Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of kit

How many is enough?

The past weekend I had the unusual situation of being on my own from Friday night until 6pm Sunday as my girls went away on a girlie weekend. This had been planned for a while so I had the weekend mapped out in quite a lot of detail –  Sort out Riding kit, head over to Plush Hill Cycles to pick up the Yeti, pootle up the Mynd and a plan to do a long ride at Cannock.

Spending most of the weekend on my own lead to a lot of thinkingand one thing kept recurring which was what size group do I prefer to ride in ?

I reckon I do a moderate amoung of cycling – i don’t commute anymore, I always try and get out on a Sunday for a longish ride (family stuff permitting) and when the weather is nice I get out midweek. Actually when i write it down – once a week isn’t a lot, but it tends to be hard riding with quality to make up for the lack of quantity. A couple of times a year I manage to get away with a larger group for the weekend and on the ride up the Long Mynd on Saturday 1pm ish I started to distract myself from the pain by thinking about which I prefer.

To jump to the end , the real answer is aIl love them all, it’s all riding and riding is always good no matter what bike, loationor how many people, but there are things I really like and dislike about them all.

Solo

There is a lot to be said about riding on your own, you set of when you’re ready, ride the distance that you want at the pace you want, stopping if and when you want. I tend to take an iPod with me and listen to music or podcasts giving me either motivation to ride faster (music) or a nice distraction (podcasts) but I really enjoy my own company, being in my own thoughts and making no compromises. Everyone should have some time on their own as it makes you think, pushes back the demons and makes you appreciate the people in your life that mean a lot to you. I can only think of one downside to solo riding and it’s one that I really miss when I am on my own. The moment after an amazing descent, where you rode like a god, picking the perfect line under perfect weather giving you the biggest grin – it’s really nice to share that moment with a like mind. Someone you’ve just followed or led down the trail – you’re buzzing and it just gets better when you can share that moment.

Pair

Most of my riding the past few years has been with Pete – just the two of us. We have similar levels of fitness and skill, so we ride the same sorts of distances at the same sorts of pace and we like the same sorts of riding. Most of the riding is on the local trails which is not that exciting but there are odd times we get to Wales or Cannock together. In lots of ways this can be like solo riding as you are often on your own with time to think but there is also, time to chat and someone to share those ride memories with.

Pair riding can also be good training  as the competitive spirit forces you to either try and drop the other person or hang onto them. We’ve found over the past year or 2 that we’ve rarely ridden together when we’re both feeling on top form – one of us always seems to be struggling with a virus or cold and the laws of riding with a mate means the other must take full advantage and punish the other one on the climbs – it’s the law !

Small Group

I think small groups counts as more than 2 and less than a lot. This is often the number when we head away for a day or 2 somewhere more exciting  than Warwickshire. It’s very hard to get 4 people of similar fitness and skill level to have little waiting but when you’ve got all day it’s not really a lot of hassle and what makes up for it is the additional banter yoiu get in small groups. it’s hard to beat a small group in a pub after a great days riding – reliving the days riding through someone elses excited description of their near (or not so near) misses.

Large Group

More than a small group is your large group – 8 or more people usually foe the weekend and an exaggeration of the small group. There’s always lot’s more fettling at the start so you never get off on time. Mechanicals and punctures are much more common and the banter in the evening is much greater. In winter I prefer anything else as waiting in the wet and cold is not pleasant but in summer when it’s nice and warm I’m quite happy chilling and chatting while we wait for the stragglers to crawl up the climb.

So there we have it – I pretty much like them all and I would never not do any of them. Does that make this a pointless post ? I think not as it got me up the Long Mynd, brought back memories of some great trips away and has fuelled the mojo and got me planning the next trip away and thinking about riding is part of the fun.

Upgrade Update

The Yeti is back, serviced and rejuvenated.

Al at PHC did the work and the bike looks like new. It had the bearings replaced and a general strip down, clean and rebuild. A few minor upgrades were done and the weight is down a bit to 25llbs. Not very light but that’s never been the intention – quality, reliable bits without spending an absolute fortune was the plan and that’s what I have.

