Stack Exchange Bicycles Blog The Bicycles Stack Exchange Blog Wed, 01 Mar 2017 18:33:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway, Car Free! Mon, 30 Jun 2014 08:00:02 +0000 Most states have "Scenic Byways," highway routes that might take a bit longer, but go through nice scenery and natural areas. Oregon has something a step better: Scenic Bikeways! There are 12 Scenic Bikeways across the state, ranging from 24 to 180 miles.

Oregon's Scenic Bikeways Map

Arguably the most spectacular of these routes is McKenzie Pass. Crossing the Oregon Cascades, McKenzie Pass starts in Central Oregon's high desert with sagebrush and ponderosa pines, then ascends 2000 feet into a lava flow. The route continues down into the lush temperate forests of western Oregon, although we turned back at the top. The best part of this ride: McKenzie Pass Highway is closed to cars from November through mid-June due to snow. The snow's all melted out by late spring, so for a couple months, you can ride almost the entire way without seeing a single car.

We departed from the US Forest Service ranger station in the small town of Sisters, OR. We had to drive about 2 hours from the Willamette Valley to get to Sisters, where we met up with family to celebrate Father's Day with a bike ride. Our almost-matching green Subarus with bike racks betrayed our Portland origins, sticking out in a town more likely to have pickup trucks and tractors.

I'm always nervous when putting my bike on a car, but trailer hitch mounted bike racks tend to be pretty stable.

We didn't get out until after 11 since we had to drive far to get there, so we stopped to eat lunch at Cold Springs Campground about 4 miles in. With almost everybody in the group riding hybrids and commuters and hauling a lot of food and water, we weren't in road bike speed mode, but had made good time so far considering our weight.


A mix of aspens and ponderosa pines at the Cold Spring Campground.

My bike leaned up against a ponderosa pine.

My bike leaned up against a ponderosa pine.

From there it was another 5 miles to the winter gate, beyond which there would be no traffic. We had already seen dozens of other people on bikes by this point, and we found yet more beyond the gate. Some people chose to drive up and bike from the gate. We even found some confused tourists who didn't realize the road wasn't open yet, and wondered if we could let them through. Nobody in our group possessed the necessary lock picking skills, so the drivers turned back.

Bikers pull off at the gate to get a drink and chat.

After the gate, the real climb began. The six miles to the summit took twice as long as the first 9. As we gained elevation, the environment started to change. Trees got shorter, and eventually gave way to immense lava flows that covered the landscape.

Dozens of bikers sped by us heading downhill, and we played leapfrog with a couple groups pushing up the climb with us.

Lava flows cover the landscape at higher elevations.

The steepest climb ended at the aptly-named Windy Point, and was followed by a gentler 2-mile ascent to the summit. Some people had to lay their bikes down to avoid getting blown over by the intense wind.

Stopped at Windy Point to check out the view.

The McKenzie Pass summit offers spectacular views most of the year, but unfortunately we were covered in clouds as we rounded the final corner. The looks of some more weight-conservative cyclists turned from disdain to jealousy as we pulled fleece jackets, hats, and rain pants out of our panniers. We also met some folks on loaded touring bikes, carrying tents and planning to camp overnight on the far end of the route before returning the next day.

Cyclists celebrate reaching the summit of McKenzie Pass.

Several chipmunks were checking us out at the top, hoping for a snack.

Several chipmunks were checking us out at the top, hoping for a snack.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the ride down... it took us 1:45 hours of biking time (plus many breaks) to climb to the summit, and a mere 45 minutes (no breaks!) to descend. I didn't have an odometer, but the highest speed recorded by our group was just over 35 MPH.

After packing up our gear, we drove a bit further east to Tumalo State Park, where we "camped" in a yurt. Yurts are round structures somewhere between a cabin and a tepee, and can be rented overnight in state parks across Oregon. Ours was the smaller "rustic" yurt size, although compared to camping in a tent, it was quite comfortable. The couch transformed into a two-person bed, and an adjacent bunk bed fit 2 comfortably, and could've fit more. We were even able to pack all our bikes inside, although it was a bit of a squeeze.

Cozy camping in a yurt at Tumalo State Park near Bend, OR.

After dropping everything off, we drove into Bend, ate a delicious pizza dinner with locally hand-made ice cream for dessert, then slept soundly in our sleeping bags after a good day of riding.

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My World – A Ride Around the New Forest Tue, 10 Jun 2014 18:16:55 +0000 One of the things I find fascinating about Stack Exchange is that we are a global community. The single interest of cycling brings us all together, but beyond that, what we mean by cycling, what our cycling entails, and what environments we cycle, is probably different for all of us. I've often looked at a user based in Australia, for example, and wondered about what roads (or trails) they ride.

So I took this opportunity to go out with my camera, and to document one of the routes that I commonly ride. My home village is Downton, south-central UK. It's just a few miles south of the city of Salisbury, if you ever came to the UK and visited Stonehenge, you're pretty close. (Note, though, that there is absolutely NO ABBEY in Downton! I've never seen this show but trust me, if you visit Downton because of it, you'll be disappointed)

We're right on the northern tip of the New Forest (which is actually a very old forest - it was given the name following the Norman Conquest and was maintained as William the Conqueror's hunting paradise). These days, the New Forest is a national park, which is great in terms of preserving the environment, and literally teems with cyclists, especially at weekends.

My route is quite a short one, just shy of 40km (25 miles) and basically takes me south along the edge of the forest, then north-east into the forest itself, finally I head north along one of the "main" roads, then out of the forest onto a plateau which sits above Downton. Lastly I have a short descent into the village itself, and home. It is tarmac all the way, and I do the route on a road bike. I'm not a massively fast rider, I'll generally average 25km/h but within that there's a bit of variation, in terms of climbs and descents. Neither of these are particularly massive - we're not in the Alps here!

To give and idea, and a map, here's a screenshot of the route as seen on the RideWithGPS site.


First off, we head out of the village over the old railway bridge. The village was on the line between Salisbury and Bournemouth, from the 1860s right through to the 1960s. To save money (the infamous Beeching cuts) the government then ripped up miles of track, but did at least leave us a bridge to remember it by.


From this point, we're straight out onto country lanes.


The road we're on (a narrow, "C" class road) actually runs parallel to the A338 (the main road between Salisbury and Bournemouth) and the River Avon. Absolutely beautiful at this time of year, but back in January was very prone to flooding. In fact, most of the roads we'll ride today are "C" class, but this stretch is in the worst condition due to its proximity with the river.


Of course the wetness of the roads contributes directly to their quality. This particular road is a nightmare even in the car, let alone with no suspension and 23mm tyres!


So we lump and bump our way down this road, and pretty soon we're at the next village. Wood Green. And our first man-made obstacle, the cattle grid. If you're going to cycle around here, they're just something you have to get used to (I think there are 4 on this particular route). Bumpy, slippery when wet, but as long as you coast in a straight line, with your butt off the saddle, you're fine.


The forest "proper" is on a plateau, and coming out of Wood Green we have our first climb. Certainly enough to make you puff, the gradients are up to around 8% but the climbs are only hundreds of metres in distance, not kilometers.



We're headed toward Godshill, but we're not finished climbing yet. After the gentle climb out of Wood Green, we have quite a fast descent down to a ford.


Again, benign at the moment, but the water can comfortably come over the road, especially in winter. I'm not sure my deep (9cm) rims could actually get pushed over by the flow, but I'm not inclined to find out and have a couple of times decided to get off and use the footbridge.

Through the ford, we need to get back the altitude we just lost, with another short climb (up to maybe 8% again) to Godshill. We're now on the plateau, and the first thing we do is descend it again - for the next few miles we'll run south along the edge of the forest, on low ground.

Through the village of Stuckton, we cycle down to North Gorley. This is a typical village for this area, with village green, tea room, and pub. At this time of year the place is picture perfect, but in winter there is a big risk of floods.


Straight on to South Gorley, and did I mention the animals? Cattle, ponies, donkeys and even pigs roam freely around the forest. I had one occasion when I spooked a pony and it started chasing me. That was some sprint! Fortunately (just as well) the cattle I saw today were a bit more indolent.


From South Gorley we head down to Moyles Court, where we turn left and start climbing once again into the forest. There is very little traffic and, on a sunny day, these roads are idyllic. It's no wonder that this is a very popular location for organised rides (and races).


We're still climbing, and as we gain altitude the environment changes from being wooded, to more like heathland.



Looks beautiful, doesn't it? Now think about midwinter, and the proximity here to the coast (only about 20 miles, with no high ground to act as a windbreaker). So in the winter, this route can be very blowy, with little cover and the Atlantic winds sweeping in. But I'll worry about that in six months time!

Onward and upward, the final climb onto the forest plateau is one of those climbs that reminds me how I have come on as a cyclist. When I first rode this route, a few years ago, this was quite a challenging climb. Now I just sit in a low gear and spin, my cadence nice and high, and I wonder when I'll get to the steep bit!



Again, the trees thin out and we are in heathland. Again, imagine when the wind blows! Even at this point, we're still climbing gently. The road here is just about one car wide, with pavé on either side to allow passing. As a cyclist, you do have to keep your wits about you as regards oncoming traffic - the number of vehicles who see you as "just a bike", and refuse to move off the tarmac, staggers me. Don't they know how narrow my tyres are?


On the plateau once again, we come to my favourite part of the course. A lovely 5km run, with long straight stretches, and it is the one place on the course when you can really feel "fast". And there's no gravity helping you out, this is just leg power! In my case, I can maintain something like 35km/h with no wind. OK, not so fast by some peoples' standards, but its all relative, and I bet the feeling of exhilaration is the same.


There's a bit of history here too. Nothing left on the ground (as far as I can tell), but check out the aerial photo:


The red line shows the road, and yes, one of the reasons that you're cycling in a straight line is because you're on what used to be a runway! This is RAF Stoney Cross, dating from the Second World War, a home to both RAF and USAAF bombers. (Actually, not far from here, there is and old bombing range, where the targets are still visible, mocked up submarine pens etc.  Check out this link, but you'd need a MTB to explore this one.)

Seventy years on, everything is that much quieter:



From here, we continue past the village of Fritham to the B3078, the Roger Penny Way, where we start heading north. This road curls down from Fordingbridge and beyond, down to the motorway, so is pretty poplar and is the only part of the route where we can expect traffic. Fortunately the roads have speed and weight restrictions, so you won't have to contend with juggernauts, but certainly you can expect to have cars pass you.


We cut off the B3078, onto the B3080 which takes us out of the forest, and we run for a few miles along the ridge above Downton. One last bit of speed - descending Lode Hill (50km/h) - and we're back in Downton and home.


Total distance: approx 38km, or 23½ miles

Time to cover: anything from 1h25 to 1h45, mostly dependant on the wind

Terrain: mostly pretty flat. There's probably only one challenging climb, in the early part of the ride from the ford up to Godshill, but this is only a couple of hundred metres in length.

If this article has sparked your interest, you'll be pleased to know that there are many roads just like this throughout the New Forest. Even more, there are (maintained) trails for people who prefer offroading. See the official visitor web site for more details. All the places mentioned above are real (I've tried to put Wikipedia links everywhere), and can be easily found on a map.

