Tag: Kit

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.

Why You Should Invest in the Outdoor Gear You Love

Old-outdoor-gear-love

Just some of my much-loved outdoor gear that’s over a decade old

I was rooting through my hiking and camping gear today and came to a shocking realisation. I could find barely any gear that you can still – right now – buy in the shops. This isn’t because I don’t have much gear (trust me, we have a loft, garage and climbing room full of the stuff), but rather that most of the gear I own, I bought a long time ago.

So am I hobbling around in tattered clothing, with an ancient, creaking rucksack that’s about to spill it’s cargo of holey tents and rusted metal stoves? Not at all. I’m not adverse to buying new kit, but I only tend to buy things when I need them. Though admittedly that hasn’t always been the case.

The three gear-buying personas

In my eyes, there are three approaches to buying outdoor kit:

  1. The fashionista / outdoor shop worker: Changes colour with the seasons. Always on trend and hankering for the latest piece of shiny kit. People who work in outdoor shops also fall into this category. As you’re surrounded by beautiful kit all day and have a nice staff discount to play with, this tends to translate into frequent gear purchases. (I know, I used to work in one.)
  2. “It’ll do for now”: Buys what they need, when they need it. Ever budget-conscious, these people always have an eye on the sale rack, never mind if the down jacket is two sizes too big and canary yellow.
  3. Buy what you love: Justifying expensive purchases by calling them an ‘investment’, these people have an eye for quality and a passion for research and comparison tables.

I have been each of these people over the years, but much of my kit that’s still going strong today was bought when I was in a ‘buy what you love’ frame of mine. This happily coincided with my student days, where I was dedicated enough to survive on kidney beans and chopped tomatoes for weeks at a time, in order to invest my student loan in beautiful new outdoor gear. And I had the excuse of climbing trips to the Alps and expeditions to Iceland and Greenland, all of which required KIT.

Yes, they may be a bit worn and tattered (though my down jacket’s in such good nick no-one ever believes it’s over twelve years’ old), but these pieces of gear are like old friends. Take my Macpac Pursuit rucksack. It’ll carry any load without complaint and somehow manage to balance it perfectly on your hips. It’s been dragged up rock faces, dumped in snow and once had a rather wobbly, overloaded trip on a mountain bike. I’ve used it travelling in New Zealand and on multi-day hikes in the UK. On every one of my mountaineering adventures, it has been my constant companion.

It wasn’t the cheapest rucksack at the time, but it has repaid the investment ten times over. So why did I choose this rucksack, when I was a skint student and there were many cheaper models? Because I loved it. And because it was about the roughest, toughest alpine rucksack around at the time.

Why you should buy things you love

Having experimented with various philosophies of buying, I’m now convinced that buying what you love is the best option for you, the environment and your bank balance (all things I care deeply about). This can be hard when money is tight and option two (“it’ll do for now”) seems to be the only viable route. But I know, from bitter experience, that if you buy something that’s merely ‘ok’, said item will rarely be used and is likely to end up lurking under your bed gathering spiders.

If you buy something you love on the other hand, you will cherish it, wear it often and, most importantly LOOK AFTER IT. This is why my down jacket still looks shiny and new. And yes, I admit I can be a bit pedantic about not chucking my stuff in the dirt. But even my very dear friend (who shall remain nameless) who attracts mud like a headtorch attracts mosquitos, has taken such great care of her beloved new coat that it still looks almost new TWO years after buying it. Which, for her, is something of a record.

It’s a no brainer: looking after your gear will help it last longer. So rather than buying a sleeping bag every three years, you may buy one every ten or fifteen years. Which means you’re actually making a saving by buying more expensive gear. And it’s better for the environment. Less waste, less energy and non-renewable resource use in manufacture, and fewer carbon emissions from transporting goods.

5 outdoor gear companies I love

What gear you love and what gear I love may be quite different. But, if you’re interested, these are my favourite outdoor gear companies at the moment.