The bike was nearing 5 years old and ever since I bought the cheapest build kit I’ve had this re-fresh in mind. The chainset was upgraded to 3×10 XT, with XTR shifters. The SLX brakes were proving to be a pain requiring a lot of bleeding and squealing after a few rides so were udpated to Hope tech X2 and the Mavic wheels were replaced with Hope Pro2 Evo hubs on crest rims and shod with tubeless Nobby Nic tyres.

A quick spin up the Long Mynd was a real joy – shifting with the new XTR shifters is so light and precise, the

The Yeti on the Long Mynd

The Yeti on the Long Mynd

feel is a mile away from the old SLX but then it’ should be as it has far better internals compared to the work plastic ones in the old ones. The brakes have the race leves with less power than the trail ones but more than enough for me and the bike ran smoothly on the new wheels.

It was like riding a new bike that just felt so familiar, but then that’s what I was riding – a lot of the parts you interact with were new and more recent iterations – the shifters are top of the range Shimano  yet the frame and forks are the same I’ve been loving riding for the past 4 years.

This will be it on upgrades for the Yeti – it’s as good as I’ll ever want it and will be the choice for all day rides (and more of course)

… now what do I do with the old wheels…

First Sportive

I’ve been riding a road bike for a few years now – I bought the Team Boardman on a works cycle to work scheme (when it was worth doing) and used it for sprint triathlons and quick evening rides in decent weather. I stopped the sprint Tri’s about 18 months ago when they became just too expensive to justify the cost – £50 is a lot for 1hr 20 of event time at most. Any longer events and I’d convince myself I need a TT bike so the Boardman has been used for training.

I’ve been seduced by road riding these past few years – I love the speed, response and handling of the bike plus it’s been a useful change from hacking around the local trails. I went out with a local club on a few rides which were fun, but given that they ride on a Sunday morning which is my only guaranteed ride time at the moment, I’ve not been able to join them as often as I’d like but I do want to get out on the road more this year.

I addressed this ‘road ride when sunny’ approach I’ve had by signing up for the Lupus 50 sportive late last year. You can chose 50km or 50m and, given that one of my usual solo rides is 30 miles, I had in mind to do the 50 miler.

Last weekend I managed to persuade two mates to join me and we all headed over to Rugely after a night of rain and high winds. Pete had a large hangover on top of 4hrs sleep and Chris had never ridden more than 21 miles before. A chat about which distance to do resulted in the unanimous decision that anything less than the 50 miles was wimping out.

The course had been altered due to lots of floods and there were a fair few riders ready and waiting for the 10 am off. The forecast was for sun and a bit of wind, but no rain until we’d finished and the first 5 miles were done at an average of 25mph or so. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that the wind was at our back and we’d pay for it later, The ‘halfway’ feeding stop seemed to be reached very quickly and we all felt rather good – which to be fair we should do as it’s well within what we are all capable off given that our usual rides are 20 miles off road.

The next 30 odd miles (as it turned out) were a lot harder. more standing water meant wet feet, cross headwinds meant little shelter and we all felt it in our legs. At 49 miles I decided not to wait for the other at the top of a rather long hill as I was feeling the cold and we only had a short way to go, so I set off on my own. As it turned out the course was around 55 miles so I had a longer than expected run to the finish. I tried to chase down riders I could see and only passed 2 – the other 3 I saw stayed around the same speed as my legs didn’t have the power.

Pete and Chris made it back shortly after I did, coffee and cake were had, the last few miles were discussed and we were all agreed that we need to do more longer rides like this. We averaged bang on 15mph and climbed 2500ft in 3hrs 37min. Not too shabby for our first 50 mile ride.

It’s 3 days since the ride and I have been surprised at how little my legs have been sore  – I’ll be looking for more local-ish events like this and planning a 50 mile route and maybe more from home.

 

Winter break

Fear. Pain. Excitement.