If you want to get more of a feel for the actual route I took, including a profile, head over to RideWithGPS.

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A quick evening ride in the Oregon countryside Mon, 27 Jan 2014 10:00:52 +0000 It's easy to get sucked into schoolwork sometimes, and I haven't been on a recreational ride since the term started. Sure, I bike to the store every couple weeks and I ride to school every day, but it's hard to find time to just go for a fun ride. Then, after two weeks of non-stop fog, you get a day like this and can't help but stop studying and go outside:

Photo by Nathan Hinkle.

As soon as I got out of class, I threw some snacks and my camera into a pannier and headed out the door with a friend. We've been wanting to check out Finley Wildlife Refuge for a while, but it's a bit too far for a before-dinner ride, so we decided to head that way and scope out just part of the route.

The air was crisp, and the sky nearly devoid of clouds as we zipped through the scenic Willamette Valley farmland. A handful of cars and the occasional schoolbus passed, but we mostly had the road to ourselves. After turning around, we took a shortcut which ended up taking us past an abandoned barn we recognized from a rambling midnight ride freshman year - a spot we weren't sure we'd ever seen again, having been pretty lost the first time.

We stopped alongside a nearby farm field to watch the sun drop behind Mary's Peak, the highest point in Oregon's coast range.

Photo by Nathan Hinkle

Photo by Nathan Hinkle.

The temperature plummeted as soon as the sun's rays disappeared, reminding us that it was still but mid January. The ride home was quick, motivated by the chilly air. It was a great way to spend a Friday afternoon, and I'm looking forward to doing the full route next time!

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Are you ready to ride your bike through the winter? Mon, 18 Nov 2013 07:00:09 +0000 The days are getting shorter, daylight savings time has pushed the evening commute into darkness, and here in Oregon it's raining more days than not. Winter's coming, but that doesn't mean you have to stop riding! Prepared with some simple gear and the right approach, riding through the winter can be safe, comfortable, and fun.

First we'll cover what gear you need (spoiler: you probably already have most of it), including clothing, fenders, and lights. Then we'll go into easy steps to take before and after your ride to make it more comfortable, and finally what to watch out for on the road.


First, don't freak out! If you live in a rainy climate and go outside, you probably already have most of the gear you need for riding in the fall. You don't need special $200 biking rain pants - regular rainpants are fine. Likewise for your coat, and maybe even gloves. Sure, biking-specific products are sometimes more comfortable, but they're not a requirement.

Fenders and a raincoat are great, but rain pants would make this rider even more comfortable! Even in the daytime, lights and reflectors would be a good idea for being seen in the rain. - Photo by Francis Bourgouin on Flickr


The #1 trick for bike clothes in the winter months: layers. A sunny day can turn rainy fast, and you don't want to be stuck out in the cold. You also don't want to overheat if the clouds lift later.

I usually ride with a light-weight reflective shell, rain shell, a fleece pull-over, a long-sleeve synthetic shirt (aka long johns), and a synthetic t-shirt -- in that order from outside-to-inside, removing layers as necessary. On the bottom, I just wear whatever pants I need that day (usually jeans) and have rainpants handy if I need them. For extra cold days I'll put on thermal underwear if needed.

As you spend more time riding in adverse weather, you'll fine-tune your sense for exactly what you need. Just remember: it's better to have a little extra weight and be warm and dry, than to save a few ounces and regain the mass when you get water logged.


Gloves are a very personal choice, and depend a lot on the weather, too. Some people need super-thick gloves; others prefer just a light layer. You might need something water proof, or might be fine with just a thin layer of fleece. I'd suggest heading to your nearest bike or outdoor equipment shop and trying on various gloves until you find some that fit well and feel comfortable.


Fenders are a must-have for riding anywhere there's rain, or you'll get soaked feet and the dreaded stripe up your back. I'm partial to Planet Bike's various fender series - they have options for pretty much every style and size of bike. If you're on a budget, ask your local bike shop if they have any used fenders lying around - they'll often have some for cheap that were taken off an old bike.

If you'll be hitting puddles, make sure your fenders come with a mud flap. If they don't, then you can make one yourself by cutting a water bottle in half or finding a short piece of a dead bike tire and attaching it with bolts or even duct tape.


If you can't remember the last time you replaced your brake pads, now might be a good time to check. Wet brakes aren't as effective, so if your brake pads are starting to wear down, you should get them replaced or adjust them to be tighter. Gritty water also wears down the rubber faster, so if your brakes are wearing unevenly, the effect will be even more pronounced in wet conditions. Some people use specific wet-weather brake pads, but I haven't found them to make much of a difference.

Reflective gear

Active lighting (i.e. bike lights) we'll get to in great detail in a moment, but first let's talk about reflectors. Although a reflector alone isn't enough for safety, they play a key role in your visibility. There are two general types of reflectors you'll want to consider: reflectors and tape on your bike, and reflective clothing on yourself.

Reflective clothing comes in many varieties. There is reflective rain gear, but I prefer a lighter, cheaper reflective jacket or vest which is also more flexible for mixing-and-matching layers. Check out what your local bike shop has to offer, but also take a look at what industrial safety supply shops have in stock. You can often find very high-visibility safety coats at safety shops for much better prices than "bike specific" gear. Amazon also sells basic reflector vests for as little as $7.

Reflectors and retroflective tape on your bike also improve visibility. I bought a 0.25" x 50 foot roll of 3M scotchlite tape for about $15 from Amazon, and have put the tape along both sides of my bike, on the front and rear fender, on the sides of the fork, and on the sides of my rack. This type of tape is available in multiple colors, including a black tape that reflects white when light is shined on it, so you can use tape and still maintain a discreet look. Most bike shops don't sell tape like this -- you'll often find small lime-green reflective stickers for sale -- but this another product you might find at a safety supply shop.

Reflective gear and bright lights make you visible at night! This picture was taken before I added reflective stripes on my bike, but still shows the reflective paniers, jacket, and leg strap, as well as some of my lights. - Photo by Nathan Hinkle

Bike lights

We've got a thing for bike lights around here, and I'd suggest checking out our full headlights review, taillights review, and also this headlight beamshot comparison page. Before you start looking at lights though, let's take a moment to talk about what an effective lighting setup looks like. A lot of people think you need a sea of obnoxiously blinking lights, but that's not always true.

Flashing lights grab drivers' attention faster, but steady lights are easier to judge distance by.  A flashing light and a steady light right next to each other just look like a flashing light from a distance, and two flashing lights right next to each other just look like a single light that flashes more often, so you should leave enough space between lights for them to be visible from a distance. Try propping your bike up with the lights on and looking at it from at least a block away to get a sense for what a car sees as they approach. Can you distinguish individual lights or is it all a blur? I try to keep lights about 12 inches away from each other, and I usually recommend having no more than one flashing light on the bike.

You also want to separate lights by level. It helps show size and makes you more visible to people driving vehicles of different heights. On the back, I recommend a steady-burn light on the rack or fender, a flashing light on the seat post, and optionally a steady burn light on the helmet. This is a good balance of steady and flashing lighting, and makes you visible at low, medium, and high points. For the front, I usually don't have any flashing lights at all. (High-intensity strobing white lights at night are very distracting to other people!) One or two lights on the handlebars and optionally a helmet-mounted light angled down far enough to not be pointing directly into the faces of oncoming traffic are a good way to go.

Lights also aren't just for nighttime riding. Even during the day, good lights will help you to be seen earlier, and will cause drivers to slow down and drive around more carefully. With advances in LED technology supporting bright, affordable, rechargeable lights with good battery life now, there's no reason not to use lights 24/7.

The reviews I linked to above have a lot of detail on which lights to buy, but if you're looking for a quick suggestion, I highly recommend the following:

Cygolite's Metro 360/Hotshot combo is one of the best deals for powerful, durable, rechargeable lights.

  • Combo pack: Cygolite's Metro 360/Hotshot combo ($95 from Cygolite; $80 on Amazon) and Streak 280/Hotshot SL combo ($75 from Cygolite; $70 on Amazon) are two great combo pack options. All of these lights are USB rechargeable, and both the Metro and Streak series headlights have a day flash mode that boosts flashing output to 500 lumens, making the light bright enough to be visible in full sunlight. The Hotshot won the 2012 taillights review and the Metro series was a top pick in the 2012 headlights review. Check Cygolite's store locator to find a local shop nearby with their products.
  • Best commuter headlight: Light and Motion's Urban series (available in 200, 400, 550, and 700 lumen versions) is my top pick for commuter headlights. All are USB rechargeable, have amber side-visibility ports for over 180 degrees of visibility, and feature custom optics that put out the most even light beam I've seen from a bike light. The lights can be ordered directly from Light and Motion for $80 to $160, are available on Amazon for $60 to $120, and are available from many local bike shops.

    The Light and Motion Urban series has excellent optics that spread the light across the entire road like a car's headlights. The side ports also give increased visibility at intersections and driveways.

  • Brightest taillight: The Serfas Shield 60 is the brightest taillight I've seen, with its 60 lumens bright enough to be seen from a distance even in broad daylight. If you commute on busy roads, this is the perfect light for being seen from a distance, no matter what conditions you're riding in. The light is available for $60 from Serfas, $55 on Amazon, and the Serfas page has a link to find local shops selling their products.

Pocket gear

It's helpful to carry a multi tool (or an allen wrench at the least) in case anything needs tightening. If you're biking for transportation in a city with decent public transit, it's not a bad idea to carry an extra bus ticket or bus fare in your wallet in case you get a flat and don't feel like doing maintenance on the side of the road in the dark. Flats are more likely in wet weather because small pieces of sharp debris can stick to wet tires easier, and rubber is easier to cut when it's wet. Extra batteries for lights (if you don't have rechargeables) are also a good thing to keep in your bag.

Before you leave

I always suggest checking the weather the night before, to help decide how many layers I'll need in the morning. The National Weather Service is my go-to source. I usually pack extra layers I don't think I'll wear into my panier and leave out my starting layers. Then in the morning it's quick to get out the door. It's usually a good idea to check traffic reports before leaving. Even if you're not biking on roads that get much traffic, a major closure on a road nearby can spill traffic onto side streets that don't usually get much use. If I'm at my destination more than a couple hours (i.e. if I'm going to work) then I usually check the traffic and weather about an hour before I leave and again right before I leave. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, make use of radar maps to judge when a good departure time would be. Around here it can be pouring one minute and sunny half an hour later, so it pays off to know what's coming your way.

The National Weather Service provides real-time radar data, which is useful for seeing when the next major storm system will be hitting your area.

Make sure to quickly check your bike the night before to make sure there are no flats or other maintenance issues. This isn't a winter-only thing, but you are more likely to run over small debris and not see it until you get a flat when you're riding in the dark and through lots of leaves and dirtier roads. I usually check my bike before I go to bed and again when I wake up (while there's enough time to change my commute plan if need be).

