What Is It Wednesday – Chain Wear

No, not referring to some haute couture line made up of bicycle parts, which could actually be a hot new trend so don’t steal it in case I want to go into the fashion world one of these days. No, chain wear refers to the overall health of your chain and what many, including up til more recently – ME – refer to as chain stretch.

We’ll look a little bit about the different parts of a  chain so that we  can understand how chains can wear over time. We’ll also see how to measure our chains to see whether it’s time to replace or if we still have a few more miles left. Alright, let’s go!


Story Time

So the VERY first WIIW I did was on bike anatomy. Researching that has helped me out on more than one occasion when troubleshooting a problem that I might have otherwise just brought my bike in to a shop. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely LOVE supporting my local bike shops, but if it’s simple and I can handle it, then I want to do it myself. So last night as I was riding, my chain popped off and got wedged in between the chain ring and the frame – and it was in there GOOD. When I say GOOD, I mean I had to take a flat head screwdriver and a hammer to tap it out link by link GOOD.

Let’s back up just a little bit – the last time I cleaned, degreased, and lubed my bike I took note that it’s been a long time since I’ve had my bike, and I wondered if the chain was still in good shape. I meant to check it out at that point but it got dark, I got tired, and I forgot. More recently I’ve had my chain pop two or three times, this last one being the worst. Once I got the chain off with aforementioned hammer and screwdriver combo I looked up how to measure my chain. Being the experiential based blogger that I am, I thought there’s gotta be a blog in here somewhere. And voila, there is!


Chain 101

The bike anatomy post I did for the first WIIW is more of a gross anatomy breakdown, now this is zooming in on one very specific part. So, let’s take a look at a couple photos. The first one from Tsubaki shows a couple varieties of chain parts. I thought this would be helpful to see, just in case your chain doesn’t look like mine, no worries. The second photo is what we’re going to be going by for this post.

So the basic parts you should know about: inner plate, outer plate, roller, pin, and bush. The outer and inner plates are pretty much self explanatory – get in real close to your bike chain and you’ll see that the links are held together by an inner plate and then a pair of outer plates sandwich the ends of two links together to form a chain. The teeth of your chain rings slip in the spot formed by the gap between each roller. The roller takes the impact of the chain rings and rolls on and off the teeth as it circumnavigates the chain ring. In fact, the more wear on a chain, the higher the rollers will ride on the teeth, which contributes to the teeth wear. The bush is inside the roller, it absorbs shock and is a load bearing part that the pin fits inside of. The pin, or rivet, holds the whole system together. it passes through the outer and inner plates into the bush which is inside the roller and back out the other inner and outer plates. So needless to say it’s a vital component. The space between pins is referred to as the pitch and should be 0.5″, whereas the distance between each link is 1″.


Chain Wear Not Stretch

So you’ll often hear that a chain stretches over time and on one hand this is true, the length between links can expand, but it’s not like the chain is actually stretching. What happens is that over time the parts of your chain that were so tight fitted become looser and the bush starts to sit to one side instead of in the dead center of the roller and therefore you get a greater distance between pins and links. RJ the Bike Guy has a great video up about this, and in fact his video was one of the ones I used to educate myself on how to measure a chain.

rj
Credit: RJ the Bike Guy

Measuring Your Chain

If you have a chain checker, great! All you have to do is insert one end and drop it in to see if the other end doesn’t just easily slide in. Some chain checkers are double sided for anywhere between 0.5 – 1.0% wear. But fear not, if you don’t have a chain checker as I assume most of us may not, you can simply use a ruler like I did.

chaincheck
Credit: Bike Radar

Go grab your ruler and we’ll work through this step by step. But before we begin, you should know the distance between each link should be 1 in. (2.54 cm.), meaning 6 links should equal 6″, 12 links should be 12″ and so on. Additionally the longer the ruler, the easier it is to see how worn your chain may be as the acceptable loss before you need to replace your chain is roughly 1/16″ over the course of a 12″ length of chain. I am using a shorter ruler because A) it’s what I had available and B) my bike is so compact that getting a 12″ length of straight chain would be incredibly difficult. Since I am using a 6″ ruler, my acceptable difference will be just 1/32″ – basically I need to be SPOT ON.

  1. Locate a good spot on your chain to measure, you want a good run of straight chain. Either the length from the cassette to the chain ring or the chain ring to the rear derailleur will do.
  2. Find your starting point – I prefer to use the left pin that goes through an outer plate. Line up your ruler to the very center of this pin. Make sure you’re lining up with the 0 point on your ruler, not necessarily the ruler edge which might extend past 0.
  3. Align the ruler so that it is parallel with the chain length and running through the middle of each link.
  4. If your chain is new or has little wear, the 12″ tick (or 6″ tick in my case) will line up with the dead center of the pin. If you used the left pin on an outer plate like I did, then you should also end in the same spot at the end of your ruler.
  5. Determine if you need a new chain.

