War and Peace 1 : Helmets, deep breath!

This is going to be controversial. You might be outraged at what I say. Try to be dispassionate and understand the evidential basis for my claims. Try to look beyond the soundbites. Try not to fall back on anecdotes. Disagree with me by all means, but approach this with an open mind. This isn’t meant to be provocative, though I can see why you’d feel provoked. It’s about a discussion that does the rounds as regular as clock work. One which polarises opinion. One in which science, physics and tall tales compete for attention. One which is divisive. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

And at the outset let me say this. I wear a helmet whenever I’m on a bike. Always have, always will. You’d think that would make me a helmet evangelist. You’d be wrong.

I’ve fallen off a bike very few times in my life. I could probably count the number of falls on one hand. The first time was when I was about 8. I was pedalling a Raleigh Strika down the lane at the back of my house. The brakes were pretty good, indeed, there was a very effective trick style coaster brake, superb for pulling skids. But, on this particular day, I decided to see what would happen if I stuck my foot in the front wheel in order to stop. The results were predictable. What was not was just how high I went and how hard I fell. Straight onto my face. I was covered in blood. My mother was hysterical. It took a while to heal. I wasn’t wearing a helmet that day. I’m not sure if I even owned one.

About 4 years ago I had my only “serious” road cycling accident. 80 miles into a 100 mile charity ride, sprinting uphill I collided with the rear of the guy in front. He wobbled but stayed upright. Then the chap behind me hit me and we went sprawling. I somersaulted and hit the carriageway. He veered off to the left and scraped his leg. My helmet was dented, I felt a bit dazed. I retrieved my bike from the fast lane of a dual carriageway. I have no idea how I wasn’t killed such is the nature of that road. Luck smiled on me. That evening I was sick, once. Was it concussion? I have no idea. My head didn’t hurt. But my helmet was broken. Very clearly that helmet saved my life.

Actually, I believed that myself for a while. But it’s probably not true. Not on any evidential basis anyway. It is simply not possible to extract, from my experience, any scientific finding other than my helmet was broken. Step away from this for a minute. Would my skull have been as broken as my helmet if I had not been wearing one? I cannot say. Would I have been concussed or knocked out without one? It’s a possibility, but it cannot be scientifically tested in retrospect. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to test it in anticipation either. But we’ll come back to that later.

Was I happy that I was wearing one? Absolutely. Did I perceive that I derived additional protection? Yes. Do I believe that I would have been killed without it? No. Would I ever go without one? In some circumstances. Do I advocate a legal requirement to wear a helmet? Unequivocally no. So, let’s get to it.

Evidence, is there any?

This is what the CTC have to say

This is what “Cycle Helmets” have to say

This is what Bad Science have to say

MIPS, a new technology, any better?

Helmet Certification : EN1078

and

Helmet Certification explained in more detail

I could write a lot about evidence here. There’s a lot to write. There is little doubt, in the opinion of those who have fallen off a bike, that a helmet will have saved their life or, at least, contributed to a lesser injury. That last link is quite interesting. Have a look at what’s needed for a cycle helmet to pass EN1078. It’s not much, and much of it is simplistic and doesn’t really bear any relation to real life.

Scientifically, much of that is hard to confirm. Anecdotally, it’s pretty easy. Read any forum and you’ll see a suggestion of banging your head against a wall with and without a helmet to test helmet efficacy. That’s a pretty meaningless comparison overall in the context of road cycling. Ditto taking a claw hammer to your head in any other test.

The problem with evidence is that it’s hard to come by. Dead or brain damaged cyclists may well have suffered similar injuries with or without a helmet. Indeed, death is normally caused by a contribution of injuries and other factors. Any cyclist who has “escaped” injury may or may not have done so if they had not been wearing a helmet. None of this is predictable and very little of it is scientifically reproducible.

There is some evidence that suggests that helmets are very useful at speeds up to 12 mph, or so. That’s the type of accident where, in effect, you fall off your bike. That much seems clear from EN1078 certification and the height/forces tested. In my case I was sprinting up hill. A little faster than 12 mph, as I am a sprinting God, but not that much faster. Anecdotally, I would say that, at that speed, the helmet helped me or, at least, I was no worse off. At faster speeds there is little evidence to suggest that a cycling helmet works at all. A lot of helmet warnings specifically state that they can be helpful in solo riding accidents at speeds up to 12 mph (about 20 kmh). That’s where they are the most helpful. Yet, in countries like Denmark with such a massive amount of cyclists doing up to 20 kmh they are so rarely seen. In Australia, home of the mandatory cycling helmet law, they are currently considering a relaxation of the rule for “leisure cyclists,” the ones going less than 12 mph. Good old science and evidence.

And with all of that in mind we turn to real hotly contested point. There’s a belief that, if a helmet helps up to 12 mph, then it must work above 12 mph even though its protective ability might be incrementally reduced. But there’s little evidence for this. Chuck in collision with something else which may or may not be going in the same direction (i.e. cars) and it becomes more complex. And then you have types of injury. It’s easy to replicate a particular force striking the top of helmet. It’s harder to replicate oblique impacts, rotational forces or incidents that are “other than the norm.” It’s hard to make one size fit all. Compare how we test seat belts. That’s pretty easy, mostly. We have enough data to be able to test in different situations. It works. Easy to replicate, generally. Helmets? Much harder to do so.

And then there’s the mechanism of the protection. How do helmets work? What proof is there. My helmet was split. Part of the Styrofoam was no longer in connection with another part of it. But there was absolutely no measurable compression of the foam whatsoever. None. The force of the impact was not concentrated on a single point. Indeed, that distribution of impact force appears to be their main benefit. My head had still hit a solid object, just one slightly softer and more amenable than tarmac. If there had been a sharp object on the road then, provided it did not co-incide with a vent hole, having something between me and the road is likely to be useful. There’s a lot of common sense at play here. But it’s all still anecdotal and not really scientific.

Indeed, consider this. The evidence that we are presenting that a product has worked perfectly is because it is broken. You don’t see that very often in safety. A claim that a product has worked because it’s now in lots of bits. And, at the very best, it’s broken at the time of initial impact. Everything else happens afterwards with a broken helmet. Yet the myth persists that it must have worked. I tend to believe that it helps. It distributes force a little better, protects you from sharp objects (as long as they don’t just go through the many vents), gives you something extra. What I don’t believe, is that it offers very much.

Some scientists will say that current construction offers nothing at all. No initial deceleration of forces, nothing. You might get less scrapes and scratches. Indeed, a colleague of mine bounced into a tree while mountain biking a few days ago. His helmet was a bit cracked, his head protected. His back is in bits now though, due to the impact down his spine. His view? He was happy to be wearing it, thought he may have had a bit more of a sore head, possibly mild concussion. Did it save him? He has no evidence that it did. Indeed, he agrees with my critical view of the evidence system.

A neurosurgeon’s view

That’s an interesting one. There’s no discussion there of impact protection per se. But the thrust of the discussion is that there are other potential effects that could be worse than impacts. Have a read, see what you think.

And a very entertaining talk here. Take a minute to absorb that. Wonder why we don’t wear helmets when walking down the street. There’s evidence there. It’s more dangerous. And helmets work at that speed. Apparently. Watch what he says at 11 minutes. That’s right, isn’t it? A sea change? The correct perspective? Why are we ensuring the the vulnerable are protected, ignoring the ones who cause the damage and, quite weirdly, excluding the largest groups of vulnerability from the discussion at all?

There is some evidence out there. Well, there’s statistical data at least. Most of it relates to desk top studies of accident and emergency admissions. There’s a flaw there, for a start. Any such study ignores those who did not attend hospital in relation to the injury they suffered. And in relation to those who did? Well, it’s all rather inconclusive.

Department for Transport Summary

Note the language. There is a complete absence of the word would. All of the claims are couched in terms of “could have” or “may.” Forensics are useful. But they can’t substitute for viewing the accident or interviewing the victim. Quite difficult if they are dead. In relation to the studied fatalities it’s not clear whether, in each case, a pathologist was asked to comment, or a neurosurgeon. What was the content of the reports?

There’s evidence it seems of a potential small reduction in cases if a helmet had been worn. A small reduction but statistically significant. And if something is statistically significant it ups the risk factor. And society finds a way to mitigate against it and protect the vulnerable.

But, in the year of the Towner study, cycling head injuries represented 6.5% of serious head injuries in the pedestrian/cycling group. Indeed, the trend from 1995 onwards has been downwards in relation to deaths from head injuries. It is possible to draw conclusions from any of this? It seems not, a positive cannot be proved and a negative cannot be disproved.

So far, I sound very negative. I’m not, not really. I’m keeping an open mind on what we know and don’t know. What about if our helmets were made better? What if we moved onto something a bit more advanced. Isn’t it time to ditch the styrofoam? What about this MIPS thing (though there is still a foam outer, it’s the inside that’s a bit more clever).

The MIPS stuff sounds great. Looks good, seems to offer something more. It deals with the rotational issue. But here’s what the CEO of MIPS had to say:

” I think the No. 1 thing is with how the helmets are built and tested. We have found that the testing is not enough. The companies are not testing what happens in real life. You have an angle to the ground and that angle causes rotational forces and that is something that has been left out. Yes, the helmets are great and are saving people’s lives, but I think the industry doesn’t really know what happens when you fall. That’s why we are still very much in the education process with what MIPS can do for people.”

It’s good to see. He recognises the need to keep thinking, keep researching, try to come up with a way to deal with this complex science.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d prefer something between my skull and the road because I feel, and it’s nothing more than a feeling, that it’s got to be a little bit helpful. But I can’t demonstrate this in any tangible or scientific way. Indeed, as soon as you think about science, it all starts to fall apart a little.

My advice? If you don’t want to wear one, don’t. If you do, great. Get a nice looking one that matches your kit and won’t make you too sweaty. Get one that fits your head and doesn’t mess up your sunglasses alignment. But, whichever camp you fall into, respect the choice of the other and don’t force your view on them. Though, if you’re in the pro helmet camp, bear in mind you can’t prove any of it. And in the anti, you can’t disprove any of it.

But, what happens in law if you decide not to wear one? 

In the United Kingdom there are few legal requirements in relation to cycling. The Road and Vehicle Lighting Regulations set out lighting requirements. Breach of them is a criminal law offence. There may be some civil law ramifications. Bikes need to be sold with a bell. But you can chuck it in the bin when you get the bike. There’s no legal mandate to use it. The Highway Code recommends many things. One of these is the wearing of a helmet. Specifically the code states that you SHOULD wear:

  • a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened.

Should wear. It’s one of those advisory pieces of the Highway Code which you don’t have to follow. What regulations? Well, there aren’t any particularly legal ones. But if you choose to buy and wear one, then look out for a BS or EN (1078) standard. It should be somewhere on a sticker inside. Chances are if you buy it from somewhere reputable it will be fine. There are “better” helmets as well. Buy something with Snell certification and that’s apparently safer. “Better” still are MIPS helmets. They apparently offer the most protection as we saw above.

Let’s deal with the law first. You don’t have to wear one. No one can stop you for not wearing one. There are no criminal offences at all. But there may be consequences.

Let’s deal with the criminal law first. Let’s assume you are hit when you are not wearing a helmet. You’re injured, or worse. Let’s assume that the prosecution are able to prove that the person who injured or killed you was driving dangerously. Normally, a conviction for causing serious injury or death in relation to dangerous driving would be fairly easy to achieve. But the injury or death aspect requires a causative link. It must be shown that the dangerous act caused the injury or death. In R v Blake (2015) the media report that the Jury heard that the victim (who died) was not wearing a helmet. It’s not clear what the Judge said to the Jury about causation but he advised them that it was not relevant to the question of driving. This was a high speed collision. A helmet is practically useless in the circumstances. Why on earth was helmet use even raised? And there’s a risk, clearly, that we may see a case which turns on that specific point.

