Monday, October 12, 2015

Torch and Lumos LED Helmets

I was just reading about a couple of new helmets with integrated LED lighting that are hitting the market. One is the Torch T2, which was out on Kickstarter a couple of years ago, and is now available for sale through the company's website. More recent is the Lumos, which met its Kickstarter goal in just one day this past summer (and exceeded it many times over before it was through), and I assume it should be ready for sale soon.

The Torch has that skater-helmet look
to it. It also appears to be a bit bulky.
I have a feeling that a lot of readers would expect me to skewer products like these pretty mercilessly, but as a bicycle commuter who rides quite a bit in the pre-dawn darkness, I have to say that I'm at least curious about the things. It seems to me that having a little extra lighting to add to a rider's night-time visibility can't hurt - and if it can be done seamlessly without strapping on more bits and pieces, so much the better.

Between the two, I think I'd be more inclined to try out the Lumos, which looks more like a typical modern road helmet. The light system seems to be pretty well integrated into the design. The Torch T2 has that skater-helmet style, and appears to be a bit bulky, and only has a few small, narrow vents. Of course, it's a matter of preference and taste, but I've never been a big fan of that type of helmet design. In colder weather, the skater-style helmet might be okay, but in most weather, I find that my head generally wants a lighter, more ventilated helmet.

The new Lumos helmet claims to take the light-up helmet idea a little further than the Torch. One of the key features is not just that it has LED lights both front and rear, but that the lights are supposed to function as brake lights and turn signals. Truly necessary? Probably not. But assuming they actually work as claimed, they wouldn't be a deal breaker.

A pair of wireless remote buttons mounted on the handlebar controls the helmet's turn signals.

When braking, the rear lights are supposed to all glow solid red. How does that work? Apparently, the helmet has a built-in accelerometer that senses when the rider slows down. Would that work reliably? I don't know, but again, I'm curious.

Reading more about the helmet on the Lumos site, the helmet's rechargeable battery is built in, and can be recharged with a typical micro-USB cable. One minor worry I'd have is water resistance. The website claims "You shouldn't dunk Lumos into a pool, but Lumos is water resistant so you can take it out with you rain or shine." How resistant is that, should one get caught in a major downpour (where visibility is almost as important as at night), I'd like to know. Also, I'm someone who often rinses out my helmet after a sweaty ride, to clean up the straps and internal pads -- and that doesn't exactly involve dunking my helmet into a pool, but it probably isn't far off. Hmmm. . .

Some thoughts:

While having some extra lighting to add to a rider's visibility is probably a good idea, I don't think people should get the idea that either of these light-up helmets is a substitute for a set of good quality bike-mounted lights (and from what I've read, neither company claims that they are such a substitute).

As far as the turn-signal and brake-light functions of the Lumos, I don't know if those are really necessary. If those features work as they're supposed to, they might be fine -- but if they don't, they'd be a serious annoyance. Also, they add to the cost, and could become just another thing to go on the fritz. On the whole, I'd probably be just as happy ditching the added complexity and simply having static non-flashing lights for visibility.

This morning on my ride to work, in that early morning darkness, I did find myself contemplating my visibility to the drivers on the road. I've looked into some of the helmet-mount lights that are available, and have even tried a couple, but I've never been really happy with the fit or the look of those lights. So, while these light-up helmets might not be for everyone, it seems that - at least for regular commuters - they might be some technology worth looking into.

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Argument Against Anti-Cycling Propaganda

Browsing through some other bike blog articles, I just happened on this article from the the U.K.-based Velomanifesto Blog:

It was originally posted back in April (though it's still perfectly relevant), and deals specifically with the politics of bicycle infrastructure in Britain, but some of the issues brought up would be very familiar to cyclists no matter where they may live.

As a little background and explanation for readers outside the U.K., the article was spurred by a political flier distributed by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) that scapegoats cyclists and attacks the use of public funding for bicycle infrastructure projects.

