Biking Tech

Site Addition - Cycling Page by Erin Wade

I have been writing and posting on this site since May of 2010. Applied Life is something more or less of a traditional "blog" site, by which I mean that I write about the things that interest me here. The initial focus - and the tag line - for the site was Science and Technology in Everyday Life. Hence the name.

The very first post on the site was my review of the original iPad back in 2010 (TL:DR version - I liked it). And much of those early years reflected that type of topic, with occasional excursions into things like TV shows or books, or music that I like and music that I don’t.

But more recently the site has become much more focused on cycling in various aspects. I’ve been a cyclist off and on for most of my life - when I was a kid it was our primary mode of transportation, and as an adult it’s one of my two favorite forms of exercise (the other is martial arts). Given that, it’s probably not surprising that cycling has been a part of this site since early on. My earliest cycling focused post appeared in December of 2013 and it was about winter cycling. But the topic of cycling was an occasional one until I got my Catrike Pocket.

That machine has caused considerable changes both to what I do and what I write about. I’m cycling more - more time and further distances - than ever before, and it definitely affects the things that are on my mind, which is, ultimately, where the material on this site comes from. In my head I sometimes muse over changing the name of the site to Applied Trike...

I’m probably not going to do that, but the volume of cycling material does mean that it seemed to me like it might be getting more challenging to find some specific things on the site. As such, I put together a separate page with some links to a series of specific articles that might represent topic areas people are looking for.

The page is just called "Cycling", and depending upon how you are coming to the site - e.g. via desktop/laptop or mobile device it will appear in a couple of different ways.

On the desktop you will see a menu of words across the top right hand corner of the site, one of which is "Cycling":

Desktop

On your mobile device - and my analytics say that’s how most people find their way here - that menu is in the hamburger button (the three little lines that denote a menu) in the upper right:

Hamburger button

Clicking that will get you the list of additional pages:

Applied Life Other Pages

Choosing ”Cycling" will take you to the Cycling Resources page:

Cycling Resources

What you will find there is a list of selected articles under specific topic areas related to cycling, including (to start with):

  • Trail Reviews
  • Life With Recumbent Trikes
  • Winter Cycling

As I noted, this is a list of selected articles, so it’s not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it should provide access to articles that provide longer-term reference information, and which seem to be among the more popular on the site. If you are a person who enjoys the site because of the cycling posts and want to refer someone here, this page would be a good place for them to start.

I will plan to update it and add to it over time - particularly in the area of trail and equipment reviews and so on. I will also likely include a link to it in posts about cycling to make it easy to find.

I said that I’ve been cycling off and on for most of my life, and that is true. But my enthusiasm for cycling has really grown over the past couple of years. I can see by the number of visitors that there are a lot of other folks who are also enthusiastic about it. I appreciate your time and attention here at Applied Life and I hope you will find the new page helpful.

And - of course - I also needed to update the tag line, which is now: Science and Technology - and Cycling! - In Everyday Life...

EJW

Looking Back at Hindsight by Erin Wade

A few weeks ago I installed a new pair of mirrors on my Catrike Pocket after a surprise failure of the existing mirror. I used Mirrycle MTB Bar End mirrors - these were direct replacements for the existing mirror, which I had been happy with aside from, you know, the breaking.

After that post a couple of folks in the Recumbent Trikes Group on Facebook suggested an adjustment to the way the mirrors are mounted. The Mirrycle mirrors are three piece items outside of the bar end (four, if you include the piece on the inside that tightens it). The three pieces include the piece going into the bar end, a bent piece that attaches at a 90° angle to that piece, and the mirror. In the configuration shown on the box, all three pieces are together. This is the configuration I had on the trike before, and this is how I mounted the two new mirrors.

Hindsight

The suggestion was to remove the 90° piece and attach the mirrors directly to the piece coming out of the bar end, with the rationale that this will reduce vibration and allow for a clearer view behind.

Mirror close up

Now, a clearer view behind sounds great, but in years of riding first an aluminum frame upright road bike, and now my Pocket, which is also aluminum with a solid frame (e.g. no suspension) I’ve more or less come to accept the fact that things are going to vibrate. Still, the suggestion made good practical sense - fewer components means fewer things in the mix to move about - so it was worth a shot.

The bend removed

The long and short of this is: it absolutely does make a difference. While they still vibrate (along with the entire trike) over rough surfaces, most of the time the view behind is much clearer. In past, these were good enough to see that something was coming up from behind, but not enough so that you could tell what type of vehicle. With this configuration it is much clearer.

Additional bonus here - I noted that one of the benefits to having a two mirrors was that I could now see being me when signaling turns by looking in the mirror on the opposite side (because my arm was all I could see in the mirror on the signaling side). This adjustment only brings the mirrors down a couple of inches, but it’s enough that I now get a view of the road behind rather than just a view of my arm on the signaling side.

There’s also something about mounting it in this way that makes it feel a little more old British sportscar to me (a feeling that the trike already gives me). This isn’t something I can quantify, but it’s there nonetheless.

This all seems like a pretty simple thing, but I think a lot of folks - certainly me - tend to install things as they come. The mirror came in three parts, and had a picture on the box. That’s how I installed it - use all the parts and make it look like the picture. Some folks, however, think outside the box (pun intended - you can insert a sad trombone sound here if needed), and get different - better - results. My thanks to Vince and Mike for the very helpful suggestion!

And also thanks to everyone else who suggested alternative mirror arrangements. As time and budget allows I may be trying those also - it’s good to be able to see behind you...

Rokform Comes Thru... by Erin Wade

I was a relatively early adopter of the iPhone - I had a first generation model, and I’ve had at least every-other model since (e.g. I didn’t have an iPhone 3G, but I had an iPhone 3Gs, no 4, but a 4s, etc). I also have a couple of personal characteristics that make me a danger to such devices - I have a tendency to drop things, and a tendency to put such devices directly into harms way (by doing things like using the phone to track cycling speed and distances, etc), which turns out to be a potentially dangerous and costly combination (I managed to break the screen on my 3Gs within a day or so of getting it).

I’ve tried a variety of cases over the years, but when it became clear that I was going to need something protective, and something that would support mounting in my car and on my bike/trike, my search narrowed. Otterbox had already established itself early on as a leader in the protective case market, but I did not care for the bulk that it added on to the phone itself, and it left me high and dry for mounting options. And then I discovered Rokform.

I don’t recall how I came across them - likely through an internet search. But what they offered was a considerably sleeker protective case option, with a combination of both a bespoke mechanical mounting system, and a magnetic alternative or backup. And they offered mounts that worked with this in the car, and specific mounts for cycling, motorcycles, etc. I bought my first Rokform case for an iPhone 4s, and paired them with both the car mounting system and a mount for my road bike. I had to use the motorcycle mount and attach it to the handlebar, since Rokform’s bike-specific mount is designed for bikes with a 1 1/8" stem, something that hadn’t come along yet when my 1987 Cannondale SR400 was built. But it worked nicely once I’d sorted that out.

When I got my Catrike Pocket, I first installed the bike-specific mount on the 1 1/8" stem on the right handlebar (I’d purchased it for the Cannondale before I realized it wouldn't work, so it was already around), but then later decided to transfer the motorcycle mount from the Cannondale to the Pocket (I very rarely ride the Cannondale any more). This is mounted to the front accessory mount, which puts the phone front and center, but below my traffic sightlines. I can see my speed, distance, etc, readily when I want that information. Between the Cannondale and the Catrike I’ve been using the motorcycle mount, trouble-free, since at least 2015 or so.

But I came in the other evening after a ride, pulled my phone out of my pocket and sat on the couch, and saw a piece of plastic fall out of the back of the phone. Upon closer inspection it was clear that this was one of the tabs off of the motorcycle mount’s RokLock - the plastic holder that physically connects the phone’s case with the mount.

When I looked at it later, it was pretty substantially broken:

Broken RokLock

To the credit of the device - likely due in part to the magnetic backup - the phone stayed in place the entire ride without incident. I hadn’t noticed this till I got back.

Still, I was frustrated. Yes, I’ve had this mount for three years, and it gets pretty regular use. But Rokform’s products are not inexpensive, and I’ve viewed them as falling into the category of getting what you pay for. I didn’t relish the idea of shelling out for another motorcycle mount, but I pulled out the iPad and navigated to the company’s website.

What I noticed, as I was looking over the page, was a link in the menu for replacement parts. Following that, I discovered that, in fact, you can get a pack of three RokLocks, along with the torx screws that hold them on, for $2.99. That’s a buck a piece before shipping, and leaves me with two additional pieces for repairs down the road if I need them.

I ordered away. Once they came in, the repair was straightforward - unscrew the screw from the back, remove the old RokLock, mount the new one, and screw it back in. Honestly, the part of the activity that took longest was locating my torx screwdriver (this is not an item for which find regular use - I’m probably fortunate I was able to turn it up at all). Once the new one was mounted one could see why it’s important for the RokLock to be intact:

old and new

The upshot of all of this is that, by making these replacement parts available at an incredibly reasonable price, Rokform retains, for me at least, the worth-what-you-pay-for status. If one is going to step out and invest in a high-end system for protecting and mounting electronics in harm’s way, its good to know the company has recognized where their products might fail, and has devised a reasonable, low cost and low effort way to get them back up and running. Kudos to Rokform!

Shedding Light on the Trike by Erin Wade

When I first got my Catrike Pocket it had an inexpensive lighting setup already on it. This consisted of a mount that held a small flashlight and also held a computer on the accessory mount up front, and a flashing rear light mounted on the rear frame.

Initial Lighting Setup

I started out simply using this setup. I don’t typically ride at night. However, I suspect like most people who ride on the road regularly, I am concerned with being visible to others as much or more than helping with what I can see. Having lights, in addition to a flag, seems a good call on the open road.

My first change was not planned. The taillight apparently was not happy in its relationship with me, and chose to leave me in early August. To be fair, there had been warning signs that things were not going well - it had fallen off the trike on a particularly rough patch of the Perryville Road trail in Rockford, making me stop and pick up the pieces. But when it left, it was truly gone, which is to say it fell off somewhere along a trail and I have no idea exactly where. I noticed it missing when I got back - it didn’t even leave a note.

I replaced the taillight with the Blitzu Cyborg 168T. This light had good reviews on Amazon, looked to have a nice, stretching, adjustable mounting system1, and it was rechargeable. It came from Amazon as advertised, and I added it to the back of the Trike. The one change I made here was to put it up on the horizontal crossbar rather than the vertical, which put it a little higher on the trike, hopefully in a better sightline for drivers coming up behind me.

Blitzu in place
Blitzu close up

I’ve been pleased with how it works thus far. The only situation in which it had failed on me was when I rode in the Farmondo in Sterling, IL. I rode the 43 mile course and somewhere in the 3 hours and 24 or so minutes of the event the taillight gave up the ghost. It must have been near the end of that time, however - there were two stops along the course, and I don’t recall it being out on either of those.

As the days have been getting shorter, I also started to think about the lighting up front. The original setup has been fine for riding during the day, I think. But, while I don’t really plan to do nighttime rides per se, it’s becoming a more common occurrence that the daylight is running out before I get home. Given this, it seemed like a good idea to have something that would make me more visible at night, and would let me see things better in the dark as well.

I returned to Amazon2 to see what they had to offer in this department. My primary criteria were brightness, a good mounting system, and that it be rechargeable. There are a lot of bike lights on Amazon. Ultimately I landed on this light by INBIKE. It’s bright - brighter than most of the lights I looked up, has side markers, is water resistant, and can also be used as a flashlight. And the mounting system looked convincing enough on the site1.

I didn’t want to remove the old light, mostly because I wanted to keep the computer mounted there, so I also ordered a Minoura Accessory Holder to mount it to. This also has a couple of additional benefits:

  • It puts the light up higher, further enhancing visibility; and
  • It has space for at least one additional item to be mounted to it. I’ve considered putting my iPhone up front rather than off to the side, for example, so this would offer that option in the future.

Everything came together well - things mounted as expected, and seem to attach appropriately. This is the initial setup I’ve put together:

Before:

One Lonely Light

And After:

And then there were two
Two from the right
Two from the left
(I adjusted the angle of the top light after I took that picture)

Probably the most fiddly part of getting things right was the Minoura Accessory Holder. I’m still not certain the angle that it sits at is perfectly vertical (this is a need I have - don’t judge me). In addition, the screws in it take three different sizes of Allen wrench, and you have to use all three to get everything tightened down. However, once it’s in place it seems to work well.

Of course, once I had it all in place I had to give it a try:

Light up the prairie

Out in the dark of the open prairie this brightens things up pretty nicely. I rode about a half mile in each direct to try it out, and I certainly felt comfortable that I was seeing far enough ahead of me to judge the road - I was not able to outrun my headlight.

Why Rechargeable?

I noted that being rechargeable was an important criteria for me with both lights. I’m sure opinions vary on this point - I am old enough, and geeky enough, to remember the debates over whether it was better for a cell phone to have a removable battery. But for me, being rechargeable has multiple benefits:

  • I can plug them in after each ride to be sure they are fully juiced up for the next trip. With regular, removable batteries you are left with whatever is left from the last usage, with no way to know how much that leaves you, which means...
  • I don’t have to carry spare batteries with me. AA and AAA batteries aren’t especially heavy or bulky in small quantities, but they do take up some space, and remembering to replace them as you go is something that is easy to not do.
  • I can charge them in my car. In most cases, my car also doubles as my bike prep station. I keep my air pump, helmet, gloves, chain oil, etc, in there. I also typically plug in the lighting items in the car (I have a separate battery for this purpose), so I always have them with me, fully charged, and ready to go.
  • I can plug them into my power pack if they run out while I am riding, and recharge on the go. While I don’t want to carry AA/AAA batteries with me, I pretty much always have the power pack on the back of the trike. This would also be a benefit for folks running with hub generators.

The debate over removable phone batteries seems to be resolved, so maybe this isn’t the question it once was. Still, there seem to be plenty of bike light options that still have removable batteries out there, so...


  1. In my experience, the mounting system is at least as important as the product itself when it comes to bike accessories. I’ve had excellent lights, for example, that have been nearly unusable because it’s too difficult to get them to strap properly to the handlebars or other mounting points.  

  2. For the record, I absolutely believe that you should support your local bike shop whenever possible. I do this where I can for repairs, tune-ups, and so on, and I find them to be great. Unfortunately, our most local bike shop is a half-hour away, and not in a location that I routinely travel to for other things.  

Powering My Ride by Erin Wade

I knew when I got my Catrike Pocket I'd need to devise a setup to mount and charge my iPhone.

For the phone mounting purposes I used a Rokform Pro Series iPhone Bike Mount. I have used Rokform cases to protect my phones from myself back to my iPhone 5 days. The cases offer a mechanical mounting system and a magnetic mounting system, and uses the two in combination for the bike mounting system to make your phone extra secure[^1].

Rokform Mount

As I've mentioned here before, when I go out riding my iPhone gets heavy use. I use Cyclemeter to track my speed, distance, and route, and that involves having the screen lit throughout the ride so I can get the feedback from the app. I'm also typically playing either an podcast or an audiobook to headphones over Bluetooth. These are battery intensive tasks and, especially on longer rides, even a fully-charged, plus-sized iPhone may run low. Since the phone is also my lifeline if I run into trouble, I need it to remain functional throughout the ride. This means I need a way to charge the phone during the ride.


Enjoying this post? Check out our Cycling page for links to other cycling articles on Applied Life


On my Cannondale I put together a fairly basic setup using a USB cable and a Mophie Powerstation dropped into the bike's frame bag. This worked well enough, and I've used a variation of that setup for a little while on the Catrike, with a battery pack in one of the saddlebags. But I wanted to improve on this arrangement. Last fall I picked up a battery with a solar panel. While it takes some time to fully charge using the solar panel alone, once it has an initial charge the solar panel can defray the power loss and extend the length of a charge. I have a rear rack on the Catrike, so it wasn't much of a leap to put the battery out in the sun on the rack.

I originally tried strapping the battery to the rack using elastic straps. Unfortunately the straps blocked some of the solar panel and, worse than that, rattled like crazy on the aluminum rack. My solution for this was Velcro. Specifically, getting a roll of Velcro with an adhesive back and set the soft side on the rack.

Velcro Battery Pack

To connect it all I ran a 10 foot braided nylon lightening cable up through the seat and attached it to the frame at either end using Velcro wrap thin ties[^2]. 10' is longer than I need for this application, but I like having the extra, so I have the extra coiled up in the saddlebag.

The whole kit

Ready to hit the road

The result of this? After getting everything set up I took my Sunday ride. I was out for a little over an hour. I ran the screen the entire time, bright enough to see it in full sunlight, using Cyclemeter (which runs the gps), and listened to an audiobook. I stopped a couple of times to take pictures along the way as well. When I arrived at the end of the ride the phone battery was at 100%, and the battery pack on the back of the trike was at 75%. This suggests I probably could have ridden another three hours before I put a dent in the charge on the phone itself. The Velcro attachment worked a treat - my ride was 14+ miles, and included some gravel. I heard no rattling, and came home with the battery firmly attached.

Because of where the phone sits, my right leg hides the bottom part of the screen at times when I'm riding. Still, while it's close I don't actually hit the phone, and Utah Trikes seems to make additional attachments that I could consider for mounting the phone down the road. For the moment, it appears to work well enough.

Until and unless I start on much longer rides, I think this will work well. And, as far as that goes, there is room on the rack for at least one more battery. All in all, I'm pretty happy with this arrangement.


[^1]: I've used a variation of this on my Cannondale - the bike mounts are built to work with the top cap of a 1/8" threadless tube, which is common on modern bikes, but predates my vintage Cannondale, so there I used the Rokform motorcycle mount attached to the handlebar. The motorcycle mount is more expensive, though, so I was pleased that the 1/8" threadless mount worked for the Catrike.

[^2]: These are sort of like reusable Velcro tie wraps. They come in rolls of 25 wraps, and once you have them you'll find dozens of uses for them around the house. They are pretty awesome.

Support Your Local Bike Shop by Erin Wade

A short while back I went for a ride on the Catrike Pocket on the Perryville bike path in Loves Park, with a goal of riding up into Rock Cut State Park. This is a route I've taken many times, and riding it from the vicinity of Rockford Bicycle Company up into and around the park road and back is just shy of 12 miles. It's a winding path that follows along Perryville road in Loves Park for a couple of miles, and then up through the woodland that leads into and surrounds the park.

Unfortunately, on this particular ride I came up with a flat tire about 3 miles in. It had occurred to me that it would be good to have replacement tubes in the bags on the trike for just such an occasion. Unfortunately, occurring doesn't equal doing, so I had only that thought to accompany and comfort me as I walked myself and the trike the nearly three miles back to the car.

I did stop in at Rockford Bicycle Company to see if they could address my tire. The folks there have worked on my bikes many times, and they've always been very pleasant and helpful, and this day was no exception. Unfortunately, the wheels on the Catrike are smaller than typical bike wheels, and no shop in the area carries recumbent trikes as a sale item. After a valiant effort of looking throughout the store, they did not turn out to have the correct size. I thanked them, loaded up the trike in the car, and moved on.

This issue in mind, I took to Amazon and ordered tubes to fit both of the front wheels and the back wheel (the back is a different size - larger - than the fronts). This all happened shortly ahead of our trip to Detroit, so when the tubes arrived I set them aside and resolved to address it when we returned.

It occurred to me, as it has on several previous occasions, that I really don't have much experience changing bike tubes, and that it would be good to practice so that I would be more adept the next time this happens and I need to change the tire at the side of the road or trail. With this impeachable logic, I resolved to do it myself. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and, armed with my multi tool, I took my shot.

What happened next was not an inspiring tale of self-sufficiency...

I have changed bike tubes once or twice before. It's been a very long time between events - I've been riding bicycles of one stripe or another for something in the neighborhood of forty years, so my ratio of ride time to tube changes is minuscule at best. And that poor ratio shone like a laser pointer in my eye through the entire experience.

For example, I didn't have tire levers, or I thought I didn't. The multi-tool handles turned out to be meant to function as such, which I figured out after a bit. And the tire over the tube turned out to be extremely tight. I suspect this is a function of its small diameter compared with a typical bike tire. While I was able, with quite a bit of effort, to get it off the wheel and get the tube out, getting it back on was considerably harder. It ultimately took about two hours of bending and pulling (and sweating and swearing) before I resorted to using a screwdriver to get the tire back on the rest of the way.

This is the sort of decision that one realizes is probably a mistake when one makes it. The use of a metal implement around a rubber item that is meant to hold air is less than ideal. But it's the sort of decision that one makes out of fatigue and desperation with the hope that this time, this one time, it will work out okay.

