Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Huel Discount Voucher UK

Huel Discount vouchers can be a little tricky to come by.  Each time you search for one you'll find tons of coupon codes for the USA.  But this code is exclusively for the UK.

Click the link below and enter 'Andrew Laws' when asked the name of the person who referred you.  You will get £10 off your first order.  You will also get a free drinks bottle and free tee shirt from Huel so it's pretty good value!

Click here to go to Huel then enter 'Andrew Laws' as your friend's name when prompted and get £10 off your first order...

Huel - why I love it.

Huel is loved by many people because it's so convenient, but there's more to it than that for me.  I have very little time in the mornings when trying to get my daughter ready for school so the convenience does help me.  But I also kinda hate eating breakfast.  I know I need to but nothing I ever tried sat right in my belly so early in the morning.  I can quite happily sip at Huel and it sustains me until lunchtime.  I have IBS so that informs my choice of some foods.  Huel is a positive choice I make.  It's also pretty bloomin' delicious!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Veloballs.com 03/05/14 to 09/09/19

Ignore this post, VeloBalls is very much alive. This was posted during a brief hiatus when the site was out of action for a bit. VeloBalls is BACK!

Go now! https://veloballs.com/

Five years ago I started a cycling website called VeloBalls.com and I've got to say, it was pretty great.  It also spawned a cycling discounts site called Lucky8.  A whole ton of brilliant people wrote blog posts and reviews for VeloBalls.com and for a few years it was bipping along nicely.

But is is the way of these things interest dried up a bit, both from the visiting public and from the contributors.  Now five years later I find myself busier than ever with the company I run and sadly VeloBalls.com has gone to seed a bit.  So I've taken the bum decision to shut it down.  Below are links to archived versions of some of our most popular posts.

So thank you to everyone who got involved, you are marvellous.

Dunwich Dynamo, portrait of a serial nutter

Tonight at around 8pm I will leave Hackney on my bicycle, joining me will be an estimated 3000 other cyclists. We’re heading for Dunwich in Suffolk, we’ll probably get there between 5am and 11am. But why?

Dunwich Dynamo – phwaaaat?

The Dunwich Dynamo (a.k.a the ‘Dun Run’) is an entirely unplanned, unofficial, unsupported and marvelous ride from Hackney in London to Dunwich. As to why it happens each year, well that’s a bit like asking why Starlings marshall in epic numbers before migration, why Wildebeest stampede or why people like riding 25kg Boris bikes through London. On the closest Saturday to the first full-moon in July each year the natural phenomena that is the Dunwich Dynamo just kinda happens. It may have been an organised ride once, but it was so long ago it probably doesn’t matter. A bit like how we know the Olympics used to be participated in by athletes who were start-bollock-naked, but it doesn’t have much bearing on the modern games. Thankfully. But then that’s what us cyclists like isn’t it? Enjoying long bike rides is a bit like finding a band that none of your mates have heard of, then declaring them as the best band ever. If that band then hits the top spot we’re horribly chuffed that we heard them first!

Dunwich Dynamo – phhhwwyyy?

Every rider has their reasons, and if I’m honest with you I’d have to admit I’m not really sure why I think that riding 148 miles through the night is a good idea (the route is 120 miles, but I cycle back to Ipswich from Dunwich afterwards). When non-cycling (‘normal’) people find out that I’m planning to forgo sleep to pedal halfway across the country their first question is usually a confused babble of vowels and guttural sounds while they attempt to wrap their minds around the distance. The second question / assertion is surely I must be doing this for charity? The reply that I’m not doing this to raise money tends to result in the questioner reverting back to the aforementioned mumbling confusion. I imagine I’d get much the same reaction if I told friends I was going to attempt to carry out my own vasectomy using nothing more than an olive-pitter and a toffee hammer.

If you created a scale that had expensive highly organised Sportives at one end of the scale, and Critical Mass at the other then you’d find the Dun Run sitting somewhere in the middle, probably with a can of beer in hand.

I guess there probably are some riders taking on the Dun Run as an opportunity to raise some charity cash, and chapeau to them, but the vast majority of participants seem to be in it for nothing more than the job of a longish bike ride with thousands of like-minded souls. And that’s one of the many things that separates the Dun Run from expensive sportives or any other type of organised ride, there are no aims other than getting to the coast. Nobody stuffs themselves silly at the rest stops to try and make sure they ‘eat-back’ their entrance fee. There are (almost no) chain gangs gunning it for a record-breaking time.

Dun Run – don’t let lack of experience put you off!

The Dunwich Dynamo is such a relaxed ride I often recommend people take it on as their first 100 mile ride. There may not be technical support from mobile mechanics, but if you have a problem you can be sure as hell someone will help you out. If you’re not sure you have the legs for the miles then you’ll be amazed how well the community spirit of the ride will sweep you along.

I could rattle on endlessly but in many ways (and in-spite of the HUGE numbers of riders) the joy of riding the Dunwich Dynamo is actually quite a personal thing. So instead I’ll leave you with some links that might help get you hyped about joining us all next year.
The Dunwich Dynamo, find out more.
  1. Dunwich Dynamo official site (well, as official as this ride gets)
  2. Dun Run Facebook group
  3. 21 Reasons you should ride the Dunwich Dynamo
  4. My ride report from 2013

About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.

More about the author…

Cycling through Holland to a punk rock festival in Belgium

I like to ride my bicycle. That much is clear. After all, that’s why I started VeloBalls. I like using my single speed for transport around town and I like bimbling around the Suffolk countryside on my geared bike. But what I really like is cycling adventures.

Recently I’ve been getting a bit fed up with the whole going in a circle of local rides and I’ve been itching to cycle on roads I haven’t ridden a hundred times before. I quite like sportives, but paying good money to cycle the same roads I ride for free is losing it’s appeal.

Riding with large groups of people is great, but sportives can occasionally get a bit competitive and Critical Mass rides aren’t very easy for me to get to. So to summarise I think it’s fair to say my cycling had hit a rut. Albeit not a literal rut (thankfully).

Earlier this year my London-based cycling companion (and VeloBalls contributor) Sam asked if I fancied doing some cycling on the continent. I asked which one, he replied ‘Europe’ and I figured why the hell not. This wouldn’t be cycling for the sake of cycling, we would be attending a punk rock festival called Brakrock in Belgium.

I think most British cyclists know the tales of how the cycle paths in Holland are paved with gold, so I wanted to take a look for myself. Well not gold perhaps, that would be slippery, but certainly if the rumours were true they are paved to a gold standard.

There are many reasons that the Netherlands appears to be a haven for cyclists. Those reasons can partly be explained by facts. My favourite fact is that there are more bicycles in Holland than there are people. 17.1 million people live in the Netherlands, and there an estimated 22.5 million bikes. The people of Holland don’t just like their bikes, they are the N+1 personified.

The miles and the damage done.
It’s really easy to agree to a long bike ride when it’s set for a faraway date. The ride was shaping up to be 80 miles from the Hook of Holland to Antwerp, then another 8 or 9 miles from where we were staying to the festival. It may sound like a humblebrag, but I’m kinda okay with doing 80 miles on a bike. I’ll feel it, and it will be tough, but it’s just about inside my comfort zone.