Not being totally familiar with the political landscape in the U.K., I had to do a little reading on UKIP to find that they call themselves a "libertarian" party, but are characterized by many political scientists as a right-wing Eurosceptic party that aims to pull the nation out of the European Union.

Many of the arguments made in the flier are the same kind of illogical cyclist-baiting drivel I'm sure we all hear all too often, in any country. Some examples:

"Cyclists are the chosen people, motorists are simply a cash cow and have very few rights."

"Surely giving all the rights to cyclists, who are usually young people, is discriminating against the elderly and infirm."

"Try walking across the Town Moor when a cyclist is silently whizzing along at 20 mph, one move to the left or right could cause serious injuries to a pedestrian."

"Cyclists carry no number plate or insurance."

"If the council is so concerned about public safety why don't they get cyclists to put bells on their bikes?"

We've all heard similar arguments -- that spending public money on anything other than automobile-specific infrastructure is a waste of money, or gives "special rights" to cyclists. That cyclists don't pay taxes, and therefore shouldn't be allowed on the roads. That cyclists somehow pose a bigger threat to pedestrians -- especially the very old and very young -- than cars. That putting more mandates on cyclists and their bikes will somehow make the public safer. The list goes on and on.

What particularly made the Velomanifesto article worth reading was the way he rebuts and refutes each one of those arguments.

Here's a sample - a response to the "Cyclists are the chosen people" argument:

"Cyclists are the chosen people? We certainly are. A commute by bicycle on any given day demonstrates this fact. The way motorists cut us up and drive too close . . . the verbal abuse we receive on a daily basis from motorists, the constant danger of dogs not on leads, glass on the side of the road, trip wires put across cycle paths with dog s%*t in bags hanging off them, the constant fear of being "doored," the fact that pedestrians step out without looking, the risk of cars overtaking through traffic islands . . . yes. . . we are indeed the deity of the road. At times it feels as if the roads were put there just for us."

As for the argument we all have heard about cyclists not paying road taxes (or gas taxes, or any taxes at all according to some), he calls it the "usual ill-informed line that motorists bring up on an anti-cyclist rant." He goes on to point out that the majority of adult cyclists DO own cars, and pay all the usual fees and taxes associated with them. But also, that roads are not funded solely through road taxes or gas taxes -- but are paid for by all the various kinds of taxes everyone pays (here in the U.S., that includes federal, state, and local income taxes, local property taxes, and even sales taxes) whether they own a car or not. He concludes on that point, "We're ALL paying for the roads and therefore have an equal right to use them."

Although the article was specifically about a U.K.-based issue, it's worth a read for anyone who's found themselves in the midst of an anti-cyclist argument.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

There's an App for That: Derailleur Adjustment

After looking recently at Bluetooth pumps that use a smartphone app for a pressure gauge, I found that there really does seem to be an app for everything now -- even derailleur adjustment.
Clip these little gauges onto the cassette
 and derailleur then use the smartphone
 to fine-tune adjustment. (photo from OTTO)

That's right. The OTTO Tuning System (which sounds almost like "auto-tuning," doesn't it?) uses yet another smartphone app, along with a pair of cassette and derailleur position gauges, to make drivetrain adjustment as mindless as everything else now controlled by smartphone. For people who feel that virtually no task should be undertaken without the assistance of their phone, this must be welcome news.

According to the product introduction video, the system "doesn't require any prior bicycle service experience," and one should be able to achieve "perfect shifting in under 5 minutes." The company touts the precision of the system as being accurate to within +/- 0.125 mm. Holy cow.

They also claim that it can "diagnose bent dropout hangers, worn cables, and poorly adjusted limit screws." I suppose it makes sense that the system can diagnose dropout hangers and limit screws, since both of those things would be picked up by checking the alignment of the gauges. How on earth it can detect worn cables is beyond me. Then again, why would anyone possibly need an app to tell them their cables are worn? Are they frayed? Kinked? Rusty? Those should be clear just from looking.

