Tag: Review

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.

Review of the Down Dog App

Woman in yoga posture

I’ve practised yoga on and off (admittedly more off than on) for the past twelve years. Every time I start getting back into it, I remember why I love it, but lack of time and easily-accessible classes has prevented me from doing a regular yoga practice for several years. Until I discovered the Down Dog app.

I work from home, sometimes spending up to 14 hours a day on my computer. By anyone’s standards (including my own), that isn’t healthy, but hey, I love my job! But years of computer work are starting to take their toll, and recently I’ve been suffering with RSI. I’m sure that part of the problem is down to not doing enough stretching and strength work to support my core, back and neck. I’m carrying out some short-term interventions to help with the RSI, but long term, I believe regular yoga practice will help me be a healthier writer.

I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, would love to be able to do a regular yoga class, but feel like you don’t have the time or money. That’s what makes the Down Dog app so great. It’s free and, from my limited experience to date, a brilliant alternative or addition to an instructor-led yoga class.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that originated in India. It focuses on strength, flexibility, balance and breathing and has both physical and mental benefits. On the physical side, it can help increase muscle strength and tone, improve flexibility and help reduce the likelihood of injury from participation in other sports. Mentally, the concentration and breathing techniques are a type of meditation that can improve mental wellbeing and reduce stress.

There are lots of different types of yoga. Some focus more on specific aspects of the practice, such as breathing, or physical movement and strength. The Down Dog app features Vinyasa flow yoga, which emphasises the transitions between postures and a continued flow of movement.

What is the Down Dog App?

It’s a highly-rated yoga app that you can download to your smartphone to guide you through yoga practices at home. You get step-by-step verbal instructions and can also follow the instructor on the screen. Each practice has an accompanying music playlist.

There’s a pro membership which gives access to additional features and content, such as the ability to tailor your practice to a specific body part or practice area, to slow down or speed up the practice, and to access additional playlists. If you’ve used the app for a while then these features may be of interest, but in my opinion the features you get for free are more than enough for most people.

Down Dog App Review

I’ve downloaded a fair number of apps to my phone and deleted almost as many. The Down Dog App is hands down the best app I’ve come across to date. The features and flexibility you get are nothing short of amazing, given that this is a free tool.

To start with, you have a choice of four sequence types:

  • Full practice – this is a full routine including warmup, a range of standing and seated poses and a cool down. You can choose a practice length from 20 minutes to 100 minutes (the default is 30).
  • Short practice – a condensed version of the full practice with options as short as ten minutes. Perfect for a quick work break in the middle of the morning or afternoon.
  • Quick flow – this skips part of the warmup and is designed to keep you working throughout the duration of the routine.
  • Restorative – this option focuses on stretching and relaxation and is great for winding down before bedtime.

There are five different levels: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2 and Advanced. So far I’ve only tried the beginner levels, but I’ve really enjoyed all the practices. None have been too difficult, but they’ve been perfect for remembering the different poses and getting back into yoga after a break. The best thing about the app is the variety – every practice you do is different.

If you’ve never done yoga before, then I’d recommend taking some instructor-led classes before using the app. The benefits of having a physical instructor present are that they can check you’re carrying out the poses correctly and adjust your posture if necessary. They will also help you push yourself, so you know how far you can stretch into the pose.

Once you’ve got used to the different positions and sequences, then the down dog app can be a great way of complementing your classes, carrying out a daily practice or as an alternative to instructor-led sessions. As you become familiar with the Sanskrit and English names for the poses and get used to typical sequences, you’ll get to a stage where you can just follow the verbal instructions and don’t need to look at your phone during the practice.

Unlike many free apps, there aren’t any annoying adverts or pop-ups that interrupt your exercise. You’re asked to rate different practices and there is the occasional reminder of the benefits of the pro membership, but it’s pretty hands off in terms of pushing the paid version. If you’ve been meaning to get back into yoga or want to carry out some extra sessions between classes, then I definitely recommend downloading the Down Dog app.