I’ve done rides that were around the 150 mile mark, like the year I rode the Dunwich Dynamo and got lost. But the most hardcore rides I’ve done have had an element of external pressure on them. The Dunwich Dynamo is through the night and the last few sportives I’ve done have been beset by foul weather and too many hills in the last few miles (when my legs are blown). The last long ride I did (90 miles from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich) was spoiled to a certain extent by heavy motor traffic. This turned what should be a leisurely ride into what felt like a death race against too many impatient drivers. You know the type, they’ll patiently wait behind you for a hundred yards or so before getting frustrated and squeezing past you despite the oncoming traffic. No fun.

So the prospect of 80 miles on flat roads, with no hills, in a country where the population doesn’t just tolerate cyclists (because they are cyclists) was very appealing. But as the date of the adventure drew closer I started to get a bit anxious about whether I could hack not just one ride, but two long rides with a punk rock festival in the middle. I don’t ride as often as I would like, but then I guess that applies to all cyclists. After all, we need jobs to buy food and bike parts. But I wanted to not just survive this ride, I wanted to ace it. Unfortunately a series of mild injuries dented my preparation, but I was determined to ride in style. Well, as much style as a gentleman of my stature can muster while crammed into Italian lycra and balancing on a thin bike.

The original plan was for Sam to join me in at my home in Ipswich. We would then cycle ten miles to nearby Shotley, and then catch the foot ferry across the mouth of the River Stour and Orwell to the Port of Harwich. But unfortunately the foot ferry didn’t work out so we took the train to Harwich.

‘S’ is for Sam. Or Stena.

Getting onto the ferry was very simple. We tied up our bikes below deck, along with about fifty other cyclists, and headed to our tiny cabin for a good night’s sleep. The ferry left at 11pm and arrived at the Hook of Holland at 8am. I have no idea why the crossing took so long, it certainly doesn’t look very far on a map. But hey, you’re not reading this post for details on shipping.

Cycling in Holland, the reality.
You will probably get a strong feel for what cycling in Holland is like from the first thing I’m going to tell you about it. Out of the 80 miles we planned to travel only a small handful of miles would be on standard roads. I say ‘standard’ by way of explaining that these few miles would involved cycling on roads that also have motor vehicles on. This may seem like a strange point to make, but a lot of the cycle paths in Holland are as big as standard roads here in the UK.

The majority of cycle paths we used were smooth concrete or cheerfully coloured tarmac. But just as many of the routes were made up of brick paving, rough tiles or even cobbles.

It was great being so far away from motor traffic, but it only took a few miles to realise that I was probably on the wrong sort of bike for Holland. My 23mm tires and sportive geometry frame was quite uncomfortable for many of the rougher paths. We saw almost no road bikes during our time in either Holland or Belgium, almost everyone rides either mountain bikes or ‘sit up and beg’ style bikes.

Sam was riding a very tasty Titanium framed bike he had just built. I was riding a Bianchi frame I found on ebay for £30, surrounded by and mis-matched assortment of bits and bobs, some of which came from the spares boxes of the legendary Ipswich Bike Doctor (Kevin, to his friends).

Our bikes safely secured below decks on the ferry

I was glad I had some bombproof Mavic Askium wheels considering the beating my bike was taking. I’ve ridden Askium on both my bikes for years, partly due to their extreme toughness (in my experience). But the bike roads of Holland were too much for them. A few miles before the end of our weekend of cycling I got a pinch puncture that also thwacked away a fair chunk off my rear rim.
While the roads are not quite akin to the pavĂ© of the Paris-Roubaix, they’re not far off. The biggest mistake I made for the first 80 miles of the weekend was not wearing chamois creme. I won’t go into details, not just to save your blushes, but also to save me from remembering the visceral sensation of my poor battered ring. For the record Sam’s Mavic Ksyrium remained unscathed throughout the whole trip.

Me, in Holland

The generous number of cycle routes through Holland wasn’t the biggest surprise to me. I was expecting them. What came as a pleasant shock was just how well thought out the routes are at places where they cross paths with motorised traffic. When a cycle route crosses a road junction the cyclists have priority and motorists are obliged to give way. This was great enough, but what really struck me was how cool the motorists were with this arrangement.

Perhaps it’s because so many motorists in the Netherlands are probably also cyclists. Therefore maybe they have a greater affinity and empathy with cyclists than some motorists in the UK have. In the Netherlands cycling is the norm. Here in the UK one would be forgiven for assuming the population assumes cycling is something only children do. Perhaps cycling is seen as a phase that everyone goes through before they can legally drive, at which point they abandon cycling for their cars.

The space given to us as cyclists in Holland extended beyond mere legal obligation on the part of the drivers. At one point I became separated from Sam when he crossed a dual carriageway. The driver of the car that came between us actually stopped and ushered me across so I could rejoin Sam. Not only was I very grateful (because Sam had the map), I was also forced to realise that I don’t think I’ve ever seen similar behaviour on British roads.

A lot of roundabouts that were shared with road users had an additional, segregated, ring around them just for cyclists. Where the cycling roundabout crossed the road, you guessed it; the drivers gave way.

Sam, somewhere in Holland

The cycling infrastructure in Holland appears to be set up to keep cyclists moving. Anyone who has experienced the relentless stop – start of cycling in London knows that here in the UK the opposite appear to be the case. Cyclists can be made to feel like they’re getting in the way, even though with a lot of urban cycling it is in fact motorists who impede the progress of cyclists, not the other way around. In Holland it appears that cycling is very much encouraged over driving. A theory perhaps shored up by the relatively high price of petrol and diesel in Dutch petrol stations.

The only downside to cycling in such a flat country is that the headwinds can be brutal. I’ve done a bit of cycling in the Fens of Cambridgeshire so thought I would be prepared for what the locals call ‘Dutch Mountains’. I was wrong. Holland makes the Fens look like the Alps.

Unrelenting headwinds are demoralising. They’re not so bad if you’re riding in a large group of cyclists, but if there’s only two of you they can crush your spirit. The winds got stronger, or were noticed more acutely, the more rural the route became.

By the time we reached the massive bridge over the River Haringvliet both Sam and I had passed the point of grinning and bearing it. We were in danger of being broken. I remember looking at the trees being whipped around and the grasses on the verge being thrashed and being grateful for their cover from the wind. When we shoved ourselves onto the Haringvliet bridge we had almost no protection at all. I rode as close as I could to the concrete wall that separated us and the motorway traffic. The noise and filth was terrible, but it was worth tolerating for just a tiny bit of respite from the winds that were pushing us backwards. Looking back at the footage from the Garmin Virb on my handlebars we were doing well if we reached 9mph.

The damage to my brakes doesn’t look too bad in this photo, but it was a pain in the ass to fix on the roadside.

By the time we had crossed the bridge I told Sam I desperately needed a rest, by shouting as many expletives as I could muster, which was a lot. He replied that he also would enjoy a few minutes of not pushing his face into what felt like a gale force wind. His language was also creative and possibly Anglo Saxon in origin.

