Review: DiCAPac Smartphone Case for cyclists

Recently my husband, who is a big cycling geek, had been struggling to use his mobile phone for navigation at the same time as cycling and he needed to find a solution which would enable him to secure his phone to the handlebar of his bike.

Luckily he was offered the chance to review the DiCAPac Smartphone Case* for cyclists from Mobilefun as a solution to this problem. The DiCAPac is a universal waterproof case designed to fit any smartphone up to 5.7 inches, perfect for my husband’s Samsung handset. It offers a secure waterproof case at the same time as allowing the user to still operate the touch screen which is essential for anyone navigating on the go.

The Pros:
  • My husband can keep his phone in a protective case without the need for changing the case for a phone mount.
  • The waterproofing is excellent and he’s tested this extensively.
  • It fits his Samsung Galaxy S5 perfectly, with or without the protective case that he has on it. It would likely fit any standard phone on the market. The reviews on the product page even state that it fits the Samsung Note 3.
  • The handlebar mount is sturdy and it doesn’t slip on the handlebar at all.
The Cons:
  • It’s a little on the floppy side, and there is some wobble when going over bumps/potholes on the bicycle. This is completely understandable, it’s a thin waterproof case that is oversized to fit the bigger phones. The wobble comes from the case itself, not the mount, which is solid.
  • It offers no shock absorbing capacity, but this was never an advertised feature.
In conclusion, it’s a perfect phone mount for those that need it for short trips on the road, such as going to places that you haven’t been to before. It requires no special cases or fittings on the phone, and you simply slide it in and roll the case shut.
My husband awards the DiCAPac Smartphone Case for cyclists 4 out of 5 stars.
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4stars

Review: FDX Mens Cycling Bib Tights – Winter

I’ve been commuting on my bicycle in London for a few years now. It took me a little while to transition to lycra cycling shorts, but once I did – there was no going back. That padding really does help avoid a bruised behind, and the lack of seams helps avoid chafing and saddle soreness. Not to mention – decent cycling shorts will also be breathable, which is an added bonus. They’re just comfortable overall!Now, the problem with cycling shorts is that as you continue to use them every day they start to become a little loose as you lose weight and as the waistband stretches a little.

Before too long, you have to pull them up once or twice during your ride. This may not be a problem for those people that spend £50-£100 on a pair of cycling shorts – they may well stay on well and cling to the skin.I don’t have the disposable income to outlay on 3-4 pairs of shorts at that pricepoint (and you need 3-4 pairs when you commute daily), and so I tend to spend around £15 a pair on cycling shorts from eBay stores and/or local sports shops.

How do you know if you’re getting a good pair of shorts for cheap? Personally I’ve found that as long as the bicycle short padding is made of Coolmax, the shorts are usually of good quality. Coolmax is a highly wicking material developed by DuPont for applications such as cycling bottom padding and it has antimicrobial properties, which comes in handy, because of sweating in the area that the padding contacts (need I say more?). I’ve always got on with this padding.

This is how I initially discovered FDX cycling shorts on eBay and I bought a pair of their shorts and liked them. When the average outside temperature decreased, I decided to try out some cycling tights. This was a rather large step for me. Very much in my head, but for some reason I always resisted purchasing cycling tights. I usually cycle in shorts, football socks and bare knees, and on very cold days this results in painful knees. Having have done this a few too many times, for a while I considered getting some knee warmers. At that point I thought it’s not too different from just buying some cycling tights, and so I got some from FDX. They were good enough, but there was some sliding down at traffic lights.

I got in touch with FDX and they were kind enough to send me a pair of FDX Mens Cycling Bib Tights* for review.

FDX cycling bib tights
So – what do I think about using cycling bib-tights? Well, I am a commuter and as I described above, the cycling tights were a step in the uncharted territory of bicycle racing geekery which I took with trepidation. The cycling bib-tights were even more so! At the same time, I am getting on very famously with the cycling bib tights. Sure, going to the toilet is a complete drag, but apart from that little nuance, they function very well. There’s a distinct and much appreciated lack of a pinching waistband which is a very nice break for the skin around the waist. Furthermore, there’s no slippage, because the tights are held up on the shoulders. You put them on, then a T-shirt on top and nobody is any the wiser. Warm knees, warm midriff, tights that do not slip down, and you really cannot ask for more than that!

The FDX cycling bib-tights are also made of a medium weight velvety material which is warmer than the usual lycra shorts, and I’d say they would easily be warm throughout the british winter.

Considering the price tag of £22, I give the tights 4 stars!

FDX cycling bib tights can be found on eBay: FDX cycling tights on eBay or on the FDX website: http://www.fdxsports.co.uk/

4stars

Review: See Sense rear light

I have been cycling in London for about 5 years now and during that time I’ve used a number of rear lights. Things started off with a “very affordable” set from Argos and after some time I moved onto Cateye.

