All 37 entries tagged Equipment

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December 03, 2009

Wind–up bicycle lights…

Writing about web page

I don’t often get approached to review stuff on this blog, but just like buses sometimes requests come in all at once! Just last week I was asked if I wanted to try out the POWERplus Swallow Wind Up Front and Rear Bicycle Light Set.

This is a combination front and rear light set powered by a wind-up mechanism – no batteries required. I confess I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic at first. I’ve used wind-up torches and head-lights before and never been very impressed. OK for emergencies, perhaps, but a bike light is a critical piece of safety equipment and it really needs to work. When I got the device the specifications didn’t make me feel much better about it – 1 minute of winding gives 8 minutes of light in constant mode and 18 in flashing mode. 8 minutes isn’t long enough for my commute at its shortest.

Anyway, I fitted the set to my bike and gave it a go. I have two front lights already, one a 1W LED light which I run in constant mode, and a smaller 3-LED flasher. I don’t have the handlebar space for a third so I used the POWERplus to replace the flasher. I also have two rear lights already, but could mount the new rear as a third. I quite like the design. The rear light mounts to the seat post or, in my case, the seat stay, and is connected by cable (clipped along the top tube in my case) to the bracket for the front light. The front light is removable, while the rear stays attached. A single switch on the front light controls both lights, so both are either constant, flashing or off. I’d quite like to have the rear constant and the front flashing, but that’s just me.

In use I was pleasantly surprised. The rear light isn’t hugely bright but I have two other lights on the back of my bike and one more certainly can’t hurt. The front light surprised me by being brighter than I expected. It also lasted longer than the specifications suggested. I’ve given it a 60 second wind and had 10 minutes or more of constant light plus a similar amount of flashing time from it. This suggests the internal battery isn’t fully charged by the quoted 1 minute wind and there was some residual charge in the battery before I started. Maybe winding for longer will get you more runtime? I haven’t had a chance to try that out yet.

I wouldn’t use this set as my only lights. Neither front nor rear is bright enough by itself, but as supplementary lights they work pretty well. The limited runtime, though, means you are restricted to 10-12 minutes (3 miles?) on constant or 20-ish minutes (5 miles?) flashing before you have to stop and re-charge. If your commute is shorter than that, they work pretty well, and at least you know you’ll never run out of power. If you commute further, then look elsewhere…

I’m a little concerned about the lifetime of the internal battery. Rechargeable batteries are typically rated for 500 or so charging cycles. This needs charging every time, which means at lleast once, and sometimes twice, a day for six months of the year. It won’t be too long before the battery loses capacity and those runtimes start shrinking. And you have to remember to top it up occasionally during the summer too or the battery deteriorates further. I predict in two years time this is not going to be useful any more.

If you’ve followed the link above to the web-site for the product, you’ll see it is sold by What’s the mobile phone connection? As well as being a bike light, you can also use this as a mobile phone charger! There’s a Nokia-compatible cable supplied, and adaptors for other types are available as extras. Interesting, but since I don’t have a Nokia phone I was unable to test this out.

Will I stick with this set on my bike? I suspect not. I like the idea, and if I powered my existing lights with regular alkaline cells it would (a) save me money and (b) keep a pile of batteries out of land-fill. But I already use rechargeables in all my lights and haven’t thrown out a battery in a couple of years (although some are getting to that point now). I think I’m more likely to fit it to one of my kid’s bikes. They don’t often cycle in the dark, always cycle with me anyway, and they’ll find winding up the light fun rather than irritating.

October 06, 2009

Gore cables are awesome…

Follow-up to My bike is a 3–speed… from Steve's blog

I normally try to spend as little as possible on my cycling kit. I’m quite an enthusiastic cyclist, but I’m not a fanatic and I’m a bit of a cheapskate. Unless I’m convinced that spending money on “proper” cycling kit is worthwhile I try to make do. I was long ago convinced that proper lycra cycling shorts were worth both the money and the embarrassment, and that proper cycling jerseys were so much more comfortable on longer rides that the cotton T-shirts I use to wear. I still buy bottom of the range stuff, though, as I’m not persuaded that paying silly money for kit buys you enough extra.

