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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Why bicycling isn’t all that much fun:

ADDED JAN 28th----I just had to modify this blog post about biking because I went to the Electric Bike Expo last week and it really opened my eyes about the ebike revolution like never before! I’ve always been aware that ebikes were a great concept and that someday they could really take off and be way more popular if only they were built better, and cost less. I just didn’t notice that it had happened suddenly this year! The technology advanced in a sudden jump and now ebikes are powerful, smooth, quiet, go really far, and don’t cost nearly as much! At the Expo there were over a hundred different models, starting at $1,000… and they let anyone ride any and all of them as long as you wanted! I rode as many as I could in the 7 hours that I was there, and I must tell you, there wasn’t one that I didn’t want to take home and ride every single day! From big cargo bikes to high performance mountain bikes, and everything in-between, the motor assist made the difference between “O.K., cool, that’s a nice bike.” to, “Wow, that is seriously fun,… can I ride it again?” They now put the motor in the bottom bracket where the crank arms are, so that it can take advantage of the gearing just as we humans do! So now the motor, and the battery, can be much smaller and lighter than before. They also have torque sensors and smart electronics that very smoothly give you extra power when you’re pedaling, and you don’t hardly notice,… you just feel like you’re really in shape, and kinda like you’re always going with the wind or down hill! You’re still biking and pedaling, and you’re still getting some exercise, you’re just going much faster and not sweating and breathing hard. It changes everything about biking. You can bike to work without arriving a sweaty mess. And then on your bike home, you may want to set the assist level to low or off, and get a work out if you like. But should a head wind come up, or you just feel tired that day, just turn the assist level way up, and cruise home fast without much pedal pushing at all! There are riders of ALL levels finding the joys of ebiking. From die hard cyclists that add an ebike to their collection for pure enjoyment, to virtually first time riders, who maybe rode as a kid but never thought they’d like biking again since they’re out of shape. Some are buying to ride with a spouse or friend that rides a regular bike, and now they can ride together. And some get racks and baskets or panniers and literally replace the car ride to the grocery store! It only costs a nickel to charge an ebike, and then it goes over 30 miles! It truly is an exploding revolution in transportation. Take a friend and go test ride one at your local bike shop, or look up when the Ebike Expo is coming to your town. It just may change everything about biking for you!------

For those of us that aren’t avid bikers, aren’t fit and active, frequent riders that actually enjoy the rigorous workout of a challenging fast ride, working up a sweat, and getting winded, - bicycling is just not on our radar. Either we’re older, outta shape, occasional weak knee,…whatever, we just don’t think about biking much. However, most of us still remember enjoying the freedom and exhilaration of it in our youth, and secretly plan to get around to trying it again,…sometime! ‘Problem is, it not only takes a bicycle, (though there’s plenty around, and even if we need to buy a new one, they’re pretty cheap, and it’s a fun purchase!) but it also takes a great weather day, a bit of gumption, and an event or destination with maybe a friend that may or may not be in the same state or level of interest in the idea. But let’s say all the stars align, we buy a shiny new ride, the event day arrives, the weather is perfect, your helmut fits well,… ‘you’re ’STYLIN’!  The ride seems a little longer than you thought it’d be, but it’s fine. You lock your bike, attend the event, eat the lunch or whatever, and then it’s time to ride home. Your friend(s) are either way ahead, or way behind (either one is annoying), there’s suddenly slight inclines that you don’t remember riding down on the way there, a headwind has picked up, and now you're breathing hard, pumping those legs, and traveling at a speed that’s only a little faster than walking! - ’Not that much fun!? You start wondering what the return policy might be on the bike.? -What happened? 

Well,... several things. You may have selected too long of a ‘first’ ride. You probably shouldn’t have eaten that big of a lunch. You may have bought the bike you wanted, instead of needed (a heavy cruiser instead of a lightweight commuter), and then there are quite a number of other things that need some understanding and planning to make bike riding truly fun, even for an older, outta shape ‘inner child’ that’s still in all of us. Here’s a quick list of the most common foibles that usually keep people from enjoying casual bike riding. For starters, don’t think of it as exercise. It is, but don’t call it that, or you’ll never get around to it. The goal is to make the rides as easy as possible so that you’ll enjoy each one and want to do more, getting a little exercise in the process. If you want to get a long, cardio workout, go to cycle class at the gym. But bicycling should, and can be a pleasant experience.

Step one: Get a good bike. $400 buys you a brand new, wonderfully high tech, lightweight bike today that is a joy to ride. It won’t look like that cruiser of your childhood, but it’ll outperform it a hundred ways. Do not buy a heavy bike thinking it will give you more exercise. 

Step two: Learn how the gearing works. Gearing is a huge thing that will totally reduce your need for pedaling by about half, by utilizing leverage. Being in the right gear is everything, and today’s bikes shift extremely smoothly. Basically, if your feet are going around too slow (~75rpm is ideal, a $25 bike computer with “cadence” feature will keep you in the know), down-shift to a lower gear, and if they’re going too fast, up-shift. This is very important, and not hard to learn! 

