Monday, 11 November 2013

2014 Tour of Pembrokeshire: Act II

Me, in my stealthy Gimp suit, at the ToP 2013

After procrastinating for some time, I've finally decided that I WILL be revisiting St David's for the 2014 Tour of Pembrokeshire Sportive. 100+ miles of Welsh hills and God knows what weather will test the metal again next April.

This was my only sportive of 2013 but turned out to be a great way to keep my motivation for riding through the winter months. Coupled with this, it was also an amazing day's riding over the rolling Pembrokeshire hills and moorland, so it seemed only right to head back to start 2014 in a similar way - by "getting amongst it" with Rule 5 & 9.

Having done a few UK sportives now, I have to say this one is the best so far. It's not just the scenery and the riding, its the location, the route and the organisation that combined to make the day. Its also the little details like the start and finish points, bringing the route through the Cathedral and the free food and drink coupons too!
I will never forget the crowds of people lining the walls of the Cathedral, clapping and cheering as I emerged from the sharp 15% climb in the final metres of the route. I recall thinking that this was move was pure evil after 107 miles of riding in 40mph winds, but the the people waving flags, clapping and lining the streets all the way to the finish line made those hellish few hundred metres like riding down hill with the wind behind me. Of course, all of these people were purely my fans and there to see my long awaited arrival after 7 hours of cycling, but they really didn't mind cheering all the other (quicker) people whilst they were waiting! I really hope 2014 is just as good but I think it will struggle to top this years...

The day had started out badly for me as I'd woken in the early hours at the hotel with a bout of violent sickness that left me feeling awful and, for most of the morning, unable to hold anything down. This was helpfully topped off by a stupid crash which saw me swimming in cow shit and left with a buckled front wheel! Those first 30 miles were perhaps the worst miles I've had on a bike, but by some miracle something changed and, once I realised that my energy drink was happy to stay down and I managed to get to the second feed station where me and banana Malt Loaf got acquainted. To this day I swear this gooey, squidgy banana goodness is what got me through the agony, particularly over the Preseli hills. Talking of which, that descent on the other side is a pure joy, with speeds of around 50mph and at least two slippery cattle grids thrown in for good measure - add to that the buckled wheel and I was really hanging on for dear life at times!

Once I'd gotten over my icky start, the rest of the day was always going to be easier - despite the relative challenge that lay ahead. I was relieved to eat some free stew and down a well-earned beer with the tokens awarded as I crossed the finish line. The sun was out (though still a little chilly) and I just sat about swapping stories with other finishers and generally talking shop whilst waiting for my friend Paul to cross the line. Despite the incessant wind, it was a great day's riding on on a challenging course in comical, if sometimes desperate circumstances!

If its anything like last year, the 2014 tour should be just as epic and training will start in earnest in March - though the key is not to be off the bike for any length of time during the winter months!

For those of this particular persuasion, here's my Strava log of the event in all its gory detail and, for the avoidance of doubt, a Suffer Score of 249 is a personal record!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

"Maybe we should do something big?"

Come on, we've all said it. I know I have. Admittedly, not necessarily meaning it or intending to do anything about it. Well, I went and said it again just the other day but this time I said it about cycling and there's a strong chance I might have meant it.

I posted a while ago about inspirational cycling videos or films and, it would seem that Charlotte is right and I've been watching too many. The other day I watched the promo videos for both Haute Route films (for at least the 10th time here and here) and it got my legs literally twitching in anticipation. Now, what with plans afoot for much bigger things in life, it breaks my heart to know I'm never going to be able to either of these epic cycling challenges in the immediate future. However, there's no stopping me organising an affordable, challenging bike ride that could be enjoyed by like-minded friends - is there?

With this in mind, I've decided to stop dicking about and actually think properly about what could be done over the course of the next year that will be tough, challenging and most of all - big......or at least fairly big. It won't be as big as say.....cycling around the world like Al Humphrey's or Mark Beaumont, but it can't just be something I can wake up of a morning, down some malt loaf, don some Lycra and colour the roads either.

Features I have in mind so far are:

  • Big
Ok, if I had to be a bit more specific I'd say:

  • Time limited (24-48 hours?)
  • Must cross country borders
  • Group based
  • Minimal cost
  • Limited support or maybe even self-supported
  • Big
  • Arse and legs should hurt for a disproportionate amount of time after the event has passed
  • Once completed and telling anyone who will listen - they should think you're Merckx incarnate or some other cycling God.

I think this gives me something to go on but please feel free to make suggestions or simply add to the list.

For my love of France and all things French, I'm unsurprisingly drawn to something across the water and onto French soil..."hmmmm soil".

Anyway, what I'd like to do is to put this out there for now and I'll at least then have to start thinking more about what this "something big" might be. Maybe a European mountain sportive event of some sort or London to Paris in 24 hours...