In R v Moore (2008) Judge Richard Lowden gave Moore a 24-week suspended prison sentence in relation to the death of James Jorgensen. He said the fact that Jorgensen had not been wearing a helmet was a “mitigating factor” and Moore’s sentence was reduced accordingly. The judge reached this decision without hearing any evidence about the effectiveness of helmets, or whether a helmet would have made any difference to Jorgensen’s injuries. Moore had been travelling at more than 20 mph.  To date there have been no other cases. It’s surprising that the Prosecution had not appealed the sentence on the basis of the Judge’s direction. Though, if you’ve read my earlier pieces, perhaps no surprise at all. This was a case, apparently, of “momentary carelessness,” and, as such it’s likely to have been a suspended sentence in any event. That the suspended sentence (which would never be activated if no other crime was committed) was shorter had not actual impact.

But there’s a more bonkers issue here. Causation. The Judge felt that the lack of helmet use made the “crime” less serious. But, hang on. That, by its very nature puts blame on the victim and suggests that, had he worn a helmet, his injuries would have been lessened. Lessened to what? Less death? Slower death? Is the actual implication that he would not have died? If so, why did the Judge not query the case and consider whether the Defendant had been properly charged with “causing death.” I suspect the answer is that, in the Judge’s head, he knew what sentence he could give and that his remarks were a sideshow. But they are a dangerous sideshow legally in my view.

But it’s the civil law that is most concerning. In civil law the party who is injured needs to demonstrate that the party who caused the accident has been negligent. But the party who caused the accident may claim that the accident and/or injury was caused or contributed to by the actions of the injured party. We call this “contributory negligence.”

Once upon a time, if it could be shown that you were somehow also at fault for your accident or injury, you lost. That was a pretty harsh reality and it changed with the introduction of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, section 1 of which provides

“Where any person suffers damage as the result partly of his own fault and partly of the fault of any other person or persons, a claim in respect of that damage shall not be defeated by reason of the fault of the person suffering the damage, but the damages recoverable in respect thereof shall be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the Claimant‟s share in the responsibility for the damage.”

That’s pretty straightforward, as legal drafting goes. In any injury claim it’s open for the other party to try and blame you a bit. And, if they can, then the amount of damages you get will be reduced by the percentage that you are deemed to be “also at fault.”

In motoring claims the most common allegation of contributory negligence is failure to wear a seat belt. Way back, in 1975 specifically, the Court’s were asked to consider whether failure to wear a seat belt constituted contributory negligence. At that time the legal position was that all cars had to be fitted with seatbelts but there was no legal compulsion to wear one. In the case of Froom v Butcher the Court considered that very issue.

It’s a landmark judgment and is still relied on today, more or less. Despite there being no legal compulsion to wear a seatbelt the Court considered that it would be odd if Parliament had wanted all cars to be fitted with seat belts if they were not to be worn. The Court came up with a formula by which it could take a certain percentage off a total award of damages to reflect failing to wear a seatbelt. There were three outcomes. First, if the seatbelt would have made no difference, there would be no reduction at all. If the failure would have prevented any injury then it would be 25%. Finally, if it would have prevented some but not all injuries then it would be 15%. What would have been avoided, or not, is a matter of evidence and requires independent expert evidence. Fitting a case into the 25% category appears relatively straightforward. Hit your head on the dashboard, suffer a head injury and it’s uncontroversial that a seatbelt would have prevented that. Arguing the distinction between some injury and no difference is a much harder question.

It’s an interesting case and it requires you to divorce primary liability (or fault) from causation. Just pause for a moment. Think about the ramifications of that. On the face of it, it looks a little unjust. Someone else has crashed into you and you are the one losing out. But is that really the case? Arguably, given that you could have suffered no injury at all, losing 25% for your failure represents an injustice to the party primarily at fault.

It took until 1983 for seatbelt use in the UK to become compulsory. Even then it started only as a trial. There was a clear evidence base for its introduction, though getting much of the data was far from straightforward. You won’t be surprised to know that we have our Scandinavian cousins at Volvo to thank for some of it. They were one of the first with the 3 point harness that we now know.

But I digress. The point is, that at a time when seatbelts were required to be fitted but not used, the law was critical of any failure. You’d expect, post 1983, for the law to change to recognise the much harsher legal position. But it didn’t. Froom v Butcher has remained good law to this day. It has been most recently considered again in Pearson v Anwar (2015). The Court of Appeal has confirmed Froom as still representing good law.

So, how will the Courts deal with helmet use? Well, we still don’t know. It’s certainly possible that there are cases out there where negotiations between an insurer and the injured party resulted in a % of damages being subtracted where helmet non use was a factor. But we just don’t know. Crucially, those cases are not in any way a precedent. There are no cases in which an actual judgment has resulted in any deduction. But there have been cases which discuss the approach a Court might take.

In Smith v Finch [2009] the defendant, a motorcyclist, was found to be completely at fault for driving into the claimant, a cyclist. A question arose about his failure to wear a helmet. The Judge felt that the Froom v Butcher law should equally apply. Though, in the present case, because the impact was of more than 12 mph, it was unlikley to have made any difference at all. So the actual question was not answered. But the content was troubling:

“It matters not that there is no legal compulsion for cyclists to wear helmets and so a cyclist is free to choose whether or not to wear one because there can be no doubt that the failure to wear a helmet may expose the cyclist to the risk of greater injury; such a failure would not be ‘a sensible thing to do’ and so, subject to issues of causation, any injury sustained may be the cyclist’s own fault and ‘he has only himself to thank for the consequences’.

The sensible thing to do. But not the legal thing to have to do. Yet the implication is that a cyclist will be harshly penalised. But, what cyclist? It appears that there are certain classes. Ride fast, ride like a pro, exceed 12 mph, or ensure that the thing hitting you exceeds 12 mph and the question will not arise. Be a leisure cyclist, be a school kid on the way to school, be the granny on the way to the shops, and it will. Do we really want to divide classes of claimants based on dodgy science? Fortunately these words have little legal force. They are what is known as “obiter dicta.” Potentially persuasive for another Court but not binding on it.

Then there was A v Shorrock (2009). A better case from the stand point of common sense. There the cyclist lost the case on other facts. But the Judge stated that he would not have made any deduction for contributory negligence given that there was no legal compulsion to wear a helmet and that cycling was a not an ordinarily dangerous activity. That last part is very welcome. It is not inherently dangerous.

In the case of Phethean-Hubble v Coles [2011] Tobias Phethean-Hubble, 16 years old, was involved in a collision with a car being driven by Sam Coles (who was 17 years old).

In this case the Claimant was cycling on a pavement with no lights and no helmet. He jumped off, it appears, onto the road and was hit by the car being driven by the Defendant. A lot of this case was about the manner of the impact but there were issues in relation to contributory negligence. It’s actually a good judgment. The main issue was speed. It was accepted that had the Defendant been driving slower there would have been no accident. In relation to helmet use the Judge mentioned Smith v Finch but also accepted that there were some cases in which helmet use may make matters worse. Perhaps worryingly no one thought to cite the case of A v Shorrock to the judge. We’re still no closer to any form of “test” therefore. And that’s a good thing. It needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis. And, if the evidence is correct that a helmet is only good for falling off your own bike at under 12 mph, then hopefully the matter will not arise.

As matters presently stand I remain to be convinced that a Froom v Butcher type test will ever apply in relation to cycling helmet cases. What’s particularly welcome is that there are so many few cases in which the issue ever arises. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Yet, in the media, the lack of wearing a helmet is cited as one of the great irritants concerning cyclists. Only this weekend a twitter storm erupted when the London Ambulance Service used the hashtag #nohelmet when reporting a cycling “accident.” We have no idea of the facts or science. They didn’t feel it important to mention. But they clearly felt the need to protect. Which is understandable from an organisation responsible for safety. But irresponsible in their attitude to risk and evidence.

What’s less understandable is why society cares so much. Why is it that failing to wear a helmet is so frequently used to bash us over the heads with?

Society’s demand for helmet use

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

As human beings our empathetic response is the capacity to recognise emotions that are being experienced by our fellow human. It is generally thought that we need to grow our empathy so that we can identify the need to express sympathy or to give compassion.

Empathy is one of the defining characteristics of human behaviour. We empathise on an individual basis but also as a societal one. It’s relatively common for sections or sometimes the whole of society to empathise with individuals or with defined categories or sub groups of society and to come together offer support in an emotional, spiritual of even financial manner. Charity fund raising, for example, requires empathy to underpin its very nature.

Equally society can take a rather less empathetic view in relation to those individuals or sub groups. Perhaps due to an innate distrust, perhaps due to some illogical stereotype but very often because that element of society has never really crawled into the skin of that other person and walked round in it. Of course, this is an oversimplification; we can empathise with the starving man without having walked in his tight and drawn skin.

The empathetic response often leads to a societal need to cosset and protect. After all, we can avoid the need to sympathise or to give compassion if we, as a society, can offer measures which mean that such things can be reduced or avoided. In doing so we consider whether the section of society that we empathise with is in need of protection. Very often here morality comes into play. But with morality comes danger.

The reaction to smoking in the form of bans and advertising could be seen as an extension of empathy. Who would want to find themselves with such horrible medical issues? Society’s empathetic response requires action. The smoker must be stopped. But is this empathy or something more morally heavy handed?

Enter the helmet debate. It seems society demands helmets for cyclists. There’s no statistical evidence that they do anything very much at all. If the empathetic response requires protection, then this is not the way. But, let’s assume that they do offer that protection, that a helmet is the nirvana. Is the demand for helmets an empathetic response? Is society so concerned for the well being of cyclists that they must be protected for their own good? Has anyone who argues in favour of such compulsion crawled into their lycra and cycled around in it?

Is it realistic to think that the average motorist, for it is motoring society that appears to clamour for the introduction, views the cyclist as a vulnerable fluffy bunny lacking in any obvious understanding of the danger that they face? Is it realistic? Of course not. History is littered with examples of society dressing up an empathetic response to the marginalism of sections of society. No, I suspect the demand for helmet wearing is far more sinister. Deriving not from any empathetic response but instead from the belief that the cyclist must be tamed. Wearing a helmet will achieve this because, well, the more rules that are applied, the more equal they will be. It’s interesting how a section of society can demand equality with the slower, weaker and more vulnerable.

Is the demand simply because, if it is enforced, there will be less? A sub conscious demand to get them off the roads? It is difficult to draw any real conclusions because society is so nebulous, so unpredictable, so very human. Does empathy require you to walk around in another mans lycra? No. But understanding the issues faced by that person requires some form of revolution.

The debate will rumble on.

 

I’ve seen the future, it’s all about less (sometimes).

I am not a racing God. Indeed, when the Battle of the Beach organisers asked competitors to submit their applications for seeding I rather jokingly responded by asking to be seeded towards the back. Right at the back if possible. I’d hate to get in the way of other who are a bit better than me. I do it for the love of cycling in all its forms.  And given my lack of innate ability it seems odd that things like weight, simplicity and whatever noun I decide to ascribe in relation to tubeless wheels matter to me at all. But they do. They make riding off road a better experience for me. Actually, a lot of what I discuss here makes on road more pleasurable as well. At least until it’s Summer (best bike still under wraps).

This piece is as much about the evolution of the bike pictured above as it is about the installation of two very fashionable pieces of tech, namely the 1 x drivetrain and tubeless tyres.