I slowed down and gently bunny hopped over a kerb onto a grass verge. Unfortunately I bunny hopped right into a hole and promptly went over the handlebars. I was lucky to escape with just a bit of road (or rather grass) rash. I also managed to move one of my brakes. I knew I wasn’t badly hurt, but stayed half clipped in and under my bike for a few minutes. Bloodied but unbowed, and glad to be laying down.

If it wasn’t for the unrelenting and brutal headwinds in Holland the whole experience would have been a total joy. The best average speed I’ve ever managed on a 100 mile ride was 19.4mph. The average speed for the 92 miles (we got lost, which accounts for the extra 12) was a measly 12.59mph. But this wasn’t just caused by the headwinds, or the fact I’m older and fatter than when I did the speedy 100. A contributing factor to the low average speed was that a lot of the cycle paths through urban areas are quite tight and winding it’s just not possible to go so fast.

Cycling in Belgium – the reality.
There was very little indication that we had crossed the border from Holland to Belgium. We were hoping for a large sign, like the ones that you find when entering towns. A sign would have given us a neat photo opportunity. What we did notice was that the cycling infrastructure wasn’t quite as good. By UK standards it was still outstanding, but the surfaces weren’t quite as well maintained, and the junctions over main roads weren’t quite as smooth. In Holland we just rode over junctions. If there was occasion to stop and press a button in order to halt traffic it took no time at all. There were even tall poles for us to hold onto while we waited, so we didn’t need to unclip or dismount. But in Belgium we had to stop at most junctions, and wait just a little bit longer. A small inconvenience, but one worth noting. In urban areas a lot of the cycle paths were on pavements. They were clearly marked, and on the whole pedestrians stayed out of them. But they just didn’t feel as glorious as the entirely segregated cycle paths of Holland, which on the whole were nowhere near roads or sidewalks.

 Hello Antwerp!

Sam greeting Antwerp

 By the time we were deep into Belgium the constant bone rattling of the lumpy cycle paths started to take it’s toll on my ancient steed. The drive side crank shaft worked loose. This was particularly stressful because cycling on a loose crank kills it. In fact it not only marks the death of the crank, it can also destroy the bottom bracket. This kind of damage at this stage of the ride would have forced us to abandon.

I’m particularly fond of the drivetrain on my old bike. The crank and derailleur are Dura Ace. Admittedly they are very old Dura Ace, and on the rear only eight of the nine gears are accessible, but it’s something special. At least to me. The crank and BB are held in place by a single bolt, unlike modern systems, hence the severity of what was happening. By a stroke of luck we passed a big posh bike shop who were more than happy to tighten my crank at zero cost. When I told the nice chap that we had cycled from the Hook of Holland he stood back and looked my bike over. His response was to say ‘you came all that way on this? These parts are very old!’. Cheeky.

Everyone we were fortunate enough to interact with in Belgium was really friendly. At one point we had run out of water and it appeared that all the shops were shut. Sam had the bright idea of asking at the local ambulance station if we could use their taps. They had no problem with it. In fact I got the impression that it was fairly normal for cyclists to knock on their door and ask for water.

Bike Punx.
After a carefully measured number of Belgian beers we retired to a really nice Air BnB place (this one). The owner of the place offered us the use of his old tandem to make our way to the festival. Following some fairly disastrous attempts at riding it up and down the street we politely declined and borrowed a couple of sit up and beg bikes. After the pommeling my arse took the day before I was glad of the large cushioned seat. Sam wanted to borrow a very cool looking cruiser bike, until the owner pointed out that it was a little girls bike. To be fair to Sam that didn’t put him off, why would it. But in the end he decided on function over form and borrowed a sit up and beg bike.

The eleven kilometers to the festival was comfortable and uneventful. Like a lot of the cycle routes we took it was alongside a mainline railway. Once we’d gotten over the shock of express trains hammering past at incredible speeds we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The ride to and from the festival was the only cycling we did in ‘normal’ clothes, and it felt kinda cool fitting in with the locals.
The Brakrock EcoFest festival itself was brilliant. We locked our bikes up along with many other bikes that were scattered throughout the small wood that was the venue. Although thinking back I think ours may have been the only bikes that were locked. Because this is a cycling site, not a punk rock site I won’t write a full review of the festival, but watching the short video below will give you a good idea of what it was like.

Due to the fact we left the festival well past midnight we had some consternation about cycling home in the dark. I dearly love the Dunwich Dynamo but having done large chunks of it in near total darkness (after cheap lights have crapped out) I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of cycling back to Antwerp in the dark. We had also made ourselves fairly familiar with the wares of the beer tent. We needn’t have worried. Despite the fact a big chunk of the ride home was rural, the cycle paths were lit the entire way. Nice one Belgium.

In conclusion.
By the end of the weekend we had cycled 192 miles. And if the ride from the Hook to Antwerp was one of the toughest I’d ridden, the ride back was one of the easiest. Apart from that pinch puncture.
If you’ve got even a passing interest in cycling in Holland I heartily recommend you give it a go. The ferry was reasonably priced and remarkably comfortable, the locals were friendly and the cycle routes were fantastic. The only issue I’ve returned home with is the burning desire to buy a proper Audax or touring bike for the next time I visit the continent.

Other things I learned cycling in Holland and Belgium.
  • Mopeds are allowed to use most of the cycle paths, but the vast majority of riders are very considerate and careful when passing cyclists. Possible due to the fact that so few of them wear helmets.
  • Almost nobody in Holland or Belgium wears either lycra or a helmet.
  • SIS gels appear to be nicer than High5, but Clif bars are loverly. Clif shot bloks are bloody wonderful.
  • As wonderful as the cycling rucksack I took was, 192 miles with something on your back sucks. Next time I want panniers.
And finally…
If you want to study the route, or scoff at how slow we rode you can view the Strava records by clicking the links below.


A fake hill on the outskirts of Rotterdam

Sam watching me repair by bike after I went over the handlebars

The Egg-shaped Air BnB we stayed at in Antwerp

Belgian cyclists do it differently

Brakrock Ecofest main stage, complete with phantom feet

Just a field full of discarded bombs somewhere in Holland

About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.

More about the author…

Cycling Shoes – Buying the Right Pair

Cycling shoes – why?

Remember when you were young and wanted to go for a ride on your two wheeler? You simply went outside, hopped on, and pedalled off. You didn’t worry about putting on the proper shoes or having any cycling-specific gear. As long as you had shoes on your feet and were wearing clothes that could get dirty in case you took a tumble or got splashed, you were in good shape.
Now, however, if you go out cycling, it’s not enough to wear an ordinary pair of trainers. The right pair of cycling shoes can boost your speed and efficiency, reduce muscle strain, give you better control over your bike, and improve your overall performance. There are lots of choices, but which pair is right for you? Let’s have a look.

Clipless pedals or flat pedals?

High Quality flat pedals

The type of pedals you have on your bike will greatly inform what type of cycling shoes you purchase. There are two main categories of pedals: flat and clipless. Flat pedals are the traditional bike pedals we all grew up with. Good flat pedals will offer more traction to keep your foot from slipping off. Some will even have toe clips to really keep your foot in place and allow some power transfer when the pedals are on an upstroke.