It is a little difficult to see in my photos simply because trying to take an in-focus photo and hold the ruler up to the chain at the same time was a challenge. Off-camera I can say that my chain was certainly about 1/16″ past the 6″ mark, which is equivalent to being 1/8″ past the 12″ mark.

What does all that mean? Well let’s just talk about a 12″ section of chain, since most of you will measure that way. If the center of the pin extends beyond 12″ and is still within 1/16″, then you’re fine, your chain doesn’t need to be replaced yet. If it’s in between 1/16″ and 1/8″ you should replace it so that it doesn’t start to damage the teeth on the chain rings and cassette. Anything longer than 1/8″ REALLY needs to be replaced and likely so do the cassette and chain rings.

Right now, scaling down for my 6″ measurement, I need to replace my chain right away. In theory I should also replace my cassette and chain rings but looking at them, they still look fair, not great, but fair. So I will likely replace the chain this week and then the cassette and chain rings in the near future.


Well I hope that was as informative to you as it was for me. I suspected my chain needed to be replaced but this confirmed it, and it’s a simple way to check. It’s one of those things that now that I am riding my bike regularly I will have to keep an eye on it more diligently.

I hope you’re liking these WIIWs and I have plenty of other ideas in mind for future posts. I had planned an adaptive biking post but I will be holding off on that because I will be sitting down with a adaptive sports organization after our big move and would love to work that into the post. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, drop me a line, I’d love to read them!

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What Is It Wednesday – Indoor Trainers

I thought this WIIW topic was fitting for the start to a new year/winter time since I have been logging almost 100% of my miles on it lately. We’ll cover what the different types of indoor trainers, their upsides and their downsides (sorry it’s not all unicorns and lollipops), and I’ll talk a little bit about my current routine on the trainer.

But first let’s clear up the myth that cycling indoors is boring. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t, but sometimes it is. What you say?! Hey, I’m just being honest. The fact is it doesn’t HAVE to be boring, but it still can be, but there are ways to get around that. Keep reading and I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing lately to stay engaged while riding nowhere.

Alright, now for the main attraction! There are 4 basic categories of indoor trainers out there for you to choose from. You’ve got wind, fluid, and magnetic resistance types and then you have their crazy cousin rollers. Their price points range widely, and I will say in my experience you get what you pay for within each type so if you plan on using it a while, invest (unless you can get a sweat deal on Craigslist). There are others that are drivetrain based, but we’ll be discussing the wheel-on options here since that is the most common for at-home cyclists.


Wind

Here’s what you do, you get a big fan and stick it in front of you while you ride around the

windstat
Credit: PCStatic

room in a tight circle. Oh, that’s not how that works – my bad! Wind based trainers have been around a while and currently are the leading cheapest models out there, so that’s happy news for the wallet. Some of you may have even seen old-school stationary bikes with a fan attached at either the front or back “wheels”, my mom actually had one of these growing up and it was a great way to cool down someone else in the room. It looked something like this one here, and often had those movable arms like an elliptical.

 

Wind resistance trainers drew inspiration from these stationary bikes but have definitely innovated on the style and function. They work by connecting your bike to a fan, the faster you spin those cranks, the more resistance you experience. Gone is the wheel sized fan, these trainers

windtrainer-96135
Credit:CycleOps

utilize a much more compact version  One of the most popular and highly rated is the one offered by CycleOps coming in around $169 currently. Your rear wheel is held to the unit by the top bracers clamping onto your rear skewer (you may need to get a compatible skewer depending on your bike). The rear wheel rests on the barrel in the back which adjusts to accommodate several wheel sizes. The fan spins as you pedal and the rest is pretty much history.

Wind trainers are a great option for anyone on a budget since most can be picked up for what this CycleOps model runs or less. If you’re not sure how you’re going to feel with an indoor trainer, then wind trainers might be a good introductory option for you. Also, if this is just looking for a rainy day trainer, and you do’t often get many of those, I would say save the money and use a wind trainer. One word of caution, they tend to be the noisiest of the trainers, so set it up somewhere out of ear shot of everyone else in the house or put some music on to drown it out.


