Cyclists should be seen, and sometimes heard….

I’m not a scientist. This piece will not attempt to discuss how the human eye works. It’s all about rods and cones apparently. Sometimes a colour will look brighter than another colour. Sometimes the reverse. It’s like that visit to the Opticians. Is it better on the green or the red. Half the time I feel like it’s some sort of mental test rather than a test of eyesight. Am I getting it right? Does the optician think I’m an idiot?

The biggest debate in cycling is, of itself, debatable. Is it the lack of road tax? The lack of proper training? Why on earth DO we look like that? Why aren’t helmets mandatory (or why isn’t that cyclist wearing a helmet when they (mistaken belief) are mandatory?) A fog of information, misinformation, and straight forward idiocy…..

Let’s be clear. Some drivers wouldn’t see a cyclist in front of them if that cyclist were lit up like the figurative Christmas tree. That’s not a slight on cyclists, it’s not necessarily a slight on drivers (or that driver specifically). It’s just that human beings can be quite inattentive, particularly when carrying out a highly technical, dangerous task. There’s some guidance about what cyclists should do. That guidance, in the Highway Code, is in no way mandatory. The words “should” are not a legal requirement. They reflect good practice and, arguably, breaching them may count against you should the very worst happen.

The Highway Code provides that:

Rule 59
Clothing. You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights, light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.

(Note the lack of punctuation, should there be a comma after poor light? Or is it suggesting poor light reflective clothing in the dark. The former in my view)

Appropriate clothes for cycling. Well, that rather depends on the discipline doesn’t it? It goes someway to explaining the existence of the lycra clad warrior. Put simply, any training ride is probably best carried out in lycra in exactly the same way that proper swimming is probably best carried out in speedos rather than board shorts. But that doesn’t mean lycra for everything. A commute is fine in MTB gear. It’s ok in a suit if it’s not far, but wear ankle clips. Do what works, do what’s comfortable, don’t worry about what everyone else says or thinks…..

And so, if we ignore the great helmet debate (no, please, let’s really ignore it, I’ve done that one) then let’s get on to discussing fluro evangelism. For it is evangelism in the very worst way. Cyclists must wear bright colours because the Highway Code says so. We start from a basic misreading of the rule. It’s an advice so doesn’t need to be followed. But there seems to be a belief amongst the more vocal social media commentators that it is a requirement. It’s also an evangelical belief amongst cyclists in much the same manner as the helmet debate. Do as I do and do as I say. If you don’t then you’re simply asking for it. Oh God, asking for it. Yes, victim blaming is very often alive and well. So, what of it, is there foundation for this evangelism? Or is it hocus pocus?

Well, let’s start with language. Language can be so very confusing depending on preconception. High Vis is the buzzword now, fluro a subset of it, but the truth is that language is both more complex than that and, ultimately, far simpler.

Let’s start with fluro coloured clothing. It’s not fluorescent, at least not in the sense that a light is, or even true natural fluorescence. It’s a description of something that’s really bright and, arguably, more visible. The sciency thing has to do with turning energy into different wavelengths and thus appearing brighter. So, think of your dayglo oranges, yellows, greens and pinks. Then we have high visibility or high vis for short. Is that any different? Arguably not. Most high visibility clothing uses some sort of fluro colour as its base colour. The Highway code talks about fluorescent clothing. It’s talking about colours which are easier to pick out both in the day and in the hours of dusk and dawn. So what’s high vis all about?

Typically high vis is used interchangeably with fluro. We often see pieces where cyclists are urged to wear high vis clothing? But what is it? A quick google of high viz (sic) leads to many websites dealing in personal protective equipment. That’s right, your jersey might be protective. But the garments are not just fluro, they are also adorned, as alluded to in the Highway Code, with reflective material, typically some sort of silver scotchlite fabric which reflects light sources, be that ambient light or, crucially, car headlights.

The media, and in particular social media, conflates and confuses many of these terms. It over complicates what is actually needed. The rule of thumb is that light colours are better in the day, fluro colours catch the eye. After dark you need reflectives. Or, to put it more simply, try to be seen.

And consider this piece here Fluro might not be as safe as you think Let’s start with the fallacy in the title. Fluro cannot, absolutely cannot, make you safer. It has no magical properties to turn you into a cycling God. It may make cycling safer to the extent that others see you, but the suggestion is that it may well not do so. The article says that there is limited success at night. Well, hello, it’s just a colour and requires light. Stick someone in black and someone in yellow down a mine shaft. I guarantee you won’t find either of them.

What IS important though, and it seems like a matter of common sense, is contrast, that is the difference in your colour choice to that of the natural environment around you. It’s even possible for fluro yellow to go missing in low sun or spring colours. In those cases perhaps fluro pink is the option. Or white. White is actually a pretty great colour for being seen. Makes you look fat mind.

Black and yellow, hello?

fluro

Just look at that. Orange and yellow in the dark. Note that the only other colour which stands any real chance here is white, you can see the white car off to the right there. Indeed, the black tights are almost entirely invisible. This is typical of many a picture of fluro clothing. But, does it reflect reality? I suspect not. The orange and yellow jackets are visible because they are cast in light. They are capable of reflecting light rather than absorbing it.Black is the darkest color, the result of the absence of or complete absorption of light. Science. But you can still see black, in the right conditions. Particularly when you shine a light on it. The problem with black is that it blends into other blacks. So, in the photo above the road is black and there is little or no definition between the tights and the road surface. Photoshop or truth? I don’t know, I suspect somewhere in between.

But there is another reality at play. The runners appear to be more visible as a result of their clothing. But try this. Dress someone like a ninja, stand them in front of a car at the same distance as above, put your headlights on. Can you see the ninja? Of course. You know they should be there and you can see them. Repeat the experiment at distance. Move them further away. At what point does even the fluro clothing disappear altogether? That’s an oversimplification of course. The clothing will continue to reflect whatever light is present. So you’d need a very dark, cloudy place to test the true efficiency of fluro clothing. I suspect the answer is that the fluro clothing will be more visible at any given distance. Probably.