Those pesky battery powered lights were always running out of battery at the worst time (Is there a good time?) and so I moved onto USB charged options. There are some cracking little examples out there, and they can certainly be bright. At the same time, bright lights that are constantly on use a lot of energy (even on flashing mode), so either you’re changing batteries frequently or you’re charging every single day.

Super-bright lights are great for visibility but we don’t need that level of visibility at all times. Here’s where the seesense rear light comes in to try and solve the problem of excessive power consumption. I think is solves it very well, by providing a very bright strobing light, which varies in strobing frequency depending on the bicycle’s speed and the presence of front lights behind the rider. In other words, the light uses more power when it’s necessary, and the minimum amount of power when it is not needed. This doesn’t just work in theory – I have seen the a real difference in running times between the seesense rear light and a well-reputed USB-chargeable (currently unnamed) light that I also own. Seesense also responds to factors such as light level and road surface. A full list of features can be found on their site: Seesense features list 

The brightness of the rear light can be appreciated, hopefully, in the picture below:

Seesense rear light
There are other high-tech aspects to this light that I haven’t seen on any other light on the market. The most significant one for me is the very clear battery indicator. I find indicators usually leave a lot to be desired. On the seesense light, every time the light is turned on/off or unplugged from the charging wire, the light flashes to signify the level of charge. The light contains a few different bulbs, some are used for the main light, whilst others are status lights. So a full charge is signified by 7 flashes from a green status bulb (low intensity), and those flashes start to be replaced by red flashes as the battery starts to go down. For a example, you might get 3 green flashes, followed by 4 red flashes – which would mean that your battery is less than half full and you may want to think about charging it.

Finally, I love and hate the lack of buttons simultaneously. The fact that the light is controlled solely through hand gestures means that waterproofing is taken to a whole new level. Switching the light off is easy enough, just point the light towards the ground. What’s great about this is that you generally have to take the light off the bike in order to switch it off. Sounds like a drag, but at least you won’t forget the light on your bike and have it stolen! Turning the light on is still something I am working on. There is a knack to it, and it has to be done slowly. This video helps a lot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtwi9NN7VsQ

There are plenty of features that I haven’t written about here, including the fact that the light performs a self-diagnostic protocol every time it is charged, which means that if there is something wrong with the light, it will inform you. As well as this, it’s worth noting that there are different settings on the light which make it respond to different stimuli or none at all, so you can essentially have it flash every once in a while if you want, just like a “normal” light. I really like the the seesense website, for its videos, blog entries, and backstory of how seesense “came to light”.

Here is their latest video, which I really like:

I award the Seesense light 5 stars!

5stars

Review: CoPilot Live navigation app

As a cyclist that owns a smartphone, you may wonder – my phone comes preloaded with Google Maps, and that will easily get me from A to B when I need to cycle to a place that I do not know to get to – so why would I get anything else? CoPilot kindly offered me the chance to review their navigation app* and I decided to compare it to Google Maps.

All well and good, and for years I did just that, I used Google Maps to cycle to new places. I started to cycle to places using Google Maps just as they were airing the quaint adverts that informed us that Google Maps now includes cycling directions, provided by Sustrans. Remember these adverts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bFdNFTq8Vw ?

During that time I didn’t want for more, Google Maps seemed to be doing the trick nicely and I didn’t know that I was missing anything. Before too long, however, Google Maps did start to show some crack and I developed some niggles with it. The main problems are that:

  • Maps (the actual pictures of the roads, etc) are loaded on-the-go over mobile internet, and Google Maps app doesn’t store any loaded maps, to my knowledge. This is problematic in two ways – it uses data allowance, but more annoyingly, if you’re in a bad reception area, sometimes the maps can take a minute or two to load. While you wait…
  • There is no option to select what type of riding you want to do. Some cyclists want to use the main roads and tackle traffic, whilst others like to take the back roads. Google Maps is defaulted to the back roads and religiously sticks to the Sustrans bicycle paths. These are not always ideal – for example anytime you need to travel close to the river (Thames), Google Maps will send you down the canal pathways without fail. In fact, it will stubbornly direct you back to the canal pathways if you get away from them. Your mileage may vary, but those canal pathways are unsafe, full of pedestrians and more annoyingly, discontinuous, which makes them useless. I’d rather joust with the cars on the roads!

