Tag: 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.

Five Reasons to Love Walking in the Rain (+ 5 Top Tips)

Hiking in the rain

I love the lush, green British landscape and welcome the change of seasons and the variety this brings to my life. But sometimes, I wish it didn’t rain quite so much! Since the start of the new year, rain has been the dominant theme of our weather here in Yorkshire. But has that stopped me getting outside? Has it hell! Given the choice between a dry, bright day and a rainy one, most of us would choose to walk in the former. But there are reasons to enjoy walking in the rain, and at least one of them should make you force yourself outdoors whatever the weather.

Here are a few of the reasons why I love walking in the rain, plus my top five tips to make hiking in bad weather less of a chore.

1. Bad Weather Walks Can Be the Most Memorable

Now, I have plenty of memories of beautiful walks throughout my life. But some of the experiences that really stick in my mind have been the wet weather walks. A hike up the Merrick, when I was probably about seven years old, has gone down in family history as the day the rain never stopped. During the walk, we could rarely see more than 20m ahead and let’s just say that the view from the top was shades of grey…

Another one that sticks in my memory is a hike we did on a holiday to America. We’d been walking for hours, zig-zagging up through beautiful forests and lush meadows, but just as we reached the crest of the summit ridge, a thunderstorm drew in. Rather than turning around and hiking back down, we retreated a hundred metres down the path and huddled miserably in the rain while the path below our feet turned into a stream and lightning flashed overhead. But the thunderstorm passed and, in its wake, we submitted the peak and were rewarded with beautiful views.

There can be a fine balance between going out in weather that is safe but a bit miserable and weather that’s downright dangerous. Where you draw that line will depend on your level of outdoor experience, the type of activity you’re doing and the weather forecast, and is up to you to decide. Err on the side of caution, but don’t be put off by a bit of rain.

2. It’s Good Training

When I used to train with a search and rescue team, one of our training officers had the motto, “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training”. There is truth to this, in that training in bad weather is good preparation for races or other adventures when you’re not sure what the weather conditions will be like. (And let’s face it, if that event is in the UK, even in summer you can’t guarantee sunshine.)

If you train in bad conditions, then if the weather isn’t ideal on the day of the event, you won’t be thrown by this because you’ve prepared and trained for that eventuality. And if you do get a good weather day, then you’ll appreciate it all the more!

3. You Get to Properly Test Your Kit

There was a reason you bought that £300 waterproof, right? And if you never go out in the rain, how will you know if it was worth the money?

In all seriousness, and going back to the point above, if you’re training for an event that could be affected by wet weather, you MUST test out how your kit will work under those weather conditions. Midnight on the overnight camp of your first mountain marathon isn’t the time you want to find out that your tent leaks!

You also need to work out how your body responds to different weather conditions, particularly wind and cold, so you can make sure you wear the right kit and have spare layers packed.

4. You’ll Feel Better for Having Done It

When the rain’s lashing on the windows, it can be really tempting to scrap your outdoor plans in favour of curling up inside with a nice cup of tea. And if you can do this without feeling the teeniest bit guilty, then good on you. But for most people, you’ll feel better for getting out, if only for a quick breath of fresh air. There’s nothing more rewarding than a long hot shower and a mug of hot chocolate after a long hike in the rain. And you’ll sleep better for it too.

5. Rainy Days Can Be the Most Beautiful

There’s a reason photographers love mixed weather days. Unexpected rainbows, shafts of sunlight through dark clouds and dramatic, moody lighting can transform even the plainest landscape into something quite beautiful. Many of these moments come and go within minutes or even seconds, and if you hadn’t have been outside, you’d never have seen them. So, if the forecast is for rain or showers and you’re not sure whether to go out or stay at home, then go. Nature herself may reward you.

Five tips for walking in the rain

Here are my top tips for hiking, running or biking in bad weather:

  1. Invest in good waterproofs. If it’s torrential rain, nothing will keep you totally dry, but a decent pair of waterproofs will mean the difference between an enjoyable day out and a miserable, soggy experience.
  2. Choose the right route. Today may not be the best day to tackle that exposed ridge scramble or do a long circuit of high peaks. Going out in bad weather doesn’t mean ignoring the forecast and you may need to adjust your original plans to take into account the weather conditions. A low-level, straightforward route will probably be a more enjoyable experience and avoid potential epics. Also, pick a route that’s easy to navigate, so you don’t have to faff around with maps or GPS units in the rain.
  3. Plan a cafe stop (or keep moving). Standing eating soggy butties in the rain isn’t much fun. So if you’re going for a long walk, see if you can plan in a stop for food at a cafe or pub. If there’s nothing on route, then consider taking lots of snacks that you can eat quickly, and keep moving so you don’t get cold.
  4. Take a friend for motivation. If you’ve got someone to chat to, this will take your mind off the weather and make the miles fly by. You can keep each other’s spirits up if things start getting a bit damp and motivate each other to keep going.
  5. Stock up on podcasts. This may be a controversial one, and for many people (myself included a lot of the time), getting outside is about getting away from everything else and just enjoying being in nature. But as I found this weekend, if you’ve got your hood up against the driving rain and you’re plodding along a familiar route, listening to something fun and entertaining is a great way to both take your mind off the weather and make you walk a little faster. I selected a variety of podcasts, including my current addiction, Limetown, and tucked my phone into my trouser pocket under my waterproof overtrousers to keep it dry. My 16 km canal walk flew by.

I hope that’s encouraged you to get out and enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather! If you’re going backpacking, then check out my tips on camping in the rain. And if you’ve got more tips for getting outside in wet weather, please post them in the comments below.

Everything You Need to Know About the NC500

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay: just one of the many stunning beaches you’ll find on the NC500

Where has the last month gone? If you’ve noticed my absence from the blog in recent weeks, I offer a humble apology. I launched my first novel at the end of last month (you can check it out here) and that, along with writing the sequel, getting two separate stories ready for anthologies and my freelance work has meant I’ve been spending way too much time in front of my computer screen. But I’m back! And I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s article which is all about the North Coast 500 (NC500): Scotland’s premier touring route.

I have frequently raved about Scotland’s beauties on these pages, and the North Coast 500 takes in some of the most beautiful and (until now) undiscovered parts of this fantastic country. Dubbed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, it starts and finishes in the Highland capital of Inverness and loops for 500 miles around the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland. You’ll pass towering mountains, pristine white-sand beaches and ancient castles as you wind your way through the stunning scenery.

Although I’ve visited many of the places along the NC500 route, I’ve never linked them all together. But it’s on my bucket list to either take a leisurely drive in our campervan or cycle the route. If you’re looking for some inspiration for a cycling challenge, check out the Adventure Syndicate ladies who completed a non-stop team trial around the full 500-mile loop in 36 hours.

Raring to go? Great! Here’s what you need to know about the North Coast 500.

NC500 Factfile

The route: You start in Inverness and wind your way through the mountains to Applecross on the west coast. From there you head north through Torridon, Gairloch and Poolewe, and up to Ullapool. Continuing north, you visit some of the most northerly coastal areas of Scotland, including the famous John O’Groats, before returning down the east coast to Inverness.
Transport options: Car, campervan, motorbike or bicycle — the choice is yours! Whatever option you choose, be courteous to other road users and remember that many of the roads are single track and weren’t designed for the volume of traffic they now experience. If you need to swot up on your passing place etiquette, check out this useful summary.
How long does it take?: How long is a piece of string? The NC500 is not a speed race. If you rush, you’ll miss the beautiful sights and hidden secrets that this part of Scotland has to offer. Most official itineraries suggest a 7 or 8 day trip, but if you can spare the time, I’d recommend taking two weeks (or three!). This will allow you to spend a couple of nights in different places and explore the surrounding countryside.
When to go: This really depends on what you’re after. If you want good weather, then May, June and July tend to be the driest months. May and September are good months to avoid the midges and still get some decent weather, and if you’re willing to take a risk, April can be beautiful. (But can also be wet or snowy.) Just remember, you’re not in the Caribbean, so whenever you choose to visit, bring a warm jumper and a raincoat. If you don’t like other people, winter will be quiet, but be prepared for the roads to be icy and most tourist amenities and sites to be closed.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation available in most of the main towns to suit all budgets. It does pay to book ahead, especially in summer, when a lot of campsites and B&Bs get fully booked.
Essential kit: Midge repellent and a tick remover!
More information: Check out the official North Coast 500 website for more information on the route.

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.