Product review: Reflective BUFF®

When cycling during winter there’s nothing worse than feeling cold. It’s uncomfortable, saps your energy and takes all the joy out of being on a bike in the first place.

I’ve been cycle commuting across London for 10 years now and I’ve had time, through trial and error, to work out what works best for me on those chilly mornings when I’d rather be tucked up in bed. I generally wear fleecy longs, thick woollen hiking socks and trainers (I don’t do the cycling shoe thing on my commute) to keep my bottom half warm, and up top I wear a wicking t-shirt (long or short sleeved depending on how cold it is), a fleece, a waterproof/windproof jacket, gloves and helmet.

The only part that ever feels exposed is my face, my ears and my neck. (I have long hair but tie it up in a pony tail when I cycle, although, occasionally out of sheer desperation, I’ve been known to keep it down on those really icy mornings simply to keep me warm.)

And then, only a few weeks ago, a colleague joked that maybe I should wear a balaclava and be done with it. “Or what about a buff?” suggested another. And so this is how I came to try the Reflective BUFF®, a “tube” of material which you wear around your neck to keep the draughts at bay.

Black Reflection Buff

What I like about the Reflective BUFF®

  • It’s lightweight (just 41g), so it’s comfortable and unobtrusive.
  • It’s long (52cm), which means you can tuck plenty of it under your collar and pull it up to cover your mouth and nose, if you so wish. (An instruction sheet that came with mine suggests that you can wear it in plenty of different ways, such as a head covering, hair tie or face mask.)
  • It’s soft (it’s made out of 100% polyester micro fibre), so doesn’t feel scratchy against your skin.
  • It has two retro-reflective strips on either side, which can help make you more visible in low light conditions.
  • You can throw it in the washing machine and it comes out looking like new. I’ve washed mine several times now in non-bio detergent and the reflective strips don’t appear to have deteriorated in any way.
  • It keeps you really warm! Wearing it has been a bit of a revelation — I had no idea so much cold air was going down the back of my neck until I started wearing this.

What I don’t like about the Reflective BUFF®

  • It’s slightly too big — I reckon about 2.5cm off the existing 24.5cm width would make it the perfect size for my head/neck. Perhaps a ladies’ version is needed?
  • The reflective strip can feel a little cold against your face, but this is easily solved by making sure the strips are on either side of your head when you put it on.

Overall opinion

I really like this buff — but let’s be honest, it’d be hard not to like a piece of super-soft material that keeps your neck/face warm. It’s promptly become part of my regular winter cycling kit — and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ve cycle commuted for so long without one.

Where can you buy?

You can order the Reflective BUFF® from Kitshack.com. There’s a range of colours and patterns available, priced from £14. The product I tried (pictured) was the R-Black, priced £18.50.

My Reflective BUFF® was supplied to me for review purposes by Kitshack.com.

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Product review: Oakley Radarlock Sunglasses

In my quest to find the perfect sunglasses for cycling, I jumped at the chance to review these little beauties from Oakley. The arrival of my new Radarlock Sunglasses coincided with the sudden — and very welcome — arrival of the hottest British summer since 2006, so I've been wearing them pretty consistently for the past six or so weeks. Here's a brief rundown of what I think of them.

Oakley-radarlock

What I like about Oakley Radarlock Sunglasses

  • They look good — and very sporty. The model I tested had white frames but they come in other colours too, including black, red and blue, so you can choose whatever takes your fancy.
  • They fit snugly — there's no slippage at all, even in the sweatiest of conditions.
  • They are incredibly lightweight, so you almost forget that you are wearing them. Admittedly, I've not worn them longer than 45 minutes at a time, but in the past I've worn other types of glasses that have left red angry marks on the bridge of my nose and created pressure point pain on my ears in that amount of time, but that's definitely not the case with these glasses.
  • The lenses can be interchanged. My model came with green lenses (as pictured) and clear yellow lenses. The green lenses are perfect for bright, blinding conditions, particularly when I'm cycling to work and catch the sun as it rises, and again on the journey home when the sun is low in the sky. I haven't been in a position to wear the yellow lenses (yet) but I expect they are very good for low-light conditions, particularly if you simply need eye protection rather than avoiding sun glare.
  • Oakley's registered trademark "Plutonite lenses" offer perfect vision and filter out 100 per cent UVA/UVB/UVC light and other harmful light. And because they wrap around the face they also offer side protection against sun and wind.
  • The sunglasses and interchangeable lenses come in a lightweight but sturdy case, complete with lens cloth and material bag. I've found the material bag comes in very handy, particularly as I don't always have the space in my bike bag to carry the case.

