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Bright lights for dark nights

Bright lights for dark nights

Way back in January I bought myself a new set of cycle lights for commuting in the dark, namely the Dinotte 400L Road Rider’s experience. It was a wee bit more than I really wanted to pay, due to the weakness of the Pound against the Dollar, but I am really pleased with the lights. Whilst I have commented on these lights a few times in this blog, I just realised that haven’t posted a photo of them in action, until now…

Dinotte 400L Road Rider's Experience

Note that the front wheel has turned towards the wall, so you are not seeing the full throw of the light. I find that I use the rear light (tail light) the most, as it bright enough to make a difference in day light. Used in flashing mode, I am reliably informed that it can be seen for over a mile (1.6Km) in full sunlight. Everyone I know who has seen it in action has commented on it. Also, I know at least one person who has been so impressed he also bought the same light set. They are without doubt the brightest cycle lights I have ever owned and well worth buying.

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A short walk in the Lammermuirs

A short walk in the Lammermuirs

Well is was a very short walk, only about 50m, but more of that later, the main activity of the day was cycling. With the prospect of the long Easter weekend and the spring sun shining, we decided it was time to get the bikes out again and go for a half day ride. Having enjoyed our last trip to East Lothian, we decided another visit was in order, this time to see a wee bit more of the Lammermuir Hills. Once again we took the easy option for getting out of town, the train to Longniddry. From the station, our plan was to take a slightly different route to Gifford and then on to the hills.

However, things didn’t quite go as planned, we had only gone a short way when we saw a group of cyclists about to emerge from a side turning. Thinking nothing of it, we said hello and carried on. About 1km down the road the leader of the group, wearing an Edinburgh Road Club jersey, caught up with us and passed us, making a few snide comments as he did so. Evidently he thought that people riding hybrid bikes and carrying panniers should keep out of the way of those on road bikes. Then finding that his group was having difficulty keeping up, he slowed down, causing the group to box us in and slowing us down. I noticed that several riders were struggling, as they didn’t have their bikes set up correctly. In particular, one lassie was having trouble on a slight slope because her saddle was clearly too low, others had their saddles too high. This was obviously a beginners group, and one has to wonder what sort of a club doesn’t bother to help beginners set up their bike properly and just lets them struggle. As Ulli said later, “if that’s what cycling clubs are like, I want no part of it”. Being boxed in we missed our turning and were forced to carry on until they turned off. This led to a change from our intended route, and after a quick check of the map we decided to go on to Haddington.

Once in Haddington, we had a choice of Fords or Greggs the bakers. We chose Fords, and having taken on a few carbs and stowed some in the panniers for later, we set off once more, crossed the Tyne and headed south. We briefly picked up the B6369, before turning off on to a minor road which had recently been resurfaced and was beautifully smooth. After an initial gentle climb, the road was trending downhill, but I could see it turning uphill ahead, so I decided to pick up some speed and use the momentum gained to carry me up the other side. Had I looked at the map beforehand, I might not have chosen this strategy, as this was the first steep climb of the day, according to the map it is between 14% and 20%. I started the climb at a steady pace, but was soon dropping down through the gears in order to keep going. Just before the crest of the hill at Linkylea there was a sign saying “Slow down, children and animals!” At this stage I was breathing heavily and I thought “if I slow down any more I’ll will be track standing”. Having reached level ground, I stopped to wait for Ulli to catch up. Which she did a couple of minutes later, she had taken the climb at a much more measured pace and was hardly out of breath, whereas I was still wheezing when she arrived.

Breathing normally again, we carried on, crossed over the B6370 and followed the minor road until we picked up the road that we had intended to follow out of Gifford (B6355) towards Danskine. The road was again trending down when I saw a sign, part buried in a hedge, announcing a gradient 17% ahead. I immediately moved on to the big ring and charged down the hill, the road was bending slightly and as I rounded the bend at the bottom of the hill I saw that it went straight up again, at the same gradient which I had just come down. I madly scrambled to change down gear for the coming climb, causing the chain to suck. I back pedalled trying to free the chain. The road had started to climb and I quickly lost momentum and the bike slowed to a halt. At this point I suddenly realised that I was still cleated into the pedals. Before I had time to think about releasing my feet, I gracefully keeled over to the left, landing on an earth bank at the roadside. Having disentangled myself from my bike, I picked it up and manually turned over the cranks to select a low gear to climb the hill up to Danskine.

Beyond Danskine we were climbing steadily, ahead of us the Lammermuirs were rising up, as was the smoke from the muirburn. At one point a Landrover came hurtling down the road, presumably one of the gamekeepers had run out of matches. We crossed a cattle grid and left the farm land behind, setting out on to the moor. As we reached the foot of Newlands Hill there was yet another 17% gradient sign, this time I let Ulli take the lead. We made steady progress up to and around the big bend at about 340m (asl), but then Ulli decided that it was time to get off and walk, I carried on for a bit but then did the same. I walked for about 50m before Ulli came cycling past me, at which point I got back on the bike. With hindsight we could have (should have?) stayed on the bikes. Where the road flattened off around 390m, we stopped to take photos.

We then carried across another cattle grid and on to where the road forked and decided to follow the minor road across the shoulder of Wanside Rig to see what lay beyond. The road stretched out ahead up and down dale, curiosity satisfied we turned back to the B6355, turning right to join it once more. To the north of us on the side of Moss Law, above the Kingside Burn there was another fire burning, watch over by a bevy of Landrovers. As we passed out of the smoke the perfect down hill run appeared, the road dropped away before us, dead strait for two kilometres loosing 125m altitude along the way, with smooth tarmac all the way. I selected the big ring and cranked up the speed as best I could, the wind was cross on, only slightly hindering me. I looked down at my VDO cycle computer which suggested that I was about to hit 70Km/h (speed is shown in increments of 0.5Km/h), but when the hill ran out and I stopped to let Ulli catch up, I found the max speed was only 69.4Km/h (43.1 mph). Still not bad for someone riding a mere hybrid and carrying a pannier, now where was that snotty roady.

Ulli having caught up told me that she had been able to the flash of my rear light (the DiNotte 400L) all the way down. So there we have it the DiNotte 400L rear light is visible at a range of 1 mile in full sun, who says you can have a cycle light that is bright enough to use in daylight. Anyway, Ulli having caught up we carried on towards the Whiteadder Reservoir, then turned sharply left on to a minor road (at 274m asl). The turn was so sharp I didn’t notice in advance that it was also sharply up hill. Once again I found my self trying to change from the big ring to the granny ring and once again experienced chain suck. Only this time my feet flew off the pedals, the chain sorted it’s self out before I lost momentum and so I was able to reapply feet to pedals to carry on round the corner. The road undulated up and down, but mostly up until we reached the high point at 345m (asl) just above the White Castle iron age hill fort where we stopped for photos.

Photo stop at White Castle, East Lothian

From White Castle, we dropped down to Garvald on the worst road we had seen all day. There were a couple of steep descents (some were between 14% and 20%) but on these, unlike earlier descents, I had to keep the brakes on as there was too much loose material on the road and keep a close watch for potholes. Along the way we passed Castle Moffat, an impressive red sand stone building which looked like a cross between a castle and a steading. And Nunraw Abbey, which we had expected to be ruin, but turned out to be a modern building home to a community of Cistercian monks. Garvald its self was nothing special, just another sleepy village with a nondescript looking pub. We had planned to stop but having gotten there decided that it wasn’t worth it and so pedalled on mostly along minor roads, passing south of Lennoxlove, crossing the Tyne at Samuelston and passing north through Elvingston to return to Longniddry and the train home.

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here, the stats for the day for anyone who is interested are:

  • Distance cycled – 66.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:17:36
  • Max Speed – 69.4 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.1 Km/h

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A Spring breeze through East Lothian

A Spring breeze through East Lothian

It is the start of spring, so what to do? Head out for a bike ride of course. Last week we nipped out to Balerno and back. This week we wanted something more, so to make the most of the day we took the train to Longniddry. From the station we headed west a short way along the A198, then ducked under the railway line along the B6363 and, as soon as we could, turned left onto a minor road to enjoy cycling traffic free, not that there was much traffic about anyway. After a kilometre or so we turned right and cycled on past Elvingston through open farm land. Being early spring, the sun was still weak and so I stopped several times, jacket on, jacket off, jacket on, jacket off, before deciding that it was a jacket off day. We crossed over the A1 (thankfully by a bridge) and continued southwards, crossing the A199 and A6093, both these main roads were really quiet. Past Samuelston the road passed though fields bounded by low stone walls. Over one wall we cold see march hares chasing across a field, as we approached a gate in the wall, a female hare ran out from under the gate into the road, saw us and dived back under the gate into the field. We stopped to watch, but they were too fast for the camera.

A couple of kilometres further on, the road passed through a line of trees which gave us some relief from the wind. Although the wind didn’t go much above 15mph all day, it was tiring to cycle across or into. The trees also give a tunnel like effect, even before they have their leaves on, focusing your view forward to the Lammermuir Hills ahead. The road ended at a T junction where we turned left on to the B6355 which we followed into Gifford. At Gifford we stopped for food in a wee café called “Love Coffee… …and Food?”. This gave me the opportunity to have my second cooked breakfast of the day, while Ulli had a bowl of soup. The food was freshly cooked and portions large and filling. One of the great things about cycling is that you don’t have to worry about having large portions as you soon burn it off again. While we were eating, a couple came in who were on a motorcycle tour, the contrast with us was noticeable. They were heavily swathed in warm clothing, whereas we were lightly dressed, with me in cycle shorts and both of us in short sleeves (ok, so I did have a T-shirt underneath). On a motorbike you don’t get any exercise, you just sit there getting cold and uncomfortable.

We weren’t the only cyclists out and about, as we left the café another couple of cyclists came in, we had a look at their bikes as we went back to ours. Then, as we sat by the church looking at the map deciding where to go next, a couple on a tandem rode past. Setting out from Gifford, we retraced our path along the B6355, then turned left towards Yester. We were both curious to see the place, as when we were living in Gorgie one of the local shops sold milk from Yester Farm Dairies. So now we know where our milk used to come from, the local shops where we are now only sell milk from Wiseman Dairies and so it could come from anywhere in Scotland. Then onwards to Longyester, where we dodged some very large farm machinery cleaning the winter build up from the cattle byres. We saw several farmers out working as we rode past, all of them smiled and waved, giving us the feeling they regarded the sight of cyclists on the road rather like the sight of the first swallows, a sure sign that summer is on its way.

We decided to get a little closer to the Lammermuir Hills and took a right towards East Hopes, but then realised that it was tucked away deep in a glen below the hills and turned back. We retraced our route to Longyester, through fields of spring lambs running around in the sun shine full of the joys of spring. Then we headed westwards, into the wind, passing the splendidly named Pishwanton Wood. As we passed we saw what looked like a hobbit house in the wood, this turned out to be a biodynamic study centre. This section of road was also notable for the billiard smooth surface of newly laid tarmac which made for very easy cycling. To the south of us along the edge of the Lammermuir Hills there is a string of old hill forts. Then as we came round a corner towards Long Newton, there is a line of terraced houses all painted in pastel colours, reminiscent of Tobermory.

From Long Newton, we worked our way along back lanes until we found our selves on the B6369, which we followed on towards Humbie, between high dome shaped hedges which gave us shelter against the wind. Just before Humbie we turned north west along the B6371, just past the appropriately named Old Windy Mains (we were cycling uphill directly into the wind at this stage) we forked right and followed a wee road down to the village of Peastonbank which sits astride the Kinchie Burn. This wee burn originally provided the water supply of the Glenkinchie Distillery (it now gets it water from reservoirs in the Lammermuir Hills), the producer of the only lowland malt whisky in Scotland. The visitor centre was closed as the tourist season doesn’t start until Easter.

After leaving the distillery we headed uphill and turned right at a T junction, then after crossing an old railway bridge we decided to drop down to the old railway line (now a cycle path), with hindsight we would have been better off staying on the road. The cycle path took us around the edge of Pencaitland, and we could have followed it all the way to Musselburgh, but wind had taken its toll of us and we decided to head back to Longniddry. We followed the main road into Pencaitland, then turned left on to the B6363 and followed its zigzag path back to Longniddry, arriving just in time to catch a train back to Edinburgh.