Step three: Adjust your seat high enough so that your legs extend almost all the way, but with a slight knee bend. It reduces leg cramps and increases leg power about two-fold! This is so important, and yet you’ll see hundreds of people riding with their seat too low. Do not worry about being unable to reach the ground when stopped. If you need to stop you can hop off the seat or put one foot on the curb, but you must not ride with the seat too low! 

Step four: Pump your tires tight! When you buy your bike, buy a pump. The ‘garage' kind that stand about two feet tall, not the ‘emergency’ kind that goes in your backpack (though you’ll need one of those and a patch kit as well) and use it every time you ride (bike tires loose pressure in just a few weeks). Those big pumps are easy to use, fast, and don’t even cost much (~$20) like they used to. Riding with low tire pressure increases your rolling resistance by A LOT, and can feel like your riding into a headwind all the time! 

Step five: Avoid headwinds! How do I predict the weather you ask? Well, if you’re going on a ride for fun, and not to a specific destination, ride toward the wind when you start, that way, when you’re more tired on the way home you’ll have a tail wind! (same idea for hills).

Use a backpack. Don’t ever have anything swinging from your handlebars. Put it in your backpack along with your bike lock and cable that is long enough to go thru both wheels, the frame, around the pole, and up to the seat frame (~7’ coated cable is best. - it won’t feel that heavy in your backpack). The front 'ball' of your foot should be centered over the pedal, not the center of your foot. You'll notice most people biking by, with their seat too low, tires half flat, feet too far forward on pedals, in too high of a gear, sweating, straining, and not having much fun. If you buy the right stuff, adjust it right, and shift gears a lot, you’ll completely enjoy riding and discover why they’ve found that bicycling is the number one most efficient form of transportation of all. It’s true,... it uses less energy per mile than trains, planes, busses, cars, motor scooters, rollerskating,…even walking!

Actually, they’ve recently revised that study result. They found a new type of transport that uses less energy than even the bicycle. It's the electric bicycle! When calculating the energy in the electricity, compared to the amount of energy required to grow the food and the calories used to propel the regular bike, the electric bicycle is more efficient, whether or not you help it along by some pedaling. Electric bikes are exploding on the scene globally and are destined to out number the automobile. They go 20 mph for 40 miles and charge back up in a couple hours. The new ones have their “mid-drive” motor in where you pedal so they use the gearing for more efficiency like you do. That way they can have a smaller and lighter motor and battery which weigh less, further improving the performance. They have smart computers and torque sensors that know how hard you’re pedaling and supply a corresponding motor-thrust so smoothly you hardly know you’re on an electric! It just feels like an incredibly lightweight bike and you feel like you’re Lance Armstrong! You can adjust how much assist it provides, for example, setting it on “level 1” for the first part of your ride, and then if you get tired, or encounter hills or headwinds, switch to level 3 or 4 and put a big grin on your face! They still get you out and active and exercising, and they still provide all the exhilarating, wind-in-your-hair fun of biking, but without the hard pedaling, breathing, and sweating! Try one out at a specialty bike shop. They’re a little pricey, but then there’s a lot of technology there. And if they’ll get us out biking a lot more often, which they certainly will, then maybe they’re worth the investment!

This is the best mid-drive ebike for the price (street-price at ~$2799) that I know of as of this post date of 9/13/15    or, now (as of 1/28/16), if you're interested in a city bike like I am, this one (street priced at $2,300)

The Electric Bike, Your Next Family Vehicle

Sunday, January 11, 2015

2015 Annual CES Sumary

2015 CES was extra fun for me, as I had five young guys accompany me, one of which was my son. This allowed me to periodically see the show ‘through their eyes’ noticing what interested them most, and the questions they asked, etc. They all work in technical fields such as computers and videography, which influenced the degree of their technical interests, but more than anything I noticed how different they were from me on a much more fundamental and societal level. Young people today are so extremely comfortable with the new, and quite complicated, ‘connected world’ and it’s impact on lifestyle, that it automatically allows them to see different aspects and ramifications of new products. Aspects that I, not only don’t think of, but don’t always fully understand, even after having it explained to me!  I don’t Tweet. Or Instagram. Or Snapchat. I’m not Linkedin. No Google Plus. I don’t ‘IM’ on ‘FB’. I rarely even text. I call. I don’t stream my movies, I watch them the old fashioned way, by getting a ‘disc’ in the ‘mailbox’, and reading it with a “Laser”. ‘Talk about feeling old! A week with these guys, seeing the latest consumer electronics, and occasionally relating my remembrances of ‘Days of CES Past’ made me feel like I was ready for the scrap heap myself! But it made for one of the most interesting of my 36 consecutive annual CES excursions.

So, what was cool (IMHO)? Well, there was a boatload of movement in automotive tech. And in aftermarket audio, there are new headunits that work seamlessly with your phone to bring all of its 4G connectivity, and all of its device-resident content to an easy to use 7” screen in your dash. This Parrot one looks like it will be the best, as it displays vehicle engine parameters, acts as a DVR for several cameras, and plays nice with both android and iphones, although I’m sure it will be pricey. />There were a few of the new, ‘mid drive’ electric bikes there that will revolutionize bicycling like this Felt one that uses the Bosch drive system. This ebike thing is really heating up. Having the motor in the bottom bracket/crank allows it to take advantage of the gearing. And the huge advancment in torque sensors and fast processors makes the motor respond so smoothly to your pedaling, you just feel like you're Lance Armstrong. />A lot of 3D printing, but no ‘killer app’ yet to explode the category. />There were hundreds of drones due to the killer app of aerial videography. This one is ready to fly, and shoot 1080p 60fps right out of the box for $1,300. />This tracker tracks your stuff for just $29! />For people with iphones or anyphone without an SD card slot, this is a little hard drive you can easily access or move files to and from your phone, up to 128GB! />Here’s a great version of a wall charger for all devices. />Smartphones have only been out for, what, five years now? And already there are price-competitive, full feature phones coming out from makers like Blu, Alcatel, and ZTE, at around $200 instead of the $600 we’ve grown accustomed to! />How ‘bout electronic pain relief? />This is the best bluetooth speaker I’ve ever seen. It's small, durable, waterproof, terrific sounding, and if you get a second one you can stack them and they automatically both play, or set them to each play left and right channels and have stereo!
4K TV’s were ALL that anyone showed at CES. That’s right,... HDTV’s are “out of style”! This is strange since there is virtually NO 4K CONTENT AVAILABLE! ? But, that doesn’t stop the TV makers from showing off their great work at creating gorgeous display panels that only look their best in stores playing special 4K footage out of computers. Panasonic did show a prototype 4K Blu-ray Player that may be available next year, and may have some movies available sometime, somewhere. Perhaps for sale, but no plans of anyone like Netflix renting them. Dish satelite tv service said it will have a 4K service soon, but again, no mention of what might be available to see on it. So, why get a 4K TV set, you ask? Well, if you’re in need of a new set, and if you have say, $1,000 more to spend than the $1,000 that you can buy a 70” HDTV for, then you should spring for the 4K one. Because: A; There might be stuff to watch in a year or two. B; The up converters in these sets do help our current 1080p content look a little better on them. And, C; The wonderful thing about a 4K TV is that you can view your photos (which, if you have a 5+ megapixel camera, are all higher resolution than 1080p) on it and they look way better! The best looking 4K sets so far are the O(organic)LED ones, like those from LG. However, there are no firm dates or even price ranges given as of yet. Curved TV’s were again shown all over the place, and, again, I will predict that these will go the way of 3d tv (which I accurately predicted would not be a big thing, back some 5 yrs. or so ago). The problem is that TV watching is usually done with more than one person, and with a curved screen, only one person can sit in the middle. Duh! Samsung and LG did show prototypes ($100,000+) of flexible/bendable/motorized tv’s though -- so if you’re ever watching alone you can curve it! As with my 2014 summary, I’ll say the best TV product is the Channel Master DVR that does not need a monthly subscription service. It is what we’ve all wanted for decades now, and can all benefit from, unlike a silly curved tv. 

However, desktop computer monitors are ideal for curved screens, and I think we’re all going to want one of these curved, extra-wide (21x9 aspect ratio) (same as 2.3:1 ‘anamorphic’ movies) giant monitors, (once they come down in price) because you can put 3 documents or ‘windows’ up at a time and really increase productivity. The curve is more than just cool-looking at that point, as it keeps you from having to re-focus your eyes as you scan the huge display space. Another thing you can do is watch 2.3:1 movies (if you don’t mind sitting at your desk) without seeing black bars top and bottom. (rant alert-) What I didn’t see, and even when I asked in every booth, doesn’t exist, is any 2.3:1 (‘21x9’) ultra wide screen TVs! I still don’t understand this. About half the movies made today are 2.3:1 and half are 16:9. AND, the better movies (more expensively made, anyway) are the 2.3:1 ultra wide screen ones! SO, when we watch the better movies on our 16:9 TVs, they are smaller (a third smaller!), and when we watch the mediocre movies (and tv shows), they are a third bigger--? Isn’t that sorta the opposite of logical? Anyway, I just thought somebody would make a 21x9 aspect ratio TV panel. For the people that care about that. Seems like there’d be a large enough market for at least a few of those. But no. (-okay, rant over.) 

Alright,... it’s time for… ‘The coolest thing I saw at CES this year’: I finally saw a smart watch that is worth buying (after 3 yrs and dozens of models). The LG G Watch R is the first smartwatch so far, that has enough stuff in it, isn’t too big, and looks good, IMHO. Unfortunately it’s still $300 because it just came out, but I’m sure it will be down towards $200 within the year, and then cheaper on the next version as they get popular and they build in quantity. To me, a smartwatch is not worth having if you can’t answer a simple text or quick email without having to pull out your phone. And this one does that by just talking into it. It also has a heart rate monitor built right in, and a lot of other smooth, well designed touches. I hope the iwatch will have voice input for responding to texts as well. This is where watches become truly usable, don’t you think? I think this watch will truly keep you from having to pull your phone out about 35% of the time. I’m ready to buy this one. Uh,... can I borrow $300?

see also: 2014 CES Summary