These 3 words became the strap-line for a recent 2 day trip to North Wales when I rode with a mate at Coed-y-Brenin and Nant-yr-Arian.

We both had a couple of days holiday to use up before the end of the year and for one reason or another we’d not had our regular group winter weekend away. With spouse passes were applied for and stamped, holiday from work booked, B&B sorted we set off for Dollgellau in North Wales on Sunday night. It was a fair old trek to get there and it rained for the last part of the journey but we booked in at 7pm and were in the pub by half past. A couple of beers and food in a local restaurant and it was decided to start off with the old Red Bull trail now called Tarw Du.

Monday 3rd Dec 2012 – Coed-y-Brenin

The carpark was eerily empty when we got there at 9.30 with only a few cars, non with Coed-y-Breninbike racks. It seemed that we were alone in our idea of an early December days riding on a Monday. The joy of riding on a pair is that there is less bike tweaking and general faffing about. New pads had been fitted on Sunday night so the bikes were taken of the rack and we were ready to ride in no time at all. As we have similar fitness and ability levels we decided to ride 2 trails each day where in a larger group you’d struggle with darkness closing in around 4pm. All that extra bike tweaking, mechanical issues and waiting for the slower climbers/descenders means you lose valuable riding time.

Tarw Du

The first ever UK trail centre route, sponsored by Red Bull, is an iconic trail. You start off riding through the red bulk horns and there is a shortish fun singletrack ending with Seven Sisters section, to start to get yourself dialled in. It’s a good indicator as to what’s to come.

Snap, Crackle and Pop are short and interesting

MBR

The cafe was empty. We were the only customers and although not hungry decided we’dCoed-y-Brenin eat which in retrospect was a bad idea. Cheese and Tomato panini after a cooked breakfast and  couple of hours riding made for a slow start to the afternoons lap of MBR. There are some cracking sections, most of which I can’t recall the names of but I do know that I enjoyed Rocky Horror show.

Evening

The Stag Inn provided us with a couple of pints of decent beer plus a decent sized meal. An early night followed so we’d be fit and ready for day 2

Tuesday 4th December – Nant-yr-Arian

It’s a fair drive from Dolgellau to Nant-yr-Arian and it seems the vast majority of the EU funding money is being spent adding 6ft to the width of most of the roads. An hour or so later we arrived to another almost empty car park. We made the third car with bikes and parked in the most sheltered part of the car park to avoid the rather cold wind.
The plan was more of what we’d done at Coed-y-Brenin so we set off to ride…

Summit

Not as long as Tarw Du, nor as extreme but Summit is a cracking trail. The highlights are The Italian Job and Mark of Zorro sections with High as a Kite to finish.The rest is either a bit of a slog (The leg burner is just that and Emanuelle is really just not worth it) or not overly exciting.

These 3 sections really make this trail great and we arrived back at the cafe in great spirits.

Pendam

After a quick coffee and cake-fest (Coffee and Walnut for Pete, Chocolate for myself) we Packing updecided to ride Pendam in the afternoon. Our hearts wanted to ride Summit again but the legs said something shorter and it includes The Italian Job and High as a Kite so we knew there were some fun sections. I don’t remember much of the rest of the trail but the second ride of the sections we did in Summit were much faster and smoother.

Quick change, hose down bikes and we were headed home.

Final Thoughts

I’m writing this a week after and the lasting memories are of the Fear of riding fast down some of the rockier sections, the Pain of the climbs and he sheer childish Excitement of taking 2 days off school to go ride my bike with a mate to single some amazing singletrack. It’s trips like this that make getting up early and riding the muddy fields of Warwickshire in all weathers to get fit, worthwhile.

Both centres and trails will be packed in the summer, but I feel we got the best deal, riding in early December, on empty trails, on amazing bikes with no waiting around. I’ll be booking more holiday and heading to Wales soon.

 Info
We stayed at : Ivy House B&B in Dolgellau
We rode : Yeti ASR-AL (Dave), Giant Anthem (Pete)
We enjoyed : Tarw Du, MBRSummitPendam
We filmed using : GoPro Hero2
We ate at : Stag Inn, Dolgellau
We had: a brilliant 2 days

Coaching, the best upgrade you can buy.