So, when my gear cable broke last week I immediately went looking for the cheapest way of fixing it. In the end I was persuaded to go for something a little above bottom of the range, specifically Gore Ride-On Low Friction Cables. A little pricey for a set of gear cables, but boy are they worth it. The difference between these and the original cables has to be felt to be believed. There’s so much less resistance in the shifter, and shifting happens so much more quickly and predictably. It really is a pleasure to change gear. That sounds stupid to me as I type it, but I’ve had the cable on the bike for about 5 days now and I still enjoy every gear shift. Strange but true. And these aren’t the “professional” version of the cable, which I assume is even better. At over £40 for a set of gear cables, though, I don’t think I’ll be going for those next time. I might, however, go for Gore brake cables when I need to change those.

Seriously, Gore cables are wonderful things. Get some. Now…

March 19, 2008

Brake block life

Not the most inspiring of topics, I know, but I’ve never really paid attention to it before. I’ve just replaced them when they’ve worn out, without really thinking about it. But, on my new bike the front blocks are now getting pretty close to worn out, and since they are the originals I know exactly how old they are. They’ve done just over 1350 miles. So at my usual annual mileage that’s about 2 sets per year.

I don’t know what make they are – they are unmarked. Maybe branded ones will last longer? I guess we’ll see in due course. I now keep service records for my bikes so I’ll know how long future sets last too. Any recommendations for good blocks? I’ve always used these Avid blocks on my old bike – cheap, but they work well enough. The new bike has different brakes, and takes blocks like these. I guess I’ll stick with Shimanos, unless anybody has any other recommendations? I’ve had a bad experience with KoolStops on the other bike, so I’m not inclined to try them again, even though lots of people swear by them.

For now, though, I’ll just swap the front and back blocks. I rarely use my back brakes so the blocks are pretty much brand new, and should hopefully last another 1300 miles, and having almost worn out ones on the back won’t be a problem…

November 23, 2007

Auto transmission for bikes…

Writing about web page

I’ve often wondered if it would be possible to construct an auto transmission for a bike, and have given occasional thought to how it might work. Personally I don’t have a problem with gears on bikes, and in my recent change of bike even moved from a 21-speed setup to a 27-speed setup – 21 gears just isn’t enough! But I know for some people, at least in the beginning, getting your head around how the gears are supposed to be used can be a bit daunting. Off-putting even. An auto transmission might get people cycling who wouldn’t otherwise.

Now you can buy one. This doesn’t work quite the way I’d expected, having somewhat more electronics involved that I’d anticipated. But it is done quite cleverly. There’s a 3-speed hub gear at the back, which is controlled by a little embedded processor. This processor is powered from a battery that is charged by a hub dynamo on the front wheel, which also provides speed information to the processor, on which it bases its decision about when to change. There are two preset speeds, one for changing from 1st to 2nd and one from 2nd to 3rd, and obviously back down again. These can be changed by tweaking a couple of screws, which is a reasonably sensible UI for it.

Now changing gear just based on speed isn’t what I’d have done, but I guess it is reasonably easy to do. My gear changing is based on the amount of effort involved – 10mph uphill requires a lower gear than 10mph on the flat – and so I’d be looking at a sensor for chain tension as the trigger for when to change, or something equivalent (strain gauge in the bottom bracket, perhaps?).

Whether such a system could be devised that works for “serious” cycling rather than just pottering about I’m not at all sure. You can get 8-speed hub gears these days, but that’s still a long way from my 27-speed bike, and I do use most of those gears. I wonder if a system like this could be made to work with a derailleur system rather than with hub gears?

Of course, that’s not the target market for this system, so I’m not criticising it. And anyway, serious cyclists probably wouldn’t want the extra weight such a system would inevitably bring with it, so I guess there’s ultimately no market for it, but it can’t hurt to think about it, can it!!

October 18, 2007

Time to look for the winter gloves…

I cycle in long-fingered gloves all through the year. In the summer, obviously they are as lightweight as I can get – currently these. They were £20 when I bought them last year, so £15 seems a bargain. And they’ve lasted very well. No signs yet of wearing out anywhere.

They have a very porous back, though. That’s good in the summer, or my hands would overheat. This morning, though, not so good. It was really quite chilly out there. My winter gloves are these. They are waterproof and fairly warm, although I have liners for when it gets really cold. But I couldn’t find them this morning!

I was reduced to using some cheap Thinsulate fake ski gloves. They worked, although they’re a bit too bulky for my liking. At least I could still feel my fingers when I got here, though. A definite plus. I’m going to have to go on a hunt through the cupboards and drawers this evening.