It did not.

After a bit of swearing and stomping about (yes - I am sure you would be much more mature than I in such a moment) I decided learning time was over, and checked the hours for Bike Works in Peru. It looked like I had time (Peru is about a half-hour away).

As has been my experience there in the past, the folks at Bike Works were very pleasant and helpful. They also do not, to my knowledge, carry recumbent trikes, and so did not have a tube in the correct size. Anticipating this, I'd brought mine along and, that settled, they got to work on my trike.

Watching this was a little like watching Norm build a chair on New Yankee Workshop. He used real tire levers to pop off the tire and pop out the old tube. The new tube went on, and he did say that the tire itself was very tight, which made me feel vindicated. That feeling lasted for about five seconds - right up to the point at which he then popped the tire back on using his bare hands...

All told, they got me in and out in about 15-20 minutes, and the repair itself was an extremely reasonable - it cost me less than ten bucks.

All of this is a reminder that illustrates for me how important it is to support your local bike shop. Over the years I've had experiences with multiple local bike shops, in multiple towns. To a place and a person I've found them to be helpful in getting and keeping my bikes on the road. In this case, the total time I spent traveling to and from Bike Works, and getting the repair finished, was less than the time spent in the garage working on it myself. It also involved considerably less sweating and swearing on my part.

And - lessons learned from this in relation to my ongoing recumbent trike experience:

  • Order and carry your own tubes. It's always a good idea to have spares on the bike or trike if possible as a general rule, but with the trike you should be prepared to provide them when getting a repair.
  • Your local bike shop can almost certainly repair or replace your tubes faster than you. Let them when you can. It's not expensive - the time spent unfrustrated and getting back to riding alone more than makes up for it.
  • The rule above also applies for virtually all bike or trike repairs and tune-ups that don't need to be done on an emergency basis. Let your bike shop handle it - you will be happier.
  • I do still need to learn to change my own tubes - at some point I'm going to be out somewhere where I'm too far out to want to walk back - and I did buy a set of tire levers to keep on the trike in case of just such a situation. But probably this will need to involve practicing with the right equipment, and when I'm not also really, really wanting just to get it done so I can ride.

Catrike Factory Video by Erin Wade

As often happens, the acquisition of my Catrike Pocket has caused me to begin exploring online for information about my particular trike, available accessories, and recumbent trikes in general. This has led me to a great many places, but one particular site is a treasure trove of information - BentRider.

BentRider is a recumbent bike and trike (and it appears, mostly trike) news site with a deep archive of back posts. It would be a good first stop for anyone interested in starting to gain information about these machines, as well as trying to get information about the machine one already has - for example, I was able to sort out information about the specifics on my particular trike by finding the post for Catrike's 2012 release notice.

Going through that archive will also periodically allow you to come across little gems like the video below - a 12 minute tour of the Catrike factory in operation. As BentRider notes in their original post, there is no narration - "just pure trike-building porn". Watching it reminds me a little of the old-style factory videos - where the camera followed a piece through the production process - that used to play when I was a kid.

Catrike Pocket Maiden Voyage by Erin Wade

Pocket ready to roll

The Maiden Voyage of the Catrike Pocket went well. I chose a route that I was already familiar with, that offers some elevation changes but avoids gravel (we'll try that out later). I was a little slower than my rides on the Cannondale, but this is to be expected, I suppose - the Catrike is about 11 lbs heavier than the Cannondale, there's a higher rolling resistance with the third wheel, and of course I'm still learning the new machine.


Enjoying this post? Check out our Cycling page for links to other cycling articles on Applied Life


There are several differences from riding an upright bike that became clear on this initial ride:

  • You sit low. This is a given when you look at it, of course, but when riding down the road you quickly realize that you are at eye level with the top of the grass in an unmowed ditch. The value of the bike flag becomes immediately apparent.
  • Because of the height difference, extra care needs to be at intersections to be sure you can see whether a car is there.
  • You cannot see into the cars as they pass you from behind - the angle is too steep. Oncoming traffic, however, is much the same experience as on the upright bike.
  • At first the act of pedaling causes a bit of torque steer. This goes away with some practice (smoother pedaling), but it's a real adjustment (enough so that it's mentioned in the Catrike owners manual).
  • Riding this is noticeably more of a leg workout than with the upright. This seems be due to the differences in positioning. On the upright you can stand up on the pedals, of course, but you can also use more of your upper body to supplement by pulling against the handlebars. It is possible to brace against the seat back, which offers a different but similar benefit, but I didn't fully sort that out until about two-thirds of the way thru the ride. I suspect this also contributed to the slower ride time; it will likelly improve with practice.
  • In relation to the above item, I did a lot more shifting than usual. Some of this, again, will likely pare back with practice. Still, I suspect more shifting is simply a part of the deal.
  • Because the rear wheel is right behind your head, you are much more aware of mechanical activity of the trike.
  • Steering is immediate and awesome - it's like riding a pedal-powered go-kart.
  • Similarly, the brakes are astonishingly quick. I don't know if this is because of the design of the trike itself, or just a feature of the disc brakes - I've never owned a bike with disc brakes. But in either case, it's noticeably different from my Cannondale.
  • This is the first ride of any length I've taken in years in which my hands did not become numb from road vibration. In fact the difference in controls and position was quite a bit more comfortable than on an upright bike.
  • Having a full seat back - even when it's made of mesh - results in your back getting exactly as sweaty as you would think.

