Azub Origami review

The Origami is a robust, fairly upright dual 20″ recumbent with a really neat, fast and tool-free fold…

Sprightly folding recumbent

The Origami is a robust, fairly upright dual 20″ model from Czech manufacturer Azub.

As the name suggests, the twist is the ability to fold up the Origami into a compact layout, something that many would welcome considering how awkward your average recumbent is to move about, being six feet long and all…

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This model appeared briefly in the Edinburgh showroom of Laid-Back-Bikes and I took the opportunity to poke it around a bit… I didn’t take the bike for more than a quick spin however as it was already earmarked for a keen customer.

The build is robust and definitely catering for the utility / commuting market rather than the long distance or speed crowd (although I daresay you could do quite a daily mileage on it if you chose). The general finishing of the frame is of a high standard, the cable routing is good and aesthetically it has a crisp, pleasing look:

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The bars are neat and comfortable, with good quality cabling and trigger shifters for the Alfine hub and front mech. The tiller is a folding one – this is an essential part of the overall fold so you have to put up with the inevitable bit of flex there (but on the other hand, it means you can dismount without turning the bars, as well as folding the bike tight):

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A sturdy twin-leg kickstand keeps the bike stable while you fold and unfold it – it’s also just a generally handy thing for a utility bike to have – no chance of falling over while loading panniers or sitting propped against a wall!

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At the rear there’s a sturdy pannier rack. You can also see the telescopic pole that supports the back of the seat (and sets the seat angle) in this pic:

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The fold

The rear dropout has a split metal bracket attached which forms half of the clever part of the folding mechanism (as an aside, this will also protect the mech from impact if you drop the bike on its right side, something I’ve had the pleasure of doing to all too many bikes):

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One side of the front wheel skewer features a flat plate that mates with the rear dropout plate when the bike is folded, preventing it falling apart:

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See below for detail of the wheel mating system. This keeps the bike tight when it’s being moved about, and is very effective indeed (as well as fast!):

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Hinge detail: it’s quite a burly affair so no fear of it coming apart while you’re riding about. Note also the very bling red anodised QR skewers that adjust the bike:

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The fold is pretty fast and slick, and importantly tool free; although not without hazard to the paintwork as you swing the seat about (care or practice required!)

I haven’t seen anything to compare with this in the two wheel world – simple and easy enough that you might actually do it on a daily basis (and since you don’t have to carry around the seat separately, I can even see the argument that this is better than the ICE flat fold):

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You *might* get this on a train past a suspicious conductor… certainly it would be much easier to get into a variety of smaller types of car!

There’s a strap which keeps the bars tucked sideways against the side of the frame, so they don’t flap around either.

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Ride Quality

After all that time spent discussing the fold… how does it ride?

The Origami’s relatively short wheelbase makes it very manoeuvrable and the steering is well balanced – you can use one finger to corner and direct the bike around potholes and the like (more than one finger might be an advantage should you prefer to ride through them).

The wide gearing shifted quickly and without fuss. I’m not totally convinced about the longevity of any hub gear (long story…) but that’s hardly a recumbent-specific issue. This model was just fine when I put it to the test.

Speed-wise it occupies a similar part of the spectrum to the Bromptons of the upright folding world – it won’t set you on fire (or perhaps: if you’re on fire, you might not be able to ride fast enough to put it out!) but it’s not offensively slow for a utility bike by any means.

I found the ride to be comfortable enough, if not plush – but take that with a pinch of salt as I didn’t ride for many miles at a time as you’d need to to expose that sort of issue (possibly you wouldn’t either?)

At the end of the day you’ve probably got some pretty specific requirements if you want a folding bike and the Azub’s excellent fold does put it at the top of the leaderboard in that respect. The pleasing handling is a bonus 🙂

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Shimano R078 / R088 road shoes review

Great entry-level road shoes which accept both SPD and SPD-SL / Look style cleats. Stiff, light, and doesn’t break the bank…

Entry-level road shoes: with or without ratchet buckle.

I wear recessed-cleat SPD cycling shoes for at least 90% of my rides, but when I wear rigid road shoes, I really feel the difference. Only their inherent clumsiness when you’re not clipped in and spinning, combined with poor longevity, prevents me from wearing them for everything.

Shimano’s entry-level R078 / R088 shoes are very similar, the principal difference being the top strap, which is velcro on the R078 and has a micro-ratchet mechanism on the R088. The cheaper shoe is more reliable but you’ll get a consistent fit, and easier adjustment, from the more expensive model… so long as you don’t break a ratchet!

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At the time of writing, Chain Reaction are doing a very nice 33% discount on the R078, and a 33% discount on the R088 too.

Wiggle have the R078 at 26% off and the R088 at 20% off.

Compatibility

Both three hole (SPD-SL, Look) and two hole (regular SPD) cleats are supported.

This is great if you want a stiff shoe but are happy with the performance of regular double-sided SPD pedals – in particular, you’ll get huge mileage out of metal SPD cleats on these exposed soles where the plastic road ones will break every so often.

If your riding involves a bit of hopping on and off the bike (mixed mode commutes, or long audax / sportives) then you should definitely bear this in mind. Pushing hard onto the small SPD cleats doesn’t feel any different to me.

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The light coloured material along the middle of the shoe is after-market reflective tape, so I look even more bizarre while riding laid-back at night.

Fit and sizing

Shimano shoes are built on a narrower last, particularly in comparison with US manufacturers, so be careful of sizing if you’re coming from Specialised or similar.

Happily, you can buy the R088 in a special wide fit if you have that need – but don’t go crazy. I’ve got “normal” UK feet and wear normal shoes (but my better half would want the wide ones). Check the size charts!

It’s pretty tricky to offer fitting advice online, so here are a few of my sizings for your interest:

  • Shimano R088: size 42
  • Shimano MT33: size 42
  • dhb R1 (road shoe): size 42
  • dhb T1 (commuter shoe): size 44 (loose for winter)
  • Mizuno Wave (running shoe): size 41
  • Scarpa Manta (mountain boot): size 43

Make of that what you will!

