Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

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.

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.


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