Part of my route selection today was intended to minimize the likelihood of encountering much by way of traffic (seemed wise to do for the first trip out). However, I did come across a handful of cars. The first vehicle I encountered - a man in a Ford pickup - slowed way down. The expression of confusion on his face as he sorted out what he was seeing was priceless.

The differences here are just and only that: differences. I enjoyed myself a great deal - I am looking forward to many, many rides on my Catrike.

Bicycle Adoption - a Timeline Analysis by Erin Wade

In the western world we live in an automobile-dominated society. Whether it involves tooling down the interstate at 70 miles an hour, or pulling up to a drive-thru window to pick up your food, your medications, or to withdraw money from the ATM, it's easy to see that we've designed much of our entire transportation system, and indeed our lives, around these vehicles.

This is, of course, a phenomenon of the last century, give or take, and it certainly wasn't always this way. While it seems perfectly clear now, from our modern perspective, couched within this car-centric society, why people might prefer to travel in an automobile rather than by bicycle, I sometimes wonder why it is that the bicycle didn't take a greater hold on our transportation needs. For millennia we relied upon our feet, and the power of domesticated animals, to transport ourselves and our goods across distances. The bicycle fits nicely as an advance upon that lifestyle, and is, in fact, the most efficient type of human powered transport. It's also very flexible for traveling on variable road surfaces - the cyclist who encounters a problematic road surface always has the option of walking or carrying the bike past an impediment.

The inklings of the why first started to dawn on me when I listened to the Wright Brothers biography, which started to suggest there might have been an issue of timing. To look at this more closely I spent a little time digging thru Wikipedia and putting together a timeline of transportation developments:

  • 1869 - Frenchman Eugene Meyer invents the wire-spoke tension wheel.
  • 1870's - Penny-farthing bicycles become popular.
  • 1885 - John Kemp Starley produces the first successful "safety bicycle". This bike featured a steerable front wheel, wheels of equal size, and a chain drive to the rear wheel. It is, essentially, the first modern bicycle.
  • 1886 - Karl Benz invents the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, widely regarded as the world's first automobile.
  • 1888 - John Dunlop re-invents the pneumatic bicycle tire. Notable that, according to the Wikipedia entry on the history of the bicycle, this removed the need for complicated bicycle suspensions, and paved the way for the diamond frame design.
  • 1898 - William Reilly of Salford, England, puts a two speed gear hub into production.
  • 1903 - 3-speed gear hubs go into production.
  • 1903 - The Wright Brothers make their historic flight at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1900-1910 - The Derailleur gear set was developed in France.
  • 1908 - The Ford Model T is introduced.
  • 1933 - Paul Morand wins the Paris-Limoges race on a recumbent bicycle designed by Charles Mochet; Francis Faure rode a modified Mochet Vélo-Velocar (recumbent) 45.055 km (27.996 mi) in one hour, beating a 20-year old speed record.
  • 1934 - Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) publishes a new definition of "racing bicycle" that effectively - and purposely - banned recumbent bicycles from UCI bicycle racing events.
  • 1965-1975 - US Bike Boom; includes the 10-speed derailleur bicycle becoming widely available.
  • 1981 - The first mass-produced mountain bike appears.
  • ~ 1987 - 5-speed hub gears become available?

As I said: a matter of timing. The first modern bicycle appeared only a year before the arrival of the first modern automobile. It's another three years before a crucial invention - the pneumatic tire - appears, making it possible to design light weight bikes that are comfortable to ride (older bikes were often referred to as "bone shakers"), and that invention also benefitted the automobile.


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What's more, while early automobiles were not terribly fast - the original Benz Patent-Motorwagen had a top speed of 10 mph - the advancements that would have made bicycles competitive with those early cars, namely gearing, did not show up in earnest until the early 1900's. The Ford Model T, arriving in 1908, could travel at speeds in the 30mph range, with a top speed (which was surprisingly difficult to find information about online) of about 45mph. It's arrival is, for all practical intents and purposes, at the same time as that of the derailleur system, the chain and sprocket system that is a familiar feature on multi-speed bikes thru current day. The technology for bikes simply did not develop early enough for it to take hold.

While the inklings of this occurred to me listening to that Wright Brothers biography, it became starkly clear when I put together the timeline. It also opened up a couple of additional facts, about which I was completely unaware.

The second, simpler fact is that the real arrival of the precursor to the modern road bike in the United States seems to have been a later development. Growing up in the early 1970's riding my first banana-seat bicycle, I remember coveting what we referred to as a "10-speed" from the first moment I saw one. For a time I had a 5-Speed - essentially a 10-speed frame with only one front sprocket - which my parents had picked up at a garage sale, which made my young self think these were old bikes. Clearly that was not accurate.

The first, more interesting fact is the 1930's developments surrounding recumbent bicycles. In a series of events akin to the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy, or the Windows vs. Macintosh story, or, frankly, dozens of other stories in business, it appears that the manufacturers of upright bicycles banded together to significantly limit the exposure and development of the recumbent bicycle by having them banned from bicycle racing after it became clear that the recumbents were the faster bikes.

