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Earin wireless headphones

I’ve been ill for a few weeks – a dose of man-flu and a lingering cough so my time on the bike has been nil. It means there’s nothing cycling related to write about really as it’s all feeling a bit depressing. So on that note a review of a recent Kickstarter I received.

Earin are a set of wireless bluetooth headphones. Not unique but well done.

The two earbuds are rechargable and fit snugly into the ear with some expanding, grippy foam ends. What is nice is that when not in use they live in a machined aluminium capsule, that recharges them. Putting them into the capsule turns them off and a small LED indicates when they are charging and when finished.Earin boxed

Taking the buds out turns them on and reconnects the bluetooth to the phone/device it was paired to.

Sound quality is above average in my view and the isolation provided by the foam ends makes for a pleasant listening experience. They work by the left bud connecting to the phone (in my case) and the right bud connecting to the left. This may make it easier and increase battery life (?) but it does result in some occasional drop outs in the right ear. Hard to say why this is as the earbuds are always at the same distance and orientation to each other. Having drop outs from both, or if the left one loses sight of the phone would be understandable but the left seems stable. It’s a minor thing though and during a dozen or so listens in the past few weeks it happens once or twice an hour, sometimes never.

Earin recently published an app which works a treat. It connects to the left bud and allows tweaking of the balance and provides a Bass Boost option. It also shows the battery level of each ear bud which is handy to know how much charge is left. Battery time is quoted as 2hrs 50 stereo and 11hrs mono but I’ve never had them run out.

Earin capsuleUsing the buds in winter in great, hood up in the rain and no wires makes it very comfortable. They are quite discrete and haven’t snagged on the hood/hats. But the best part is the capsule, a lovely machined item that has a magnetic click to the fully open and closed extends of the inner bud container. A micro USB allows it’s internal battery to be charged  and it’s a lovely ‘thing’

Overall I’d give them an 8/10. The dropout issue isn’t big but it does annoy when it happens. I got an early bird  so they were affordable but they will be probably too expensive to make the skipping and drop outs worth it.

Squeo Review

I back a lot of things on Kickstarter, possibly too much, and thought I might was well review those that deliver. I tend to back in cycles – have a browse or read a social media post or website news item, then I get on a bit of a roll and back a few. I tend to have 3 or 4 outstanding at any one time and so far have never been let down in the 55 I’ve backed. Some don’t get funded and a couple have pulled to re-launch later.

I tend to back cycling related projects of course, but also gadgets, clothing  and games so I’ll add reviews of all these to the site as I get time.

So onto Squeo. It’s a waterproof, lightweight, Bluetooth speaker. It interested me as it’s IPX8 waterproof and IP6X dust proof – pretty much as protected as you can get. Supposed to give 8hrs playback and has a microphone so can be a speaker phone as well.

The project was well run and they did a stretch goal of an extra device for every 2 you backed (or something like that) so I ended up with 3 – one for each of us in the family.

It was late delivering, but I tend to expect this. There were regular updates and it was due Sept 2014 and arrived August 2015 so nearly a year late. Not un-typical in my experience of backing electronic devices.

The device itself was well packaged and on unboxing was pretty much as described by the project. They are around the size of an iPhone 5s but with double the thickness. They are very light and very well finished, a quality looking and feeling product. It comes with a soft cover, a magnetic charge cable and a quality metal loop. It has a decent sized metal lined ring in the top left corner to hang it in places and works well with the supplied loop.

Pairing bluetooth devices should be easy but I often seem to have problems. Not so with the Squeo. A long hold on the power button puts it into pairing mode, it’s quickly found on the iPhone and from then on pairs quickly whenever it’s turned on. Distance-wise it’s pretty good depending on where the phone is but I’ve had no issues so far.

Sound quality is good I’d say, not brilliant but you can’t expect that from such a lightweight, small and water/dust proof device in my view. Volume can go to a decent level and the mute button is useful.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and using it in the bathroom is excellent. Phone in the bedroom charging, Squeo on the side of the bath, it just works. You can skip tracks, change the volume and not worry about getting it wet. I’ve yet to try it in the shower, or properly get it wet (it just feels wrong) but so far it’s a 5/5 kickstarter product in my eyes. They are on sale now but are quite expensive and borderline value for money in my view. Having said that it’s a product that I find hard to criticise and you do get a quality speaker for your money

Plus: Quality, ease of use
Neg: Maybe sound quality but that’s being very picky

Ramblings Rating : 5/5

 

Bike racks

I recently bought a new bike rack to bring the number I own up to 3, which seems a bit excessive. I need to get rid of one but the other 2 are brilliant so I thought they deserved a write up.

The first rack I bought, several years ago now,  was a cheapish option to carry 3 bikes on the back of a saloon car. It was an adjustable rack from Hollywood that attaches onto the back with clips that go onto the edge of the metal boot and straps to keep it all tight. It works, having carried 3 bikes to the south of France and bikes to Mountain Mayhem, Enduro 6 and trail centres. It’s well made and well thought out. Once adjusted the bars can be locked with easy to use joints and the plastic coated parts are durable.

