Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Making a case for electric bikes in the Tour de France

June 26, 2014

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.


With the Tour de France upon us, what better time to have a conversation about allowing electric bikes in the race?

I conjured up a case for having electric bikes in the Tour de France while writing my novel Skidders. I think it would add even more intrigue to an event filled with drama.

You might say “sacrilege.” But let’s look at all the technology permeating the event today. We have bike computers, electronic shift assist, two-way radios and bikes made of space-age materials. We also have performance-enhancing drugs.

On the surface, electric assist would pollute an event that’s entirely decided by a physical challenge. It’s not all physical though. It’s a team sport. Just think about the lack of winners on weak teams and you know it’s true.

We’re all familiar with the suspicion that Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara rode an electric-assist bike in the Tour of Flanders. See the Michele Bufalino video on YouTube. Whether he did or not doesn’t matter. It’s a possibility. The technology exists and it can easily be disguised.

So why not just allow electric assist? There would be ground rules. It would not be allowed within 2 kilometers of the finish line. Battery size would be restricted to so many milliamp hours, although that’s not necessarily the only factor for battery longevity. Only one bike could be equipped with a motor and the battery could not be changed. They would not be allowed in time trials.

Think of the benefits
Consider the benefits. Most importantly, it would make for a more interesting race. Riders would have to decide when was the best time to use the electric assist because the battery will not last over the distances covered by the Tour race. Sprinters might be a factor on the hillier rides.

However, there is a more compelling reason to allow electric bikes in the Tour. It would send a message that electric bikes are hip, cool.

Many riders would say “if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for me.”

Another benefit we would see is improvements in the technology through increased competition. Companies would vie to have the best, most powerful electric assist.

One of these days we may need other means to get around than gas-guzzling cars. We might run out of oil or it might be incredibly expensive as a scarce commodity.

Electric vehicles, including bikes, might be the best option for getting around.

If more people could experience the ease of riding electric bikes with the latest technology at an affordable price, bike commuting could become more popular than it is now. That’s not saying much, but it’s a start.

Floor pump repairs

June 18, 2014

Topeak sells spare parts for their excellent floor pumps.

Topeak sells spare parts for their excellent floor pumps.

I’m not too particular about floor pumps, so when my Topeak Joe Blow Sport finally failed, I looked for a spare part — the head.

The pump head is usually what fails because its lever clamp gets a workout. Mine finally failed. One side screws into the head, allowing access to the interior. That part started popping off.

I glued it down but then the lever that is screwed in started pulling out. Topeak sells a replacement head and hose, complete with parts for all their pumps, for about $20 online.

It was easy to replace. All I had to do was unthread the hose at the pump base using a wrench and then rethread the new hose by hand.

The pump head lasted at least 10 years. I don’t know when I bought the pump but I paid $30 and now it goes for $50. The only other maintenance you need to do is occasionally grease the plunger. It’s easy to access. Just pull back the tabbed plastic seal at the top and twist.

Jobst Brandt invented what he believed to be the best floor pump, a double-action behemoth. It was custom-built. I tried it once and found it hard to use. That was partly because the pump was built for his 6’5″ frame, but also because it was hard to pump. He claimed he could fill a standard road tire in 10 strokes.

While other double-action pumps have been made, the reviews have not been favorable.

My all-time favorite floor pump was Silca, but it had one irritating drawback. There isn’t a clamp at the pump head. You have to rely on the rubber washer inside the head to hold the presta valve. Those washers don’t last long before they lose their grip. They’re still sold online, but at more than $6 apiece, I’ll pass.

Handlebar sprouts doodads

February 15, 2014

My handlebar can't handle another doodad.

My handlebar can’t handle another doodad.

With the latest addition of an action cam and bike bell on my handlebar, I’m tapped out.

Here’s the list:
VDO bike computer
LED flashlight
Mobius action cam
Spurcycle bicycle bell

More information:

The VDO bike computer has been working perfectly for five years. It records elevation and has an inclinometer.

I’ve written about the EagleTac D25LC2 CREE XM-L2 LED flashlight. It’s a joy to use. The rubber band mount works well.