Materials and construction

The Shimano R078 / R088 are made of synthetic leather, which means they’re durable and don’t need much in the way of care and attention. That said, if you go for the white option, be aware they they’ll soon become grey unless you’re quite exacting with the cleaning regime!

The soles are fibreglass, and designed to be quite stiff but not absolutely rigid (either carbon or fibreglass could be made completely rigid – the graduation between glass and carbon shoes in the cycling market is party a question of weight and partly to provide an up-sell path).

While flexible shoes are tiring on your feet, it’s not clear to me that there’s a meaningful increase in efficiency going from rigid to super-rigid and hyper-rigid outsoles. Once your feet aren’t a limiting factor and you’re comfortable, you should be set for top performance, physiologically.

Mine weigh in at around 580g for the pair. This is one area where spending an extra £100-200 could get you some savings, with absolutely minimal road shoes going as low as 300g.

(It’s unlikely you’ll notice the difference, but it’s much cheaper than upgrading your entire groupset for a similar drop in weight…)

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The sole has rubber at each end to make it slightly easier to walk off the bike, or put your toes down at junctions. This works pretty well until it wears away (after a year or two you’ll probably be thinking of sticking some glue on to boost the effect).

Ventilation

There’s a reasonable cross-section of mesh on the uppers of the Shimano R078 / R088, and there’s also a cut-out in the centre of the sole just behind your toes, which is echoed in the manufacturer-supplied insole.

While I don’t normally notice it, a similar hole in the insole of the shoes I wore during the 1200km of Paris-Brest-Paris became pretty frustrating and I duct-taped over it to try and soothe my irritated feet (with variable success).

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On the whole I find these a pretty good performer in hot weather. Even though it’s rarely hot in the UK, it’s more important to have a shoe that’s cool since you can easily add an overshoe, thicker socks, or both as required.

Conclusion

Both models of shoe are solid entry-level performers from Shimano.

They’re pretty light compared with a conventional SPD shoe, and very noticeably stiffer, cooler, and nicer to put down the power with.

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The ratchet tightening system on the SH-R088 adds £10 to the asking price, and having broken one of my ratchets (above) I do think they represent a weak point on the shoe, although they help get a tight, consistent fit.

The ability to use both three-hole and two-hole cleat systems is great if you’re looking for a rigid shoe to combine with conventional SPD pedals and only a bit of walking about – this is how I currently have them set up, after a couple of dissatisfactory episodes with Look Keos.

You do need to be a little careful of the sizing, but probably no moreso than any other time you buy shoes – at least you can send them back for free if you buy from Wiggle / CRC!

Again, at the time of writing, Chain Reaction are doing a very nice 33% discount on the R078, and a 33% discount on the R088 too.

Wiggle have the R078 at 26% off and the R088 at 20% off.

Happy spinning!

dhb Windproof Ultralight Gilet review

Cheap, virtually the same weight as an energy gel and a great performer – everyone should have one…

Stay warm and comfortable with this midget gem

If you’re not into windproof gear, you really should be.

I still remember the revelation of my first outing – all the warmth of a waterproof as the thermometer plummets, but without the unpleasant clamminess that even the fastest-breathing fabrics still suffer from.

The dhb Windproof Ultralight Gilet is a snip at £30 RRP, but right now you can get a 40% discount, making it an absolute steal. Mine weighs 72g, which compares well with an energy gel at just over 60g…

There is a ladies’ version too, also on sale.

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If it rains, you’ll certainly get a bit damp, but probably no moreso than if you’d been sweating into an eVent or Goretex jacket for an hour. The majority of rides are, in this part of the UK at least, generally dry affairs, and on all of those you’ll be enjoying significantly greater comfort.

Look mum, no arms!

To state the obvious, being a gilet your arms are not protected. Don’t discount it.

In the mild UK climate, if you like to ride at pace then outside of deep winter you’re likely to be too hot without the cooling of the wind on at least some part of your body.

It’s mid November and I often find myself riding with this gilet unzipped, even at 7:30am as I’m heading into the office. If it’s cold enough for frost then the full sleeve windproof comes out, but otherwise the best balance of comfort is a decent pair of fleece gloves, a standard long-sleeve jersey and this windproof gilet.

Cut, sizing

The cut of dhb’s Windproof Ultralight gilet is ‘slim fit’, which is the middle road for dhb clothing (the other options being ‘performance fit’ and ‘comfort fit’). I have ~44″ chest, which puts me slap between Large and Extra Large according to the sizing guide.

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Knowing that returns are free and hating flappy gear, I ordered a medium (!).

Surprisingly, the fit across the shoulders/chest is fine (there’s still a little spare material I can pinch). However, the Windproof Ultralight is cut very short in the body in comparison with my other outer layers. If I have anything bulky in my jersey pockets at all, it tends to sit at the top of the pockets rather than underneath.

This isn’t really a problem in terms of warmth or function, but it does look just a wee bit odd, I think.

If you go for a bigger size I presume you get a longer body, but the downside is that it might start flapping. Tough choice.

Materials and construction

The nylon is very thin – not quite thin enough to read your jersey beneath, though. To the hand it is pleasingly silky, not plastic and nasty as one might fear.

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Despite the bargain basement price, the stitching is competent and still holding up despite two years use, including trail centre riding at the 7stanes. While it will shrug off normal use, a tumble would certainly not do it much good.

The neck is lined with a thin fleece material which makes it very pleasant against the skin, and this extends down the first few inches of the zip as a storm flap, with a curl at the front forming a welcome zip park. Otherwise, there is no storm flap (if you needed one, your arms would already have given the day up as a bad job).

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The chest is lightly logoed with a reflective print and there are two tiny reflective tabs to the rear – this being one area where the gilet could be significantly improved at minimal cost to dhb:

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The zip itself is sprung, which is a really nice touch – it will stay wherever you put it and not rattle. My main criticism is that the physical zip tab is too small, not at all easy with gloves. You can remedy this with a little loop of chord, but it’s a shame it’s not just a bit bigger to begin with:

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Conclusion

Taking up almost no room and weighing almost nothing (72g) the dhb Windproof Ultralight Gilet is a great way to add at least a full season’s worth of warmth to your wardrobe.

