Spoke Roady Gecko Pen Review

The Spoke Design Roady Gecko pen about a week ago, and I’ve been using it constantly since then. The Roady is an EDC pocket pen made of machined aluminum that is built around the Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 refill. Unlike its predecessor, the excellent Signo DX compatible Spoke Pen, the Roady is capable of accepting a wide variety of Parker style refills, including the Fisher Space Pen refill, much beloved in EDC circles.

I don’t usually go for flashy pens, but something about the design of the Roady and the colour options offered made me grab the Gecko. This charmingly named colourway has a lime green cap, an orange barrel and finial, and rainbow coloured grip and clip. The result is even better in person than it is in photos – a pen that makes you smile and is bound to draw attention to itself.

Capped the Spoke Roady is tiny, and ought to fit comfortably in your pockets, if you have some.

There are a few other colourways with similar rainbow patterns on their grip and clip. The result is gorgeous, and I’m glad that Spoke Design haven’t offered these only as limited edition pens, or charged an additional markup for them. That is commendable and impressive, particularly in today’s machined pen market.

Rainbow clip.

Trying to write with the Spoke Roady unposted is asking for trouble, as it’s verging on golf pencil short in its body length. This is a pen clearly designed with posting in mind.

Too short for comfort unposted.

When posted the Spoke Roady becomes a viable EDC pen, although it’s still on the short side. This means that it’s great for short notes on the go, which is what it’s intended for, and not the best for long note taking sessions. The Roady posts using magnets, making a satisfying click when posted. It’s not as great a fidget toy as the Spoke Pen is, not that this should ever dissuade you from purchasing it.

Capped and ready for work.

For some reason the refill came shipped in a separate sleeve and not inside the pen. This is a peculiar choice since the refill came in a Uni-ball refill bag, but with the spring and o-ring already installed, and for some reason a bit of tubing meant to be used as a spacer of some kind? It’s not really clear. Also, while you get a cool sticker and generally nice packaging with the Roady, you don’t get an explanation of any kind with the pen. That’s a shame because it assumes that everyone will know how to handle the refill when it comes to changing the pen’s refill. It feels like a missed opportunity for Spoke.

The refill, Jetstream SXR-600

Here’s the Spoke Roady next to the Spoke Pen. If you can only afford one pen and you’re out and about a lot and like wild colours, then I’d recommend getting the Roady. Otherwise, get the Spoke pen, especially if you like writing in fine lines. Both are good pens, just each one is suited for a different use case.

Roady on the left, Spoke Pen on the right.

Writing sample on Rhodia paper. The Jetstream SXR-600 in 0.7 is an excellent refill choice in the Parker refill category, and the Parker style refill itself is a great choice for an EDC type of pen.

The Roady is a great little pen to have handy, and it’s reasonably priced for a machined pen. I won’t be surprised if I end up buying one or even two more.

Spoke Roady Gecko Pen Review

A Pen Hack, a Field Notes and the Hi-Tech C

I had an issue with my Ti2 Techliner where my favourite gel ink refill (the Uni-ball UMR-85) and basically all gel ink refills dried out and stopped writing a few words after I uncapped the pen. While ballpoint refills like the Jetstream faired better, they also would “fade out” after a few lines, and then, after some coaxing, return to normal. It couldn’t be that the refill was drying out, as after capping the pen, it wrote well enough again for a few words. It was a refill problem, as the same refill wrote perfectly fine in a different pen.

I tried searching for answers and asked around in the Pen Addict slack but got no answers. It was frustrating, since I liked the pen, but couldn’t use it because it wouldn’t work with my preferred refills. I had a feeling that the magnet at the tip of the pen was what was causing the ink flow issue, but it only yesterday did I figure out how to bypass the very thing that was holding the pen together.

What I did was change the order of the parts in the front section of the pen. The original order was refill, plastic spacer, red o-ring, magnet and then the section screwed over that. What I did was reverse the o-ring and the magnet so now it’s: refill, plastic spacer, magnet, red o-ring, and then the section. The result is kind of pleasing to the eye, and more importantly it fixed the flow problem completely, and now I can actually use this fetching pen.

You can see the red o-ring around the tip of the pen.

I tend not to review Field Notes because they arrive so late to me (due to postal issues, not Field Notes issues) that it seems irrelevant to review last quarter’s edition when everyone already has the new one at hand. Covid-19 has made the postal problems even worse, and so only now, and after contacting the wonderful Field Notes people and getting a reshipment, have my Vignette notebooks arrived.

