Review: Cat Eye Volt 800 (HL-EL471RC) front light

Alas, the little Cat Eye Nano Shot front light I bought along with Bino in 2013 died a feeble “death.” Well, maybe that’s incorrect. The LED emitter and optics still worked fine, but its proprietary internal 1050 mAh battery had given up any semblance of holding a charge.

My dearly departed Cat Eye Nano Shot: 2013-2016. Rest in peace

Theoretically, I could order a new battery (but I highly doubt local availability), open the Nano Shot chassis up, and swap it with the old one. Given my experience with the Volt 1200, though, the 200-lumen Nano Shot just wasn’t going to cut it for me any more. It was time to upgrade…and I now had specific demands.

Is the Volt 800 front light going to satisfy those demands?

FEATURES

  • Single white high-intensity LED emitter with OptiCube optics and reflector design
  • Replaceable 3100 mAh, 3.6V cartridge battery
  • Mounts via FlexTight bracket
  • Five modes
    • High: 800 lumens @ 2 hours burn time
    • Normal: 400 lumens @ 3.5 hours burn time
    • Low: 200 lumens @ 8 hours burn time
    • HyperConstant: 200 lumen beam + 800 lumen pulse @ 7 hours burn time
    • Flashing: 200 lumen strobe @ 80 hours burn time
  • Rechargeable via included micro-USB cable or optional charging dock

IMPRESSIONS

This thing is sleek. The blocky Volt 1200 could look out of place on a road bike, and the Nano Shot can give off a toy-like vibe at times. In contrast, the Volt 800 looks right at home.

On the surface, the appeal of this light to me was how it could pack a large punch in a package half the size of the Volt 1200. It so happens that the main things about this light, the 3100 mAh battery and single LED emitter, are exactly half that of its older big brother.

Also noteworthy is its appearance. The Volt 800’s light head comes in anodized black, a treatment it shares with many of the second-generation Volt front lights, like the Volt 400 and Volt 1600. So far, it has resisted the cosmetic corrosion I got with the Volt 1200 and its bare aluminum light head. At max power, the light head can get warm, but not as scaldingly hot as the Volt 1200 does.

Basic layout is the same as with most other Volt front lights. The optics still have cutouts at the sides in a bid to improve side visibility, although they’re proportionally a little larger here. There’s a lone button up top which glows red when the battery runs low or is charging.

Underneath, a rubber grommet on a strap still provides protection for the micro-USB port. It uses the trusty FlexTight bracket; the mounting foot here slides and clicks into the middle rail instead of surrounding it on the outside.

The rear of the Volt 800 is made up by its replaceable cartridge battery. Instead of mounting up with three bolts, this screws itself into the light head and terminates in a satisfying soft click. The screw-in design is friendlier for quick battery swaps than that of the Volt 1200’s, whose battery on mine is pretty much permanently seized inside the light head. Cat Eye even sells a two-way dock you can use to either quick-charge this battery, or as a power bank for charging other devices.

SAMPLE BEAM SHOTS

All photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX5 with identical exposure settings: F/2.8, 1/2 second shutter, ISO 400, 50 mm. The camera was simply placed on top of the saddle, unsecured, and may have been slightly nudged sideways with each press of the shutter release button. The lights were tilted about 5 degrees down from horizontal to avoid dazzling other road users.

OFF

Volt 800 – LOW mode @ 200 lumens. (The HyperConstant mode’s steady beam is identical.)

Volt 800 – NORMAL mode @ 400 lumens.

Volt 800 – HIGH mode @ 800 lumens.

Here’s how the Volt 1200 fares in the same location, for comparison.

Volt 1200 – ALL-NIGHT mode @ 200 lumens. (The HyperConstant mode’s steady beam is identical.)

Volt 1200 – NORMAL mode @ 600 lumens.

Volt 1200 – DYNAMIC mode @ 1200 lumens.

Side-by-side against the Volt 1200, the Volt 800’s light has a slightly cooler, bluer tint. Apart from that and the lower max intensity, they share a lot in common. The beam pattern is still a tightly controlled rectangle which emphasizes seeing off into the distance over short-distance flood lighting. It doesn’t seem to mind being mounted upside-down, either.