The Mobius action cam takes 1080p video and, as you can see, is tiny. It records up to 90 minutes of video on battery power and uses microSD cards. The price is about $80 and it’s easy to use.

A drawback is that it’s not even water-resistant and it’s somewhat fragile. There’s a smaller V mount that uses pull ties, but it’s only sold with the Pro kit. I rate the video quality close to the GoPro.

Last, there’s the new Spurcycle bicycle bell. I wrote about the bell in a past entry. It’s everything the company owners promised from their Kickstarter promotion. It’s impressively well made in San Francisco. The bell ships with two wire handlebar clasps adjustable with a 1(?)-mm hex key screw head. Nice design.

Time for a new tire

January 21, 2014

This Continental GatorHardshell stayed on my rear wheel a little too long.

This Continental GatorHardshell stayed on my rear wheel a little too long.

Now this is what I call a worn tire. The Continental GatorHardshell can take a beating. It lasted 6,000 miles, which includes a fair amount of dirt. Costs about $50 online.

I’ve gone from buying affordable tires to buying pricier tires in recent years. I think it’s a wash when it comes to getting the best value.

I don’t care much about rolling resistance. I just want a light tire that lasts forever. Is that too much to ask? Of course. The GatorHardshell was heavier than I’d prefer. My bias is toward folding tires and a bit lighter, but still strong. Continental works for me.

Jobst Brandt, who helped usher in the smooth Avocet tire, once went with the Continental Ultra, an economy tire. He paid for it with a horrific crash on the backside of Mt. Hamilton when the tire casing blew. It turns out that tire’s bead-casing joint isn’t reinforced to the degree found with the more expensive Continental tires.

Jobst is not light. That and his propensity to ride tires until the casing shown through, turned against him.

On the other hand, you could be riding a brand new $70 tire and slash it with a shard of glass. Ka-ching.

Flashlight or bike light?

December 8, 2013

EagleTac flashlight at 548 lumens.

EagleTac flashlight at 548 lumens.


Just about every year I buy a bike light, mainly because technology keeps getting better. Today’s LED lights offer the best lighting ever.

Three technologies account for the improvement: better batteries (lithium ion), power management ICs (mostly analog) and light emitting diodes (LEDs).

The ICs have been shrunk to incredibly small sizes (2mm x 2mm) and they have plenty of intelligence, allowing various light settings (high, medium low), flashing, etc.

Lithium-ion batteries have been around a while, but it’s only recently they’ve become common in bike lights. I’m impressed with the advances over just the past three years.

Most cyclists will go with a traditional bike light. It has the mounting equipment and that’s huge.

However, I opted for a flashlight and rubber band for handlebar mounting. After a couple of months use, I like my choice. It’s an incredibly small light, but puts out 548 lumens and the rechargeable Li-ion battery lasts at least a week of daily use (about 40 minutes a day). It can flash and has a half-dozen different light settings.

The brand is EagleTac, model D25LC2 Clicky, and sells for about $62. An equivalent bike light, such as NiteRider Lumina 550, sells for about $82 online. The difference is that you get the bike mount hardware. If you’re using rechargeable batteries, be sure to charge them at least once a month, otherwise they’ll lose their ability to recharge.

MTBR has an extensive 2014 light comparison on its website.

Ultimate minimalist’s flashlight mount

August 24, 2013

Cause bracelets work well for mounting a flashlight on handlebars.

Cause bracelets work well for mounting a flashlight on handlebars.


I don’t know about you, but today’s LED flashlights seem to offer more bang for the buck than dedicated bike lights. I will delve into that further when I review the EagleTac D25LC2.

But for now the issue is how to attach the flashlight to your bike. I’ve come across some ingenious methods, but the one shown here (seen online) appeals to the minimalist in me. It’s nothing more than a Save the Rainforest rubber bracelet. Other “cause bracelets” will work. (There is risk though of bracelet failure.)

I test-rode it on city streets for a 7-mile ride and there was no movement. It’s easy to attach and remove, although those with weak hands may have difficulty.