Worn over a short sleeve jersey (perhaps with arm warmers) it will see you well into the nippy sides of autumn and spring. Over a long sleeve jersey of thicker material, you may find this is all you need on mild winter days.

If it rains the fabric wets out quickly, but the flipside is total comfort for the 95% of the time it isn’t raining.

The cut may not be perfect depending on your build, and some might wish to pay more for features like a second set of pockets instead of using their jersey ones.

Ultimately, for under £20 delivered, it’s an absolute bargain of a garment, and one that I can recommend without reservation. (Ladies option here).

Cateye TL-LD1100 rear light review

A big light with ten(!) LEDs, the Cateye LD1100 has great battery life and a variety of modes, some more gimmicky than others…

Bulky but long-running 10 LED lightfest

The Cateye TL-LD1100 is the brand’s top-of-range rear LED light. It makes use of a whopping ten LEDs (some rear, some side-facing) and takes full-fat AA batteries to give outstanding runtimes.

Currently Chain-Reaction are doing 14% off while Wiggle have it on a 10% discount.

I’ve been commuting using dynamo lights for some time now, but my better half has made do with a few different battery rear LEDs since we own so many rear lights of various ages!

As it’s quite a costly option, the TL-LD1100 has stayed on as a backup light for longer than you might expect, and before that served as primary light for a year on our shared 12 mile commute.

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Mounting

The Cateye TL-LD1100 is not a clip-on style light – you must use one of the Cateye mounts (although you can get hold of a belt clip adapter mount if you want to use it this way).

The TL-LD1100 does not come with Cateye’s newer flex tight brackets – probably because it’s just too heavy. You will need to keep coming back to check your mount as there have been numerous reports of lights dropping off.

Ours uses the rack mount adapter, working around this problem.

The physical size of the TL-LD1100 may seem intimidating but in fairness it is fat in every dimension, so at least you avoid the difficulties presented by the TL-LD600 strip light.

Beam quality and strength

The Cateye TL-LD1100 has two buttons and a total of 24 modes – four modes per button, the buttons being independent in operation.

In much the same way that you don’t worry about how many modes your car lights have, I’m a bit “meh” about anything other than plain old “on then off”…

The side-facing LEDs are a nice touch. While there are limited situations in which a driver is likely to be targeted by them, it’s certainly reassuring to know that you’re spraying red light in every direction!

One of the biggest annoyances with this light is that if you just want all the LEDs to flash, each “half” of the TL-LD1100 operates at a slightly different speed, so it slowly changes from all flashing at the same time to perfect counterpoint (i.e. effectively non-flashing at half-strength) and then back again.

This will drive you mad if you’re riding behind!

The LEDs are not ‘power LEDs’ (as found on, say, the Smart Superflash and similar lights). However, there are so many of them that, combined with the use of full-size AA batteries, the Cateye TL-LD1100 remains a very bright light indeed.

Depending on the mode you use, the TL-LD1100 is a borderline mega dazzler. Making it unpleasant for people to drive behind can definitely encourage them into a rushed overtake. It’s not as bad as many of its competitors, however.

The TL-LD1100 does allow you to run only half the light at a time, reducing glare (although then, why aren’t you just running a cheaper light?).

It’s important to mount the light completely level, as designers depend on this when working out off-angle visibility and other factors. Do not point it at the ground by mounting vertically on the seatpost!

Because the Cateye TL-LD1100 hasn’t passed the relevant tests it isn’t road legal when used on its own (in any mode).

I’ll write more about this separately, but unless you go for a dynamo (all dynamo lights are genuinely road legal), it’s true of pretty much anything a bike shop will sell you.

Useability

The Cateye TL-LD1100 has two small rubber buttons to one side of the case.

You have to count many different presses to take the light from ‘off’ to your chosen modes, and a different number of presses to turn it off again. I actually found this surprisingly frustrating!

Battery life

Unlike a great many of its rivals, the Cateye TL-LD1100 runs on two full-size AA batteries.

This gives it fantastic battery life despite the large number of LEDs – 50 hours steady and 100 hours flashing. Remember that the temperature at which you use the light and the type of battery used both influence that figure.

A word on true brightness

Unlike many ‘power LED’ lights, the Cateye uses full-size AA batteries. It delivers 50 hours on solid from 2x2850mAh cells – (2 x 2850 / 50) = 114mA. The power is thus (0.114 x 1.25) = 0.143W

This is actually more than the real wattage of both the RSP Astrum and Smart Lunar R2 lights!

Durability / waterproofing

The Cateye TL-LD1100 has solid weather sealing (based on all weather mileage), but I have had repeated trouble with the little rubber buttons on the end being dislodged if brushed across the light (say in a pocket or bag, or just a badly-aimed finger).

Trying to get the rubber bit back in to re-seal the button is an exercise in exquisite frustration!

As with all lights, mounting under the seat (combined with a mudguard) virtually guarantees trouble-free operation.

Overall

The Cateye TL-LD1100 rear LED light is a comparative giant – both in size, weight, long runtime and cost.

It is not outrageously bright, especially if you moderate the modes – which is a great advantage if you are a social rider and especially if you don’t subscribe to the simplistic “more watts = more safety” bandwagon. It is reliable but operation can be frustrating due to the millions of different modes, and the fact that each half of the light seems to run to a different rhythm.

The apparent dodgyness of the seatpost mount is a worry. At twice the price of many rivals, this is not a light you would be happy to lose.

Again, Chain-Reaction are doing 14% off while Wiggle currently have it on a 10% discount.

Cateye TL-LD600 rear light review

An older design, the LD600 is reliable and easy to operate, while having the advantage of not being offensively bright.