I wonder if the app can diagnose THIS:

The OTTO website calls this phone screenshot "augmented reality." I'll say it's "augmented." somehow they got the drivetrain on the left side of the bike!

Apparently the phone's camera "reads" the dots on the alignment gauges, then uses some algorithms to determine what adjustments are necessary. Listen to the slightly robotic-sounding woman's voice explain, "Turn your barrel adjuster 4 clicks clockwise." (photo from OTTO)
So far, the app is only made for the Apple iOS operating system, but supposedly an Android version is in the works.

I will say that, at $39, (that's for the gauges - the app is apparently free, but useless without the gauges) the OTTO Tuning System is at least a relatively inexpensive tool. The company says the system is Shimano and SRAM 9-10-11 speed compatible -- but not Campagnolo. I find that partially odd, since I was under the impression that the cog spacing of 11-speed drivetrain systems was the same for all three companies (at least that's what Lennard Zinn says). I guess it doesn't matter, though, since none of my bikes goes to 11. In fact, most of my bikes still use friction shifting. It probably goes without saying, but the OTTO Tuning System is also incompatible with friction -- and mostly unnecessary in any case.

There are demonstration videos on the OTTO website, or you can see their product introduction video right here:

Useful tool? Or another example of smartphone addiction? I wouldn't mind hearing some thoughts.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Standards Schmandards: Roost Carbon

I've ranted lots since starting The Retrogrouch Blog about the lack of standards in the bike industry - or how new so-called standards are constantly being introduced. Well, it seems someone out there, calling themselves Ridiculous Bikes, has created a fun statement on the industry's disregard for standards in video form.

Introducing the Roost Carbon mountain bike - which takes a lack of standards to its ridiculous result.

Some of the bike's features include:

. . . ultra-wide 188 mm rear dropout spacing
. . . 28 inch wheels (to get the best of 27.5 and 29er - without having to choose!)
. . . an 11 - 53 tooth 13-speed cassette
. . . and an extra long 1500 mm wheelbase, for a riding position the company describes as "prone geometry." 

Very telling quotes from the bike's creators:

"188 mm dropout and huge BB spacing are not patented" and "free for use by all drunkards."

"Full geometry will not be released due to the waste of time from measuring."

The creators also explain that the bike and the video were computer-generated by "Grabcad's J. Deschamps," and "heavily modified, setup, textured and remodeled by Patrick Ng." Nice work, guys.

Though the video was originally released on Vimeo (which I can't seem to embed here), I did find another copy on YouTube from Extreme Sports that you can watch right here:

The one main disclaimer the video's creators include says, "This full 3D video was not meant to diss anyone or discourage change in the MTB industry, there are no affiliations to Club Roost products and the video was created for fun in one afternoon after an awesome trail ride! Cheers."

Hell - they may not have wanted to criticize the industry, but there's plenty of ridiculousness out there to serve as fodder for more satire. I say own it - and bring on more.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Flipping the Bird: fUCI Concept Bike

What would a fast road bike look like if it weren't for those wet-blanket retrogrouches at the UCI constantly stifling innovation?

Robert Egger, Creative Director at Specialized, thinks he has the answer to that question in the form of his fUCI concept bike. In case folks don't get the significance of the bike's name, the "f" stands for F#@K the UCI. The name is probably the most subtle thing about the bike. In a number of ways, the bike represents all kinds of design ideas that would never make it through the UCI rulebook.

Take a look (all images from Specialized):

Nothing's classier than a double-bird salute.
The motorcycle-inspired fairing, different-sized wheels, and electric motor are some of the major points on the bike that raise a symbolic middle finger to professional cycling's governing body. Egger points out (correctly) that most bicyclists don't race, and for that reason, the UCI only represents a small portion of the bicycling world. He designed the fUCI concept bike for people who are only interested in going fast, regulations be damned.