LIVING WITH THE LIGHT

One notable change from the Volt 1200 was the pulse frequency for the HyperConstant and Flashing strobe modes. On the 1200, both modes have quick turnover – perhaps even obnoxious and seizure-inducing on the Flashing mode. On the Volt 800, the pulse frequency is a little more relaxed and friendlier in both modes.

The improvement I appreciated the most on the Volt 800 was its button programming. A long press turns the light on or off; once on, single presses on the button cycle through the different modes as listed above. This time, Cat Eye finally got the hint that a quick double press of the button should instantly switch over to the High 800-lumen mode; the next button press returns to whatever the previous mode was. I wish I could export that programming to the Volt 1200 because it’s just so useful. For most of my riding, I just switch between HyperConstant and High, to squeeze as much operating time as I can out of the battery while maintaining good visibility.

That brings us to the intended purpose of this light. Unlike the Volt 1200, whose mammoth battery makes it a super-versatile monster of a front light that can swallow either a 200 km audax or 10 days of commuting on a single charge, the Volt 800 leans more heavily toward commuting. In the day, you could get by with HyperConstant; switch over to Flashing in the bright light of noontime for extra attention. The 400 and 800 lumen modes ensure that fast-paced night rides can be done more safely.

All the while, you’re going to be more aware of the limitations of the battery’s legs, especially since a full charge from empty will require five to eleven hours depending on how much current you can push into it. Buy a spare battery or two, though, and all concerns of burn time anxiety go out the window. If you also own either a Volt 300, Volt 400, or Volt 700, or the Volt 50 rear light, you can use any of those lights’ batteries in the Volt 800, as they all share the same basic chassis.

VERDICT

Like the Volt 1200 that I got before it, this is not a cheap light. It is, however, just as packed with value, although I do feel investing in a least one spare battery increases that. The 800-lumen emitter, good optics, and improved button logic make it investment-grade. Everything else checks the important boxes for me.

Highly recommended.

Review: Topeak Wedge Drybag S saddle bag

As insurance against a punctured tire or some other mechanical mishap while riding, I’ve always installed a saddle bag on my bikes.

I still have the very first one I bought, a Deuter Bike Bag II. It’s a simple satchel with 1 L of capacity, which is enough to carry everything I need – and that’s without expanding it to 1.4 L by opening the bottom zipper. It secures to the saddle and seat post via one Velcro strap each, which meant that it fits around saddles with rails that are very wide at the rear, such as my old Selle SMP Hell saddle.

After almost four years of riding, though, it’s looking a little beat-up and tired. While Deuter says its material offers water resistance, it wasn’t enough to prevent my KMC master links from rusting.

I got the Topeak Wedge Drybag Small to replace it.

FEATURES

  • Waterproof polyurethane material, sonically welded seams
  • Roll-top closure secured with side buckles
  • Attaches to saddle by clicking into mounting bracket installed on saddle rails
  • Fits seat posts from 25.4 mm to 34.9 mm diameter
  • Rear light loop and reflective material strip
  • Volume: 0.6 L
  • Weight: 140 g (bag only)

IMPRESSIONS

The Wedge Drybag is made of a similar polyurethane material to my Vincita B050WP-A panniers, except here it’s given shape and stiffness by a curved plastic plate. As such, it holds its distinct shape better than the Bike Bag II.

From experience with my panniers, I’m a believer in the waterproofing provided by a roll-top bag closure. Here, though, there isn’t enough material to let riders leverage another advantage of the roll-top closure: it is tolerant of overfilling. More on that in a minute.

Since changing to the Fabric Line saddle, the use of these saddlebags with a plastic quick-disconnect bracket has been restored to me. The QuickClick bracket on the Wedge Drybag attaches with just a 3 mm hex wrench.

A look at the inside of the bag reveals slim mesh pockets on the sides, as a way of organizing the contents. They’re not exactly deep, but they’re useful enough.

