Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Sigma rear brake light gives warning

August 20, 2015
The unobtrusive Sigma rear brake light has a bright LED

The unobtrusive Sigma rear brake light has a bright LED

I immediately liked the concept of the Sigma rear brake light — lightweight (7 grams), easy to install, affordable ($10), a safety feature.

Here’s what I think after making a purchase.

Installation is not as easy as it looks. I had to back out the Shimano Ultegra adjustment barrel all the way to accommodate the light. They recommend at least 25 mm of exposed brake cable.

Be sure to push the light firmly against the brake cable in order for the screw to securely clamp the brake cable.

I’d like to see a better fit for the screw against the cable. As it is now, it mashes down on the brake cable.

Test to see that the brake light doesn’t get stuck on. That can happen, if it’s not installed properly.

You’ll need a 2.5 mm Allen key. The light comes with a CR1025 lithium battery, which should last at least a year or two.

It comes in five colors, but I think red and white have the best visibility against the red LED.

Now you can see when your ride partner is braking while descending Page Mill Road, or motorists can know when you’re stopping for a light, assuming they’re not looking down while texting.

Available now at the Bicycle Outfitter, Los Altos, and other fine bike shops.

Endura gloves fit for a long ride

July 16, 2015

Endura Hyperon glove wears well, but be careful with the size.

Endura Hyperon glove wears well, but be careful with the size.

After my less than satisfactory experience with Pearl Izumi gloves, I went to my local bike shop to try another brand and settled on Endura, a Scottish company in business since 1992.

I had never heard of Endura, but I’m not buying bike gloves every day. I liked the amount of gel padding and it seemed to be strategically placed, so I tried them on. Much to my surprise M felt too small. I tried L and even they felt a bit tight, but I bought L anyway because I’ve always worn M and there’s no way XL would be correct.

I knew they would stretch and sure enough they did. Now they’re a good fit if a tiny bit on the loose side, but the last thing I want is a tight glove.

I’ve worn them on some long rides and I can say they’re not causing any problems. They don’t get in the way of the ride or cause discomfort. I could use a bit more gel, but only if added in a certain way. Back in the day, Gant gloves were the best brand out there. They had good padding that covered the entire palm. If more padding is added, the entire palm must be covered like the Gant, otherwise the padding will have the “pebble” effect.

Removal is problematic with these gloves, as it is for others. They have reinforced fingers for easier removal though.

There’s a “terry sweat wipe,” which I never use, but it’s there if you sweat a lot. I only realized it existed after reading the literature.

Endura has lots of models for cyclists who have specific needs. Cost is on the high end for a bike glove, but that may be because these glove are, much to my surprise, made in Scotland. Build quality looks to be top-notch.

I don’t care where a product is made, as long as it’s good quality. In our global economy, that can be a hard pill to swallow. It certainly ratchets up competition. But I digress. Global economics is best left for other blogs.

I'm told this is how to size for gloves. I'm 8 cm, clearly a M.

I’m told this is how to size for gloves. I’m 8 cm, clearly a M.

Garmin 500 GPS bike computer has a lot to like

July 9, 2015

Garmin 500 uses GPS to record your ride with amazing accuracy.

Garmin 500 uses GPS to record your ride with amazing accuracy.

I’ve been avoiding writing about the Garmin GPS 500 bike computer because there’s so much ground to cover and so many features to learn.

After seven months of regular use, it’s time to weigh in on GPS bike computers. It’s hard not to be impressed with the technology, but don’t feel bad if it seems a little overwhelming.

Military madness
GPS stands for Global Positioning System and we have the Cold War to thank for its existence. The U.S. military has invested billions of dollars in GPS all for the sake of accuracy — ballistic missile accuracy.

Our government made it available for the world over in the 1990s, with few restrictions. The military, I imagine, has ways to shut it down should we become involved in a confrontation.

Your Garmin relies on 32 satellites circling the Earth in such a way that anywhere on the planet your GPS receiver can lock in on four satellites to obtain a fix accurate to within about 12 feet. Your results will vary depending on location.

If you’re at the bottom of a deep canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains obscured by trees on a cloudy day, your signal may be degraded.