What also arrived were my Field Notes Rooster 2020 notebooks, which are part of Field Notes’ yearly sponsorship of the Morning News and the Tournament of Books. I read all of the books in the Tournament of Books shortlist this year, for the second year in a row. I didn’t post reviews of them all in this site as I didn’t enjoy the last 3-4 books, and I didn’t feel like posting negative review after negative review.

I did, however, love this year’s Field Notes Rooster special edition notebook, and it is by far my favourite Rooster special edition notebook that Field Notes ever issued. It is a squared notebook, and not lined, for the first time ever, and the bold red and black print on the cover is much more striking than their usual craft or cream choices for this series.

Bold, bright colours on the cover.

The fact that these notebooks (sold as singles, with the proceeds going to literacy related charities) arrived so late means that I have a had a few months to think about the Tournament of Books 2020 reading list.

Squared notebook.

I enjoyed the 2019 reading list more, but the 2020 list was overall a good, interesting list of contemporary writing that I for the most part would not have read otherwise. There were a few mediocre books on it, and a few that I really disliked, but as a whole it wasn’t a bad list. I may try reading next year’s list too.

The list. There are 18 books on the list, 4 books that I though weren’t worth reading, of them two were a silly, bloated waste of time and two were infuriatingly bad. There were 7 books that I thought were real gems.

I wrote a few weeks back that I was struggling with my notebook setup, and things have changed since then. I’ve settled on using a blank large Moleskine hardcover in Reef Blue and a Pilot Hi-Tech C 0.4 for a running list of work projects and related notes.

I’ve customized the cover with a Star Wars decal to make it pop and let me easily identify it.

I use the right hand side for a running tasks per project (I still manage major project points in the Things app), and the left hand side for related points, reminders and ideas. Each project has at least one spread, and I drop in pages with ideas and things to remember in between the project pages.

The Pilot Hi-Tec-C (also known as the G-Tec-C4) is not a pen that I would recommend because it’s so very delicate and unreliable, but I used to be a fan years ago, and in a burst of nostalgia (and against my better judgement) I’ve gone back to using these pens. There’s something about the barrel design of this pen, combined with it’s needle tip that makes me enjoy writing with it. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it, as you’ll rarely see a refill through (the tip will bend, or it will become to scratchy to use, or it will dry out and become unusable) and in general the Uni-ball Signo DX are much better 0.4 tipped gel ink pens. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and this is what I prefer for daily work use right now.

A Pen Hack, a Field Notes and the Hi-Tech C

Caran D’Ache 849 Nespresso Arpeggio Limited Edition

Hey, look what just arrived in the mail:

Such great packaging.

It’s the new Caran d’Ache 849 Nespresso limited edition and this time it’s Arpeggio that was chosen. Arpeggio is not only one of Nespresso’s more popular capsules, it’s also a gorgeous purple, which is a huge plus in my book, and big difference from their previous edition, the India.

But first, some photos of the phenomenal packaging of this pen:

Side view, where you can also see that it’s the 3rd of the series.

The 849 Arpeggio is made out of recycled Nespresso capsules just like its predecessors:

The back of the pen box.

The cardboard cutout the pen comes in still on point: a simple and fitting material designed to perfection to best showcase the pen and its materials.

Look at that colour!

This came out darker than I would have preferred, but you can just about see the Caran d’Ache brand under the clip, and the “Swiss made” on top.

Swiss made.

The 849 Arpeggio is a lovely deep purple, and has a great texture to it. The non-smooth surface makes it much easier to grip than many of the other 849 pens. You can see the difference in texture here between the Arpeggio and one of the 849 Tropics pens:

Textured Arpeggio finish vs the glass smooth finish on the Tropics 849

And here’s the by now familiar “made with recycled Nespresso capsules” tagline on the side:

I changed the refill, and since somebody asked, I thought I’d focus on that for a bit. To change the refill you unscrew the clicker on top, and that might take a bit of fiddling, since it’s pretty securely screwed in. It doesn’t take force, just a bit of patience. Then take out the refill and swap it out with the new refill, and don’t forget to put the front spring on, preserving the right direction it was placed in when it came off.

Body, cap and original refill with the spring.

I replaced the original Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill with the Parker Quink medium gel refill (it’s 0.7 mm). Here it is in the packaging in case you’re looking for it. I bought a pack of these from the excellent, excellent CultPens (I’m not being paid to say this, I just really appreciate them and what they’re doing. If you’re a non-US pen addict in particular I recommend checking them out).

Here’s a writing sample with the Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill and the Parker Quink gel refill. If you’re a fan of ballpoints, the Goliath refill is excellent. I just happen to not like ballpoints, so I change them to gel refills whenever I can.