It wasn’t actually that cold. I didn’t have to resort to anything windproof to keep my body warm. My usual long-sleeved jersey and a sweatshirt over the top did a good enough job. I was warm when I arrived, although not for the first mile or so.

But it takes a long time for that heat to work its way down to my fingers. On a longer ride I’d have eventually been fine in my summer gloves. Dressing for a ride at lunchtime could be interesting – I wonder how much it is going to warm up by then?

October 08, 2007

Another cycle computer

My first thought when I got my new bike was to just buy a new mounting kit for my existing cycle computer and swap it between bikes as necessary. It turns out, though, that the model I have doesn’t support settings for more than one bike. Each time I switched bikes I would have to manually change the settings to suit the different wheel sizes. That process is a bit of a pain and I’m bound to forget occasionally. So then I decided to get a second. But which one?

The one on my old bike has two sensors, one on the wheel to measure speed and one on the pedals to measure cadence – pedalling speed. I got it because I read that a higher cadence is better for your knees. That has proved to be true. When I first got the computer my average cadence was between 70 & 80 rpm. Over time I’ve got to the point where my average is about 100rpm, and I generally cruise comfortably at between 105 and 110rpm. And my knees are much happier as a result.

But, I’d developed a good feel for cadence after a couple of years. I knew within 5% or so what my cadence was without looking. So maybe I didn’t need a cadence sensor on the new bike. The new bike has a different feel, though, and I’ve ended up pedalling more slowly on it, and my knees have suffered a bit as a result. So, in the end the new computer had to have a cadence sensor. Hopefully this will get my cadence back up to my normal levels quite quickly and my knees will stop complaining at me…

The new one is exactly the same as the old one – a Topeak Comp 140. It is the cheapest one I can find that measures cadence.

Cycle computers vs. GPS receivers

A couple of years ago I got a cheapish GPS receiver (a Garmin Geko 201). I doesn’t do maps or anything, just records where you’ve been, allows you to retrace your steps, etc. plus shows you current speed, direction and keeps a trip counter (distance, time, and so on). Anyway, I strapped it to my bike to record some of my routes and plot them on a map, just for fun really.

One thing I noticed was that that numbers produced by the GPSR were slightly different from those produced by my cycle computer. The trip distance was generally about the same, the time was about the same, but the current speed was generally different. The Geko would consistently show a current speed higher than the cycle computer was showing. I didn’t worry about it to much – after all, two out of three isn’t bad! It turns out, though, that these differences meant that my cycle computer was mis-calibrated. Here’s why.

All a GPS receiver does, fundamentally, is tell you where you are at any point in time. All of the other stuff is simply calculations done locally in the GPSR based on those position readings. The GPS system doesn’t directly tell you your speed or direction or distance travelled. To figure out the distance travelled, the GPS receiver simply joins the calculated points with straight lines. That works well when you are travelling reasonably quickly along reasonably straight roads, but when the road is twisty, or you go around corners, this calculated path is shorted than your actual path. A GPS receiver’s calculated trip distance is therefore always going to be less than the actual distance.

On a long, straight road, though, where this corner cutting doesn’t happen, the GPSR’s calculated current speed is pretty accurate, and it should agree very closely with a properly calibrated cycle computer.

The result of all this is that my cycle computer has been mis-calibrated all along and has been under-reading my distance travelled. So, all of my recorded distances have been wrong, by about 2% I think. Not a huge error, but still.

I finally got a new cycle computer for my new bike and calibrated it properly. This morning, on the ride in, I compared it to my GPSR and the indicated current speed agreed pretty closely. I need to do a little more testing, but it does look like I’ve got it right this time. Of course, all of my previously recorded distances and speeds are wrong, and not directly comparable. I should go back and amend my spreadsheet so that I can continue to compare the performance of the two bikes.

September 19, 2007

New bike…

Thanks to the wonders of the University’s tie-up with Cyclescheme I now have a new bike. I’ve wanted something a bit nicer/faster/newer/shinier/better/etc. for a while, but was unsure what to go for. A “proper” road bike is what I had in mind, but was always worried about the gearing on them, because my poorly knees wouldn’t cope with the standard road cassettes fitted on these things. But what else? Touring bikes would have the gears I need, but just weren’t enough different from my current bike to justify the cost.