I’ve lost a signal that way once and I’ve had a couple of other unexplainable glitches that caused a signal loss. I imagine some are due to software errors and not the GPS itself.

But enough with the technology: is a GPS computer worth the price (at least $120, and about $180 for the Edge 500)?

Yes, if you’re willing to learn how to use it and put up with its quirks. GPS computers need a fair amount of care and feeding. It’s like owning a highly tuned musical instrument. Sounds great with constant tuning.

Pros and cons
For starters, the battery only lasts about 18 hours in use. So you’re good for about 8 or 9 two-hour rides before recharging, which takes at least an hour.

You don’t mind software upgrades and occasional problems uploading your data. Let’s face it, the reason most people own a GPS computer is to upload their rides for analysis. You can spend hours reviewing the ride — speed, altitude, temperature, cadence, etc., from the convenience of your computer.

It took months before my Garmin 500 synced well with Garmin Express, the software you’ll need to upload your data. I went to Garmin forums to learn what was up with issues I am using Windows 7. You get the picture.

Those problems appear to have been sorted out and now I can sync reliably. It still takes way too long to sync, in my opinion, but at least it works.

Programming the Garmin 500 is straightforward. The challenge is sorting through all the features to figure out what you want. There’s so much to go over that it would take an hour just to cover everything.

Helpful advice
A few pointers will have to do:

1) Take your Garmin outside when locking onto the satellite signal. It may lock on indoors but accuracy is reduced.

2) Many settings can be made visible on a single screen, but I found that five is about the most you can have and still maintain legibility.

3) You can auto-cycle through all your data pages. Turn off the pages you don’t need, especially if you don’t have cadence.

4) Be sure to apply privacy settings to your uploads on sites like Garmin Connect, Strava, and others, if you don’t want people to see where you live. There are settings that cut off your route within a half-mile of your start point. You can upload a Garmin file to Strava with no issues.

5) Altitude is determined by a built-in barometer, not map. Set the gauge to your home altitude for better accuracy.

6) As with all bike computer thermometers, the Garmin 500 reads high when in direct sun.

7) If your Garmin loses the signal, you will probably only lose distance until it’s re-established. I found that it now reconnects, which was not my experience earlier. Other electronic devices within an inch or so of the unit may disrupt the satellite signal.

8) The Garmin 500 does not store maps for navigation. It can record a route, but it’s pretty lame if you’re trying to use it for guidance. Not recommended if it’s your only means of following a route.

9) Mounting is a breeze. You can even carry it in your back pocket and capture a signal.

10) Comes with a standard Type-B USB cable, and compatible with Windows or Apple OS (Garmin does not support Linux, officially).

11) Remember to turn it off when done with your ride. If it detects movement, it will keep working when, for example, you’re driving home from a ride.

So which is better, a non GPS or GPS bike computer? That depends on what you want in life. If you’re into recording your route and capturing the data, GPS is the way to go. If you don’t want the accompanying hassles, use a non-GPS bike computer.

Of course, neither is necessary to enjoy a bike ride.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Blackburn’s Atom SL cyclometer an affordable electronic marvel

June 16, 2015

Cyclometers I've owned over the years compared to the Blackburn Atom SL.

Cyclometers I’ve owned over the years compared to the Blackburn Atom SL.

As I begin this review of the Blackburn Atom SL 5.0 cyclometer, let me take you for a quick trip down Memory Lane.

I worked for Palo Alto Bicycles mail order in 1984 and we were the first to ship the groundbreaking Avocet cyclometer. After clearing up some early problems with the gate array chip, it went on to be a huge success and was the cyclometer of choice in the Tour de France peloton in the late 1980s.

Since then, cyclometers have matured and we have at least a dozen models and brands. Still, I’m seeing innovation in the Blackburn Atom SL cyclometer.

I bought my first full-featured wireless cyclometer similar to the Atom in 2003 — the Specialized Speedzone Pro. The Atom SL 5.0 (6.0 has cadence) follows that kind of cyclometer, where altitude is measured.

One selling point stands out about the Atom SL 5.0 — price. It’s about $60, 70 percent less than what I paid for the Specialized cyclometer and the VDO. A great value!

