CatEye bicycle equipment sucks

Most of the bike shops in the area only carry CatEye equipment, so I've bought some of it. I want everyone to know how much it sucks, because it sucks a lot.

CatEye Tomo

It started with the CatEye Tomo, a low-priced bicycle computer that I bought in 2001, probably for around $20. It actually lasted the best of any CatEye equipment I've ever had. It lived on my bicycle, which lived outside, in the rain. It indicated that it was water resistant, so I figured this was fine. It survived trouble-free to 1100 miles (about 3 months), then it had water on the inside of the screen and died soon after that. It had buttons on the front of it, so it didn't surprise me that water could leak in around the edges of the buttons, though I wish that it hadn't.

If they had invested as much thought as the typical el-cheapo wristwatch maker does towards making it water resistant, it would still work today.

CatEye Strada

In 2007, I bought another cheap CatEye bike computer. When I got it, I told the salesman of my previous CatEye experience and he assured me that the newer ones had a better design. Indeed, they do. The face of the computer is a smooth surface with no holes for water to get in...all of the buttons are on the back and appear to be a decent sealed membrane technology. It rocks in its little holder so that you can depress one of the buttons to interact with it while you are riding. However, the electrical contact between the little holder and the computer is some sort of corrodable metal. Every time it rains, they corrode a little. Eventually, they don't conduct, and I have to go at the contacts with steel wool. Even a very mild rain gets enough water in there to start corrosion, so it's a pretty constant process of scraping.

This is particularly pathetic because the Strada is installed on a bicycle which sits in a garage. The bicycle never sees more rain than I do.

Plus, the little holder hardly holds the computer. It often (around once a month) goes flying off my handlebars for no apparent reason.

So basically this computer is a constantly crapulent experience, and the bad news is that it's still running at 1700 miles (a year and a half).

If they had made a halfway decent holder, and used non-corrodable contacts (such as gold-plated), it would be a pleasure to use. Gold-plated contacts are not particularly expensive, so there's no excuse.

CatEye HL-EL135 OptiCube front light

I got this front light as a combo with a back light which still works (knock on wood). Within a month of getting this light, I noticed that sometimes it would not respond to the on/off button, but if you pinched it a certain way then it would turn on and off. Also, sometimes it would be very dim, as if the batteries were dying. Over time, it got worse, and eventually I found myself hitting it to turn it on and off. Recently, I was hitting it so hard that I broke the cover, revealing the problem.

The thing is full of water. This bike had literally been sitting in a garage for three weeks and it was still full of water. See, they designed it with openings in the top (the battery tray lid opened upwards, and had no seals of any sort around it), and then they failed to put any holes in the bottom. Now, this sort of light should actually be able to survive some internal water so they could have gotten away with holes in the top if they had drain holes in the bottom. But with no holes in the bottom, water collects in there and corrodes everything and now the light is crap. Even with the water out of it, it doesn't respond to the button reliably (but it does light...the batteries are not dead).

Since this light is so young, and the failure is so extreme, I emailed CatEye customer service, saying I would refrain from disparaging their name as I am now doing, if only they would send me a moderately water-resistant light. They replied that they would honor warranty service for this light, and would send me a slightly better light in return, because the better light has a redesigned handlebar clasp! Indeed, the handlebar clasp is a common complaint on this light. If you take the light off of your bike, it is very easy to break the little piece of plastic that holds it on the bike. Other customers complain about this online. Presumably they take their light off of their bike every time it rains, and that's why they don't complain about the water behavior of the light. But if it was water resistant at all, you could just leave it on the bike and not break the clasp!

The design of a water-resistant flashlight is simple and obvious. The batteries are stored in a tube, and one or both ends of the tube can unscrew. The screw threads alone tend to keep the insides dry, but most manufacturers use a little gasket to seal the deal. In fact, this is the design of the HL-EL410 (one of CatEye's more "elite" models). Why should a basic level of water resistance be an elite feature? Especially given that water resistance is achievable with just a non-retarded design for the molded plastic parts, with no additional cost.

I mean, it's not like this light was cheap. I paid $30 just for a pair of lights. In the world of bicycle equipment, $30 may seem cheap, but I happen to know that this is the 21st century. This pair of lights certainly cost less than $4 to manufacture. There is no excuse that they didn't use some of their profit to make them last. When you buy an upgraded model, you should get a brighter light, a more efficient light, more battery options. Water resistance is not an optional feature on outdoor equipment.

Summary

Three times I have bought CatEye and three times a light rain has destroyed the product. I realize I'm buying entry-level hardware here, and I'd understand if I was breaking things by exposing them to winter (salt, sand, impact), but these products are being destroyed by RAIN. Entry-level flashlights these days are fairly water resistant, why can't bicycle equipment be?

I realize that some people have happy CatEye user stories, because they never expose their equipment to rain. But I think these people are stupid...if you aren't willing to ride in the rain, then why are you willing to ride at night?

Update July 2, 2012

In 2008, I emailed CatEye customer support to tell them of my repeated negative experiences. They sent me a more expensive light with the same flaws, which failed to impress me. In fact, it upset me more, because now I know that even if you give all of your money to CatEye, you still won't receive a water-resistant device.

But today I have started to receive spam on an email address that I have literally only used once, to email CatEye. So CatEye's customer support machine got a virus, and that virus has collected my email address and sent it to spammers. It's stock (finance) spam, too, so it's definitely not an intentional act on the part of CatEye advertising.

CatEye Velo 7

update May 2016: I must be the world's biggest chump.

I've been buying these $10 Bell computers off Amazon, and they have been pretty reliable for me. I just put a little hot melt glue along the seam between the computer and its holder, so that water doesn't get on the contacts, and it lasts fine. But I finally had one fail on me. All things being equal, I'd rather spend my money locally than Amazon, soo...

I went to the snooty LBS, and their cheapest was $35. I almost went for it but it was wireless. I understand the contacts are the worst part of the computer, but wireless is not the correct remedy!!! I couldn't walk out of there fast enough.

I went to the working class LBS, and they had a CatEye Velo 7, $25. On the surface, it is everything I want, but setting it up revealed multi-faceted imbecility.

First, instead of configuring the wheel circumference in milimeters, you configure the kind of wheel (26", 27", 700C, etc) -- ugh, unknowable error factor. You can set the circumference in centimeters but you have to read the minds of the engineers -- the manual is not very good at conveying the practice. Oh! What is this? A second manual that is perfectly comprehensible! Great! (it is not great -- two manuals, one good and one bad??? wtf???)

Second, it has three buttons! One big button on the front which may or may not be water resistant, and then two recessed buttons on the back. Even with this superfluity of buttons, they still have a step where you have to long-hold a button to distinguish from a short press. UI design is subtle stuff, but this is not exactly unexplored territory.

So in order to change the time, I have to undo the hot melt glue that is protecting the contacts. Ugh. I hope it keeps good time.

So, I'd rather burn all of the local bike shops to the ground than buy another piece of CatEye garbage. Onward and forward with Amazon.