Distinctive strip LEDs: cheap and effective, awkward to mount

The Cateye TL-LD600 is a distinctive rear light consisting of a single strip of five low power LEDs. An older design, they’re still a common sight all over the country.

Although Cateye have produced a replacement in the LD610, you can still buy the older version of the light for a song. Currently Wiggle have it on a 17% discount, while Chain-Reaction are doing 12% off.

I’ve been commuting using dynamo lights for some time now, but my LD600 is still doing sterling service as an extra rear LED on my Carry Freedom trailer. Since I’ve often lent the trailer out, I’ve been able to check its performance in different circumstances, and it’s still a very effective rear light.

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Mounting

The Cateye TL-LD600 is not a clip-on style light – you must use one of the Cateye mounts (although you can get hold of a belt clip adapter mount if you want to use it this way).

Rather than a nice jubilee-clip style mount, the Cateye TL-LD600 has a more primitive fixed-size band, tightened by a small metal screw.

Say hello to packing out the mount with tape if it’s not just the right size, and don’t strip that screw head!

(Depending on packaging, you may find that the TL-LD600 comes with one of Cateye’s newer flex tight brackets – a step in the right direction).

Because the light is a long strip, it’s quite easy to use zip-ties or rubber o-rings in a figure of eight to clamp it onto any tube or flat surface (this is how I’ve fitted mine to the Carry Freedom – no risk of loss or theft).

The long strip format does work against the TL-LD600 however, in that you can’t really mount it on a seat stay (it goes into the spokes) or vertically (it’s too long and hits the seatpost or seat stay – forcing you to point it at a crazy angle).

Beam quality and strength

The Cateye TL-LD600 has four modes – three flashing patterns as well as solid mode. In much the same way that you don’t worry about how many modes your car lights have, I’m a bit “meh” about anything other than plain old “on then off”…

The “chasing” LED mode is particularly weak – why would you reduce your light to just 20% brightness *and* let it flash? Crikey!

The LEDs are not ‘power LEDs’ (as found on, say, the Smart Superflash and similar lights). Visibility is OK from behind but the light doesn’t excel at off-axis visibility – another area in which it shows its age a little.

One advantage of not being an insanely bright mega flasher is that it’s much less unpleasant to ride or drive behind someone using it. Making it unpleasant for people to drive behind can definitely encourage them into a rushed overtake. As a driver, I can vouch that sitting at light behind someone with a mega LED flasher definitely focuses my mind on getting past!

The TL-LD600 definitely doesn’t have that problem. Few will want to buck the trend and deliberately opt for a less dazzling light, but it’s certainly an option.

It’s important to mount the light completely level, as designers depend on this when working out off-angle visibility and other factors. Do not point it at the ground by mounting vertically on the seatpost!

Because the Cateye TL-LD600 hasn’t passed the relevant tests it isn’t road legal when used on its own (in any mode).

I’ll write more about this separately, but unless you go for a dynamo (all dynamo lights are genuinely road legal), it’s true of pretty much anything a bike shop will sell you.

Useability

The Cateye TL-LD600 has a small rear button to one side of the case.

One nice touch is that the light is switched on and off with a long press, so you can cycle through modes while riding without going dark. Unfortunately there’s only really one mode worth using..

Battery life

The Cateye TL-LD600 runs on two AAA batteries.

I seem to get much more than the stated battery life (15h steady, 30h flashing) but neither is much to write home about. Remember that the temperature at which you use the light and the type of battery used both influence that figure.

In this area the TL-LD600 does start to show its age compared with newer, high power LED lights that manage more than twice as much battery life (flashing mode) and 50% more on solid, despite being much brighter. See the Smart Lunar R2 or Smart Superflash amongst many others…

Durability / waterproofing

The Cateye TL-LD600 has solid weather sealing (based on all weather mileage on the back of my trailer, 6″ from the tarmac!).

As with all lights, mounting under the seat (combined with a mudguard) virtually guarantees trouble-free operation.

Overall

The Cateye TL-LD600 rear LED light is an older design that’s clearly long in the teeth in some respects, especially battery life vs output.

It is not offensively bright, which is a great advantage if you are a social rider and especially if you don’t subscribe to the simplistic “more watts = more safety” bandwagon. It is reliable and easy to operate.

The light is let down slightly by the awkwardness of mounting it, but at the same time the width of the TL-LD600 can make it more prominent than a single point source (and more useful for drivers trying to fix your position).

There are probably better options, but it’s certainly not one to avoid.

Again, Wiggle currently have it on a 17% discount, while Chain-Reaction are doing 12% off.

Smart Lunar R2 rear light review

Extremely bright and benefits from respectable runtime, the Lunar R2 is also fairly well built and not overly expensive. A good all-rounder.

Two 0.5W LEDs make this another blinder

The Smart Lunar R2 is a small (AAA) rear LED in the clip-on tradition. It benefits from superior construction quality relative to the infamous Smart Superflash 0.5W LED light, but at greater cost.

Currently Wiggle have it on a 10% discount, while Chain-Reaction are doing a respectable 20% off.

I’ve been commuting using dynamo lights for some time now, but my better half has made do with a few different battery rear LEDs since we own so many rear lights of various ages!

This has actually been pretty useful, since I’ve been able to check the performance of the Smart Lunar R2 in different circumstances while riding along behind, instead of so many bike light reviews which boil down to “it seems bright and nobody has run me over yet” 😉

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Mounting

The Smart Lunar R2 has a clip on the rear which allows you to attach it to items of clothing, bags, and so on.

It is also supplied with a seatpost and seat stay mount that secures the light using the same clip. Rather than a nice jubilee-clip style mount, the Smart has a more primitive fixed-size band, tightened by a small metal screw.

Say hello to packing out the mount with tape if it’s not just the right size, and don’t strip that screw head!

It’s rare to see people riding with a light attached to bag or body that’s actually pointing in the right direction. I’ve tried this myself often… either the light points to the sky or ground or it waggles around spraying photons like a garden sprinkler!