Ideas on a post-card, or in the comments box if you prefer.

That is all.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Review: Lezyne Superdrive XL Bike Light

I love a good torch I do - who doesn't? It reminds me of being a kid and eagerly awaiting the dark so I could use my pitifully dim torch! Not much has changed in me but thankfully a lot has changed in the world of portable lighting.

At the end of last year’s season as the nights were drawing in, I decided I wanted a rechargeable front light for my daily commute. I settled on a Knog Blinder (for its coolness) and because my main priority then was being seen by other road users. The Knog has its place but eventually I came to realise I needed more lumens in my life!

I had no idea what I wanted or needed for night riding but knew that I wanted it to be USB rechargeable and self contained, as opposed to having a separate battery pack. A friend of mine suggested I look at Lezyne. After looking at the site I was fairly happy to try them and as usual I had a budget in mind so finally settled on the Superdrive XL.


Bear in mind the new 2014 model has now been released and the version here is the 2013 model. Specs/features are as per below:
  • 500 lumens max output (Blast - brightest setting)
  • 4 modes: Blast, Enduro, Economy and Flash
  • 1.5 – 5hr battery range
  • Battery indicator (4 stage)
  • USB rechargeable (4-6 hours)
  • 137g (inc battery)
  • Handlebar and helmet mount options (provided in '”"Fully Loaded” pack
Initial Impressions
I bought the Fully Loaded Pack which includes a spare battery, a helmet mount and comes in a purpose made box. I don’t use the helmet mount, the box has no use once it delivers everything safely and the battery (a LIR 18650) I could just buy online separately - so the pack is only worth it if you get it cheap.


The first notable point that struck me on opening the box is that the light looks chunky and weighty but in reality the weight is very good at 137g. It won’t win any design awards but I guess you’ll be using this in the dark so probably won’t be an issue for most!

The handlebar mount is simple, tough and just works. It can be adjusted horizontally for the best possible light position via a swivel plate, but I feel its harder than it should be to get a tight fit as the thumbscrew is hard to tighten with bare hands. Once its on though, you won’t need to adjust it again and mine has stayed put on my oversize bars without issue.

The light itself is very bright and provides enough light to comfortably hurtle down unlit country lanes – albeit with the usual caution! The 500 lumen mode (Blast) is plenty good enough for cycling in complete darkness and the Economy mode perfect for cycling on lit, city roads. Quite handily, there’s a ‘Race’ mode which incorporates these two modes for easy access, rather than having to cycle through all of the modes each time. This is the mode I use most and never really feel the need to revert back to the standard setting.


Long-Term Observations
Overall, I love the Superdrive XL - for its function if not for its beauty! I find the chunky looks are just a bit too much, especially when mounted to my compact, narrow-width road bars.
I don’t use this light for commuting anymore but instead use it exclusively for my weekly night ride in the lanes surrounding Coventry. As soon as I leave the suburban lit streets, the light goes from Economy to Blast mode and I alternate between these two settings as necessary. The Race feature is great for this as it reduces button presses when flying down dark lanes – always good!
The battery life is pretty good considering its size and output and I do get the full, claimed 1.5 hours from Blast. In real life though, my night rides are longer than this, but with careful use of the Race mode, I can get in excess of 2 hours riding. I carry a spare just in case but, to date, I’ve never had to use it.
The on-button is also the battery/charge indicator and cycles through 4 different modes to indicate how much charge is left:
  • Solid green – 100-70%
  • Half green/red – 50%
  • Red – 20%
  • Flashing red – 5mins or “GET HOME FAST”

Recharge time is around 4 hours if using a USB wall adapter and 6 if charging by laptop/computer. A downside I find is that you have to charge the battery in the light itself (by simply plugging in the USB cable provided), unless you have suitable battery charger, your spare battery can’t be charging one whilst using the other. A bit of an annoyance but not a deal breaker.

Its not just about your lumens, it how you use them…
There’s no denying that on unlit roads you want as much light as you can throw at the tarmac, particularly when some of those roads are single track with a high probability of debris and are poorly maintained. The reality is that 500 lumens doesn’t seem like that much when you look at the highly affordable 700-1200 lumen offerings from X power and Cateye. However, as my cycling brethren have recently discovered, its not just about your lumens! When compared against my neighbours brighter (and lighter) Exposure Axis, the Superdrive XL seems to throw out a far wider and brighter light at its brightest setting. I think this is a combination of the the side cut-outs (to allow a wider beam pattern) and the lens.