It’s complicated. The real world has ever changing weather conditions, it has different sources of light both direct and indirect, there are multiple things competing to be seen and numerous distractions for the driver and the rider. Anything static which suggests that one thing is better than another thing is flawed. Any attempt to decide what is definite is doomed to failure, we can only really deal with what is likely to be true. So, let’s turn what is likely to keep you safe(r).

What is important is being seen. That is clearly the case in the dark and dusk but, increasingly, it seems to be the case that being seen in the day is important. Short of subliminal mind control our only choices are clothing and lighting. Let’s deal with each in turn.

Clothing

It seems to be the case that light coloured and fluro clothing are more likely, subject to contrast, to get you seen, and to be seen in the widest variety of conditions. That is almost certainly the case in daylight and in the hours leading up to dusk and dawn. Certainly there’s no real disadvantage to wearing light coloured clothing during those hours. Whether that clothing is more visible in car headlights, street lights or ambient light in the hours of darkness is an arguable point. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support this but it would be perhaps foolhardy to decide on an exclusively dark night ride and dress all in black simply because of a lack of evidence.

One of the arguments cited against black in the day is that it’s the colour of the road surface. Well, that might be true when viewed from above or in the vertical plane. But, generally, riders hover above the road surface and unless the horizontal plane is also black they should be visible against the multitude of surrounding colours. Indeed, there may be occasions when a light coloured jersey might blend in with a surrounding colour depending on the environment. Equally, if your ride is through the Forest of Dean then the ever changing lighting conditions might be challenging to varying shades of green etc. It’s hard to generalise on whether one particular colour is better than another in all conditions. It’s a compromise. Nevertheless, it’s fairly accepted that the truly searing “fluro” colours such as exhibited in the dhb aeron range (see elsewhere on this site) and my very orange Mossa are more likely to contribute to, rather than hinder, your safety.

But at night reflectives work. There is no doubt about it. As long as your reflectives are caught by a decent light source then you should be seen. Have a look at this picture of an otherwise black Altura Night Vision Evo.

alt

I don’t know if that’s been photoshopped or enhanced in any way. But, in my experience of having owned one, that’s fairly representative of how they react to light. Useful to have. Some companies take this even further. Have a look at the Proviz jacket. It’s a dull greyish colour in the day. But cast a light source on it or take a picture with a flash and it becomes a searing bright silver. Guaranteed to get you seen, provided that the driver isn’t distracted by one of a thousand quite distracting things. Good jacket and good idea? I don’t know. The theory is great but I picked one up in Halfords and found it quite inflexible and my gut feeling is that it would be waterproof but lacking breathability. The same goes for the Night Vision Evo above. It’s great at keeping the rain out, and your body heat and vapour in. Undeniably a tidy safety option overall but not one that is conducive to getting you out there. Not for anything other than a medium length commute in my view.

But reflectives are useful. As I noted on another review, the Castelli Alpha was particularly poor in this respect, which is particularly annoying for a winter piece. There are no reflectives at all. dhb’s Aeron range offered much more in this regard and combined it with some nice fluro colours to catch the eye in the daylight or dusk. My Parentini Mossa and Mossa.2 are also adorned with a large amount of reflective trim. Lusso’s nitelife is brilliant. It costs pennies to add. So, manufacturers please, just add it.

Conclusions? My evidence base is my experience and dash of common sense. Look around you at what colours stand out in most situations. For me the advice in the highway code makes sense. Try to be seen in the day, add something at night. Do what you can do but always be prepared for that person who claims to be your mate but who’s really sorry that they didn’t see you.

Lighting

You can ride with as much fluro and reflective material as you want. If you really want to be seen then you need lights. Good ones and, ideally in my view, more than you legally need.

Remember that cyclists only need lights to comply with the law between the hours of dusk and dawn. The points where the sun set and rises. At all other times, regardless of light levels, you don’t need any lights. That’s probably unwise, certainly at the rear of the bike. Indeed there’s a move towards running with a rear light on even the brightest of summer days. The new breed of lights are very bright. Many of them come with daylight modes which are designed to catch the eye of those around you. But let’s leave that aside for the moment and deal with lighting in the darkest of conditions. What do I need.

Well, it depends. Where do you live? Try this. Stand in an unlit country lane after sunset. Wait till there’s nothing and no-one around. In the absence of moonlight you’ll be lucky to see your own feet. You won’t be able to make out colours. You’ll be the invisible man. Then take any light you want, turn it on. You will be seen. Indeed, you’ll be seen from some distance. There’s nothing to distract, no sea of headlights, no neon signage. Pretty much most lights you use will offer some degree of visibility. Front or rear, white or red, makes no difference. You’ll be seen. Provided the sight lines are good and you’re not wiped out by some fool coming at speed round a bend, most of what you do will be good enough to be seen. So, if your commute or night time club run is rural you won’t need much. A tidy cree based LED at the back will make you stand out. A good flashing unit at the front will provide a decent warning. Of course, you won’t be able to see where you’re going. At all. But you will be seen.

So, if you’re lucky enough to live out in the sticks, you may or may not need much. In the city you need something different. The light pollution is potentially massive. The traffic jams are full of cars with tail lights, brake lights and high level lights. There will be the odd idiot with front and rear fogs. Along you come with a weedy light system. Can you be picked out as a separate entity among all of that? It’s difficult. You need something decent. There are hundreds of options available to you. Moon, Knog, Lezyne, whatever. My preference is for the See Sense lights, front and rear, at least to be seen. Pay your money take your choice. Something that flashes is better, it catches the eye. Technically, if those things are capable of a steady light then, remember, if you run them on flash then you need a BS standard steady light to supplement them. But, as I said on my light review, ignore that BS part, it’s largely BS. Get something that is decent and works and you will be fine. In the city being able to light your way is not, in the bigger cities at least, a big issue. There should be enough light to get you where you’re going.

It’s an over simplification. Most of us who commute, and it is at that cyclist that this is mostly directed at, will have a mix of conditions. Even the London cyclist will find themself on the towpath at some point, or in the dark alley. You will need to see and be seen. What do you need?