The ability to mount on the seat stays means you should be able to find somewhere for the Smart Lunar R2, even if you have a short seatpost or use a seat bag. Don’t worry that the spokes will obscure the light from drivers on an inside lane – in reality they’ll have spent plenty of time being lasered getting into that position.

Beam quality and strength

The Smart Lunar R2 has five modes – a variety of flashing patterns as well as solid mode. In much the same way that you don’t worry about how many modes your car lights have, I’m a bit “meh” about anything other than plain old “on then off”…

Both LEDs have a plain lens (compare with the RSP Astrum’s diffuser lens). Visibility is still good from all angles and the Lunar R2 throws so much light downwind that you can be picked out minutes away on the open road…

The R2 is extremely bright – so bright that it’s unpleasant to ride or drive behind someone using it, especially in flash mode. While this may be great in some circumstances, making it unpleasant for people to drive behind you can definitely encourage them to overtake. As a driver, I can vouch that sitting at light behind someone with a mega LED flasher definitely focuses my mind on getting past!

It’s a difficult balance to strike. When driving I often find it quite difficult to work out the speed and course of a cyclist using a flashing light, so I recommend solid mode. (This is less of an issue under street lights.)

It’s important to mount the light completely level, as designers depend on this when working out off-angle visibility and other factors. Do not point it at the ground in lieu of just buying a less dazzling light!

That said, you can safely ignore anyone who says flashing lights aren’t road legal – this hasn’t been the case for about a decade.

Because the Smart Lunar R2 hasn’t passed the relevant tests it isn’t road legal when used on its own (in any mode).

I’ll write more about this separately, but unless you go for a dynamo (all dynamo lights are genuinely road legal), it’s true of pretty much anything a bike shop will sell you.

Useability

The Smart Lunar R2 has a small end-on button that isn’t the easiest to operate. It works more like “press in part of the body” than the distinct, super-positive rubber button you’ll find on many Cateye and Raleigh RSP lights.

That said, it’s not rocket science to turn it on at the start of your ride and off at the end – just a bit of hassle if you want to change modes on the way, especially gloved up.

It has a simple “press for next mode” (including the “off mode”) which makes it straightforward to change on the fly whilst riding. The large number of modes makes it slightly more tricky to switch off as you need to count just the right number of clicks.

I bought two Lunar R2 lights from my LBS around two and a half years ago. One of them failed (bounced off on a pothole and run over) but the other is going strong.

Battery life

The Smart Lunar R2 runs on two AAA batteries.

We get around the stated battery life (50 hours flashing, 25 hours solid). Remember that the temperature at which you use the light and the type of battery used both influence that figure.

With rear LED lights it’s important to bear in mind that brightness and battery life are a direct trade-off. Almost all are manufactured using essentially the same mature technology and LEDs which are broadly equal in efficiency.

All you need to decide is whether you’d like twice as many photons for half as much battery life, or vice-versa.

The Smart Lunar R2 produces quite a lot of light and so is fairly battery-hungry.

A word on those 2×0.5W LEDs…

If you know battery life, you can work out the true power draw of your light using simple mathematics.

Two AAA batteries max out at around 1200mAh each, and so the 25 hour runtime of the Smart Lunar R2 points to a current draw of (1200 x 2 / 25) = 96mA. At 1.25V this is (0.096 x 1.25) = 0.12W

A genuine 0.5W LED current draw would give a battery life of just six hours on AAA. Two 0.5W LEDs would last just three hours!

Durability / waterproofing

The Smart Lunar R2 is reasonably sealed, given that it’s lasted three winters.

The internet is less sure, with quite a few reports of water ingress. While I agree that the sealing could be better, we’ve never had a problem with our lights in pretty foul weather (although we do use mudguards).

Overall

The Smart Lunar R2 2×0.5W rear LED light is a solid effort – it’s much better built than the cheaper Smart Superflash 0.5W LED, although perhaps not as well built as some competitors (especially the mount, which is competent but not outstanding).

It is extremely bright and benefits from respectable runtime for its power – 25% more than the RSP Astrum in solid mode (although less in flashing mode)

Again, Wiggle currently have it on a 10% discount, while Chain-Reaction are doing a respectable 20% off.

Smart Lunar R1 rear light review

Whatever its weaknesses, at the end of the day it’s useable, effective and economical… one of the best all-round battery tail lights.

Solo power LED tail light – the gold standard?

The Smart Lunar R1 is a small (AAA) rear LED in the clip-on tradition. It’s the direct descendant of the infamous Smart Superflash 0.5W LED light, but with a better quality of construction (and at greater cost).

Currently Chain-Reaction are doing a cracking 35% off.

Although more than half of our bikes are now dynamo equipped, I don’t actually own enough sets of dynamo head/tail lamps (!). The Lunar R1 is probably my go-to recommendation for a battery powered rear light, taking all things into consideration.

smart_lunar_r1

Mounting

The Smart Lunar R1 has a clip on the rear which allows you to attach it to items of clothing, bags, and so on.

It is also supplied with a seatpost and seat stay mount that secures the light using the same clip. Rather than a nice jubilee-clip style mount, the Smart has a more primitive fixed-size band, tightened by a small metal screw.

Say hello to packing out the mount with tape if it’s not just the right size, and don’t strip that screw head!

It’s rare to see people riding with a light attached to bag or body that’s actually pointing in the right direction. I’ve tried this myself often… either the light points to the sky or ground or it waggles around spraying photons like a garden sprinkler!

The ability to mount on the seat stays means you should be able to find somewhere for the Smart Lunar R1, even if you have a short seatpost or use a seat bag. Don’t worry that the spokes will obscure the light from drivers on an inside lane – in reality they’ll have spent plenty of time being lasered getting into that position.

Beam quality and strength

The Smart Lunar R1 has a low mode in addition to steady and flashing – when a light is as excessively bright as this one is, that’s a big advantage in terms of extra runtime for no loss of safety.