Fluid

The set up on the wind, fluid, and magnetic are all relatively the same – pop your skewer into a clamping holder and the rear wheel sits on a barrel that spins as you pedal. The major differences come in HOW the resistance is applied. You just read about wind resistance, another equally popular and higher price point version is fluid resistance. You could just take your bike to the pool and try and ride around underwater but the whole needing to breathe thing limits this possibility PLUS Mythbusters already did this.

how-does-a-fluid-bike-trainer-work
Credit: Bike Trainer Guide

So there is a little misnomer about fluid trainers, they’re also magnetic (most of the time). There is a magnetic flywheel WITH thick oil in the chambers. Bike Trainer Guide posted a wonderful graphic on this (above). This fluid adds to the resistance and is supposed to have the most road-like feel of all the trainers. It’s on the pricier end, I was lucky and got my CycleOps Fluid2 model at half price during an open box sale, but it typically runs the $350-$400 ranger. I’ve heard great things about the Kinetic Road Machine line as well, similar price point.

One thing to be mindful of is the fact that with heavy use, the oil could potentially heat up and burn out or cause a leak. I have yet to experience that or know anyone who has. The biggest, most common issue is just the wear on the tires, as comes with any trainer that your wheel sits on. You can buy a tire specifically meant for trainers which stands up to the heat produced and the wear and tear, but opinions are mixed on whether you need this. Aside from that, it is MUCH quieter than wind resistance models. The noise I hear from mine comes from the tire on the barrel, which could be alleviated if I weren’t using a MTB tire on it – but hey, you gotta use what you got.


Magnetic

OK, last of the squeeze your back wheel onto a clamp and let it roll on a barrel type of

conquer
Credit: Conquer

trainers is magnetic. Magnetic or “mag” trainers, like fluid, offer varying resistance levels and are quieter than their wind counterparts. The resistance is provided by a magnetic flywheel, and some newer models offer an electromagnetic version that allows the user to change resistance with a remote for example.

Conquer offers up a model that I have seen some nice reviews on for around $75. Definitely a great price, but with how often I’ve seen these crap out, I’m not sure it’s worth the pain to have to replace as often. Also, the resistance it offers is a smaller range as compared to the fluid trainers. But if budget is your main concern, go for it but be prepared to have to repair or replace. And if budget is the only concern, I’d say make the step up in price to a wind resistance model, it’s more upfront but more durable overall.


Rollers

That leaves us with the most expensive and more challenging model of indoor trainer. BTW – being challenging doesn’t have to be negative, I like a good challenge. What rollers offer up is the fact that both your wheels are spinning as if you were on a road. Basically your bike sits atop 3 rollers freely and you pedal to your hearts content. Resistance is provided by the diameter of the rollers themselves (smaller = higher resistance) or by adding on wind, fluid, or magnetic components (thought we finished with them huh?).

tacxroller
Credit: Tacx

The challenge with this method is balance and staying on the rollers, it’s easy to roll off until you get the hang of it. Sorry for the horrible pun. Big bonus on these models is they are quiet and compact! The other models we covered can fold up to take up less real estate but rollers can slide under a bed, or hang on a wall in the garage. One big consideration is cost. For as simple as they look, they range in price depending on materials used and any additional components, so you can get away with a basic model for $150 or go all out and get one for $600. Tacx Antares will set you back around $250.


What about me?

Well hopefully now you have a better idea of what indoor trainers are and which one might work the best for you. Currently I use CycleOps Fluid2 and have been using it for 3 years without issue. Since winter hit, I have been logging most all of my miles inside since the cold air hurts my respiratory system, one of the only remnants of my childhood asthma. We don’t get much if any snow here, so I do try to head outside when it’s not so cold out. But how do I keep it fun and not mind numbingly dull? Well right now I have the trainer set up in my living room, and pull it out in front of the TV and pull up YouTube videos, right now I am wrapping up Season 10 of Good Mythical Morning. I try watching stuff that will make me laugh, which GMM always delivers on, because then I can focus on having fun while my body is doing work. I also break up the monotony by including a warm up, cool down, and intervals of either sprints, heavy resistance to simulate climbs, single leg work, glute focus, and standing.

I’m actually thankful for the indoor training because I haven’t been able to do a standing pedal since I was a kid and I was able to figure out the mechanics again with the trainer’s stability assist. I’m also doubly thankful that it provides me a means not to slack off, without it I would not be able to stay consistent with my goals during a portion of the year. And since I’m moving back a part of the country with ACTUAL winters, my trainer will be more useful than ever before.

There are definitely a lot of trainers out there, including some that are meant more for commercial spaces and can run up a bill of over $1000 or more. You don’t have to spend a lot, just figure out what works best for your space and how much usage you will get out of it. And if you need more of a competitive spirit to get you going indoors, consider signing up for services like Zwift or Trainer Road. I’ll be signing up for Zwift in the next couple months and will give a review after I spend some time with the platform, so be on the lookout for that in the Spring.

