Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Blaze bike light a disappointment

A while ago, I wrote about a Kickstarter project that I backed to create a new bike light. Finally the product is finished and my light arrived through the post last week. I've been really looking forward to this for some time, here's a picture of the light finally in my hands!

The light looks and feels nice, but once I started trying to use it my initial enthusiasm started to disappear as I realised there were several flaws with the product.

First, the light charges via USB which is a good idea, however the charger attaches to a couple of points on the top via a magnet. The magnet isn't very strong and the connector can easily be knocked or even fall off on its own. The slightest movement of the cable will detach it. A stronger magnet, or perhaps a lip around the charge point is needed.

Second, when trying to fit the light to my bike it became quickly apparent that the bracket won't fit easily on my handlebars. The bracket is a metal ring with a hinge on one side and a screw on the other side. A rubber insert goes inside the metal ring with the idea of giving a secure fit. Several sizes of rubber insert came in the box, which is a good idea, but the ring itself is too small and even with no rubber insert it won't clamp shut securely on my centre of my handlebars. On road bikes, handlebars are thicker in the middle where they attach to the stem. The only way I could get it to fit was to peel away some of the bar tape and clamp it round the narrower part of the bars away from the stem. Although it fits here it prevents me from riding holding the top of the bars, I can only hold the hoods or the drops.

Third, the image projected by the laser has changed. The original image was really good and was a fairly decent representation of a person on a bike. The actual image is a fairly stylised image of a bike, but with no rider. Maybe its personal taste, but I don't really like the new image.

Fourth, the retaining bolt in the mount was of very poor quality. After only a few minutes riding the light came loose and started wiggling from side to side on the mount. I stopped to have a look and saw the bolt that tightened the light onto the mount. A quarter turn with an allen key and the head sheared off, meaning the light was no longer firmly attached to the mount. I had to put it in my backpack to continue the journey. Luckily, due to the amount of time it took to fix the mount (see point 2), I had set off late and there was enough daylight not to need the light, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to continue. When I arrived in the office I had a look at the mount and was able to unscrew the detached thread by hand, which shows how little torque was required to shear off the head. Clearly no quality control had been applied to the mechanism to attach the light to the mount. This evening I'm going to have to leave work early in order to get home before it gets dark.

Lastly I have to mention the timeline for the product. The Kickstarter project started in November 2012 and was funded and started in December 2012. The original plan was to deliver lights to backers in April 2013.

  • In March there was an update the the lights would be arriving mid-summer.
  • In June there was an update that the new target was to deliver at the beginning of September.
  • In July we were told "you will have your Blazes this Autumn".
  • In August we were told "you WILL have your lights later this Autumn (late Oct)".
  • In September there was an update that the lights would be us for Winter.
  • In November we were told they might be with us for Christmas, but we weren't to get our hopes up (trust me, by this time my hopes were definitely down).
  • In December were were told it would be mid January.
  • In January we were told that they were on the way and mine finally arrived in February.

To be honest I could deal with the lateness so long as there weren't so many updates with broken promises. If the original plan was to have them sometime in a year or so, then I wouldn't have been so annoyed. As it is the lateness combined with the fact that the product has several serious and obvious flaws means I am left disappointed.

I originally paid £60 to back the light but the retail price is going to be £125. At that price I'd expect a good quality product. To me the acid test would be this; if I'd bought the light at retail for £125 would I recommend it to a friend? Unfortunately the answer is a definite 'no'. If I bought this at retail I'm afraid I'd have boxed it up again and sent it back for a refund.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Quick update!

Its been a while since I posted. I am super busy at work and the blog hasn't been on my radar. I'll try a bit harder this year!

Now that we're in 2014 I thought it would be nice to look back over last year to see how far I've been. According to Strava I've ridden over three thousand miles, which is pretty good.

At the end of last year I also joined a club, Thames Velo. I've been on a few club runs and they seem like a friendly bunch. Hopefully it will encourage me to ride a little more outside of commuting.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Tour Of Britain

On Saturday 21st September I went to Guildford to watch Stage 7 of the Tour of Britain. The Go Surrey website had lots of very useful and detailed information that made planning the day easy. My wife got into watching the Tour de France and became a fan of Nairo Quintana, so she was up for coming along too, making it a whole family day out.

We wanted to see the finish on Guildford High Street, but also to see some action out on the roads, where we'd be able to watch without huge crowds. After checking the route it seemed that Newlands Corner would be a good place. Its only a couple of miles out of Guildford so is easily reachable by novice cyclists. The peleton were due to pass around 1.30pm and its a good place for a picnic. After passing the peleton would take a route North then West, crossing the finish around 3.30pm, leaving us plenty of time to have a picnic and get back and join the crowds in the High Street.

