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: Continental Ultra Sport II tires

Hyro, my TCX, came equipped with Giant’s S-X2 wheelset with 19 mm internal width. This is a good match for the 35 mm Schwalbe Super Swan mud tires it also came with.

However, when repurposing him for the road, slick tires are better. I encountered some concerns with the relatively wide internal rim width. As per ISO 5775 by the European Tire and Rim Technical Organization (ETRTO), the narrowest tire they recommend mounting onto my rims should measure 28 mm wide…which is a relatively hard to find size here.

After my first set of slicks, a second-hand 28 mm pair of Specialized Espoir Sports, wore down to the carcass threads after lots of riding, I decided to continue with the same width. Fortunately I did have some locally available options, and I ended up buying a pair of Continental’s Ultra Sport II folding-bead clincher tires from the guys at Built Cycles in Parañaque – one of the few local bike shops that really cater to cyclocross bikes.

 

The Ultra Sport II is the second generation of Continental’s entry-level road slick tire, meant for commuting and training. The original model had a nasty reputation on bike forums for attracting punctures, but that was feedback from around five years ago. Let’s see how the successors fare.

FEATURES

  • “PureGrip” compound for all-round durability and grip
  • Available widths: 23 mm, 25 mm, 28 mm, 32 mm
  • Construction: 3/180 threads per inch
  • Folding Kevlar bead
  • Recommended pressure: 80-115 psi (max)
  • Weight: 340 grams per 700C x 28 mm tire

IMPRESSIONS

Out of the box, these tires have incredibly tight beads. They can be frustrating to mount onto rims for the first time – and I pride myself on being able to mount and dismount tires using just my hands. Best to use dedicated tire levers on them; if you use those that come with a multi-tool you can snap them clean in half, such is the stubbornness of these beads. And I thought folding-bead tires were supposed to be easier to mount than wire bead-ones?

As basic tires, the Ultra Sport IIs don’t contain any puncture protection features. (I think the slightly pricier GrandSport Race is essentially the same tire with an anti-puncture belt.) With the gruntwork of initial mounting, I was worried when I got a puncture on these and had to swap out the pierced tube. Once they’ve been mounted and have held air for a while, though, the folding beads become much more compliant, and they can be dismounted and remounted with greater ease. Yes, even without any tools.

That said, the above was my one and only puncture with these tires. The puncture gremlins of the original Ultra Sports have been exorcised. I was even able to finish my maiden 200 km randonnee ride on them with no flatting at all.

Mounted on my 19 mm rims and inflated to 85 psi, they actually measure 30 mm across on my tape, benefiting air volume and compliance.

 

Considering these are bottom of the barrel for Continental, grip itself is pretty good. They ride slightly better than the old Espoir Sports, which were decent to begin with, but these also roll more effortlessly with less resistance. I can lean pretty aggressively into turns and confidently carry a fair bit of speed…if you’re riding on asphalt or concrete roads. They’re well-behaved in the wet, too.

Carry too much speed into shiny, polished concrete parking-lot driveways when turning, and you can hear the tires groaning as they lose grip. To be fair, even the tires on my car understeer on such low-grip surfaces, and the Ultra Sport IIs lose traction in a progressive, predictable way, with enough warning given for corrective action.

Similarly, another weakness for the Ultra Sport IIs is dusty, gravelly surfaces. There’s not much of a pattern on the tread area, so they lack the bite for aggressive cornering on loose dust. Best to take such stretches riding as upright as you can.

 

While Continental recommend running the 28 mm Ultra Sport IIs with pressures of 80 to a maximum 115 psi, I find they still ride well with as low as 65 psi of air in them. Usually I put 85 psi and ride all week without topping up, and they support my 85 kg weight and ~7 kg of loaded panniers well. Still, the carcass retains a bit of ride firmness, which will be desirable for racers in training.

VERDICT

They’re not quite the last word in grip or ride quality, but the Ultra Sport II tires do very nicely as an all-around durable tire. At PhP920 a pop, they’re also excellent value.

That said, I’d love to see a softer-riding version of these tires with better puncture protection. Both areas would be addressed by tubeless technology, and I’m rather confident my wheelset is ready for it. Sadly, Continental seem to be firmly against road tubeless tires for now.

Riding in the rain, part 2: Equipment

Previously I talked about dressing for the part if you want to ride in the rain and not feel miserable about it. Today I’ll be going over the preparations I would suggest for your bike, as well as other equipment.

SLATHER ON SOME WET CHAIN LUBE

Now is the time to go over your chain with degreaser to strip it of any old dry chain lube it has left. While some dry lubes still work in the rain, they’re not the right tool for the conditions, and you’re leaving some drivetrain protection on the table.