 

What Is It Wednesday: Bikes That Question What a Bike Is Really

I bet plenty of you are rushing to get ready for the holidays, even if you don’t celebrate the end of the year tends to be a time of reflection on how far you’ve come this year and where you’d like to go in the year to come. Bikes have been around for centuries, with some argument over which was the first and over the fact the first wheeled human-powered device didn’t look like the bicycles we know and love today. Isn’t it interesting that the predecessors of our two wheeled wonders were so similar and so dissimilar at the same time? Fast forward a century or two, or six to some interesting design modifications to the standard bike. Now I’m not talking about the differences we see from the various styles of bikes, or even frankenbikes, I mean commercially available bikes that get a double take when they pass by. You know the ones – the prone, the treadmill, the elliptical bikes. So let’s take a look at a few.


 Prone Bikes

birdofprey
Credit: Bird of Prey Bikes

If you’re not familiar with anatomical terms for body positions, prone is when you lay face down on your abdomen. The cyclists lies on a padded platform that supports their core and pushes behind them to propel the bike forward. Instead of the bottom bracket being, well at the bottom in the center of the bike, it’s extended back behind the rear wheel. The rider’s position makes this an extremely aerodynamic bike, and by moving the crankset to the rear the rider is able to engage their lower extremity muscles more efficiently because they are in what we physical therapy folks like to call a gravity eliminated position, which basically means their legs aren’t fighting gravity every time the begin a new pedal stroke. You can see the Bird of Prey in action with it’s creator to get a better sense of how this bike just seems to glide on the road.  The Bird of Prey isn’t the only one to do this, the H-Zontal and others have explored using the prone position for cycling, likening it to flying like superman.


Elliptical Bike

elliptigo
Credit: ElliptiGo

So if you’ve ever spent hours on an elliptical at the gym, you know how boring it can be, effective but boring. A few companies have challenged the concept that ellipticals need only be an indoor experience. Whether it’s a two wheeled bike-elliptical hybrid like ElliptiGo’s model or a trike-elliptical hybrid like the StreetStrider, I’ve got to admit they do look like fun and definitely eliminate some of the typical soreness and tight muscles associated with traditional riding positions. I saw one of these on a marketing video about a year ago, and not more than a month later did I see someone riding (running?) theirs on the street on my way to get groceries. I wanted to stop and asked them what they thought about it, but sadly not dying in a horrible car accident caused by braking suddenly and running out of my car was not in the cards for me that day – phew. I’ve been on the lookout for that guy ever since. From what I saw in person he was going at a pretty good clip without looking like he was overexerting himself to do so until he got to the hills that dot my neighborhood. I’ll be honest, I love this idea as a cross training device and wouldn’t mind giving one a whirl, but I don’t see making this my standard-get-around-town bike by any means.


Treadmill Bike

lopifit
Credit: Inside EVs

Now some may classify this one more scooted than bicycle, and I won’t necessarily argue with you there, it is very scooter-like. I’m including it here because unlike a traditional scooter which requires the rider to push with the feet akin to a skateboard, the Lopifit is an electric treadmill/scooter/bike hybrid. Now I plan on covering e-bikes in a future WIIW so I won’t go into too much detail here, but this is indeed an electric based design. The Lopifit glides you along the road using different gear levels while you walk at a normal pace on a small treadmill belt at speeds of 4 to 17 mph. Not too shabby. I could totally see this being a part of a bike rental program in tourist heavy cities if only it weren’t for the hefty price tag per unit. Also, at over 100 pounds per bike, it’s a chunky monkey should you actually need to lift it for any reason. Interesting concept none the less, and I can see this being a nice gateway device to get someone into biking who’s fearful of being on a traditional bike or lacks coordination.


Bicycles got their start not necessarily looking like the ones we lust after today/ These bike hybrids are taking the chance to break the mold of what we consider a bike. I foresee that happening going forward for quite some time ahead as we play around with the notion – what really IS a bike?

What Is It Wednesday: Gyros

I’m not referring to the kind you put tzatziki on for lunch, although now that I think of it –  I’m hungry. I digress… So one of my goals for the blog is to make From The Top of the Top a fully inclusive space for all kinds of riders so I am not limiting this site to just road or mountain biking. One of the What Is It Wednesdays that I am super excited about coming up is  going to be about adaptive cycling, which as a Physical Therapist Assistant I can honestly say I am stoked about writing that one. Sometime soon I will also write a bit about Cyclo Cross, so basically anything on 2 wheels will be fair game here. This week I wanted to introduce a little drop of knowledge from the world of BMX and talk about gyros, or detanglers as they’re also known.

tailwhip
Credit: bikeshed.projects

So why did I want to write about a piece of equipment that is really only seen in BMX which I only have experience as an observer? Well, have you seen how they work? It’s freaking cool and borders on black magic.