I’ve owned the XLS for over a year now. It’s a tidy little cyclocross bikes. It ticks many of the right boxes. Built from scratch you can get a decent, lightweight, competitive bike. Mine was not built from scratch. It arrived with a SRAM Apex groupset (36/46 chainset) and Avid BB7 cable operated disc brakes. Those are not the original wheels.

The first changes I made were to the BB7 brakes. I hate them. Don’t get me wrong, they work perfectly well but do require some adjustment to keep them working properly. They’re a bit heavy and, to be honest, we’ve moved on. There are 3 viable alternatives in my view. The first was to go full hydro. That’s a problem. The first point is that it would have cost £400, and that’s just for starters. Because the entry level Sram hydro shifters are 11 speed I’d have had to upgrade the 10 speed components as well. That option was out on the basis of cost.

The other two options were far more straightforward. Just change the brakes. The choices, for me, were TRP Spyre SLC (full cable actuation) or TRP Hy Rd (cable hydraulics). The latter are excellent. I used to have them on my road bike. But that’s morphed from a gravel racer type thing into a full on carbon superbike. They’re a very clever brake indeed. The cable end pulls an actuating arm which squeezes the hydraulics. It’s not full on hydraulic feel but a pretty good approximation. They brake very well, give good modulation and feedback and the pads wear evenly.

The TRP Spyre SLC are not as good, but given the use that they were intended for, good enough for me. And they work very well. Indeed, I’ve only just changed the original pads which had worn well and never seen me grabbing the brakes in panic.

Setting the Spyres up is extremely easy. Pull the cable through, tighten. Loosen off the frame bolts, grab the brake, tighten the bolts. At that point it SHOULD be centred. If you get any rub it’s easy to fettle.

The next step was wheels. The Planet X ones were ok. Decent hubs (probably a Novatec clone), heavy single gauge spokes and good rims. I did a deal with a chap and in came some lighter Pacenti SL25. Eventually they moved to another bike and in came those Pro Lite. You’ll have seen my review of them elsewhere. They continue to impress.

And that’s how matters were. Until a week or so ago.

The first step was a drivetrain change. The thing is, for off road, for CX and, pretty much for commuting, you don’t need two chainrings. One is enough. You can do away with a front mech, you can lose some cabling, you can remove the lever on the shifter if you really want. You lose some weight. Which is nice. But it’s not much. You do get a bit of simplicity though.

So, off came the chainrings from my SRAM Apex chainset, and on went this:

AB

It’s an Absolute Black Narrow/Wide 5 Bolt 110 BCD 42 tooth single ring. What makes it special? Well, have a look at the teeth, you’ll see that they alternate in their profile. One is narrow, one is wide. The theory here is that it helps keep the chain on, subject to some other things. Essentially the wider teeth are filling the gap in the chain and helping it to remain secure. They’re also slightly taller and protrude further into the chain. Removal was easy, and the bolts on the chainset proved to be the correct length for fitting the new ring back onto the spider.

But, a new ring is not enough. There are two methods of ensuring that the chain stays on. The first is a traditional chain guide. The second is a better rear mech. And by better I mean one with a clutch. This is what I ended up with.

X9

There are a few things to explain there. Ignore that lock. That’s not the clutch. The lock is there because the mech is more powerful than normal and you may need to pull the cage forward and lock it out to remove the rear wheel. May need to, I didn’t find it all that powerful in reality though the lock is a tidy feature to have. No, the real magic occurs in the roller bearing clutch section. Essentially it creates friction to stop forward momentum of the cage while still allowing it to move backwards smoothly. Result? It adds tension to the chain to keep excess slap to a minimum in order to improve shift consistency, lessen the chance of dropping a chain, and greatly quiet noise from the chain bouncing around.

The final step was to install a new cassette with a wider range. So I went from a 11-32 10 speed to a 11-36. And then I had some issues. I’d assumed that my chain length would be ok. After all, my old setup went down to a 36t inner ring, so, given this ring was bigger than the old inner, it would just work. But it doesn’t. You can’t rely on traditional calculators for single rings. Instead you wrap the chain around the largest rear cog and the chain ring, add 4 links, then cut and join. It sounds harder than it is, so here’s a video to show you how.

And, it just works. The drive train is completely silent. Over rough ground there’s absolutely no chain slap at all. Shifting appear to be precise and smooth. It’s worth noting here that I’m using a SRAM MTB mech with SRAM road shifters. They work well together because of SRAM’s exact actuation ratio. That means that every mm of shifter movement moves the rear mech the same distance. There’s no gearing or conversion going on. It also means that you have a wide choice of SRAM mechs. Remember that the movement of a SRAM mech is determined by cable pull and the limit stops. So, provided that the limit stops are set correctly you can use a 9,10 or 11 speed compatible mech with your 10 or 11 speed shifters.

Cost? Well, actually minimal. The chainring I got from a mate for £25. Same mate sold me the mech for £20. I bought a Shimano XT cassette for £32. Cost to change was under £80. Sale of old parts realised me the same sum. Net cost £0. Compare that with the cost of a Rival 1x drivetrain which would be north of £600 (though admittedly with hydraulic brakes). So, if you want to convert fairly cheaply and easily to 1x this is a good way of doing it. SRAM are also bringing out a new NX range of components and the rear mech for that is likely to be very cheap indeed.

Time will tell whether I’ve got my gearing right but, initial impressions are that I have 5 suitable CX type gears at the lower end (including a climbing gear that is slightly easier than what I had before) and 5 usable road gears at the top end. Indeed, while I won’t be winning any bunch sprints in 46/11, at 90 rpm that gear ratio is good for almost 27 mph. It’s pretty much the same as running a 50/13. And easily good enough for even a fairly fast paced club run. There are less ratios, clearly, but I don’t currently feel that there’s much of a gap. Particularly on my 20 mile commute. Indeed, it’s all surprisingly lovely. I don’t know whether 1x is the future of drive trains, but there’s not an awful lot missing. Would I want it on a hot summer’s day for a pure tarmac based blast? Probably not, but since I’m N=3 then it doesn’t matter too much.

And that’s the first part of the experiment done. The next part is tubeless.

Tubeless tech has been around for years. Your car has tubeless tyres. We’ve all been driving on them since about the mid 1950’s. And it’s all pretty easy to set up. You need a wheel which is capable of being completely sealed, a way of getting the air in (i.e. a valve attached to that sealed unit), and a tyre capable of dealing with it all. How it goes about this is a little different to normal. Most normal bike tyres hold onto the rim of a wheel by virtue of the bead. It hooks into the inner groove inside the wheel.

hook

The theory is that you need tubeless rims and tubeless tyres to make the switch. The theory is that, as least as far as the UST standard is concerned, there’s a better connection between the bead and the rim hook. It’s one more thing to prevent your tyre coming off. That’s the theory. But it’s possible to convert rims and tyres into tubeless with some practice, trial and error. Some work, some don’t. The main things that contribute to the capacity to run tubeless are a good sealed rim and a non porous tyre. It’s better, in theory, to use a tubeless tyre as the sidewalls tend to be more durable than a tubed tyre.

I don’t have to worry about compatibility per se. My Pro-Lite Revo are tubeless ready and my new Schwalbe G-One 35c gravel tyres are designed to be run tubeless. Indeed, they are part of Schwalbe’s new “TL easy” range. Ok, we’ll see. Anyway, these are the things you’re going to need. I chose Effetto but other brands are available, the main one being Stan’s No Tubes, of course.

Before I commenced this task I first installed both tyres onto my wheels “normally” that is to say, with tubes. That ensures that the tyres get some shape in them in terms of seating themselves properly in the rim hooks. I only did that because folding tyres sometimes need to find their shape after being boxed. After a day or so riding them that way I removed the tyres and tubes and set about converting them to tubeless. Here I hit a slight snag. The front tyre came off as you’d expect it to. The rear was an absolute bugger to get off the rim. There was some swearing. There was some high level cursing. Deadpool would have been impressed. Eventually I did it. But it was very tightly embedded. This is a good thing, overall, as you can be sure of a very effective seal.

The first step will be to ensure that your rim is made airtight. You do that by installing the rim tape as pictured above. But the first step is to remove your existing rim tape. That’s only there to prevent your inner tube from catching and breaking in the spoke holes. Once done a quick rub down with some alcohol (the chemical type rather than a can of Stella) will ensure that the inner part of the rim is clean and ready for use. Give it a quick dry and then install two entire runs of rim tape. If you want you can add a third for a bit more security. It’s important to get the right size (internal rim width) and to make sure that you don’t interfere at all with the rim hook area. And, yes, you do need to cover the valve hole for now!

Once you’re done with that you’ll need to insert the tubeless valve. Make a small incision in the rim tape where the valve hole is. Don’t make it too big. Then thread the valve through, and secure it the other side with the screw washer. You’ll see from the picture above that the valve has a rubber “bung” on the inside of the rim. When seated against the rim tape that makes the seal. You only have to do the washer up hand tight to make an effective seal. As long as you haven’t cut too big a hole in the rim tape in the first place.

With that done it’s time to seat the tyre. And you do this just like you’d seat any other tyre, mostly. You may find you have to use levers to get the final section on. That’s fine, there’s no inner tube to break or pinch.

And then you’re ready to test. Generally I always try pumping the tyre up without any sealant first. That way you get to check it and don’t waste anything if it all goes wrong. In this case, despite the G-One’s looking like they were just sitting in the middle of the rim bed, they just went straight up and held air. You do need a decent track pump. Some people report not being able to get this to work without a shock pump but the G-One seem very ready to jump on the rim.

I left them for a few hours and they stayed pretty firm. So I deflated them and added the sealant. That involves removing the valve core and adding about 60ml of sealant to that giant syringe that you can see above. Then re insert the valve core and pump up. Spin the wheels a bit to ensure an even coverage inside and you’re good to go.

Result? Next morning both tyres are still pretty much the same PSI as the night before. In use they are pretty lovely whether you’re talking about a tarmac run or a bit of off road action. They aren’t just wide, they’re also high, so that contributes to a nice balloon tyre feel. They feel pretty robust as well. Certainly as robust as my tubed Vittoria Hyper Voyagers. But, of course, overall, the weight is lower. I’ve lost about 100-125g per wheel as a result of going away from tubes.

And that’s it, no fuss, no drama, just a good feeling tyre. I’ll continue to report on whether they stand up to abuse and what types of holes the sealant fills. But I doubt I’ll even be able to tell.

I have to say that my previous experience of Vittoria TNT and Schwalbe One (pre easy tubeless was a nightmare). This time it seems easier. I’m slightly concerned at whether that one tyre sticks in the rear rim as I do want to swap them out depending on the conditions. But we’ll see. Initial impressions are excellent. It’s a shame I can’t really convert my Mavic wheels on my best bike to tubeless without going all ghetto on them. So, in due course, a change to a nice pair of tubeless wheels and some Schwalbe Pro One 25 will almost certainly be in order.

Prendas Sleek Acquazero Jersey

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This is not a Mossa. Neither is it a Gabba. You might look at the description there of Acqua and think that this is another one of those foul weather rain jersey/jacket thingies. It’s not, mostly. What it is is a really lovely little autumn/spring lightweight long sleeve jersey with benefits.

There is a watery element to it. The fabric is called Reba. Essentially it’s a fleece backed material with added water repellent treatment. It’s not a membrane, just fabric. It’s not for going out in the rain. It’s for those days when you might get caught out in a shower or some drizzle. That type of thing. So, the days in between the days with persistent rain.

I’ve been testing a lot of water related clothing recently. Indeed, the opportunities for testing clothing that isn’t full on waterproof, warm or able to stand up to Armageddon, have been few and far between. But there have been some dry days and I’ve managed to get out there on a few damp ones as well.