Hollywood rack

Plus points

  • It’s temporary. You fit it to take the bikes and remove it to get you car back. You don’t need to change anything on the car.
  • Cheap. I think it was £60 or so so £ per trip is very low.
  • Versatility. It can be used on many car types

Negatives

  • Ease of use. It’s a faff to use. After the initial setup of the bars to the right position you still have to attach 6 straps and tension them, one at a time, several times. Then the bikes need strapping on, and checking
  • Confidence. It’s not the most stable of racks. You can see the bikes moving and I felt the need to stop several times on long journeys to adjust and check the straps and the bikes.
  • Access while in use. Once it’s on, it’s on. The boot is out of action so you need to think ahead and make sure you have things you need inside the car.
  • Car material. For all steel cars it’s fine but when we switched cars the new one had a plastic skin to the top of the estate rear door. While the rack was re-adjusted and worked, it played on the confidence I had as it was plastic holding up several thousand pounds worth (shhh don’t tell) of bikes.
  • Security. The bikes and the rack aren’t safe and while you can lock the bikes together to make it cumbersome, all you need to do is slacken or cut the straps.

A new car (a Honda Accord estate) prompted a re-think on how to carry the bikes. We got the estate so I had more room for bike trips away family holidays and the downsides of the hollywood rack meant it had to go (it’s not gone but it will be when I get around to selling/giving it away). I just didn’t have the confidence in it when attached to the Honda as the bikes moved around too much and knowing the upper straps were hooked onto plastic rather than metal made me feel nervous putting expensive bikes on there. I’m sure it was fine but the lack of boot access as well made it difficult to use.

A lot of research led to what I consider to be the best possible bike rack – a towbar mounted one. So, I had a towbar fitted (not a Honda one, not for £600) and splashed out on an Atera Strada 3/4 bike rack from the RoofBox company. Lots of people like roof mounted racks but they require you to put a set of bars on the roof, which takes time and then lift the bikes above your head to load and unload. Not a problem with light bikes but more fiddly and difficult than a towbar mounted one. You can also keep an eye on them when they are in the rear view mirror.

The Altera Strada – this rack is superb.

Atera Strada

Plus points

Speed of fitting. The rack itself fits to the car in under a minute. It’s not light but drops onto the towbar ball and the ratchet handle secures it in a seconds. It also locks onto the towbar for added security.  It takes a little while first time out to sort out the best order of bikes and to set the wheel straps to the right position but subsequent uses take less than a minute to fit the rack and a minute each for the bikes. It’s very secure and with some pipe lagging to place on parts of frames to make sure there are no rub marks it’s fast and easy to use. Sometimes you need to remove or lower a saddle but it’s possible to get the bikes I carry on without doing this.

Confidence. It’s solid, the bikes are securely attached and are out of the wind so don’t move around too much or affect fuel consumption. All the weight is over the back of the car but it doesn’t affect things and I’m undecided on the beeping made by the indicators. Part of me likes it – a reminder that I have bikes on the back.

Access while in use. Brilliant. The rack has a feature whereby it slides away from the car allowing the boot to open allowing access to the contents while the bikes are on the rack. i’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve used it while at trail centres, travelling long distances etc.

Security. The rack locks to the towbar and the straps lock the bikes to the rack. The straps themselves are re-enforced to make cutting them more difficult. it won’t stop a determined thief but it will stop opportunists.

Build quality. I’ve had it several years and used it 30 or more times and it’s still as good as new. I grease the moving parts once a year

Negatives

You need a towbar so it can’t be used on lots of cars

Cost. It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for

Size. You need a garage to store it and it’s not the smallest rack. While it’s in use it stays on the car or can be used as a bike rack if you’re camping (another plus)

SeaSucker Talon

The most recent purchase was dictated by the purchase of a new car. A Mazda MX5 with electric hardtop. Neither of the current racks work with it. The Hollywood won’t fit, plus the boot metal feels too thin to support the straps. The car also can’t be fitted with a towbar so that limits the options.  After a lot of research there are only 2 possibilities. A Saris Bones – used by several people with soft tops  (probably the only option for them) or a Seasucker. Given that I have the retractable hardtop the Seasucker Talon was the one.

The Seasucker has it’s origins in marine applications allowing mounts to be added to boats and

Talon

Talon

other marine craft with smooth surfaces. The company has adapted the vacuum pump technology to add in mounts for bikes to allow mounting to all sorts of vehicles. The Talon consists of two parts, a front set of pads that contain a front wheel mount on a triangular set of 3 pads and a rear single pad to hold the back wheel in place.  Attaching a bike involves removal of the front wheel which needs to be stored separately. I also bought the additional flightdeck accessory that adds a front wheel mount along with a second pad for the rear.