Deciding against the car as being too much hassle, we got the train to Guildford. It was starting to get busy as went up the High Street at about noon. We took a photo opportunity on the finish (lots of very friendly and helpful officials/marshalls around).

We carried on to Newland's Corner and saw the crowd was already building up. It seems like a popular place for bikers and there was a huge queue at the cafe. We started on the picnic but it wasn't long before police outriders started coming past, followed by various support vehicles. I expected a few but was surprised by how many there actually were; dozens of motorbikes, cars and vans. About 10 minutes after the first outriders, the 4 breakaway riders came past to great cheers! At last! It was great to see the riders that we'd been watching on the TV, and to cheer them on! Shortly after the peleton came past and Brad got a huge cheer as he went past (Quintana just behind him got a big cheer from my wife).

The crowds started dispersing and we finished out picnic and had a cup of tea. Heading back into Guildford it was extremely busy with huge crowds. We locked up our bikes a short distance from the high street and headed for the noise! There was a real festival atmosphere; the tannoy announcer was keeping everyone up to date with race progress, also shown on big screens. Everyone was anticipating the finish. We moved through the crowds on the high street (now 5 deep) to a place where we could stand on a step and look over - then came the announcement that the head of the race was minutes away! Craning our necks to see, we heard a roar of cheers, whistling and clapping coming! Then we saw the sprinters dash past at an impressive speed, then it was all over! Mark Cavendish had won!

We hung around, having tea and cake in a cafe, and looking round for some merchandise. My daughter was keen on getting one of the green Skoda flags, and I wanted a Tour jersey. On the way back to pick up the bikes we saw Mark coming out of the press zone (presumably he'd been doing interviews). He signed a few autographs and gave us a wave - I was 5 feet away from him!

All in all a really great day out. It was great to see the pros up close and the event was brilliantly organised. The info available ahead of time made it easy to plan and the officials on the day were really helpful. Now we're planning out trip to Yorkshire next year!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Commuting by public transport

I'm going out on the beers after work tonight, so my usual commuting options are limited; I can't cycle or drive after a few pints. This leaves few options and I chose public transport.

I've previously compared the commute by bicycle and public transport, but I've been working in a new office for a couple of months now, which is at the edge of Reading, instead of being right in the centre of town. I thought I'd see how the different transport methods commute to this new location.

Method Door to door time Cost Benefits Drawbacks
Public transport 1 hour 8 mins* £7.60 Unreliable, slow, expensive
Bicycle 24 mins** Free Fitness/Health, reliable, fast Unpleasant in harsh weather

* See breakdown below
** 7.5 miles

The public transport option was horrible. Here's a breakdown of the journey.

Walk to the station: 0.9 miles, 13 minutes
Buy ticket and wait for train: 7 minutes
Train to Reading: 6.8 miles, 14 minutes
Walk to bus stop: 0.2 miles, 4 minutes
Wait for bus: 12 minutes
Bus ride: 3.0 miles, 14 minutes
Walk to office: 0.3 miles, 4 minutes

Adding that together we get;

Activity Time spent
Walking 21 min
Waiting for public transport 19 min
On public transport 28 min

Here are maps of the GPS traces;
Route taken by public transport.
Route taken on bicycle.

Clearly public transport is a terrible way to commute. It was already worse than cycling but the new office location adds a bus ride which makes it much worse.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Attacked by APC Courier van

On the way home last night I was attacked by a man driving an APC courier van.

School Road in Arborfield has two traffic calming constrictions either side of a school. Traffic moving away from the school has priority. Yesterday, about 5.30pm, while cycling down School Road, I was approaching one of the constrictions where I had right of way, see below;

View Larger Map

There was an APC courier van coming the other way and he failed to give way. Instead he pulled out into my path and drove at me, causing me to make an evasive move (braking hard and swerving) to avoid a head on collision. I was pretty lucky not to come off the bike trying to avoid the collision. You can see the constriction from his point of view below;

View Larger Map

Notice the large, clear sign showing that oncoming traffic has right of way. Note the large "give way" triangle and lines painted on the road. Clearly these don't apply to everyone.