There’s no one size, so I’ll tell you what I use and why. My commute is roughly 18 miles each way. Starts in a small town, good streetlights. After about 3 miles I’m out onto A and B roads. Some are busy and well lit, others are less so and unlit. When I get to my large end city (Cardiff) I have around 4 miles of unlit cycle path. When rationalising commuting in the dark I decided, perhaps unscientifically, that my simple choice was overkill versus being killed. I need to see, because much of it was unlit, but above all I needed to be seen. My clothing choice erred on the side of caution, fluro and reflectives. My light choices were designed to get me seen and, crucially, to draw attention in a way that, perhaps, the tiny cheap seatpost mounted “safety rear” did not do. I wanted a driver to look, see and conclude that the thing in front was a cyclist or, if that were not obvious, that it was an unusual thing and that caution should be exercised.

At the front I’ve kept the same sort of setup for a number of years. One flashing light and one to light the way. There have been different combinations. At one point I had a Magicshine with a Lezyne Micro Drive. Worked well but the Magicshine had a separate battery which took up my bottle cage as I didn’t like hanging it on the cross bar. Last year I used a Philips Saferide 80 and a See Sense front. A great combination.

So, this year, I’ve been using a Cateye Volt 1200 and See Sense Icon. We can argue all day about whether the Volt is too bright. I run it in a lower power mode and angled down. It seems ok. It has a “hood” at the top to take some of the oncoming dazzle away. I’ve not had anyone flash me for using it. But short of asking someone to come out and do some driving towards me tests I have on idea whether it’s socially acceptable. It’s visible though and works extremely well on getting me seen. But the main job of getting me seen falls to the Icon. It flashes and it does a shed load of clever stuff.

At the rear, it’s pretty easy. See Sense. First the original 125 lumen model and now the Icon 2 x95. It’s a stunning light. But I supplement it with a Lezyne Strip Drive Pro on the seat stay. I run that on solid. Not because it makes me more visible, though it probably does, and certainly not because the See Sense is defective, which it most certainly is not. No, I do it just to ensure that I comply with the RVLR Regulations. OK, it’s not certified or BS rated, but no one is going to argue about that. I comply, end of, and I’m visible from a LONG way off.

What else? Well, most of the stuff I have has reflectives. My Mossa.2 is resplendent in the stuff. In addition the sidewalls of my Vittoria Hyper Voyager are also reflective. As the weather gets better even the more spring like jerseys I own have sufficient reflectivity.

As I conclude this piece my early morning and evening commutes are now almost exclusively light. Yet I continue to use the See Sense Icon at the rear. Indeed, I use it on the best bike on tempo rides. Why? Well, every little helps and there’s always one idiot out there.

And there we are. Much rambling, a lot of ranting. You don’t need to do as I say, or as I do. You certainly don’t need to do as the media tell you to do. Do what makes sense, do what makes common sense. It should be enough. If that one person doesn’t see you? Frankly, they were never going to.

Crime and Punishment : Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read this in order to be OUTRAGED!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revenge is a dish best served with a D Lock

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

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

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

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

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

Bloody Audi drivers

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

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

This is how it works…………..

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

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

1 What does the Civil law want?

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

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

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

2 What does the Criminal law want?

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

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

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

3 The burden and standard of proof in the Courts

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

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

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

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

4 The birth of a criminal case

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 In which court do criminal trials take place?

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

5.1 Categories of offences

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

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

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

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

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

5.2 Trials in the Magistrate’s Court

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

5.3 Trials in the Crown Court

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

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

5.4 Typical offences

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parentini Mossa.2 :Baby it’s cold outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torm, this is how I feel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to go to Torm’s website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cateye Volt 1200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top shot
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2 Led system
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Bottom mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parentini Mossa: slaying the Gabba

I’ve always been a big fan of the roundel. Although I lack any artistic capability I like design and I’ve always liked the circular representation of a national flag. Bradley Wiggins sported the UK RAF roundel on his Rapha designed kit and it adds a distinctive bit of design flair. The Parentini Mossa has a roundel on the sleeve in the colours of the Italian flag as used by their Air Force. It has the added benefit that, in roundel form, I can pretend that it’s actually representing the Welsh flag as well.

It’s inevitable that a lot of this review will be a comparison. The Mossa is , on the face of it, a competitor of the Castelli Gabba and the Gabba is a yardstick. It is the thing against which all other foul weather gear is measured. It was introduced a number of years ago to the Castelli supplied members of the pro peloton and proved to be an instant success. Indeed such was that success that other non Castelli riders started to adopt it as well. Of course, they couldn’t wear Castelli, or at least appear to be wearing the brand, due to their own sponsorship commitments so out came the black marker pens. There’s a great photo of Johan Van Summeren in his branded Gabba riding alongside BMC’s Philipe Gilbert in his blacked out version. Black marker pens. In the  high tech world of pro cycling a low tech approach to staying comfortable. Who knows, they may even have had to buy it themselves.

A very large number of the pro peloton in the 2013 San Remo were wearing the Gabba. And not without good reason, the conditions were absolutely foul. The Gabba was something new, and, at the time, something fairly unique. Where riders would once turn to a normal jersey/gilet/rainjacket combo the Gabba did away with all of that. It was a single garment, short or long sleeve, suited to riding in the worst weather conditions. And, quite quickly, it trickled down into the consciousness of the amateur riders who also began to use it as their go to kit in poor conditions. Castelli went to great lengths to sell the dream, even marketing a “pro” version in a  box with a marker pen for those who wanted to be like the pro peloton. There was a long sleeve version and, if conditions were a little warmer, a short sleeve one. Partner the short sleeve with a set of nano flex arm warmers and you had a pretty versatile combination. Alternatively, there was a convertible version where you could zip off the arms and convert it to short sleeved one.
Soon the Gabba was ubiquitous. Not only in the pro peloton, but in the amateur one as well. It was used for wet sportives, club runs. I used mine for commuting, mountain biking and once for Cyclocross. It appeared to be all things to all men. The indispensable king of wet and foul weather cycling clothing. Reviewed brilliantly all over the web and in print media with very few dissenters overall. And, even where dissent crept in, an acknowledgement that it was still a very good piece of kit indeed.