I asked Prendas how I should wear this. Should I use a base layer or not? Apparently I should. But it’s so wonderfully comfortable without one that I’ve been trying not to. There’s been no shortage of autumn/spring like days in the middle of winter. Simply put, without a base layer it will be warm enough for spring days, with a base layer it will be warmer and good enough for single digits in my view.

Prendas recommend that you size up on this jersey. And they mean it. Really size up. So, where I can wear some Prendas kit in Large, and some in Extra Large, this time I’m wearing Extra Extra Large. With a 41″ chest. Whacky Italians! Still, it’s just a label. Follow the sizing chart to get the size you need.

It really does live up to its “Sleek” description. It’s form fitting when you get the right size. If you want something a little looser then size up again. But, actually, I don’t think you need to. It’s very stretchy and doesn’t constrict. Did I mention how wonderfully comfortable it is?

I opted for the lime green version. I’m having a bit of fluro evangelism as, in my view, it is very visible indeed and, you know what, I like it as a colour. It’s good to see race kit being made in something visible. But you can have red if you want. And, if you like the red one, you get the added benefit of a little Union Jack on the back. You don’t get a flag on the lime green one. Mostly, I guess, because there aren’t any lime green flags. Adding anything that’s not the same shade would be a little jarring. Two good colour choices in my view.

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So, let’s talk about what it’s not going to be. It isn’t going to be water proof. You can’t really call it water resistant, but, actually the results might surprise you, more of that later. And it’s certainly not windproof. It’s a £69.95 good looking, race fit, help you out in a shower, spring jersey. Is that a niche? Not at all. It’s a roubaix type jersey with benefits. And, in my view, damn good value at that price. Let’s get onto the features.

Can I start with the reflectives? Look, it takes little effort to add this stuff, it costs pennies, it doesn’t detract in any way at all from the look of the jersey and it’s effective. So, it’s a mystery why every manufacturer doesn’t do this.

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Onto the front of the jersey,  as you can see from the photo below the waistband is one of those large elasticated affairs. It’s populated on the inside by many silicon grippers. Combined with the race fit it means that waist of the jacket stays very firmly in place. The stitching is of very high quality and should last for a very long time.

You can see the fleece. It’s quite a thin layer but surprisingly effective at insulating.

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The Zip is a quality item and lives in a nice little zip garage at the top of the collar. The rubberised zip tag is very easy to manipulate while riding even when wearing gloves. There’s no issue with getting it out of the zip garage either. The collar is a good height, not too long and entirely in keeping with the race/tempo element of the jersey.

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There are 4 pockets at the rear, the standard pocket combination and a central outer zipped pocket. It’s not waterproof but, given the position of it, it’s unlikely to suffer any real ingress. Anyway, as I’ve said before, put your phone in a plastic bag. Even water resistant materials will be wicking your sweat away and threatening delicate electronics.

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The arms are a good length and finished off with some nice elastic cuffs. Like the waistband they are also punctuated by little silicone grippers to keep your sleeves in place. They’re pretty narrow fitting and snug. In a very good way, naturally. The cuff is a good length and, if you’re wearing gloves, you can be sure of a good overlap.

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On me, pure Welsh stock, the arms are possibly a little long. Only an inch or so. You have to cater for everyone. So I have to choose between a bit of bunching at the top or a bit at the cuffs. I chose the latter, which is a bit of a shame as I’ve had to wrinkle the Prendas logo a little. Sorry guys, but there’s plenty of good branding visible elsewhere.

Naturally the construction is first rate. Whenever Prendas get together with Santini you can be sure of a  good quality product. There’s nothing to lead me to believe that you won’t still be wearing this jersey years from now.

I’ve been wearing this jersey on the milder days. Whilst it isn’t windproof the nature of the weave, combined with that added water repellency, appears to make it a bit more wind resistant than you might imagine. You definitely can’t feel much air making its way through. But, naturally, it remains very breathable.

Rain repellency is actually very good. This isn’t a gimmick. Light rain just beads on the surface and doesn’t get in. Even light rain will, if you’re ridden in it for long enough, start to seep through. Heavy rain will do so a little more quickly. However, drizzle, as long as you’re riding at a decent tempo to create some heat, doesn’t really make a dent.

Here’s a couple of photos of the venerable under the tap test. You can see the water just collect in the first picture. And then, in the second, once I’d flicked it off there’s little evidence to suggest it being there in the first place. Clever stuff, remember that there’s no membrane at play here, just water repellent coating.

Would I venture out in the rain with it? Well, it depends what kind of rain we’re talking about. Anything that looks particularly persistent would see me reach for something else in the wardrobe. Ditto anything particularly cold. But that’s not what this is for. It’s a bloody good spring and autumn roubaix jersey with something in reserve for when you get caught out. I don’t think that’s a niche. It’s just something extra.

It’s perfectly comfortable at 10 degrees or so on its own. With the right base layer, and the right tempo, you could probably be wearing this down to perhaps 5 degrees. It very much depends on how you run temperature wise. I can see me wearing it comfortably into the spring, without a base layer, up into the mid to high teens. It’s a pretty versatile piece of kit overall.

In conclusion it’s a damn comfortable, well thought out, clever piece of kit. It’s cheaper than a lot of premium stuff and only slightly more expensive than a lot of the entry level stuff. Chuck in that rain repellency and it’s truly excellent value overall. Another hit for Prendas. So, if you fancy one, get your order in and watch it turn up the next day every…..single…….time.

Prendas Sleek Jersey

 

 

 

See Sense Icon Rear Light

STOP PRESS: Due to demand the See Sense front units are now available as a separate light rather than being bundled together with the rear light.

Oh this is exciting. If there’s one thing I love as much as cycling and cycling kit, it’s tech. So when you get the opportunity to test some nifty new cycling tech that’s as exciting as it gets. OK, it’s not a GPS unit, power meter or some new fangled head up display, in fact it’s just a light. But it’s a smart light and it talks to my phone. And that’s exciting.

This isn’t my first review of a See Sense light. I already own the original (well the 2.0 version). I’ve had it well over a year now and it’s been tested in some truly awful conditions. And I love it. It’s by far the most effective light I’ve ever owned. And, for something that started life on kickstarter, really very reliable. It just keeps going, I don’t charge it often. But, above all, my perception is that it keeps me safer because of all the clever things it’s doing.

If you already own an See Sense light, or have read my review of the old model you’ll know that it’s a smart light. But, for the uninitiated, it’s a bit different to most of the stuff out there. It has an accelerometer inside which senses what you’re doing. So, as you’re cycling along it flashes away happily. Brake and it starts to flash more rapidly, stop at the lights and it slows down, pull away and it flashes faster again. When you’re at tempo it adopts its normal speed. It also has a light sensor which adapts to your surroundings. Go through a tunnel and it flashes faster. When it senses headlights coming behind you it does the same. It’s not an early warning system for you, but it certainly is for others. The new one still does those things but it does an awful lot more.

The See Sense range has been overhauled with the introduction of the Icons. So out goes the original 2.0 model and in comes the new lot. As before the range consists of both front and rear models of varying powers. The range is now as follows:

  • Icon+ Rear : 2 x 125 lumens
  • Icon Rear :  2 x 95 lumens
  • Icon+ Front : 2 x 210 lumens
  • Icon Front : 2x 160 lumens

The rears are available as single units at £64.99 and £79.99 respectively. The Fronts are only available as a pack with their respective rear partner. So the normal pack is £119.99 and the + pack is £149.99. You might feel that sounds expensive. It’s certainly not cheap. But in my view they are worth it.

Before we get onto unboxing and testing I’d like to say something about warranties. You get a 12 month warranty from See Sense. That’s in addition, of course, to the statutory rights you get from the seller of the lights (where that’s someone other than See Sense themselves).

And, whilst I’ve never had any need to use See Sense’s warranty system, it’s something that other some other manufacturers should take note of. No emailing and waiting for a response Instead you register a ticket on the support website, get updates on it and can track the progress of your repair. And in the event you have a problem, or want your light serviced, it doesn’t have to go very far because your light is not just designed in Northern Ireland, it’s made there as well. That’s a great selling point in my view, you’re supporting the UK economy. So, if you’d gulped at the prices above, and I’ll tell you even more why you shouldn’t later on, then that’s one more thing to take into account.

This is a test of the base model rear. Base model. Right. Let’s be clear. In terms of lumens, and let’s not debate whether it’s social to have lights this bright, nothing gets closest this price. It’s cheaper and more powerful than an Exposure Blaze for example. And a hell of a lot smarter. Ok, it’s not made out of CNC aluminium and doesn’t have a gold plated charging port but you don’t really need those things.

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

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Well, for a start. There was a note addressed to me. Look, they didn’t have to do that. Just chuck it in the post and let me review it. It only took a few moments to write that. But, it’s just, well, nice. See Sense maintain a high level of social media presence. They respond well to queries and do so quickly. It’s a nice touch and they’ve responded very quickly to all of my technical questions.

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The Icon comes nicely packaged and allows you to see what you’re getting before opening the box. Hopefully anyone browsing a bricks and mortar store will see the sticker advertising free crash and theft alerts and take a closer look.

20160205_110604So, in the box you get the light, of course, a short instruction manual, a card telling you that the app is on the Google play or Apple store, some “rubber band” attachments and a USB charging cable. More of that a little later.

The first thing you need to do is to pair the light to your phone via the app. You need a smartphone with Bluetooth SMART capability – this is Bluetooth v4.0.0 or higher.

The Icon currently supports Android v4.4 KitKat and Apple iOS7 and above. No Microsoft windows phone functionality then. But, come on, you bought a Windows phone? It’s worth stating that you need to a smartphone to get the best out of the Icon but, even without one, the power button ensures that all the other great stuff, intelligent traffic and environment sensing etc, is still present.

So first, you need to turn the light on, using the big black button, so that it’s ready to pair. Don’t look at it, it’s very bright. The initial screen requires you to search for your icon. It takes a few moments to find it and then pair it. Once that’s done you get to see the screen below, which contains all the options you need. Once the light is paired, it’s paired to your phone.  So no technically minded thief is going to be able to come along and pair his app to your phone in order to defeat the theft protection. See that set of three lines top left? Press that and it takes you to a box where you can enter a phone number that your phone will text in the event of a crash. Press save on that and you’re ready to go.

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First things first, you’ll need to update the firmware, probably. That’s a pretty standard thing across the industry. It takes a few minutes and you’re done. See Sense will be constantly updating the firmware to include new modes and features and to iron out bugs etc. And they’ll be updating the App as well. Indeed, just as I finished writing this review my app updated to a new version.

Let’s run through what each of the options above does:

  • The toggle flash mode cycles through flash, steady and off. When the light is in off mode it’s ready to wake up unless you disconnect it. A light on the Icon flashes to show that it’s still connected and ready to be turned on with another press of the app button.
  • The toggle flash pattern mode changes the flash pattern of the light. There are slow flashes, alternate flashes and some ambulance type strobes. Choose whatever takes your fancy.
  • The brightness setting slider starts on maximum as default. Slide the bar to the right and it gets brighter, slide it to the left to get less bright. Not rocket science!
  • Then there are two toggle switches to turn on and off the theft and crash detection. You should note that when you activate crash detection the light, of course, stays on. When you activate theft detection the light turns “off” and goes to sleep. It then sends you an alert, more later, if someone tampers with your bike.