I’ve been riding bikes since I was a kid and mountain bikes for 25 years. I’ve raced, ridden trail centres and headed out for a days with a map and hours to enjoy.

I’ve learnt all the techniques from riding and experience (maybe falling off as well) as well as reading magazines and watching and talking to people far better than I am.

So having gone all this time with no coaching, I’ve had 2 cracking sessions in the past year. The session a few weeks ago has given me a whole new focus on riding so I thought it was worth writing up a few thoughts. Good coaches are hard to find and reputation and word of mouth is by far the best way to find someone

Earlier this year I used a voucher my lovely wife bought me for Christmas with Peaks Outdoor coaching. I opted for a whole day 1-on-1 session up in the peaks to help with my mental block of riding my full suss Yeti ASR down rocky descents at a speed faster than a snail (maybe a slight exaggeration…).

I had a specific goal in mind and once we found a few sections that I wasn’t confident on to tweak my approach. The result was exactly what I was after as  my confidence was vastly improved, I picked up a few tips and was much faster as a result.

Earlier this year a mate booked us a group session with Tony at UK Bike Skills. We were a mixture of ability and experience from decades of MTBing to a couple of years yet we all progressed, learnt new skills and mentally came away changed men.

What makes a good coach?

Tony is a good coach.

He is often called ‘Jedi’ which is entirely appropriate as his approach is very much a mental one. He understands people, what makes them tick, how they learn, what they are scared off and how they are progressing.  A good coach doesn’t just run through the manual of how to ride, they tailor the techniques to each person.

There is no time limit to the session, it ends when we can’t ride any longer be it mental/physical tiredness or a lack of light and the training doesn’t stop on the day as he is open to you getting in touch afterwards.

I can’t go into his techniques but they work. At the start of the day we were doing small drop offs next to a 6ft table top that we all agreed we would never ride. Come the end of the day we had all cleared it plus the gap jump.

All coaching is good if it works for the person being coached. Tony makes sure that the way you learn is built into how he approaches the session. Many people find it mentally tiring as there is a lot to take in and think about but it’s probably the single biggest leap forward in my riding that I’ve made ever. Local trails are now being ridden with a different perspective, bikes have been set-up differently and my biking mojo has been given an always welcome boost.

The write up of our session has more details and I can’t recommend a session with Tony. It’s the best upgrade you can possibly make to your riding.

Read the coaching Blog.

 

Van Nicholas Tuareg 2010 Custom Build Review – Part 2

Having bought a Van Nicholas Tuareg frame, including Ti seatpost and collar, during winter 2010 I embarked on the specification of the rest of the build for my dream Ti hardtail.

Many years ago specify a bespoke build was a relatively simple(r) affair, sizes and components were standardised and the number of options were limited.

These days it’s a much more complex affair so after a weekends ride on the Long Mynd with friends I enlisted the help of Al at Plush Hill cycles to help suggest, guide, validate and ultimately do the build for me.

Budget

I didn’t set a budget for this build which might have been a bad thing. If I had I suspect it would have been too low and I’d have tried to justify breaking it anyway so I decided to just not go mad and spec top end gear. While a full XTR/SRAM XX

Decisions, decisions

There are many decisions when looking to do a custom build but many are reduced in scope as the frame will dicate the sort of bike and it’s ride. The Tuareg is an XC frame which lends itself to a racy build. The raw finish of the frame and black decals lends to an understated black/silver look.

Forks are a big purchase and as an owner of Fox RLC forks on another bike I was keen to stick with the brand. Al managed a discount on the new F100 RL forks with the kasmina coating and the reduced compression settings wasn’t a big issue as I never really used them on the other forks. To keep with the colour theme I decided on the white fork legs.

Headset was a no-brainer with a Black Chris King. Not the cheapest but regarded as the best.