Instead of the bright, spotlight effect of the Axis, the Superdrive XL sends out a wide, flood-like beam that illuminates the gutters/kerbs as much as the rest of the road. The sad thing is if the Superdrive could look like the Axis then we’d have a perfect combo! The new 2014 version of the Superdrive XL offers 575 lumens for the same run-time and, in this package, can only make it a better light than it already is. For now, this light suits for road cycling after dark and the only addition I’d like to see is a separate charger for the spare battery as part of the Fully Loaded pack.

So, this light along with my Moon Comet rear will see me recklessly racing through the lanes this winter – and, I hope, many more to come. There really is no excuse for cycling without lights (for safety) and now lighting really isn't a reason not to go cycling! At the moment its extending my season when ordinarily I'd be wimping out indoors, so its fair to say I'm loving this light right now and is as good as any in this price range - The 2013 light, mount and battery is currently going for £59 on PedalPedal!


Rear lighting for aero seat posts: Moon Comet R

With the winter drawing in, I had no choice but to start looking at a more elegant fix to my rear light conundrum with my Kuota Kebel.

There's a bit of history here because, whilst I've been using lights on my commuting bike for a week or so already, lights for my daily workhorse have never been an issue. This is the epitome of simplicity - everything is a standard size, shape or fit so pretty much any make of light is a possibility. The situation has never been quite so bountiful with the Kuota Kebel and ,with its custom aero seat-post, a lot more consideration is required.

Last winter (when my Kebel was my only bike) I had to make do with a very questionable botch involving a Knog Blinder rear light and regular, generous applications of tape! This worked but was never 'right' and when the Knog failed due to water ingress (don't get me started) I decided that next winter would see a proper, neat and effective solution to the problem. More and more manufacturers are employing their own aero seat-post designs (Giant, Bianchi Orbea, Planet X) so this is likely to be a problem that many have and will come across.

When I first started looking into aero clamps for rear lights I saw all manner of bonkers ideas and DIY clamps but none were befitting an Italian, carbon beauty like my Kebel! I started looking again with renewed gusto this September and had a bit of an epiphany when my cycling neighbour mentioned saddle-rail clamps. Kudos has to go to Matt because I doubt I'd have come across it so easily if he hadn't have mentioned the saddle rail type mount that solves this very issue. Simple but perfect.

Enter the Moon Comet R rear light!
This is a USB rechargeable light that puts out about 35 lumens, can be mounted vertically or horizontally and lasts for a respectable amount of time. Being a weight obsessive you'll not be surprised to learn that I've weighed it and comes in at 36 grams on my digital scales. Its light because of its lithium-ion battery and plastic construction but doesn't feel cheap despite its reasonable price-tag (Mine was put on a birthday list so was free but you can buy it for as little as £28.
The light has a narrow profile so when mounted vertically, whilst not truly aero, sits just behind the seat-post in a way that is in-keeping with the aero look and feel of the bike.
Moon_Comet-6Moon_Comet-2-2 Moon_Comet-1-2
There are 6 modes (3 too many in my opinion) all accessible from one on/off switch: Overdrive, high, standard, flashing 100%, flashing 50% and strobe. Moon quote a 1 hour 45 burn time on overdrive and 5hrs 30 on 50% flash. The most useful modes to me are flash, overdrive and high so I left mine on indoors on overdrive after its first full charge and clocked 1hr 51 mins. This was at room temperature though so I expect it will be significantly less in cold conditions when the battery will be under pressure. There is a helpful battery indicator built in and charging takes around 2 hours.
In terms of performance, I really like the light for its brightness and type of light it throws out. Moon describe the light as a 30-chip LED (demonstrated in the photo) and this gives off a very distinctive red light that's hard to ignore!
Moon_Comet-9(Underexposed to show the LED cluster)
Overdrive is very bright and really only necessary if cycling in busy traffic or in fog, when in fact the flashing modes are more likely to be more visible to other road users anyway? I will most-likely use the high mode since its main use is going to be quiet country lanes where I want to be visible but not to blind others in my group.

You get the saddle-rail mount which is a cinch to fit but you also get the stretchy rubber mount to fit a round seat-post. Because the light is a featherweight I hope the brackets will stand the test of time but Moon do sell spares if the worst does happen.
Now, I do have some negative observations that I should mention and the first is the on/off switch. Turning on from the seating position is difficult and in gloves I imagine this will be a complete lottery! I'm not sure that Moon could do much about this without making the button stick out more and therefore compromising the design. This won't be a big deal for most people and was an issue I only noticed when I started my ride just before dark and subsequently struggled to turn on whilst maintaining a safe trajectory! The only other thing to note is the side visibility feature - In my opinion this is virtually useless and a bit of a disappointment by all accounts.

Overall it's a great little light, even if the looks are bit on the ‘square’ side. I appreciate the subtlety and prefer the narrow profile to a more radical design. If you want to sex it up a bit you can go for a white version!