The term “clipless pedals” is something of a misnomer, since corresponding bike shoes actually clip into the pedals. Many cyclists prefer this type of arrangement, even those who are more casual riders. They allow for a more efficient use of your energy, as they allow you to propel your bike through every movement of your legs. Matched with the proper cycling shoes, clipless (or clip-in) pedals give you all the benefits of toe clips and then some.

Clipless Types

If you decide to go with a clipless pedal system, it’s important to know that there are a few different types. Off-road and mountain bikes typically have a two-bolt arrangement, which you’ll often see as SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics). Road bikes, on the other hand, have a three-bolt arrangement, which is sometimes called LOOK style or SPD-SL. Finally, racing bikes may have four bolts, and these are often called Speedplay.

Shimano SPD-SL clipless pedals for road bikes

Shimano SPD pedals for mountain bikes

Speedplay pedals for road bikes

While many riders do like these clipless (or clip-in) pedals, some novice cyclists are apprehensive about using them because they are concerned about not being able to unclip in time to prevent toppling over and injuring themselves (or someone else). Your pedal preference is a highly personal choice, but it’s important to remember that, again, your cycling shoe choice will be dictated by the pedals you pick.

Fitting the Cleats

If you’ve got clipless (or clip-in) pedals, the cleat is the part on your cycling shoe that actually fits into the pedal. Cleats come with pedals and not with shoes, so when you do buy your shoes, it’s important to make sure that the pair you pick is compatible with the specific type of cleat you have. And, it’s not always enough to check the number of bolts — check the compatibility with your specific brand and style of cleat.
For example, cleats like LOOK Delta, LOOK Keo, and SPD-SL all appear to be similar because they’re all three-bolt cleats. However, not all three-bolt cycling shoes will work with all of these cleats. And while some shoes are compatible with both two-bolt and three-bolt cleats, many are specifically for road biking or off-road biking and are therefore compatible with just one type of cleat.

Where Will You Ride?

If you’ve got a road bike, you’ll want road cycling shoes. These are lightweight and very stiff, with a cleat that sticks out from the sole. They’ll give you great performance on your preferred terrain, but they’re definitely not designed for walking. These often take three-bolt cleats, though some will take two-bolt.

Cycling shoes for off-road and mountain bikes are also stiff, though they’re more flexible than road cycling shoes. The cleats on these are typically recessed within the sole to allow for better traction if you have to walk, especially on uneven and rough terrain. They’re also usually easier to disengage from the pedal than road cycling shoes. For this reason MTB style SPD pedals are also popular with city cyclists who frequently need to clip in and out of their pedals.

Other Terrain Choices

If you use your bike for commuting or ride in more urban environments, you may opt for city cycling shoes. These can have two-bolt cleats or no cleats at all. City shoes are much easier to walk in thanks to their rubber soles and recessed cleats, and most look like ordinary trainers. However, they’re less stiff than the other options, and some riders find that this reduces their pedalling efficiency.
If you’re a triathlete, though, you’ll want a shoe that you can both cycle and run in, and many manufacturers offer these. Triathlon shoes are often SPD compatible, but as always, it’s essential to check before you buy.

Other Considerations

For securing cycling shoes to your feet, laces look good and will get the job done, but lots of riders feel like they can get in the way. Plus, cycling in muddy or wet conditions make unlacing your shoes a mess. Lots of cyclists prefer hook and loop straps, and some shoes even have additional buckles and cam straps to really keep the shoe in place. Higher end cycling shoes have ratchets and dials to ensure a perfect fit.

It’s also good to know that cycling shoes generally don’t break in like other shoes do. They start stiff and remain stiff; if they lose their rigidity, it’s probably time for a new pair. What this means is that it’s important to find a pair that’s comfortable when you try them on, since the way they feel probably won’t change very much.

Shoe Maintenance

Cycling shoes need to be maintained much more than other types of footwear. For example, cleats need to be installed correctly; this can be a DIY job, or a well-regarded bike shop should be able to take care of the job for you. Cleats also need to be lubricated regularly, especially if you’re biking in muddy weather. This will not only get you in and out of your pedals easily, but it will keep you safe. Finally, for how to properly maintain your own cleats and shoes, refer to the manufacturers’ instructions.
Shimano and Pearl Izumi are big names in cycling, and you’ll find cycling shoes from both of these manufacturers. Giro makes excellent cycling shoes, as do Gaerne, Lake, Northwave, and a number of other companies.

Conclusion – Two Wheels Good!

The right cycling shoes are a critical component of any cyclist’s gear. They’re where your body meets your ride, connecting you and your ride into a two-wheeled, two-legged machine. Sure, you can get around on a bike without anything on your feet, but that’s not practical if you’re aiming to improve your speed, distance, or both.

Like everything else these days, all cycling shoes are not created equal. By making a careful assessment of your needs and preferences and then trying on some options before making your purchase, you’ll settle on the proper pair of cycling shoes for you.

Evans Cycles review - tough but fair!

Evans Cycles - the FAST review

Evans are pretty great.  Click here to find out more about Evans Cycles…

Evans Cycles - the longer review

Evans Cycles  - can you trust them?

Evans Cycles shops are now in most towns in the UK, but until recently there were no Evans Cycles shops close to where I live in Ipswich.  But a few weeks ago a new Evans Cycles opened up just down the road from me in Martlesham (although Evans Cycles call it Ipswich).

We have a number of cycle shops already in and around Ipswich.  Some sell very cheap bikes, others are very high-end places where many a smiling cycling can be seen handing over several thousands of pounds for a new steed.  But before Evans Cycles arrived there were no bike shops that I felt catered for people who were keen cyclists who might not have the budget to casually fork out a few grand on a bicycle.  I’m not saying that Evans Cycles is a bargain-basement type of bike shop.  Evans has a reputation for selling good quality bikes at very competitive prices.

So the ‘can you trust them’ question is possibly the wrong question to ask.  Passionate cyclists are a loyal bunch, in both positive and negative ways.  If a chain of cycle shops consistently disappoints cyclist then cyclists will stop using that chain.  We cyclists love to celebrate good service, but transversely we will also cheerfully make very public any grievances we have.  Usually on any one of the brilliant cycling forums, like CycleChat.

If a large chain of bike shops like Evans gets a bad reputation then cyclists stop giving them money.  Without cyclists giving money to a brand, that brand can’t develop and open new shops.  However, Evans Cycles appear to have a very healthy reputation.  However, it’s worth considering that you will find some bad reviews for Evans Cycles if you scan the web deep enough.  Even the very best brands get bad reviews.  Nobody can be perfect all the time.  Therefore I’m usually more interested in how brands like Evans deal with complaints.  It’s just not possible to entirely avoid complaints.  On the whole Evans Cycles appear to be very good with their customer service.

Evans Cycles - the review

I have used Evans shops in London (and other large towns) several times, but never for any significant purchases.  I have been in need of inner tubes, or a pair of sunglasses, or a water bottle.  Never anything worth a few quid.  Therefore never anything that I felt was worthy of a written review, however brief.  But a few weeks ago my wife and I decided the time had come to buy my daughter a proper bike.  She has been bimbling around on several frankly crap bikes for the last couple of years.  You know the sort of bikes; they always have a sticker of a Disney character or some other crap on them.