The main LED has a plain lens – there are also mini-LEDs to light up the housing itself, giving the light a slightly larger profile. Visibility is good from all angles – and plenty of light is flung out of the back for any situation…

The R1 may only have half as many power LEDs as the R2 (or RSP Astrum) but it’s still very bright – ten years ago it would have been revolutionary. Because it’s slightly less dazzling, there’s less of an issue of making it so unpleasant for people to drive behind that encourage them to rush an overtake.

As a driver, I can vouch that sitting at light behind someone with a mega LED flasher definitely focuses my mind on getting past!

It’s important to mount the light completely level, as designers depend on this when working out off-angle visibility and other factors. Do not point it at the ground (especially when you can just use low mode when riding socially)!

You can safely ignore anyone who says flashing lights aren’t road legal – this hasn’t been the case for about a decade.

Because the Smart Lunar R1 hasn’t passed the relevant tests it isn’t road legal when used on its own (in any mode).

I’ll write more about this separately, but unless you go for a dynamo (all dynamo lights are genuinely road legal), it’s true of pretty much anything a bike shop will sell you.

Useability

The Smart Lunar R1, like other Smart tail lights, has a small end-on button that isn’t the easiest to operate. It works more like “press in part of the body” than the distinct, super-positive rubber button you’ll find on many Cateye and Raleigh RSP lights.

That said, it’s not rocket science to turn it on at the start of your ride and off at the end – just a bit of hassle if you want to change modes on the way, especially gloved up.

Battery life

The Smart Lunar R1 runs on two AAA batteries.

We get around the stated battery life (100 hours low mode, 30 hours steady). Remember that the temperature at which you use the light and the type of battery used both influence that figure.

With rear LED lights it’s important to bear in mind that brightness and battery life are a direct trade-off. Almost all are manufactured using essentially the same mature technology and LEDs which are broadly equal in efficiency.

All you need to decide is whether you’d like twice as many photons for half as much battery life, or vice-versa.

The Smart Lunar R1 produces quite a lot of light and so is fairly battery-hungry.

A word on that 1W LED…

If you know battery life, you can work out the true power draw of your light using simple mathematics.

Two AAA batteries max out at around 1200mAh each, and so the 30 hour runtime of the Smart Lunar R2 points to a current draw of (1200 x 2 / 30) = 80mA. At 1.25V this is (0.096 x 1.25) = 0.1W

A genuine 1W LED current draw would give a battery life of just three hours on AAA. That’s the physics…

Durability / waterproofing

The Smart Lunar R1 doesn’t have the greatest weather sealing, but it is respectable enough, especially if you take care with the seals when you open and close the light. (Also: making sure you close it properly is a good way to avoid getting home to discover you’re just carrying the rear half of the light, the actual electronics part having bounced off!)

As with the Lunar R2 light, there are plenty of reports of water ingress online. I have on occasion had one of these lights short circuit (jam in flashing mode) but they’ve always been fine after drying out.

I’ve never had one fail to the off mode.

Overall

Over the years we’ve had a fair number of this type of light (from the original Smart 0.5W Superflash through to the present day). Whatever its weaknesses, at the end of the day it’s useable, effective and economical… one I just keep coming back to!

The Smart Lunar R1 0.5W rear LED light is probably my best recommendation for an all-round tail light, taking all factors into consideration.

Again, Chain-Reaction are doing a 35% discount at the time of writing.

Raleigh RSP Astrum rear light review

The RSP Astrum is a budget priced but well constructed rear LED in the clip-on tradition. This excellent twin-lens design is a step above many other lights.

Two 0.5W LEDs make this a dazzling contender

The RSP Astrum is a budget priced but well constructed rear LED in the clip-on tradition. Amazon are selling it for £15 delivered (25% off) at the time of writing (it’s not stocked by the usual mail-order companies).

I’ve been commuting using dynamo lights for some time now, but my better half has made do with a few different battery rear LEDs since we own so many rear lights of various ages!

This has actually been pretty useful, since I’ve been able to check the performance of the Astrum in different circumstances while riding along behind, instead of so many bike light reviews which boil down to “it seems bright and nobody has run me over yet” 😉

astrum

Mounting

The RSP Astrum has a clip on the rear which allows you to attach it to items of clothing, bags, and so on.

It is also supplied with a sturdy seatpost mount that secures the light using the same clip. Unlike many rear light mounts, the Astrum has a big thumb-friendly screw-drive affair which makes it a dream to fit and adjust. Giant thumbs up from me!

It’s rare to see people riding with a light attached to bag or body that’s actually pointing in the right direction. I’ve tried this myself often… either the light points to the sky or ground or it waggles around spraying photons like a garden sprinkler!

Fortunately the Astrum’s seatpost mount is sturdy and easy to fit. I recommend this approach over the alternative, even if you want the Astrum as a backup light.

Beam quality and strength

The Astrum has two flashing modes (one on, one off and both flash together) and offers a solid mode too.

One LED has a plain lens while the other is fitted with a diffuser. This casts light out at a much wider angle – improving the light cast to the sides at point blank range.

The Astrum is extremely bright – so bright that it’s unpleasant to ride or drive behind someone using it, especially in flash mode. While this may be great in some circumstances, making it unpleasant for people to drive behind you can definitely encourage them to overtake. As a driver, I can vouch that sitting at night behind someone with a mega LED flasher definitely makes a quick pass more tempting.

It’s a difficult balance to strike. When driving I often find it quite difficult to work out the speed and course of a cyclist using a flashing light, so I recommend solid mode. (This is less of an issue under street lights.)

It’s important to mount the light completely level, as designers depend on this when working out off-angle visibility and other factors. Do not point it at the ground in lieu of just buying a less dazzling light!

That said, you can safely ignore anyone who says flashing lights aren’t road legal – this hasn’t been the case for about a decade.

Because the RSP Astrum hasn’t passed the relevant tests it isn’t road legal when used on its own (in any mode).

I’ll write more about this separately, but unless you go for a dynamo (all dynamo lights are genuinely road legal), it’s true of pretty much anything a bike shop will sell you.