So the way this came about all started on YouTube, as many horrible wonderful things do.  I was watching some pretty ridiculous bike tricks and saw a few people doing some crazy things with their BMX bikes. Sure, I’ve seen people spin their handlebars or do tail whips before, and didn’t think much of it because they didn’t have brakes, so it would be easy to make the handlebars and stem spin around the headset and head tube. But I was watching a few people do it with front and rear brakes and for the life of me couldn’t figure out how the cables didn’t get jacked up. That single thought led to a night of looking up how BMX brakes work and it felt like a good topic to cover here, because hey – maybe you didn’t know either!


So I would say 90% of how the brakes work is the same as on any caliper or disc brake system – a lever when squeezed  puts tension on a cable that causes the brake to activate.

detangler1
Credit: Park Tool

Nothing new there. Where we start to differentiate is the fact that BMX bikes need a full 360 degrees of freedom  between the front and rear. If you were to try and turn the handlebars on a non-BMX bike, you’d eventually be stopped by the cabling. So how do BMX bikes do it? This is where the detangler comes into play.

 

So let’s start at the front. The brake lever attaches to the brake cables which run down to the upper cable stop on the top plate.

Now from the rear. The cable that runs to the brake will be threaded through the lower cable stop on the bottom plate.

detangler2
Credit: Park Tool

Both the cables from the brake lever and the ones running to the brakes themselves will then connect to the detangler. When the lever is pulled the unit pulls up as one piece. When inactive the top half and the detangler are free to rotate while the lower half remains stationary. Josh Bentley from Vital BMX has a short but sweet video explaining detangler magic.

So that’s detanglers in a very basic nutshell. Hopefully I have demystified them for you, and if I missed something let me know! One of my goals for 2017 is to give BMX a try and see how I like it. I have no expectations of doing flips but maybe some ground tricks wouldn’t suck so bad if I don’t land them?

What Is It Wednesdays Sensor Edition

Speed, cadence, power, heart rate – these are just a few things you can track while riding. It seems more and more we’re a data driven society. Data is no longer facts and figures relegated to analysts stuck in basement offices crunching numbers. Anymore we can just look at our phone or even our wrists to see just how many steps we’ve taken, calories burned, distance traversed and much more. Bike computers aren’t exactly new, but now more than ever they are more easily accessible to the masses. With that in mind, I’m sure plenty of you have asked exactly what are those number crunching devices and what are they doing – and hey, do I need one? So allow me to take you on a brief tour of the main sensors you will come across and hopefully answer some of those questions for you.


Speed

bontragerinterchange
Credit: Trek/Bontrager

Whether you measure in kilometers or miles per hour, a speed sensor is going to give you information about how fast you’re going (or not going in the case of that monster hill you dread, just me?). It’s taking your distance divided by the elapsed time that has passed. There’s a few ways you can measure your speed including dedicated sensors or computers,and apps like Strava, MapMyRide, and Wahoo.

If you opt for a sensor setup then what you will typically see is a magnet that attaches to a spoke on your rear wheel and a receiver mounted on the chainstay. Models can either be wireless or wired and may work with either a display mounted to your handlebars, or synced to an app on your phone. Personally I use the Bontrager Interchange (pictured above) which measures my speed and cadence, paired with my phone (via Bluetooth/Ant+) which I keep mounted to my stem while running Strava. This setup works for my rides at the moment, but one day I plan on upgraded to a full on bike computer, more on that and Ant+/Bluetooth later.

If you plan on utilizing your phone’s GPS to display that info instead of a dedicated system, no worries, it will give you a great estimate. One word of advice just from my own experiences, the GPS available in most phones will just draw a straight line between two points as it pings the satellite with your location meaning it can over or undershoot your distance. In areas with spotty GPS this can provide unreliable stats. For example, I was once going 3,200 mph on my bike, now I know I like to think of myself as Wonder Woman but I had left my invisible jet home that day. I’ve also missed out on many miles that were cutout because of the finicky GPS in my phone.