The Caran d’Ache 849 Arpeggio is a beautiful pen that would make for a great gift (if you can bear to part with it). I can’t recommend these series of pens enough, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s edition will be. Nespresso’s capsules come in a variety of pretty nifty colours, so I don’t think that Caran d’Ache can really miss with them.

Caran D’Ache 849 Nespresso Arpeggio Limited Edition

Ti Mini Review

Look what arrived in the mail today! It’s the Big Idea Design Ti Mini, fresh from their latest Kickstarter. I generally love all Big Idea Design pens (except the for the click, which I still enjoy, though it’s not my favourite), but I still hesitated before backing this one. The form factor is so “extreme” that I wasn’t sure that I’d like it or find use for it. A small pocket pen (i.e. a pen that’s small even for a pocket pen), the Ti Mini is a titanium machined pen that uses D1 refills and is basically built for the watch/change pocket of your jeans. It’s the emergency pen you pull out when you need to scribble something on a note, something that you can carry around without even remembering it’s there until you need it.

The post was enthusiastic so the package got a bit smashed in transit.

The packaging is standard Big Idea Design: utilitarian, full of useful information, well thought out and designed and with a bit of an Apple vibe to it.

Smashed package, but you get the gist
That is just a great tagline
Designed by Big Idea Design, Made in China. Remind you of something?

There’s a bit of marketing material when you open the box, but I’m just going to pause and say that I’ve paid a lot more for machined pens that weren’t half as well packed as this, and the reason that my pen survived the rough-handling that my package received is because someone took the time to consider good packaging. And I’m not even someone who usually appreciates packaging (unless it’s particularly good or downright insultingly bad).

Not a scratch on the pen even though the box was smashed in.
Nice logo sticker to go with the pen.

The Ti Mini comes with two spare o-rings and six D1 refills: three gel ink refills (one in the pen, two others in the refill bag), and three ballpoint refills. All refills are Big Idea Design branded, and all of them are medium refills. You have everything you’ll need to write with this pen for months if not for years, right out of the box.

The Ti Mini in DLC Black

The pen has the classic look of any Big Idea Design pen, with an addition of a titanium bead at the end of a lanyard, to make it easy to pull out of your jeans’ change pocket. It’s an extremely well designed pen, built perfectly for its purpose.

The Ti Mini isn’t built for long form writing, but for a few lines and a scribble when you’re on the go it’s perfect. The gel ink refills that came with my pen seem to be duds, which is a shame, and the only strike agains this pen purchase. It’s not too bad though, because if there’s a pen that calls for a ballpoint refill, it’s this one.

Changing refills is a breeze: unscrew the top, and then unscrew the refill, replacing it with another D1 refill by simply screwing the refill in and then screwing the top back on.

If you’re looking for an “emergency” EDC pen, something that’s always there and ready for when you really need it, the Ti Mini is perfect for the job. It also makes for a great gift pen, even though now is not the time when people travel around much (stay at home!). Just be careful not to forget about it and leave it in you jeans when you wash them. The pen will survive, I’m not so sure about the washing machine…

Ti Mini Review

Henry the Pen Man

Find out more about Henry here on his site, and here on the famous “Has anyone heard of Henry Simpole” threads (one and two) on the Fountain Pen Network. Henry’s moniker was Truffle Finder. People are writing kind words and their memories of time spent with Henry here.

This is my favourite Henry story, and if you’re remotely interested in Esterbrook you should give it a read.

Read here about the Jasmin pen. I’ve attached photos of mine below.

You can see both Henry’s beautiful work and his hallmark here.

Henry the Pen Man

Caran d’Ache Nespresso India Green

When Caran d’Ache came out with this year’s limited edition Nespresso capsule 849 pen I breathed out a sigh of relief. I’m not a fan of their India capsules, and their olive green colour doesn’t speak to me, so I thought that it would be an easy pen to skip. Their previous collaboration, the Darkhan, was an excellent pen overall, especially as a gift purchase to the Nespresso or pen lover in your life, and I also loved the capsules and loved their colour.

Well Cult Pens celebrated their 15th anniversary, and I needed some refills, and somehow or other the India 849 found itself in my basket. I thought I would gift it away, but once it arrived I knew that this pen is staying with me.

As with the previous edition, the packaging on this pen is genius. It shows off the pen and what it is beautifully, and it’s so well made and well considered. On the front there’s the “This was a Nespresso capsule” label, and a sketch of the pen that fits perfectly with the way the pen is presented in the box (that’s not left to chance. The box is designed so the pen will stay put in semi profile and show off the subtle “Caran d’Ache” logo underneath the clip).

