Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

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.

Mt. Hamilton Road 2013 Calendar

November 10, 2012

Mt. Hamilton Road 2013 calendar is available now on Magcloud.

One of my favorite spring rides is Mt. Hamilton Road, where you can enjoy great views of Santa Clara Valley and wildflowers. A 2013 calendar shows the flowers and some scenic rides.

Over my 32 years riding here I’ve seen great years for flowers and mediocre years. It’s generally better when there’s a lot of rain, but not always.

San Antonio Valley offers the best viewing on the east side of the mountain. It’s one of the more remote areas in the area, even though it’s a bike ride away. Enjoy.

2013 Alpine Road Calendar Available Now

November 7, 2012

Available on Magcloud, a 2013 calendar featuring Alpine Road from the 1980s.

Back in the 1980s Alpine Road started its slow decline into oblivion as San Mateo County abandoned the road. The last maintenance occurred in December 1989 when it was graded. However, the county never cleared culverts, so around 1994 a culvert plugged and a massive slide took out the road. That’s why there’s a steep, gnarly trail that has to be negotiated.

The 2013 calendar captures what it was like in its heyday. The calendar marks major U.S. holidays and area road races, although some dates are tentative. Enjoy.

Tired Out

September 6, 2012

Now that’s a slice. Early Avocet tires had a reputation for slicing.


You may wonder how my 26-year-old Avocet tire held up. It lasted eight weeks, about 850 miles. I could have gotten another 200 miles on it, but I had to change tires for a trip. That’s nothing to write home about. I’m told most fancy narrow lightweight tires last about 1,000 miles.

When I told friends I was riding the tire, they acted like I was taking my life into my hands. Well, I suppose the implied warranty would have expired about 25 years ago.

The tire held up well, but the rubber sliced badly. Avocet’s early tires were known for slicing, which was addressed in later versions. Traction was great, but tire life suffered.

Avocet tires had superior casings. Even though the tire shredded, the casing never had issues.

So far the best tire has been the Continental Grand Prix 4-Season. Talk about tough. It’s expensive for a reason.

Sony RX100 Lives Up to the Hype

September 3, 2012

Sony’s RX100 pocket camera takes great pics with plenty of megapixels.

In the age of digital everything, progress doesn’t stand still and that applies to pocket cameras. Five years ago I bought the Canon PowerShot SD850, which at the time offered everything I could ask for. At 8 megapixels it could take photos large enough for my needs. However, it suffered in low light.

I was about to buy the Canon S100 when I came across the newly released Sony RX100. Camera pundits believe that Sony targeted the Canon S100 as its main competition. Both cameras are about equal, especially in low-light due to their “fast” lenses (f1.8 for Sony, f2.0 for Canon), although I give the edge to Sony for its larger sensor and megapixel count. You will pay about a $250 premium for the advantage.

While pixel count isn’t necessarily the most important measure of a camera, it helps when it comes time to crop. You’ll have more detail to work with. Larger prints are possible, although files are larger. The RX100, like the Canon S100, shoots in RAW. Talk about large files! I don’t see much reason to shoot in RAW except when you know your photos will appear in National Geographic.

I used it in a low-light situation (see photo – unedited) and was amazed at the quality. This photo taken with the SD850 would have been full of noise (grainy). Even my DSLR Pentax Kx camera’s image seemed lacking in comparison. Sony tends to saturate colors, so that accounts for some of the difference.

Another nice feature of the RX100 is the panorama mode. All you do is shoot and pan the camera as it fires off shot after shot. Stitching is done automatically in-camera.

The aluminum-body RX100 is larger than the Canon S100, but only slightly. For cycling it’s about as large as I want to go, and fits neatly inside most jersey pockets.

No camera is perfect. The RX100 lacks a viewfinder. Although back screens are much brighter today, there are still occasions when sunlight makes viewing difficult and a viewfinder would come in handy.

Is it the best pocket camera ever made, as claimed by a New York Times writer and DPReview? Perhaps. I haven’t found anything better.

Lick Observatory 36-inch refractor on Mt. Hamilton. Click on image for full size.

Tsk, Tsk, Tsk Shimano

August 14, 2012

I haven’t had a lot of luck with Shimano pedals. This one started ticking after only a few months.


If I hear that “tick, tick, tick” sound again, I think I’m going to give up cycling. For months I’ve struggled with the annoying tick. Turns out it’s not all my doing. First it was the loose quick-release. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but the carbon-fiber fork’s a different beast from steel. I also thought I had a bad pedal months ago, but discounted it when I found the quick-release issue.

Still, I had a minor tick that grew worse over time. It ticked only when seated, not while riding out of the saddle. Finally, I decided to take off the Shimano PD M-540 pedal and try another. Sure enough, it was the pedal causing the tick, the same one I thought to be defective months ago. It was only months old, so it’s certainly a defect. Shimano’s warranty is a generous two years on parts.

I can’t recall my Campagnolo Super Record pedals ever having problems. I maintained them annually. They were crude by today’s standards but they had larger ball bearings than my Shimano pedals and that could be one reason why I’ve had two bad Shimano pedals. I may have just been unlucky, but I don’t think so.

Avocet: more than just a shorebird

July 4, 2012

A new Avocet Road 30 tire. Outstanding ride in the mid 1980s, and it still matches the best tires made today.


To celebrate the 4th of July I mounted my one and only Avocet FasGrip 30 Kevlar-bead tire. And as fate would have it, I stumbled across a new Avocet racing II saddle at the Bicycle Outfitter, the place to go if you’re looking for Avocet products of yore. I rode Avocet Road 20 tires for years, but I never tried the Road 30.

I aged this tire like a fine wine, buying it in 1986 and carrying it as a spare on my ride through the Alps. I never mounted the tire and it just sat there in my travel bag for the past 26 years. While aging rubber is not a good thing, as it is for wine, the tire looks as good as new. An interesting discovery: the 700×28 tire is only 24 mm wide, one of the most egregious width discrepancies I’ve ever seen in a tire, or it’s a mislabeled 700×25.

Avocet made its reputation in saddles, and deservedly so. This one was manufactured by Selle Italia, but Avocet made saddles in the U.S. for a time, including the comfortable Gelflex.

I checked eBay and you can buy a pair of new wire-bead Avocet tires for $92. Road 20s sold for $12.98 each in 1987. My Road 30 tire went for $18.98.

After a trip on the Racing II I can tell you it’s a comfortable ride, but if you have prostate issues, use the newer saddles shaped to relieve pressure in that area.

Michelin Man: You’re off the hook

June 25, 2012

Torn tires can leave you with the deflated feeling. Be sure to boot these tears or risk a blowout.


After thinking over what happened to my tire, I’ve concluded it was my fault! There’s no way a rock could cause these slashes and I haven’t had any sticks caught in my tire. I do recall though opening a door at work and the door bottom with its sharp edge rubbing the tire, maybe on two occasions.

Slice. Tire cords can withstand enormous pressure, but they’re delicate strands when it comes to sharp edges. That’s not to say a rock can’t break cords, or a stick.

A few weeks ago, riding on Highland Way–not the smoothest road in the Santa Cruz Mountains–Charlie Kempner hit a rock (I heard it “ping!”) and it not only cut the cords on his fancy new 23mm tire, it gouged the rim! The best minds in cycling have debated what causes these cuts on Rec.bike, including Sheldon Brown and Jobst Brandt.

While I may be at fault, I think the Michelin sidewalls are less durable than others, but some say that supple style gives a better ride. The Continentals seem to have the best sidewalls.


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