As an experiment, throughout the day I was running the DiNotte 400L rear light on a slow flash and it was noticeable that I did not get a single close pass by a motorist. I checked the battery strength when got home and was surprised to find that, using a two cell Lithium ion battery after nearly 3 hours of use, the battery was still showing nearly 75% charge!

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here or use a Google Earth KML file. The stats for the day for anyone who is interested:

  • Distance cycled – 59.7 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:54:44
  • Max Speed – 53.0 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.5 Km/h

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Cycle, lights, action…

Cycle, lights, action…

At this time of year when (at least here in the northern hemisphere) the clocks go back, the cycle commuter’s mind turns to lights. Usually, just after fumbling around in the bottom of the pannier whilst standing in a darkened bike shed, the realisation slowly creeps across your mind that your lights are still in the cupboard at home. Sometimes you do get lucky and find that you have remembered to bring them with you after all. However, the sense of relief is often short-lived as, when you turn on the lights, you find that the batteries are flat.

For this reason, some years ago, I decided to leave a pair of cheap lights permanently mounted on my bike. They look so tacky that no self-respecting bike thief has yet removed them. These are low powered LED flashy type things which are just enough to keep you street legal and get you home, if there is plenty of street lighting so that you can see where you are going.

Back when I was growing up, battery powered cycle lights were big clunky things, with a light output of little more than that of a candle in a jam jar. I however was the proud owner of a dynamo which I used to power the front light alone, although it was designed to power both front and rear lights. The consequence of this was that the single front light was far brighter than that of any of my friends, but bulb life was rather short. As the dynamo was of the tyre driven bottle type, which works by rubbing on the front tyre, it wasn’t just the bulbs that were short lived. Another consequence of using the dynamo was that it felt like you were cycling with the brakes on. Not that this was a problem when cycling with friends, having the brightest light meant that they tended to follow rather than race ahead on the unlit rural roads around where we lived. On nights when the moon was full, I would often ride without the dynamo running. On the rare occasions when there was a car coming I would just lean forward and just flick the dynamo on, ah those were the days.

Now I do understand that you can get hub dynamos these days. There are advantages to using these systems, such as there are no batteries to go flat and, as the lights are permanently mounted, you can’t accidentally leave them at home. But somehow they never appealed to me. This is partly due to the prospect of having to lug them around and take the drag hit all through the summer when, here in Scotland, they won’t get much use. Also, having a lot of expensive lighting attached to the bike all of the time might increase the risk of theft or vandalism.

What does appeal to me is the new LED technology, take for instance Lupine’s new Betty 12. It has seven High Power new generation LEDs with a range of power settings from 0.25W to 22W. The 0.25W setting is as bright as the brightest current conventional cycle light, but with a burn time of 336 hours (that is 2 weeks non-stop!). On the 22W setting the burn time drops to 6 hours, but the light output increases to 1400 Lumen (and no that isn’t a typo). Now to put that into context, the old Lupine Edison 10 headlamp had a 900 Lumen output, which is equivalent to a 65W HP halogen bulb (i.e. a bright car headlamp). Obviously this sort of cutting edge technology doesn’t come cheap, the Betty 12 has a list price of €990 (about £690). Now some people might consider £690 to be a tad expensive for a front light (even if you can use it as head torch for night skiing, as the Lupine web site suggests), it is more aimed at 24 hour race enthusiasts and people with deep pockets, than the everyday commuter (although Lupine try to suggest otherwise).

Oddly, Lupine only do front lights, so in my search for a more affordable front light and a matching rear light I turn to DiNotte. Ok, so the front lights only knock out between 200 and 600 Lumen (depending on model), but that still beats a candle in a jam jar and even most of the lights you will find in you local bike shop. However, what makes DiNotte special is not their front lights, no it’s the 140 Lumen rear lights. They really make a difference. DiNotte tail light (85K) So if there is anyone reading this who would like to know what I really would like this Christmas, well this combo would do nicely… or if you really feeling generous one of these!

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