 

And it is. As long as you understand what it is and why it works. Castelli rate their products on a 5 “dot” scale. They claim that the Gabba is 100% windproof but only 80% waterproof and breathable. Insulation is rated at 40%. In practice the truth is probably a little different. It will stave off even heavy rain for a decent length of time. It will absolutely keep the wind off. When the water eventually gets in it remains windproof and the moisture within (be that your own sweat or what’s seeped through) is an effective insulator. I’m surprised that Castelli rate it as a mere 40% for insulation. It’s definitely better than that. Though, perhaps, they are being honest about its thermal properties overall. Once you’re wet you stay warm. Until you stop at the Cafe for cake and take it off. Then you hang it on the back of your chair. Sink the latte, eat the coffee cake. Put it back on. Nasty. A good friend of mine had some experience of this the other day. She hung it on the back of a chair to dry off when she got home. A few hours later, it’s still wet and there’s a puddle on the floor. Stick it in the airing cupboard and it dries out a little quicker. The truth is that most of this is as Castelli intended but the lore of the Gabba seems to have distorted the truth of its shortcomings. In the cold light of day it’s not the second coming that it never really claimed to be……….

Enter the Mossa. It’s a very different animal altogether though, superficially, it appears to be the same. It has the same minimal approach, similar race fit, similar rear reflectives, no fleecy insulation and some fleece in the collar. Imitation and flattery? Or something else? There are a number of Mossa variants, moreso than the Gabba. The Mossa makes up a large part of Parentini’s winter range.  This review is of the long sleeve jacket version. There’s a short sleeve version of the same jacket. There’s also a more substantial winter version called the Mossa.2. I may be able to add a review of that in due course. There’s also a jersey range with a slightly different base construction.

Let’s start here. The Mossa is breathable, 100% waterproof and windproof. It’s made of a material called Windtex manufactured by Vagotex in Italy. This particular variant is the Windtex Storm Shield fabric, a stretchy membrane which allows moisture to escape but doesn’t allow any in. But, hang on a second, there’s no taped seams. Surely it cannot be 100% waterproof? That’s a fair point and one which Parentini address in their literature. In their view taped seams means a stiffer section of fabric which sits away from the skin and cannot carry out its transportation duties. The fabric here is lined with a water repellent treatment and Parentini claim that no water will find its way in. I have to say, I once wore a Gore Xenon with taped seams and it never sat right. The Rapha Pro Team Soft-shell had taped seams as well and I found it less water resistant than the Gabba. So the absence of taped seams on a jacket of this type is no big issue to me. I can see its place in the less form fitting rain jackets, but I understand what Parentini were trying to achieve.

The Mossa is designed to operate at its optimum performance level when the rider is wearing a base layer. It uses the moisture that you produce to heat you up. The transportation of moisture away from the membrane happens at a slower pace than in other products (such as Windstopper) and, as such, thermal regulation is achieved on a more consistent basis. You can, where conditions permit, wear it without a base layer but it would have to be relatively warm to consider doing that.

Parentini supplied me with a jacket and base layer to sample and review. Bear that in mind. I didn’t pay for it. I’ve been very positive about kit that I’ve paid for with my own money, indeed that was one of the reasons for starting to write a blog in the first place. So, in writing this review, I want to be transparent and honest in relation to those points. They’ve asked me to be brutally honest and write whatever I want. And, I have assured them, that I will. So, that’s out of the way…….

The sample supplied to me is an orange jacket in large. The jacket also comes in a fluro yellow, black or blue. If I’d have chosen a version it would have been the orange one. It’s a great colour for being seen. It’s a size smaller than I would have bought in any Castelli gear. Indeed, it’s actually my normal size in everyday clothing. It’s nice to be able to buy something Italian in something that doesn’t scream fatty on the label to you every time you put it on. It’s designed to be tight but the fabric is around 4 times more elastic than other windstopper type materials. It fits. Just about. But that’s pretty much the point. You don’t want it to be baggy because that just creates pockets of air that will leave you cold and fail to transport moisture away from the skin. If you buy the Mossa in the wrong size it’s simply not going to work as well as intended. But the size chart is pretty much spot on and doesn’t require you to guess quite as much as with other manufacturers.

I’ve partnered it with a long sleeved (Parentini) pesante carbon base layer. When the base layer arrived it was the most amazing thing. As I removed it from the packaging it looked like it would fit my youngest child. He’s 3. It really was very tiny indeed. But it fitted perfectly. I’ve honestly never seen stretch like it. And once it was on it was just a lovely thing to feel next to the skin. It’s interesting. I have a Helly Hansen lifa base layer. It’s form fitting. I like it and it works but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit limiting in terms of movement. It’s a bit tight on the shoulders and on the inside of the elbow. I’m never wholly comfortable in it but it works well enough. Yet this base layer from Parentini which would fit on the chest of the Helly Hansen fits me perfectly. In fact I’d go as far to say that it fits me better than any base layer I’ve ever tried on. It’s made of a material called Dryarn which wicks moisture quickly away from the skin. It has perforated underarms which assist with those particularly sweaty bits. That’s important because, as noted above, the Mossa require your own moisture to work at its optimum levels. It’s also very thin and, when combined with the Mossa over the top, doesn’t give you the feeling of being constricted in any way.

And what of the fit of the Mossa. Well, as stated, race fit. Very much so. Have a look at the model on the home page. You’ll see that there’s no bagginess at all. And that’s particularly the case in relation to the sleeves. I’ve been doing a bit of swimming recently and have developed a few more muscles. My top half is a bit more muscular than in the past but it fits well because of its elasticity. The bottom half of my torso is still showing some post Christmas excess but it still fits very well overall. I’m fairly confident that, providing you choose the correct size, it will fit very well on most body types such is its elasticity. It comes up quite short at the front but that’s a deliberate design as well. There’s absolutely no bulging out when sitting on the bike. I hate that. There are so many jackets that appear to fit well but then bulge out when you adopt race position. The Mossa does not do that at all. The term second skin is overused but particularly applicable here. But it never feels constricting or tight, just, well, right. It really does feel like a storm shield.