When I had taken my daughter to Halfords the ‘fashion’ and Disney bikes were a bit of an issue for us.  She couldn’t see past the stickers of Disney ‘stars’ on the cheap bikes, and I couldn’t see past the fact these BSOs weighed more than a wheelbarrow full of spuds.  The other issue, and one of the reasons we never bought a bike from Halfords, is that all the bikes came fitted with stabilisers.  My girl has never used stabilisers.  I removed the crank and pedals from the first bike someone gave to us and she used it as a balance bike.  But because the Disney bikes had stabilisers you’d better believe she (thought) she wanted stabilisers. Yes I know I could have removed the stabilisers after buying the bike, but that wasn’t really what was stopping me from buying.

Even the most cursory glance over this type of cheap bike made me wonder how much of the production costs were spent on Disney or Marvel licensing fees, and how much was spent on the actual bike.

I wanted my daughter to have her first ‘proper’ bike.  She is seven years old, the time for toy bikes has past.  Hopefully.  I wanted to buy her a bicycle that would inspire a love of cycling.  Not a heap of shit that would put her off a life on two wheels.  So for a good long while I struggled to find a good way forward for buying my daughter a bike.

Evans Cycles at Martlesham Heath
When Evans Cycles opened at Martlesham Heath I was keen to go and speak to someone there about buying a proper bike for my daughter.  I had what I considered to be a generous budget in mind.  I build my road bike myself, mostly from bits from our local Bike Doctor’s spares box.  I have 9-speed Dura Ace, so it’s not the best, but it’s certainly not the worst.  While I wasn’t heading into Evans with the intention of buying my girl a bike with the latest groupset, I wanted to buy a bike that would be a pleasure to ride, not a mechanical frustration.

Naturally, my daughter was keen to join me on my visit to Evans Cycles, so one sunny Saturday afternoon we headed over to Martlesham to see what was what.

The Evans store at Martlesham is brand new, so naturally, everything was looking very nice.  Although that being said I don’t think I’ve ever been into an Evans Cycles that was anything other than spick and span.  After a minute or two of wandering around the road bikes, I remembered why I was there and went in search of children’s bikes.  It was a brief search.  A very friendly member of staff called Louis (I think) took me and my daughter over to the collection of children’s bikes.  There was a selection of maybe twenty child bikes to look at.  Not a huge range, but I get the notion that for Evans a modest selection of high-quality bicycles is more important than a massive range of ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ bikes.  But that’s just me guessing; let’s get back to the facts.

I was really impressed that Louis spent as much time talking to my daughter as he did speaking to me.  More importantly, he was listening to and paying attention to what my daughter had to say.  This is a skill that is sadly lacking in most adults, let alone most shop assistants.  After a few minutes of chatting Louis asked my daughter if she would like to try riding some of the bikes.  She was keen. 
Very keen.

The first bike my girl was keen to try was a very nice looking Cannondale Kids’ Mountain bike.  This Cannondale was kitted out with some of the same groupsets as the adult-size Cannondale bikes elsewhere in the store.  That’s a very good sign that this is a real bike, not a fashion toy.  The price tag was around the £400 mark, which might make some readers blink a bit.  But £400 for a quality bike is nothing at all.  I’ve got friends who have thought nothing of spending triple that amount on a new set of wheels.

The test ride on the Cannondale went reasonably well.  Although I reassured the Evans employee that my daughter can ride bikes if she relaxes enough, he thought nothing of support (us both!) while she bezzed around the store getting a feel for the bike.  I held onto the back of the saddle, just in case, but all of the staff we rolled past looked just as pleased as my daughter did.

The final bike my daughter tried was a Pinnacle.  This was not a brand I have previously heard of, but it turns out to be Evans Cycles own brand.  As soon as my girl sat on the bike it was clear that the Pinnacle was the bike for her.  It looks a bit like a hybrid.  It’ll be fine on the road and just as comfortable nipping down public footpaths.  I was impressed with how light the bike was as well.  With a bike like this, we’re clearly miles away from carbon components but weight is still important.  The cack bikes my daughter has owned in the past were incredibly heavy, and that made balancing while learning to ride a lot more difficult.  One of her previous bikes was so heavy she could barely lift it off the ground when she fell off it.

Although the price wasn’t the biggest influencer I was somewhat astonished to find out the price tag on the Pinnacle bike was only £225.  This was considerably less than I was expecting to spend.  My wife was particularly pleased with the price tag.  The bike felt solid and had a transmission that I’ve seen on half-decent mountain bikes.  Unlike the crap fashion bikes I’d seen in other shops the Pinnacle also had proper bike components, meaning I can easily fix and maintain this bike. Hallelujah!    The only way to ‘fix’ previous bikes has been to take them to the municipal tip.
Evans Cycles review - conclusion
The staff were attentive without being overbearing.  Everyone I spoke to was knowledgeable without being a ‘know it all’.  The prices were fair and the selection well-considered.

Within hours of collecting her new Pinnacle bike my daughter was racing around a local car park unaided.  No stabilisers!  I’ve known for many months that my girl could ride a bike with a bit more confidence and with the right bike.  I am very grateful to Louis and everyone at Evans for helping us find the right bike and a great price.  I was even offered some cash to bring in one of the terrible bikes my daughter owned previously. Bike Scrappage! I like Evans Cycles!

Find out more about Evans Cycles…

About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.

More about the author…

FreeMaster Prescription Cycling Glasses – An unbiased review

by Simon Elson, 12 June 2017

I’d never given prescription cycling glasses a thought before as I, until recently had worn contact lenses for nearly thirty years, I started wearing them in my early teens, honest! Okay it may have been VERY early twenties, but definitely no later than that.

Unfortunately after a painful eye infection I was advised to cut down my wear time from fourteen hours a day, seven days a week to no more than eight hours a day once or twice a week. I took the difficult decision to stop using contacts entirely; I couldn’t see the point of such short wear time.
After open wallet surgery for two pairs of vari-focals I then turned to the problem of cycling glasses. I have always ridden with cycling glasses, whether dark lenses, clear lenses or yellow night lenses. I hated dust and bugs in my eyes, especially when I used contact lenses. I tried cycling in my normal glasses and hated it, they were not suited to the purpose and the thought of an accident and my glasses flying through the air sent shivers down my spine.

With a reluctant ‘yes’ from my wife I started to look round for suitable cycling eye wear. I looked longingly at the big names, prescription insert (a small prescription frame attached behind plain interchangeable lenses) Oakleys and Rudy Projects were both pipe dreams and direct glazed (prescription lenses fitted into frame) budget tinted options seemed ugly and would be useless for winter commutes.

After trawling around the web I found the Base-Camp glasses by FreeMaster. These FreeMaster glasses have interchangeable lens and blank prescription inserts that you get glazed at your own opticians.