Atom SL 5.0 features: Speed – current, average (up/down arrows), maximum; Odometer; Trip distance; Ride time; Time of day; Wheel size; Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA); Temperature; Altimeter; Slope; Total Altitude gain; Maximum altitude gain; 2nd bike setting.

Materials that come with the Atom SL cyclometer.

Materials that come with the Atom SL cyclometer.


Distance: We expect an accurate cyclometer and Atom SL 5.0 does not disappoint. It recorded exactly the same distance — 62.5 miles — as my Garmin 500 on a ride. The altimeter is also precise, within 10 feet of a climb to 2,625 feet on Hwy 9.

Slope is accurate as well, but as with all cyclometers measuring gradient on a steady climb, your numbers will shift as you climb. It’s a quirk that I don’t fully understand, but after a while you’ll know which number is accurate: usually the first one or two results.

Accuracy greatly depends on wheel/tire measurement. This measurement varies with body weight, tire pressure and tire wear.

The manual describes how to get the best measurement by rolling out the wheel for one circumference, but you can do more. Sit on the bike while doing the roll-out. Body weight reduces the rolling distance by 0.5 to 1 inch. Measure several times for the best accuracy.

Entering the measurement in millimeters calls for closely following manual instructions. Note that if you reset the cyclometer, you reset the wheel size to its default of 2150. (My tire setting came in at 2115 mm for a 700×28 tire while seated.)

Altitude: Don’t expect accurate readings at high altitudes. I’ve seen variances of 1,000 feet and more in cyclometers, which I call a “feature.” However, the Atom SL altimeter is 99 percent accurate at lower altitudes (up to 5,000 feet or so), remarkable considering it’s an affordable consumer device.

Bike cyclometers use a tiny built-in barometer where the analog reading is converted to a digital electronic signal. It’s incredibly complicated stuff.

Meanwhile, atmospheric pressure changes by the hour, even minute. Set your altitude before a ride to ensure the best accuracy. Even then, if there’s a change in the weather during your ride, the altitude will be off. However, the number we care about most — cumulative altitude — will be mostly accurate.

Temperature: All cyclometers heat up when exposed to direct sunlight and hot plastic invariably affects the reading by up to 10 degrees. In cool weather or shade, the Blackburn Atom SL temp gauge is as accurate as any cyclometer I’ve used. It displays temperature to tenths of a degree.

User interface
Font size is great for speed and satisfactory for other readings, even for my aging eyes. The displays are appropriately spaced. What stands out about this unit, over other cyclometers I’ve used, is Scan mode. In scan mode all of the cyclometer’s readings cycle through in about 25 seconds. You will still manually push the Set button for each reading to cycle through those readings listed in the manual under Bike mode and Altimeter mode.

Scan mode is an improvement in usability because there’s no constant button pressing to see a particular reading, or squinting to read tiny type. If you think the Atom SL’s text is small, some other brands have even smaller text.

The manual describes cyclometer settings, but as with any electronic device, it takes practice to master (remember) the functions. Some cyclometer owners express frustration over changing settings. That frustration is common to all electronic devices, not just cyclometers. Be patient and take time to understand how the settings work. Most importantly, remember that “Set” is the left button and “Mode” is the right button.

The manual’s type is small, typical for most bike cyclometer manuals, but at least there’s a printed manual! When was the last time you saw a smartphone come with a printed manual? If you’re having difficulty reading the manual, go online to see it in a large-font PDF.

The batteries last about a year, typical for CR2016 (wireless transmitter)/2032 (wireless receiver) 3-volt lithium. Four Phillips-head screws must be removed to access the receiver’s battery compartment.

Mounting is a breeze and you have options. It can be mounted on the stem or the handlebar. I like the mount because it uses a convenient Velcro strap that holds securely. While not explained, the strap goes on a certain way. My photo shows how it mounts.

A close-up showing how the strap mounts to the handlebar.

A close-up showing how the strap mounts to the handlebar.

The transmitter takes two pull ties that wrap around the fork, while the magnet screws onto a spoke. Be sure the transmitter is no more than 22 inches from the cyclometer (receiver) for the best accuracy.