The rest is pretty standard fare really. A nice fleece lined collar. A really excellent zip which you can easily move with even heavy gloves. There’s not a storm “flap” over the zip but the material either side of the zip is slightly raised and elongated and fits over the zip when in use. So, in practice, it’s as good as the storm flap on the Castelli Gabba or Alpha. There are three deep pockets on the rear and, as you can see in the photos below, a good decent set of reflective bits of material. There’s an elongated tail which will prevent road spray from entering places where you really don’t want it to enter.

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Front
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Rear with light source

There’s no separate waterproof pocket because, well, the pockets themselves are and that is a slight issue. Perhaps my only real negative issue with the Mossa overall. There are no drain holes. If the water gets into the pocket it will stay in so it’s probably best to put your accessories in something such as a sandwich bag. In practice this is generally a good idea anyway. Moisture can have as much an effect on your iPhone as dropping it in the toilet. And, in practice, when in the race position, it’s unusual for even torrential rain to run down your back and into the pocket. The elastic fit means that the pockets are effectively closed when sitting on the bike so it’s really not much of a problem anyway. The overall quality is excellent. It feels premium and hard wearing. The seams are closely stitched and the quality of the stitching is excellent. There are no hard edges or anything else which might rub uncomfortably against the skin.

The cuffs are nice as well. They’re a nice snug fit and feel very soft next to the skin. They’re not made from the same material, it seems, as the main jacket but are clearly coated with the same water repellent treatment. In practical use they are not quite as waterproof as the main jacket but water runs off them very effectively. The whole overall effect is one of real lightness. I’d recommend a lightweight pair of gloves to partner the jacket with to maintain this overall feel. When I did this test I used some Dura De Feet gloves and the cuff fitted neatly underneath the cuffs of the Mossa with little fuss.

So, does it work?

Before I moved out into the real world I started with a simple test. I put on the jacket and base layer and stuck my arm in the sink which I’d filled with cold water. Bent my arm and let it rest there for a few minutes. Then I repeated with the other arm. After a few minutes immersion I took the jacket off and surveyed the base layer for any sign of water ingress. There was none. That’s particularly impressive and shows that the membrane and waterproof coating are doing their job properly. It also demonstrates that the seams are performing extremely well. When the arm is bent and submerged the seams are being stretched slightly due to articulation. This means that the lack of any ingress during that period of immersion is a good test of how the jacket might perform in real world conditions. But it’s not a complete test. I’ve been down this road before. Some jackets appear good in isolated home test but perform poorly out on the road. The only test worth considering is a ride in the rain. Let’s get out there. So, far I’ve been able to test it on one ride in variable conditions and another in bright but cool conditions. The temperatures on both rides varied between 7 and 10 degrees. I haven’t yet tested it in a monsoon. I am sure there will be one along soon and I will update the review accordingly.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve cycled in the wet. It’s not a pleasant experience. I don’t know who first encapsulated the quote “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” but, in most cases, that’s entirely true. If you choose to be out in the nasty stuff then choosing what you wear will make your experience immeasurably better. I’ve tried lots of stuff in the wet and my experiences are elsewhere on this blog. I’ve never really found that there’s one piece of kit that can work in all conditions. The best rain jacket I’ve found is the Madison Apex. The best versatile jersey is the Castelli Alpha. DHB are producing kit at such reasonable prices that you can just have several pieces of stuff which will work but a degree of planning is needed before you go out.

The Mossa is a truly versatile piece. Its raison d’être is its waterproofing. You choose it if it’s raining or if the threat of rain is ever present. But you don’t have to wear it in the rain. It just works particularly well in those conditions. You can wear it, Parentini say, in sub zero temperatures up to 15 degrees. As stated earlier, at the very top end of temperatures, its better that you ditch the base layer or, at least, go with a very lightweight or short sleeve one, as the jacket may be a little hot overall.

On both test runs I cycled at a decent pace, faster than a commute, slower than a club ride. The ride was undulating and with decent climbs and descents. I wore the (supplied) base layer and a pair of bib knickers on my bottom half. I cannot possibly vouch, at the time of writing, for performance in sub zero conditions. We haven’t had any and, looking at the forecasting models, it looks like we won’t have some for some time yet. In properly sub zero conditions, which I generally experience early in the mornings on my commute, I would probably choose the Mossa.2 because of its increased warmth. But that would only be the case if I knew that the home commute would be similarly cold. If the diurnal temps were extreme (a sub zero ride in and a middle temp ride home) then I’d opt for the Mossa. That’s particularly the case if there is any threat of rain. Remember that this review is about my experience. As I’ve got older I’ve run a little colder. In years gone by I could easily have seen me using the Mossa at zero. Now? Probably around 4-5 degrees C and above.

How does it perform? It does what it says on the tin. It keeps rain out. It breathes. It keeps you warm and, crucially, temperate. It’s very breathable indeed, not once did I feel that overly warm feeling that you can get with some jackets. It’s not witchcraft. Parentini worked very hard to identify the best possible material with which to construct the Mossa. But the material is only one part of it. The combination of that material with the general overall fit is what makes the Mossa a particularly effective piece of kit. It’s properly waterproof, even in driving rain. There will, inevitably, be some moisture inside. And that moisture is important because it’s allowing the Mossa to carry out its thermal regulating duties. When I removed the jacket and checked the base layer at the end of the ride the moisture was in the places that I’d expect to see it, chest, back, and a bit on the arms. That was the case in relation to both the wet and dry rides. That means that the transfer system is being unaffected by the presence of moisture on the outside of the jacket. Indeed, the rain just runs of it, never soaks in, never gets anything other than slightly moist.

The Mossa was excellent in keeping me temperate. A true Goldilocks jacket. Whether I was descending or ascending, riding tempo or small recovery, I just felt exactly the same. Whenever I found myself in a cross or head wind I couldn’t feel any penetration at all. Whenever it rained nothing found its way in. The neck gets a particular shout out here. It’s very snug but not uncomfortably so. It maximises protection and makes sure that water can’t make its way in. It’s quite high as well which really assists in that shield like protection.  In the conditions in which it’s intended to be worn it worked perfectly. I felt dry, sufficiently warm and, above all, protected from the elements.