It's the "crotch rocket" of bicycles.
The oversized rear wheel (33.3 inches - as it says on the side of the deep-profile rim) is supposed to act like a "flywheel" and help preserve the bike's momentum. Getting that oversized tri-spoke wheel spinning would take a fair amount of extra effort, though - so that's where the electric motor comes in. Hidden in the bottom bracket, with the battery stored in the wheel-hugging lower fairing, the motor is supposed to act like "turbo boost" so that riders "don't need to endure tough energy-intensive starts." Just let the motor do the work.

As for me, I still balk at adding electric motors to bicycles. Sure, the bike may be fast -- but it's not all that impressive when you get that speed with a motor. In this case, the bike reminds me more of a motorcycle than a bicycle. Or at the very least, an electric moped. In fact, why not just go all the way and ditch the crank? Just put on some foot pegs and call it a motorcycle.

Can't have a modern bike without a smartphone dock. Of course, when the next incarnation of your iPhone completely changes the size, shape, and connection ports (again), it probably won't fit anymore. By then it will be time for another new bike.
What everyone wants on a bike: A magnetically latched compartment. I can hear that thing (and all of its contents) rattling away already.
The full-size model -- and another bird salute from Egger. Nice. . . 
Yeah - it's just a concept -- and as such, doesn't have a lot of practicality for actual riding (storage compartment or not). And it's true that if someone doesn't race, then why worry about what the UCI says? But then again, bike companies have always been free to offer whatever technology they want to regular consumers. There really is no limit on what companies like Specialized can offer to the non-racer, which makes the defiant F.U. attitude of the fUCI concept a little puzzling. As it is, there's nothing to prevent them from putting their electric moped into production.

Go ahead, Specialized. Make the bike. Go-fast poseurs will probably love it.

People like me will still think of it as kind of a crude joke, but maybe those bird salutes are meant for us, too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Smart" Pumps and PSI Apps

It's getting to where a person can't even pump up tires anymore without a smart phone and some kind of "app."

At least, that's how it seems after looking at a couple of recent pumps from Airace. Offered in both mini pumps and in floor models, the i-Gauge pumps use a Bluetooth 4.0 connection to the user's iOS or Android phone, and the pressure gauge app is claimed to be accurate to within +/- 1 psi up to 100 psi. In the case of the floor model, it is supposed to be capable of reading up to 300 psi -- you know, for people who like their tires really, really hard. On the other hand, the actual pump is rated for "only" 240 psi so maybe they're being optimistic.

Besides the claimed accuracy, one of the benefits of using a smartphone app for a pressure gauge is that the app allows a person to pre-program a desired psi, then an alarm will sound when that pressure is reached. Wow - that right there probably just made the whole thing worth whatever price they're charging.

Most mini pumps and frame pumps lack a pressure gauge. Then again, if all you want is to fix a flat and finish your ride, how important is having the perfect pressure? Squeeze the tire between two fingers 'til it feels right. Am I wrong? But now the iGauge mini pump with Bluetooth sends a signal to the user's smart phone, where an app will give the accurate pressure. And yes, that means the pump requires batteries (two CR1632 coin-type batteries). If the batteries go dead, users will have to guess at the pressure just like the "old days," but at least the pump will still work. Oh well. . . Price? $102. (photo from Airace)
Having a Bluetooth-enabled mini pump is a cute (but ultimately unnecessary) gimmick for people who obsess over having the perfect air pressure for on-the-road repairs. But for a full-size floor pump that stays at home, wouldn't it just be better to have a normal built-in gauge? Apparently not. Heck, it could even be a digital gauge for those people who are convinced that such things are automatically more accurate than a good quality analog gauge (which isn't necessarily true). But then users wouldn't be able to fiddle with their smart phones when pumping their tires, and where's the fun in that? The iGauge Veloce Bluetooth floor pump has no gauge whatsoever apart from the smartphone app. Like the mini version, it also requires batteries. If getting the right pressure is important, then keep an eye on those batteries. Price: $117 (photo from Airace)

30 years and still working fine, even
if the pink is a little out of fashion.
Are floor pumps equipped with analog pressure gauges (that don't take batteries) going away? I certainly doubt it. "Smart" pumps like this aren't likely to change that, or make my classic old Silca track pump obsolete. So I suppose these Bluetooth pumps are little more than an amusing little indulgence for people who believe there has to be an app for everything.

