost of a replacement is around £6o. But that’s still well under half the original RRP and much cheaper than a new light. In terms of charging then the best charger to use, in my view,  would be the original iPad and iPhone big charger. It’s powerful and efficient and a good investment to make. Fast charge is indicated by a flashing light on top and normal charge is indicated by a solid light. Once charging is complete the charing light on top extinguishes.

So, before we get to how it works, there are two more features worth discussing. The first is that is has memory mode. I like that. Too often you have to cycle through modes to get to where you were last. So it’s a good addition to have. The second is that it has a low battery indicator. Yes, you read that right, a low battery indicator. It comes on when it’s low. It doesn’t do a progressive indication, it doesn’t tell you when your half way there. Indeed, the manual says it comes on when there is “little remaining battery power.” Well, ok, that’s a little scary. So, be sure you do your mental arithmetic and charge properly each time you use it. Remember you can drop to a lower mode to save power. It would be nice if the Cat Eye could tell me when it was, say, half full as opposed to imminent darkness. But I’m a big boy and I should be able to keep on top of it.

In addition, it also has a thermal protection circuit. So if it gets too hot it will drop to  a lower mode. If you ride at midnight in the summer this might kick in. So be aware of it. I haven’t had it happen at winter temperatures yet and, bear in mind, they’ve been practically spring like.

Whilst I don’t want to get into the whole business of debating whether it’s better to have more or fewer lumens it’s only fair to say that, on the specifications at least, it would be hard to claim that this is a traffic friendly light. And, from looking over it, it’s clear that there are no hoods which might restrict lighting up the sky as well as the road. There is a 1mm protrusion at the top and bottom but I can’t really describe them in any meaningful was as a hood. The manual recommends that you point it downwards and it would be better to do so in order to minimise the risk of blinding oncoming traffic.

That said, in terms of not annoying other people, the beam that the Volt produces is pretty good. You could almost describe it as square. It doesn’t flood the sky or bleed at the edges. You can see some examples in the photos below. There will be some better ones in due course, including some taken on my actual commute. Providing that you angle it correctly it should illuminate only the lane you’re in with less of a pronounced effect on other traffic than some of the more floody lights on the market. In heavy traffic I’d stick it in the 450 lumen mode and overall I’d be pretty happy that I was not being anti social or, crucially, dangerous. If you want real traffic friendliness then look in the direction of something German certified such as the Philips Saferide 80. A great light but it does not pump out as much light as this. And, for my dual purpose of road, unlit paths and occasional single track, I wouldn’t really consider the Philips.

Before going on to demonstrate the output of the light it’s worth giving a particular mention to the Hyper Constant mode. It’s a good way of being seen. It’s a combination of a flash and solid light at the same time. It’s not enough to cycle by, even on a dark trail, but, anecdotally at least, seems slightly more visible than pure flash mode because it never turns entirely off. Given that the days are getting longer it’s a nice mode to have, very useful in the time leading up to dusk to get you seen and you can then switch over to a bigger lumen output so that you know where you’re going. This mode uses very little power, marginally more than flash mode, so even if you’ve run it for a decent amount of hours in that mode, you know there’s plenty of juice left for the rest of the ride.

My commute starts in an urban environment so there are street lights for 2 miles, the next 14 or so are a mix of no lights or well lit areas and the final 4 miles are on the Taff Trail and completely pitch black. It’s a pretty good route to test lights. You need to be able to see, avoid blinding motorists and, when you get to the pitch black Taff Trail, see without making other users veer off into the River Taff. It’s very very easy to cycle at fast pace in both of the higher output modes. At moderate speed in urban lit environments it’s entirely possible to cycle with the 150 lumen output but I wouldn’t use that routinely unless I was close to running out of juice.

So, how does it actually look? It’s really hard to photograph this stuff. But I’ve had the best go that I can. I’ll see if I can get some better results with the digital camera shortly. I’ve used my garden to show you the beam pattern. Trust me when I say it’s pretty much completely dark. There aren’t any streetlights directly casting light over it so what you see is pretty representative of a typical dark commute. Here are the shots I managed to get on 1200, 450 and 150 lumens respectively. You will note that it is, once again, raining heavily. The light is angled roughly in the same direction on each occasion. I’ll try and update this review, at some point, with photos taken on the Taff Trail so that you can see how far the beam is cast.

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The throw of the beam on full power is excellent and lights the way a considerable distance ahead. But, even the 450 lumens mode is excellent for lighting even a fast commute. To that extent, on most of my commute, that is the mode I use. If I venture wholly off the beaten path into the back country lanes then I tend to use the highest setting so that I can a) light the way a little more comprehensively but also b) so that any traffic coming can see light being cast above the hedgerows as it approaches. And, of course, as I see it coming I adjust the output accordingly. It’s a single click but you will need to cycle back through the settings to get back to the high output again. You should be able to make out the square nature of the beam, it doesn’t really fade out at the edges, just stops.

It’s a damn good light in my view. But what’s particularly good, at this price point, is the run time. There are a number of similary powered lights to this but the run time on each of them is also a little shorter. A quick bit of net research shows that the majority of retailers are selling it at £110 but with a few sellers below £100.

That’s pretty good value IMO. Solidly built and stress free. Puts out a good amount of light in a usable beam. I’m not going to make any claim that this is the best light out there. That would require an extensive test. There are places you can look for comparisons with other lights. But a lot of those comparisons are simply about what the beam looks like with not a great deal of other information. In relation to this light it ticks all the boxes. For commuting I don’t need any more than it. Arguably I could get away with less than it. It should prove excellent for my off road exploits in March. Let battle commence………..