So, the all important question. The price. It’s sold in the UK at more or less the same price EU wide. Around 200 euros. At the time of writing that’s more or less £160. Indeed the UK RRP is slightly less at £155.  In the UK if you want get hold of one it’s a case of contacting the manufacturer at sales@zettadistribution.com in order to find your local dealer. I’ll try and post the dealer list at the bottom of this blog in due course. Parentini are not a mail order company. They don’t want to build a big internet presence. They believe in their dealer network. That’s very nice to see nowadays. That’s a decent outlay for a jacket. But it’s certainly in the ball park of what you’d expect to pay for the alternatives. And, in my view, those alternatives are not nearly so versatile.

Incidentally, I should add, there are a number of other things that are special about the Mossa, or, more properly, how Parentini market it. It can be personalised for any club rider. So you can order it in your club colours and customise in other ways such as the addition of a zipped pocket. That’s a pretty good USP as well.

Would I buy one with my own money? Absolutely. Indeed, I’m not quite sure I really need my (excellent) rain jacket anymore. This feels better, feels more temperate, more protected, and more useful. In the world of wet weather gear you need to make a choice. Do you opt for the best thing since sliced bread? Or do you make the intelligent left field choice? Skewed perception. The truth is that the Mossa is everything that everyone always claimed the Gabba to be. That the Gabba was never those things is not the Gabba’s fault. That the Mossa is is a testament to Parentini’s efforts to make something very special. While I’m not intending to go out in Storm Frank to test the absolutely worst the British weather has to offer, simply because it looks bloody dangerous, it won’t be long before the next low pressure system swings our way. Commuter bike out, mudguards on, Mossa donned. Once more unto the breach………….

Update: 4th January 2015. Another Welsh winter day. Another day of downpours, surface water flooding and high river levels. The quest for a sunny day goes on. 40 miles in the Mossa today, damp on the way in and some pretty nasty heavy stuff on the way home. The temperatures were depressed whenever there was serious rainfall so about 6-7 degrees most of the time. As expected I remained absolutely warm and comfortable. Not toasty in the way that a thick winter jacket makes you feel. That would be the wrong way to describe it. It was temperate. And that’s a very important consideration in the choice of a garment such as this. Indeed, once I’d finished the 20 mile home trip I thought that I could happily put another 50 miles in. But there are kids to feed and chores to be done. Off came the Mossa and I looked at where the damp patches were and they were where expected, the places where I generally sweat a little more. A bit on the chest, bit on the lower back, a little on the arms and shoulders. That dampness is fine, and to be expected. It’s contributing to keeping me warm. There was no soaking through, no dripping wet, just excellent overall protection. If I had one suggestion on design to make it would be to lose the black stripe on the left arm. Because it’s achieved by putting a separate piece of material in there, there are two additional seams on that arm rather than the almost “all round” protection of the right arm. The seams are forward facing so there is a slight risk that, in truly awful conditions, there could be some seam ingress at those points. It will be minor, if it happens, but if I were to offer a suggestion for the next model I might suggest sublimating the strip and sticking to a single piece of material here. Anyway, after 30 minutes in the airing cupboard it’s ready to go again tomorrow…..

Update: 22nd January 2016. As it turned back a little warmer (and returned to damp again) I got back into the Mossa from the Mossa.2. It’s just a lovely thing. Seems to keep you “just right” in terms of temperature and, as always, you just feel protected. I’m going to have to add the short sleeve version to the wardrobe at some point. I can see it/them getting a lot of use!

Update: 4th February 2016. It keeps raining. And the Mossa keeps getting used. And it’s still brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Parentini website

List of UK dealers

The Castelli Alpha Jersey

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This isn’t the Paris Roubaix. It’s your Sunday morning club run in cool and/or damp conditions. It’s your commute on your CX. It’s your late season charity ride which you hoped would be sunny when you signed up. It’s about finding something to keep you warm and dry.

Look, there are options. Buy a Gabba, ape the pros on the Paris Roubaix. Get a Gabba, get a bit wet, stay warm, ride fast. Buy a rain jacket, wear it over a long sleeve jersey, stay dry, and warm, and possibly a bit moist. Buy a gilet, protect your core, watch out for soggy arms, find somewhere to stash it if the sun come out.

There are options. A good cycling wardrobe should have plenty of options and in writing this review I’m not going to pretend that there are single pieces of kit that every cyclist MUST own. Buy what works, wear something for how it makes you feel. All options are open.

A little over a year ago someone started a thread on bike radar about the Castelli Alpha. That thread was about the jacket and jersey. They were new at the time, an unknown quantity. I didn’t start the thread, it’s up to 483 posts now and almost 30,000 views. But boy did I contribute to it. I guess I was one of the first people to buy the jersey, I felt I could contribute. In the end I guess I became a little bit evangelical about it. It wasn’t all about the Alpha, other jerseys and jackets are available. But it was the go to thread for people to discover what this new piece from Castelli was all about.

In my head there is a mainstream triumvirate of premium cycling manufacturers. They are Rapha, Assos and Castelli. There are others, some with as much history, some with as much technical know how, but arguably none with quite so much cachet or, if you like, brand visibility.