What I don't like about Oakley Radarlock Sunglasses

  • The instructions for interchanging the lenses are not easy to follow. I had to get someone else to help me, but once I'd mastered the system — you flick a "switch", push in the nose bridge, then walk out the lens — it was very quick and easy to do. And the lenses really do "lock" in, so there's no risk of them falling out or moving around once they're in place.
  • Wearing the green lenses on my daily commute makes it difficult to make eye contact with drivers — they simply can't see your eyes behind those mirrored lenses!

Overall opinion

Quite frankly, these are the best sunglasses I've ever worn — but then they are also the most expensive sunglasses I've ever worn. But you get what you pay for: they look good, feel great and offer superb all-round vision and eye protection. I particularly love that you can switch the lenses — once you've mastered the technique — to suit the conditions.

Where can you buy?

You can order Oakley Radarlock Sunglasses from the Sunglasses Shop. There is currently a Tour de France special edition frame available priced at £174.25.

My sunglasses were supplied to me for review purposes by Sunglasses Shop.

Product review: Premium MacWet Sports Gloves

Glove-topsideWhen it comes to cycling gloves I know what I like: the gloves must be comfortable, breathable, warm (in winter), provide plenty of grip, offer padded protection to my palms and look good.

When I was asked to test a pair of Premium MacWet Sports Gloves I acquiesced, even though I already have a much-loved pair of Specialized ladies cycling gloves that I doubt could be improved upon. However, sometimes it's worth trying new things, because you might just discover a product even better than the one you truly love.

What I like about the Premium MacWet Sports Gloves

  • They are super soft and comfortable. And because the material is quite thin it offers grip confidence. I was never worried that I couldn't feel the handlebars!
  • My hands never got sweaty in the two weeks that I trialled them. That might have been because I was often cycling in sub-zero temperatures, but I think it probably has more to do with the wicking properties of the material.
  • They washed well — I simply threw them in the washing machine at 40C and they came out like new.

What I don't like

  • They are simply not suitable for winter cycling. My hands froze — from the wind and the rain. (I note the company also makes a winter weight version that is fleece-lined, water-resistant and windproof, so I wish I'd been asked to trial them instead of these micro-mesh ones which are more suitable for milder conditions.)
  • The short and thick elasticated cuffs with velcro fastening let the (cold) air in and didn't sit neatly on my hands, despite being the right size. And I simply didn't like the look of the gloves — I felt like I was going off to play a round of golf or compete in the Prix St. George level dressage!
  • The colour (white) was totally impractical. Within one wear they looked grey and grubby. I also felt a bit like Marcel Marceau. (On the upside, it would be difficult for other road users not to see my hand signals!) I note that there are other (more appropriate) colours available, such as blue, black and brown.
  • There is absolutely no padding on them. I tend to grip the handlebars quite tightly, so I like to have a little padding (preferably gel) so I don't get blisters or suffer numbness in my hands.

Overall opinion

These gloves feel lovely when you slip them on and they are easy to fasten and wash, but I'm not sure they are all that suitable for cycling. I could see they would be better suited to other sporting pursuits such as shooting, golf and horse riding where you need to ensure your grip is as skin-like as possible. That said, these might be okay to use when the weather is warmer and you want to stop your hands slipping on the handlebars.

Where can you buy?

You can order MacWet Gloves direct from the MacWet website. There is a comprehensive range of sizes available (including half-size increments). The short mesh ones I tried retail for £27.99.

My gloves were supplied to me for review purposes by Champions (UK) Plc.