Useability

The Astrum has a central and large rubber button which is a breeze to use, even with gloves. This is a much better solution than the end-on ‘soft body’ style buttons you can find on other lights (like the Smart Lunar R2).

It has a simple “press for next mode” (including the “off mode”) which makes it straightforward to change on the fly whilst riding. You don’t need to count half a dozen clicks as is often the case (Cateye! I’m looking at you…)

So far my Astrum is still going strong after two and a half years. A big part of this is the quality of construction of the ‘interface’.

Battery life

The Astrum runs on two AAA batteries.

We get around the stated battery life (80 hours flashing, 20 hours solid). Remember that the temperature at which you use the light and the type of battery used both influence that figure.

With rear LED lights it’s important to bear in mind that brightness and battery life are a direct trade-off. Almost all are manufactured using essentially the same mature technology and LEDs which are broadly equal in efficiency.

All you need to decide is whether you’d like twice as many photons for half as much battery life, or vice-versa.

The RSP Astrum produces quite a lot of light and so is fairly battery-hungry.

A word on those 2×0.5W LEDs…

If you know battery life, you can work out the true power draw of your light using simple mathematics.

Two AAA batteries max out at around 1200mAh each, and so the 20 hour runtime of the RSP Astrum points to a current draw of (1200 x 2 / 20) = 120mA. At 1.25V this is (0.12 x 1.25) = 0.15W

A genuine 0.5W LED current draw would give a battery life of just six hours on AAA, so 2×0.5W would give just three!

Durability / waterproofing

The Astrum is well sealed, as it would have to be to survive three winters unscathed.

The quality button construction (see above) plays a large part in this.

Assuming you run mudguards, you can improve the reliability of any rear light by mounting it under the saddle (fairly sheltered) instead of on your body or bag.

Overall

The RSP Astrum 2×0.5W rear LED light is a great little number – well built, easy to operate, extremely bright and with a mount that’s head and shoulders above some competitors.

Again, Amazon are selling it for £15 delivered (25% off) at the time of writing (it doesn’t seem to be stocked by the usual mail-order companies).

Vittoria Open Corsa EVO CX (KX & KS) review

In-depth review: Vittoria’s Open Corsa Evo is a great looking, supple, fast-rolling but relatively fragile road race tyre…

Blindingly fast and seriously stylish, but fragile

+ Exceptionally smooth rolling tyres…
… at the expense of durability
BUY:Wiggle [up to 40% off] or Chain Reaction [up to 15% off] (AS PUBLISHED)

Let’s get one thing out of the way – if you buy these tyres and ride them on real roads, it’s likely that at some point you may get a puncture.

While Vittoria have always equipped their headline Open Corsa EVO range of tyres with a puncture strip, these are not intended to be reliable commuting tyres; everything about them is optimised for suppleness and speed, from the microscopic 320tpi carcass to the tread which is so thin it may as well be painted on.

I’m lucky (or foolish) enough to have enough bikes and wheels to be running the Continental GP4000s, Schwalbe Ultremo and three flavours of Open Corsa Evo (CX, KX and KS) just now. See my head-to-head (coming soon) for a direct comparison.

OpenCorsaCover2

Variations

The Open Corsa CX is the popular choice, but you can also get hold of a range of alternative treads on the same carcass: the older KX and KS (slick and more heavily treaded on the shoulders) being the two I have direct experience of.

Vittoria’s extended line now consists of the sr, sl and sc (respectively, wide, slick and tan sidewall).

I can’t tell any real difference between the slick and wet weather versions myself, though it may pain Vittoria’s R&D division to hear that!

Width/weight

The Open Corsa CX isn’t the lightest race tyre, but it’s still very competitive – Schwalbe’s Ultremo is around 15g lighter in the same size, but we’re talking less weight than the change in your pocket and nothing to lose sleep over.

21mm, 23mm and 25mm sizes are all on offer, of which the last two are most likely to be of interest on our cratered roads. Pleasingly, they seem to come up on-size – you won’t buy a tyre labelled 23mm and find it’s actually a rebadged 21mm to keep the weight down.

As always, you may be surprised at the difference in air volume between the tyre sizes:

width relative width relative volume
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 21mm 1x 1x
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 23mm 1.09x 1.19x
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 25mm 1.19x 1.42x

For technical reasons, if all else is the equal a wider tyre will also roll faster. All else is very much not equal between a race and touring tyre, but it applies here: the wider casing bulges proportionally less, so the sidewall deflection is slightly closer to a perfect circle (ideal efficiency).

The 25mm size would be expected to gain around 5% over the 23mm for this reason. Those of you who are into longer days on the bike will greatly appreciate the extra comfort combined with extra speed! (Obviously, you need the clearance in your frame and forks…)

Rolling resistance

Vittoria are proud to claim that the Open Corsa is “provenly the fastest all-round racing tire available” and though you should take that with a grain of salt, it has performed very strongly in third party tests (including some quite geeky ones you can find online).

The carcass has been made at a phenomenal 320TPI, which makes it almost 3x thinner than the carcass on a Continental GP4000s. This reduces rolling resistance (at the cost of strength) and of all the tyres I’ve spent serious time on, the Open Corsa is certainly the one which leads the way when it comes to a feeling of raw speed.

As above, having the option of going wider allows for even faster rolling tyres – the disadvantage of an increased cross-section into the wind shouldn’t worry you unless you’re riding time trials (in which case your bike might not even fit a 23mm tyre, never mind a 25mm one!)

As I’ve written before, the Open Corsa (like the GP4000s and Ultremo) are measurably faster than some tubulars (such as the Continental Competition) which should tell you all you need to know about how fast they really are.

corsa3
Open Corsa Evo CX (fine diamond / herringbone tread)

Comfort

Standard caveat: The Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX is a race tyre. It’s not designed to be comfortable in the same way that a touring or utility tyre is (if that’s what you want, I’m afraid you need a different bike!)