At 0.6 L, this Topeak bag is rated smaller in absolute capacity than the Deuter Bike Bag II. The old bag could fit two cyclocross inner tubes, a multi-tool, tire levers, a patch kit, master links, a spare rear derailleur hanger, and had space left over for some odds and ends. The new bag…isn’t as roomy, especially when trying to stuff it with two inner tubes.

Here it is with a Topeak Hexus II multi-tool with two included tire levers and one spare cyclocross inner tube side by side. Not seen, but packed in the side mesh pockets, are a ziplock bag with some cash; a tiny plastic bag with a KMC missing link and spare rear derailleur hanger; and a Park Tool GP-2 glueless patch kit.

It will manage to fit all this, but barely – mostly because of how bulky the inner tube is. Trying to fit two of these inner tubes is possible but requires a different strategy: skipping the use of the side mesh pockets altogether.

While one advantage of the roll-top closure is that it can tolerate some overfill, there just isn’t enough spare material for it. As it is, the roll-top closure folds over just once before the buckles come in to cinch the opening shut.

Moving all the small bits into the depths of the bag and covering them over with the two inner tubes jammed into the main cavity side by side proved the way to go. That left the multi-tool. I made it fit by making it sit sideways, and used whatever overfill capacity the bag had to cinch everything down shut.

…Like so.

Even stuffed to the gills, it’s much sleeker than the droopy Bike Bag II was. This is best illustrated by the Cat Eye Reflex Auto rear light I hung on its safety light loop. The Reflex Auto sits just a bit higher up, at a better angle, and it does this on its own.

Deuter Bike Bag II hung under Selle SMP Hell. Note the droop and angle of the Cat Eye Reflex Auto rear light.

On the Bike Bag II, I had to wrestle the saddle rail Velcro straps to combat the natural droopage of the material that conspired to make the Reflex Auto point downward.

There’s a finger-wide strip of reflective print, too, but I’m not sure how helpful it is given that it tends to face downward when the bag is mounted on the saddle.

Despite biting off more than it can swallow with my two fat tubes, the Wedge Drybag has done a pretty good job of ferrying my tools and spares around. The Velcro strap for the seat post isn’t strictly necessary for security, either. You could skip wrapping it if you regularly remove the saddle bag on and off the bike, since undoing it from the bag’s loop is more obtrusive than it should be. Riders who detest the thought of saddle bag straps catching on their bibshorts will welcome the option.

Overall, this is another good release from Topeak. If the Medium size was available, I’d opt for that, though.

Drawing a line through the fabric of hell

Back in October 2015 I sang the praises of Selle SMP’s Hell saddle. I bloody well liked it.

As great as it was, it had its flaws. The radical “bisected-lengthwise” shape did wonders for blood circulation and helped avoid numb genitals, but it also had a peculiar sort of sagging. With time, distance, and lots of rides, the two halves of the saddle spread themselves apart over time…ever so slightly.

Not the kind of beausage you want to see on your bike.

More egregious was how its top cover wore down. Selle SMP’s general design philosophy of keeping one general seating position along the length of the saddle meant that the top cover developed cracking around the spot where I spent the most time seated. Coupled with the very deep relief cutout, the cracked cover pieces were sharp enough to irritate my groin. I took a pair of scissors to round these off in an effort to lessen the irritation and potential for chafing, but that was a quick fix at best.

Add to that the separation of the cover at various seams, and it’s fair to say the Hell was begging to be replaced at this point. Perhaps my Hell was part of a batch that wasn’t quite up to snuff, but my buddy Mario told me that other users had the same experiences. Selle SMP had gotten the design concept down pat; my saddle was at around 80% of the execution and could perhaps use a bit more quality tweaking.

So…I short-listed my options.

Specialized Power saddle in range-topping S-Works form. Photo courtesy of BikeRadar.

Specialized released their Power saddle in 2015. It takes Selle SMP’s anatomic design philosophy, and applies their take on the formula. Compared to the Hell, the Power is much shorter in the nose and wider overall. Spez does say that it is effectively a fusion of its existing saddles: the triathlon/TT Sitero for its stubby dipped nose; the mountain biking Phenom for its flat shape; and many of its women-specific saddles for its wide and long cutout.