PicMonkey Collage
So I decided to try something different. I wondered what a paid GPS/navigation package would have to offer. I decided to try CoPilot. The advantages of a paid app such as CoPilot are as follows:

  • Pictorial maps are downloaded/bought as necessary. With CoPilot, I downloaded GB and Ireland at home. It was a 350+ MB download, and it is stored on my phone. Obviously you need space for the maps, but once they are downloaded, they’re on your device and you just need GPS enabled and away you go! No more downloading of maps on the go!
  • CoPilot is not aware of all the bicycle specific Sustrans pathways. This is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because most of the Sustrans bicycle pathways are the old “London Network” which is (for lack of a better phrase) old and knackered. The bicycle network travels round a myriad of backroads, most of which have been badly butchered by works to underground pipes which have been badly patched and unfixed potholes which are not given any sort of priority by local authorities to fix. Not to mention, a lot of the London Network wasn’t taken into account by local authorities when minor roads were redeveloped, so a cyclist following the London Network will regularly encounter dead ends and a plethora of anti-cyclist street furniture designed to make you dismount. This may be acceptable to some, but when I have an hour to make my way over to Wembley from Peckham, what I need is the most direct route, avoiding backroads and canal towpaths. CoPilot gladly obliges and presents me with a nice, straightforward route.
  • Map colours – these are changeable and there is a good selection of contrast and colour settings that work well in the daytime whilst others work better when it’s dark. Furthermore, the app changes the map style over when it gets dark, which is a nice little added bonus.
  • The app feels like a proper SatNav. I’ve been in the passenger seat, acting as navigator for many long car journeys and have watches the SatNav for hours on end, sometimes compensating for it, or keeping the driver informed so they don’t have to look over. CoPilot mirrors that well, warning of when a turn is coming up and overall doing a good job of being more informative than Google Maps.

Disadvantages of CoPilot are as follows:

  • CoPilot is not aware of all the bicycle specific Sustrans pathways. I explained in the advantages list why this is good. Here I’ll explain why this is not so good. Some of the newer bicycle specific road developments are actually a welcome route to take. In particular, when I was making my way home from a client in Poplar through Tower Bridge, I wanted to use the CS3 (Cycle Superhighway 3) which nicely links Poplar and Tower Bridge with a dedicated blue path. As far as CoPilot was concerned, it dindn’t exist. I actually kept CoPilot on and followed CS3 and every few seconds the app would recalculate and try to send me off the CS3.
  • The estimated journey time is almost exactly half of my real journey time. I am by no means a fast cyclist, whilst also being one of the cyclists that can make good headway and I do overtake 50-60% of cyclists on the road consistently. So I am somewhere in the middle of the group. Still, being told that I can traverse 13 miles over a bridge, through Victoria and Hyde Park and end up in Wembley in 27 minutes… come on! It would be good if the app either learned what my average speed is as I went alone and intelligently adjusted the estimated journey time based on this, that would be an added bonus.

So, to sum up – the paid CoPilot app does offer some nice features, straightforward journeys and the maps are stored on the device. At the same time, I haven’t deleted Google Maps, because every once in a while, when I want to use the old cycle network or make my way onto a Cycle Superhighway, I’ll power up Google Maps and use that!

Copilot gets 3 out of 5 stars

3stars

Review: Scosche boomBOTTLE Bottlecage Speaker for cycling

If you commute you will know that it can be a rather boring/repetitive endeavour and most of us seek entertainment during out commute.Cyclists are no different – and we would like entertainment too. There is an ongoing argument over whether you should wear headphones while you cycle or not and I certainly do not want to get into that here. What I will say is that I tend to listen to music very quietly if I do wear headphones, and this stops me enjoying most of my favourite music and half the time I don’t bother to listen to any due to this. An alternative to wearing headphones is to have a speaker mounted to your bike.

The solution to wires that would connect normal speakers is to use bluetooth speakers and there are certainly plenty of those around, however they’re generally not weather resistant, which in the UK poses a problem. So a dedicated speaker is a must. Scosche were kind enough to send me one of their boomBOTTLE speakers* to test and I’ve been commuting with it happily for the past few weeks.

The Scosche boomBOTTLE has been specifically designed to be mounted onto a bicycle. It is cylindrical and roughly the size of a bottle, which means it fits into most bicycle bottle cages. It is connected by bluetooth which speaks for itself and it is weatherproof (IPX4 rated). These factors together make it ideal as a bicycle mounted speaker.

Here it is on my bike:

Scoche Boom Bottle
 

To give you an idea of size, here is another shot of the bottle and the bike:

Scosche Boom Bottle
 

Now, I must say – I am a total and utter convert to the idea of cycling with a bicycle mounted speaker. The reasons are many and varied. The include:

  • Pedestrians are more aware of your presence. Bicycles are silent as they roll along, and plenty of pedestrians rely on hearing the cars and cross without looking.
  • You can listen to your favourite music at a decent volume without losing situational awareness. I can hear everything, from distant sirens to cars behind me edging closer and can take appropriate action.