Limited Edition, Caran d’Ache 849, Series No 02.

On the back there’s a short explanation about what makes this pen special:

Inside the pen is securely slotted in its superbly designed cardboard housing, and here you can catch the first glimpse of why I decided to keep this pen: its colour.

This is a beautiful pen that doesn’t photograph well. Its colour is wild, if subtle could be wild. It’s a cool grey with a slightly green hue. I’ve never had a pen like it, and the result is very, very cool.

Unlike most 849’s and just like the Darkhan edition, this pen has writing on it beyond the hidden Caran d’Ache and the “Swiss Made”:

Made with recycled Nespresso capsules.
849 Caran d’Ache and Swiss Made, standard imprints on 849 pens.

The 849 is a ballpoint and has an excellent out of the box Goliath Caran d’Ache refill. I’m not a fan of ballpoints, so I switched my refill out with the 0.7 Parker gel refill in black, and now I can’t put this pen down. This pen weighs more than the featherweight 849, and it has a textured finish. The result is the 849 pen, only better.

The writing on the top of the page is with the original Goliath refill, and below it the writing is with the Parker gel refill.

I highly recommend this pen to anyone who is even slightly interested in the Caran d’Ache 849, as it’s a significant improvement over an already great pen design. It makes for a great gift, and a great pen to carry around with you (just make sure nobody tries to nick it from you). I hope that Caran d’Ache and Nespresso continue this collaboration, and I can’t wait to see which capsule colour they select next.

Caran d’Ache Nespresso India Green

Kaweco AL Sport Blue Stonewashed Review

I’m not a fan of pocket pens, mostly because women’s pants usually don’t have room for them. Couple that with my fear of forgetting a pen in my pocket and then putting the pants through the wash, and you can see why I have so few of them. However, in 2014 Kaweco came out with the AL Sport Stonewashed and I just couldn’t resist.

This is such a cool look for a pocket pen.

The Kawecon AL Sport Stonewashed is the classic Kaweco Sport pen, in aluminum, stonewashed to give it a worn denim look (especially in the blue version of this pen). The pen really has been worn down, so each pen is unique, and the chips and dings have been smoothed over so it still feels great to write with.

You can see the finish best on the various edges of the pen, and they just work so well with the Kaweco Sport design. This is a pen that’s meant to bash around in your pocket or bag, and the stonewashed finish just highlights that.

Caran d’Ache 849 Tropical on top, Kaweco AL Sport Stonewashed on the bottom.

The AL Sport is ridiculously small when uncapped to the point where it’s unusable, but this is a pen that never was designed to be used uncapped.

Capped it becomes a standard length pen with a pretty wide barrel, which makes it surprisingly comfortable to write with even on longer writing sessions.

The only flaw in this pen is the way that the refill tip clicks when you lift it off the page. There’s some play at the tip end, so while it won’t affect your writing style, you will hear it when you write. This is the case with the original refill and the Parker 0.7 gel refill that I replaced it with.

If you can live with that minor annoyance, then the Kaweco AL Sport Stonewashed is a marvellous pen to buy. As someone who uses mechanical keyboards, I like objects that add sound effects to my writing progress, so the little clicks this pen makes only make it more charming to me.

Kaweco AL Sport Blue Stonewashed Review

Vengeful Fortress: A Stillman and Birn Epsilon Sketchbook Review Adventure Part 1

A while ago a local art supply shop started stocking a wider variety of Stillman and Birn sketchbooks. I currently use the Stillman and Birn pocket Alpha as my daily sketchbook, but I decided to give the pocket Epsilon a try. The Epsilon features smooth, white 150 gsm pages which should work for pen, ink, dry media and light washes.

This sketchbook is in landscape format, which is what I normally prefer. I was planning to use it once I’ve finished with my current Alpha, but weeks stretched to months and meanwhile this sketchbook has been languishing away, unused.

So when I saw Liz Steel going on a virtual sketch tour in Italy, I was inspired to grab this notebook and fill it with a sketch tour of my own. I initially planned to sketch out my cancelled London trip, and I may yet do that, but something inspired me to take this idea to a completely new direction.

I’m going to sketch out a freeform fantasy roleplaying adventure for my regular D&D group, and use that as a way to test out this sketchbook, and to make good use of my fountain pens.

So without further ado: Vengeful Forest, a fantasy freeform adventure.

Sketch and writing done with TWSBI 540 Diamond F nib and Rohrer and Klingner Lotte SketchINK.

Blue lines done with PenBBS 500 Fine and Sailor Sky High ink.