If you’re someone who will be riding in hills and don’t want the hassle of constantly charging batteries, the Blackburn Atom SL 5.0 is an outstanding value.

PROS: Best value for the price, every function you could ever want, excellent mount, accurate, scrolls through features, small.

CONS: Lacks explanation for mounting the Velcro strap, small type in instruction manual, prefer showing trip mileage instead of altitude on the main screen.

Check the Blackburn website for shops selling the Atom SL:

Addendum: (7/21/2015) The speedometer function stopped working, probably from a bad transmitter. Disappointed. If it happens to you, be sure to return under the lifetime warranty.

Too much of a good thing

May 28, 2015
Pearl Izumi Elite gloves have too much gel for my hands. Older model, right, felt better on long rides.

Pearl Izumi Elite gloves have too much gel for my hands. Older model, right, felt better on long rides.

When I recently purchased a pair of Pearl Izumi Elite gloves, I figured the increased amount of gel padding compared to its older model would be a good thing. I was sorely wrong.

When you get to be my age, gloves are required. For many years I didn’t wear gloves, although in hindsight it’s always a good idea to wear them.

On a 30-mile ride they were OK, but I noticed the gel lumps felt like small pebbles after a while. On a 119-mile ride, well, they became more than an annoyance early on during a long climb. They compressed the ulnar nerve, which leads to hand numbness. I had to constantly change hand position.

Pearl Izumi usually makes excellent products, but I think they went overboard on these gloves and didn’t test them enough before release. They did fix one problem compared to the previous model: the Velcro wrist clasp holds well.

Lost my appetite for Michelin Optimum Pro tires

May 12, 2015

Michelin Optimum Pro tire lasted 2,700 miles, but had serious sidewall fray.

Michelin Optimum Pro tire lasted 2,700 miles, but had serious sidewall fray.

Without question I love French cuisine, but I’ve lost my appetite for Michelin bike tires.

The French manufacturer was one of the first to abandon pattern tread, which I’m sure is one reason Jobst Brandt tried their tires back in the late 1980s. The tires didn’t last long and Jobst quickly quit using them.

I got 2,743 miles on my Michelin Optimum Pro ($46.39, 700×25) and probably could get more but the sidewalls look so shabby that I’m not going to take the risk of a sudden failure. I had a couple of other Optimum models and had the same issues.

I’m no tire expert, but from the looks of it the sidewalls are a separate layer of fabric from the inner tire wall. I can peel back the outer layer in areas where it’s separating.

The tires seemed good in every other respect. The rear “model” was supposed to have more tread than the front, which is a dubious selling point. I’m not pleased with 2,700 miles. A tire should last at least 3,000 miles, which is the length of a U.S. transcontinental ride.

I don’t see this tire listed on the Michelin website. It’s just as well.

Shimano CN6701 chain lasts about 4,000 miles

April 16, 2015

Shimano 6701 chain lasted about 4,000 miles.

Shimano 6701 chain lasted about 4,000 miles.

I have assiduously cleaned my chains over the past 15 months and now the results are in. Swapping between two chains, cleaning them about once a month, they lasted about 4,000 miles each.

I use the Park chain-wear indicator tool and dump the chain between the 0.5 and 0.75 measurement. I found that the chain only needs a couple hundred miles to go from 0.5 to 0.75. Another interesting observation is that half the chain indicates more wear than the other half.

I use Simple Green to clean the chains. After removal I put it into a wide-mouth container and shake vigorously, then let sit for a day. I then remove the chain, wash it off with water and sun-dry.

For lubricant I am currently using ProLink ProGold. Before that I used Finish Line Dry. The ProLink seems to hold up a little better over the miles (doesn’t need more lubrication), but it’s not a big difference.

The days of using car oil are over; these fancy Shimano chains require a teflon-like lubricant that can penetrate the narrow gaps.

My Shimano Ultegra freewheel is still working well after three years and five months, about 22,000 miles. As soon as I start having chain skip, I’ll replace it.

Rideye offers “black box” evidence video

March 10, 2015
Rideye fits easily on a handlebar or seatpost.

Rideye fits easily on a handlebar or seatpost.

