Tuesday, 10 November 2015

2016 Tour de France Returns to Mont Ventoux

It's great to hear that the Tour de France will be returning to the iconic Mont Ventoux for next year's route. Not only that, but it will be on Bastille Day, July 14th!

The Tour has ascended the 'Giant of Provence' 15 times since 1951 and was last raced in 2013, when Chris Froome won the stage (and went on to win the Tour itself).

It's a brutal climb, arguably the toughest in the Tour, up to 1909m over 21km (from Bedoin) at an average gradient of over 7%.

I've ridden the climb twice, the first time was in 2006 after cycling the length of France. It's a brutal climb, much of it in full sun on the bare slopes of the mountain.

I'll definitely be watching!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Gear Review: Why Did No-one Tell Me About Cree Lights?!

It's that time of year again when the night's draw in and it gets harder and harder to cycle in daylight. It's time to get the bike lights on!

Up till now my trusty Lezyne Micro Drive Lights (which I reviewed a couple of years ago) have been perfect. They're great for letting other road users know you're there on city streets, but when it comes to actually seeing where you're going when the street lights run out, they're not really up to the job.

Since I've moved out to the edge of the countryside and my regular cycling route is now down unlit pothole-strewn lanes, the Lezyne's maximum of 200 lumens is not enough to spot upcoming bear traps, plus their limited battery light when on full beam means you need to recharge every day!

So I faced a quandary and the only solution was to do some research (one of favourite leisure activities!). After several wasted hours, from what I can see the choices boil down to two options:

Option 1: Exposure Equinox Mk2
If you're a Premiership footballer and have £200+ spare you can go for something like the Exposure Equinox Mk2, which are fantastically well made, high tech pieces of kit which offer loads of features and up to 2,000 lumens of light.

It's a thing of undeniable beauty...

Option 2: Nestling Cree Lights
If you're anyone else, you can buy a Cree Light - I chose a Nestling Cree XML T6, but there were loads of others to choose from.

It's nowhere near as beautifully-made as the Exposure Equinox Mk2 and it comes with an ungainly separate battery pack, but the light output is also claimed to be 2,000 lumens. It even comes with fittings to transform it into a headlamp, plus there's a rear light thrown in!

Oh, and the price? £14.99....yes, seriously!

Guess which one I bought...

I will update with a full review later, but after using the Nestling Cree Light a couple of times I would say it's fantastic for the job in hand. It provides an astonishing amount of light, which made me feel far safer on the road and also made riding less tiring as I wasn't having to strain to see ahead.

Other road users were clearly very well aware of me and, while bright, the central beam was easy to direct low enough not to dazzle people.

Yes the light is obviously not up to the build standards of the Exposure Equinox Mk2. It's ugly and flimsy and the battery pack is a bit of a faff and the wire connecting it is too long and rather awkward.

But then you think - it costs £14.99!!!

Why did no-one tell me about Cree Lights before...?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Gear Review: Sunwise Hastings Sunglasses/Eyewear

Many of us are happy to spend £100 on a pair of stylish branded sunglasses, which basically just reduce glare, while looking trendy.

But many keen cyclists, including me, would normally find the idea of spending that amount on cycling sunglasses (or 'eyewear' as I should call it) hard to justify. My last pair of Bloc sunglasses cost about £20...

And yet cycling eyewear has to do so much more than mere sunglasses. It needs to not only protect us from the sun, but also shield our eyes from mud, branches, bugs and whatever the road throws at us. It needs to be be strong, it needs to be light, it needs to work in the full sun and also in near dark.

I've never been drawn to the glasses worn by pro cyclists from the likes of Oakley. They're not only pricey - some are over £200! - but the styling is not to my taste. 'Snazzy', my mum would have called it...

But I think I've found a solution, it's a new range of sports eyewear called Hastings, made by award-winning British company Sunwise.
The Science Bit
The glasses promise a great deal: they're Photochromic (light reactive) meaning they should work in bright sunlight as well as shade; they're frameless and panoramic, meaning that they offer an uninterrupted view; they're tough and they're anti-fogging.

They're also use UK-designed, hand-crafted Class 1 optical quality lenses which offer complete protection from UVA and UVB radiation which can injure the eyes.

Sunwise are an innovative and award-winning Oxford-based company who have become a global sports sports eyewear success since they were established in 1996.

Their Hastings glasses are not actually cycling-specific, but they seem to do almost anything you could possibly ask of cycling glasses.

* * *

I've now tested the glasses in a range of conditions over a number of rides and I have to say I'm seriously impressed.

Fit and feel
The glasses look and feel well made and they fit beautifully. The comfortable nose pad and light weight mean that you hardly feel you're wearing eyewear, while the frameless panoramic lens gives an almost uninterrupted view.
Hastings boast 'Chromafusion' lenses, which are light reactive. Sunwise claim that they react to sunlight 'within seconds'. However, while using them I've never been aware of any lag, meaning that they appear to adapt, almost instantly, from full sun to deep shade.

The glasses also have a platinum coating which protects against glare. The lenses block UVA and UVB rays too. As well as preventing eye strain this, alongside the optical quality of the lenses, also - from my experience - appears to aid vision in almost all light conditions, meaning that you can see obstructions such as drain covers and potholes more easily, adding to safety.