On your ride

Leaves in bike lane - photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr

I could write a whole blog post about the dangers of biking on/through wet leaves. Landscapers, homeowners, and maintenance crews have a bad habit of piling leaves into the bike lane, forcing you into traffic unexpectedly. Some municipalities even encourage people to deposit leaves in the street for cleanup. You want to avoid biking through leaf piles, as there could be broken glass, nails, branches, and other hazards buried underneath where you can't see them. If you see leaves in the bike lane, check for traffic and take the lane well in advance so you don't have to merge haphazardly at the last minute. Be careful stopping or turning on leaves, too -- even if they aren't as deep as the photo above. A thin layer of wet leaves can easily slide between the pavement and your tires, sweeping the bike out from under you. I've seen and experienced plenty of bruises due to this. If you need to stop on leaves, start early and decelerate slowly. If you need to turn, try to go past the leaves before starting the turn, or else slow way down before starting to turn.

If you live in a wet climate, remember that stopping distances are longer when the road is wet -- not just for you, but for all the other vehicles around you, too. Ride carefully, and assume that any cars approaching from a side intersection might not see you or be able to stop in time.

Back at home

When you get home from a ride, always make sure to dry out your gear so it's ready to go the next day. Routine maintenance is also of extra importance in the winter. Check your brake pads (or disks) frequently, as brake performance decreases when they're wet. Keep your tires pumped up, although some people do run their tires at the lower end of the recommended range to get better traction. Make sure to lubricate your chain frequently. The extra water, dirt, and salt (in regions with anti-ice salt treatments) can accelerate wear on your gears, and a stretched out chain exacerbates this.

And don't forget while you're riding to appreciate the fall scenery, enjoy the exercise, and be thankful that you're not stuck in a lonely car or on a crowded bus. Biking in the fall and winter can be a lot of fun, and it's really no harder than any other time of year if you're prepared. Have fun, stay safe, and enjoy the ride.

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Review of the Best Bike Headlights in 2013 Wed, 11 Sep 2013 06:30:50 +0000

Testing battery life of the head lights and new taillights.

Visit the Bike Light Database for the most recent bike light reviews and for a frequently updated list of the best bike headlights!

Last year I wrote a review of bike taillights that turned out to be quite popular. I’ve been asked when I’m going to do a similar review for headlights, and I'm pleased to announce that the results are now in! Over the past few months I’ve been testing about a dozen different headlights. So far I’ve mostly been using them in my daily biking travels, getting a sense for their real-world pros and cons. In addition to my personal impressions, I've compiled information about battery life, brightness, and other features. Later on I'll be adding in more quantitative brightness measurements and taking beam comparison pictures. In case you missed it, I've also been trying out some new taillights, which you can read all about in the 2013 Taillights Review.

Table of contents:

Data Overview

Manufacturer Model MSRP Online price 1 Claimed lumens 2 Brightness levels Flashing mode Battery life 3 Rechargeable Mount Notes
Cygolite Expilion 700 $140.00 $100.00 700 lm 4 y 2:00 Mini USB Slide-on Top pick
Expilion 800 $140.00 $118.00 800 lm 4 y Mini USB Slide-on
Expilion 600 $120.00 $88.50 600 lm 4 y Mini USB Slide-on
Cygolite Metro 300 $60.00 $51.00 300 lm 3 y 7:00 Mini USB Slide-on
Metro 360 $60.00 $54.00 360 lm 4 y Mini USB Slide-on Best value
Metro 500 $80.00 $70.00 500 lm 4 y Mini USB Slide-on
Light and Motion Urban 700 $160.00  $130 700 lm 3 y 1:45 Micro USB Strap Top pick
Urban 550 $140.00 $119.00 550 lm 3 y 1:40 Micro USB Strap
Urban 400 $109.00 $86.00 400 lm 3 y Micro USB Strap
Urban 200 $79.00 $68.00 200 lm 3 y Micro USB Strap
Serfas True 500 $150.00 $100.00 500 lm 3 y 2:15 Mini USB Strap
Serfas True 200 $65.00 $59.00 200 lm 3 y 1:40 Mini USB Strap
Serfas Thunderbolt $45.00 $40.00 90 lm 2 y 1:30 Mini USB Strap Best value
Planet Bike Blaze 1W $46.00 $33.00 76 lm 2 y 12:00 No (2xAA) Slide-on
Planet Bike Blaze 2W $60.00 $34.00 146 lm 2 y 10:00 No (2xAA) Slide-on
Planet Bike Blaze 2W Micro $40.00 $67.00 139 lm 2 y 12:00 No (2xAA) Slide-on
NiteRider Lumina 650 $140.00 $119.00 650 lm 4 y 2:30 Mini USB Slide-on
Lumina 700 $140.00 $119.00 700 lm 4 y Mini USB Slide-on
Lumina 550 $110.00 $92.50 550 lm 4 y Mini USB Slide-on
NiteRider Mako 200 $50.00 $43.00 200 lm 2 y 4:15 Mini USB Slide-on
Knog Blinder 4 $45.00 $40.00 80 lm 1 y 3:40 USB Strap
Knog Boomer $30.00 $19.00 50 lm 1 y 5:15 USB Strap
Knog Frog Strobe $15.00 $13.50 20 lm 1 y No (2x CR2032) Strap
Unbranded Cree T6 1200 $23.00 1200 lm 3 y 3:40 A/C Semi-permanent
NowAdvisor Q5 Cree 240 $7.88 240 lm 2 y 6:00 No (3xAAA) Slide-in

1: Price retrieved from in US dollars on September 9th, 2013. Pricing and availability subject to change without notice. 2: As reported by the manufacturer. Brightness has not been verified. I'm working on finding an integrating sphere where I can make these measurements - if you know of somewhere I can use one, let me know! 3: Measured in hours with fresh batteries or with the light fully charged. All measurements taken in the highest brightness mode in steady-burn.

Below are the full reviews for each light, or you can jump straight to the recommendations!

The headlights


Expilion 700 — $140 / $100


  • Very bright (adjustable brightness).
  • USB rechargeable.
  • User-replaceable li-ion battery.
  • Unique steady-flash pattern: the light stays in steady-burn mode, but pulses off and back on quickly 3 times in a row about once per second. I'll have a video of this in the final review - it's a nice compromise feature if you want to grab drivers' attention but not give people seizures.
  • Update, October 2013: All of Cygolite's headlights, including the Expilion series, have a new feature called "day flash," with rapid high-intensity flashes designed to be visible even in daylight. This mode is not recommended for use at night since it would be too blinding - the steady-flash pattern is designed for nighttime use - but is encouraged for staying visible 24 hours a day.
  • Excellent beam spread: this light throws pretty far, but also has a good spread so you don't get a tunnel effect from too much light being puddled in one place. The side-visibility isn't great in terms of being a be-seen light, but enough light spills out that it shouldn't be a big problem.


  • The frustrating, one-size fits some mount

    Frustrating mount: the mount is completely rigid (no rubber or silicone here) and can only be adjusted (by a plastic clip-in spacer) to "thick" or "thin" handlebars. The mount comes loose relatively quickly, and must be frequently re-tightened. The mount also rotates, which is handy for lighting up curves, but the light often slides from side to side when you want it to just face forwards.
  • Very bulky. This is likely due in part to the removable battery, but the Serfas 500 manages to have a removable battery without being so large.

There is now an 800 lumen version of this light available ($118 on Amazon). I haven't tested it out, but I think the 700 lumen version is sufficient for most users, especially given the nearly $20 price difference. The Expilion 600 is also still available, for a more affordable $90, and is again plenty of light for most users.

Metro 360 ($60 / $52) and Metro 500 ($80 / $65)


  • Excellent brightness for your money - at around $50, you're unlikely to find a better light for this price.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Unique steady-flash pattern (same as described above on the Expilion).
  • The 2013 models (Metro 360 and 500) have a new Day Lightning flash mode that is bright enough to be seen even in direct sunlight. Even on Metro 360, the brightness is boosted to 500-600 lumens in this mode, enabling 24-hour visibility.
  • Solid construction and easy to use.


  • Same frustrating mount as the Expilion 700 (see above).

The Metro series is one of my favorites. It's just the right size, has Cygolite's special steady-flash pattern which is great for riding at night on city streets, and is a great value. I tested a Metro 300, but Cygolite has since released the Metro 360 and Metro 500 with all the same features and brighter emitters. Even at 300 lumens, it was plenty to illuminate dark roads, and the 500 lumen version should be sufficient for moderate off-road riding.

In 2013, Cygolite released the Streak 280, a cheaper, miniaturized version of the Metro series. I haven't reviewed the light in person yet, but it has all of the same features as the Metro series in a lighter package. Although the maximum brightness in steady-burn mode is 280 lumens, the Streak also features the new Day Lightning flash which boosts output to over 500 lumens for daytime visibility. The Streak is available from Cygolite or on Amazon for $50.

Light and Motion

Urban 700 ($160 / $160) and Urban 550 ($140 / $124)

This review was initially written for the Urban 550. The new Urban 700 will be for sale in mid-October, and I received a review unit a few weeks prior to release. Most of the comments apply to both as they are almost identical; see the section on differences below.


  • Excellent optics – wide beam lights up the whole road. It's not just about how much light, it's about where you put it, and the Urban light puts it everywhere.
  • Additional amber LEDs for side lighting makes it a great be-seen light, too.
  • Easy on/off rubber strap mount makes transfering between bikes much easier than lights with a clip-on mount.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Includes helmet mount.
  • New button lock-out mode that prevents the light from turning on in your pack by accident.


  • Relatively expensive (although I think it's definitely worth the price).
  • The pre-production unit of the Urban 550 I received had some minor issues with charging, but these have been resolved in the final version sold to customers.
  • Mounting strap may not be durable long-term, but it is user replaceable.


  • Brightness: I went for a night ride with the 550 and 700 side-by-side, and alternated between using them. Initially it seems like the Urban 700 is only slightly brighter - and at the center of the beam, that's true. However...
  • Reflector design: The Urban 700 introduces a new reflector design with what L&M calls "micro peens" to reflect light to wider angles. The center of the beam is brighter (though not much) than the previous generation, but way more light gets spilled to the sides, and lights up an even wider path. The Urban 550 was already had some of the best optics for spreading light across the entire road or trail; the Urban 700 takes it even further by pushing light almost 180 degrees.
  • Battery life: Despite pumping out an extra 150 lumens, the Urban 700 actually lasted 5 minutes longer in the battery test than the 550 did. Advancements in LED efficiency mean that extra brightness won't sacrifice battery life.
  • Flash mode: The Urban 700 replaces the flash mode with a pulse mode. This is nice at night since it's a bit more eye-catching than no flash at all, while still illuminating the road and not giving you a headache. However, I wish L&M hadn't eliminated flash mode completely, since it's far less visible during the day than the original strobing flash mode was.

So far, the Urban series has been one of my favorites. Starting this fall, all L&M Urban lights have a new button lockout mode: press and hold the power button for 6 seconds, and the button locks so that it won't turn on if bumped in your pack. To unlock, press and hold for another 6 seconds. The new Urban 700 I tested has this feature, and as a student with lots of items in my bike bag, it's been a welcome development.

Previous years' Urban lights are also always available at a lower price. Right now you can get an Urban 400 - which would still be more than enough light for most people - for just $86 on Amazon. This may be one of the best deals you can get on a headlight, and expect the price on the Urban 550 to go down as the new 700's become available.