I use tapered Ritchey bars that expand to 32 mm near the stem. You’ll want to wrap some grippy material around the bar where the flashlight is mounted. In my case I used some ancient Cycle Pro cloth handlebar tape. I would not suggest using NOS Cycle Pro tape, which will cost you a wallet-piercing $28 or so off eBay.

Other clever mounting methods include using tee PVC pipe or hose clamps, but they have their drawbacks and look dorky.

You can also buy flashlight mounts designed for bikes, some which look like they would work well, such as the velcro mount.

After a brief ride using the EagleTac flashlight, I was amazed by how well it lit the road. However, I need to do further testing. More to come…

Mag trainers a safe way to go

August 1, 2013

Mag trainers offer a safe form of exercise.

Mag trainers offer a safe form of exercise.


I’ve given up hope that we’ll ever go on bike rides, but I managed to get my wife on a bike, even if it is a mag trainer. It’s safe exercise that gives her a workout in privacy.

At 5 feet she has issues with bikes that fit. Her bike with 24-inch wheels makes it a challenge to find a trainer. I found two brands: CycleOps, which requires an adapter for 20- and 24-inch wheels, and Redline Minoura 2024. Both will set you back more than $200.

Fortunately she can ride my mountain bike with the seat bottomed out, so I spent only $90, tax included, for a new trainer. Used ones can be found for about $45 on Craigslist. Most trainers handle 26-inch mountain bike wheels and 700c/27-inch, as well as the newer 29-inch mountain bike wheel.

How loud are they?
I’ve read a lot of complaints about noise. Wind trainers are louder than mag(net) trainers, which make no noise other than the whir of the tire on the metal bar. Be advised knobby tires are much noisier than smooth tires. Outdoors you can hardly notice the mag trainer while pedaling.

In a confined space indoors there’s going to be more noise, but it’s not bad. Many people listen to music or watch TV while riding, which easily drowns out the noise. If your mag trainer is so noisy it’s bothersome, consider buying a different brand.

New mag trainers are easy to set up, especially if you have a bike with a quick-release rear wheel. Most collapse to a small size for easy storage. Some mag trainers supply a quick release skewer that’s especially designed to fit the mag trainer. Just be sure you have the wheel clamped down snug so there’s no wobbling back and forth.

Another doo-dad you’ll want is a front-wheel riser block. It levels the bike, although it’s not essential. I couldn’t make my wireless bike computer work on the rear. You may need to buy one that’s designed for the rear, if you want to record mileage.

No hills here

Some buyers complained about the lack of variable resistance, beyond shifting into a higher gear. It’s not much of a change in resistance compared to actual riding. If you’re serious about training, you may want to look for a trainer with a cable adjustment for variable resistance.

For the hard-core rider, there are rollers. If you want to know what that’s like, just enter “Eddy Merckx on rollers” (12:30) into a YouTube search. He takes his for a quick spin.

Now that reminds me of a roller race held at a San Francisco bike shop back in the 1980s. I’ll recount that story in an upcoming blog.

Smart cars may one day make distracted driving a thing of the past

April 23, 2013

Starting in May you can buy a high-tech Volvo that promises to save the lives of cyclists and pedestrians, even when you can’t.

It would happen in one of those emergency situations where electronics in the form of radar, cameras and electronic control modules outdo human reactions. It’s new technology, so I wouldn’t ride in front of one of these Volvos to see how it works. Gizmag coverage

Welcome to the future. Google has cars that drive themselves using even more elaborate technology. They’re driving thousands of miles in the Bay Area and working quite well, but it took more than a decade to get to this level.

Misguided video

When you watch Volvo’s promotional video, you’ll roll your eyes at the cyclist’s idiotic maneuver that puts him in the car’s path. I’d rather see a more likely scenario – texting distracted driver drifts into a cyclist from behind.

This technology will take a while to find its way into less expensive cars. In the meantime, what about 18-wheelers? They need this technology more than cars. An add-on would be nice.

These advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are rapidly making their way into the mainstream. Some systems are being mandated by government, especially in Europe. Others are finding industry advocates, such as insurance companies, for reduced insurance costs.

Radar for cyclists

While the technology that goes into these systems is way over my head, I met a cyclist and technologist who has designed an affordable tracking system for detecting cyclists.

