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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
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
New biking toys

New biking toys

I got a few new toys for the bike just recently.

Firstly a pair of Shimano A530 SPD pedals to replace the old M505 which came with the bike. The old pedals had SM-PD22 clip-on platform adapters, pretty ugly, but handy before I went clipless. I know there are purists out there who will tell you that once you go clipless you never go back, but find that I like having the choice of being clipped in or not, especially in town when there are a lot traffic lights. Anyway I really like the A530s they feel very smooth, and although they need a wee bit more force to clip in, when it comes to clipping out I find them much easier (I am still using the same old cleats). Overall I am really pleased with them.

Secondly and probably more exciting I have bought some more lights, oh yes more lights. Back before Christmas DiNotte had the 400L Road Rider’s experience on sale at what looked like a bargain price and in a moment of weakness I decided to go for it. The price was good as it was, but would have been even better six months ago when the pound (£) was worth $2, even at an exchange rate of $1.49=£1 it still looked a good deal. The bit I forgot is that the exchange rate the credit card company charges is never as good as the official exchange rate. The ordering process was very straightforward and I was sent the url of a page to track the progress of my lights in shipping. They crossed the Atlantic in good time, cleared UK customs and made their way to the local delivery office. Then it show delivery attempted, but as I had had them sent to my work address I knew it hadn’t been, what was going on?? After a couple of days of being told that my parcel hadn’t arrived yet every time I passed reception, I received a letter from Parcelforce (much to the relief of our receptionist) telling me that I had to pay VAT and Duty before they would deliver. Now VAT I had expected, I had forgotten about Duty, but I wasn’t expecting an extra charge (of £13.50) from Parcelforce for collecting the VAT and Duty. Oh well that is just one of the joys of buying stuff from abroad over the internet.

Anyway now that I have the lights, what are they like? Well the first impression as you open the box is, wow there is a lot of stuff in here! It is not just the two lights (front and rear) and two 2 cell batteries, there is a Worldwide smart charger, a helmet mount, numerous other mounts to mount the lights on handlebar, seatpost, rack, seatstay, chainstay or any other location you can think of, also a headband (for those like me who regard helmets as pointless), then there is the cabling and straps, and last but not least a lens kit is also included to add some beam pattern flexibility for the front light. The only thing that was missing was a word of warning, which should read: DO NOT be tempted to look at the lens as you turn on the lights for the first time. By the time you switch them on for the second time, you know why. If you were tempted then the thought of lying in a darkened room for several hours waiting for your eye sight to come back again is enough to put you off doing it again. Yes, these lights are SERIOUSLY bright.

Having got them home and played around with them for a wee while, the batteries started to go flat, so time to recharge. Now on the DiNotte web site it says the lights come with a “Worldwide smart charger (just add your country’s plug)”, from that I expected a laptop style inline power brick, instead it is a mobile phone type charger with a moulded in two pin American plug. So I set about digging out a travel adaptor, only to find that all our travel adaptors were to plug a British three pin plug into a foreign socket and not the other way round. Not to be beaten, I took it into the bathroom and plugged it into the shaver socket, and within a short time the red light on the charger turned to green telling me that the battery was fully charged. NB the batteries are only partly charged on delivery, so don’t expect to get the full run time straight out of the box.

Next puzzle, which of the ten brackets supplied to use to mount the lights on my bike? The range of options is wide, or on the back would be if I wasn’t using a Trek pannier rack and Karrimor EH20 Global panniers which limits the options to the seat post. Even so, I still had a choice of vertical or horizontal. At the front end, after trying a range of different configurations, I opted to use the headband for the first outing.

Ok, so what are they like on the road I hear you asking. Well, for the first test I only used the rear light, as I was cycling to work and it was just before sunrise and I didn’t need a light to see by (I did have my collection of old lights to be seen by). As I wasn’t sure how long the battery would last and wasn’t going to be able to recharge it at work, I set the light to flashing mode. Cycling through the rush hour traffic, I found that I was getting more space than I was used to, this has to be a good thing. On the return journey it was fully dark, so I deployed the front light. Having it on the headband is very handy when trying to unlock the bike and re-attach the battery for the rear light in a semi darkened bike shed. Getting on the bike, I found that I had set the angle of the light too low (adjusting the angle of the light needs a screwdriver) and had to tilt my head up a wee bit more than I would usually do when looking straight down the road, but this was only a minor issue.

I set off with the light on full blast, and cycling out past the Vet School where the street lights stop I found that I could now easily see the hedges on both sides of the road. Before the new lights I had had to slow down to avoid riding into the hedge on my side as the road curved. Even better, I saw the loom of the lights of an oncoming car dip before the car came round the corner! Normally they just come flying round in the middle of the road, but this time it had slowed down and was on its own side of the road, which was much safer. When I reached the street lit road again, I turned the light down to its lowest setting, as I didn’t feel I needed as much light, and still found I had plenty. I also noticed that car drivers turning out of side roads were far more aware of my presence, they all looked at least twice and none tried to cut out in front of me. As for the rear light, this time I had set it to high and constant. As with my morning ride, I found that drivers were giving me more room than I would normally expect to get, and none of them tried a last minute overtake or a close pass. Great result.

Having gotten home safely, I wanted to check to see what the battery levels were like, my commute is about 30 minutes out and 20 minutes home (not including time in the bike shed). So I followed the instruction manual (one sheet of A4) which came with the lights and found that the rear light was reporting 50-75% battery power and the front 75-100% battery power. Want to see them in action? See here!

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More about lights…

More about lights…

I was talking to a friend at work today about rear cycle lights and we decided to take a couple of photos as a comparison, of I thought I would post them here just in case anyone should be interested. First the DiNotte 140L v a Smart 1/2 W LED 3 Function light (which is said to be visible from up to 800 metres, according to the sales blurb).
Rear light comparison 1
And one with the Cateye TL-LD600 turned on, as you can see from the flare these photos were taken on a bright sunny day.
Rear light comparison 2

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