TSL-500+ — $150 / $100


  • User-replaceable li-ion battery.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Very bright (although the beam is too focused for my tastes - see below)
  • Versatile mount (takes some getting used to, but great once you’ve figured it out). The light is very, very difficult to clip into and out of the mount, but, the mount is extremely easy to remove from the bike. I've found it easiest to keep the light in the mount, and quickly snap the mount on and off when I need to remove the light.
  • Includes helmet mount.


  • Very focused beam doesn't cover the whole road, and gives an intense "white spot" area that can detract from night vision. The next-generation TSL-750 light (which will be available this fall) debuts a new interchangeable lens which should solve this problem.

TSL-200 — $65 / $59


  • USB rechargeable.
  • Versatile mount (same as the TSL-500 above).
  • Small size is ideal for helmet mounting (helmet mount is sold separately). I've been using this light on my helmet a lot, and its focused beam is actually an advantage here. With a wider-spread light on your handlebars, a focused light on your helmet is great for putting some extra light wherever you're looking.


  • Very focused beam - this light is good for a spotlight-type application, but isn't suitable for situations where you need off-axis lighting.

 Thunderbolt — $45 / $40


  • USB rechargeable.
  • Unique design: very wide angle visibility makes it a great be-seen light.
  • Versatile mounting (could also be a con depending on where you want to put it, but I think you could find a spot on almost any bike).
  • Easy to get on and off the bike quickly.


  • Not great for seeing the road – mostly just designed for being seen.
  • Short battery life at full brightness.

Despite the short-lived battery, the Thunderbolt was one of the lights I was most excited to test out, and it exceeded my expectations: bright, mountable almost anywhere, and excellent off-axis visibility. This light is definitely a very unique design, and I can see many applications of it, especially for biking in an urban environment where side-lighting can help with safety: you could strap one of these on each side of your bike to help cars see you from off-angles. There is also a red taillight version available, which I have not tested out yet but has the same specifications with red LEDs.

Planet Bike

Blaze 1W ($46 / $33), Blaze 2W ($60 / $38), and Blaze 2W Micro ($40 or $67 w/ a SuperFlash Turbo on Amazon)

The Blaze 1W and 2W (pictured) share the same design. The 1W is white.

All three of these lights share a similar design and features, and use the same mount. The main pros and cons apply to all three lights, and the newer Blaze 2W Micro has some additional considerations below.


  • Better side visibility than some other lights, due to the cut-away on the side that lets light through.
  • SuperFlash pattern is very attention-grabbing.
  • Has high and low brightness settings.
  • Easy on/off mounting, but mount stays on bike, so it’s harder to transfer between bikes.
  • Planet Bike donates 25% of their profits to cycling advocacy!
  • Replaceable AA batteries.


The Blaze 2W Micro is smaller, but shares a similar design with the other Blaze series lights.

  • Non-rechargeable (unless you use your own rechargeable batteries).
  • Mount is not as sturdy as some other manufacturers.
  • Poor voltage regulation: light dims as the battery wears down. This is improved significantly in the 2W Micro.

Blaze 2W Micro:

  • Same basic design as Blaze 2W and 1W.
  • Smaller size (same size as Planet Bike Blinky 5).
  • Longer battery life with brighter LED.
  • Better voltage regulator keeps the light from dropping off quite as fast.

There is hardly any difference in price between the Blaze 1W and Blaze 2W, although the 1W did have better battery life. However, the 2W Micro beats both on battery life. If you're going to get a Planet Bike headlight, suffice it to say that the 2W Micro is the better light: It keeps everything I like about the previous Blaze lights while adding some subtle improvements to brightness and battery life.


Mako 200 — $50 / $43


  • USB rechargeable.
  • Reasonably bright.
  • Moderate beam spread.
  • Has flashing red side-lights to increase visibility. I'm not entirely sold on these, as I think having red at the front of the bike can be confusing to drivers. I'd prefer to see amber lights, like on the L&M Urban 550, or more white spilled to the side, like on Planet Bike's lights.


  • Batteries are actually just NiMH AAAs inside, not a built-in Li-Ion battery. 

Lumina 650 — $140 / $104


  • USB rechargeable.
  • Extremely bright.
  • Sufficiently wide beam, although not as well spread out as the Urban 550 and the Expilion 700.
  • Unique button system: locks out against accidentally turning on the light, requiring you to press and hold the button for 9 seconds to unlock if the light is put into storage mode. This is an awesome feature for anybody who has their light jostling around in their backpack all day.
  • Includes helmet mount.
  • Pricey, but competitively priced for this much light output.


  • Mounting mechanism is bulky and somewhat difficult to set up. Mount is not easily transferable between bikes.

Note: if you don't need 650 lumens, NiteRider also sells the Lumina 550 in the same design for a lower price. They also recently released an incremental upgrade with the Lumina 700, which appears to have the same design and specifications with a slightly brighter emitter.


Blinder 4 — $45 / $40

Knog Blinder 4, with a clever but kind of difficult to access built-in USB charger.


  • Good flash patterns for daytime and night visibility. I would recommend using one of the strobing patterns during the day, and the subtler pulsing pattern at night. There is also a solid-on mode that provides some illumination, but this is definitely a be-seen light.
  • USB rechargeable, with built-in USB plug.
  • Versatile built-in wrap-around mounting system (can be a con, but on most bikes it should be easy to mount, and it transfers quickly).
  • Four LEDs gives it a larger illuminated surface area.


  • Relatively expensive for the amount of light you get out.
  • USB charging clip is attached to the light, making it hard to plug in to some USB ports. On one hand, having the USB plug built in is convenient because you never have to worry about having the right cable, but it's no use having the plug if you can't fit the light into an outlet.

 Frog Strobe — $15 / $14


  • Compact.
  • Easy to quickly strap on your handlebars.


  • Not bright at all - only usable as a be-seen light, if even.
  • Uses CR2032 batteries which cost almost as much as the light.


Cree T6 1200 lm — $25


  • Very cheap; high light-to-dollar ratio.
  • Can be fitted with a spot lens (default) or a diffused flood lens (sold separately).
  • AC rechargeable.
  • Adjustable brightness (although even on the lowest setting, it may be too bright for some situations).


  • External battery pack.
  • Battery pack does not appear to be entirely water proofed - only "water resistant".
  • Not sold directly by a reputable manufacturer – warranty support is unlikely to be available.
  • Difficult to remove from the bike, especially due to the position of the plug.
  • Probably brighter than you need, but...
  • Dubiously 1200 lumens.

This light (and many others like it) are massively popular because you get a lot of light for a low price. And at just $25, it's hard to argue against the economics. However, it's worth considering that 1200 lumens (likely more like 800, given these no-name manufacturers' trend to overstate specs) is overkill for most users. It may be a better investment to purchase a light that puts out less, but has higher build quality and real warranty support from a company with an actual name.

NowAdvisor — $25

Q5 CREE 240


  • Very cheap.
  • Also doubles as a flashlight.
  • Flashing mode is decent (similar to Planet Bike's Super Flash mode).
  • Adjustable lens zoom changes beam from a small spot to an even smaller spot.


  • Mount is absurdly large and not very stable.
  • Uses 3 AAA batteries in a little canister with small contact area. Sometimes while riding the light flashes off for a moment when riding over bumps, because the battery holder loses contact.
  • The adjustable lens is almost pointless, because the beam is too tight even at the widest setting.
  • Overall build quality is poor.
  • No voltage regulation, so the beam gets significantly dimmer as the batteries drain.

This is another off-brand light from China with a high brightness claim and a low build quality. Although the price makes it tempting, the overall cost of ownership will be higher when you factor in how quickly it goes through AAA batteries, and I don't trust this light to last very long.

Beamshot photos (new!)

Most of the lights here have now had beamshot photos taken, and are available to view in the new beamshot comparison tool. A few of the lights were not available for testing, but expect new additions in the coming months. All photos were taken from the same location with the same camera settings: A Canon EOS Rebel T3 set to ISO 3200, 2 sec exposure at F/22. The reflectors are spaced every 10 feet, counting from the position of the light.

The setup used for the beamshot photos. I borrowed a bike from a friend, and set up the camera directly behind the handlebars. There were a surprising number of people using the path for how late at night it was, so we set up red lights (seen on ground) behind us so people wouldn't run into the equipment.

Which light should I buy?

Note: this list is somewhat out of date. We now have a frequently-updated list of the best bike headlights, with choices for various price ranges and use scenarios. 

The first step is to decide what kind of light you need. Do you only get caught out at night every once in a while, or is a dark winding path part of your daily commute? Are you more worried about throwing a lot of light ahead of you to illuminate your track, or would you rather be more visible to cars approaching from the side?

Several of my favorite lights fit into multiple categories, so I'm just going to list my top picks and what they're good for:

Top pick: Light and Motion Urban series ($68 to $140)

Full review - View on L&M website - Buy on Amazon: Urban 200, Urban 400, Urban 550

Everything about the Urban lights is nice. The build quality, the easy-to-use and sturdy mount, the optics, the extra side-LEDs, and all the other little details add up. Despite its name, the Urban is well suited to any kind of riding. Of all the lights I tested, I liked its optics the best. The lens spreads light very evenly, without any over-powering hotspots or any dead zones. Thanks to the amber side LEDs it also makes an excellent be-seen light, with over 180 degrees of visibility.

The just-released Urban 700 is the new flagship model, but you can still buy the Urban 200, 400, and 550, depending on your budget and needs. Out of all of these, I think the Urban 400 is the best deal. That's plenty of light for most users, and can be found for under $90 on Amazon. The Urban 200 is also a compelling choice for those who don't need as much intensity, but still want a high-quality light that's sufficient to light up the road and be seen. At $68 on Amazon, it's expensive compared to some other lights in this price range, but definitely still a good deal.

There are a few more reasons to buy a light from Light and Motion. Their customer support is prompt, friendly, and helpful. Their lights are manufactured - with much of the assembly done by hand - in Monterey, CA; one of the last light manufacturers to do all of their assembly in the USA. Additionally, they were the first bike light manufacturer to adopt the FL1 standard, an industry benchmark for flashlights that measures and verifies brightness, battery life, water resistance, and drop rating. L&M is advocating for wider adoption of the FL1 standard in the bike light market, so that consumers know that the lights they buy are truly as bright as the label claims.

Second favorite: Cygolite Explion series ($88 - $118)

Full review - View on website - Buy on Amazon: Expilion 800Expilion 700, Expilion 600

The Expilion 700 was another of my favorites. Aside from the frustrating mount (seriously, Cygolite needs to improve their mounting systems - their Hotshot taillight, winner of the 2012 tail light review, has received similar complaints), it's a very solidly built and easy to use light. The beam is slightly narrower than the Urban 550's, but the extra 150 lumens make up for it. The Expilion 700 costs right about $100 on Amazon, and the 600 is typically about $15 cheaper. The recently released Expilion 800 is now available as well, for about $20 more than the 700. This is the brightest reliable light you can get for this price, and is a darned good deal.

One of the most appealing aspects of this light is the removable battery. Lithium batteries last longer than NiMH rechargeables, but still wear out eventually. With a removable battery, it's possible to replace just the battery - not the whole light - and allows you to carry extras for longer rides. Unfortunately, even though the shape of the battery stick clearly indicates that it's a single 18650 cell, there's no way to use your own: you have to buy the battery from Cygolite. There's also no external charger, so you can only charge the battery when it is inside the light. If they're going to use a proprietary case for a standard battery, Cygolite would do well to put the charging circuit on the battery itself so it could be charged separately while still using the light.