Cadence

cateyestrada430
Credit: Cateye

Often you will find speed and cadence paired together on sensors, not always but typically if the unit cost $25 or more it’s going to have both. Cadence is the number of times you pedal within a given amount of time, with the standard being rotations per minute or RPM. If you wish to measure cadence then you will have to have a dedicated sensor as your phone will not be able to measure this on its own. Same setup as a speed sensor – a magnet on a rear wheel spoke that connects to a receiver every time it passes during the wheel’s rotation. The Bontrager model that I showed in the section above also tracks cadence, but I thought I would also show a model that is built into a dedicated bike computer such as Cateye’s Strada 430. You can see the cadence displayed at the bottom right.

Don’t be mistaken with cadence, the higher the RPM doesn’t always equate to faster speeds ESPECIALLY when multiple gears are involved. When going up a hill I will shift to a lower gear in order to pick up my cadence and maintain a fairly level rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In English that means that while I am going up a hill, something that is more difficult that riding on a flat surface, I will drop my gear so that I can pedal faster but with significantly less resistance so that my legs don’t feel like murder jello later, saving energy so I can ride longer.


Power

garminpedalpower
Credit: Garmin

This one I had to do a little of research on because while I have heard of them and seen a few, I don’t have any personal experience using one. Power meters measure how much effort you put into moving you and your bicycle over a distance in a measurable amount of time. Power meters will display in watts which translates to the amount of energy it took to do what I just broke down. Power meters come in a few styles and can be found on the crank, pedal, hub, and less common as a footpod you can put in your shoe. The one pictured here is a pedal based unit from Garmin Vector. As you can imagine, the calculations that go into interpreting this data are much more complex than cadence and speed.

Power meters allow you to see just how hard you’re working because speed and cadence don’t always give the full picture (hello fast down hills!). A great combo to analyze is actually the power you’re outputting in conjunction with your heart rate to understand if you can push harder or if you’re running out of juice.


Heart Rate

polara300
Credit: Polar

The last sensor we’ll discuss is the humble and handy heart rate monitor or HRM. HRMs come either as the traditional chest strap model or less accurate optical sensors on some watches and fitness bands. HRMs are measuring how fast your heart is beating over the course of a minute represented as beats per minute or BPM. Some bike computers can pair with HRMs otherwise you can use one that displays on a watchface like the Polar A300 pictured.

As I mentioned in the power section, measuring your heart rate can give you insight on how hard you’re training. Once you figure out your max heart rate and target heart rate range then you’ll know if you can kick it up or notch or need to take it a bit easier. If you’re interested in learning more about target and max heart rates, let me know and I can make that a What Is It Wednesday one of these Wednesdays.


Ant+ and Bluetooth

I am going to keep this section brief. If you have a smartphone or tablet then likely you are already familiar with Bluetooth, it’s a method of pairing devices together so that can work hand in hand to perform a task (phone + Bluetooth speaker = jamming out while meal prepping for the week). Ant+ isn’t new but it’s not as big of a name as Bluetooth. It serves a similar purpose – allowing two devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. Newer phones are coming with built-in Ant+ more increasingly. If your phone, or computer, doesn’t have Ant+ built in you can still use it, you’ll just need to purchase a separate Ant+ stick to plug it in to your device. I am actually going to be signing up for Zwift soon and need to replace my Ant+ stick, maybe I’ll do a review 🙂


So whether you need any of these is really up to you. My recommendation is that if you’re a casual rider then you’re not likely going to benefit and can likely take a pass on these. However if you ride as a means of training then try using what is already built into your phone/apps as a test run before dropping some cash on a device and when you’re ready to make that step – do your research! Find out what will work for your riding style, where you ride, and how you plan on keeping tabs on all of this information. Alrighty folks, this concludes another What Is It Wednesday, see you in a week, hope you learned something!

What Is It Wednesday: Cycle Alert

This week I was tossing around a few ideas for WIIW, I have plenty on bike basics I could write about but then I watched this video and just knew this is what I wanted to share with you this week. As I ride more and more on the road (remember I grew up equating riding in the streets with instant roadkill status?) the more and more I’m thinking about safety. Am I visible? Which is safer – road or sidewalk? Arguments could be made on both sides to that question. Will I see or hear the car rolling up behind me if I am slowing down on a hill or coming to a stoplight? Well this UK company came up with a great idea specifically for those big 18 wheelers, but I see a greater application in mind. Also, is it UK anymore after Brexit or have we gone back to Great Britain, or England – it feels like when you keep calling someone by the wrong name unknowingly. Weigh in below if you know.

Anyways.. watch this short video and let’s discuss how this could impact road safety.

cycle-tag-how-it-works-storyboard.png
Credit: Cycle Alert

So this company called Cycle Alert posted this video on YouTube about two years ago. Its focus is on the danger that comes with big rig drivers and cyclists sharing the road and the huge blindspots that exist on vehicles like that, especially while turning. It’s bad enough that the blindspots are big enough to hide a car let alone a lone cyclist.