So, onto the product itself. You can see the tech going on inside. Circuit boards and sensors. The two LED’s live behind the two circular lenses just below the big black on/off button. You might be able to make out that one of lenses is depressed and the other is pimpled. No idea why but I’m sure it’s to do with varying the light pattern. The rest of the housing alternates between clear and opaque. The four allen bolts are a welcome sight. This is a light which can be easily repaired. Indeed, once it’s out of warranty, See Sense offer a £25 maintenance package which will bring your light back to factory standard. The prongs at the side of the light are to hold onto the rubber band fixings. You simply connect the rubber on one side, put your light wherever you want it to be, and stretch the rubber band round to the other side. Mine is currently mounted on a seat post. The rubber band is stretchy enough to mount the front version of this light on a head tube.

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The back of the light has a rubber attachment which a) protects the charging port and  b) provides a curved depressions suitable for fixing the light onto a round surface. It works readily on seat posts, handlebars and head tubes. There’s an aero mount coming for the more difficult aero seat posts. Indeed, given the lumen output, this is a light that’s likely to see some use on the daytime TT circuit.  The shape is a nice middle ground and should fit onto lots of different setups. It’s probably not appropriate for a seat stay though.

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The rubber mount slides out and exposes the charging port. The supplied USB charging cable is the normal micro USB. The previous version shipped with the larger mini USB. There’s nothing bespoke about the supplied cable other than it being prettier and easy to find. So you can just use a micro USB if you can’t find the supplied one. That said, the end of the micro USB part is a little larger and fits a little better into the charging port so you might want to keep hold of that one and use it wherever possible. It’s a good length as well so you won’t find your light hanging from a plug in mid air. The light is rated to IP67 standard in terms of waterproofing (and dust). Translation? That means it is totally dust protected and will live in 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes. I haven’t tested it though See Sense have and it’s independently certified. But what counts here is simple, it will stand up to the rigours of wet weather riding. I use mine with mudguards mostly but, even if you don’t, you can be happy in the knowledge that it’s protected from the elements.

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The rubber mount appears below. It simply slides out of the hole. Then slides back in again. It’s not difficult to pull in or out and is a snug fit.

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So far, so good. It’s well made and seems very robust. Indeed, it seems more robust and a little more premium than its predecessor and I’ve never had a day’s trouble with that one.

So, how does it work in practice? Well, you start by turning it on at the button initially. Then, as stated above, you pair it. Once it’s paired and you’re happy with what you’ve selected then you don’t have to use your phone each time. You can just use it as a smart light. But, of course, if you want the benefit of crash protection detection you need to be paired.

The first thing to say is that it’s bright. My original one was 125 lumens from a single LED. That’s a very impressive output indeed. But it’s nothing compared to the new versions twin 95 lumen LED’s. And that’s just the base model. The next model up is 2 x 125 lumens. We could have a long debate about whether X lumens is enough and Y lumens is too much. The thing is that more lumens are better if you want to use a light in daylight. And, given what our roads are like today, it makes sense to have a daytime running light. For me I consider the 2 x 95 to be enough but you might want more. Remember though, you can have the benefit of big lumens in the day or lesser lumens at night just by using the sliding switch within the app.

It’s hard to give a proper impression because my camera isn’t great in the dark and the light will overpower it anyway. So here are some daytime shots on solid. It’s particularly useful to see this as you can see that this offers 180 degree side lighting as well as rear lighting.

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So, in terms of whether this is an effective rear light I can answer that unequivocally. It’s very bright and hugely effective. It does what the original does and improves on it in terms of lumens. Where it improves is the app. No more weird Rubik’s cube type patterns to try and put it in a different flash mode. Just open the app, press a button, change the mode to what you want and forget about it. And, once you’ve done that, the phone remembers your settings and brightness levels. So you only have to use the button to turn it on and off. It’s nice to have that button. Turning the old one on was easy enough but did occasionally take more than one go. If you’re conscious of wanting less lumens at night, turn it down. If you want more in the day, turn it up. If you want even more lumens, get the next model up. If you want the ultimate set of protection then get the front one as well.

Remember that the other beauty of the Icon’s smart sense capabilities are power management. Because the light does more when you need it and less when you don’t, it conserves power. Indeed, it lasts up to 15 hours on a 5 hour charge.

If you forget to turn it off then, after 3 minutes of inactivity it turns itself off. Well, it sleeps. Once you move it, it turns on again. The flashing light on the bottom right of the casing tells you how much charge is left. It it’s green then it’s 75%. If it’s red then it’s less than 25% though that should still get you home with charge to spare. You can check the actual % easily with the app. You can charge it with the mains or by means of a powered USB port.

If we stopped there I’d say that the light was excellent value and an absolute must if you’re commuting in the dark. Road.cc recently took votes on readers favourite rear light. The original 2.0 See Sense won. I voted for it as well as many others. I’ve no reason to believe that when that survey is run later in the year it won’t win again. It’s slightly more expensive than the competition. But it’s a good investment in your safety. If we stopped there, but let’s not, let’s deal with those other added features.

Let’s start with the theft test. We set this up really simply. As you can see from the video I’m as close to the bike as I would be on any typical cafe stop. I haven’t locked it, so this thief is getting away quickly. But, as soon as he moves it, the alert goes off. It’s very sensitive indeed. So, as long as you’ve got a little lock present to ensure that the thief is slightly delayed, you’re going to catch them at it. Yes, they can remove the light first. But that triggers it anyway. It’s an effective feature and works well. Make sure your sound settings are turned up and you get an audible alert as well. It sounds a bit like a car horn and is properly loud. You won’t miss it when it goes off.

What about the range? So far I’ve tested it from about 50 yards down the road with nothing interfering with line of sight and it works. The further you are and the more things between you the less likely it is that it will work. But, look, it’s a tidy feature to have, it’s designed for cafe stops in my view. Though if you’re a city commuter within a reasonable distance of your bike then it’s an added bonus.

And the crash test? Well, that’s a bit more difficult to test. And I don’t fancy injuring myself in the name of science. Once you trigger the crash test it sends a text to your nearest and dearest. Your phone will also trigger a message notification to yourself giving you the option of dismissing the notification and telling the other person that you’re ok. It won’t call an ambulance for you. But it’s a neat feature to have.

And since I’ve written this piece the most recent software seems to have incorporated a new feature. It states “Geo services have been added and crash detection SMS reports long/lat of incident.” That sounds pretty useful. First, someone can find you and second, it’s good evidence that you might rely on if you needed to do something with legal proceedings. Watch this space.

Would I recommend the Icon? Of course. The original was my favourite rear light. The new one improves on it in every way. I wonder what’s next?

Oh, if you’re going to buy it, get it straight from See Sense. Click on the link to buy.

See Sense Icon Store

I was asked whether I could do some more real world videos. Here’s the first, taken on a camera phone. I’ve used a light to replicate headlights. You should be able to see how the pattern changes from an alternate flash to an alternate strobe each time the light casts itself on unit. I’ll follow this up shortly with another video showing how the braking indications work.

Crime and Punishment: part 2

So, you made it through part 1? Well done you. That’s a lot to take in. And some difficult concepts. But it’s time to go further. In this part I’ll try to deal with the contentious stuff. The stuff that you might, justifiably, feel outraged about. In essence there are two parts to our tale. The first is to deal with those cases where you might believe that the motorist has “gotten away with it.” The second is to deal with how we sentence motorists where they’ve either pleaded guilty to an offence or been found guilty following a trial. I hadn’t planned on a third, but a case reported just as I finished this piece caused me to look at something else, a case where it didn’t even get to trial. Prepare to be outraged.

But, look, at this juncture let me say this. There are a huge number of cases passing through our Court system every year. A small proportion of them relate to car on bike action. By and large they go the way you’d expect. Those cases aren’t particularly newsworthy. But since the media created the war on our roads it’s become quite common to see those cases where there’s something more juicy going on. And sometimes, in those cases, even someone who understands the system may well have a “what the F*** moment.”

Before we proceed remember that there are very few specific driving offences. Indeed, it took an awful long time for the “causing serious injury by dangerous driving” to get introduced. Prior to that injuries were just a factor to take into account when sentencing a careless or dangerous case. There is still no causing serious injury by careless driving offence despite a petition calling for it to be so.

And, so that you understand what we’re dealing with here, it’s worth, in brief setting out what each of the offences we are concerned with requires. What is the definition of each defence? (Note, there are a few more but the chiefly add to these with drink/drugs etc).

OFFENCE DEFINITION
Careless Driving The offence is committed when the defendant’s driving falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver

 

Dangerous Driving The offence is committed when a person’s standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

 

Causing injury by Dangerous Driving The offence is committed when the manner of the defendant’s driving is dangerous (as for dangerous driving) and results in another person suffering a serious physical injury.

 

Causing death by Careless Driving The offence is committed when the manner of the defendant’s driving falls below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver and when the manner of the suspect’s driving causes the death of another person.

 

Causing death by Dangerous Driving The offence is committed when the suspect’s driving is a cause or factor in the death of another person and the driving was dangerous. By “dangerous” we mean that the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

 

So, let’s recap. How did we get here? Well, evidence has been collected, the Police have taken statements, conducted interviews, the CPS has decided that there is sufficient evidence on which to base a charge, the Defendant is charged and comes before the Court. He pleads not guilty, there’s a trial. Then he “gets away with it.” Cue the outrage.

In most of the cases I deal with here there has been a Crown Court trial. If there has not been I will say so. So most of these cases will have been tried by a Jury. 12 men and women who are exactly like you. Sometimes they do what you expect, sometimes they don’t. But, you weren’t there so remember you don’t have all of the information they had. It’s easy to believe that someone should be held to account, the problem, in many cases, is who that should be and whether we can be certain that the person we want to hold to account is guilty. Put yourself in their position, with all their doubts and questions. And consider these cases with that in mind. I’m not asking you to sympathise with them, indeed, your sympathy will lie with the victim I am sure.

Let’s have a look at three very similar cases. I’ve started with these as there’s been a glut of them.

Blinded by the Sun (death by CARELESS driving)

Sam Burrows, 29, hit 73-year-old Colin Crowther on the Old London Road, Ipswich, on January 16, 2014 when the sun reflected off the road and temporarily blinded him.

The Ipswich Star reports Mr Burrows had lowered his sun visor as a precaution and had his foot over the brake pedal in case he needed to brake.

“All of a sudden without warning I was blinded by the sun. It was a mixture of glare coming off the road and my bonnet,” Burrows said in court. Mr Burrows was unanimously acquitted by the jury at Ipswich Crown Court after a three-day trial.

Blinded by the sun 2 : double team (death by DANGEROUS driving)

Cyclist Stan Coates, 55, had been knocked off his bike by Michael Elton, 25, who was waiting for an ambulance with Coates when the cyclist was struck by a second car and dragged along the road. Mr Coates died in hospital the next day due to multiple injuries sustained during the incident in October 26, 2012. Cleared by a Jury at Newcastle Crown Court. 

And then read this summary, and it should be treated only as such, where Judge directed a Jury to ignore what the Highway Code says about being blinded by the sun.

Blinded by the sun 3 : even the Judges are our Peers (death by CARELESS driving)

Blinded by the Sun 3 : the inevitable acquittal

On the face of it three slam dunk cases. Yet all fail. Why? Well, we need to take them one step at a time.

Let’s deal with the first of the cases. There was “nothing that the driver could have done,” that was the evidence. The Jury needed to consider whether the manner of the defendant’s driving fell below the standard required. He was clear in his evidence, from the limited reports, that there was nothing he could do. He had taken action by pulling down his visor, he had put his foot over the pedal, he was ready. Yet he could not see and did not see the cyclist. He was not aware of his surroundings. That he caused the death was unarguable. But was that death due to his driving? Only if the Jury could be sure that his standard fell below what was required could they convict. And, it seems, they did not struggle at all. Every one of them agreed that they could not be sure. And the acquittal followed.