Frying pan Rapunzel dressed in purple is probably copyrighted by Disney, but one of my players thought it would be funny to make my life interesting, so here she is.

I tried to give each character a distinct enough colour scheme so you’ll be able to recognize them from a distance. Each player had one sentence to describe their character.

The watercolours are Schminke and I used a Windsor and Newton Series 7 number 2 brush and a Rosemary and Co 772 brush

I’ll continue posting as the adventure progresses, but so far this has been a lot of fun, and the players seem to be enjoying it too. The Stillman and Birn Epsilon has been an absolute champ: it takes light washes beautifully, with very little buckling, allowing me to use both sides of each page. It also works well with fountain pens, especially fine nibbed ones, which are commonly used for sketching. The white paper makes everything pop, and even though 150 gsm isn’t much when it comes to watercolour, it did allow for some layering and reworking without turning into a messy paper pulp. This is a sketchbook that I’m definitely going to purchase again.

Vengeful Fortress: A Stillman and Birn Epsilon Sketchbook Review Adventure Part 1

Retro 51 Blue Acrylic Tornado

The Retro 51 Blue Acrylic is the last Retro 51 that I have yet to review as part of my Retro 51 challenge (minus the Retro 51 Flower and Retro 51 Coffee which are quarantined in my office). I bought this pen years ago in the Latin Quarter in Paris, in a little store on Boulevard Saint-Michel. The store had a few Retro 51 tornados in their dusty window display, and after some hemming and hawing I went in and asked about the pens. The proprietor had no idea what I wanted to buy from, but after some pointing he brought out his Retro 51 tray. The moment I saw this pen, I knew that I had to have it:

Is it not pretty?

The Retro 51 Blue Acrylic features chatoyant acrylic swirls in blue and navy, and it’s somewhat transparent, which means that you can see glints of the metal refill tube below the material. Like the Pelikan M800 Ocean Swirl there’s a dark side to the material, and a light side.

The dark side of the pen.

The hardware is chrome, and so very bright. This works well with the overall colour scheme. The acrylic body does pick up lint in a way that Retro 51’s metal-bodied pens do not.  I’m not sure this would make for a good pocket carry pen because of that.

Between light and dark.

Weight wise it doesn’t feel significantly lighter than Retro 51’s metal-bodied pens. If that’s you’re draw to this pen, then you’ll be disappointed. But how can you be disappointed in a pen that looks like this?

Look at that!

The finial features a dark navy blue, almost black, disc. I kind of wish that Retro 51 had made the finial out of the swirly acrylic material, but I guess that would have hiked up the price significantly.

The finial/top disc.

I changed out the refill for my favourite Ohto FlashDry refill, mostly because the old refill dried out. I used to use the semi-dried out old Schmidt refill for sketching, as it was pretty perfect for that.

The above drawing was drawn with the Retro 51 Blue Acrylic and the Ohto FlashDry 0.5 gel ink refill, plus some Faber-Castell PITT brush pens. My parents’ cats have ideas about my dad’s laptop that don’t coincide with his.

If you stumble upon one of these Retro 51 Acrylic Tornado pens, snap them up. They’re gorgeous, and life is too short to carry an ugly pen.

Retro 51 Blue Acrylic Tornado

Retro 51 Pen Addict

The quarantine distracted me from reviewing the two final Retro 51 pens that I have on hand (the Coffee and Flower edition are regrettable locked away at work), and the first of these two is the original Retro 51 Pen Addict limited edition tornado.

The Pen Addict Retro 51 was the first pen that Brad Dowdy had made for his shop, and it embodies both the Pen Addict aesthetic and the Retro 51 motto: “Life is too short to carry an ugly pen”.

The ding near the tip is my fault. There’s no chip off the pen and you hardly notice it, but it’s still there.

This is not an ugly pen. Orange isn’t my favourite colour, but it totally works on this pen, both because of the specific metallic orange hue used here, and because of the dark hardware. The Pen Addict Retro 51 just glows:

 

img_4661

It also is a numbered edition (I have number 77) and has one of the best Retro 51 top discs/finials: the Pen Addict logo.

The Pen Addict logo finial.

This is one of the few Retro 51s that I own that still have the Schmidt refill installed. I’m not a fan of this refill, but there are times when I’m looking for big, bold lines and it just fits the spot. This is the first time I used it for drawing:

My brother’s cat has opinions.

 

The Retro 51 Pen Addict original limited edition is still a great, classic Retro 51 tornado design. It’s no longer offered for sale on the Pen Addict shop, but if you find it reasonably priced on the secondary market, it’s totally worth buying.

Retro 51 Pen Addict