  1. Patagonia: Fondly referred to by one of my friends as Patagucci, Patagonia kit is definitely at the more expensive end of the outdoor gear spectrum. But it does last – my R1 fleece still looks good today, eight years or so after I bought it. Compare that to other fleeces which go bobbly within the year, and well, do I have to sy anything more? Plus, they do a lot of environmental work and campaigning and let their staff go surfing.
  2. Macpac: A New Zealand brand, Macpac make, hands down, the most durable rucksacks on the planet (in my honest opinion). I’d beg them to bring back the Pursuit Classic into their range, but quite honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever need to replace the one I’ve got.
  3. Alpkit: Alpkit is proof that quality kit doesn’t have to have a super-high price tag. I can still remember the murmurs on the outdoor scene when this British company broke into the market, and they continue making waves (so to speak) today.
  4. La Sportiva: The La Sportiva Nepal Extreme were the alpine boot of choice back when I was actually doing alpine climbing. They’re a bit on the heavy side now, but I still love my old, battered pair to bits. They are also my favourite company for climbing shoes, though if anyone from La Sportiva is reading this, you need to sort out the rubber delamination issue and PLEASE stop cutting the Miuras so high round the ankle bone.
  5. 3rd Rock Clothing: This small, British clothing eco-company is single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of ’80s style fluro-patterned leggings at the climbing wall. They’re made from recycled material though, so I’ll forgive them. Plus I absolutely love their comfy, durable clothing and environmental ethos.

What’s your favourite beloved old bit of kit that’s still going strong? Get in touch on Twitter to tell me all about it! If anyone would like to send me gear to review, please get it touch. Especially if you’re one of the companies listed above. 🙂

How to Kit Yourself Out for Climbing for Under £100

climbing-kit-100-quid

You don’t need much gear to start climbing and if you’re cunning with your shopping you could bag everything you need for £100

Having invested thousands of pounds in climbing kit over the years, I can attest to the fact that it can be an expensive sport. But if you’re just starting out, it doesn’t need to be. In fact, it’s quite possible to buy the basic kit you need for climbing for under £100. Don’t believe me? Here’s how.

Basic rock climbing equipment

If you’re new to climbing, it’s likely that you’ll mostly be climbing at your local wall. Most walls will have equipment you can hire to use in the centre, but if you’re serious about climbing, the first pieces of kit you’ll need are shoes, a chalk-bag and chalk.

Climbing shoes

There’s this whole myth that climbing shoes should be painfully tight, so you can really stay in touch with the rock. Y’know. Man. Let me set one thing straight: if your climbing shoes are too tight they will hurt and that will stop you enjoying your climbing (unless you have some kind of sadomasacistic climbing thing going on). However, it’s also true that shoes do stretch and mould themselves to your feet. This is more likely with leather shoes than synthetic, and not at all likely if your climbing shoes live in the cupboard because they are just too painful to put on.

My best tip for choosing your first pair of climbing shoes? Pick something that’s snug but comfortable. Yes, they will be tighter than your sloppy trainers, but you should be able to put them on and stand on small holds without descending into whimpers of pain. Check they don’t rub at the back or dig into your heel and that they’re wide or narrow enough to accommodate your foot snugly.

Also bear in mind that the really cool looking, down-toed shoes such as the La Sportiva Futuras (which are indeed a thing of beauty) are designed with experienced climbers in mind. Climbers whose feet have been accustomed, through many years of wearing pointy shoes, to point downwards. Your feet have probably not reached this stage. They also tend to have thinner rubber, ‘cos high-level climbers have pretty good footwork (allegedly) and can dab their foot on the right hold first time. If you choose (against the friendly shop assistant’s advice) to go with a pair of performance shoes, you’re going to start off a very expensive shoe habit.

As you progress in your climbing career, you’ll get to know what style and brand of shoe suits your foot best. And let me tell you this; there’s nothing like the satisfaction of a perfect-fitting climbing shoe. Ahhhh.