So what Cycle Alert came up with is a RFID tag and receiver system. Cyclists put a tag on their bikes and the truck driver has a receiver outfitted on the outside of the truck and a display mounted on their dashboard. When a cyclist nears one of these equipped trucks, the receiver sends a signal to the display letting the driver know “Hey! You’ve got someone riding on two wheels next to you.” It doesn’t literally say this, but you get the idea. Although, if they ever updated it to include an audible alarm my vote is for Samuel L Jackson to be the voice.

So right now this is a UK based product, and the tags are free  to cyclists (or $14 UK there’s some confusion on their site about this) and the company is working with shipping companies to get them equipped with the receivers. So let’s discuss what works, what doesn’t, and how this could be flushed out to a wider market.

Ok so first off, I think this is an awesome concept that needs refining. For one, the receiver mounts to the outside of the truck on one side, and it’s not clear whether if the cyclist was coming up on your other side if the RFID tag would be picked up or not. They do mention in their video that it works through glass, but I highly doubt it would work unless you had a receiver on both sides and the rear just because of all of the metal encasing the vehicle which just acts as an RFID blocker.

The second major issue that I see plaguing this great concept is that everyone has to opt-in to using it. Cyclists need to put it on their bikes and truck companies need to equip it on their fleets. Kudos to the companies in the UK that already have done so because it’s not just about keeping cyclists safe, it keeps their drivers safe as well, no driver wants to experience something as tragic as hitting a person just because they couldn’t see them. But all of the truck driving companies could have them on their vehicles and it still won’t work unless all bikes are also equipped with the tags. And then you have an environment where drivers may get used to and rely on the device and not check their blindspots for tag-less cyclists (or vice versa for cyclists, but I have a feeling cyclists are a little more cautious considering their the smaller of the two).

The way I see this being a viable option is if it gets built into road safety infrastructure. Make all new cars (not just trucks) come equipped with the sensor and display, and make all new bikes come equipped with the tag itself. Then all you have to do is offer upgrade kits to cyclists and motorists without new bikes and cars. But how can we take this one step further? On their site it mentions they are still fine tuning the system and they also offer other products for motorists with cycle safety in mind such as cameras and turn sensors.

But why not integrate something that already exists in some newer bike computers? Garmin, and a few other companies, already have radar built into some of their units that alert cyclists to oncoming motorists. I’ve even seen some systems that connect to the taillight causing it to blink differently as the car nears. There are several brands of helmets with LEDs on the rear that have a built-in accelerometer that changes the blinking pattern to solid as you slow down to alert riders and drivers behind you.


I say all of that to say this. Instead of having three or four products keeping us safe, visible, and aware – why not just one? What I am hoping Cycle Alert or any other company can do is get car manufacturers to build in cyclist detection even in their non-luxury offerings, and get bike companies to build in these tags as well as an alert system for the cyclist. Basically – make it standard on both sides. Incentivize it if you have to by providing a discount on car insurance if your vehicle is equipped with it.

But that’s just me, what other systems have you seen out there that are working to keep both drivers and cyclists safe on the road?

What Is It Wednesday: Airless Tires

Ok so airless tires aren’t a completely new thing since solid tires have been around for a while. But I recently came across some new concepts, in particular the Ever Tires and Nexo brands. Essentially they took a solid tire, and punched some holes or gas infused them to make it lighter than a traditional solid tire, making it more accessible for people who like the idea of a solid tire but not necessarily the cost or the heftiness (real word, I swear). Before we get too much into these new-fangled airless tires, let’s take a look at how a traditional bike tire (and tube) works so we can see the difference and decide whether it’s worth it or not.

So if you read last week’s What Is It Wednesday on bike anatomy you already know that the tires attach to the rim of the bike wheel and are inflated to their correct PSI (pounds per square inch) via a valve – simple enough. These types (tubular) of tires have inner tubes, which is what you’re actually inflating. The tube itself  wraps around the rim just under the tire that can be glued to the rim. The pros with this type of setup boil down to being cheaper per unit, on the lower end you’re looking at $6-$15 per tube. The downside is that if something punctures your tire and inner tube, it’s going to go flat and hopefully it’s not too far of a walk back.