Product review: Cateye headlight EL610RC

While the recent weather in London might be a lot milder than normal, the nights are still drawing in. That means cycle commuters need to use lights for their evening journey home.

But if you have ever gone shopping for a bike light you will know it's almost impossible to choose from the vast array of products on the market. Over the years I've tried various solutions, but by the far the best light I've ever had is the Cateye HL-EL610.

CATEYE-EL610RC

It also happens to be the most expensive. I purchased mine from an online retailer in 2008 for roughly £80. It was worth every penny.

What I like about the Cateye headlight EL610RC

  • It is BRIGHT! 1500 candlepower bright, in fact. This one illuminates the road ahead without problem. Certain parts of my route are very dimly lit (street lighting is practically non-existent, especially along the cycle path on Constitution Hill), but when I'm using this light there's no fear of hitting an unseen pot hole or running over a twig on the ground. The light is so bright, I've had loads of cyclists approach me at traffic lights to ask where I bought it — they want one too!
  • It has three modes — a high mode (which I never use), a low mode and a flashing mode
  • It's rechargable — that means you don't have to worry about constantly buying batteries. It comes with its own recharger that you simply plug into the wall. It takes about four hours to recharge. I usually do it overnight.
  • The battery lasts for several weeks or more. Of course, it depends on how long your commute is (mine is about 40 minutes one way) and which mode you use the light in (the flashing mode saves battery power considerably), but I can use it every weekday for more than a month and not have to recharge it. (According to the manufacturer's guide, the battery is supposed to last 3 hours in high mode, 9 hours in low mode and 36 hours in flashing mode.)

What I don't like

  • It's tricky to get on and off the bike. (But once you figure out that you need to push it in the opposite direction to which you think it should be pushed, all the while holding down the little button, it slips off fine.)
  • It's tricky to work out how to switch between modes. If you want it to flash, you need to press the button twice very quickly, otherwise it will just revert to the standard high beam.
  • The recharging equipment is bulky and not something you really want to be towing around in your bike bag.

Overall opinion

I love this light and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something sturdy, reliable and bright! It's expensive, but I think this is a good example of getting what you pay for — and if you factor in the cost savings in terms of not having to buy batteries, it won't take long to recoup your costs.

Where can you buy?

While it is listed on the official Cateye website, it doesn't look like you can buy it from the UK site. At the time of writing it is listed on the Chain Reaction website for £89.99 and Wiggle for £79.99, but do check other online retailers — you might find a better deal.

Note that the headlight was NOT supplied to me for review purposes. I purchased this one with my own hard cash a couple of years ago.

Product review: Polaroid sunglasses — Contender P7121B

One of the key pieces of kit for any regular cyclist — whether of the sporting, commuting or leisure variety — is protective eye-wear.

In the past I have struggled to find a pair of sunglasses suitable for cycling. My day-to-day Ray-Ban sunglasses might look good, but they tend to slip off my face when I get sweaty. And there's nothing worse than cycling along one-handed while you use the other hand to push your eye-wear off your top lip and back onto your nose!

I also find my Ray-Bans aren't suitable for high-glare conditions, and sometimes, if I'm cycling in dark shade it's almost impossible to see through the lenses.

I often can't be bothered with the hassle, so tend to cycle without eye protection. As a result I've lost count of the number of times I've had insects fly into them — ouch! And god knows I have struggled with that horrible "hairy" pollen that falls from the London plane trees every May, resulting in red, itchy eyes. And dare I mention the odd bit of gravel that has flicked up and caused me to duck, lest it land in my eye?

But then I discovered it doesn't have to be this way. Polaroid has produced some cycle-friendly sunglasses which sit snugly on the face — their Contender P7121B model also offers interchangeable polarised lenses, so you can select the lenses to suit your cycling conditions.

I've spent the past six weeks wearing the sunglasses during my daily commute and here's what I think of them.