As for me, I still don't own a smartphone. My phone makes calls and takes calls, and that's about it. I'm resisting this technological march as long as possible, and so far, I'm proud to say that I'm still smarter than my phone. It's shocking just how much a person can do without one. Maybe more people should try it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Carbon Fiber Anachronism

Have you ever wondered what the first bicycles would have looked like if people like Pierre Michaux and other early pioneers had access to today's carbon-fiber and e-bike technology?

Though fully rideable, the front wheel is only 39-inches diameter,
which would seriously limit the "gearing." Proper P-Fars would
often have wheels up to 60-inches! (photo from DING3000)
Yeah, me neither.

But that didn't stop designers and engineers from THM-Carbones, BASF, and the design firm of DING3000 from teaming up to create a pair of €50,000 carbon-fiber penny farthings (that's €50,000 each!). Dubbed Concept 1865, the idea was to take the bicycle back 150 years, which apparently coincides with the founding of the chemical/plastic company, BASF. One of the bikes was shown recently at Eurobike 2015.

THM-Carbones is a German manufacturer of carbon fiber cranks and other components, and used their expertise in some of the P-Far's construction, utilizing BASF's latest plastics. And DING3000 apparently came up with the anachronistic design.

The removable seat hides the battery, which can be charged
off the bike. Notice that the bike also has some kind
of integrated LED taillight. (photo from DING3000)
Not only does the rolling anachronism sport plastic and carbon fiber construction throughout, but it also incorporates an electric motor hidden in the rear wheel. Traditional penny-farthings used the larger front wheel to increase gearing, (the larger the wheel's circumference, the farther the bike would travel on one crank revolution. To this day, gearing is often described as "gear inches" for that reason). This P-Far only has a 39-inch diameter wheel, making it much easier to mount and dismount, but would limit the gearing or speed considerably. To that end, the bike should get fairly speedy with its e-motor assist.

On the other hand, penny farthings had their cranks mounted directly to the front wheel without any kind of "freewheeling" mechanism. They were the original "fixed gear" machines, which meant that going downhill could be a pretty scary experience, or perhaps "thrilling" if a rider had what we might nowadays call "thrill issues." In any case, I haven't found any mention as to whether this little carbon P-Far has any kind of freewheeling action built into that front wheel. If it doesn't, then zipping along on the motor assist would mean the rider's legs would have to spin like crazy to keep up.
The THM carbon-fiber fork also has a loop of LED lighting.
(photo from DING3000)

Braking duties are taken care of with what appears to be a carbon fiber disc brake on the rear wheel.

Still, the basic design of the penny-farthing, or "ordinary" is it was also known, is such that the possibility of a face plant was all too real and likely -- which is why such things were really nothing more than a quirky-yet-charming dead end in bicycle design. Having a 39-inch front wheel doesn't really change that, other than reducing the falling distance a little. If anyone should actually want to ride the Concept 1865, I'd suggest they avoid hills.

Another tech feature of the bike is the tires, which are some new BASF polyurethane elastomer, and have some kind of expanded polyurethane foam for shock absorption. What is that? Solid tires? So, when they say they're going back to the 1860s, they really mean they're going back. Nevermind that the invention of pneumatic tires in the 1880s remains one of history's all-time greatest transportation-related inventions. The creators also gave the bike some new high-tech pedals that are made entirely of plastic -- without any ball bearings whatsoever. Again, ironically eliminating one of industry's greatest inventions (pioneered on bicycle pedals, of course! Jules Suriray, 1869).

Watch the carbon fiber anachronism in action in this little "image film" available on the DING3000 and BASF websites, or right here courtesy of YouTube.

At  €50,000 don't expect to see carbon-fiber P-Fars tooling around near you. But enjoy the video!