That said, of all race tyres I’ve tried the Open Corsa stands head and shoulders above the others for its smooth ride at a given pressure and width: it’s like riding on a wider size altogether (or letting 15psi out!)…

While I certainly wouldn’t tour on them, so long as you’re happy with the relatively limited mileage, they make a great choice for long days in the saddle.

Grip

In the dry the Open Corsa CX has great grip – things are less clear in the wet, where I find them to be less confidence inspiring, especially compared to the super tacky GP4000s or Ultremo.

That said, they’re streets ahead of a more basic (and hard wearing) commuter tyre. Any of these three would be perfectly acceptable, but when you ride them head to head on greasy tarmac… the Open Corsa is edged out a little, in my opinion.

corsa1
Open Corsa Evo KX (cosmetic shoulder tread, slick centre)

Flat resistance

I want to say that it’s only a matter of time, but that’s probably being a little unfair on a tyre which is designed from the ground up to serve a purpose where the ocassional flat is quite acceptable.

If you want a heavy and protected tyre, they’re on the market too.

That said, I do think the Open Corsa EVO is more vulnerable than either of my recommended alternatives (the Continental GP4000s and the Schwalbe Ultremo).

In common with all true race tyres the sidewalls are unprotected: vital to minimise rolling resistance, but exposing them to risk of damage compared with heavier and less supple tyres.

There are sufficient reports online of people tearing these tyres up that I think it’s safe to conclude they are at least *somewhat* more vulnerable than, say, the GP4000s. It’s really quite hard to be objective because people with the worst luck shout loudest!

I do ride my Corsas on less than perfect roads (including some short bits of urban path which never see a sweeper) because I don’t believe it’s worth paying for top-quality tyres and sitting them on the mantlepiece.

corsa4
Open Corsa Evo KS (slick tread)

Durability

Tread thickness is directly linked to rolling resistance. The Vittoria Open Corsa Evo emphasises going fast, so it has relatively little rubber!

As mentioned above, watch the sidewalls.

I’m hoping to get 2000 miles on the rear tyre which I’ll consider fair innings. At the end of the day they are a consumable item, and we accept the flipside of high performance with eyes open. 🙂

Conclusion

With the Open Corsa EVO CX (and sister tyres in the same line), Vittoria has really hit the ball out of the park on the performance front. Nothing else will get you as close to the feel of tubulars without actually riding on them.

In fact, I prefer my Open Corsa -equipped wheelset to my tubs because they’re so close in feel that all I’m left with are the many downsides of riding a tub…

They look fantastic. If you want a really good looking race tyre look no further!

+ Exceptionally smooth rolling tyres…
… at the expense of durability
BUY:Wiggle [up to 40% off] or Chain Reaction [up to 15% off] (AS PUBLISHED)

Vital Statistics

Note: On a 15mm rim the 700x23c measures 23.5mm

Folding only:

ETRTO (mm) Imperial (“) Pressure (bar) Pressure (psi) Weight (g)
21-571 650x21c 8-10 115-145 185
21-622 700x21c 8-10 115-145 195
23-622 700x23c 8-10 115-145 210
25-622 700x25c 8-10 115-145 220

 * note that coloured rubber options are available in 23-622 / 700x23c only.

“Cycling Science” book review

Approachable and visually pleasing, but too often superficial. It leaves more questions than it answers…

Approachable and visually pleasing, but sometimes a bit random, and too often superficial

I picked up a copy of “Cycling Science” by Max Glaskin not long after release. Having more than a passing interest in what makes everything tick when we ride a bike, I expected it to be just the thing, but unfortunately I was left disappointed.

Physically it’s well presented – a square hardback just shy of 200 glossy full-colour pages.

It covers a wide range of material, from the fundamentals (balance, efficiency, etc) through the materials used to construct a bike, friction and various other losses, aerodynamics, and the biology of the human body.

While there’s a lot of good stuff in there, too often I found myself frustrated by what is presented. There are too many inconsistencies or inadequacies that are not explained, and in a book of this nature, that’s just not good enough.

CyclingSciCover
It may be super shiny, but this book has too many issues for me to seriously recommend.

Here are a few examples:

  • The almost-fascinating page on cog size and efficiency presents two changing variables: the size of the cogs and the pedalling force. Which is having the effect? Who knows!
  • The section on chain lubes shows that friction is not impacted at low power under lab conditions. The book mentions that everything would change in real conditions, but doesn’t take the discussion any further than that. Useful only if you ride in lab conditions?
  • The section on tyres discusses the coefficient of friction (which is independent of contact area) and in the very next paragraph states that increasing the contact area makes for more grip. Why? Not for any reason that’s presented, that’s for sure.
  • The page on braking shows the use of both brakes gives faster deceleration than the use of the front brake alone. Since you can use the front brake to decelerate so hard that the rear wheel lifts off the ground (contributing nothing), how this can be so is a mystery to me. Probably it’s a flaw in the underlying study, but it would be nice if the conflict with theory was mentioned somewhere!
  • In the section comparing riding positions, it’s stated that Chris Boardman would have gone 33.7km in the hour if he’d ridden with conventional aerobars instead of his ‘superman’ position (which was good for 56km). That is, if Boardman rode a normal TT bike over a conventional 40km course he’d be expected to take over 70 minutes. In reality 50 minutes in closer to the mark. This leaves only questions about the page, the book, everything.

I could go on, but it seems unfair.

One possible defence might be that the references section contains the answers to all my questions (and more), but I find this unsatisfactory, doubly so given the book’s target market, which is more of the coffee table than pubmed crowd.

I mean, what are you supposed to make of a statement like “elite cyclists [who use SPDs are] enjoying an 86 per cent gain in mechanical effectiveness” followed immediately by “[this] consumes disproportionately more of the rider’s resources”? What sort of measurement is being used that says pulling up on the pedals is both more efficient and less efficient?

There are ample studies showing that in real life, the pros don’t pull up with their feet anyway!

So what’s the verdict? It’s shiny, but overall it’s pretty hard to recommend.

Anyone want a lightly used copy?