Given that recumbent bikes are both undeniably faster, and arguably more comfortable, than uprights, their development in the 1930's, occurring when automobiles were still in relatively early development, and with the financial opening of The Great Depression making automobiles challenging for many to afford, might have been the opening that the bicycle needed to again take hold. Alas, the shortsightedness of business defending the status quo seems to be an historical constant.

There have been many advancements in bicycling design over the past few decades - gearing continues to climb both for derailleur and hub-style gear sets, bikes are designed for all sorts of different surfaces, and recumbents have slowly gained in popularity. Still, it looks a lot like early development - with a little help from non-competitive practices - just happened within the wrong window of time for the bicycle to catch on as a primary mode of transport.

Of Bikes and Batteries... And Cell Phones by Erin Wade

The Mophie Powerstation fits nicely in my frame bag.  

The Mophie Powerstation fits nicely in my frame bag.  

In an unusual twist the weather today - November 1 - turned out to be perfect for riding.

When I go out for rides I use my iPhone to track my distance, speed, etc, using an app called Cyclemeter. I also use it, paired with my Jumbl Bluetooth Audio Receiver, to listen to audiobooks and podcasts while I'm riding[^1].

The difficulty is that, on longer rides, the battery on the iPhone may have trouble keeping up. It's not really the phone's fault - it's being asked to do a lot: run the the GPS radio continuously, keep the screen lit, and transmit audio over Bluetooth. For rides that run longer than an hour it's hit or miss as to whether the phone will last the entire ride. I can lengthen this by turning off the screen, which can help quite a bit, but I enjoy the feedback the app gives.


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It occurred to me a while back that I could take a battery pack and attach that to the phone while I was riding. They do make products to do this - for example, this gizmo that uses the power from your pedaling to provide a charge. But that type of thing seemed fiddly and expensive, and a simple battery pack like the ones made by Mophie would also have uses in settings besides riding.

So that's what I did. I purchased a Mophie Powerstation and set it up to sit in my frame bag, with a lightening cable connecting it to the iPhone, secured to the frame using a Velcro cable strap. I've been using it for the past two or three months, and it works like a charm. I have enough power to get through the ride without worrying about my charge, with a minimum of fuss.


[^1]: The entertainment for today's ride was the 10/29/15 episode of NPR's Ask Me Another featuring Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless. I always enjoy this show, but it was exceptionally good this time - both Bruce (from the Evil Dead movie franchise and Burn Notice, as well as the short lived, and truly awful Brisco Country Junior) and Lucy (Xena: Warrior Princess and Battlestar Galactica) were some of the funniest guests I've ever heard on the show.

Jumbl Bluetooth Audio Receiver by Erin Wade

The Jumbl with a pair of non-fancy big-box store headphones.  

The Jumbl with a pair of non-fancy big-box store headphones.  

It's no secret that I love biking, and one of the things I invariably do when I am riding my bike is listen to either audiobooks or podcasts. I made my way through huge swaths of Game of Thrones while riding my bike, and other shows like The Incomparable and Roderick on the Line have been my frequent companions as well.

I also enjoy music, but the upside to audiobooks and podcasts is that they are, generally speaking, not in stereo. I can listen to them in one ear. Since I'm often riding on public roads, with traffic, I prefer to keep at least one ear open to better detect happenings in my surroundings.

To accomplish this I have mostly been using the Jawbone bluetooth earpiece that I also have for hands-free use in the car. This setup works, but it has a couple of downsides. The first is that I have to wear the Jawbone over my left ear. The earpiece is shaped so that it sits inside the cavity of the ear, with a rubber spring that presses to hold it on the ear's surface. My right ear was cauliflowered during my senior year of high school wrestling, and there is simply no way to get it to fit. It's my left ear that faces the road when I ride, so I'd really rather have that one free.

The second is that the Jawbone is a rather expensive item and, while it does a reasonable job of staying in the ear while driving and walking, it does not appear to be up to the task when riding over rough roads on an unsuspended road bike. I've dropped it out of my ear at least once when riding down a twisting river drive in a park, and I expected never to see it again (I got lucky).

There are other options, of course. There are a variety of bluetooth headphones geared towards athletic activities. However, most of these seem to be oriented, still, towards having both ears filled. In addition, many of them are in the same price range as the Jawbone, and I struggle with the idea of dropping that kind of coin on something that it just seems I'm likely to break (I'm good at breaking things). I could also keep my phone, which is the device from which I'm listening, on my person and use standard earbuds, but I prefer to have the phone mounted on the handlebars so I can use Cyclemeter to see how fast and far I'm going.

Yes, I'm fussy and I want to have it all.

Enter Jumbl.

I've been looking for this type of device for a long time. I've had trouble explaining it to my immediate family members in any fashion that results in any kind of response other than "huh", but let me try again here:

This device is a Bluetooth receiver. It pairs with your phone (or other device) just like an earpiece or set of Bluetooth headphones. This allows you to plug your own standard, wired headphones - any standard headphones, including the $5 specials you picked up at the big-box department store - into the device to receive the audio from your phone.