It’s hard to know where to start with Assos. They practically invented lycra cycling gear. They came up with the first lycra cycling shorts with a  chamois insert in 1976. This was space age. Over the years their frankly often baffling R&D and naming conventions have seen some truly advanced and wondrous products. Their bib shorts are, for my posterior, the best that there is. Admittedly, kitting yourself out in the top level winter jacket and bib tights from Assos will cost you the price of the average cyclescheme bike voucher. But who wouldn’t aspire to at least try their truly bonkers Bonka jacket? And if you want maximum comfort their top level bibshorts will let you gently house your gentleman’s sausage in its own bespoke “kuku penthouse with golden gate technology.” The Swiss, not famed for their humour. Assos produced truly brilliant kit at a price. Alan Sugar wears Assos. Their treatment of women in advertising material is debatable. You pay your money…………

In the time before Sky Rapha was a high end, lifestyle brand with a real focus on classicality. Their marketing was skewed to the aspirational and the gentleman gladiatorial cyclist. Sky’s arrival unlocked the “cheaper” end of the market, though this only really extended to “replica kit.” It was kit of high quality but hardly bargain basement. Whilst Rapha may have had plans to move towards the more pro orientated part of the market that move gained increased impetus with the need to kit out Team Sky. It forced Rapha to develop truly technical solutions to a range of riding conditions such as heat, cold and wet. Their Pro Team Range reflects this need and was produced in tandem with comprehensive real world team feedback. The materials they use are ultra modern and bespoke. There are waterproofs and windstoppers. Each of them works as well as its branded Gore Tex counterpart. I’ve no idea whether that bespoke material costs more than licensing a Gore Tex equivalent or whether its simply Rapha doing their own thing but it works. You pay your money………….

And then there is Castelli, a true Italian great; established over a hundred years ago; clothing supplier to the greats of the Grand Tours, Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault. Such wondrous company, the stuff of legend. A brand with a scorpion as a logo.

For all that esteemed history Castelli is a bit different to the other two. Yes, you have the high end bonkers technical stuff, who can forget the radiation jacket? Look at today’s 7x Air Elemento. Out there R&D dealing with real world problems. Arguably, at the very top of the range their R&D matches Assos, even if their naming conventions do not. But there are cheaper, less overtly over engineered efforts at the lower end of the range. I won’t say bottom end. This isn’t Lidl. Indeed, Castelli’s lowest end sits fairly level with the very best from a brand such as DHB in terms of pricing. Aspirational and achievable perhaps? You can choose two.

In my DHB review I said that there’s nothing difficult about making a jacket. I stand by that. Once you come up with a basic method you can then over engineer it and make it a better one, it’s not difficult. An Assos Bonka jacket is just a soft-shell really, though the description of the fabrics printed on the inner zip tab pretends otherwise.

The same goes for long sleeve jerseys, just sew some good quality materials together. But there’s a trend now towards the jersey/jacket, a new hybrid form. It’s not new, Gore produce a jersey variant of their Xenon windstopper jacket. It’s a nice piece with windstopper material on the front and most of the arms. It’s truly comfortable and very lightweight. DHB produced the windslam jersey. A “lighter” soft-shell in form. It was very reasonably priced and superb bit of kit. A slightly heavier approach to the jersey/jacket but we are talking a few grammes overall. We have options for the days when a jersey isn’t enough but a winter jacket would be too much.

Castelli’s Alpha jersey is not a space age approach to the jersey or jacket, not really.  The majority of it is made from Windstopper 150. It’s a stretchy mid weight material that is utterly windproof, as you’d expect, but also provides a degree of water resistance. A degree. Yeah, we’ll come to that later. Some manufacturers err on the side of caution, and others…….

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It’s all windstopper at the font and sleeves. Ignore the black half of the sleeves, that’s just contrast. It’s still all windstopper. Note that the zip has a storm cover from top to bottom, that’s an excellent touch in the absence of a waterproof zip. That big black band at the bottom is a giant elasticated section. Below is a photo from inside. As you can see it has a giant grippy castelli logo to make sure it stays in position. Nice touch. It works very well.

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The rear is a roubaix type soft fabric, you can see how nice and fleecy it is n the picture below. It’s very warm and is coated with a water repellent coating in the same way as Castelli’s nano range. Remember that water will always run off a windstopper fabric to some extent. The addition of this repellent to the non windstopper rear helps an otherwise water retaining fabric do its job of keeping you warm and relatively dry.

So far, so good. It’s a lightweight soft-shell jersey jacket hybrid. But here’s the thing which makes it different. The inner insulation layer.

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And that’s it. It’s like a tiny gilet really. Save that it has only a front. It’s made from a waffly heat trapping fabric. You zip it up. Then you zip the main zip up. A double insulation layer at the front. You should also be wearing your choice of base layer as well. It doesn’t look like much does it? It’s not even fleece lined. Just a waffle fabric. It doesn’t extend round your back. There’s no additional lining in the sleeves. A zipped up, sewn in extra bit of material. Oh.

30,000 views on bike radar. You don’t get that for a mis-step, well not unless you fudge some engine emissions. You don’t even get that for a discussion about the venerable Gabba. You only get that when someone has come up with something a bit special. Here’s the thing, it all works and it works brilliantly. The addition of that extra layer at the front keeps your core warm. You can feel the trapped heat and it radiates around you in truly cold conditions. But it regulates very well according to how cold it is. I suspect witchcraft is at play somewhere. You can wear this easily down to 5 degrees. You can wear it at 10 and be comfortable. You can even wear it at 15. You might like to ditch the long sleeve base layer and you might want to wear it with the inner zip open. It’s actually quite nice against the skin, you can wear it without a base layer if you really want to.

If you’re on a nice Autumn hilly circuit and you find yourself overheating then unzip your front. Leave your inner core exposed but the inner part zipped up to keep you temperate. Once you reach the peak zip up and descend. You can do all of these things. I’ll be honest, I don’t do it that often. It seems to work well for me in a range of conditions. It’s not as warm as a true soft-shell at zero but it was never really designed for that. Depending on how you hot or cold you run (I’d class myself in the middle here) you could actually use this as a winter jacket. Plenty on bike radar who claim to run “hot” use this through 3 seasons. There are summer days when it might be called on.

The fit is race. No, really really race. That elastic band waist is weird when you put it on. In fact, when I bought this first, I sent it back. It felt odd. You do need to size up. Indeed you might feel like sizing up on your already sized up Castelli. I stuck with my normal XL. It’s a form fit but once you’re on the bike it all makes sense. There are some excellent touches such as the raised and articulated fleece lined collar, one of the most comfortable things on my neck that I’ve ever worn. It’s effectively two pieces of material working together. The black piece is similar to what they make thermal beanie hats out of. Very soft and warm.

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The rear has the standard three pockets and a tiny flap sealed one on the right hand pocket. You might be able to make that out on the photo. It’s to the right of the scorpion.