Top picks:

Chalk bag and chalk

Old-skool climbers may tell you that chalk is completely unnecessary and back in t’ day, they just use to spit on t’ hands and get on with it. Personally, I think ninety-nine percent of climbers use it for a reason. It helps dry your hands out and prevents your sweaty fingers slipping off sweaty holds.

It’s pretty easy to get hold of a cheap chalk bag in any shop sale, or you can buy a full-price one for about a tenner. Or if your budget’s really stretched, why not get creative and make your own? A piece of accessory cord is a good belt substitute and a chalk ball will only set you back a couple of quid.

Top picks:

Harness and belay device

Though you could quite happily spend a lifetime bouldering, if you want to progress to roped climbing you’ll want to invest in a harness. Harnesses range from super lightweight Alpine-style harnesses to well-padded styles with plenty of gear loops. I’d definitely advise you to try before you buy – most outdoor shops will have a rope somewhere for you to dangle from.

If you’re looking online, don’t make the mistake of just going for the cheapest option. Although Alpine-style harnesses tend to sit at the lower end of the price spectrum, this is for a reason. They’re designed to be worn over several layers of clothing when mountaineering. (Note: hanging on a rope is considered rather bad form in mountaineering.) With the lack of padding, if you’re dangling on a rope for any length of time, it’s likely to be an uncomfortable experience.

When it comes to belay devices you’ll be looking at either an assisted braking device, such as the GriGri 2 or a more traditional, ‘tuber’ style device. Although it’s becoming common for people to learn to belay at climbing walls using an assisted braking device, these are a) more expensive, and b) less versatile that the humble tuber. The Black Diamond ATC XP (£16.99) and DMM bug (£11.50) are both popular devices.

Top picks:

Where to buy cheap climbing gear

Your local climbing wall shop is a good place to start. They typically have a range of gear available and will certainly stock essential kit for new climbers. Climbing walls sometimes sell off their old hire shoes for super-cheap prices, but unless you’re really desperate I’d steer clear; they’re likely to be pretty battered and worn out.

Climbing shops often sell hugely discounted gear at various times of year. Keep your eye out and it’s easy to snap up a bargain. Rock + Run are one of my favourites – at the time of writing (February 2017) you can get a pair of Edelrid Tempest shoes, Edelrid Smith Climbing Harness, Wild Country belay device, Red Chilli chalk bag and a chalk ball for just £67.

If you’re taking this approach, it’s definitely worth taking some time to try on different shoes and harnesses so you know what size you are in which brands. Also, when you can afford it, go back to the shops you tried kit on in and BUY FROM THEM. Seriously – they need your support.

Buying second-hand

I would advise not buying climbing gear which has a safety element (e.g. ropes, harnesses) second-hand unless you know the owner really well and can guarantee it’s in good condition.

However, for other gear, such as shoes and chalk bags looking for second-hand equipment is a good money-saver. Now I’m a bit squeamish about the thought of buying second-hand shoes (thinking of other people’s sweaty feet in them just makes me go ‘ewww’), but it’s not uncommon for someone to buy a pair of climbing shoes online or in a sale and only wear them once or twice before decided they don’t like the fit. Keep an eye out on the noticeboard at your local wall or on the UKC Gear Forum and you may be able to grab yourself a top-quality pair of shoes for a bargain price.

Join a club

Desperate to move onto routes or start climbing outside? Your best bet to learn the ropes (literally) and avoid having to buy any expensive equipment (at least in the short term) is to join a club. Most climbing clubs have members of mixed abilities and you’re more than likely to find an experienced climber who’s willing to take an enthusiastic newbie under their wing.

The other good thing about clubs is that they may have equipment they can loan out to you, or club huts (which tend to be conveniently located in good climbing areas). The Climbers’ Club has eight of the best huts, but you do need to be an experienced outdoor climber to join.

You’ll probably be expected to know how to belay and second a route outside before joining a club. If you’re in any doubt as to your belaying skills, take a course at your local climbing wall or from a qualified instructor to reassure yourself (and potential climbing partners!) that you can catch a fall safely.

Prices correct as of 21st February 2017.