Ron Moore, who lives in Santa Rosa, calls his technology Roadar and it’s based on ultra-wide band (UWB) radio signals. Roadar on Facebook

UWB, which has been around for a long time, almost made it into the mainstream before Intel pulled out in 2009. Shortly thereafter the organization driving its acceptance in IEEE folded, slowing UWB’s adoption for commercial use.

UWB has a lot going for it, such as low power, extreme accuracy and lack of signal interference, so it may yet find an application. The U.S. military has done some research on UWB for radar with some success.

The only catch with Roadar is that both the car and the cyclist/pedestrian need hardware, although the system could be implemented in a smartphone using software as long as it had UWB. The car needs a receiver and the cyclist needs a transmitter.

While people online are taking potshots at the Volvo technology — cyclists and non-cyclists alike — we’re seeing the start of a much safer future with Volvo’s technology. It will just take some time for systems to mature and for society to adapt.

Any Light is Better than None

January 1, 2013
Blackburn Click is easy to install and shines brightly.

Blackburn Click is easy to install and shines brightly.

When I say any light is better than none, I mean it. Recently I have seen (barely) cyclists pedaling along at night with NO lights and NO reflectors, wearing dark clothing. These people will not contribute to the gene pool, if they keep that up.

So when my aging tail light’s on/off button became non-functional, I had to buy a new one. I purchased two lights for two bikes, both Blackburn brand lights – the Click and the Mars 3.0.

Blackburn has a reputation from making bike racks since 1977 and has since expanded to everything under the sun.

I initially wanted to use the Mars on my daily road bike, but it proved to be a complicated affair. You can orient the light vertically or horizontally. Horizontal mounting is easy, but vertical mounting is a chore.

You have to disassemble parts and reinstall. Then I discovered the light wasn’t vertical but at an angle and I didn’t like that. The screw clamp also seemed over-complicated.

In contrast, the Click has a rubberband-style clamp. It’s oh-so easy to mount. It’s also easy to turn on and off. Just press on the light face and it’s on. One click gives a solid light and two clicks a blinking light.

I settled on the Click. It’s plenty bright and battery life matches the Mars.

Click costs about $15 and the Mars 3.0 about $17.

One final note. I’m not a fan of the blindingly bright flashing front white lights. Some are so bright they distract drivers, based on personal experience.

While I don’t know of flashing bike lights being tested in court, flashing lights are supposed to be used only on emergency vehicles. I don’t think a flashing red light on a bike is a problem, but I do believe flashing front lights should not be used.

Flashing lights are OK on bicycles, at least in California, because according to the vehicle code bikes are not vehicles: VC Section 670. A “vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

Flashing lights, by the way, double battery life.

Blackburn Mars works well, but mounting can be a chore.

Blackburn Mars works well, but mounting can be a chore.

Technabob Puts the Babble Into Bikes

December 23, 2012

Technobob has a section on bicycle innovations.

Technabob has a section on bicycle innovations.


I stumbled across Technabob.com when I saw a tubeless bicycle tire that looks promising. If you want to see the latest bicycle innovations, this is one place to go.

Tubeless tires already exist, and have for eons, but this one is designed after a new car tire that also eliminates the tube. These tubeless tires have holes in them (think honeycomb) that make the tire light and pliable.

I have no idea if the ERW airless tire will ever catch on, but I think the tube/tire combination is going away, eventually. Nobody likes flat tires. The big hurdle has been rolling resistance, weight and ease of mounting. Of course today’s rims probably won’t be compatible with any new tire technology, so there’s another hurdle.

Tom Ritchey of Ritchey USA has spoken about the challenges of overcoming inertia in the bike industry. He has an interesting seat and post design that eliminates the rails, but it’s incompatible with today’s seat posts. When a new disruptive technology comes along, it needs to be so compelling that people are willing to change the status quo. It’s not easy.

Technabob points out some other interesting inventions, like the folding helmet and a simple dynohub that charges cell phones. Most of these inventions will go nowhere because they’re not really doing a better job of solving a problem than what’s here, but with so many new building materials coming our way, a few will go mainstream.

I can’t wait.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers