Category: Cycling

Cycle Torch Shark 500 Bike Light Review

Cycle Torch Shark 500

Last week I reviewed the Cycle Torch Night Owl, an affordable, bright light designed for bike commuting. This week I’m taking a look at its big brother: the Shark 500.

I’ve been really impressed with this light and both myself and my husband have been using it on our bikes. In fact, my husband loves it so much that he’s come up with a way of attaching it to the headband he normally uses for his heavier, battery-pack torch so he can use it for night orienteering.

Cycle Torch Shark 500: Vital Stats

Weight:
Lumens: 500
Modes: 4 (3 levels of brightness + flash)
Run-time: 1.5-30 hours
Where to buy: In the UK, it’s available from Amazon.

First Impressions

Shark box 1The Shark comes in a simple but stylish box. Open it up and you get a thank you note from the company, underneath which is the torch, neatly packaged in foam casing. In fact, you actually get two torches – Cycling Torch throw in a rear light to give you a bit more for your money. Also in the box are three attachment straps of different lengths and two USB charging cables. There’s no instruction manual, but you can download one online.

Shark box 2For a low-cost bike light, the Shark is pretty stylish, if a little on the large size. The front end is unusual for a bike light in that the plastic casing extends over the light itself. More on this later.

The Shark 500 has an IP65 water resistance rating. This is defined as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. The weak point in terms of water resistance – the USB charging point – has a thin rubber cap to seal it from the elements. Which I somehow managed to pull straight out of the torch body. (Tip: don’t do this, it’s a complete pain to fiddle back in.) It works but is a bit awkward – the thicker plug on the rear light is much easier to secure.

Shark frontBoth the main torch and the rear light are charged via USB. They charge quickly, the main light back to full power in around four hours. The power button on the Shark glows red when charging and switches to blue when fully charged. The rear light glows green when fully juiced.

If you read the manual (or this post) you’ll discover that by pressing and holding the power button, you can find out how much charge the torch has left. 10 flashes indicate 100 percent charge, 9 flashes indicate 90 percent charge, and so on.

Setup and Bike Attachment Points

Both the front and rear lights attach using the rubber straps provided. The rear light is super easy to get on and off, the front light slightly less so. Both feel secure once on, even when riding on bumpy paths. I haven’t had them long enough to test the longevity of the bands but they seem pretty rugged.

Testing in the Dark

Right, now we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get on to how it does in action. I took the Shark 500 out on a ride on local, averagely-lit roads (I don’t live in the city) and down the local canal to test it in an unlit environment.

Shark rear lightThe Shark 500 has four modes: high (500 lumens), medium (250 lumens), low (50 lumens) and flash. Both the high and medium settings are bright enough to light your way on roads in partially lit areas. The 500 lumens setting was also great for off-road riding. It’s not bright enough for fast downhill or really rough mountain biking but it’s definitely a step up on the Night Owl.

With most bike lights you get a circular light but the Shark is different. The plastic casing cuts off the beam at the top and bottom creating a rectangular beam of light. The cut off at the top helps focus the beam and prevents you dazzling oncoming cyclists or drivers. Having been dazzled myself plenty of times in the past, I appreciate this! However, the plastic casing on the bottom is not so helpful. It limits the field of light so you can either focus on the ground around your front wheel or further ahead. Logically, you have to go for looking ahead, which on the road is fine, but for off-road biking, I’d have liked to have a wider field of vision.

According to the manual, you get 1.5 hours of light on the top power setting. I actually got a lot longer this – about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The torch flashes and the power button turns red to warn you you’re low on charge twenty minutes before it gives out. On the medium setting, you get three hours of light, and for most bike commuters the 200 lumens will be bright enough.

The rear light isn’t bad, but you’ll probably want a dedicated rear light if you spend a lot of time biking in the dark. The battery life on this was disappointing. It’s supposed to last two hours on the brightest setting, but after an hour and forty minutes the beam faded and pulsed. It stayed on for another hour but not really at a usable level.

Summary

For the price point, the Shark 500 gives you a lot for your money. It’s much brighter than the Night Owl and definitely a better option if you cycle on unlit roads or off-road tracks. For technical mountain biking at night you may need a brighter (and more expensive) light but as far as value for money goes, the Shark 500 gets top marks.

Full disclosure: Cycle Torch provided me with the Night Owl light to test. This review is my honest, unbiased experience of using the bike light.

Cycle Torch Night Owl Bike Light Review

Cycle Torch Night Owl

If you’re looking for a bright, affordable commuting light then the Cycle Torch Night Owl is one of the best value models currently available. It’s a USB rechargeable bike light (plus one for the environment!) and comes with a “bonus” MicroBot rear light. The Night Owl is a lightweight model that’s bright enough to both see and be seen on most roads and gravel tracks.

Cycle Torch Night Owl: Vital Stats

Weight: 80g
Lumens: 200
Modes: 4
Run-time: 2-20 hours
Where to buy: In the UK, it’s available from Amazon.

First Impressions

Night Owl box 1The Night Owl is neatly packaged. When you first open the box, a big “Thank You” message is the first thing you see. I was expecting this to be an instruction sheet, but this appears to be the one thing you don’t get with the light. Still, at least it saves some trees. (If you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading manuals, you can find it online here, along with some simple instruction videos.)

Night Owl Box 2The light itself is neatly wrapped and tucked into a custom-cut foam casing. This is actually a set of lights: along with the main front light, you also get a “free” tail light, which is nice. Also in the box are two USB charging cables, a plastic mount for the rear light and two rubber straps to attach the lights to your bike.

The torch is lightweight and looks and feels… like a torch. This isn’t a beauty parade, but it’s not a bad looking thing. The power button is front and centre on the top and on the underside, there’s a curved mount and the USB charging point which is protected with a rubber cover.

The torch has an IP65 water resistance rating. This is defined as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. What this means in reality, is that it should cope with heavy rain showers, but don’t drop it in the canal.

Charging is quick and easy – just plug the USB cable into your computer or a USB charger and away you go. It took just over 1 hr 15 mins to fully charge the main light from empty via my laptop (much quicker than the suggested 4 hours). The small rear light took 1 hr 35 mins. Both lights glow red when charging and blue when fully charged.

Incidentally, if you’re worried about charge levels, there’s a neat setting you can use to test how much charge you have left. If you press and hold the power button for a few seconds the light will start to flash. 10 flashes indicate 100 percent charge, 9 flashes indicate 90 percent charge, 8 flashes indicate 80 percent charge, etc. etc.

How did I find out about this? By reading the manual. Sometimes it pays to be a geek.

Setup and Bike Attachment Points

Night Owl back lightUnlike some lights, the Night Owl doesn’t have a separate mount that needs to be screwed onto your handlebars, which means there’s virtually no setup. You just whack the light on and snap the rubber band around the handlebar to secure it. It’s a bit too fiddly to put on with gloves, but the band has a tab which makes it super easy to take the light off, even if you’re wearing winter gloves.

The tail light is slightly different. You attach the mount to your seat post using the smaller rubber band and then slot the light down onto the mount. This means you can leave the mount on the bike and easily remove the light. I guess this is what it’s designed for, as unlike the front light, the rubber band attached to the mount doesn’t have a pull tab and is a bit of a pain to get off. A tab addition would make this significantly easier and save me having to spend five minutes hunting around in the dark, trying to find where the rubber band pinged to.

The rubber bands seem to hold the lights on securely. As for longevity, time will tell how long the bands last.

Testing in the Dark

So, onto the fun stuff! How does it perform? I took it for a ride on local, averagely-lit roads (I don’t live in the city) and down the local canal to test it in an unlit environment.

The Night Owl has four modes: high, medium, low and flash. High mode is a bright 200 lumens, medium is 100 lumens and low is 20 lumens. I’m not sure when you’d ever use it on low unless you were desperate to save battery, but both high and medium modes are bright enough to be seen by and to cycle in lit areas. The high mode is blinding enough to make sure that any oncoming cars will know you’re there.