It’s correct to say that the Highway Code, which tells driver not to take more care when there is glare, for example, is not law. It operates as a fairly good indicator of negligence in the civil law. And, in both civil and criminal proceedings any of its provisions “may be relied on by any party to establish or negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.”

And there’s a problem here. And that’s what the Highway Code says about driving. Remember it’s divided into mandatory requirements (do (must) or do not) and advisory ones (should or should not).  And what does it say about sun? “If you are dazzled by bright sunlight, slow down and if necessary, stop.” Well, how helpful. No do or do not, no should or should not. Indeed, it is hidden away in the hot weather section, and, in my view, winter sun is by far a more deadly scenario especially when combined with wet roads.

As a matter of common sense it seems clear. You should stop, if you cannot see where you’re going. You’re in charge of a killing machine. You may plow into the back of something bigger than you. There could be so many things going on. Indeed, why is it a surprise at all. This sun thing happens twice a day. It varies in its intensity, position and whether it comes out at all. But it’s a constant. It’s not a surprise.

It seems clear, if the evidence is that the driver didn’t stop, as advised by the Highway Code, then that standard falls below a competent and careful driver. It seems clear. But the Jury must determine whether it does. It requires direction from the Court but, ultimately, the Jury will listen to the defendant and judge that story according to what is heard. And, you know what, the jury has specific, expert, detailed knowledge. They’ve been there and they’ve seen this sort of thing happen. It’s all too common, it’s not a surprise. Poor driver, I can see how that could happen to me. But, at the end of the day, this Jury could not be sure so an acquittal had to follow. Are you outraged yet?

So, onto case 2. Bloody hell. What a tangled mess. One driver hits him, because, despite being blinded by the sun, he only sees him at the last second. The last second. There is more than one second, how many more we don’t know, but more than one. And during this unspecified time of travelling at up to 50 mph he does not, it seems, slow down, pull down his visor or take his foot of the accelerator. But, luckily, the cyclist lives. Until, moments later, along comes another one. Visor down because he cannot see, only 40 mph or so now, because it’s dangerous. And there’s a second collision.

Both were acquitted of causing death by dangerous driving though, bizarrely, the second driver is convicted of careless driving. It appears there was no charge of careless driving in relation to the first at all. And no alternative charge of causing death by careless driving at all. All very weird.

I suspect that, in this case, there was something else at play. The charge of causing death by dangerous driving was preferred because it does not require that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the death but, instead, a cause or factor. So it was a better way to deal with two defendants and, if one or other could be shown to have caused or been a factor in, they would have been convicted. If both could have shown to have been a factor, both convicted. But, imagine you are a Juror here. You need to be sure. Can you be sure? Which one do you ascribed the blame to? Can you do it? Which one are  you sure about? It’s very difficult. Imperfect once again. Despite the fact that everyone just ploughed on in conditions where it was clearly unsafe to do so, there’s an acquittal.

And the third? Here we go again. Though, this time, there’s no allegation that the second driver did anything wrong. You’re probably past outrage now and at a state of numb. You have to sympathise with the Jury here. Even the Judge tells them to ignore the Highway Code. What were they supposed to do?

Why do juries act this way? Well, I have some sympathy for them. They’re dealing with complex legal issues and being asked to be sure of a thing. Not just reasonably sure, not just sure enough, sure. That’s difficult. Faced with a sufficiently contrite defendant who “could not have done anything differently” they will probably acquit. Because they can’t be sure. The fact that the driver could have done something differently does not necessarily mean that what was done was wrong. A reasonable and careful driver has options. Juries realise that, and they act accordingly.

The oft used saying in life is “there but for the grace of God, go I,” or, to put it another way, “ that could happen to me.” We as human beings, have an intrinsic belief that the vagaries of life could so easily be visited upon us. In certain situations we are uncomfortable with judging others for actions which we have experienced or know that we will. There’s an increasing reliance on this doctrine when faced with commentating on those charged with criminal offences and, in particular, those offences which any one of us could be guilty of. Few people would ever look at Huntley, Hindley or Watkins and think “there but for the Grace of God.” Such thoughts would be perverse given the nature of said crimes. But as the crime becomes softer, as the circumstances become more relatable there is an increasing tendency to impose our own fear of finding ourselves in the same set of circumstances as a justification for excusing those others who do.

So, with the caveat that we do not know the evidence, we have not seen the manner of the accused, my view is that Juries are too close to this. That is no criticism of them. They are human beings and they act accordingly. We cannot possibly know why these cases led to an acquittal. Everything depends on what they heard, what they saw and, ultimately, what the Judge directed them. But they can see how easily it would happen to them. And they hope that, if it were to happen to them, a jury would put itself in their position. It’s imperfect. Imperfection leads to doubt. Doubt cannot equate with certainty. Doubt leads to acquittals. Perhaps it’s time for a change.

SENTENCING

Idiocy on a grand scale.

Google the Defendant. What a “character.” Indeed, if my googling is correct he was actually produced from Prison to stand trial in relation to these offences. What a character.

Let’ start with the disqualification. 2 years. Don’t worry, he serves that when he gets out of prison. So that’s ok. It’s far too short in my view. We seem to have created a society where driving is a right, rather than a privilege, and bans for such idiotic lunacy are rarely for very long. You might feel justifiably outraged. Indeed, you may feel that 10 year ban in this case, or a lifetime one, would be better than a prison sentence at all. I might even agree with you. But, the problem with driving bans, is they require constant supervision. People who are banned from driving aren’t at all put off by their driving ban. Indeed, circumventing it is part of the challenge.

2 and a half years? Are you outraged. Actually, don’t be. Not in the sense of what the Judge gave. By all means rail against our sentencing generally, but this one isn’t bad. Cast your mind back to part 1. This is a Crown Court case so the maximum possible sentence is 2 years. This guy got more. That’s confusing in itself. Let me explain, he was charged with 3 counts of dangerous driving. He was acquitted of 1. 2 remained. The press reports are not clear but, what will have happened here, is that he will have been sentenced in relation to each count.

Where there is more than one count, and therefore more than one conviction, the Court has the opportunity to sentence concurrently (i.e. all time runs at the same time) or consecutively (i.e. you add them all up). That happened here. It’s not possible to say what was added up, it might be 1 year and 1 1/2 years. It could be 6 months and 2 years (the maximum). I suspect that it’s 1 year and 3 months for each offence. That would make sense. In part at least, because, you might wonder, why was 9 months taken off for each offence, why didn’t he get the book thrown at him? He didn’t plead guilty, so he gets no credit. That can’t be the explanation. So something else must be going on. So, we have to look at sentencing of offenders.

It’s probably right that certain sentences aren’t harsh enough. Dangerous driving carries a maximum of two years. To get that you have to be the worst of the worst. You probably need to cause an injury but not so severe as to take it into the causing serious injury by dangerous driving charge.

In our Courts we use Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing guidelines are available for most of the significant offences sentenced in the magistrates’ court and for a wide range of offences in the Crown Court. There is also guidance on general sentencing issues and principles. These guidelines are not specific to individual offences. Where no guideline exists, judges refer to court of appeal judgments to examine how sentences have been reached for similar cases in the past.

In very general terms, in a very complex area, offences will have a starting point. That point is broadly defined by the seriousness of the act. Most of the time we start by weighing up culpability (how bad was the act) and harm (how serious was the effect). But in cases where the harm is death then the starting point is determined by culpability alone because harm (death) is part of the offence itself.

Once we’ve determined the seriousness of the case, and the staring point, then the other matters will be weighed up.  Then there will be a balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors, matters which tend to make the case better or worse than a case of its type. There will be consideration of the previous convictions of the Defendant and there will be a consideration of their personal circumstances. Finally, consideration will be given to whether the Defendant has pleaded guilty. If he has then he will gain credit of up to a 1/3 off his sentence. Up to. It depends when that plea is entered. If it’s on the “first occasion” then it will likely be 1/3. If it’s on the day of the trial it will be much less. If it’s a not guilty plea and he is convinced following trial then no credit will be given. None of this is an exact science but it does tend to lead to the right results. What IS a problem is that sentences for many offences are not as high as we might think that they should be.

So back to our chap from the case above. The maximum is 2 years. Sadly, for this offence, there are no Sentencing Guidelines. But, clearly, we can determine the seriousness of the offence very easily. It’s high culpability. But probably low harm. It will have a high starting point. We know that the Judge will have gone on to balance aggravating and mitigating factors, his personal circumstances and his, frankly, extensive list of previous convictions.

Let’s assume that he got 1 year 3 months for each count. Why was 9 months taken off? Without hearing the Judge’s reasoning we won’t know. It’s quite hard to comment. As I’ve said, generally we look to previous cases for guidance, in R v Arthur [2001] the Defendant engaged in racing on a public highway in circumstances where the other driver died (but this was only a dangerous driving case). Other aggravating features were excessive speed, a prolonged course of driving and a very real danger to other road users. D did not accept that his driving was dangerous although he did accept it was stupid. 20 months imprisonment and 5 year disqualification upheld. You can see that the aggravating factors are worse, it merits a longer sentence. In R v Butt the Court concluded that when judges asked themselves whether they should pass the maximum sentence, they should not conjure up unlikely worst possible kinds of case scenarios. Instead they should consider the worst type of offence which came before the court and ask themselves whether the particular case they were dealing with came within the broad band of that type.

Back to our case, in my view, while the actions were deliberate, it is perhaps possible to distinguish them from the very worst type of case that a Judge might see. There is no prolonged driving, there is no injury, there is the perception of a very high risk only. Crucially, there is no harm. Indeed, the Judge here had the option of a consecutive sentence available to him. It’s a pretty good sentence overall. There is some bad news though. The Defendant, if my googling is correct, was already inside for burglary. His overall sentence for the driving offences will be shortened because they will run concurrently with his burglary sentence. He’d been in for 5 months and had another 13 to run. So, whilst serving that 13, 13 of the months for his motoring convictions will also elapse. That’s not perfect, but he’s off the roads. Indeed, only when he comes out does his ban start.

Let’s deal with a bad one. A really bad one.

This one has it all

Two deaths. Two charges of causing death by dangerous driving. Crown Court. Maximum sentence is 14 years. In addition he admitted seven offences altogether including aggravated vehicle taking, driving whilst disqualified and having no insurance. There’s a lot going on here. The reporting of this one is pretty good. We get a clear(er) indication of what sentence was handed down for each offence. But, essentially, he gets 10 yrs 3 months in total as each of the offences runs concurrently.

You can write a book on consecutive v concurrent sentencing. It’s quite hard to rationalise. But, essentially, it’s based on proportionality and the theory that you shouldn’t be punished twice for single acts. Here we have two deaths, but they arise out of the same act. That’s different to our chap above who did it twice on separate occasions. It’s hard to rationalise though, you might feel a little outraged by it. Perhaps more than a little. That there were two deaths will be an aggravating factor. It will lead to a harsher sentence. Though perhaps not as harsh as you might believe is warranted.

So, how did we get to 10 yrs 3 months for the dangerous driving? Well, pretty easily. The maximum was 14 years. He pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity (you might feel he had little choice) and got about a 1/3 off his sentence. That equates to around 9 1/2 years. He got a little more. In terms of sentencing this chap has pretty much been given the absolute maximum sentence available.

Is it enough? Isn’t what he did worse than causing death by dangerous driving? Isn’t he guilty of murder? Well, no. And this one has some history. Murder requires the direct intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. A jury might infer that intention from all the circumstances. But, it’s hard, very hard, to demonstrate that. No, it’s more likely that the driver’s intention was to drive. So, that’s out.