The driver had obviously seen me but either a) made an extremely poor judgement or b) decided that he didn't need to give way as he was driving a van vs my bicycle. I suspect the latter, as he yelled "Fuck Off" out of the window as he raced past.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The only (real) obstacle to Dutch style cycling in the UK

I was prompted to write this by an interesting article on the BBC. The article compares cycling in Reading and The Hague. Its a foregone conclusion that Reading isn't going to come off very well. Many people continue to debate exactly why UK towns and cities consistently fail to achieve anything like continental levels of cycling. Well, look no further, the BBC article offers a glimpse;


Reading has a population of 225,000 in the wider urban area. The article states that one of Reading's objectives is `aiming for 2,300 daily cycle trips across the town`, so their target is 1% of the population to cycle daily? This is less than the current national average and its an objective? Is Reading's objective is to reduce cycling?* Hmm, not sure if I believe the BBC's stats here; looks like they got something wrong.


Cycling is pretty popular, and wherever you go there are always people who are passionate about campaigning and promoting cycling. Reading is no exception with the Reading Cycle Campaign. The BBC article has a quote from the RCC's Adrian Lawson;

"We had a 'workshop' with Reading Borough Council officers, their consultants, and members of the cycle campaign. We identified a lot of simple things that would make it immeasurably better for cyclists. This was over a year ago. Not a single thing has happened. In fact we have had five workshops to look at different parts of Reading in the last two years, and there hasn't been any action arising from any of them".

Hmm, that's telling isn't it, and reminiscent of my own attempts to get Wokingham council to engage with actual people who actually cycle. Then we get a gem from Tony Page who is deputy council leader and lead councillor for strategic environment, planning and transport. Tony said he found it "irritating" that "we have historically developed a system that results in some cycle lanes just ending abruptly". Tony has served on Reading Council as a Labour councillor since 1973, without break. Well Tony, at least you acknowledge your own mistakes, maybe it might be better to actually do something about it.

Then we get to the the real reason why we'll never be cycling Dutch style in Reading. Tony says,

"Our road system is very constrained and we'd look at any suggestions, but we also have to balance the needs of all other road users - public transport as well as cars, lorries and pedestrians. There is only so much space."
Aha, the cat's out of the bag! Tony isn't prepared to put cycling at the forefront of council planning. As for "we'd look at any suggestions", what about those of the RCC? Did you look at those, seems not.

In conclusion, it seems that in the UK, "balancing the needs of other road users" means prioritising motor vehicles and until that changes we're never going to go Dutch.

* The 2008 Reading Council Local Transport Plan already puts journeys at 2100 in 2001 and 3000 in 2005/6 - see section l.3.2

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wiggle Mega Meon sportive

A few weeks ago I got an email about the Wiggle Super Series Mega Meon sportive. Free photos from were on offer! Feeling in the mood I signed up for the 100 mile epic route.

Given that my last Wiggle sportive was literally a wash out (not to mention frustration with the timings being wrong), I was hoping this would be more enjoyable. Arriving at South Downs College, which was the start/finish, things were looking good. The weather was nice, plenty of parking on site (no muddy fields!), and lots of people looking eager to get riding!

When I registered I found that I hadn't signed up early enough to get the free High-5 goodie pack, which was frustrating as on my last sportive I was give the goodie pack, but because I was staying in a B&B a few miles away I had ridden to the start, had nowhere to put it and ended up giving it to someone else. Anyway, I fastened on my number and headed to the start line. It was well organised with little waiting to get off. I passed through the start around 7.30am.

After a slow start to warm up, I found myself riding with a pretty large group including several riders from Portsmouth North End CC and Fareham Wheelers CC. We were whipping along pretty quickly and shed a few riders on the climbs until we were down to around 8. When we got to the first food stop I decided to continue without stopping in order to stay in the group. This was a bit of a mistake as a few miles down the road my chain came off and got jammed in the front mech as I tried to get it back on. I had to get off and get my hands dirty, and by the time I was off again there was no chance of catching the group. I rode along to the second food stop on my own. Despite scoffing everything on offer at the second stop, later on I got really low on energy and really started to regret missing the first one. I was hot, hungry and thirsty. I passed a bus stop with a very inviting shelter and promised myself I'd rest if I saw another. Another came up quickly and I sat down and ate my emergency cheese and pickle sandwich, and finished off one of my water bottles, which made me feel a lot better.

The route was very pleasant with some beautiful views across the rolling farmland of the Meon valley. The weather stayed good all day and even the timing seemed to work this time. Overall a really good day. The only downside was the disappointment of seeing one or two riders who were perfectly happy to throw litter in what is an amazingly beautiful place. What makes them think its OK to throw gel and cereal bar wrappers is beyond me. Idiots.

The official time was 6h 16m which I was happy with and agrees with my Strava timing.