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iPhone ebike control

MIT has come up with an interesting take on e-bikes, the Copenhagen wheel. http://ping.fm/gPqzr

- It's a self-contained electric wheel that replaces your regular bike wheel
- ipod/iphone control of the motor
- no externally rechargeable battery (= lightweight)
- has regen braking, giving a bit of a boost upon taking off from a stop

- Has no externally rechargeable battery, so only helps a bit upon acceleration. Forget help on hills.
- probably expensive (though price unknown)
- will add weight to the bike

The iPhone/iPod control is neat. I had an idea of an iPod/iPhone control for any regular ebike about a year ago (via Bluetooth). Like a CycleAnalyst (http://ping.fm/KTXEx) on steroids. Just think about it... the iPod/iPhone have accelerometers in them. You could measure acceleration, power input vs output, efficiency, and a whole lot more. The iPhone also has a GPS. This would be the ultimate e-bike cycle computer. I'd like to implement this, but it will be a somewhat expensive project. Crowd funding, anyone? If you like this idea, drop me a line.

Now, back to the Copenhagen wheel... aside from the nifty iPod interface, I'm not clear on what the point is. MIT seems to have a great PR/Marketing machine for "inventions" like this, but would I use one? While I can't say for sure until I get my hands on one, the preliminaries don't sound like something of use to me.

I use my electric assist mainly for the hills, and to maintain a higher overall speed while commuting. I have no problem with acceleration after stops on my own leg power. So this wheel wouldn't seem to gain much of anything for the way I ride.

I'm curious what you think. See you in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook/etc.

iPod controlled ebike wheel... regen only .. what do you think? http://tinyurl.com/y9z8t3m

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12 Days of Christmas Starts Dec 9-Daily specials offered http://ping.fm/pB0Ko

Tuesday tweet. 50% off beautiful bicycle art batiks today only! http://www.cycle9.com/c9store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=30&zenid=5679af89014fd6baa8acd9108ae9bdf0 Code TWEETME

Tuesday tweet. 50% off beautiful bicycle art batiks today only! http://www.cycle9.com/c9store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=30&zenid=5679af89014fd6baa8acd9108ae9bdf0

It was a beautiful morning today out on the bike taking my daughter to catch the k-garten bus!

Biking Stimulates the Soul

Today I had to go into the doctor's office for a diagnostic visit. No food, no drink, and all that. The appointment was mid-morning, located on the other side of town from my home. The car was really, really tempting - it is a cold and cloudy day in Chapel Hill. Last night I stayed up way too late doing some research. And I've caught some kind of cold from my kids. Overall, this combination doesn't exactly lead to an optimistic outlook on life. I don't know about you, but with me, when I don't get enough sleep, everything seems more dramatic, and this morning I was feeling dramatic about things. The alarm rang, and I just lay there wishing I could go back to sleep. But, nope, the world called, and I had to drag my rear end out of bed, get showered, and get on my way.

All through getting ready, I debated about whether to take the car. The problem with taking the car is that I have no parking permit at work. One of those would cost me over $1,000 per year (seriously!). So I would have had to drive across town to the doctor and back, then park in a remote, expensive hourly parking lot far from my office.

I intentionally decided not to buy the parking permit, to force myself to ride the bike more. It is just too easy to get in the car some mornings if everything is so convenient. On mornings like today, I sometimes wonder about that decision.

But anyway, I decided the hassles of driving would have equaled the hassles of hopping on the bike when it was all added up, so I took the bike - my electric assist "Big Dummy" (who comes up with those names?).

The first 5 minutes or so on the bike I continued to be in a bit of a sour mood, and feeling a bit chilly. But then the blood started flowing. Pedaling was therapy. As I pedaled on I forgot about my woes, and started enjoying the sights and smells of the morning. It helped a lot to have my eZee electric assist this morning - that made all the difference, because I was able to fly across town in time to make my appointment. And I wasn't in the mood for major exertion today. I did pedal, I always do, because I like to. But just the light pedaling was enough to warm up my body and my mood.

I got to the doctors office, and am sitting here writing this in the waiting room. I'm in a far better mood now, and very glad I biked. I wouldn't have been so cheery if I'd driven. Driving almost never lifts my mood. It makes me wonder about the whole concept of convenience. Does comfort and convenience equal happiness? I think there's a fine line. Certainly some comfort and convenience is good. But for me personally, if I have too much comfort and convenience in my life, it just ends up leading to a sort of numbness. Maybe that's what Roger Waters was writing about in the song "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd. I thrive on challenges - at least small ones - and I think many people do.

This reminds me of a Cycle 9 customer named Rick. He's a really fun guy. He's a professor and doctor whose hobbies are sailing, flying and building airplanes, and now, electric bikes. Rick got interested in e-bikes back when Cycle 9 was operating out of a small rented warehouse space with dirt floors. We built him up a customized e-bike with a hub motor that can do some incredible speeds (I'm not going to mention them here, because I don't want to get Rick in trouble with the local authorities). He really needs those speeds for his situation. He lives in a place with no good bike route to work. Around his neighborhood the biking is good. And around his university the biking is reasonable. But there's a section in between where the only connector road is an almost 1-mile stretch of very busy highway, with a 45mph speed limit (meaning cars travel 55mph). Some bike advocates would say - well, just ride like a vehicle and occupy that lane. I'd say to them that one would be crazy to do that. Rick does it this way. At the one traffic light before this stretch of bad road, he waits for all the traffic to go through. Then he guns the throttle and flies down the road as fast as he can, to get past "the gauntlet" before the light cycles and lets the next group of cars through. It works, most of the time (I saw him alive and well last week!).

Rick clearly likes challenges. It might be the easier thing for him to drive everyday given the location of his home and work. But he chooses to bike. So do many other folks I know, an ever increasing number. I'm glad that I'm not the only one these days out there riding. And I'm glad for days like this that riding the bike puts me in a much better mood.

And by the way, the doctor's test was fine.


Interbike wrap-up

The last week of September I had the pleasure to attend the yearly industry show for bike people. It's held, in all places, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I'm not sure why an industry that sells products that can be used for sustainable living has its trade show in the most unsustainable city in the US. But then again, a lot of the bike industry is not actually about sustainability. Las Vegas is one of those cities that exemplifies America's extremes in so many ways. Founded at the site of a spring, on the dry dusty road from all parts East to California, it became a true Oasis in the desert and outpost for weary travelers looking for liquor, women, and an overall good time. It grew from there into a sprawling city, dependent on ever diminishing water supplies from the Colorado river and the underground water stores of the southern half of Nevada, in a location with so little rainfall that cactus hardly grow there. Of course, tourists can spend a pleasant vacation on the lavish Strip, enjoying shows, nightlife, shopping, etc., all without hardly even leaving the overly air conditioned confines of the massive and convoluted casinos and hotels. It is actually difficult to find your way outside at times (and for me it was refreshing to finally break out into the heat and light of the street). They never have any idea of how precarious the city is, perched on the edge of the environment like that.

The first couple days of the show are the "outdoor demo". They bus you out to Bootleg Canyon, which is a mountain biking destination, where the bike vendors bring bikes for you to try out. I tried some mountain bikes from one of our suppliers, Marin Bikes. We carry primarily their city line, but they're well known for mountain bikes.
I checked out a bike and rode it around the trail with about a hundred other bikers. The trail had some challenging whoop-de-whoops that I've gotten too wimpy to ride. (I find that as I get older and have more responsibilities, my level of comfort with physical risk has gone down somewhat. ) But the ride was fun and it was good to try out a few different bikes that I probably would never own (full carbon mountain bike anyone?), and try samples of energy bites, bars, and drinks. The energy bites are good, but I wonder about classifying them as food? One particular free drink sample was neon orange colored and had a list of ingredients about 40 long, including amino acids, vitamins, various protein supplements, energy boosters, and not sure what else. Talk about highly engineered! It tasted ok, but I couldn't bring myself to drink too much of it - call me old fashioned, but I like to be able to identify what I put in my body.

In addition to the mountain bikes, I also rode some new Xtracycle Radishes (completely loaded down with watermelons for the true cargo biking experience), a smattering of electric-assist bikes from iZip and some newer companies, touring bikes by Masi (one of our new lines), some commuting bikes by Civia, an electric-assisted Day 6 bicycle, and (my favorite) a prototype Auto-shift from Nuvinci. Nuvinci makes an internal rear shifting hub that uses roller balls and spline plates instead of gears, giving you a continuous range of shifting. This is the hub Morgan used on the Firefly big dummy. Their new auto-shift prototype uses a pedal sensor that detects how much torque you are applying and changes the "gears" for you (using an electronic interface) to try to keep your pedal cadence the same - just like automatic transmission in a car! It worked better than I expected and you never had to think about shifting, which was great. I'm not an early adopter of new things, tending to be somewhat skeptical, but I was pleasantly surprised by this bike and liked it much more than I thought I would. Currently, the product is available on a limited basis, as it's still a beta product, but I think there is some potential there for the future.

I also was quite impressed with the Civia Hyland commuter bike. This bike is designed with commuters in mind, with full coverage fenders, comfortable riding, internal gearing, hidden cable routing, rack, etc. The bike rode really well and I was quite impressed with it's nimbleness and how easy it was to climb up the hills. It's price tag is quite high, but for serious commuters, I think worth it. The line is also coming out with some scaled back versions this spring, which we may decide to pick up.

After the dusty outdoor demo, the show moves inside to the conference center. My hotel was about a mile from the conference center, but I brought a Downtube folding bike to get around. Most of the streets in Las Vegas are wide boulevards and many of them have a reasonably wide outside lane and even a bike lane, which makes getting around by bike quite reasonable if you are comfortable with traffic. The first day of the outdoor demo, the show-related bike lock up was not open, so I wandered around the outside of the building until I found employee entrance, with about 15 bike racks set up to the side of the parking garage. The racks were jam packed with assorted bikes, but mostly BMX bikes and Huffys. Apparently, biking is quite a popular mode of transportation among the working class of Las Vegas. I saw a number of people riding around wearing the white and black uniforms of food service workers.

The indoor show is just aisles and aisles of vendor booths, large and small, some fancy and some simple. There are a lot of booths that I could bypass, catering to high end road and mountain bikes, components, etc - recreation and racing oriented bikes. But there is a growing number of vendors looking for the commuter, utilitarian, electric, and city bikes. All of the major bike vendors have their city bike lines, and this year we are seeing a lot more classic and european styling in these designs.

Our own Marin bikes have introduced a very nicely styled and inexpensive city bike in their Bridgeway line. Starting at under $500, these bikes are your basic commuters, now with good looks!

There is also growing interest in actual European designed bikes, and I saw some interesting offerings in that area. We are considering picking up some dutch bikes by Batavus. This is one of the oldest bike companies in the world and has been offering solid, low maintenance, stylish bikes that c
an be ridden in dresses and suits or jeans and t-shirts all without worry. No fancy biking clothes or equipment needed. Just get on and ride, and do it in style. They are introducing some very inexpensive BUB bikes that can be stylized to your own taste, but still have the solid and stylish design of a dutch made bike. These looked pretty interesting, with 2 frame types.

I also saw some very classic bikes offered by Pashley of England. The Sonnet Bliss was on display at the booth and simply looked fabulous with clean lines, white with red accents. These bikes are still hand made in England and sell for just over $1,000 - hard to believe.

Outside of the european world, the fixed gear bikes continue to gain ground. Our new line of bikes by Masi, has a number of fixed gear options and styling from low key to flashy. Look for these in the store soon.

One of the fun things I did while at the show was attend the Urban Bike Fashion Show, sponsored by Momentum Magazine and Giant bikes. Momentum Magazine is a pretty cool new publication out of Vancouver, BC, that is dedicated to people who use their bikes - definately worth checking out. The fashion show had a circular runway laid out, and the riders would ride around, stopping the bikes 3 times to get off and showcase their outfits and the bikes. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was pretty fun and there were lots of interesting bikes (and they served free beer, so how can you go wrong!). I'm sure there were interesting clothes as well, but I didn't look at those as closely! The Nutcase helmets we carry were prominently showcased in the show, given their unique and interesting designs. The bikes ranged from classic to modern and even included a Madsen bike and an electric-assist bike. It was nice to see biking at a level beyond just the performance/recreation market and also beyond just the utilitarian market. Biking as a real lifestyle choice.

The fashion show was about the last thing I did before heading back to North Carolina. It was a fun time and I saw some interesting bikes and things. Look for some of these things to be showing up in the shop soon.

Helmet laws are not the answer

It is campaign season again, and there are a number of candidates running for the Board of Aldermen in our sleepy little town of Carrboro, NC (right next to Chapel Hill, NC).

Just a few days ago, Sierra Club held a candidates forum. One question they asked the candidates was how they might improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians. While we found all of the responses to be lacking (perhaps in part due to the reporting in the newspaper), one particularly stood out. Randee Haven-O'Donnel is claimed to have said we should pass an adult helmet law, mandating that we all wear helmets.

NO WE SHOULD NOT PASS A MANDATORY HELMET LAW! I rarely if ever yell in this blog, but this one warrants a big yell.

Many places have tried mandatory helmet laws, and it has been a miserable failure wherever and whenever tried. Australia is the biggest case in point. Seven years after the mandatory helmet law was passed, the cycling population dropped by 22%. At the same time, the total number of bicycle injuries increased.

Some may be scratching their heads. How could that be? Why didn't this law instantly make people safer?

Because one-size-fits all laws like this usually have unintended consequences. One consequence is discouraging people from riding at all. And study after study has shown that cyclists have safety in numbers. The numbers go down because of helmet laws, and safety goes down. There may also be a factor of risk compensation - people riding faster and more aggressively when wearing a helmet. But the reasons really do not matter. Because the facts are the facts - and those facts aren't unique to Australia.

The same experiment was born out in New Zealand, which also passed a mandatory helmet law, and also saw a reduction in cycling by 51%, and saw only a 51% drop in fatal accidents. In other words, less people are biking, and less accidents are occurring, by the same amount. The helmet law is making people no safer, while it is preventing many people from biking.

We're not anti-helmet, we're anti-helmet law. In fact, all the owners and employees of Cycle 9 regularly wear their helmets. We help many of our customers get fitted out with a helmet.

But helmet laws just don't work. And worse, they promote a nanny-state mentality that every risk we might take must be proscribed by legal decree. We believe bikes are about freedom, not laws. Maybe that's why less people cycle when helmet laws are passed - the association of riding a bike with a sense of freedom becomes diminished.

Biking should be a free activity. An adult should be able to choose how she regards his or her own risks and rewards from either wearing or not wearing a helmet. This would be true even if helmet laws did work. But it is especially true since mandatory helmet laws don't work.

I hope that Ms Haven-O'Donnel and the other Aldermen/women don't go down that route. It may benefit certain helmet manufacturers, but it won't benefit anyone else.

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