The biggest advantage, to my eyes, is that the glasses work in all light conditions, meaning that you only need one pair of cycling glasses. Much of my cycling is done on weekday evenings, when the contrast between low sun and deep shade is at it's worst. I've struggled with standard sunglasses for years, particularly when I've had to remove my glasses in darker lanes and found myself with mud or midges in my eyes!

One option is switchable lenses, which I've found are fiddly, ugly and prone to get damaged. But these glasses are a far simpler solution and have worked 100% effectively and without compromise in all conditions I've thrown at them.

Another issue experienced by anyone cycling on a hot day, or while panting uphill, is fogging of the lenses. In fact I've frequently taken off my glasses while climbing hills in the past because I, literally, couldn't see where I was going.

The Sunwise Hastings glasses boast a 'unique anti-fog property'. I don't understand the science, but all I know is that they don't fog up, which is a huge bonus and a testament to their design and manufacture.

I have to be honest, these glasses are not going to appeal to traditionalists or the shy and retiring - the panoramic lens, combined with the 'petrol' effect look, is striking.

They've certainly divided opinion among people I've shown the glasses too. However, having worn these glasses for a few weeks now, I have to come down strongly in their favour. I think they look great and tough luck if anyone disagrees.

The Sunwise Hastings retail for £94.99 which, having extensively tested them, I would say is good value given the technology involved and considering how expensive alternatives from competitors such as Oakley can be.

Overall I give the Sunwise Hastings cycling glasses 9/10.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Gear Review: The Coolest Kids Cycle Helmet Ever! - Kiddimoto Goggles Helmet

We've just bought our bike mad 5-year-old bike a new helmet and it's the coolest helmet ever!

It's made by Kiddimoto, a family-owned British company based in Somerset, who specialise in wooden balance bikes.

Our son's old Specialized cycling helmet has long been outgrown and has been perching uselessly on our son's head for a while. But he thinks wearing a helmet to cycle and ride his scooter is 'cool' (long may that continue!), so we wanted to get him something really stylish - just bigger.

It's a BMX-style helmet with air vents in (very visible) bright red. But the clincher is the design, with painted on goggles, which look absolutely fantastic!

Having measured his head, he was right at the top of the 'small', so we bought a 'medium', which currently looks huge, but there's lots of room to grow (the helmet fits my wife too!).

The best price we found was £21.99 from Chain Reaction Cycles.

The helmet is very solidly made and there's loads of padding and adjustment. Our son gets lots of smiles from people when he wears it.

And if it encourages kids to wear a helmet, who can argue...?

Friday, 3 April 2015

Volvo's Life Paint - Part of the Cycling Safety Solution?

What an amazing idea Volvo's Life Paint is.

If you've missed it, here's a lovely explanatory video:

The product is not yet on sale, but has limited availability at a small number of bike shops in the south east of the UK. The Swedish car manufacturer claims that the reflective safety spray can be applied to any fabric, making it glow brightly in car headlights, but is invisible in daylight. It even washes off.

What's not to like? I'd certainly love to get my hands on a can to test it!

But there's been criticism from some cycling safety campaigners, including the CTC and London Cycling Campaign, saying that cyclists should not have have to make themselves visible and that drivers should show more awareness.

Mikael Colville-Anderson from Copenhagenize Design Co has called the spray 'victim blaming' and started a petition against it.

As someone who cycled in central London most days for 5 years and regularly rides on dark country lanes, I have to say - boringly - that it's not either/or.

Cyclists need to wear and use whatever we can to make ourselves visible - we should contribute to our own safety. And I see too many cyclists riding in dark clothing and often with no lights on, who are almost impossible to see.

But drivers must also pay much better attention to cyclists and laws must be enforced.

If a smart idea like Volvo's Life Paint can be part of the solution, that's fine by me.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Look like a Peleton Pro for a tenner with Pegatin bike name stickers

It's pretty sad, but we cyclists do like to emulate the pros.

Just look at the number of overweight middle-aged men squeezed into lycra team jerseys riding £5k+ carbon bikes.

But here's a great way to get the ultimate pro peloton look for you bike for as little as a tenner!

British company Pegatin provide the name tags that go on pro bikes and now you can buy them for yourself, complete with country flag!

Now that's a much cheaper upgrade than a new set of aero wheels!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Gear Review: Shimano Ultegra 6810 Aero Brakes

I wrote recently about Trek upgrading my 2007 Trek Madone 5.2 frame for a 2013 5.9 replacement after finding a crack in the carbon. An amazing piece of customer service!

My only tiny caveat with the bike - and this is, quite literally, looking a gift horse in the mouth - was the Bontrager integrated brakes that came with the frame.

On the plus side, they're aero, which I presume means they have some teeny drag advantage. More importantly, they look cool, particularly the rear brake, which is hidden away behind the bottom bracket, rather than on the seat stays.

The main disadvantage is that the brakes don't work very well - in fact, descending Clee Hill in Shropshire was fairly terrifying and I thought I might have to bale out into a hedge at one point!

But there is now an answer: Shimano Ultegra 6810 aero brakes, which are available for £66 for the pair.

Here they are:

The main advantages, as well as that they look great (and match my 2007 Shimano crank arms too!), the price (the Shimano Dura-Ace 9010 are around £200 for the pair!) and fit snugly into the frame.

But the key plus point is that they work! My definition of a good brake is that if you yank it hard, your wheel skids - it can't grip harder than that - and that it doesn't leave your hands exhausted. So success on both counts.

It's a no-brainer upgrade for the Trek Madone and one that seems to be very common.