Best value: Cygolite Metro series ($50 - $70)

Full review - View on website - Buy on Amazon: Metro 300, Metro 360, Metro 500

The Cygolite Metro has the best value of all the lights I reviewed. For just $50, the Metro 300 (now replaced by the Metro 360) has one of the best battery runtimes (7:00 on full brightness for the Metro 300), a unique steady-flash mode that illuminates your path while intermittently pulsing to grab drivers' attention, USB charging, and plenty of light output for most rides on roads and even paths. The Metro 360 is also available in a combination pack with the Cygolite Hotshot, the top pick from last year's tail light review. At just $85 on Amazon for the pair, this is likely the best combination for the price if you're looking for reliable, high-quality lights that aren't too expensive. Cygolite recently introduced the Metro 500 as well, which I have not gotten to try yet, but if it has the same features as its predecessors, I think it's likely a good deal for $70.

Best light-weight light for visibility: Serfas Thunderbolt ($40)

Full review - View on website - Buy on Amazon

The Serfas Thunderbolt's novel design is well suited to being used as a safety light. It's quite bright, but the light is spread everywhere, making it great for being seen but mediocre for seeing the road. If you almost always bike on lighted roads or are rarely caught out after dark, this is a good choice for increasing your visibility. I'm also a big fan of the strap-on design, and its light weight is attractive as well.

What else? What next?

This project has taken longer than I expected, and I'm still working on compiling additional data on each light - specifically brightness measurements and beamshot photos (edit: now added, see above). I'm going to refrain from posting an ETA, because I don't want to break promises, but I am working on this when I have time and equipment available.

If you'd like to suggest another light to be reviewed, please fill out the light suggestion form. If you have other suggestions or feedback, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an email to lights AT nathan hinkle DOT com.

]]> 18
The Best Bicycle Taillights of 2013 Tue, 03 Sep 2013 05:30:21 +0000

The Cygolite Hotshot, winner of the 2012 taillight review.

Visit the Bike Light Database for the most recent additions to the bike taillight reviews and for a frequently updated list of the best bike taillights!

I covered a large number of taillights last year, but some new products have come out since then, so I've been taking them out for some rides to get a sense for how they stack up. Almost all of the new lights in the past year have been rechargeable - AA(A) powered lights are declining in popularity, and for good reason. It's easy to spend $15-20 per year on batteries (if not more), so paying a little bit more for a rechargeable makes sense.

The winner of the 2012 tail light review was the Cygolite Hotshot. At the time, it stood out for its brightness, versatility, and for being the only reasonably priced rechargeable on the market. Cygolite hasn't released a new taillight in the past year, but there's a lot more competition in this category now - bright, rechargeable lights in the $30-50 range.

Why choose a rechargeable light over a standard light + a set of standard NiMH rechargeable batteries? (If you do go this route, get Sanyo Eneloops - everybody says they're the best rechargeable AAAs for lights.) First of all, energy density: Li-Ion batteries can hold about 3x more energy in the same space, and also retain their energy capacity over more discharge cycles. Additionally, most rechargeable lights have a built-in voltage regulator to prevent the brightness from dropping off as the battery drains. Most AA(A) lights do not have this, and start dimming almost immediately once you begin to use them. Rechargeable NiMH batteries also start at only 1.2V (vs 1.5V for a standard alkaline AAA battery), which means your light will be dimmer from the get-go. And finally, with so many affordable choices now for rechargeable lights, it's not even any cheaper to go with rechargeable AAAs, since a charger + batteries will cost more than it would cost to go for a more expensive but rechargeable light.

With that in mind, let's dive into the review and see what new lights are available:

Table of Contents:

Data Overview

This overview also includes information from the 2012 review, with links to each light's detailed review.

Manufacturer Model Retail price Online cost1 Max brightness2 Battery life3 Battery type Included mounting Optional mounting Weight4 # flash modes
Light and Motion Vis 180 $100 $90 9000 5:20 (solid) Li-Ion Micro USB seat clip 89 3
Light and Motion Vis 180 Micro $50 $40 5000 4:15 (solid) Li-Ion Micro USB seat clip 61 3
Niterider Solas 2W $45 $38 7000 5:22 (solid) Li-Ion Micro USB seat clip 54 2
Portland Design Works Aether Demon $50 $45 3000 4:15 (solid) Li-Ion Mini USB seat clip 42 3
Serfas Thunderbolt (UTL-6) $45 $41 350 1:20 (solid) Li-Ion Mini USB seat clip 2
Serfas Shield (USL-TL60) $60 $55 35000 2:13 (solid) Li-Ion Mini USB seat clip 2
Lights previously reviewed in 2012 - read the full 2012 Tail Lights Review here!
Cygolite Hotshot $40 $28 23000 4:45 (solid) Li-Ion Mini USB seat clip rack rack rack rack 43 4
Blackburn Mars 4.0 $25 $20 13700 24:00 (flash) 2x AAA rack rack seat clip 54 1
Cateye Rapid 3 $25 $20 12300 20:00 (flash) 1x AA seat seat rack stay stay clip 43 2
Cateye Rapid 5 $30 $30 8150 74:00 (flash) 2x AAA seat seat rack stay stay clip 50 3
Cateye Reflex Auto $25 $22 1060 74:00 (flash) 2x AAA rack stay seat seat clip 62 4
Knog Frog Strobe $15 $10 550 34:00 (flash) 1x CR2032 18 3
Nite Rider Cherry Bomb $32 $20 1640 66:00 (flash) 2x AAA seat clip 59 1
Planet Bike Blinky 5 $20 $15 2120 43:00 (flash) 2x AAA rack stay seat clip 59 1
Planet Bike Blinky 7 $20 $15 1450 43:00 (flash) 2x AAA stay seat clip rack rack rack rack 53 1
Planet Bike Blinky Super Flash $30 $22 2380 52:00 (flash) 2x AAA stay seat clip rack rack rack rack 52 1
Planet Bike Super Flash Turbo $35 $30 12000 24:00 (flash) 2x AAA stay seat clip rack rack rack rack 54 1
Portland Design Works Danger Zone $37 $25 6500 24:00 (flash) 2x AAA stay seat clip rack rack rack rack 56 2
Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 $32 $22 10000 27:00 (flash) 2x AAA rack stay seat clip 61 2
Portland Design Works Red Planet $15 $13 2120 66:00 (flash) 2x AAA rack stay seat clip 53 2
SE 6-Way Flasher $9 $3 800 81:00 (flash) 2x AA seat seat 83 6

1: Cost on as of 09/01/2013, without shipping costs included. Prices subject to change. 2: Maximum brightness measured from ~20cm in lux. Value is relative to experimental setup and should not be used to compare with other reviews. 3: Battery life measured in hours. For new lights, battery life is measured in steady-burn mode; for lights marked with "(flashing)", measured on standard flashing mode. Non-rechargeable lights were tested with identical fresh AAA batteries from the same package. A few lights used different battery types, in which case fresh batteries were still used. Rechargeable lights were fully charged before testing. 4: Weight in grams, measured with standard batteries installed.

The new lights

Light and Motion

Vis 180 - $100 / $90

Price Brightness
MSRP $100 45° 90° Max
Online $90 9000 4500 1200 9000
View mfc website | Buy on Amazon

The Vis 180 isn’t actually a new product, but this is my first time trying one out. All of Light and Motion's products are tested against the FL1 standard, an official standardized set of tests for flashlight manufacturers to validate their claims of brightness, battery life, water resistance, and drop rating. So far L&M is the only bike light manufacturer to implement the FL1 standard and post data validating its brightness claims.


  • Very bright (up to 50 lumens, but with dimmer options to avoid blinding others at night).
  • Excellent wide-angle visibility. From the raw values measured in our brightness test, the Vis 180 doesn't appear to be any brighter than the average light tested. However, what's important to notice is where the light is being put: the Vis 180 is bright across 180 degrees (hence its name), and doesn't just have a super-intense bright spot with no side visibility. Compare the 45 and 90 degree brightness values to the other lights to see this in the numbers.
  • Amber side LEDs also improve side-visibility.
  • Mounting system is very sturdy – the light locks into place and cannot bounce out. To remove the light you push it back against the post and then slide it out.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Battery indicator gives ample warning when the light starts to lose power. Because of the regulated output, brightness doesn't drop even at the end of the battery life. The battery lasted for 5:20 hours in solid-on mode.
  • Very solid aluminum construction – unlike most lights which are made out of cheap plastic.


  • Only one brightness level for solid-on mode (although pulse mode has a dimmer setting).
  • Battery on my review unit stopped working after about 6 months, but was very quickly repaired for free under warranty (although I did have to pay shipping costs). I’m told this is an uncommon problem, and I haven’t seen any other reviews that had this same problem.
  • Mount is not easily transferable between bikes, and only works on a seatpost (and only at certain angles). You cannot mount the light upside down, on a rack, or on a rackstay. The rubber strap mounting mechanism does work for any post shape though.
  • Expensive (at $100, you’re probably better off getting 2 or 3 other lights and putting them in different locations on different settings), but you definitely get your money's worth for the light's quality!

Vis 180 Micro - $50 / $40

Price Brightness
MSRP $50 45° 90° Max
Online $40 5000 2300 800 5000
View mfc website | Buy on Amazon


  • Cheaper than the Vis 180 (but still $50).
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Wide-angle visibility and additional amber side LEDs. Like the Vis 180, the numbers are misleading: while this light isn't as bright straigt-on, its visibility at all other angles far surpasses any other light in this price range.
  • Mounting mechanism is built into the light, so you can use it on any bike.


  • Built with plastic, and feels less sturdy than the aluminum Vis 180 (the build quality was still decent, and no worse than the average light, but definitely was not as good as L&M's other products).
  • Mount is supported only by a strap built into the light, and it is difficult to take off/put on the light. This is frustrating if you park your bike in a public location where lights could get stolen and like to take your lights with you, and the light also moves around a lot.
  • No battery level indicator to warn you when the battery's getting low.
  • The button on the first review unit I received was sticky, making it very hard to turn the light on and off. The button finally stopped working altogether, and I had to leave the light turned on until the battery completely died. Light and Motion did replace the entire unit at no cost, and the replacement has not had this problem (so far), but the Vis 180 Micro definitely has lower build quality than the Vis 180. While most of L&M's products stand out for their superior quality, this light feels a lot more like any other generic bike light in this price range. It's worth noting though that L&M's customer support was extremely prompt and helpful.


Solas 2W - $45 / $38

Price Brightness
MSRP $45 45° 90° Max
Online $38 7000 1300 130 7000
View mfc website | Buy on Amazon

With a 2W LED and USB rechargeable battery, this light is very similar to the Cygolite Hotshot – last year’s light review winner – in both form and function.


  • Diffusing lens makes a broader beam of light, improving off-axis visibility. However, the lens does focus the light on a horizontal plane, so you cannot mount the light sideways and must ensure that it stays aligned for maximum effectiveness.
  • Solid-on has a high and low power mode, but is not incrementally adjustable like the Hotshot.
  • Sturdy mount.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Best battery life of the rechargeable taillights (5:22 on brightest solid mode).