The only concern I found when researching the rack was the use of vacuum pads and the consequence of failure. Given that the rack isn’t physically attached to the car this could be a big problem if the pads fail. I think the design and the addition of the flightdeck covers this. Each pad can hold 200lbs in weight so a bike mounted correctly (forward facing on a clean piece of bodywork) is unlikely to exceed this force. The three cups give redundancy so two could fail and

Flightdeck

Flightdeck

the bike will  remain attached. The flightdeck adds redundancy for the rear pad which after reading a review of the ear pad failing for someone (resulting in the bike sliding around the car) meant it was a necessary addition. Given the limited internal space in the MX5 it also allow the rear wheel to be stored outside on the boot as well. The rack is easy to assemble with clear instructions and a spare pad is provided as well, which was unexpected but given the cost, a good thing to include.

The rack is quite small and the pads are protected by rigid plastic covers, which are easy to remove and OK to re-fit. A bit fiddly but once on they are secure.

Using the rack is straightforward. I attach the bike to the main part on the ground then lift it onto the car. I place the rack on the floor with the protective covers still on, remove the bike front wheel and attach the bike to the rack with the QR.

I then wipe the roof with a cloth to make sure there is no grit or dirt on the roof so that a) the rack can attach properly and b) the roof doesn’t get scratched.

Seasucker on MX5 front view

Seasucker on MX5 front view

Next is to remove the pads from the front part of the rack. I tend to put the bike upside down on bars and saddle but have also done it by lifting the front with one hand and removing with the other. The main thing here is to ensure the rubber pads don’t touch the floor. I then pour a bit of water onto the pads to make sure they are moist and will make a good seal.

Then lift the bike onto the roof. With the MX5 this is easy as it’s quite low and my bikes are all quite light. I find that with the roadbike I need the pads in a different position to the mountain bikes which have a longer wheelbase. When positioned the rear wheel rests on the boot. Attaching the pads to the car is a simple matter of pumping each vacuum pump about 10 times. You press each pad to the metal and can see the rubber start to depress after 2 or 3 pumps. The pump has a white band what disappears as the vacuum is established and the pump remains depressed. For the 3 pads this takes less than a minute in total.

Yeti mounted on the Seasucker Talon

Yeti mounted on the Seasucker Talon

Next is to lift the rear wheel from the boot and place it on the flightdeck. Velcro strap it in place and attach the rear two pads in the same way. Add the front wheel to the vertical holder, quick check that there are no white stripes visible and every pad is attached and that’s it. 5 minutes at most once you’ve done it a couple of times.

The Yeti has the front pads on the largest part of the hard top, the pads are almost flat.

When in place the bike feels very secure. First time I attached it I left the bike for 20 mins on the drive to check that the pads remained at full vacuum, which they did.

Boardman roadbike on MX5 with seasucker

Boardman roadbike on MX5 with seasucker

I’ve driven 90 mins with the road bike on the car and it’s perfectly fine. The bike is quite light at 16lbs and barely moves. The car handles the same and the rear view lets you see that the bike barely moves. All the pads retained vacuum and removal is simple

To unload the bikes it’s a reversal of the loading. front wheel off, release the vacuum on the flightdeck pads (by pushing on a rubber T near the edge of the pad. This lifts the edge enough to let air in and to release the pad from the boot.

Talon closeupThe front pads sit across the folding hardtop. The front pad needs to be pushed down slightly when fitting as the roof curves but the platform is flat. An articulated joint would make this easier but would add weight and more cost.

 

 

The rear pads sit on the boot.
Flightdeck closeup Pad closeup

 

 

 

 

Pro’s

Confidence: For a lot of people on forums this seems to be the big downside and stops them buying a seasucker. I had no real choice and now I’ve actually used it I’m very confident. The additional pad on the rear means that a single pad can fail and the bike is still secure. The bike feels secure and physically moving it moves the roof – which given the way the roof attaches means it’s going nowhere.

Build Quality: This is a well made rack. The only thing I’d change is the QR which could be better. One end has a thread which would be better if it were smaller allowing the fork to rest on a solid bar rather than the thread. Time will tell how long the pads will last.

SIze: As it’s very small this is a big benefit. Once the bike is off the rack easily fits into the MX5 boot

Cons

Access while in use: Not good as the bike sits on the boot. It would be possible to release the QR, un-velcro the rear wheel and lift the bike off the boot but you just need to be prepared.

Security: Not good. The rack can be removed in seconds so you can’t leave a bike on the rack. Seasucker do sell a security clip and cable which would be good if you nip away for a coffee etc but I don’t have one so can’t comment. Not really a problem for me as I will always take the bikes off at each end of a journey and always keep them in sight when I stop.

Cost: Not a cheap rack but it is well made and you get a spare pad. Worth the money ? Probably.

The Verdict

The Seasucker Talon paired with the flight deck is a cracking bike rack. It’s innovative and well made, small, easy to fit and flexible enough to fit onto any vehicle. For a hardtop MX5 and possibly other sports cars and coupé’s it’s probably the best, if not only, choice. I feel confident enough to put a bike worth a lot of money on the top and drive down the country roads at a decent pace. You do rely on the pads remaining functional so time will tell if it remains a good buy. for me is a 9/10

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.

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.