 

Groupset is the next big item and Al came up with a deal on 2010 XT 3×10. All my other mountain bikes run Shimano and the step to XTR is a large one financially so a XT drivechain with a decent discount ended up being a sensible option. Weight -wise it’s similar to XTR and quality wise it’s a decent step up from SLX.

XT is it then

Brakes. After a lot of reading around I decide to break from Shimano as I have SLX on the Yeti and while they started out fien have started to require bleeding and a lot of looking after the past year or 2. They are a bit of a budget option and look like it so having looked at all the options, and I mean all, having read reviews on trade and consumer sites I decided to go with the new Hope Tech X2 with upgraded braided hoses and floating rotors. They look great, are British and price wise not stupidly expensive.

Wheels proved to be the hardest decision. There is so much choice and without a set budget for the build I felt lost in trying to work out what to buy. After many conversations I decide on Hope Pro 2 Evo hubs. They are the same as Pro 2 but with the better bearings as used in the Pro 3. Cost wise they are less than the 3 but weigh slightly more. I decided to go tubeless so Stans Crest rims seemed sensible.

The Pro2 Evo hubs were due for release in Jan 2011 but were delayed until March time with factory builds a while after so Al hand built a pair using black spokes and nipples. Tyres were Racing Ralphs, being great in the dry and just about Ok in the mud on the local trails.

Cockpit was an easier decision and I went with all KCNC parts. The Scandium parts they make are super light in weight, strong and ooze quality. The build was meant to be ‘racy’ which meant I had to specify flat bars so an SC Bone flat bar was perfect. Stem was a SC Wing and after a lot of time with a tape measure on the Yeti and Team Marin I plumped foir the 80mm one. Bar ends and spacers were added and I bought their QR skewers which are super light and look fantastic.

Saddle I went for an SDG Ti Fly as I use one on the Yeti, grips the ODI Tomac and XTR SPD pedals

So one day in April 2011, I took a day off and drove to Shropshire with the bits I’d bought to add to the pile Al had supplied. I took some biscuits and buns and made the tea while Al did the build.

The result is below. It comes in at 23lbs with pedals and I took it for it’s first ride up the Mynd.

Tuareg

Build Specification

BarsKCNC Scandium SC Bone flat bars 31.8

Frame Tureg Ti
Seat collar Van Nicholas Ti
Seat Stem Van Nicholas Ti 15mm setback
Fork Fox F100 RL
Headset Chris King no threadset black
Grips ODI Tomac
Stem KCNC SC Wing Scandium Stem 31.8 80mm
Bars KCNC SC Bone Scandium Bar Flat
Bar Ends KCNC Scandium BE1 bar ends
Saddle SDG Ti Fly
Wheels & Tyres
F Hoop Pro 2 Evo Front Stans Crest
R Hoop Pro 2 Evo Rear Stans Crest
 Tyre X 2 Schwalbe Racing Ralph 26×2.25 Tubeless
Sealant Stans Sealant
Skewers KCNC Titanium Black
Drivechain
Shifters Shimano Deore XT 10 speed shifters
Chainset C/SET XT M770 10s 42/32/24 175
F mech FD-M770 XT 10-speed front derailleur, top swing, dual-pull
R mech RR MECH XT M773 shadowT/N SGS
cassette CS M771 XT 10speed cassette 11-36
Chain CHAIN HG94 10 speed 116L
Brakes
Front & Rear Hope Tech X2
Floating Rotor upgrade
Braided Hose upgrade
Pedals Shimano SPD XTR

Van Nicholas Tuareg 2010 Custom Build Review – Part 1

The n+1 formula is well known by cyclists, and is often quoted and used when attempting to calculate the correct number of bikes to own.

Around 2 years ago I applied the formula myself when, after around a year of contemplating, on-one got a batch of Ti Frames from Van Nicholas. I’ve always fancied a Ti hardtail since the days when I bought my Team Marin (there was a Ti version of the frame which was out of my price bracket at the time and ever since I’ve been drawn to reviews and forum posts about them) but their cost has always made me think twice.