  • No rack mount available.
  • Mount is not easily transferable between bikes.
  • Light does not remember flash mode when turned on.
  • No battery level indicator.

The Solas is very similar in many ways to last year's winner, the Hotshot. The key difference is with the lens: the Hotshot projects a very intense beam straight back, but has poor off-axis visibility. The Solas has a diffusing lens that spreads the light horizontally, making it not quite so bright directly behind (20,000 vs. only 7,000 lux measured in my tests) but much better at off-angles (1300 at 45° for the Solas compared to only 600 at 45° for the Hotshot).

Although the Hotshot looks more impressive by sheer numbers - 20,000!! - the Solas is probably the more effective light, at least when used alone, since cars don't always approach from directly behind. One of the recommended setups for 2 taillights is a Hotshot in steady-burn mode and a Solas in flashing mode: this gives you the long-distance visibility and distance tracking advantage of a solid light, while grabbing people’s attention from off angles with the flashing light.

Portland Design Works

Aether Demon - $50 / $45

Price Brightness
MSRP $50 45° 90° Max
Online $45 3000 300 60 3000
View mfc website | Buy on Amazon

Portland Design Works makes two of my favorite non-rechargeable tail lights from last year - the Radbot 1000 and the Danger Zone. They've just released their newest light, the Aether Demon. The Demon has a very similar design to PDW's other lights, with an easy-to-click button and narrow but bright beam with eye-grabbing flash patterns. This light is essentially a USB-rechargeable version of the Radbot 500.


  • Light output doesn't drop as the battery is consumed, which is a problem with PDW's AAA-powered lights.
  • Uses the same mounts as PDW and Planet Bike's other lights, which is handy for swapping it between bikes you already have set up.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Low-power "group ride" mode, which dims the light and sets it to a calmer flash, for when traveling with others.


  • Not as bright as the Radbot 1000 is with fresh batteries, but the Demon's brightness stays constant while the Radbot's drops as its batteries' voltages drop.
  • Kind of pricey at $50, but you'll save more from not buying batteries than you would by buying one of PDW's other lights.
  • No battery level indicator.
  • Despite relatively low brightness for a rechargeable light, it was the first to die (4:15 hours on solid mode).

The Aether Demon is an exciting entry into the rechargeable market, and I'm looking forward to seeing what other rechargeable products PDW may come out with in the future.


Thunderbolt UTL-6 - $45 / $41

Price Brightness
MSRP $45 45° 90° Max
Online $41 350 180 60 350
View mfc website | Buy on Amazon

The Thunderbolt headlight was the top pick for light-weight visibility in the headlights review, and its red counterpart shares an identical design with the same great features. It fits well underneath the seat, on the rack, or on the seat post.


  • USB rechargeable
  • Very even, wide-angle visibility
  • Versatile mounting straps allow it to be strapped on anywhere. I also discovered that it can be attached underneath the seat if the seat rails are spaced the right distance apart - pictures coming soon!
  • Easy to put on and remove


  • Short battery life - only 1:20 on solid
  • Most effective when mounted horizontally, because of how it spreads light, which limits the otherwise very versatile mounting options.

Shield USL-TL60

Price Brightness
MSRP $60 45° 90° Max
Online $55 35000 500 60 35000
View mfc website | Buy on Amazon


  • Obscenely bright.
  • Reasonably priced for this level of output.
  • Simple wrap-around rubber strap mount should work on almost any size or shape of seat post.
  • USB rechargeable.
  • Daylight visible in both steady burn and blinking modes.


  • Directional beam - it's bright from all angles because of how much light it's putting out, but a more diffuse beam would spread the brightness more evenly.
  • No warning that battery is dropping.
  • Lowest brightness setting is still too bright for riding in groups at night.
  • Rack mounting is by a single screw directly into the light, meaning you can't remove the light easily if it's rack-mounted. For those of us who park our bikes in high-theft areas, this essentially negates the rack mount option.

This light is truly amazing - it's by far the brightest light you can find for under $75, and even outshines some more-expensive lights. It lasts 2 hours on maximum brightness at 60 lumens, and should last about 4:30 hours on the misleadingly titled "low" setting of 35 lumens. Riding with a group at night, I actually wished there were a super-low mode - it's frankly too bright in some situations. I would be hesitant to even use the brightest setting at night unless on a very busy road. This light's also great for daytime visibility: it looks brighter in broad daylight than many lights look at night.

Planet Bike

Super Flash Turbo update - $34 / $28

Planet Bike recently updated the Super Flash Turbo in conjunction with the release of their new Blaze 2W Micro headlight (review coming out next week!). The new Turbo seems to be almost exactly identical to the old one, with one important difference: the switch. The switch on Planet Bike’s taillights has always been a point of frustration – the plastic would often crack or stick, making it hard to turn the light on and off. The new design has a rubber switch that gives a reassuring “click” when you push it. It seems much less sticky and has better tactile feedback. I’ve only had the new Turbo for a couple months, so it’s too early to evaluate its durability over years of use, but already it's been a significant improvement over the previous versions of this light. Planet Bike has also informed me that all of their other Blinky series lights with the same design (PB SuperFlash and Blinky 7) have the new switch as well.

The SuperFlash Turbo with the old switch design (left) and the new clicky design (right).


Other lights to consider

There are a few other new taillights that have come out since my last review or didn't make it into the original review, but I wasn't able to get review samples of all of them.

  • Knog Blinder 4 ($45$38): USB rechargeable light that snaps on with a silicone strap. Knog also makes a front version, which will be in the upcoming headlights review. The front and rear lights are physically identical, so stay tuned for the full review next week.
  • Knog Blinder Road ($60 / $50): Knog's first "super powerful" light. This is the only light here I haven't even seen in person yet, so I don't have much to say. The specs look fairly decent though.
  • Serfas Thunderbolt ($45 / $45): A 3-inch long bar of light with 15 diodes spaced out to make an even, wide-angle light. Uses rubber straps to attach anywhere on the bike. Serfas also makes a front version, which will be reviewed thoroughly in the headlights comparison next week.
  • DiNotte 300R ($189): DiNotte, long recognized as making the brightest (although certainly not the most cost-effective) taillights, now has a version with an integrated battery, unlike their previous versions which required an external battery pack. DiNotte has rejected requests for a review sample on multiple occasions.

Which bike light should I buy? Here's some recommended setups...

Note: this list is somewhat out of date. We now have a frequently-updated list of the best bike taillights, with choices for various price ranges and use scenarios. 

Safe setup with an affordable cost

A single Cygolite Hotshot is ample light for the casual rider.

The cheapest rechargeable taillight is the Cygolite Hotshot, and it's still every bit the great light it was in last year's review. Some of the newer lights offer additional improvements, especially in terms of off-angle visibility, but you still won't go wrong with the Hotshot. It's currently $28 on Amazon, and probably about $35 at your local bike shop. For a few bucks more, you could get the NiteRider Solas 2W ($35 on Amazon) which is very similar, but solves the Hotshot's off-angle visibility problem with its diffusing lens design. Personally, I think that if you're just going to buy one the NiteRider Solas is the better choice due to its better light spread, but both are great lights.

A balanced setup for safety up close and afar

According to some safety research users on the Bicycles Stack Exchange site found when pondering whether flashing or steady lights are safer, a flashing light catches your attention faster, but a steady-burn light is easier to judge distance by. If you have room in your budget for two lights, it's a good idea to set up one on steady-burn and another on flashing mode, and physically separate them by at least 1 foot so that they don't just look like a pulsating steady light from a distance.

I set up my bike with the Vis 180 in steady burn, mounted on my seatpost, and a home-made high-intensity flashing light (which I have a blog post written up about but haven't gotten pictures for yet) on the rear of the rack. This is an excellent setup but certainly overkill - you don't really need a $100 light nor a custom made one, and you can achieve the same effect with other lights.

I set up my friend's bike with the Cygolite Hotshot on the rack and the NiteRider Solas on the seatpost. The Solas has better side-visibility, so I mounted it on the seat post where it would be seen by side traffic. The Solas flashes as the attention-grabber and the Hotshot - which has better straight-on, long-distance brightness - is on steady burn. This setup is also handy because the Hotshot's brightness can be finely adjusted, so you can dim it at night or when riding in a group. The Solas + Hotshot combo would run you about $65, and is probably the best two-light deal you'll find, but any of the other rechargeable lights would work well in this application, too.

The recommended balanced setup: NiteRider Solas 2W on top in flashing mode, and Cygolite Hotshot on the rack on steady-burn mode.

My bike's setup with the Vis 180 on top and the high-intensity custom-built LED on the bottom

Recommended setup from the side. Note that the NiteRider Solas 2W (top) has better off-axis visibility than the Cygolite Hotshot (bottom).

The ideal all-out setup

If you really want to make a statement with your lights, take the "balanced setup" and add a second steady-burn light. Having two steady burn lights at the same height, separated by as much distance as you can put between them, makes it much easier to judge how far away your bike is. The closer your bike is, the farther apart the lights appear in drivers' vision. You could mount a Hotshot on each side of your bike (either on the sides of the rack or on the seat stays) in steady burn, and then mount a third light (an Aether Demon or Niterider Solas would work well here) on the seat post in flashing mode.

If you already have a non-rechargeable light that works ok but you're looking to upgrade, you could also buy 2 new lights, stick one on each side of your bike as recommended above, and then put the old light on the seat post in flashing mode. You'll want to have the rechargeable light for the steady burn, since steady burn runs through batteries faster.

Money to burn

If you just feel like spending some money on lights, there's no denying that the DiNotte is brighter than any of the other ones here. That being said, for $190 you could get six Cygolite Hotshots or a Vis 180 and two Aether Demons or any other combination of more than enough lights for the same cost. It's always a good idea to have 2 lights (even if one of them is a cheap AAA light) just in case one goes out or falls off, which makes it feel silly to spend so much on a single light. It is worth considering that both the DiNotte 300R and the Light and Motion Vis180 are manufactured in the USA, so if you can afford the extra cost, it's nice to support the (more) local economy. But for most users whose bikes might cost less than a front and back set of DiNotte lights, these products are just too expensive to justify.


The taillight market has expanded a lot in the past year. The Cygolite Hotshot still stands out as a high-performance light with a reasonable price tag, but some of the new players bring exciting advancements to the field - in particular the NiteRider Solas impressed me with its wide-angle visibility and superior battery life, and the improvements with the Planet Bike SuperFlash Turbo renews the appeal of the classic SuperFlash series. With so many high-quality and affordable lights available, every cyclist should be investing in their safety.


If you're also looking for a good headlight, check out my recent bike headlights review and the beamshot comparison tool!


If you're interested in bike lights - or anything else bike related - check out some of the top questions on the main Stack Exchange Bicycles Q&A site, or ask your own question today!




]]> 38
Trip to a Skyride Mon, 05 Aug 2013 18:00:08 +0000 In the UK, the "governing body" for cycling is British Cycling. They are responsible for a vast array of organised cycling, up to and including the GB Team. Furthermore, in the last couple of years, the broadcaster Sky has become involved in sponsorship in a big way, not just the Sky pro team, but also at a more grass-roots level. One of the results of this collaboration is....the Skyride. There happened to be one in my nearest big city, Southampton, last weekend, so I popped along with my camera (and my bike) to see what it was all about.