tube
Credit: Nashbar

Now there’s also tubular tires that aren’t 100% air filled, they come partially filled with a gel. Slime Smart Tubes is one such example. Inside the tube it contains a gel that when the tire and tube get punctured, the gel (or slime as they call it) will leak out and harden upon contact with the air. Pretty neat. Pros on this one definitely have to be the fact that you won’t get a flat right away if your tire and tube are punctured. Cons, well I’ve heard from others that you can feel the additional weight rolling around the tire which may or may not bother you. The other biggest con I’ve heard is that once it is punctured and you go to change your tire and tube out it can be quite the mess. These will set you back anywhere between $10 – $30 a tube depending on the size and type needed. They have lightweight ones and extra thick ones depending on your tire type.

tubes_super_thick_fam20
Credit: Slime Smart Tubes

So we’re getting closer to the airless tires I started this post with, and as I said tubeless tires aren’t exactly new. Tubeless tires function almost exactly the same as a tubular tire except for one small fact – you guessed right, there’s no tube involved. Instead the tire is sealed to the rim and you inflate the tire itself. The diagram below shows a side by side comparison. Pros here are no need for tubes – yay! Also they seem to roll easier on the ground since the tire can give a little to conform better without the tube being in the way. Cons, there’s definitely more setup involved and you have to be more mindful of maintenance because these can still get a flat, they’re not impenetrable.. Price ranges wildly depending on the size and style you need: $30-$100+/tire.

tubescomp
Credit:Deer Valley

Now to these tubeless AND airless tires. Phew… it took a minute to get here but it’s worth it. Ok, so what if you didn’t have to worry about fixing a flat, dealing with tubes, or even having to inflate your tires – it might save you some time, right? Well, that’s what a few companies including Ever Tires and Nexo are hoping. The idea is that because there’s nothing to inflate, it can never go flat. These companies have slightly different designs so let’s start with Ever Tires.

Ever Tires use a polymer blend to create a solid but not solid tire. Their tires have holes that reduce weight and add some cushion to the ride. One of my chief concerns with these tires is how to maintain the tire with all of those holes. If I’m riding off-road, I can only imagine the mud build-up that might occur, which will make the tires roll unevenly. I’d be interested to see first hand how easy it is to CLEAN between all those little holes. One positive note is they are rated for 3000+ miles (5000+ if you use their rim set). One downside, which I’d like to know more about, is these would not be ideal for indoor trainers because of the heat generated from the friction. I use my indoor trainer often, so it would be a hassle to have to change the back wheel out, maybe they’ll refine their materials to withstand use on an indoor trainer, we’ll just have to wait and see.

evertires
Credit: Ever Tires

The other airless tire I wanted to gander at was the Nexo tire. This is another airless tire that requires no inflation and is rated for 5000 km. The tire is made up of a proprietary compound and a portion of their interior is filled with a stable gas that reduces the weight (ballgate anyone?). To keep the tires centered on the rim, they use a bolt system. While I LOVE the look of the Ever Tires, I have to admit that the Nexos seem like a more practical option as far as maintenance. The concept of the tire being partially filled with gas is interesting because of how it’s done, the gas impregnates the material versus being inflated and then sealed. So even if the tire gets punctured, only a minimal amount of the gas would be lost, therefore no flat. The Nexos may or may not be suitable for indoor trainers – their website says to keep away from heat sources but nothing is specifically said about trainers. I’ll try to follow up with them on this.

nexo
Credit: Nexo

So there we have it folks. We’ve learned a lot about tires today! I hope to get an opportunity to review the Nexo and Ever Tires and if I do I will definitely post a follow up to this. If you’re interested in learning more about the Nexo and Ever Tires, they have a KickStarter up now, which I’ve linked.

Know any great topics you’d like to see covered on What Is It Wednesday, comment below or send me a message. 


 Disclaimer: None of these companies sponsor me or pay for my opinions. Any links added to this article were done for informational purposes only and to credit image source. 

What Is It Wednesday: Bike Anatomy 101

You know, I had ridden bikes for years before ever knowing the frame had different names for the different components, and I’ll wager I’m not the only one who didn’t know. So before we venture too far into What Is It Wednesday land, I thought it would be fitting to start with the basics. Start/click at the top left and scroll through the slideshow to learn about different parts of the wheels, front assembly, the frame, and what we like to call – the heart of the bike.

 

What are you doing Wednesdays?

After much pondering, I’ve come up with the first weekly installation for From The Top of The Tube. Have you ever wondered – “just what IS that thing anyway” – but were too afraid to ask or maybe thought you’d make a fool of yourself? Well let me be that fool for you! On What Is It Wednesdays I will ask and answer those questions right here. I’ll do the research and you reap the brainy benefits – sounds like a win-win to me. So be on the lookout Wednesdays at 8pm starting Wednesday 11/16/16 for our first installment. And if you’ve ever wondered what something was, send the suggestion over my way and I just might look it up one Wednesday.