But hang on:

Driver jailed for cyclist’s murder

That’s an anomaly. It’s not really about driving at all. Just the fact that one bloke used a massive weapon to kill another bloke on a bike. This was a deliberate case, there was clear intention, he wanted to kill him (or cause him really serious harm). So we can overlook that one. Indeed, there are few cycling related murder cases.

Manslaughter next. This is where it gets interesting. The offence of causing death by dangerous driving was a direct consequence of the difficulties in obtaining a manslaughter conviction in road traffic cases. And manslaughter has a real benefit in terms of ‘punishment’ in that it carries, potentially, a sentence of life imprisonment.

Manslaughter is extraordinarily difficult to use in cycling cases. Indeed, it wasn’t being used at all. Hence the rather easier charge of causing death by (insert type) driving.  But here’s an interesting one. It’s not a sentence, it’s an acquittal.

Cyclist killed when man opens door

That’s a very weird case. Manslaughter was used there because the easier to prove offence of causing death by dangerous driving was not available. Because, sadly, opening a car when stationary is not driving. So, the jury had to consider manslaughter. Specifically gross negligence manslaughter. They had to ask themselves whether the 4 stages of the Adamako test were satisfied. They probably found the first three easily, essentially a breach of the duty of care owed to the victim which caused his death. But, given the acquittal, it seems they could not find that opening a car door was grossly negligent, despite not looking, despite the tinted windows. Just a bit negligent then, just a bit careless. You’re probably grossly outraged right now.

And then there are those cases where no one goes to prison. Those are probably the most difficult to rationalise.

Here’s a starter for ten

This one’s quite hard to follow. It’s in the Crown Court because, remember, the offence of causing death by careless driving is either way but, crucially, there was also a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. That’s Crown Court only and, where they are tried together, it goes to the higher Court. She’s acquitted of the worse charge. Though, not by a Jury. Instead the CPS, once she gives in on the dangerous charge, accepts the lesser one. Remember she gets some credit for a guilty plea. Not as much as an early one. Indeed it will be a very small percentage indeed because she changed her plea.

There are some guidelines available. Have a read of them. Specifically have a look at the starting point for causing death by careless driving. Here the culpability is low, it is, however you feel, a one off moment of inattention. We know that the harm is great, but, in assessing this type of offence where harm is already included, we ignore that harm.

It’s a talking point isn’t it? How do you value life. We saw above a 2 1/2 year sentence where no harm was caused. Here, a 12 month suspended sentence where there is a fatality. Comparing sentences for different offences isn’t easy, nor is it always fair. But you might wonder how this is a suspended sentence. The truth is that suspended sentences are very serious.

Crucially, see page 15. Have a look at the staring point. This is not a case which falls just short of dangerous driving. Take the emotion out of it if you can. Indeed, you can make an argument that it falls within the bottom category and merits only a community order. A suspended sentence in this case is a very serious sentence within the scope of the guidelines. This is the type of case that opens the debate about punishment. Do we want to punish and seek revenge? Will a prison sentence do any good here? Form your own outrage, but I say this, each case of this type sends a signal, a confirmation that you can be inattentive, that you get another chance. A chance denied to the victim for ever more. As someone who understands sentencing, who can appreciate that this sentence is arguably correct, I think that the bigger picture is missed. Why is inattention in a two ton killing machine treated in such a relatively light manner?

But there does need to be proportionality. And that is the difficult balance. The Judge is right that she will have to live with it, but at least she gets the chance to live. That’s the bigger debate to be had. Whether you agree with our starting points. That’s what we need to have a discussion about.

And, so onto the last case. It’s made the news in the last few days. It’s outrageous. Properly outrageous. Take a look.

£150 for a hit and run

Look. It’s not £150 for a hit and run. There’s no such thing, in criminal law, as a hit and run. It’s dangerous driving. It’s not causing serious injury by dangerous driving. It might be an assault, if you could prove such a thing.

But the big news item here is the loophole. It appears, from the media reports, that someone has gotten away with this by failing to name the driver. It’s a courtesy car apparently, which loads of people have access to. How the hell did this happen? Cast your mind back to part 1. We need evidence. We cannot bring a prosecution without it.

What happened here appears to be this. The police required the people who “owned” the car to identify who was driving. It’s an offence not to provide this information. There was a man, and a  woman. It looks like they were interviewed. Then the male was charged with failing to respond to a legal request for the driver’s details. The CPS decided there was no (not enough) evidence to charge with, for example, failing to stop or failing to report an accident. (Note, no one even considered careless or dangerous driving).

We don’t know what was said in the interview, but we can have a guess. My view is that this is likely to have been, as permitted in law, a no comment interview. There was simply no evidence to confirm who was driving. There was no CCTV, the video is unclear. The CPS could not realistically hope for a conviction. There was no obligation on the person being interviewed, if they were the driver, to incriminate themself. You might be morally outraged. Fine. Don’t be legally outraged.

They could proceed with the charge of failing to name because, in essence, if you don’t name you can’t defend that charge at all. There are good policy reasons for that. We can’t just have a situation where someone can fail to name and face no punishment. He was fined £150 (the maximum is £1000) and docked the mandatory 6 points.

It’s a loophole apparently. Well, not really. The problem here is caused because, if you’re not prepared to incriminate yourself or others, there’s a neat way out. Don’t tell who did it and you’ll just get a fine and some points. It’s not a loophole. It’s an unwanted alternative.

The solution? That’s easy. Parliament has already decided that, for example, failing to provide a sample is as serious (perhaps more) than drink driving. That’s perfectly sensible. So, in cases such as this, and petition your MP, I suggest that there maximum sentence for failing to provide details matches the ancillary offence. So, if you’re speeding, then the max should be the existing (£1000 and 6 points). If it’s dangerous driving then the maximum should be 6 months / 2 years custody depending on the Court that the ancillary offence is tried/sentenced in). That would remove the “loophole” very quickly indeed.

After reading this, and I’ll keep reporting on more matters as they arise, you might still feel outraged. But, I hope, you have a bit more understanding of how things are as they are. You might feel that it’s time for a change. That’s fine by me. You have the knowledge now and knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Use it wisely.

 

 

 

Pro-Lite Revo Disc Alloy Wheelset

I’ve built quite a few bikes now. There’s very few tasks I won’t consider doing. Indeed, there are probably only three. One is cutting a carbon fork. I can cut straight, I can measure straight, but if it goes wrong I want to blame someone else. Another is cutting hydraulic hoses, looks simple, but I’m a bit scared by that. The last one is building a wheel. Of these three, it’s the one I’d really like to try. But there’s a tidy investment to be made before you can start. Perhaps one day. It looks fairly straightforward but requires some patience. And a bit more spare time than I have. I’ve fixed a few mind, easy enough if you have the spares. I have spoke keys. I don’t have a tension meter. I have no idea what tension a spoke is or what it should be. So bear all that in mind. This is a wheel test from the perspective of me testing some wheels. As long as they don’t break then much of this should be moot.

I currently own three bikes. Two are disc equipped. I’m half way between a disc evangelist and not. Discs make sense, for me, depending on the use I’m putting the bike to. As I write this piece it has been raining for 3 months. The last time it was dry was the day after Halloween. About 6 weeks before that I’d had solar panels installed on our roof.  For those 6 weeks, before Halloween, the panels performed above expectations. The day after Halloween it all went pear shaped. Our front lawn is now a brown mess with some occasional green. Best bike has not been out in an awful long time.

So, if you were to ask me about buying a bike, one bike, to use all year round, I’d tell you to get something with discs. You might as well. It will be as good in the dry, but if you ever use it in the wet, it will probably be better. You can argue all you like about having the best brakes, the best blocks, the best braking surface, but a good set of disc brakes will be as good as them all of the time. A great set of disc brakes will just be better because they’ll perform in all conditions. Yes, there are issues. They can be more difficult to set up, the components do tend to be heavier than their rim counterparts, they can rub annoyingly on occasion, you need to be careful NEVER to get any lubricant near them. These are issues, but not big ones. The biggest issue is that you need different wheels. But that’s if you can only have one bike. If you can have more than one, get a really pretty one for the summer, and get discs on the other one.

But anyway, I have three bikes. If it’s glorious then I’m happy with rim brakes. If it’s wet, snowy or I’m doing cyclocross then it’s discs. If I ever show up in the mountains of France or Italy it will be rim brakes.

My main bike is my commuting bike. It does the most miles because it’s used every (working) day. It has discs, and mudguards. It has MTB hydraulic brakes. You can pull them with a single finger and come to a quick stop. I converted it to flat bar so it was more usable in all conditions. It’s a workhorse. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be relatively lightweight, fast and comfortable. It doesn’t mean it can’t be a bit sexy. So, here it is:

20160129_094307

And here’s my Cross Bike wearing the same wheels.

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In terms of looks it depends very much on whether you like out there graphics. On these I do. They match the white typeface of each bike. So that’s a plus.

Anyway, this is a tech review. As I alluded to earlier it’s harder to write a tech review as, arguably, you (arguably) need some understanding of how the thing you’re writing about is put together. I think there’s some truth in that. Actually, writing it is easy. What matters is whether you, dear Reader, trust what I say given my admission in relation to technical knowledge. However, I’ve owned a lot of bikes, I’ve ridden a lot of wheels. I do have practical experience of what they were or are all like. Indeed, I’ve often wondered whether many reviews are overdone with the ability to detect minute differences in stiffness or control or some other random variable. Only this week I read a 200 word review of a pair of £2500 carbon MTB wheels which praised their clarity. Clarity, I kid you not. I’m not sure I will be able to tell you that these wheels have clarity, focus or some other transcendental quality. So, my review will be about whether these wheels are any good for the uses I put them to. Will they stand up to commuting, mostly in the wet. Are they good enough for Cross. Will they arrive straight and will they go out of true. They’ll be well used so testing will be comprehensive and destructive. And that, I think, is the test. Are these good wheels for the price and will they last?

Read any forum or bike mag and you’ll come to understand that there are factory wheels and hand built wheels. These are factory wheels. They come from a factory. But Pro Lite claim that they are hand built, in a factory. Indeed, the box exclaims that they are “built the hard way, by hand!” This bike business can be so very confusing.

The basic parts are, naturally, made by robots. But then the wheels are assembled by hand and checked by hand. Let’s call them “hand assembled.” So, what on earth is a hand built wheel? Well, for me, and you may disagree, hand built wheels are the type of wheel where you pick the components and either build them yourself of get someone else to build them for you. So you get your choice of rim, hub, spokes, lacing, nipples etc. Crucially, with handbuilts, you should have a fall back when something goes wrong, it should be easy to get spares because your wheels were built from something commercially available in the first place. So, if it wears out get a new rim, if you fancy a change, replace the hub with something else. Hand built wheels should last you ages if they’ve been well built.

There’s no reason why a good factory or hand assembled wheel should not last for ages either. The only real question is whether it’s economic to replace the parts you break or wear out. I don’t know exactly what hubs these wheels have, or what spokes they are specifically (though I have a guess below). I don’t think you can get a replacement rim, if it wore out (but it’s a disc, it won’t really). And that’s the trade off. And price will have a big bearing here.

Discs have been round for a while now. Actually, a bit longer than you might think. Genesis’s Croix De Fer has always come with disc wheels. It was launched in 2008. It’s perhaps the bike that started it all but other bikes were available. But at the beginning of the disc revolution bikes were running on OEM wheel sets that were difficult to source separately. If you wanted to upgrade or switch your choices were limited. There were hand builts, essentially 700c rims with MTB hubs and the like. But there wasn’t much off the shelf stuff. You couldn’t really pop over to Wiggle to browse what they had. They didn’t have anything.