I read the few short reviews under the product description and decided at £16.99 they were worth a punt, so I popped them in my virtual basket. Amazon then wanted to charge me £4 on top for delivery. So I used the ‘add on item’ search to take the value over £20 free delivery threshold and found a Pyrex jug for £3.50… so I got the jug and the glasses for fifty pence less than just the glasses (plus postage charge), go figure! You’ve got to love Amazon.
FreeMaster Base-Camp glasses – what’s in the box?
On their arrival I checked the glasses over and I was very happy with the quality of them. The package consisted of the following:
  • Rigid zip case
  • Glasses frame
  • Six interchangeable lenses (Dark tint, Bronze tint, Yellow tint, blue tint, Mirrored tint, Polarised and clear.)
  • Two straps (one ‘normal’ string strap and a goggle type that replaces the arms)
  • Prescription insert.
  • Cloth case
  • Cleaning Cloth
All the lenses carry a U.V sticker indicating they exceeded the specification required for sale in the U.K. I assume as Amazon supply the product from their own warehouse then this information is accurate.

Getting glazed.
I took the the insert to a local optician Faye Newman at Personal-Eyez in Swadlincote. If you’re curious you can find her on either Facebook or Instagram.
Faye offered to fit the prescription lenses into the glasses for a very reasonable £35 . The service and product I received from them was fantastic. Turn around was less than a week and Faye clipped the inserts into the glasses to make sure of the fit, even though she hadn’t supplied the frame or the empty insert herself.

FreeMaster glasses – on the road.
I have been using the glasses for a week now and I am really happy with them. The mirrored and dark lenses come with top vents to stop fogging when you stop at lights etc. The other four lenses don’t, I can’t work out why this is the case.
The glasses sit securely on my head and comfortably around my nose. Whilst the edges of the insert can be seen out of the corner of my eye, they are in no way obtrusive. The wrap around style of the outer lens keep out bugs and dust as well as any ‘plain’ cycling glasses I’ve owned ever have. I am currently using the mirror tint outers as they hide the insert, it can look a bit like you are wearing goggles underneath if you use the other outers, no big issue for me, but just looks better if the prescription parts are obscured. I will still be happy with the overall look when I change to the clear or yellow lenses for winter commutes.
The case is a rigid one and can hold all the lenses and straps etc.

Overall I’m amazed with the quality of the product for a total price of around £50 (including locally sourced prescription lenses) and would recommend them. If you are on the search for a similar item, you could spend a lot more money and achieve nothing more than a ‘name’ on the frame arms.
And if you are wondering if I’m happy with the jug then….. err…… it’s a jug what more can I say about it.
Click here to find out more about FreeMaster cycling glasses…
Simon Elson purchased the above item and has received no financial gains or goods from Amazon or Base Camp for the review and was not asked to write it by them.

about the author

Simon Elson is a self confessed Mamil that got into cycling to hide his Lycra fetish. He is also the author of a bestselling Ebook on Type 2 diabetes and cycling called ‘Sugar Beat: How I controlled T2 Diabetes through cycling’

Garmin Virb Elite – BRUTAL review

Why review the Garmin Virb Elite?

The Garmin Virb Elite is not the ‘current’ or most up to date model in the popular Garmin cam range. So why are we reviewing an old model? Well I’m glad you asked. Although you probably didn’t ask did you? Most of the products we review here at VeloBalls are brand new, or at least current models, like the great Source Fuse hydration pack.

But buying brand new comes with a problem that a lot of people find a big issue. The price. If you buy the latest model of anything you’re going to pay a premium just because you’re buying the latest model. Whereas buying an older version can massively reduce the pain felt in your wallet. Fancy cycling gear that is unaffordable becomes affordable to all but the most modest budgets. I’m not even talking about buying second hand. There are some products I wouldn’t be too keen to buy second hand. Bibs for example. Grim. If you take a look at any massive marketplace like Ebay or Amazon you’ll find plenty of sellers flogging brand new, older model, cycling products.

I paid around £110 for my Garmin Virb Elite. This is not only much cheaper than the latest Garmin Virb model (the Virb Ultra), it’s also less than half the original list price for this camera. So by buying a very slightly older model I got a brand new cam at a price that was an absolute steal.
I’m not going to bore you with an exhaustive list of the technical differences between my older Virb model and the newest model. Instead I’m going to show you what is ultimately the most important aspect of any video camera – the quality of the footage. So watch a few moments of the video below and decide for yourself which camera shoots the best looking footage.

Garmin Virb Elite – a closer look

The Virb Elite is the last of the Garmin cameras to be build in the ‘bullet’ format. The Virb Elite is long and fat, like a cigar. The new Virb cameras follow same box of matches body style of the GoPro range of video cameras. I tried to find out the reason for the shift of shape but couldn’t reach a conclusion. I’ve owned (and killed) lots of cheap GoPro clones and the Virb Elite feels a hell of a lot better than any of them. I’ve destroyed so many cheap sports cameras that I’ve started to consider them almost disposable. Cheap video cameras feel cheap; the Virb Elite feels expensive. It might be a little on the heavy side but the heft it carries does make it feel very robust.

Weatherproof and robust, even when naked
While we’re talking about comparing the Virb Elite to GoPro cameras (genuine or otherwise), it’s worth pointing out that straight out of the box the Virb has a huge advantage over other cameras. The Garmin Virb Elite doesn’t need to be put in a case in order to make it waterproof. In my experience cheap cams come to grief more through the failings of the crappy waterproof cases you mount them in, rather than the actual camera being crap.

The Garmin Virb Elite is rated waterproof to the IPX7 standard. This means you can submerse the cam a metre underwater for up to thirty minutes without doing any harm.
I could waffle on forever about how good the Virb feels in my hands, but we’d both get bored. It’s sufficient to note that the buttons are solid and responsive, the rubberised body feels robust and considering how many times I’ve already dropped this camera it hasn’t been marked at all.

Marmite and soft-focus
I’ve dropped this thing on it’s lens, on a gravel path, and it’s still unscathed. I have no idea what the cover over the lens is coated with but it appears to be entirely resistant to fingerprinting. I consumed some Marmite on toast while writing this part of the review and the lens over even appears to be resistant to light ‘marmiting’. Perhaps not something Garmin deliberately designed in admittedly, but a good indicator of quality.

On every one of the cheapo clones I’ve used over the years the footage quality takes a massive dip once you put the camera inside the waterproof case that came with it. On some of the painfully cheap cams I’ve used the quality of the lens cover part of the case was incredibly poor. Everything I filmed looked like it was meant to be part of a soft-focus romance scene. The latest Garmin Virb comes with a separate waterproof case (like the GoPro clones). The fact my older Virb doesn’t need a case is a huge advantage.

Megapixel **nonsense**
The camera shoots full HD at up to 16mp. If you know anything about photography you’ll know that these megapixel figures mean very little of importance. As with pro digital cameras the quality of the lens and the quality of the sensor is much more important than the megapixel rating. This is why you can buy bewilderingly high megapixel cameras from Chinese websites for chuff all money. The quality will be poop. Megapixel ratings can be disregarded to a certain extent. The latest Garmin Virb, the Virb Ultra, is rated at up to 12mp. So 4mp lower than my older Virb. I very much doubt the Virb Ultra (which costs three times more than my Elite) will be worse quality.