Two frames were on sale (46% off) the long travel Mamtor and the XC Tuareg. After a few days deliberating I decided on the Tuareg but it wasn’t an easy choice as the Yeti is a XC full sus bike. Adding in a seatpost and seat collar, the order was placed.

Delivery of the frame was faultless, emails, tracking numbers, date and time slot – the way it should be if you do business on the internet.

The frame was well wrapped and the post and collar had been attached to the frame so it all arrived in one piece.

A quick unpack, inspection and a few photos and it was re-packed and put into the roof of the garage.

Then followed a long process, over the next 5 months of researching and specifying the build…coming in part 2.

Garmin Forerunner 305

I’ve had my Forerunner 305 for several years now, so time for a review.

I started doing triathlons a few years ago and bought into the idea of a HRM to record my efforts. Much research led me to decide a GPS/HRM was an essential purchase and the 305 was the most reasonably priced one out there. It’s designed to be worn as a watch and has multiple modes for cycling and running. You can even setup modes for transitions.

Setup was remarkably easy if I recall, it pairs itself with a Garmin HR strap and then just works. It’s waterproof, although not for swimming, quite rugged and although at first it appears to be on the bulky side, it’s fine when worn as a watch. I’ve since bought a couple of quick release kits that give a velcro strap with mount plus a mount and zip ties to go on the bars of the bike. These work really well and allow you to have the device on the bars to it’s easier to see than wearing on your wrist. It’s very secure on the bike and hasn’t come lose of fallen off.  A more recent purchase is the cadence accessory. Yet again this was very easy to fit and just worked.

Key Features
GPS

It’s a GPS device so it will show you where you are, with limitations. The screen is a small greyscale lcd and doesn’t show maps. It shows a trace of where you’ve been and it has been very useful when doing a circular route as you can tell the general direction to get back to where you started. if you’re following a route then it shows you where on the route you are.

It can take a while to lock onto the satelites so I now have the habit of turning it on and leaving it on the car bonnet in the drive while i get the bike out of the garage. It can take a few minutes to get a lock in the area you last turned it off and slightly longer if it’s been off and you’ve moved it a significant distance. Overall it’s not a problem. In use it loses reception in tunnels as you’d expect but it’s always been fine in trees when riding in the forrests in Wales.

HRM

The 305 talks to a Garmin HRM worm around the chest. It needs to be moist to get a good contact with the skin or you’ll get odd readings. I usually don’t bother as a warm up will provide enough moisture to get a decent contact. It just works and I’m still on my original HRM battery many years of using it 2 or 3 times a week for an our or 2 each time.

Monitoring

The device allows the display of a large range of data – it’s quite impressive and comprehensive and you can cycle over 3 screens worth of displays that are all configurable.

There are 2 general screens and one specific to the type of use (running, cycling, other) and each one is configurable to have between 1 and 4 data items on it. 

As I’m mainly cycling, my current preference is to have the first screen show 3 items with Speed as the largest at the top with HR and cadence below. Second screen shows current time, elapsed time, distance and av speed. The third screen shows gradient, and all the averages.

Training

You can set up your HR training zones if that’s of interest but I’ve never bothered but I do often follow an existing route when riding on my own. In this mode you can follow your virtual self on the ride you originally did and can see if you’re ahead or behind yourself. I’ve used in when doing a route for the first time when someone else is leading as you can toggle to showing a screen that directs you with a large arrow. This is OK if you keep an eye on the route but it’s too easy to ride past a junction and later find the arrow pointing backwards.

Overall

This is a cracking piece of equipment and I wear it on pretty much every time I do exercise. Battery life is many hours and I’ve onky every had an issue when doing Mountain Mayhem (a 24hr MTB race) where I’ve failed to turn it off between laps as it died after 15/20hrs or so. It charges via mini-usb so plugging it into a car is easy.

Downloading to a PC is simple and I’ve used sporttracks and Strava as well as the Garmin  software. I’ve ended up using it to record all my rides with occasional route following when I’ve returned to an area after being guided. Fantastic vlaue for money when I bought it but it’s now end of life and has been replaced by the 310XT I believe.