While there are already video cameras suitable for bikes (GoPro, Mobius, Sony), the recently available Rideye, a Kickstarter project, offers “black box” features not found in other cameras.

Is it worth the $200 asking price for the 8GB version? It all depends on what you’re looking for in a camera. If your primary concern is to have evidence video in the event of an accident — the Rideye (pronounced “ride eye”) is the obvious choice.

It’s built like a tank. We’re talking about a CNC 6061-T5 aerospace-grade aluminum body, which can withstand some serious pounding in the event of a crash.

The built-in accelerometer insures that the video up to and including impact will be captured.

Battery life is about 10 hours. While that’s way better than the Mobius (1 hour) or GoPro (2-5 hours), it’s still not long enough for an all-day ride. Battery technology has room for improvement. Electronics can be designed to use less power, but the bigger issue is lithium-ion battery chemistry.

I’ve been using the Rideye and I don’t have any major complaints, just minor ones. First, this is not a light camera. It weighs in at 200 grams (mount included). You’ll notice it has some heft when you pick it up.

Second, the rubber band that wraps around the handlebar may stretch with use. Only time will tell. It’s a clean, simple design, but it may sacrifice durability for convenience. There is some jiggling on the handlebar, but it doesn’t affect the still image, which is sharp and clear 1080p quality.

At 170 degrees, the wide-angle perspective captures everything you need to see.

One feature I really like is ease of use. There is only one button, on top. Press it to start. You’ll see a small red LED start blinking every second when it’s on.

If you want to capture a moment, press the button down. It will capture the current 5-minute segment, as well as the previous and next five minutes.

Otherwise, the video works in an infinite loop, overwriting after 1.5 hours for the 8GB version, every 6 hours for the 32GB model ($250).

Files (.mov) are accessible through a standard MicroUSB cable. You will need to set the date/time in a TXT file, which is easy.

Check out the video sample in hi-res, and you’ll see that parked car license plates are easy to read. It’s a different story with a passing car. License plates in the far left lane can’t be read. Car plates in the same lane to your left may or may not be legible. A lot depends on the lighting and vehicle speed.

Bottom line is that if you’re a daily commuter (ideally 1 hour total daily) you will find the Rideye a useful addition that will only need charging once a week. Owning a Rideye is a lot like wearing a helmet. You won’t need it often, but when you do, it could prove useful in court.

Rideye brings to the forefront another issue with today’s well-equipped cyclist. We have too many doo-dads: camera, bike computer, bell, light. It’s hard to fit everything onto the handlebars.

I’d like to see a device more like a smartphone that serves multiple roles. It’s something for the next inventor to conjure up.

Continental Gatorskin rear tire lasts 5,400 miles

November 12, 2014

My Continental Gatorskin  tire lasted 5,400 miles. (Continental photo)

My Continental Gatorskin tire lasted 5,400 miles. (Continental photo)

5,400 miles. That’s how long my Continental Gatorskin 700 x 28 rear tire lasted. Not bad. It saw quite a few miles of dirt too.

I paid $52 for the tire, so it had better last that long. A small amount of cord is showing, so you know it’s time for replacement.

Recently I ran over a large staple and, although it jammed into the rear tire, it did not cause a flat. I stopped after about five seconds and removed the staple, which had not gone in far enough to cause a flat.

I credit some of my good fortune to riding a quality tire.

I still have a Michelin Pro Optimum on the front with the same mileage and it will probably last until I decide it’s time for a new one, usually when the sidewall begins to fray [I took it off a month later because it looked ratty].

Front tires require close attention because if one blows on a fast descent, you could be in trouble.

One word of advice from Continental in its instruction sheet, written in 16 languages, says to toss your tire, tube and rim strip after three years, irrespective of miles ridden.

I guess I’m just too cheap. I’m riding a tire that’s nine years old. It’s on my rain bike. I stored a tire for 28 years before using it. Worked great.

I ride inner tubes until they have so many holes they’re not worth patching, but usually I have to replace them because the tube fails at the valve.

I’m trying out a Continental Grand Sport Race Road tire next. The 700 x 28 version has an actual 28 mm cross-section. Amazing! Check back in 10 months for my report.

Making a case for electric bikes in the Tour de France

June 26, 2014

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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