Tag Archives: Gear

Der blinkinlichten ist lookenpeepers goot!

Wherein a little history, and new Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB lights are reviewed.

First, some history…

When I first built out my 2003 Kona Fire Mountain as a commuter way back in ’07, I mounted two Cat Eye TL-LD600′s on the front fork, one on each side pointing to the side, and two pointing towards the rear off the rear fender, and my Triple Shot rounding out as the bright headlight.


This was a good setup, but I got tired of replacing batteries in the TL-LD600′s. They were also quite the protuberance on the fork up front. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, the fork lights came off; one snapped off, and the other looked lopsided. Additionally, the Triple Shot, bright as it is, is heavy, and the separate battery is bulky, takes up valuable frame real-estate, and is not as convenient to recharge as I would have liked. I wasn’t really complaining though, and rode with just the headlight and taillight for a while. Then I didn’t ride for a while. Then I rode again, and nearly got plowed into twice in two days by people who clearly were not using their lookenpeepers.

That brings me to today. I’m back to my original setup, but this time with different lights. I still have an old TL-LD600 on the seat post. But on the fork I now have two Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB rear lights, each pointing out and to the side. For headlights I’ve replaced the heavy and bulky Triple Shot with two Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB front lights. I’ve gone the extra best-practice mile and mounted another on my helmet.

When they’re all set to blinkin, I am quite a sight to behold, and after all, that’s the point, isn’t it?

On to the review…

Construction

The lights are very small and light, which is a nice change of pace from my old Triple Shot. As far as construction goes, they feel moderately sturdy, but not quite as solid as I’d like. That goes double for the helmet mount. The base that sits against the helmet is metal, but the bracket that slides into the slot on the light itself is plastic, and I’m worried that it’ll snap off. I’m playing pretty careful with it to push that day out as long as I can. I’m a little disappointed with that piece, and would have expected only metal for the price of $15. Still, it’s possible they went plastic to save wear on the light chassis, which is itself plastic. I’ll entertain the possibility, though I’m pretty sure it was a cost thing.



Lighting Modes

The four LED headlights have three modes: a rather bright standard, a much brighter overdrive and the standard blinking. I rode this morning in the dark with the headlights set to overdrive and the helmet light set to blinking. This afternoon I set them all to blinking. Run times are quoted as 3 hours on steady, and 5 hours for flash. It’s not stated whether steady is for standard or overdrive modes. I suspect overdrive to be less than 3 hours. I probably won’t time them to see, but that should provide a solid week of riding to and from work without recharges. If it’s less than that, I keep closer track, but otherwise I’m not worried about it.

The four LED rear lights (which I have on my fork) have three modes as well: all-on steady, flash (all lights blinking in unison), and chase (alternating blinking between two pairs). Run times are quoted at 6 hours steady, and 12 hours flash. I suspect 12 hours is for chase mode, and flash to be somewhere in between, but again, I’ll only keep close track if they’re obviously falling short of those times.

Brightness

Both front and rear lights are, as one would expect from LEDs, very bright. Rated at 40 lumens, the front lights aren’t anywhere near as bright as my 130 lumen Triple Shot, but two running in tandem illuminate the urban landscape aplenty for my purposes, and they’re nowhere near as bulky. I wouldn’t take them on singletracks at night, but for daily street use, they’re plenty sufficient.

Charging

They charge via a little USB dongle. The light sticks attach to the dongle via two magnets, which also serve as the charging contact points. I found the holding power of the magnets more than sufficient, and was able to charge three of them at once in my D-Link USB hub. The first charge took about half an hour per light before each was fully charged and the charge indicator went from blinking red to blinking green.


I bought one set that came with a solar charger, but I’ve not tried it yet.

The button that serves as the USB charge indicator, and that you use to turn on and off the lights and switch modes, also serves as a running charge indicator. After you shut the light off, it’ll glow green to indicate a charge of 75% or more, orange to indicate a charge between 25% and 75%, and red to indicate a charge of 25% or less. That’s useful insofar as knowing about how much charge you have left, but not really useful in knowing how much time you have left. Still, it’s probably enough… red simply means charge as soon as you can.