Contender_P7121B

What I like about the sunglasses

  • They fit snugly and wrap right around the face without marking my skin or creating sore pressure points on the bridge of my nose or top of my ears — they do not slip, even under the most sweaty of conditions!
  • They are light weight — I often forget that I am wearing them after having parked my bike up, because they are so light
  • The interchangeable lenses mean you can change the lenses to suit the weather conditions: dark grey lenses for bright, sunny conditions; amber lenses for high glare conditions; and clear lenses for low light conditions. 
  • The lenses offer 100 per cent UV400 protection so I know my eyes are being properly protected from the sun's most damaging rays — I'm fussy about the kind and type of UV light that sunglasses filter, which is why I generally buy expensive high-quality sunglasses for fashion wear.
  • The lenses are polarised, which means they offer glare-free vision — no more squinting and being unable to see a thing in front of me!
  • They come with a lightweight case — and a cleaning cloth — to store the lenses and frames together.

What I don't like

  • The amber and clear lenses, coupled with the black frame, aren't particularly flattering — they look a bit like you're about to do some spot-welding! (The grey lenses, by comparison, look pretty rock'n'roll.) I certainly wouldn't wear these sunglasses out-and-about — they look too "sporty" for normal fashion wear.
  • The frame might be lightweight, but when changing the lenses I've been worried that I might accidentally snap something by mistake. It feels just a little too flexible.
  • It would be helpful if the glasses came with a material bag so that when out cycling you didn't have to take the whole case with you — you could simply pop the glasses in a bag and tuck them away when not needed.

Overall opinion

I love these sunglasses! I love the way they fit, I love the interchangeable lenses and I love the glare-free vision they offer. But their styling could be made a little more under-stated and subtle — that way I might wear them just as much off the bike as I do on the bike.

Where can you buy a pair?

You can buy Contender P7121B sunglasses for £89 direct from Polaroidsunglasses.co.uk and other leading retailers.

My sunglasses were supplied to me for review purposes by Polaroid. This is the second set I tried. The first were faulty, but the firm were efficient in ensuring a replacement was dispatched to me promptly.

Product review: Grip Lites

It might be summer in the city right now, which means there's little requirement for bicycle lights. However, you never know when you might get caught out, so it pays to be prepared.

I normally use a rechargeable Cateye EL610RC on the front, one of the most powerful headlights on the market, and a standard run-of-the-mill red tail light at the back. But at this time of year, the headlight goes in storage. It's certainly too heavy and bulky to carry around in my pack rack for emergency use.

But what I have been carrying around is a pair of Grip Lites, which I've been using when I've felt the need to increase my visibility on the road, for instance, when afternoon cloud cover has resulted in poor lighting conditions.

Grip-lite-glow
 
What are Grip Lites?

Grip Lites are weather-sealed LED lights that grip onto almost any part of your bike or helmet. Each light is made from silicone (so weighs next to nothing) and is about the size of a man's wristwatch. It uses one 3V lithium CR2032 battery.

Grip Lites What I like about Grip Lites

  • Lightweight, weather-proof and small enough to carry in a pocket for emergency use
  • Easy to attach, a bit like putting on a wrist watch
  • Flexible enough to use on a handlebar, helmet, clothing or bag
  • Two different modes: flashing and constant
  • Easy to use: simply press the top of the light, once for "on", twice for "flash-mode" and three times for "off"
  • Long battery life (the manufacturers claim you can get 140 hours of use out of them, but I haven't used my lights long enough to see if that's true)
  • They glow in the dark, so you can find them easily in your bag
  • Very cheap to buy, and each pack comes with a front light (white) and a rear light (red). The batteries are also included.

What I don't like

  • They are no substitute for a real light, so I would only use in an emergency situation or if I felt the need to make sure other road users could see me more easily
  • The clip system is a bit flimsy and liable to break from over-use
  • You're unlikely to find them in your usual bike store

Overall opinion

These are handy little lights and useful for emergency situations. They clearly aren't a substitute for a proper European CEN standard safety light, but are excellent as additional lighting and to increase your visibility on the road.

Where can I buy one?

Grip Lites come in packs of two and retail for £9.99 from JML Direct, Asda and Robert Dyas.

My Grip Lites were supplied to me for review purposes by JML Direct