Discs, on “road” bikes, were still pretty much the preserve of CX bikes. Demand and supply meant there wasn’t a huge call for them. But a change was coming. Whether it was the UCI approving them and us wanting them, or us wanting them and the UCI caving in to progress, the revolution gained pace. The truth is that discs are probably a reaction to our ever changing climate. Today, there’s much more choice. In the hand built world you can choose what you want. Exotic or simple. Mega money or not. But the off the shelf stuff has gone mainstream. We’re not talking about a disc version of every road rim. That’s not necessary. But the market is booming. And, with our current climate, demand is going to increase.

The factory disc wheel market is broadly divided into specific price points. That’s the same as any other wheel market. Cheaper is heavier, expensive is lighter, mega expensive is not going to get me to work any quicker.

By way of example, under £200 and you’re looking at the Fulcrum DB and Mavic Aksium disc, both of which often show up as OE components on fully built bikes. Wiggle have launched a Cosine Disc that is startlingly cheap and appears to be very light. Above £200 and you’re into the Kinesis Crosslight Disc and Fulcrum Racing 5 etc. At the £300 mark the choice starts to peter out a bit. And then, above £400 there’s a bit of a gap until you get into the really rarefied stuff. A decent set of handbuilts will set you back £400 or so. So, perhaps it’s not unusual that the options peter out at about here.

There are a load of adages about wheels. Stiff, light, cheap, pick two. That sort of thing. The theory being you get what you pay for. But there does seem to be a movement towards being able to have all 3 for that little less than once was the case. The Kinesis were a particularly good example of this. £250 for a 1555g 28 spoke wheel. That’s bloody good pricing. Indeed, that’s bloody good pricing for a non disc hub wheel at that weight. The highly rated Fulcrum Racing 3 (non disc) is around that weight and about £50 more. And whilst it’s still the case that a pair of £150 wheels won’t offer the earth, the truth is that they’ll be a hell of an improvement over what used to be available and, crucially, moving up to something lighter isn’t going to cost as much as you might think. The disc wheel has arrived.

Enter the Revo. The technical spec on paper is excellent. It’s a lightweight pair of wheels. I weighed them, they came out at 1665g. The bearings are Japanese EZO sealed bearings. As far as little steel balls go, they are, apparently, very good. The front wheel is 28 spoke and the rear 32 spoke. That’s a pretty good balance, in my view, so you get a slightly lighter front wheel, and a slightly stronger rear one. Perfect for commuting, clearly. But perfect for CX as well. But cast your mind back to that hand built thing. We have two different rims and hubs now (because of their spoke count). It’s something to bear in mind if you were ever needing to replace something.

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The spokes are J bend and bladed. They’re made by Sandvik, apparently. I had to google that. They’re a bloody big company. Though I’m not sure that they sell spokes specifically with their name on. I believe that they are Pillar spokes, butted for strength. If I were to guess I reckon they are Pillar (triple) Butted Aero, which are made from T302 Sandvik cold drawn steel. Why did I check? Because, interestingly, Hunt wheels are using that spoke in some of their builds. And they are pretty careful about what they want. They’re supplying wheels to Mason bikes. Both companies are a quality package. I’ve no reason to believe that these spokes are anything other than excellent.

The Revo’s are tubeless ready. That’s a great feature to have and it makes them even better value. There’s already rim tape installed but, from a cursory inspection, I doubt it would maintain a seal so, if you do want to run them tubeless, then you will need to install some tubeless rim tape and, of course, some tubeless valves. If you haven’t tried tubeless you should. My experience of them with CX was great. Though I would warn you it takes some getting used to.

They’ve convertible as well. You can swap the hub between Shimano and Campagnolo very easily. And you can also convert them to thru axles. It’s a piece of cake to do. Pull out the existing axle ends, they come off very easily, and stick the thru axle in. They even supply a pair of thru axles in the box, which is nice, though I don’t need them, and can’t see me needing them anytime soon. But it’s good to be “future proof” if that ever takes off. If you’re using the traditional quick release hubs then they supply the quick release skewers for that as well. They’re the external cam type and, my initial impressions are that they feel “clampy enough.”

The rim height is 21mm. That’s fairly shallow. These are not aero wheels. But they won’t kill you in a cross wind either, despite the presence of bladed spokes. Internal rim width is 19mm and externally they are 23.8mm. Should you care? Well, yes. There’s a trend towards wider rims now, on disc wheels and normal road wheels. The theory is that wider wheels are more aero (accepting that these aren’t really aero wheels), comfier and roll better. How? Why? Google it. I won’t spend ages examining it here or whether it’s true. But I can say that I feel more comfort on wider rims. That’s primarily because wider rims mean wider tyres. They have more air volume, you can run them at lower pressures and they can be as fast as a thinner tyre at lower pressures. That’s the theory. I won’t make any conclusions here as to whether it works or not. But I prefer wider rims. There’s also tyre shape. Think about that for a minute. Your tyre is 23c. Your rim is 19mm wide. That tyre must, by its very definition be smaller at the rim than it is at its rounded section. In essence it will look like a light bulb. Move that rim width to 23 or so and your tyre profile will be more of a uniform U now. A much better shape to contact the road surface.

Frankly, these tick all the boxes. They’re relatively light, well spoked, good width and you can get spares (spokes at least) easily enough. And all this is very lovely. But frankly irrelevant if they don’t work well or ride well.

First things first. Installing the discs was easy. No difficulty in threading the 6 bolts to attach the rotors. Next step, tyres. I’ve tried two pairs so far, Vittoria Hyper Voyager 37c and Vittoria XG Pro 35c. A few people have reported getting tyres on to be difficult. There are a few reviews on Wiggle that confirm this to be the case. I got mine on by hand in both cases. No tyre levers necessary. I’m quite good at getting tyres on by hand and I’d say that these were as easy as most wheels I’ve tried. Tyres are important. The first part of this test will be on 37c tyres. They are big and balloony. And very comfortable indeed. But I’ve used those tyres on a number of different set of wheels and there have been differences in feel accordingly. So using these tyres operates as some sort of control. I’m running them at the same PSI as I always have.

Once I’d installed the Quick Releases and attached the wheels to the bike a bit of fettling was needed with disc brake alignment. That’s not unusual. Both bikes were set up for my old wheels. There will always be slight differences in alignment, one of the reasons why the naysayers claim that disc brakes on pro bikes are problematic. A minute or so with an allen key and all was once again right with the world.

The first test in all these wheel tests is to spin them by hand. Have they come out of the box straight and true. Well, looks very much like it. I cannot perceive any lateral mis- alignment and the wheels appear perfectly round. I am not going to claim to have put them on a jig and tested them. Neither am I going to say I’ve tested the spoke tension. But a quick pluck of the spokes seems to confirm that, audibly at least, they are perfect.

Damn they are fast. On my first commute in I was about 5 minutes faster than any recent commute. And about 10 minutes faster than some of the slower ones. It’s around 20 miles, if you’ve not read any of my other pieces. However, there are some factors at play here. The first is placebo confirmation bias expectation effect (TM). Simply, you think your new thing is awesome so you ride faster. And you are faster. There’s some of that. The second thing is the bike had had a complete clean and overhaul including a new chain. New chains are scientifically proven to increase your speed because they are so damn lovely. The final factor was, in my view, a minor one. Storm Henry. I do not believe that the 50 mph or so tailwind was in any way responsible. Though, clearly, my very pedestrian commute home into the now opposing headwind was all down to the storm. 😉

But they are fast. Ignoring any wind assistance they have a very smooth set of bearings indeed. My commute has a number of sections. In “sprint through the village and up the hill to their lights” it was clear that they spun up well from a standing start and demonstrated absolutely no flex when out of the saddle sprinting up the hill. Though I would say that flex on a disc wheel is a little more difficult to measure than on a rim wheel. On “5 miles till the traffic jam” they coped well with an undulating circuit of long drags and B roads. There’s a nice direct feel to them. They don’t jar over potholes and appear to smooth the surface nicely. The most noticeable effect was on “I really hate this hill.” I really do hate that hill. I wish it weren’t there. But, today, I charged up it, seated, in the fastest time I’ve done it in years. And that section is sheltered so the wind is not really an issue. There may well be factors at play here but my perception is that they are light where it counts, in the rim. The subsequent descent on “I love that hill,” was controlled and comfortable. And then, at the end of the day, home. That was brutal, with constant pedaling on downhill sections, walking pace on flat sections. But I never once thought about my wheels holding me back.

As I say, confirmation bias. It’s very hard to measure whether these are an improvement on what was there before. Actually, they’re very similar, in spec, to what was there before. Perhaps a bit lighter, a little quicker. Built to a similar standard, it seems, so far. And that’s pretty high praise. The chap who built my previous wheels built them very well indeed. They remained true despite the abuse handed out to them. So, if the Revo’s can maintain that, then they will be a very good wheel indeed.

So, they’re good. Really very good. I have no idea if they will last. If they do, then they are a great pair of hand assembled wheels. And the price? Well, that’s the killer, potentially. On Wiggle they’re £308. That’s great value for a pair of wheels at this weight. A bit more than some, but the addition of tubeless ready compensates. If that were the price I’d say they were a good buy, but perhaps not a great one. I paid less, an awful lot less, no point me explaining it, that offer has gone. And at the price I paid they are an absolute steal.

I’ll be updating this review as time goes by, so keep looking in. We’re up to 100 miles or so to date and they are still absolutely true. Their big CX test will come in mid March with Battle on the Beach but I’ll probably get them off road before them. Seems a shame to get them dirty.

UPDATE: 16th February 2016. They are still alive! I’ve been using both pairs in rotation so have racked up perhaps 200 miles on both pairs now, including some off road stuff. They are still completely round and true. And they feel very light on both bikes. There’s no harshness to them. I’ll shortly be trying the ones on my CX tubeless by fitting some 35c Schwalbe G-One gravel tyres. Watch this space!

UPDATE: 27th February 2016. They continue to impress. Zero issues with them at all so far, either on the commuting bike or the CX. They still spin freely and there are no issues at all in relation to truing. The fit between the rear rim and a Schwalbe G-One tubeless is very tight indeed. One of the more difficult tyres I’ve ever tried to get onto a rim but it does go on, in the end. In terms of security though that does contribute to a very good fit onto the rim and very good sealing when running tubeless. Indeed, that combination of tyres and rims has been my first experience where one pump from my track pump saw the rim bead jump into the hooks immediately. I’m still very impressed overall.

UPDATE: 22nd March 2016. So, I used my XLS with these wheels at Battle on the Beach. Around 33 miles over the Saturday and Sunday. My mate’s son used my Bivio with my second pair on for about the same over the 2 days. They’re still true and still running perfectly. As far as bang for your buck is concerned these are brilliant. I did have a small issue with the front skewer on one of them. They’re not the strongest in terms of grip so could be a worthy upgrade. That aside they are fantastic.

UPDATE: 28th March 2016. Small issue with the rear wheel. The cassette had developed a slight side to side movement. Freehub was loose. Took a spanner to the drive side end and a hex key to the other side and re tightened. But took the opportunity to add some grease to the freehub first. There had been a very slight squeak from the freehub area. I’m not alone in having a bit of a squeak going on. There are other reports on bike radar. In my case some grease has solved it. In others some oil on the seals or a tightening of the QR has done it. Watch this space for any updates on that issue. It’s worth bearing in mind. I paid about £160 so it’s a small niggle for now. At the full RRP it would be a bigger one.

Wiggle link to buy the A21