So overall I am thrilled with it, as you can tell. There are one or two potential disadvantages. First – some people may feel uncomfortable playing music while they ride. Fortunately this is not a problem for me, but obviously this is something you would consider before you bought a bottle-cage speaker. The only time I feel awkward is when Queen’s “Bicycle Race” comes on, which makes me feel self conscious, and a bit of a bicycle geek. No matter, I’ll get used to it soon enough and it’s too good a song to delete from the iPod. Saying that, I do select my music relatively carefully, I tend to ease off the explicit lyrics and some of the more hardcore metal that I listen to. Apart from that, anything goes!

The boomBOTTLE has external controls for Vol Up, Vol Down and On/Off,  which also doubles as a temporary pause button (pressing On/Off quickly).

The boomBOTTLE is the first product that I have ever given 5 stars to! Why?! – because the sound coming off the speaker is absolutely astounding. It’s been a bit of a party piece with my friends, who sync up to the speaker and play their favourite music through it to hear how it sounds. Everyone loves the bass response and the sound produced is brilliant, especially considering the size of the boomBOTTLE. In fact, on riding the bass frequencies shake the frame a little bit, and it takes a couple of rides to get used to this. The first time it happened, I was inspecting my frame for a problem, I thought the rear tyre had a puncture, or something sinister was happening to cause the frame to vibrate. I stopped to investigate and to my amusement, after a couple of seconds it became clear that the strange vibrations were happening at the same time as some of the bassline runs in the music! : )

The range of boomBOTTLEs from Scosche can be found here: http://www.scosche.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=boombottle&ok and the actual boomBOTTLE can be purchased in various places, including Halfords, and they have a listing here: http://www.halfords.com/cycling/accessories/cycle-computers-gps/scosche-boombottle-bluetooth-speaker

5stars

Review: Carrera Virtuoso from Halfords – Initial Look

I have been commuting in London since 2009 and I’ve always ridden rather heavy utility bikes with large tyres. All well and good, but I always wondered what it would be like to ride one of those light and stiff road bikes to work/university. I’ve been observing an ever-growing faction of cyclist commuters that use road bikes for commuting and fancied a bit of a change. Now, one of the problems with cycling in London is the concern over thieves stealing the bike, and so I am always interested in a bike that toes that fine line of being a decent machine, while at the same time not costing the earth. The price is very important for two reasons: 1. a cheaper bike will look cheap to potential thieves and with a bit of luck they will walk on by, or decide to steal a more expensive bike parked in the same place, and 2. a cheaper bike will be cheaper to insure (and I highly recommend insurance) as well as being cheaper to replace in general.

Halfords were kind enough to send me one of their 2015 Carrera Virtuoso* which can be purchased in any of the many Halfords stores and features on their website here: http://www.halfords.com/cycling/bikes/road-bikes/carrera-virtuoso-road-bike-2015. At £379 it is one of the cheapest road bicycles available on the market, which as explained above is no bad thing. In fact, if one times their purchase well, it can be had for even cheaper – only 3-4 weeks ago the 2015 bikes weren’t out yet, and the 2014 bikes could be had for £330. Now, of course there are cheaper bicycles available, all 7-speed gearing and basic, single-wall rims, whilst the Virtuoso is one of the cheapest road bikes that has 8-speed gearing and double-wall CNC rims. Both of those aspects of a bike are the lowest specification components that I will actually ride, having learned my lesson that the very cheapest, bottom-of-the-range components are a false economy in the long run.

There are a few differences between the 2014 and 2015 specifications for the Carrera Virtuoso.

1. The frame coloration is slightly different (I prefer the 2015)

2. The tyres have been swapped out for all black Kenda Koncept 23mm tyres which I prefer, because the 2014 tyres with the white stripe didn’t look very centered and appeared to wobble whilst in motion. You may not worry about such things, but I do. Also, that white compund is reportedly less grippy, but this is more hearsay than anything

3. The drivetrain/chainset has been downgraded from Sora (2014 Virtuoso) to the new bottom-range Shimano road chainset – Claris. Not the end of the world, but it’s worth bearing in mind. In my opinion, the Sora and Claris chainsets aren’t all that different, and at these price points, tthey are virtually disposable and would benefit from being changed out roughly once a year (depending on how you use it). So in reality the longevity isn’t that different, but the Sora shifting may be ever so slightly smoother than Claris, maybe… Saying that, I wouldn’t worry too much about this aspect, it is 2014 after all, and Shimano’s trickle-down technology means that even bottom-range components such as the Claris have the technology that Shimano would have used in their mid-range components 3-4 years ago. This is evidenced by the fact that the Claris shifters on the bike are the microshift type (sans thumb lever) which means that you only need your fingers to shift up and down, and this emulates the shifting action of the more expensive Shimano shifting systems. Also note that the Claris is an upgraded version of the 2300 of old, as is apparent in that the numerical model designation for the Claris components is 2400.

Here she is, fresh from the shop:

Carrera Virtuoso
As I rode the bicycle home, I realised two things; 1. the pedals were completely unsuitable to my style of riding; and 2. the handlebars were quite far in front, too far a stretch for me.

Just to comment on those two points; I am used to riding on either flat pedals or in clipless pedals. I tried using the cage pedals as they come on the bike – I found that it was actually quite difficult to get my foot into the cage and that even when I did, it inferred no advantage over flat pedals, as when I tried to pull on the pedal on the upstroke, my foot would simply slip out. You mileage may vary…

The handlebars being too far for me to reach – it’s possible that the 51cm frame Virtuoso would have been comfortable for me out of the box. As it is, I was sent the 54cm frame bike at my request, and the frame wasn’t too large for me in that I can stand astride it without any impingement on any of my body parts. Instead of sending the 54cm bike back, to exchange it for the 51cm, I decided that I could make it comfortable for me by bringing the handlebars forward.

The solution to these small problems was to put on some pedals that I had in my spares box that my existing clipless shoes fit into (Time pedals) as well as changing the stem to a 35 degree raised stem of 70mm length to replace the stock stem which is 110mm long. This made the bike perfectly comfortable for me and here she is after the slight modifications:

Carrera Virtuoso 35 degree stem and Time pedals
So far I have covered 20 miles on the bike and I have found the shifting to be crisp, the brakes to be adequate and the whole bike is quite stiff, with a much reduced effort on going the same speed/distance. Only time will tell how it fares overall, and I will be writing a follow-up post in 6-8 weeks’ time, after I’ve had a chance to put some serious commuting miles into the bike.

Given how stiff and light the frame is, and the surprising amount of comfort that the 23mm tyres provided, my initial rating of this road bike – in the capacity of a mid-range commuting road bike is 4 start out of 5.

4stars

Review: Rido Bicycle Saddle

If you’re looking for a bicycle saddle because you want to upgrade the basic saddle that your bike came with, or you need a new one for whatever reason – then I think I have a brilliant suggestion. I was looking for a new bicycle saddle because my basic one was leading me to experience some numbness in my gentleman’s area, even with shorts. I decided that this was unacceptable, and started looking for another saddle.

Now, the first saddle that I tried was one that I already had in my house – namely my Brooks leather saddle – a Brooks Flyer. Don’t get me wrong, riding the Brooks got rid of the problem straight away, and the Brooks is a very comfortable ride. It does present a few problems however. The first is that you cannot leave a leather saddle outside because rain would ruin a leather saddle. The second problem is that at £125 price tag – a Brooks saddle is a desirable (not to mention relatively small) item and it does attract a lot of thieves; just check eBay at any time for the large number of Brooks saddles for sale which are “no longer needed”.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, I set about looking for a saddle that would relieve the pressure down there at the same time as being weather proof and with a price tag that would make the saddle less desirable and/or not upset me too much if it did get stolen. I went to a few retail stores to see what saddles they offered in the under £50 range which would avoid excessive pressure on the perineum (the soft bits between your sitting bones which contain nerves and blood vessels that supply your private parts). It turns out there was precious little offered. The budget saddles were full of gimmicks such as bits of sponge that made the whole saddle soft, or the seemingly magical “gel” inserts that invited buyers to touch the gel, as if this would ascertain the comfort of the saddle when sat on. Let me tell you – soft saddles are not good for you, because as you sit on them, all that softness is taken up quite quickly by your sitting bones, leaving a dome of compressed material pressing onto the soft bits in the middle. The gel is not much better, as most of it is far too soft.

PicMonkey Collage

So the answer, in general is to opt for a saddle which is not too soft. Most high end saddles are hard and they are like this for a reason. Your sitting bones are placed on the hard surface and the natural space between the sitting bones along with either a scooped area or hole running down the centre of the saddle serve to create a space such that a minimal amount of pressure is placed on the perineum.

Enter the Rido R2 which retails at £42.50 from http://www.rido-cyclesaddles.com/ The owner of the company was kind enough to send me one of their saddles to review. I found the saddle to be very strange at first. The angle at which I set the saddle was not correct for me and after a couple of adjustments I was able to set myself up with a position that provided the optimal comfort.

I have been riding the saddle for the past month and it has been great. It’s been at least as comfortable as my Brooks saddle, if not better. This alone makes the saddle good value for money as the price of the R2 is half that of the average Brooks saddle. The back of the Rido R2 is shaped such that when I ride the R2 I can move back and forth to find the spot that best suits my sitting bones. Furthermore, there is a space between the two angled parts at the back of the saddle, which has meant that I felt no pressure on the perineum whatsoever, and I’ve had no discomfort or numbness since.

Last but not least – as you’ll be able to tell from the pictures, I’ve used the saddle well, it’s been on my bike for over a month, and I have no plans to take it off either, which is testament in itself. I give the R2 5 stars.

5stars

Review: Booq Boa Courier Bag

Once upon a time I was a fresh faced 18 year old who came to London for university. I made my way down to Camden market to get myself a bag to use for lectures. I found a nice black satchel that I really like the look of, being sold for £20 (reasons being that it was “designer”). I haggled the price down to £12 – a great success. It would have been a fine price to pay for a bag if it would have lasted me around 2 years or so. It wasn’t to be, however. Less than 4 weeks later, the lining of the pockets was cracked and falling apart, the zip inside was broken, and the nylon (which I didn’t realise came in different grades) was looking very ruffled on the edges and there was a hole in one of the corners. I later went to an unnamed sports shop where I purchased a fake leather satchel for £5 that lasted me around 5 years before being worn out. The moral of the story is that you don’t always pay for quality or longevity.

After such an experience I never tend to pay very much for bags, but I see them around and I’ve always wondered what the experience of using a very nice bag would be like.

Enter the dojo: the Booq Boa Courier bag (13 inches). My first impressions were that the bag was that it was a rather substantial item. I could feel that it was constructed without much corner cutting and that the materials used were of good quality. At the same time, I couldn’t see the reasons behind the cost, and was still sitting on the fence.

bag1

Technical information

    • Fits: 13-inch Mac/PC
    • Exterior: 435 x 275 x 120 mm
    • Interior: 365 x 245 x 25 mm
    • Weight: 0.91 kg

As I started using the bag more and more I discovered that it was very well thought out for the modern gadgeteer. I found that the bag very conveniently has various pockets that snugly fit my phone (Samsung S3 with a case, so will fit most phones), a pen, my 7 inch tablet (Kindle Fire here, but also fits my Nexus 7 well), and my laptop (which happens to be 10 inches, but obviously the bag takes a device up to 13 inches). So far, the bag is accruing brownie points nicely.

The laptop pocket itself and the divider have been well constructed – as you can see the divider is thick and provides a good amount of cushioning to your device. Not only does the bag fit a good amount of gadgets, but there is enough room to fit various other bits, a tightly packed lunch, a bottle of water, etc.

Most of all, the material that the bag is made of is very tough. The nylon that makes up the main strap feels very much like a car seatbelt (which are constructed to be tough and last a long time).

It has to be said, that I have a propensity to put a lot of wear into everyday items. Perhaps it’s got to do with the fact that at least twice a week I go to work followed by an evening activity (e.g. school, press event or client drinks) which involves moving between multiple rooms and opening the bag to get various items out multiple times. I make most bags (including my tough Ortlieb panniers) look old very quickly. The material (presumably nylon) that makes up the main body of the bag is also a synthetic material with tough properties, as after daily use by me for over two months, the edges of the bag are not worn at all, and the weave is as intact and shiny as it was on the first day. At the rate this bag is wearing, I think it will last for years to come.

There is also an outside pocket which is rather handy. I rarely use it if I’m on public transport in case of pickpockets, however it would be great to use if you’re on the bike to store items you’d need immediately after you arrive, such as bike lock keys. It even has a compartment that appears to be sized for a phone, although I’m sure it could hold other valuables.

bag2

Whilst review the Booq Boa there were only four small things which came across as a little negative. The first being that the inside of the bag flap has a lovely white lining which unfortunately shows dirt rather well, it would be perhaps better if the lining remain black, the same as the outside, to better hide any detritus which may accumulate here.

Secondly, whilst done up the clasps offer great security for your possessions as you travel or commute, however, the actual act of closing the clasps can sometimes be a painful one. In order to successfully lock the clasps in place you might line the top and bottom parts to the clasp perfectly – if not you may find yourself catching your finger in the clasp, which I can tell you, is not a good experience!

Thirdly, in places the exterior reflective piping designed for visibility on the road, does not line up with the nylon fabric which looks a little shoddy, although this does not detract from its main purpose which is keeping you safe when using this bag with a bike on the road.

The last issue I had with this bag, which I do find rather strange, is that the large outside pocket has 2 holes at the bottom. I am unsure why these 2 holes are there, but I would suggest being wary of placing anything small in this outside pocket as you will find that anything small enough will simply drop out!

To summarise, the bag is tough, it’s well thought out, looks understated (if you’re worried about security) and despite the price tag will definitely prove to be a worthwhile long term purchase despite having a few small flaws. Overall I award the bag 4 of our 5 stars and would recommend it to any London cyclist looking for a functional courier bag.

4stars

Cycling in London – the pros and cons

If you’re anything like me, you are not a big fan of your commute in London on public transport. You’ve most likely seen the hordes of London commuters on bicycles and wondered why they do it.

Well here is an account of why you might consider riding to work by bicycle:

Pros:

  • It is cheaper than public transport. Cycling to work costs around £10-£30 a month on average in maintenance costs, including bicycle insurance, which can be had for £5 a month. This is in my experience of course. Yours may be a lot less!
  • There are various health benefits – not least of which is that most of us want to include some physical activity in our daily routine, but gym visits can be sporadic (at least for me – work gets in the way, etc). When cycling is your way to get around, you exercise twice a day as part of your commute. I’ve lost 10 kg in 2012 and had to buy new trousers. I haven’t changed what I eat, it was all from cycling.
  • You get to avoid public transport. For me – this is a big one. I won’t go into detail, but hopefully we all agree that other commuters, especially during rush hour can be inconsiderate. You get to avoid all of that, including loud music leaking from cruddy headphones, as well as the enforced frottage that so many of us are subject to during out commute.
  • My mornings have become more productive. I arrive at work fully awake and alert, with my heart pumped and I’m full of energy.

IMG_1648

Cons:

  • You have to shower. OR, perhaps you don’t, depending on your fitness level and your genetics. I am one of those people that needs to shower after my ride before my day at the office. I put this into the cons list because a shower may not be readily available. Thankfully in my case, the company I work for provides us with gym membership – so I use it to shower every morning, and towels are provided. It is very refreshing to have some exercise and a shower first thing in the morning, so I’ve turned this con into a pro, but it may be a con if you need to pay for a gym membership just to use their showers, or if there is only one shower available at work and you’re in a shower queue for 15 minutes and have to bring your own towel.
  • Your bike might get stolen. This is – unfortunately a danger for cyclists and is something that one needs to be careful about. This can be mitigated by using good locking technique (which may be covered in another post) as well as locking up your bike in a secure area, which may not always be available.
  • Road safety. This is something that we all need to be very careful with. In short, road safety involves asserting dominance in traffic, correct lane positioning, NOT riding in the gutter, indicating and those are just some basics. Most of all, road safety involves research. There are plenty of articles out there that will explain road safety on a bicycle better than I can, so please get out there and read them. Some examples to get you started: London Cyclist Blog Safety Tips and Seven Common Cycling Mistakes. As well as this, in 2009 Camden council offered a free bicycle lesson to all residents free of charge. I took advantage of this and the 2 hours I spent with a cycling instructor proved invaluable. Check with your council to see if they offer either free or subsidised bicycle lessons.
  • The initial financial outlay can be large (ish). A very basic but decent set up could set you back £250 for the bike, £50 for locks, £30 for cycling lights – £330 total. This is roughly 3 months’ travel card costs in London, so it does pay for itself reasonably quickly. If you don’t have the money upfront, most bicycle chain stores do some kind of finance deal, whereby you can split the cost of getting your bike and accessories over 12 months; so your travel costs could go down to £30 per month from £120 for an Oyster Travel card for zones 1-2. You can spend the remaining £90 on extra nights out, the occasional use of public transport (everyone needs a break every once in a while), the occasional cycling lesson, or just save it! There’s a recession on, after all… I would recommend spending more on your kit, however, as a nicer bike will make you more eager to get out and ride, and it will last longer. I bought £1000 worth of bike and accessories though the cycle to work scheme, paying back £50 per month for 12 months (£600). £50 a month is still less than the £120 I would pay for a travel card.

So – this is my list of pros and cons. I am a keen cyclist so I may well have missed out some cons, but I sure did miss out some pros as well. I like cycling to work, it has many benefits as I described. The disadvantages of cycling to work can be mitigated – and for me are far outweighed by the advantages.

If you’re lucky you may have someone who can lend you a bike to try out commuting on, so at least you can try before you buy. Alternatively it’s possible that you already have a bike, or a family member may have a bike gathering dust in a garage that they are willing to give to you. I bought a dirt cheap bike (£150 mountain bike) as my first bike in 2009, and I liked cycling so much that I ended up buying a more expensive bike 18 months later. The original bike is still with me, but all the components on it have had to be changed, as the originals wore out within 18 months of daily use and it made for a horrible ride. I would never go back to riding a worn out cheap bike, but on the plus side, my computing during those 18 months ended up costing me £8.30 a month! That’s less than 7% of a £120 travel card. A 93% discount on your travel costs – not too shabby, I say.

 

Review Samsung S3 Bicycle Mount

If you’re anything like me, you like cycling and you like your smartphone. Why – cycling gets you places in a fun/enjoyable way, and under your own power. Smartphones have Google Maps on them which helps if you get lost.