These have existed for a while in larger and/or different forms - Logitech makes a version that can be used to plug into older stereo systems and radios that have either a headphone jack or an auxiliary input, for example. This is an awesome way to take your older, nice audio equipment that you invested in back in the day and ensure that it is not obsoleted by your new electronica - with these the music on your phone can be quickly and easily picked up by the stereo system you painstakingly assembled in the 1990's (or is that just me? I suspect it is not).

The Jumbl is a much smaller version of the same thing, with a battery. It clips to your clothing and lets you work hands-free but with your own cheapie headphones (or your incredibly expensive Beats, if that's what you prefer). With it being directly attached to your clothing its a lot more secure than most Bluetooth headphones and earpieces would be. Besides that, it's much less expensive than most Bluetooth headphones and earpieces, so I'll feel a lot less upset if (when) I lose it on a ride. And, since it's just using standard headphones, I can use in-ear earbuds with just one in my Jawbone-unfriendly right ear, leaving my left open to road sounds.

I actually bought the Jumbl back in January, and I've used it several times when working around the house, for example, and in the car to try it out. This past week, however, was my first opportunity to give it a good try out on the bike, riding on that same river drive upon which I'd lost the Jawbone.

It worked exceptionally well. It pairs easily, and provides good, clear sound quality. I was able to clip it to the band on my pants and run the cord up inside my shirt to keep everything secured. In essence, it functioned exactly like I wanted it to.

The device itself has controls on it - fast forward, rewind, volume, and a nice big button in the center for play/pause - and these all work well. If your headphones have audio controls on them - like the standard Apple headphones, as well as a lot of aftermarket items - they won't work with this. You'll have to use the controls on the device instead.

The Jumbl also has its own microphone, and can be used to take phone calls, operate Siri (or OkGoogle, I suppose - it is platform agnostic). The trick is that it appears to only use its own microphone, not the microphone in your headphones, so to use it this way the Jumbl has to be clipped somewhere up near your face. I've tried this out just a bit to see how it works, and it seems to be fine - a bit more by way of requests for repetition by the people on the other end of the call than with my Jawbone, but then it cost considerably less as well.

I final note here - this device is not limited to headphones - it will plug into anything using a standard 1/8” audio jack. This means that, using a patch cord it can do the same thing as the Logitech Bluetooth receiver above, or even plug into the auxiliary jack in your car stereo. With the latter approach it can take the standard stereo in any car with an aux port and give it Bluetooth capability (for audio - music, audiobooks and podcasts, GPS Directions - at least).

So - for the moment, it seems pretty cool. Now I'll just need to see how well it holds up to regular use. And, of course, how long it takes me to either break it or lose it.


An additional note here - since I purchased this device it appears that a new version has come out with two notable improvements: Bluetooth 4.0 (mine is 2.1) which allows for multiple device connections at once; and a micro usb charger. The charger the older version comes with is a proprietary design that looks like something that came with an old Nokia phone. With the new charging port, which is a standard design, you can pick up a replacement charging cable pretty much anywhere. If you are anything like me, you already have a couple of extras in your drawer-O'-technology.

It appears Amazon may be getting more of my money (though I'm pretty sure they have most of it already)...


An additional, additional note here: The items I write about here are things I have purchased myself, not promotional items I've received from the companies. This is not because of my high journalistic standards, mind you - it's just that no one sends me anything to review.

EVO - by HUGE Design + 4130 Cycle Works by Erin Wade

The Bike Design Project is a competition geared towards encouraging development of bicycles oriented at building the movement away from cars and towards biking as transportation.

There are five teams, from five different cities, building bikes for this contest. The EVO - by HUGE Design + 4130 Cycle Works in San Francisco got my vote.

All of the concepts are at least somewhat interesting, and some have some neat features - integrated blinkers and lighting, a collapsible carrying rack that slides in and out of the top tube, USB charging hooked up to an internal battery built into the bike.

But it seems to me that those neat features are also a problem.

This project appears to be oriented around developing bikes that will be useful, utilitarian transportation. In that respect, In a lot of ways a good urban bike, I suppose, would be like a well designed economy car - flexible, efficient, and durable. The original Mini and the Honda Civic, and the current Honda Fit, might be examples of this.

A USB port might ring the "cool" bell for a proposal in current day, but it's time limited in its utility. What happens when we stop using USB as a charging standard?

The life span of a good bicycle is measured in decades. My regular ride is over 20 years old, and still going strong, and I routinely see bikes of a similar vintage and older. Things like USB ports, as well as proprietary lighting designs of various sorts, will likely sit non-functional on the bike in years down the road.

Which is why I like the Evo.

The Evo is built around a modular attachment system - that's the reason for the tall sections at the front and rear of the frame points. The concept is simple - an "urban" bike needs to be able to do multiple things across the course of a day or a week, and one set of fixed items will not do the job, so the bike needs to be be able to change quickly. They show a variety of attachments for it, and since the attachments are not a part of the bike itself, there is room for growth and change based upon future need. If an attachment item breaks it won't have an impact on the utility of the bike itself the way built-in items will. In addition, the owner can purchase only the components he or she needs, and not be stuck with unwanted items - no small kids in your family? No child seat.

Further, the mounting point itself looks to be fairly straightforward, suggesting that multiple vendors could design attachments for it, opening the door for a variety of specialized items.

If I lived in an urban setting and relied on a bicycle for daily transportation I could absolutely see a bike like this meeting my needs for a long time.