Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The joy of mudguards

There are three things that make a bike complete. The first is a good generator light set, which means you have light to see by and to keep you safer any time you want to ride. The second is the ability to carry a modest amount of luggage without difficulty. And the third is a set of mudguards - which makes winter riding so much more pleasant.

There's nothing less fun than riding along in a in light rain or wet roads, getting soaked by the icy cold spray from your own wheels. Make no mistake, if you ride for a long time in  a heavy downpour you're still going to get wet, but mudguards drastically cut the amount of water hitting the rider and any riders behind. It means you don't have to stop and put on a  raincoat if you're near your destination or if you think it's just a passing shower. Puddles, wet roads and dirt roads are suddenly so much more navigable. And if you've set your mudguards up properly, your shoes stay much drier too.

There has been a fair bit of rain in Hobart these last few days and I've noticed a lot of the riders I see on the cross-city cyclepath have been absent. I wonder how many might extend the range of weather they considered rideable if they invested in a set of mudguards.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

First impressions - GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition.

Over the last few days I've had some fun messing around with a GoPro camera. For those not familiar with the device, they're a tiny "action" video camera which comes with a waterproof housing and a variety of attachments for clamping them to your bike or helmet or parachute harness or whatever. We have a couple at work for shooting multimedia for the website so I borrowed one for the weekend to familiarise myself with the technology. While I think they've got a long way to go, they're a pretty nice piece of kit.

I played around on a couple of rides - the Bundle of Styx on the weekend and on one of my normal morning "faux commutes" up the Hobart bike track and back. Both times I got very reasonable footage. I mounted the camera to my handlebars. The wide angle lens captured the bike's brake levers -  which gives a real sense of being on a bike - and occasionally the light and front wheel. I bought but didn't try a helmet mount. From the footage I made a couple of short videos using a couple of different software programs, mainly for my own amusement. The results, while amateurish in the extreme, pleased me greatly - which is all that matters in this game because just about nobody else will want to look at your bike videos, except perhaps other cyclists and maybe your spouse for a few minutes the first couple of times before making highly sarcastic comments. I found I became a lot better at putting together my short clips with each attempt. Even though I clearly have a long way to go as a videographer, I learned a lot and enjoyed myself immensely putting the videos together. The YouTube clip below doesn't really do the high definition output of the camera justice, although it does give a bit of an idea what can be done with even fairly mundane footage and rudimentary skills.

Before I headed out I had a look at a few videos shot by cyclists and spoke to a couple of GoPro owners. There were two consensuses. First was that the chest mount harness was considered best for cycling use because that position insulates from bumps better than on-bike mounting points and because it gave a more first-person view. The second piece of advice was that handholding the camera was a good idea to capture a variety of shots, such as of pedals turning and wheels spinning, to break up the sequences a little.

First: the good. The camera takes lovely footage. The high resolution is wonderfully crisp and real. Low light performance is good, although it does get overwhelmed a little by strong lights , like headlights and street lights but generally it handled transitions from dark to light well. The camera is light and the waterproof case is a very handy addition. There is a wide range of accessories available and once you have the settings sorted, it's pretty easy to use (Although I buggered up one lot of video by inadvertently changing some settings). The sound recording capacity is pretty good for such a small camera.

Then the bad. The camera has just two main buttons which drive a very odd menu system which is hard to get the hang of quickly. The clamps for attaching to a bicycle are expensive, of indifferent quality and even when tightened the camera tends to be knocked out of position by sharp bumps and didn't fit my seatpost - another mount would be required. (The nice but expensive mounts make by K-Edge look pretty good for most cycling purposes.) The battery life was - on the near-new unit I tested - unimpressive at around 40 minutes, although I suspect we may have a faulty battery. There is no way to see the footage you're shooting or even line up the camera without putting on an additional, battery-draining LCD screen or use the woeful GoPro app on a smart phone via wifi. And there's no way to review footage on the road.

There's another slight drawback that's not the camera's fault at all. Going for a ride for me at least is an exercise in clearing my mind, getting rid of the distractions and stresses of the day. Messing around with a camera, stopping to change or fix mounts and thinking about when to turn the camera on and off is a bit of a diversion from  the main business at hand. I'm going for a ride, not making a movie. I imagine this becomes less of an issue once the novelty factor wears off and with practise.

I've got no doubt that more and more cyclists will mount cameras on their bikes in the coming years - it's fun and gives you an unmatched and highly watchable record of your ride. No doubt the technology will come ahead in leaps and bounds too - I can see a combined GPS and video unit not too far ahead - and the camera offers a good way for cyclists to record and report incidents involving motorists. But I probably won't be buying a GoPro any time soon. at $A500 I think the  top-end unit is well overpriced and I'm not overly impressed by some of the accessories which must rates as some of the most expensive pieces of plastic this side of printer cartridges. All that to one side I've had a lot of fun playing with the GoPro and reckon I might shell out for one of the superseded models - probably a GoPro Hero 2, which can be found on eBay around the $200 point.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Bundle of Styx ride.

King of the Styx
There are great rides, and then there are rides when on the way back someone remarks: "Well, at least you'll get a good blog post out of this". Although it was a pleasant ride by any stretch, The Bundle of Styx was definitely in the latter category.

In our never-ending quest to seek out and ride fresh gravel, the mission was to ride a couple of sections of forestry road we've not tried before. The starting point was at Westerway, about an hour from Hobart. We were planning to do a 70km loop, heading up from Karanja to the Styx River Bridge and then having a poke through the Valley of the Giants towards Maydena before returning on the fast downhill tarmac to Westerway. Having driven these roads on reconnaissance trips I was confident we'd have no trouble finding our way and completing the circuit. (Route and profile here for the curious.) 

Benny and Kiwi and I set out around 10.30am, and made good time of the first dirt sections. The weather was good and the road wasn't in bad condition apart from a couple of short bits which had a bit of loose rock on them. We had a short stop at an old quarry then headed on towards the Styx River Bridge at about the 25km mark.

Because I thought the roads were in pretty reasonable condition - and because Ben had had reasonable success running narrow tyres - I took along my road bike shod with 25mm Gatorskin Hardshells. Gatorskins have a sometimes deserved reputation for being quality tyres able to soak up the worst punishment, so I didn't give much thought to carrying more than the usual two spare tubes in my repair kit. And that was to prove our undoing.

Heading down the steep, fast hill down to the river, I had a rush of blood and picked up a bit too much speed. Inevitably I've hit one of the larger rocks in full flight and managed to puncture both tyres at once. 

No problem, I thought, I'll have these fixed in a jiffy. The only minor problem was that on mounting one of my spare tubes, it immediately went flat from a faulty value. Ben, who was cracking nervous jokes about what might happen to us if we were stranded out in the bush, had a few self-adhesive patches, so we patched the three or four holes in one of my other tubes and put that in. It too went flat. As a last resort we used Ben's single spare tube. 

So here we were: in the middle of nowhere, 25km from the car, with no spare tubes or patches. We decided that pushing on would be foolish so we retraced our steps. That too proved to be a wise decision.

As Ben struck up jaunty songs featuring the assorted atrocities inflicted upon the stranded in these parts, my back tyre blew again. We were about 15km from the car. This time the only think I could think of was cutting the valves off the four punctured tubes and stuffing them into the tyre. Ben and Kiwi took off on a rescue mission and I limped onward. I eventually managed to make it all the way back to town.

The ride wasn't a total disaster. It was a nice day out and I got to play with a borrowed GoPro camera (low quality video here). And I re-learned some valuable lessons about how many tubes to carry and the need to carefully select your tyres to suit your ride.

3360km so far this year.