I was also impressed with the brightness of the torch on unlit tracks. I took my mountain bike out to the canal and the light was perfectly adequate for cycling on the flat, wide path. It wasn’t so great on a rough downhill section, but to be fair, it’s not designed to be a mountain bike light. Equally, if you’re a speedy road cyclist, you may find it’s not quite bright enough to give adequate warning of approaching hazards.

Cycle Torch claim you’ll get 2 hours of light on high power. When I tested it, I only got 50-75 minutes which was a little disappointing, but should be enough for most commutes. This is where the provision of two USB charging leads comes in handy. You can keep one at home and one at work to top up your light as and when needed.

The mid power mode supposedly gives you four hours of light and the flash mode 20+ hours. If you cycle on lit streets where you’re more worried about being seen than lighting up the road, then the flash mode is a good option to save you having to remember to charge the light every day or two.

Summary

The Cycle Torch Night Owl is a great little torch that’s perfect for commuting and easy off-road cycling (e.g. gravel tracks) at a slow-moderate pace. The only downside for me is that, on the model I tested, the light time didn’t quite live up to expectation. The addition of the tail light makes this a great buy and in terms of value for money, this bike light can’t be beaten.

If you’re looking for a brighter light for dark lanes or off-road use, I’ll be reviewing the Shark 500 next week!

Full disclosure: Cycle Torch provided me with the Night Owl light to test. This review is my honest, unbiased experience of using the bike light.

The Best Winter Cycling Gear to Keep You Warm on the Bike

Winter Cycling Gear
Here in England, the clocks have gone back and the evenings are dark. And the last few days have been cold. It really feels as if winter is well and truly here. I really struggle with motivation to get out on my bikes in winter, particularly my road bike. But if you’ve got the right winter cycling gear to keep you warm and dry then there’s no excuse for not getting out and making the most of whatever weather winter brings.

If (like all the best people) you have a birthday in November or you’re looking for ideas for Christmas presents then here’s a selection of the best winter season cycling gear to carry you through the wind, rain and snow to spring.

Winter Cycling Gear to Keep You Warm

Kalf Club Thermal Jersey

Kalf Club Thermal Jersey
I love the new autumn/winter range from Kalf, particularly the toned-down colour palette (burgundy or blue for ladies) and stylish design. The Kalf Club Jersey (available in men’s and women’s fit) is a warm mid-layer with a soft, brushed inner that you can wear on its own or over a base layer on colder days.

Buy the Kalf Club Thermal Jersey (£75)

dhb Aeron FLT Roubaix Bib Tight

dhb Aeron FLT Womens Roubaix Bib Tight
One of the things I worry about cycling on the roads in winter is not being seen. dhb have addressed this with their Flashlight Technology (FLT) – careful positioning of reflective materials that look subtle until you position them in a car headlight. The Roubaix fleece fabric is perfect for cold weather use and the coloured dots on the legs are a snazzy addition.

The only disadvantage is there’s no consideration for loo stops. You’re going to have to take your jersey off. Brrr… But as these tights retail at £85, that’s just me being picky. Also available in a men’s version.

Buy the dhb Aeron FLT Roubaix Bib Tight (£85)

Stolen Goat Bandido

Stolen Goat Bandido
It seems “Bandido” is the new word for “buff”. (I actually thought it meant bandit, but I am obviously not down with the cool kids.) Whatever you call it, it’s one of those indispensable tubes that can be worn in ten different ways to keep your head and neck warm. This one from Stolen Goat is a snip at £9.99. If you can’t get enough of blue polka dots then you can get the matching arm warmers. (Yay!)