The Push: How to Overcome Barriers to Adventure

the-push-how-to-overcome-barriers-to-adventure

What is your dream, and what are you willing to do to achieve it?


Over the last week I’ve been reading a new book titled The Push: Overcoming Obstacles to Adventure. It was also my birthday, which was a nice opportunity to reflect on what I’ve been doing with my thirty-plus years on this planet. The combination was almost serendipitous.

So what is The Push? It’s a book about adventure, or rather barriers to adventure. The excuses we all make for not doing the awesome things we really want to do with our lives. It’s about recognising these barriers, overcoming them and getting on with ticking off items on your bucket list.

The Push is a short, easy read. It’s also pretty raw – if you’re looking for perfect grammar and sentence structure, this may not be the book for you. But there is more to life than grammar and spelling (whatever your English teacher said). Think of The Push not so much as a book, but as a chat with a friend in the pub. A friend who shares your hopes and dreams. A friend who sweeps away all your ‘buts’ with the biggest ‘but’ of them all: but what if you don’t do it?

I met Andy Madeley, the author of The Push, last weekend when he came to stay with his fiancée (a friend of mine). We went for a bitterly cold walk in the Yorkshire Dales, drank wine and talked of adventure, opportunities and of what we really wanted out of life.

And that is really the crux message of this book: what do you really want out of life?

If what you want is to have a house, a 40-hour a week job and a comfortable family life then that is totally fine. (But maybe don’t put this book on your reading list.) If there’s something inside of you saying that there must be more than this; if you have a hidden dream of exploration and adventure, of quitting the day job to try something completely new, then this book is for you.

As I read the Push, I reflected on where life has taken me and spotted a line in the metaphorical sands of time. Between the ages of 17 and 22 I traveled to India, camped on a glacier in Iceland, climbed previously unclimbed mountains in Greenland and summited Kilimanjaro. These may not be world firsts (well apart from the new routes in Greenland), but they were adventures.

And then something changed. I left university and got a series of ‘proper’ jobs. I still traveled, still climbed and occasionally took part in crazy mountain marathons. But these had to be squeezed into weekends and one or two-week holidays. And somewhere along the way the tents were replaced with holiday cottages, the weekend mountain marathons with long runs and cooking over a stove with restaurant meals.

Life got cosy.

But there is a part of me, deep inside, that still yearns for adventure. She’s the child in me, who loves to play and never wants to grow up. She is excited (and yet secretly scared) about new experiences.

I feel her in the wind on my cheeks and the rain that soaks my hair. I feel her in the harsh pain of my lungs screaming for air as I struggle to run up the hill. And most of all I feel her on the top of the mountain, reminding me that there are more adventures to be had.

The Push is a book about big, life-changing adventures. But the principles can be applied to an adventure or life-change of any scale.

Everyone has something they dream of doing.

Something that will push them a little bit out of their comfort zone. Something they are secretly scared of, or perhaps worry that others will judge them for. The Push addresses all of these fears; all the barriers you will need to face and overcome. And the rewards of doing so.

Perhaps the most common barrier relates to the immediacy – the ‘now’. There is always some reason why ‘now’ is not the perfect time. This applies to many things in life and quite frankly if people waited for the ‘perfect’ time for everything there would be far fewer children, homeowners, and happy workers in the world. So if you can throw away the concept of perfect timing to have a child or move into your dream home, why not consider adventure in the same way?

As I cross another birthday boundary, this is my main takeaway from The Push: the time to face these barriers and realise these dreams – to consider them as real possibilities – is now. It is time to draw another line in the sand.

Of everything in The Push, there is one quote that I keep coming back to, made more poignant through losing two friends earlier this year:

“Take a shot at living your dream, because you’re going to die whether you do or not.”

We only have one life. What are you going to do with it?

The Push is available on Amazon – 50 percent of profits are donated to War Child. You can find out more about Andy and what he’s up to on his blog: andymadeley.com. And no, he didn’t ask me to write this.