Tri-Flow Superior Soy is my go-to wet chain lube.

 

Once you degrease your chain of dry lube, apply wet chain lube into its links and roller pins. These are usually made up of plant-based or synthetic oils, instead of the wax that makes up many dry lubes, so they are more tenacious and will provide more consistent protection for your chain in the wet.

Wet lubes do attract more dirt, though. Fortunately, the air has less suspended fine dust and dirt in the rainy season, so wet lubes don’t have to contend with it so much.

EYE YOUR TIRES

Your luck with punctures worsens in the rain, I’m afraid. Wet roads and standing water act as lubricant for debris particles to worm their way into your tires’ tread, eventually breaching the carcass and pricking holes in the inner tube.

To defend against this, inspect your tires for any bits of debris that are sunken into the tread area. Any pieces you find, you should pry out with a little pick. Granted, you should be doing this even in dry conditions, but in the rainy season you will have to do so more frequently.

If you’re used to running high pressures on your road bike’s tires, I suggest cutting down 10 psi. This will let the tire deform a little more while riding, increasing its contact patch however slightly.

PREP YOUR BRAKES

Rim brakes need more preparation for wet conditions. It’s just the nature of the beast. Because of the closeness of the rim’s braking track to the ground, it’s more prone to picking up debris. The soft material of the brake pads picks these up, which can scratch up the braking track and deteriorate the wheel’s integrity faster in the long run. You’ll have to repeat the habit of prying away debris with your pick, this time from the brake pads.

With much harder pads and a more central brake rotor, disc brakes are better equipped to deal with the wet, and will require less maintenance. Like rim brakes, however, they’re not much use if the rotor is contaminated with oil. Take a paper towel, squirt some isopropyl alcohol into it, and wipe down the surface of the braking track or brake rotor. This removes contaminants and improves the bite of the pads. A contaminated brake rotor is easy enough to clean, but contaminated pads are a different matter and should really be replaced right away.

Needless to say, of course, if your pads are thin you should replace them ASAP, especially for rim brakes. You don’t want the bare metal of the brake pad carrier to do the braking against your wheels – they’ll gouge the brake track.

GREASE YOUR THREADS

Water brings the potential of corrosion in your bearings and bolts. Inexperienced cyclists usually don’t give this any importance…until their seatposts, bolts and bearings seize up and become very hard to remove or rotate.

 

Combat this by cleaning and regreasing these parts. Grease is very often your last line of defense. Headset lower bearings, in particular, are very susceptible to corrosion, especially if you ride without fenders. If you haven’t serviced your hubs’ bearings in a while, now’s the time.

For seatposts, grease is usually the way to go. However, if either seatpost or frame is made of carbon, don’t use it. You’re better off either running it dry, or using a carbon assembly paste such as Finish Line Fiber Grip.

TURN ON THE LIGHT

With the rainy season usually comes poorer visibility, with shades of gray overtaking summer color. Us cyclists have a very real danger of becoming lost in the proverbial haze, so we have to fight for our visibility with lights.

I’m a huge proponent of driving and riding with lights on regardless of the time of day – simply because a vehicle or cyclist more visible to other road users has greater potential for safety. This comes into play more when conditions become overcast.

The more lights you can run on your bike, the better. I would insist on two rear lights as the bare minimum, so you always have a backup in case one light conks out. For front lights, I suggest getting something with at least 600 lumens of output.

FENDER DEFENDER

They add weight, are tricky to fit, and arguably don’t look cool, but full-length fenders are your best friend in the rain. Riding through wet streets without them usually results in a brown stripe up your back and a butt cold with street water from the rooster tail your tires kick up.

The faster you ride, the more important that forward bit of your front fender is.

If you like riding through the rain at speed, the front fender’s projection forward of the fork crown ensures that you don’t end up eating the murky water you ride through.

Not immediately as obvious is the protection a set of full-length fenders provides for your bike! They practically eliminate contamination of your lower headset bearings from standing water, and they also shield your front derailleur and bottom bracket.

 

Unfortunately, full-length fenders for road bikes are very hard to find in the Philippines. I had to import mine from overseas. They also require a bike that can fit them, with a complete set of eyelets at the dropouts, the fork crown, seatstay bridge, and chainstay bridge. Fitting them is also a ridiculously fiddly process especially on your first DIY attempt. For comfort in the rain, though, it’s all worth it.

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Now that you have your clothing and equipment ready, in the next installment, I’ll discuss the nitty-gritty of actually riding in the rain safely.