Stolen Goat Bandido in Polka Blue (£9.99)

Castelli Tempo Women’s Glove

Castelli Tempo W Glove

I have small hands which can make finding gloves that fit a real challenge. One of the best pairs of gloves I ever bought was a pair of kid’s sailing gloves that I used for handling climbing ropes, cycling and lugging rubble around. Anyway, I digress. Finding a pair of gloves that keeps your fingers warm (or at least not numb) and gives you enough movement to be able to switch gears and use your brakes effectively is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail.

Which is why I’m interested in the Women’s Tempo Glove from Castelli. It’s fleece-lined, with a thin layer of insulation and a windstopper outer and doesn’t look at all bulky. It’s not waterproof, but the fabric will keep your hands dry in a light shower. And the gloves have the all-important touchscreen inserts on the fingertips, so you can tweet on the move. (Well, not actually on the move. We don’t condone phone use whilst cycling – safety first, people!)

Buy the Castelli Tempo W Glove (£60)

Queen of the Mountains Iseran Climbing Socks

Iseran climbing socks
I love the mountain pattern on these cute socks. They’re soft, quick drying and long enough to tuck up under your cycling tights. Perfect for keeping your feet warm.

Buy the Iseran Climbing Socks (£16)

So, there you go! Plenty of motivation to brave the cold. If nothing else, you’ll have earned your mince pies come December.

The One Bike to Rule Them All: How to Choose Your Perfect Bike

Road bikes leaning against trees

Many cyclists will claim that the optimum number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the number of bikes they already own. Whilst generally, I am all in favour of shiny new purchases, the vast majority of us are unable to afford (or justify to our partners) the n+1 equation. And if you’re in the position of buying your first bike, the choice of steed can be a minefield.

“I just want a bike that can do everything!” I hear you cry. Well, tough. Such a bike does not exist. (Except possibly in the world of Harry Potter – you can do anything with a good wand.) There are bikes that can do most things, although there will be compromises. If you can only choose one type of bike, the decision comes down to what you want to prioritise most. And that’s where this handy guide comes in. We’ve distilled down the essence of each type of bike to help you figure out which is the perfect bike for you.

If you want one bike to do a bit of everything, your perfect bike is a gravel bike

You can take a gravel bike almost anywhere. With the dropped handlebars of a road bike, the fat tyres of a mountain bike and the gear range of a touring bike, these are the mongrels of the bike world. You’re not going to be tackling black runs in them, but for a mixture of road, off-road, easy trail riding and a spot of touring, they’re tough to beat. They’re a jack of all trades and master of none, but if you want a bike that can do a bit of everything, a gravel bike is the one for you.

If you’re erring more towards road riding (e.g. for commuting), then cyclocross bikes have a more aggressive riding position and are usually a bit lighter and faster on the roads.

If you want a commuting bike, your perfect bike is a hybrid

Someone’s going to disagree with me here, I know. So I will preempt you by saying that there are really two choices here: either a hybrid or a road bike. If you do a lot of road riding as well as commuting then a road bike may be your best option. For pretty much everyone else, a hybrid will be your perfect commuting bike.

Why? Well to start with, if you’ve never ridden a road bike before, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to get used to, especially if riding in traffic. A hybrid has a more upright, stable cycling position and with those nice wide handlebars, you won’t be worried about wobbling all over the road when indicating. If you cycle on rough roads or have some off-road sections (e.g. along a canal) then a hybrid will be a much comfier ride. Sure, it’ll be a bit heavier, but for most people, you’ll be stopping and starting often enough that that won’t make a huge difference. Check out our beginner’s guide to cycle commuting for more tips on cycling to work.

Of course, you may be forced down a completely different route depending on your commute …

If your commute involves travel by train, your perfect bike is a folding bike

If part of your commute to work involves travelling on public transport, then a folding bike is really your only option. Or at least, the only option that won’t earn you killer stares from fellow commuters on the 8:15 to Waterloo. (Mind you, even a folding bike might earn you killer stares on the sardine-tin trains.) They’re not the easiest bikes to manoeuvre on the roads and you won’t set any speed records, but they do the job they’re designed to do. A folding bike may also be your perfect bike if you like to keep your steed close to you at all times. If you don’t have secure bike storage at work, you can tuck her away under your desk until home time.