Other stuffThis review is not exhaustive, and there’s little point in me listing all the teeny tiny details about this camera. If you want to know every, single, detail about the Virb Elite you can get that info from Garmin HERE…

One feature that is worth noting is that the Virb Elite is one of the Garmin cameras that can connect with ANT devices. So the Elite can record your heartbeat, cadence and a number of other bits of data. What’s super-cool is the fact that the Virb Elite can overlay this data in real time over the footage captured on it. This is done using the free ‘Virb Edit’ software that is accessible to all Virb owners. The software ain’t great if you’re into complex edits, but is perfect for exporting captured footage so that it can be edited in other software.

The Garmin Virb mount

The Garmin Virb Elite doesn’t need to be shoved in a little plastic box to make it weatherproof, but there is one downside to this fact. The way Garmin designed the system used to mount the camera is nothing short of bewildering. In fact I’d say the mount is probably the worst thing about the Virb Elite. The camera clips (very snuggly) into a cradle. Said cradle is then attached to a circular screw mount. I can see the need for a secure system for mounting the system, but fact the mount is different to my other Garmin devices (like my Edge GPS) is a huge pain in the bum.

Garmin Virb mounting cradle

The hinge that sits between the cradle and the screw mount is similar to the type used by GoPro. Very similar. But not quite. If it were the same then I could easily mount this camera anywhere using any one of the big box of GoPro mounts I have. But I guess I can see why Garmin made their hinge mount different, but it does come across a little bit like corporate spite. I tried shaving one of the GoPro clone mounts to see if I could use it with the Virb but the connection felt sketchy as hell.

What no handlebar mount?
The Virb Elite comes bundled with a modest set of mounts and a few sticky pads. These mounts appear designed for sticking the camera to a flat surface. Bicycles do not have an abundance of flat services. The fact that Garmin didn’t think to include a handlebar mount is most frustrating. I used one of the sticky pads to stick a cut-down GoPro hinge mount to the underside of my Edge handbar mount. I couldn’t tighten the Edge mount enough to stop it from being pulled down by the weight of the Virb. In fact I ended up snapping the mount. I was not happy. No only can I not mount the Virb on my handlebars, I now can’t use my trusty Edge.

DIY combined Garmin mount with destroyed thread. Grrrrrr!

So my hand was forced and I bought a third party combined mount. The new mount was designed to have the edge sit on the top, and the Virb underneath. Perfect. At least it would have been perfect it hadn’t turned out to be laughably poor on the road test. The third-party combined mount was about as stiff as freshly boiled spaghetti. The footage from the test ride was unwatchable. My only option now is to buy the official Garmin combined mount, which is surprisingly expensive.

The laughably cack third party combined Edge / Virb mount

But I didn’t have a chance to buy an official mount before the test ride for this review. I stuck the mounting cradle to my helmet instead. I was tempted to drill a few holes through the mount baseplate, so I could use some zip ties to doubly secure the cam, but in the interests of writing an honest review I decided against it. I put my faith entirely in the sticky pad that came in the box with the camera.

Garmin Virb sticky pad mount, stuck to the top of my MTB helmet

Getting at the SD card
The Virb Elite uses a micro SD card as storage. The SD card is stowed underneath the battery compartment. The battery compartment is secured by a tightly fitting plate on the underside of the camera, which is held shut by a small rotating d-ring. I can understand the need to keep the memory card safe in the inner guts of the camera, but it’s not easy to get at if you need to transfer footage by plugging the card directly into a computer. There’s no easy way to get the battery out of the compartment, other than thumping it against the palm of my hand till it falls out.
The preferred method of import for the Garmin Virb Edit software is via the USB port.

Virb Elite with battery removed. You can see the Micro SD card sitting in the secure mount.

There is a mini-USB port on the rear of the camera (protected by a thick rubber ‘bung’) if you don’t want to open the camera to transfer footage.

In addition to the USB port, there is a mini HDMI port

Garmin Virb Elite – the test ride
I like extreme tests. Fair weather tests don’t stress products enough for me to really learn about them. So the test ride for this review was done in the most extreme conditions I could think up. With the cam stuck to my helmet I headed to the Yorkshire Dales for low temperatures, heavy snow and persistent freezing rain. As an aside this was the same ride I used to test the Source Fuse Hydration Pack. Most of my cycling is done on a road bike, but I wanted a ride that would be much more brutal than some smooth, gentle gliding along on my old Bianchi. So I took the camera on a mountain biking stag weekend.

On the day of the test ride we had an unpleasant mix of thick, heavy snow and driving penetrating rain. The terrain was rough and while the bike I was on performed brilliantly by body was broken by the experience. Conditions were not as bad as they might be elsewhere in the world, but for the UK this ride was extreme.

One of the best features of the Virb is the huge slider switch on the side of the camera. Even with thick winter gloves and numb hands operating the ‘film now’ switch was very easy.
As I mentioned earlier in this review technical details are of little interest to me. Cameras like the Virb live or die by the quality of the footage they film. And rather than me try and explain the quality of the footage it would be best if you used your own eyes and watched the video below.

As you’ll see from the video there are gaps in the overlay data in the video. I added the overlay data using the Garmin Virb Edit software, but the editing functions are a bit limited. So I exported the whole video and imported into iMovie. This appears to be where the issue arose. Lacking data like this is an annoyance that’s worth noting. A bit of research on various cycling forums reveals that I’m not the only person having this problem.

It’s a shame so much of the snow stuck to the lens, but other than having a hydrophobic coating added to the lens cover I’m not sure how much Garmin could do to solve this problem. I was a little disappointed by how little the on-board microphone captured. But sound quality isn’t crucial with sports cameras. However, the sound was a lot better than on the GoPro clones I’ve used in the past. 

The cheap clones suffer from an infuriating muffled rattle on the soundtrack. So by default I mute sound when editing cam footage, but in the interests of transparency I’ve left the sound switched on for the review video.

Garmin claim that a fully charged Virb battery will last up to three hours when filming at 1080p. But the low temperatures of the test ride reduced the battery life to just over an hour. An hour was nearly long enough to capture the whole of the test ride, but a longer battery life would be appreciated. That being said, the Virb lasted longer than some of the riders on this stag do!

There are a few oddities that let down the Garmin Virb Elite a little bit, but none are major enough to stop be recommending this great little action camera. For example, the screen on the Virb is quite difficult to see in natural daylight, even on an overcast day. But how often do you really need to look at the screen? I set up the recording options in the comfort of my home and could see the screen perfectly. When being used for recording there’s a bit green light that turns red when the camera is recording. That’s really all I need.

The screen ain’t great, but does it really need to be?

For the price the Garmin Virb Elite is a great purchase. The price is more than buying a GoPro clone, but far less than buying the newest Virb model. I was pleased with the image quality and ease of use. Considering how little I paid for this cam I’m very pleased with my purchase. If I had of paid the full, original price I don’t think I would be quite as thrilled with the Garmin Virb Elite.

About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.

More about the author…

Hydration pack review – Source Fuse

Hydration packs are a bit of an odd thing to try and review. In my experience a hydration pack either holds water and has a tube that works, or it doesn’t. But cycling technology marches onward, so when the nice folk at Wheelies sent VeloBalls a Source Fuse Hydration Pack I decided to find out if the exciting world of bags of water has moved on since I last looked in on it.