10/10

 

 

 

 

Shimano MW80 Winter Boot Review

I bought these boots so long ago I’ve forgotten the exact year but it must be around 4 years ago now. My only pair of Sidi dominators didn’t stand up well to winter riding and the choice of decent boots was slim.

First impressions were good. Buying from a local shop, I got them a tad bigger than I would normally wear so I could wear thicker socks and I hate tight shoes. The velcro Shimano MW80straps and neoprene cuff make them easy to get a snug fit. The soles have a decent grip with an aggressive tread and the Goretex lining meant they should be waterproof. They seemed perfect.

They are comfortable to ride in, so much so that I often choose them when the weather is nice, but they are the only ones I wear when it gets wet and cold.

I’ve had mixed experiences in the wet. I did find that water got into the boots and I ended up with freezing feet, to the point of almost throwing them away. I originally put this down to water running down my leg, soaking into the neoprene cuff and entering the boot. More recently though this hasn’t been much of an issue and it’s certainly been very wet the past few months but paired with a decent pair of On-one merino socks my feet have stayed dry and warm on every ride.

Durability

After spending over £100 on boots you want them to last, and last they have. They have been abused a fair bit and often get left full of mud. When they do get cleaned it’s usually with a jetwash  from my Nomad, filled with newspaper and left to dry naturally. I had concerns about the velcro wearing but it’s still OK after all this time and it only has problems if it gets full of mud.

Talking of mud, I wore the boots for all 3 of my laps at Mayhem in 2012. 6.5 hours of riding and walking in ankle deep mud is as good a test of a boot as you’ll get and they were pretty Rather muddy bootsgood. They had decent grip for most of the course and where they struggled everyone else was struggling. By the third lap the velcro had become clogged and was barely working but I didn’t lose a boot and my feet ended up warm and dry.

A quick hose down and they look almost as good as new.

Verdict

I suppose the ultimate test for kit is if you would replace it with the same when it wears out.  As things stand at the moment I probably would, but then Shimano might nit make them any more when they need replacing.

AQ Audio Smart Speaker

The plan was to limit the content of this blog  to cycling but I just can’t resist posting about my latest gadget – an AQ Audio Smart Speaker.

For a long time I resisted Apple devices but if you want innovative, well designed stuff that just works it’s hard to buy anything else. I’ve been looking at remote airplay speakers for a while and non of them really did what I wanted. Then I saw the AQ Audio Smart Speaker and it ticked all my boxes.

I wanted a speaker to be able to move around the house, to live in either the kitchen, or Smart SPeakerdining room so I can stream audio to it. Wireless is a bonus, airplay a must so I can use the iPad/iPhone to control it. It helps that it looks great and early reviews indicated it sounded better than it’s size might indicate.

I ordered a single unit a few weeks ago when they started taking orders, shipping was due last week and it arrived yesterday having just been flown in. AQ Audio are new to the market and this is their only product so I guess you can expect some teething problems.

First impressions were good – the box had a quality feel to it, the setup instructions were on a quality printed folded sheet. The speaker itself was nicely wrapped in tissue and was larger than I was expecting. The finish says quality as well – a rubberised rear panel and it has a nice weight to it.

Setup can be done in one of 3 ways (well it could if the AQ Connect app was available but it’s not yet) so I used the simple plug it into the iPhone one. The instructions are very clear and go like this – plug it into the iPhone, press both volume buttons, click yes on iPhone to share WiFi settings. That’s it – done.

I tested it by playing ‘Born to Run’ at a wife friendly volume level and it sounded great. I streamed some iPlayer content which worked without a fault and ended up with a Spotify playlist again without fault.

I’m no audiophile but it’s got a great depth and quality to the sound. It’s not cheap but then it’s a high quality wireless remote speaker with 10 hour playtime and works with airplay. I might need to buy another so we can run them in stereo – heck I might try and justify buying a twin pack so I can have them around the house.