If you want a bike solely for commuting and live in a city with a bike share programme, you may not need to invest in a bike at all. With many schemes, the first half hour of cycling is free and you’ll never have to worry about your bike getting stolen.

If you’re a speed demon, your perfect bike is a road bike

If you’re not fussed about off-road cycling (and I mean any off-road), then a specialist road bike is likely to be your perfect bike. If you’ve never ridden one before, the body position and thin tires take a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve mastered this, you can get some serious miles under your belt. If you’re interested in getting into sportives, then this is the bike for you.

If you’re riding on rough roads or in cities, strong tyres are a must, but don’t go thinking that means taking a shortcut along the bridleway is ok. The one thing road bikes don’t have is suspension.

If you enjoy long cross-country rides, your perfect bike is a hardtail mountain bike

For general mountain biking, including long undulating rides and hitting the trails, a hardtail is going to be your perfect bike. It won’t be quite as bouncy on technical downhill sections as a full suspension bike, but you’ll appreciate the weight savings when tackling uphill sections or on longer rides.

A hardtail is also a good option for beginner off-road bikers who want to tackle a variety of different terrains. If this is you, a XC trail bike will be your perfect bike. If you’re looking at a bike for racing over moderate terrain, a lighter XC race bike may suit you better.

If you love the downhills, your perfect bike is an all-mountain/enduro bike

Enduro bikes are designed for races with fast downhills, complex terrain and short uphill sections. They have full suspension with plenty of travel in the front and rear shocks to tackle technical drops and obstacles. They’re not the easiest or lightest bikes to pedal back uphill and you wouldn’t want to use it for your commute, but it’s more versatile than a downhill racing bike. If you love downhills, an enduro will be your perfect bike.

If triathlons are your thing, your perfect bike is a road bike

What, not a tri bike? Nope. At least not if you can only choose ONE bike, which is the whole purpose of this buyers guide. Triathlon bikes are designed to reduce some of the impact of the cycling stage on your quads (so they’re ready for the final run), at the sacrifice of comfort. As well as a stiffer feel, tri bikes are typically fitted with fixed aerobars, so you only have one riding position.

They’re specialist bikes designed for flat-out racing on short, flat courses – pretty specific! A road bike is much more versatile: it’ll serve you better on hilly courses, be more comfortable for general riding and you won’t feel out of place riding it to the pub.

If you want a bit of extra help on the hills, your perfect bike is an electric bike

Regarded by some cyclists as ‘cheating’, electric bikes are becoming a more popular option for people who want the freedom and flexibility of a bike, but with a bit of assistance. They come in all shapes and sizes, from hybrid and road models to serious all-terrain mountain bikes.

An electric bike isn’t a free ride though – you still have to pedal, and they’re heavier than the equivalent non-electric bike so you’ll still get a good workout. If you live in a hilly area or suffer from joint problems, an electric steed may be the perfect bike to get you out and about.

How to choose your perfect bike

Now you know what type of bike you want, it’s time to go shopping. And that opens a whole new can of worms. What size frame? Which brakes are best? What size wheels do I need? This article from Jen Reviews gives a good overview of what you need to consider when buying a new bike and your local friendly bike shop staff will be more than willing to help you debate the options available.

How to Keep Warm on the Bike in Winter

keep-warm-on-bike

With the right kit, there’s no excuse not to get out on the bike in winter

Freezing temperatures, wind and rain is enough to send most cyclists scuttling back to the warmth of indoor training. But even in winter, a ride outside can be much more satisfying than spinning the wheels on the turbo trainer. Catch a rare day of winter sun and you may get some of the best riding conditions of the year.

Whether you’re heading off down the trails or hitting the road, here are our top tips to keep warm on winter rides. So you have no excuses for not getting out there!

Choose the Right Clothing

Cycling in winter is a tricky balance. It’s soooo cold when you leave the house that it can be really tempting to pile on layer after layer. But do this and half-way up that first hill, I can guarantee you will be sweating your socks off and regretting it. It’s best to leave the house a little chilly and warm up into the ride than cart around extra layers you don’t need.

A good base layer, such as the Spotti long sleeve cycling jersey, is a must for cold weather riding. Choose one that wicks away moisture as well as keeping you warm. Windproof baselayers are a good idea to block freezing north winds, but they’re often slightly heavier and thicker-weight. If you’re prone to overheating a better option may be to carry a super-lightweight windproof top in your jersey pocket for downhill sections.

Arm warmers are great for early and late season rides – when the air is just a bit chilly first thing, but it warms up nicely later on.

Look After Your Extremities

While your legs will be doing a great job of keeping themselves warm, it’s the outer parts of your body you need to look out for in the cold. Your fingers and toes don’t do much moving when you’re on the bike, so focus on wrapping them up warm. If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded hot-aches, you’ll appreciate just how painful cold hands can be!

Finding the right winter glove is always tough. You want something that’s going to keep your fingers warm, but still give you the dexterity you need to change gears and use the brakes. Plus you need good grip, particuarly in wet conditions. If dexterity is your top priority, then you may want to go for a full fingered glove such as the Craft Storm Bike Glove. However, if you can sacrifice a bit of dexterity in favour of warmth, then a lobster split finger glove such as the Pearl Izumi Ride Pro AMFIB glove may suit you better.

Make sure you pick a glove that’s windproof and ideally waterproof or water resistance. Long cuffs will help keep your wrists warm and improve blood flow to your hands. In the coldest conditions, a thermal liner glove such as the Pearl Izumi Thermal Lite Glove will provide an extra layer of warmth.

And don’t neglect your feet! Whether you’re cycling on wet roads or down muddy dirt tracks, your feet are likely to get wet in winter. Overshoes are a winter essential, to stop your feet freezing in your cycling shoes. Some overshoes are just windproof and are often made of neoprene to keep your feet warm even if they do get wet, but there are also waterproof options.

Some people swear by waterproof socks, such as the SealSkinz Hydrostop but I’d say this is a personal choice. They’re a bit like Marmite – you either love them or hate them. Merino wool is a popular choice as it provides warmth without bulk. If you get really cold feet, you could even opt for heated insoles. Mmmm…

Keep Your Head Warm

On whistling downhills your noggin can get pretty chilly, and frozen ears are one of my least favourite parts of winter riding. As bike helmets are designed primarily with weight and ventilation in mind, they don’t help with keeping your head warm in cold weather.

For spring and autumn rides, a thin buff may be a good compromise between warmth and breathability. We recommend going for two; one for your neck, and one for your head. But when the temperatures really plummet, you’ll be after a decent insulating hat. The Arc’Teryx Rho LTW Beanie is made of warm merino wool and looks just as cool walking about town as on the bike. If it’s windy and wet out, then the Castelli Tempesta Hood is made from waterproof and water-resistant materials – it also has a neck gaiter to provide full head and face protection. Riders with long hair may like the Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap which has a ponytail-friendly rear flap.

Stay Dry

Getting wet is a sure-fire route to getting cold. Though you may not want to wear a waterproof jacket all day if rain’s forecast then it’s worth having a lightweight jacket to hand. The Endura FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Cape provides a good compromise between waterproofness, breathability and cost and is small enough to roll up into your jersey pocket.

If you know you’re going to be out in bad weather, or are looking at a tougher option for the trails, then the Gore Bike Wear One jacket is a good all-rounder, or, for a less jaw-dropping price, the Enduro MT500 II jacket.

Plan a Pit Stop

It’s important to keep well hydrated and fueled on long rides, particularly in winter. But stopping for longer than five minutes is guaranteed to chill you down fast. Planning your route to take in a nice warm cafe is a good compromise (particularly if they do great cake). Hot tea will warm you up and you can take a break without losing all the heat you’ve been generating on the bike. The hardest part will be resisting the temptation to stay all day.