The Comp version of the Power is all black. Photo courtesy of BikeRadar.

The basic Comp version comes with chromoly steel rails and a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic shell. At PhP4800, it fetches a pretty penny, although still lower in price than the Hell.

Three of Fabric’s saddles on display at Built Cycles Parañaque: the Cell, Line, and Scoop.

Fabric is one of the offshoots of Nick Larsen and his bicycle company Charge Bikes, creator of the original Scoop saddle, then later refined into the universally well-reviewed Spoon.

I took a particular interest in their Line saddle. Conceptually it is a spin on their classic Spoon model, but incorporates a relief channel. Unlike Specialized and Selle SMP, and more like Fizik’s Versus and Versus X saddles, at no point does Fabric perforate the saddle all the way through. Its relief channel is a trench that stops some way short of the nose, at the bottom of which is the saddle’s bare plastic shell.

With the chromoly railed version selling at PhP2780 from Built Cycles Makati, it was also cheaper than the Power. Remembering how the full-length cutout design compromised the Hell’s longevity, I wondered: could Fabric’s approach still bring the same benefits?

Even though Fabric and its progenitor company Charge still sell similar saddles, notably the Scoop, the former adopts a sleeker approach to its designs. The Line hardly has any staples, seams, or stitching that characterize traditional saddle construction. Fabric bonds top cover and foam to base plastic shell, lending the appearance and feeling of solidity.

While Fabric promises a wide range of colors, Built Cycles stocks almost all its saddles only in very basic black. At least it makes for subtle contrast. The glossy center stripe on the nose ramps down into the equally glossy plastic shell of the relief channel. Save for branding on the nose’s sides, the rest of the saddle has a matte black, slightly tacky top cover.

That top cover is tough, too. Hyro fell over twice in the span of a day, yet it’s still scratch-free.

A side-by-side comparison with Bino’s WTB Silverado Sport saddle reveals a lot of similarities with the Line. It’s the same length and width, basically differing a smidge with the shape and relief channel. The Silverado is cushier and began life with a much tackier top cover, though.

Compared to the outgoing Selle SMP Hell, except for that saddle’s split tail, the basic dimensions are also the same.

Incidentally, the Line’s rear rails are the same width as most other saddles’, unlike the super-wide ones of any SMP perch. Accessories that clip on to saddle rails, such as saddlebags and rear light mounts, will work fine.

Hanging the Hell on my baggage scale reveals a 290 g weight.

Using the same scale, the Line is a fair bit lighter at 230 g.

So how does it ride? Quite firmly, is my answer. The Line’s dense foam padding has very little give. Perhaps this is due to the way the relief channel is made, as Fabric had to make sure a rider’s soft tissues would not collapse uncomfortably into it. This does mean that the saddle gives very good support; I felt very efficient in my pedaling while riding it.

Clearly the comfort isn’t going to come from the foam; it will instead come from the shape. The narrow 134 mm width means nothing to snag your thighs on, even when riding MTB baggy shorts.

It took a bit of tweaking the Line’s angle on my seatpost to make it as comfortable as it can get. After riding around with it level, I opted to have the saddle point nose down by a maximum of one degree, to help emulate some of the Hell’s compliance for aggressive riding with hips rolled forward.

This helped, and I feel my position is now more or less dialed in. There is one aspect I miss on the Hell saddle though, and that is the way it fought off genital numbness. On the Line, it can still set in on harder efforts, and when it does set in, it does so quicker, although it’s easily alleviated by riding out of the saddle for a few seconds.

Before: Selle SMP Hell.

After: Fabric Line.

A white saddle matches the TCX SLR 2’s black/white/red livery, but the new saddle looks great and should shrug off dirt and wear better.

The Fabric Line is a pretty good saddle, but it caters to a different set of priorities compared to the outgoing Selle SMP Hell. While compact, supportive, and comfortable when properly set to a rider’s physique, it’s not quite as natural a choice for long-haul riding. It will appeal more to competitive riders and criterium racers who appreciate a solid platform to pedal from.