The basic principle is that you have a shortish, closed circuit - this one was around 7.5km or 5miles and was available for four hours. The route comprised a mixture of roads and paths through municipal parks. So as not to bar traffic from the city centre completely, at certain intersections manned traffic lights were set up to alternate priority between motor  traffic and cyclists.

The circuit is made more interesting by having various attractions along it (not least a stall giving away yellow bibs!). In one square, this included various demonstrations of "bike power":

This one was a straight one-on-one sprint. Bikes were attached to rollers, and the first to reach a set distance was the winner.


A little more interesting, this time dynamos on the bike were used to power Scalextrix cars around a track

Lastly, here we have a bicycle-powered blender, being used to make smoothies

So straight away, there is a lot going on which will keep kids interested. And the "family" aspect is quite central to the event.

There was also a variety of "bikes", some of which it was possible to try out. These included recumbents and unicycles.  We also saw a couple of penny farthings:

Of course, all this cycling was thirsty work, and in one of the parks was a refreshment stand, accompanied by a Sky tent and a "check up" stand run by Halfords, who are probably the UK's largest auto and bike chainstore.

At the Sky tent, the highlight attraction was one of Chris Froome's Tour de France bikes:

The blurb next to this bike said that this particular bike was designed specifically for mountain stages. It had less paint than the normal Pinarello so as to make it as light as possible. How believable this is...... 11-speed electronic Dura Ace setup, but with elliptical chainrings.

and they also had some electronic shifters/derailleurs on display - I've only ever used manual chainsets before, but the smoothness of this mech really has to be seen to be believed.

In Summary

  • A great event for families. Closed roads make it safe, and there is plenty for kids to do to hopefully get them more interested in cycling
  • Great also for nervous riders, of which my wife is one. She has seen the health benefits I've got out of cycling and would love to join in - but she gets easily spooked in traffic and never feels she has total control over the bike.
  • The lap distance is ideal. If you're a fitter rider, you just ride more laps. We rode 2 laps, or 10 miles - by my wife's standards that's not a bad bit of exercise. Unfortunately you do see people racing to an extent, although the organisers do emphasize that this isn't allowed.
  • But be prepared for lots of people to be around. At the event I attended they estimated there were 10,000 people (but this was over a 4-hour period. There weren't 10,000 people on the course all at once, although it did feel like it sometimes). This means that bottlenecks can and do happen, especially on narrow roads, lights or the slightest gradient, and there's nothing you can do except stop and wait. So if you're wanting to do a "proper" ride, forget it and go someplace else. This event is for fun only.
  • In a similar vein, you have to be prepared to be riding amongst people who have no road sense whatsoever. They will pull out or block you without warning. Largely this is kids, and to be expected, but a significant proportion of grown-ups too. I can only really describe it as the closest I've felt to riding in the centre of London, without riding in the centre of London.

I knew there'd be lots of people around, and also my wife is quite a slow rider, so I took my Dutch "Granny" bike, with the intention of just tootling along, and it was ideal. If I'd have taken one of my road bikes it would have been a very frustrating ride.


]]> 0
A Visit to «Le Tour» Thu, 18 Jul 2013 16:30:57 +0000 It all started with a bacon sandwich, back in June. I'd gone out for breakfast in my local town, and being on my own for the day, popped into the newsagent to get myself something to read. I spotted the Tour de France supplement and was sorted.

I hadn't really paid any attention to Le Tour before this. I'm not sure why - I always follow it avidly on TV, and have visited stages before in Paris (Pantani in 1998), and in both London and the Pyrenees in 2008. But this year, I knew nothing until I started reading. Straight away I saw that there was a stage finish in the Breton town of Saint-Malo, in northern France. Furthermore, the next day there was another stage - a time trial - within striking distance. Saint-Malo also happens to be a ferry port, and is one end of a major route between the UK and France. The other end is at Portsmouth, only a 45-minute drive from me. Doing my best to get more information through my smartphone, I started to hatch a plan...

Fast forward a month, to the evening of Monday 8th July. A rest day on the Tour, but a hive of activity at Portsmouth, where I am with-bike, waiting to board the ferry. Normally these ferries heave in the summer months, with Brits taking their families, cars and caravans over on holiday. You'll see cyclists too, in fact I've done it myself, but possibly only a handful on any one crossing. Tonight, however, was a little different. Over 100 bikes on the quayside, not to mention the cars with bikes on their racks. And flags, lots of flags. Union Jacks which show instantly the effect that Brailsford, Wiggins, Froome and Co (not to mention Sky's deep pockets) have had on raising the profile of cycling within the UK.

Safely onto the ferry, with the crew liberally dispensing corrugated cardboard and bubble wrap, but never quite sure whether its to protect the bikes or the ship! A quick meal, then settling down for as good a night's sleep as possible on a reclining seat - the downside of booking so late.

My «Tour de France» bike. A Dawes Century SE Audax bike, a steel workhorse and the only one of my bikes capable of carrying luggage. "Luggage" comprised spare bibs, socks and jersey; lightweight trousers and shirt for evenings; tools; and finally my camera, phone and various chargers.

First Day, Stage 10

First thing Tuesday, and I realise my first mistake. The heat we'd been enjoying in the UK was gone, replaced by grey cloud, and....cold! Unfortunately given my extremely limited storage, my only concession to cold was a pair of arm warmers. Still, on they went. Next thing, I'm in Saint-Malo at eight o'clock in the morning, and the Tour finish would not be until around five o'clock - I had time to kill. First things first - some petit dejourner.

Set for the morning, I decided to explore Saint-Malo, and get my first glimpses of the monolith that is the Tour de France. The countless lorries containing pre-fabricated.....well.....everything. The barriers, the seating, even the podium, packed up every evening, driven to the next location, and set up once again the next morning. Complete chaos!

Having mooched around, watching the small army of workers set everything up (including stalls selling all kinds of merchandise, from yellow jerseys to team jerseys, much of which can be bought from the Tour's web site), it was time for action. It was never my plan to stay at the Finish line - excited though I was by the prospect of a stage set perfectly for everyone's favourite sprinter (provided you're British!), Mark Cavendish, I was too put off by the prospect of thousands of other people  with the same idea, and also by the steadily growing number of VIP areas being set up (in all the best places), to which mere plebs had no access. No, my plan was to see the race in a much more egalitarian location, outside of Saint-Malo, along the coast road, hopefully with a good backdrop for some photos.

A short 15km ride, and I am in the seaside resort of Cancale, the clouds have dispersed and the day is warming nicely. The race will pass through here later, and the town is decked out. Alongside more cordoned-off VIP areas, some display events have been laid on with local kids, and the place is filling up nicely. A lovely place to chill for a few hours, culminating in lunch and even a catnap on the grass outside the town hall.

Saint-Malo to Cancale.


Time to move on again, this time to my intended vantage point of the race. Out of Cancale, the race heads north along the coast to the Pointe du Grouin, where it then heads west into Saint-Malo. The Pointe du Grouin, that was the plan. Beautiful scenery, hopefully fewer people than in the towns, and quite a straight road so should have a good view of the riders who, this close to the finish, will be going at full speed. A short hop, just a 5km ride, and I'm at my destination and looking for a decent viewing spot.

At la Pointe du Grouin, looking west

The D201 at the Pointe du Grouin. Not quite as quiet as I'd hoped for!

So, not quite as quiet as I'd have liked (to put it mildly), furthermore it looked like a lot of these guys had been there overnight. Still, I'd made my decision, for better or for worse. Time to settle in and wait for the Caravane. (It was quite hot by now and the only headwear I had was my lid, so "settling in" involved crouching under a bush for a long while!)

Now, the Caravane really is the spectacle in the Tour de France. As far as I am aware it is unique, doesn't happen in either the Giro or the Vuelta, although I could be wrong. An array of floats representing various tour sponsors, and a superb opportunity to grab  freebies as they are thrown from the floats. Great for little kids. Great for not so little kids!! And the freebies? Well, it must be said they are mostly crap: caps, keyrings, wristbands, candy, fabric conditioner(?), plus those enormous green hands that you see at the finish lines on TV. But they do represent real souvenirs that simply cannot be bought (well, except a few days later on eBay!). And positioning here is key, every bit as much as the race. That eight-year-old kid standing next to you is your rival - when the time comes, it's him or you!

Well, that's the theory in any case. In practise, they basically end up throwing everything to the guy next to you, the guy who'd rocked up just 5 minutes ago while you've been waiting over an hour, the guy whose physique clearly demonstrates that its been several decades since he was anywhere near a bicycle (even picking his goodies off the floor looked like an effort for him).....  But let's not be bitter. Sure, it was hot and a cap would have been great to counter the heat (I still had my lid on and had visions of my head being striped pink-and-white by the day's end!). Also, this would have kept me in my wife's good books - this was the one souvenir she'd specifically asked for). But I kept telling myself, the really memorable part is the glitz of the parade itself.

Ahhhhh, Cochonou. I must admid to a weakness for these saucission sec (dry sausage), but how the French heart disease rate is not significantly higher with these things on the market escapes me


There are more photo's of this on my Flickr Photostream - just click on any of the photos to get there

So the caravane is out of the way, next up is the race itself. And the funny thing is, you're never quite sure when its coming. There is of course race radio - in the towns there are PA systems which will relay this, and on the road there are truck-based sound systems, but these trucks are few and far between so you're not in constant contact.  Besides, this information is relayed exclusively in French, so you're immediately limited by your vocabulary. And as with most live sport, you're there for the atmosphere and never get the full picture that we've become used to seeing on TV. No, out in the countryside, the first inkling that the Tour is coming soon is the buzzing of the helicopters - when they start appearing, the riders are coming.

And then, WHAM, the vehicles and riders come into sight. You cheer, you snap. In our case, there was a breakaway of four riders but they were only seconds ahead of the peloton and about to be reeled in. (I reckon I'd ridden another 1km beyond the 20km marker from Cancale, so that would put me at 19km out.) In realtime, its almost a blur - they're doing more than 50km/h at this point.

The Breakaway

 Again, there are some more photos on my Flickr Photostream. Just click on a photo above to get there

And then, no more than fifteen seconds later, its over. After almost three hours wait!

Back to the Hotel, and a bonus

For many Brits, that was their Tour. The ferry company had laid on a special overnight crossing back to the UK, and these guys would be back at work tomorrow, albeit a little worse for wear. I was lucky, however, I'd booked an hotel for a couple of nights so I could see the next stage too. So I was headed back to Saint-Malo as well, but for a different reason. A beautiful ride back, and along the very road that the race had just been along. And of course, here the bike came into its own, zooming past the instant traffic jam that had just formed.

A pleasant, cooling ride into Saint-Malo, where I found my hotel on the sea front. I checked in, then walked my bike around the back, to their garage. And a wonderful sight met my eyes:




Yes, I was staying in the same hotel as Team Belkin. Now, I've never really followed one team over another, or even been into hero-worshipping the riders (sad to say I couldn't put names to faces even when I met them), but just to see that kit was amazing.... (And in fact there may have been an element of "karma" going on - my "best" bike at home is a Giant TCR Advanced, a lovely fast bike and a direct ancestor of those bikes I was looking at now.) Great to have a quick chat to the mechanics and just to admire these beautiful pieces of kit...