In the end I plumped for a Dawes Giro 500:

I went for that for several reasons. My current bike is a Dawes (Mojave) and I’ve been very impressed with it. It is well built and has been very reliable. Also, I like the bike shop I got it (both of them, actually) from – Jardine Cycles. They’ve given me good advice in the past, and more importantly, when I was discussing the various options with them they weren’t trying to sell me something way beyond my budget like a number of the other shops I tried. I trust them. And while I suspect I could have got something a bit better for my money, I wanted to reward their approach, and anyway I don’t really think I’d notice the differences that much. I’m not expecting to push this bike to its limits! They did also swap the rear cassette from the standard 12-25 to an 11-32 (for free) which makes my knees much happier. I don’t think I actually need the 32, but I do need the 30 next to it.

So, after riding it for a short while, how is it? It is a lot lighter than the old one, and at first I felt quite unstable on it. I’ve just about got over that now. It feels much easier to ride, especially when going uphill. It also feels significantly faster, although I’m not really seeing much improvement in my times over hour-long rides as yet. I have noticed, though, that I’m much less tired at the end of such rides, so I guess I just need to push harder…

The gears work really well. A 9-speed has much smaller jumps that my previous 7-speed (which was an 11-34), which keeps my cadence more uniform and so also helps my poor knees. And the drop handlebars provide several different hand positions making numb thumbs a thing of the past. I am having some, er, “saddle issues” at the moment, though. It always seems to take me a lot of fiddling to get a really comfortable saddle position. And until I do, I have to suffer the occasional bit of soreness…

There are a couple of other obvious drawbacks commuting on a road bike. While the frame does have mounting points for mudguards, there isn’t quite enough clearance to get them between wheel and brakes without risking rubbing. My solution to that is to fit Raceblades. These extend only from the brakes backwards so don’t need clearance between brakes and wheel but still provide most of the spray protection of full-sized mudguards. They also detach when you don’t need them.

The other problem is the lack of a rack. I’ve got very used to carting vast quantities of stuff around in panniers on the rack of my other bike, most of it unnecessary! I now use a small rucksack containing just the bare essentials. I don’t like cycling with a rucksack, but I can cope with it for my short commute. If my commute was longer I might rethink…

So far I’m very pleased. If I can get myself better using the bike, and so get my speed up a bit, I’ll be even happier.

May 08, 2007

Cleaning is bad for the wallet…

Last weekend I gave my bike a bit of a clean, including the wheels. My front wheel doesn't generally get very dirty, but the rear wheel is always completely filthy. That was especially true last weekend as I hadn't really cleaned the bike properly since the start of the winter, and the of the winter muck was still all over the rim. Anyway, I cleaned it all of and what did I find lurking under the dirt? This:

Rim split 1

and this:

Rim split 2

and this:

Rim split 3

and one or two other smaller splits. Oops. The spokes were actually holding their tension quite well, although there was the occasional creaking sound from the wheel. Not sure how much longer it would have held together.

Anyway, this meant that last week I had a really low mileage week (17 miles all week) and this weekend I replaced the wheel. At the same time I also replaced the freewheel and chain, as I said I would once winter was over, and now my gear changes are beautifully smooth again, although actually the old ones held up pretty well and weren't as annoyingly hesitant as the previous ones had got before I replaced them.

So now I've got a nice shiny new wheel, gears and chain. And I'll try and keep them that way. No, really. This time I will.

One other interesting piece of information from the weekend. I normally buy my bike bits from Wiggle. They are generally well priced and it saves me the hassle of getting to a shop. While they aren't always the cheapest of the online bike shops, I has assumed that they would always be cheaper than my local bike shop. Wrong. They didn't have any suitable wheels (all too posh and expensive for my humble bike) so I went to my LBS (local bike shop) for the wheel, but I was planning to buy the freewheel and chain from Wiggle. It turns out both were cheaper at the LBS. I guess I'll be going there a bit more often in future...

January 23, 2007

The Armadillos' reputation is intact…

Follow-up to Me and my big mouth… from Steve's blog

Yesterday evening I carefully checked the tube I had to replace in the morning. There was a very small hole, and it was in the side of the tube, well away from the area vulnerable to punctures through the tyre tread. I can only assume, therefore, that it was a tube weakness and not a puncture through the supposedly puncture-proof tyre. The new tube is holding up nicely, too.

So, apart from when they fell prey to a particularly sharp piece of flint (clever puncture fairy…) they have been puncture free. One genuine puncture and 2 failed tubes in 2.5 years and over 4.5k miles. Can’t complain at that!

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