Although I wouldn’t call myself a roadie at heart, I do spend most of my cycling hours on a road bike. Hydration packs are not considered appropriate for road cycling. Part of the reason could be the snobbery that we all claim doesn’t exist among road cyclists (see Rule #32), or it could just be for practical reasons. Either way, this is not the time to be figuring it out. Hydration backpacks are primarily used by mountain bikers, so that’s how we decided to conduct our tests; on a mountain bike.

Almost all of my mountain biking has been done near where I live in Suffolk (UK), which is a place entirely lacking in mountains. Hell, we haven’t even got any big hills round these parts. But as luck would have it my brother-in-law decided his stag do should involve a whole ton of mountain biking. Mountain biking on actual big hills. In Yorkshire. So early on Friday morning I found myself hurtling (at a sensible speed of course) up the A1. Our destination was the Dales Bike Centre, which would be our home for the weekend. The weather forecast was predicting low temperatures, rain and snow. But hey, mountain biking can’t be all that tough can it?

I have used a hydration backpack before. I haven’t worn one for cycling for several years, partly because off-roading is a rare thing for me, but mostly because my brother-in-law borrowed my old hydration backpack and I haven’t seen it for years. I wasn’t too bothered; my old pack never felt quite right when I wore it and had hardly any spare space once the bladder was full.

The Source Fuse Hydration Pack – a closer look

The first thing I noticed when I pickup up the backpack was how light it is. Granted the bulk of the ‘worn weight’ of any rucksack is as a result of the amount of junk you cram into it, but the fact the bag was really light when empty was a good sign.

When you’re cold and your gloves are wet zips are near impossible to operate. You can easily find yourself stuck in a Catch-22 situation whereby you need to get into your bag to find dry gloves but can’t operate a fiddly zip because your hands are numb with cold. So the decent sized loops attached to the zip pullers on the Source Fuse were a nice touch.

Because I was on a stag weekend I knew that we would be cycling with people who probably hadn’t ridden bikes since they were children. So I stuffed a whole lot of spare gloves, buffs etc in the hydropack for the inevitable moment when we found ourselves up on a hill and our friends were starting to suffer. I’m not the best man on this trip (there is no ‘best man’), so had no responsibilities but nobody likes to see friends suffer unnecessarily when cycling. So in summary I had to shove a whole lot of things in this backpack, and most importantly they had to stay dry. I was able to fit in everything I needed to with space to spare, and the shape of the bag didn’t change or bulge at all.
I was impressed at how well thought out the ‘storeganizer’ inside the bag was. There was a decent amount of separation between the compartments. There are even some pen pockets, although I’m not sure what use a pen will be if you’re freezing your ‘taters off on top of a snowy hill.

Somewhere behind me in this photo, sitting on my back is the hydration pack

The importance of keeping the contents of the bag dry extended far beyond just needing to keep a few gloves and hats dry. I was also planning to use my hydration pack to store several video cameras, and they definitely need to stay dry. As if my camera equipment didn’t add enough jeopardy I was also carrying a lithium power pack. If you were paying attention in chemistry lessons in school you’ll know that getting anything with lithium in it wet is a really bad idea.

Before heading for the hills I tentatively ran the bag under a kitchen tap and was relieved to see that the water beaded off the surface perfectly. But the real test would be the heavy snow and rain we would be cycling in. The Source Fuse comes fitted with a painfully bright orange rain cover that is stowed in a compartment on the bottom of the bag. I’m not a fan of anything that covers the entire bag to keep it dry; because if you need to get to the contents of the bag quickly it’s just another obstacle. So I took the slightly cavalier decision not to use the rain cover.

So how well did this hydration pack actually perform?

The test ride for this backpack was nothing short of brutal. We cycled up and down the hills of the Yorkshire Dales in thick blizzards. After just 6.6 miles the group was given the option to quit and head for the pub. On a road bike in clement conditions a ride of six miles isn’t really a ride at all. Hell, on a road bike six miles doesn’t even count as a warm up. But on this day the howling wind, penetrating rain and befuddling thick snowfall was more than most of us could handle. On a typical ride in Suffolk my Garmin might register an elevation gain of around 500ft. In just 6.6 miles in the Dales our elevation gain was a whopping 1,352ft! I realise our Northern readers will likely scoff at this, and quite right too! But with numb heads and hands some of us conceded defeat.
While I was nursing a hot cuppa in the pub I realised I had been so consumed with just trying to stay upright on my bike I hadn’t made any mental notes about how well the bag I was supposed to be testing had performed. I tentatively opened the bag to check the contents. Everything in the bag was still bone dry. I was riding with a Garmin Virb Elite fixed to my helmet and the extreme weather had played havoc with it. So finding my other cameras and bits of clothing dry was a a glorious surprise.

This is what the Source Fuse looked like after some fairly dramatic exposure to rain and snow. The contents remained bone dry.

Before we had set off I couldn’t quite figure out how to stow the feed tube for the hydropack bladder, so I left it hanging loose. It never once got in my way and was easy enough to get hold of and shove in my gob when I needed it, which was often. The teat on the end of the tube was ‘switched on’ by rotation. I left it on for most of the ride and it didn’t leak. Water came out when I wanted it to and stayed in the bag when I wanted it to. In order to get water out of my previous hydration backpack required a fair amount of biting on the valve, but the system used on the Source Fuse was much easier to use.

The sliding clip that holds the hydration pack bladder closed!

The Source Fuse is very easy to dry after use. Beer can optional.

The removable bladder in the Source Fuse was the best I’ve ever used. Even when full it didn’t make the bag uncomfortable and a decent layer of insulation between the bladder and the back of the rucksack meant the water didn’t make me cold. Other bladders I have used were filled via a screw cap and a small hole, meaning that drying the bag after use (very important) was near enough impossible. 

The whole of the top of the bladder in the Source Fuse opens for filling and emptying, making emptying and drying really easy. Once filled the bag is sealed via a sliding clip that snaps into place and feels reassuringly solid.

I wanted to draw attention to how easy it is to completely dry out the bladder because it’s really important. If you can’t properly dry out the inside of a hydration pack bladder after use it can foul quite badly. At the very least everything you drink from the bag in the future will taste grim. At the worst if the bladder can’t fully dry it will develop mold, which is potentially hazardous to your health.

Source Fuse Hydration Pack – Conclusion

I think the best conclusion I can give regarding this hydropack is that I didn’t really get any strong impressions from using it. The water stayed where it should. The water didn’t taste like it had come from a swimming pool. The waterproof fabric kept my gear dry in challenging conditions. The pack was comfortable enough that it didn’t trouble me – I could concentrate on the ride.

Ultimately I don’t want any rucksack I wear to make its presence felt in any way. Most of the time I was cycling I almost managed to forget I was wearing a hydration pack at all.

So in conclusion if you’re in the market for a hydration pack I can cheerfully recommend getting yourself a Source Fuse from the nice folk at Wheelies.
Find out more about the Source Fuse at Wheelies….

About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.

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