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The rear pockets are fairly voluminous. They are very easy to access and all held together by a single piece of elastic trim. This proved fragile on a previous jersey I had so some care needs to be taken not to snag it, particularly with big winter gloves, but this one is holding up very well.

There is zero reflective material here. That’s a pretty big omission in my view. DHB managed this very well on the Aeron range by incorporating reflective material into the pocket retaining elastic strip. Cheap and easy and something Castelli need to think about. This is a global brand not just for nice bright October days around Lake Garda. It’s so easy to fix, so cheap to install. Adding something won’t spoil the looks. Castelli, sort it out.

And now, onto the rain……….oh the sweet, persistent, torrents of rain. I didn’t buy this jersey for the rain. I bought the Apex jacket for that. I never planned on wearing this when it was truly horrible, it’s just that some days work out that way. Two of them very recently were a true test of character and clothing.

Castelli made the Gabba for those conditions. I’ve owned one and I liked it. It worked as it was expected to, that is to say that it holds rain out, then gives up and works like a wet suit. Great for commuting (assuming you have a radiator to dry it on), great on the Paris-Roubaix, great on the Sunday morning club run. That’s IF you don’t stop for cake. If you do your left with a very soggy garment hanging on the back of your chair. That’s fine while you eat cake. Not fine when you leave again. I like the Gabba, but I accept its limitations. It is not the magical panacea that it’s sometimes made out to be.

The Alpha was never designed to be a Gabba. It’s for those cool days or those sparkling winter mornings when the temps start to rise. It was never designed for rain so it shouldn’t really work that well. And, yet, mysteriously, it does work. It works very well in fact and, dare I say it, for my purposes better than a Gabba. Not as good as a rain jacket, clearly, but just better.

The truth is there is no mystery here, it’s entirely to be expected. The Gabba is made from a windstopper material, Gore X-lite plus to be exact, and it’s water resistant to the extent that it’s a windstopper fabric. It takes ages for water to find its way through. The real ingress happens where panels are sewn together and rain eventually makes its way through shoulders and arms and, on the original Gabba, through the zip.

The Alpha is windstopper as well, Gore 150 as we’ve noted. It feels very different to the Gabba, more jacket like and less like a wetsuit. And, in my experience, it seems to work better as a water resistant jacket. It will eventually let go in exactly the same way as the Gabba because it has no internal taped seams. But it seems to hold out much better against rain for longer periods. That includes the rear which really shouldn’t work at all as it’s just DWR coated fabric. Yet that seems to work as well. Mechanically you miss a lot of rain because of forward momentum but the back of the Alpha jersey seems to shrug off rain admirably. My recent biblical rain commutes saw a jacket which started off dry, then the arms and front beaded the rain up because of the repellent coating and finally the outside was damp and clearly wet. But the water never really got in. And I remained toasty warm inside. That’s important because when something is wet through your momentum will act as a chilling mechanism. That doesn’t happen with the Alpha. Indeed, after one particular monsoon I dried the jacket with a towel and put it in the airing cupboard. After half an hour it was utterly dry outside and in. Not that there was much, if anything, on the inside in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not recommending this as your rain jacket. I do think, if you want to ride in rain, something like the Apex is better. But if you’re out there and caught out the Alpha provides a huge degree of protection.

I’m a massive fan of the Alpha jersey. I consider it to be an indispensable addition to my wardrobe. It works best in red in my view but the “laurel” version is actually very nice in the flesh. The black version is the most slimming overall, of course, but it’s hard to recommend that as a true winter piece without someone addressing the lack of reflectives. I hope to deal with “being seen” in a piece shortly in that respect.

Price? Well, it’s not cheap. RRP is around £170. I didn’t pay that, indeed I paid a lot less than Wiggle’s current reduced price (£130). £170 is steep. It’s more expensive than most full soft-shell jackets. It’s clearly much more expensive than the DHB Aeron soft-shell which I favourably reviewed on here.

But that’s not really the point. The Alpha jersey has a niche and in that niche it leads the way. To get Alpha levels of performance you’re looking at a jersey and gilet combination and that will inevitably lead to some shortcomings (such as the sleeves lacking any form of wind proofing or water resistance). What the Alpha does so well is offer a single piece of clothing with great 3 (0r 4 given our climate) season versatility. It’s not yet perfect. They need to deal with the reflectives, but it’s otherwise one of the best pieces of clothing out there at the moment.

What about the Alpha jacket then? Should I buy that? Well, I’m a huge fan of that as well, but on that I would exercise some caution. Let’s talk about the difference first. It’s a full soft-shell so windstopper fabric replaces the rear roubaix of the jersey. The internal “gilet” is all round rather than only at the front. Finally, the sleeves are lined rather than being windstopper only. Net result? Warm at minus figures. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same overall. If you can get one at something other than RRP then it’s probably the warmest and most rain resistant winter jacket out there. Remember it’s much cheaper than the Bonka from Assos and can be found for less than the Rapha soft-shell. Amongst the triumvirate it’s a bargain. But here’s the thing. In true cold I want warmth, protection and breathability. You CAN have all three. I believe that the Aeron soft-shell gives me those and whilst I could make a case that the Alpha outperforms the Aeron it would be by tiny margins. Whether you feel that tiny margins justify a substantial difference in price is up to you.

But I’m unequivocal about the Alpha jersey. Get one now, while they’re reduced a bit. Or get one in April, when they’re reduced a lot. And stick it in the draw till it gets colder. Probably in July……………

Click here to buy

Lights, no camera, action

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

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

Old law for modern solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the law

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

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

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

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

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

See Sense 125see sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

To buy one click here

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

Lezyne Strip Drive Prostrip drive

To buy one click here

For specifications click here

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

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

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

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

Fibre Flare Shorty (non USB)

fibre

Click here for tech specs

Click here to buy the red one

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

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

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

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

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

Lezyne Deca Drive

deca

For tech specs click here

Click here to buy the NEW version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lezyne Superdrive XL

XL

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

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

Loaded version for £49.99

My thoughts?

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

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

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

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

God it’s wet: Madison Apex Race Jacket

2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Oh, and get the blue one.)

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