Second Day, Stage 11

The next stage was a time trial, finishing at the Mont-Saint-Michel, around 50km from the hotel. Furthermore, because of my truly pathetic haul of goodies from the previous day's caravane, I wanted a second bite at the cherry. That would mean covering those 50km and arriving by around 9:30am, so I had an early start. A beautiful ride, for a large part along the edge of the bay, and I arrived nicely in time to park up and await the caravane among the growing crowds.

But if I was hoping for better luck today, I was to be disappointed. True, I got a couple of things, but mostly candy that I gave away to the family standing beside me. But still no cap, it looked my wife was going to be disappointed.

Very shortly afterwards the first rider came through, so soon that nobody was really expecting him. But it highlighted the chalk-and-cheese difference between a time trial and a normal stage. The normal stage builds up the excitement, then....bang, its over in an instant. The time trial however is more of a controlled affair, so much so that there is time to go get a drink or a snack, or look at some of the stalls selling Tour merchandise, or head down the road to see if the view is better there, or have a lie down, or experiment by taking a movie rather than stills..... And if you happen to miss a rider? Well, so what? There'll be another one along in a couple of minutes!

The way the Time Trial is structured means that the riders set off in reverse order, so if you want to see the GC contenders you're in for a long wait. But there are still plenty of big names, sprinters mainly, who ride early in the day. For example I saw Cavendish go past (no photo unfortunately), but also his former team-mate and current rival Matty Goss:

and particularly loud cheers went up for any French riders, including William Bonnet, who'd come close to that elusive French Stage Win the previous day:

There was time to wander up and down the road and to enjoy the scenery:

but, certainly in terms of the photographs that I took, the highlight for me was a (pure fluke) shot of World Champion, and eventual winner of the stage, Tony Martin, in all his glory. I didn't even realise I had this shot until I got home.

By this time I had long since bitten the bullet and bought myself a cap to ward off sunstroke - at €20 each for two caps (I couldn't let my wife down!) and another €30 for a t-shirt, these were quite hefty treats. The Tour de France promotes itself quite heavily as a "free" event, and strictly speaking it is, but the range and prices of the peripheral merchandise do give some idea of at least one source of income.

Did I mention how hot it was? I reckon this guy thought so too

By 3 o'clock the heat was such that I'd had enough. Deciding to watch Froome, Contador and Co another day, it was time for me to head back. In theory, I'd given myself enough time to get back to the hotel and see the last few riders on TV, but it was a far more pleasant alternative to meander back through the countryside, via the lovely town of Dol-de-Bretagne, taking time out to refuel with some ice-cold Orangina along the way.


Back to the hotel, where Team Belkin were still present. This surprised me because the next day's start was in Fougeres, 100km from Saint-Malo. I'd have thought they'd keep their morning travel times to a minimum, but I suppose a with the amount of shuttling from one place to another, the opportunity to stay in one place for a few nights must seem like a bonus.

Even time for a quick chat the next morning with a couple of the team, as I was leaving for the ferry and they were boarding their bus. But try as I might, I couldn't convince them to swap bikes with me! Must've been a language thing...

]]> 0
Sunday Parkways recap Mon, 13 May 2013 04:46:14 +0000 Every summer the City of Portland closes off streets to motorized vehicles, and opens them to cyclists, walkers, runners, unicyclists, and any other human-powered transportation. This summer's events are taking place once a month from May - September, with one event in each of the city's 5 quadrants. The routes each include several city parks, which are hubs for community activities during the event. Each event often has over 20,000 participants. In 2011 Sunday Parkways had 107,300 participants across all days/locations.

If you visited us during the event and are wondering what exactly this site is all about, you might want to scroll on down to the bottom of this post where I've got links to some more information about how the site works, some of our more popular questions, and some of the other Stack Exchange sites. Of course, you're welcome to keep reading about our experience volunteering today!

Families enjoying the open streets at Portland Sunday Parkways

Families enjoying the open streets at Portland Sunday Parkways


Today - May 12th - was the first Sunday Parkways of 2013, and Stack Exchange was here to represent! Sunday Parkways needs at least 300 volunteers at each event to make everything run smoothly. Most of the volunteers are "intersection superheroes," and today our group adopted an intersection on the route to be superheroes at. Our main job was to make sure that neighbors stay happy, and to help people get their cars on and off the route to access their homes without letting unauthorized vehicles drive on the route.

In addition to our volunteer duties, we were also promoting Stack Exchange - especially the bicycles site. We were armed with an array of swag, including t-shirts, water bottles, and the ever-popular reflective slap bracelets, and throngs of people were stopping by our booth to get "that free stuff over there" and learn more about Stack Exchange. People were excited to hear about Stack Exchange sites for their other interests too - lots of folks were interested in Gardening, Home Brewing, Seasoned Advice, and of course Stack Overflow and Super User.

A Sunday Parkways participant checks out his brand-new Bicycles Stack Exchange t-shirt

A Sunday Parkways participant checks out his brand-new Bicycles Stack Exchange t-shirt

I'm also working on the latest installment of my popular bike lights review, so I brought a bunch of the lights I'm testing for people to look at. A few people were disappointed that the bike lights weren't free too, but I had a lot of good conversations with riders who were looking to buy lights or upgrade the ones they had.

Headlight and taillight demos for display, along with our Bikes.SE water bottles and reflective slap bracelets.

Headlight and taillight demos for display, along with our Bikes.SE water bottles and reflective slap bracelets.

The best part of the experience was getting to meet all of the interested participants, especially all of the excited children on miniature bikes. Although we did get shouted at by a few frustrated drivers, we managed to get everyone where they needed to go without any problems. Overall it was a fantastic event, and we're looking forward to volunteering at other Sunday Parkways events later this summer!

Stack Exchange user jcrawfordor and another Sunday Parkways volunteer hanging out at our booth

Stack Exchange user jcrawfordor and another Sunday Parkways volunteer hanging out at our booth



Wait so what is Stack Exchange exactly...

We're glad you asked! If you visited us during Sunday Parkways and want to learn more about Stack Exchange, here's some info for you:

Stack Exchange is a fast-growing network of 101 question and answer sites on diverse topics from software programming to cooking to photography and gaming. We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on the most important topics in each area of expertise. From our core of Q&A, to community blogs and real-time chat, we provide experts with the tools they need to make The Internet a better place.

Right now, you're reading the community blog for the Bicycles Stack Exchange site. You can learn more about how to ask and answer questions and what makes this site different from old-school forums on our About page.

Chances are, if you've got a bike question then we've got the answer - and if we don't, you can ask the question yourself! Here are a few of our popular questions that you might be interested in:

Bicycles aren't the only topic we cover, either! There are now over 100 Stack Exchange sites, with more being created all the time. Some sites that might be of interest for Sunday Parkways participants include....

Sustainable Living

The Great Outdoors


Photography Stack Exchange

Seasoned Advice

Home Improvement Stack Exchange

Gardening & Landscaping


Physical Fitness


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Review – The War On Britain’s Roads (BBC 1, Wednesday 5th December) Mon, 10 Dec 2012 22:45:53 +0000 Note - if you're in the UK you can watch the programme on iPlayer here.

I should probably start by saying that I'd seen a fair amount of publicity for this program (specifically this, this and this), and I was watching with a view to complaining to the BBC about it. Having watched it, I have to say it was nowhere near as bad as I feared it would be, but it could have been much better. In short - I'm not angry, just disappointed.

The programme starts with Gareth, a 24-year old cyclist. He initially comes off as a bit arrogant. A little bit later he's shown antagonising a taxi driver by banging on the side of his taxi when it passes a little bit too close. He says with a smile, "I've noticed if you touch someone's vehicle they get very possessive about that". So it appears that he knows exactly what he's doing. While I understand the point he makes - that if you can touch someone's car as they overtake you, then they haven't given you enough room - I don't think it's a particularly smart thing to do. Since the documentary aired Gareth has said that he felt it misrepresented him. Gareth's YouTube page is here.

The next section is Mark, a traffic policeman on a bicycle. This was quite interesting as we see him chase down a motorcyclist that fails to stop. While there are a couple of scary manoeuvres he seems highly skilled and in control. We also see him pulling over drivers and cyclists for minor traffic offences. There are lots of cyclists jumping red lights, Mark points out "it's not the crime of the century, but it could get you killed".

Next up is a woman who's daughter was killed while cycling, she was crushed by a cement mixer which turned left across her. This was quite an inspirational story as we hear about her campaign for better safety standards. She starts by buying shares in the company so she can speak at their Annual General Meeting, this leads to the company improving the training its drivers receive and installing proximity detectors on the sides of its vehicles.

Next there are two incidents caught on helmet camera. First there's a very scary video from Glasgow. As a cyclist approaches a roundabout a truck travelling at speed fails to give way. The cyclist slams his brakes on and the truck misses him by a few centimetres. It's absolutely terrifying (it's on YouTube here). The second incident was a road rage attack by a driver on a cyclist. The video was posted on YouTube and widely reported in the press, which led to the driver being identified and prosecuted.

The Traffic Droid is the next section. While the programme describes him as "policing the situation himself", in reality he's a cyclist who videos poor driving (and cycling) and posts it online. We see him videoing drivers who are using mobile phones and iPads and handing them flyers with his YouTube address on. He describes how he started filming traffic violations after being knocked off his bike 3 years ago, he breaks down and cries as he talks about it.

Finally we see footage of a courier race across London. The cyclists ride in what can only be described as an aggressive and nearly suicidal manner. It's this short section that seems to have caused most of the controversy, and it's not hard to see why. The sheer recklessness is breathtaking, but it's so far removed from the typical behaviour of the average cyclist. It appears to have been included simply for shock value.

In summary, I have mixed feelings about this documentary. The section about cement mixer safety I thought was positive, as it highlights a particular danger to cyclists and shows that if the will is there then these issues can be tackled. I thought the section with the cycling traffic policeman was interesting and it was also good that it showed him being even-handed in his dealings with cyclists and drivers. His clam approach and ability to defuse situations was a marked contrast to some of the other participants in the documentary.

I felt the central premise of the documentary, a war between cyclists and drivers, was flawed. The majority of cyclists are also drivers - 87% of British Cycling members own a car and the president of the Automobile Association is a keen cyclist. How can two groups be at war when so many people belong to both groups? I thought the other main failing of the documentary was a lack of context. For example a few cycling accident and death statistics were mentioned, but there was no comparison to other activities such as walking, or to accident and death statistics for cycling in other countries. The documentary would have left viewers with the false impression that cycling on Britain's roads is a very dangerous activity, I hope my mum hasn't watched it.

I also felt that the documentary missed an opportunity to discuss cycling facilities and road layout, which can be a cause of conflict between cyclists and drivers. There were a few incidents shown were a cyclist in a narrow cycle lane was overtaken by a vehicle which passed closely to the cyclist without actually moving into the cycle lane. One of the road rage incidents shown occurred after a driver was unable to overtake a cyclist through a traffic calming system.

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