I have wanted a phone mount for my bike for a while; but I’ve been deliberating over a phone for quite a few months now, my iPhone 3GS was cramping my style something awful and the network coverage of a certain provider left a lot to be desired – but that’s another story, for a different day. Long story short – I’ve been holding off on getting a phone mount as I didn’t know which phone I was going to have.

So when I needed to use the bike to get to new places – the resulting journey was a rather cumbersome affair of cycling for about 500 feet, pulling over to get the phone out again – checking where I needed to go next and memorising as much of the route as possible, putting the phone back in the pocket and the glove back on, and then having to do the same again 500 feet down the road or after half a dozen turnings or so (memory of a goldfish?). Repeating this ad nauseaum did lead me to my destination – but I was no happy bunny.

I’ve been telling Andreas at London Cyclist about my amusing map-related shenanigans as well as letting slip that I have gone off iPhones and got myself a shiny new S3. He put two and two together, took pity on me, and sent me a Tigra Samsung S3 bike mount from the London Cyclist shop for a review.

 

Mobile Phone Mount Pricing

Samsung S3 mount packaging

One of the other things that has been putting me off getting a bicycle mount was that I didn’t know which to choose. If you take a cursory view of the phone mounts on offer on (for the sake of argument) amazon, or eBay – there is an array, with prices varying from £5 to £50, with very mixed reviews. I had no idea which would be good enough to protect a £500-£1000 phone as well as offer best value for money.  Certainly the last thing you want is to find out the hard way that the £5 mounts out there are not waterproof or shockproof…

Examining the packaging of the Tigra S3 mount, I am informed that it is water resistant to a certain European standard (I forget the name) – which is confidence inspiring. There is also not a hint of chinglish on the packaging – and I presume some of the fiver jobbies out there will fall into this category (i.e. Chinese company, no way to trace who they are, no customer service, etc). Tigra appears to be a reputable brand for phone mounts, with a developing reputation.Some might just splash out and get the most expensive one out there, at the end of the day, your phone is worth £500 or more and what’s another £50 to ensure that it is safe? That’s all well and good, but I like to find an appropriate point between the two extremes, and buy something of quality that will do the job well, whilst not paying for the most expensive item out there (in this case a phone mount). There definitely is a point (as with all retail items) where more money doesn’t mean a better item, and you’re paying for a brand/someone’s R&D costs/whatever.

Tigra Mount PackagingSamsung S3 Bicycle Mount

Upon opening the packaging; I saw a well presented mount, with a handlebar bracket not dissimilar to the cateye light mounting brackets, i.e. fits a vast array of sizes – not just a certain diameter handlebar. This came in very handy as my handlebar varies in diameter along its length, and the bracket design means I can place the bracket anywhere I choose – I’d just need to tighten the strap as much as necessary using a cog mechanism on the inside – which rides in the grooves of the strap. Tigra even included the allen key which is necessary to tighten the bracket.

The mount in use

Now, I couldn’t be more impressed with this mount!

The phone case certainly feels like it will hold the water out – the phone is cradled in a layer of rubber on the inside of the plastic mount, presenting a double layer to water as well as keeping the phone secure inside the case.

Locking the phone into the case borders on the slightly difficult, this in my mind serves to confirm that a very tight seal has been formed to keep the water out. I haven’t ridden with the mount in the rain, but I have no doubt that it is waterproof. Update: I rode with the phone on my handlebars last night as well as this morning – the mount is most certainly waterproof. 🙂

S3 bicycle mount

Regarding the shock proof properties of the mount/case – this I have tested! I have dropped the phone whilst on the go. I was silly enough not to secure the bottom screw (on the bracket) to the phone case. It would have taken me about 10 seconds to do, and I knew I had to do it, but I forgot and my phone fell on the road as I was swivelling it round to look at the map in landscape.  The phone was completely undamaged, and in fact I got the feeling that the outer case would break before harm would come to the actual phone.

 

 

 

Final Verdict

What is the final verdict of my ramblings then?!

I say, get one. You won’t regret it – I haven’t. I believe that this phone mount, priced at £35, is brilliant value for money, and avoids the minefield that comes with picking a reasonably priced phone mount that will protect your expensive smartphone from water and the occasional drop to the ground.

Now – I only need to work out how to get the screen on my S3 to stay on for longer than 10 minutes during use without having to touch it. The very obvious solution is to “just touch the screen every once in a while” but this can be frustrating if you’re riding with gloves in winter. I do believe that gloves with conductive fingertips exist, but I haven’t yet found the need to stop every 10 minutes to wake your phone up again frustrating enough to warrant the extra purchase.

4stars