Price

At ~$25 per light, they’re cheaper than a lot of options out there, but if you want more than one, the $$’s add up. Still, the charging method definitely offsets the initial price.

Mounting

They mount to the frame via custom made Velcro straps, with protective strips on the non-sticky side to help protect the frame. The straps need to be completely removed in order to properly charge them, which means they have to be remounted after every charge. That’s not a big deal to me because they’re very easy to mount, though it might be to some. The ability to quickly move them around the frame, or share them with friends in need outweighs, at least for now, the inconvenience of having no permanent mounting bracket. That said, it shouldn’t be too tough to rig up a permanent mount (perhaps using the, albeit plastic, helmet mount) if one were so inclined.


The rear lights have what look like belt straps on them that the Velcro frame mounts slide through. They also allow them to be strapped directly into loops, belts, or wherever else you can find that fits. They’re allegedly compatible with certain helmets. Unfortunately, mine isn’t one of them.

Conclusion

So, what’s my final take on them? Traffic was pretty light today, but those cars I did encounter showed every sign that they saw me. There were no close calls at all, and I certainly felt better having the directional light on my helmet. All the blinking made for a very cool and eerie strobe effect that lit up reflectors everywhere! In the dark of the morning, they were bright enough for me that I wasn’t worried about potholes, stray cats or zombie arms reaching out from sewer drains.


I have to take some points off for the construction, though. Though I’m sure they’ll last as long as I want them to, the lights don’t feel quite as solid as I’d like,. The helmet mount feels like it could break at any time. I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking them up on their (limited) lifetime warranty for that piece. Until then, I’ll be handling them with kid gloves to put that day off as long as possible.

All in all, I’m going with 4 out of 5 der blinkinlichten after my first day with the lights. Points revoked for construction, but more points given for size, price, performance, convenience, ease of use and charging method.
Blackburn Flea 2.0 Front LightBlackburn Flea 2.0 Front LightBlackburn Flea 2.0 Front LightBlackburn Flea 2.0 Front LightBlackburn Flea 2.0 Front Light NeGaTiVe

Bike Commuting Methodology

This is an outline of how I make my trips to work by bike successful and fun. This list is written assuming that you, like me, already possess a bike and attire of your choosing. If you don’t, you might need to look to that first.

The Night Before

  • Verify bike ABC Quick Check
    • ‘A’ is for ‘Air’. Check your tires to make sure they aren’t flat. They don’t roll right if they are.
    • ‘B’ is for ‘Brakes’. Make sure they’re working. You won’t stop well if you’re rolling if they don’t work. Stopping is just as important as going, after all.
    • ‘C’ is for ‘Chain’. Is it broken or bent? If the answer is yes, then it’s probably not a good idea to ride on it.
      • ‘C’ is also for ‘Drive train’, though they start with different letters (just go with me on this). Make sure your shifting is working and that there aren’t any squirrels hiding away in your derailleur.
  • Pack work clothes. Do this the night before so you don’t forget anything when you’re all groggy from having to get up freakishly early to ride.
  • Prepare bike clothing, depending on weather. Again, so you don’t forget your bike shorts or socks because you’re all groggy from having to get up freakishly early to ride. I’ve never forgotten my socks, but I have forgotten my helmet. I hate helmet laws myself, but I won’t ride without one.
  • Charge lights. It really wouldn’t do for your lights to go dim on you 10 minutes into your ride when it’s dark out, would it? That could be problematic (see below re: potholes)
  • Charge bike computer. If you don’t have one, then don’t charge it, but if you’re like me and you thrive on numbers and stats and tracking whatnot, then you’ll be happy you have a fully charged bike computer.

The Morning of the Ride

  • Double check bike ABC Quick Check. Do it again to catch slow leaks, stiffened cables, or other late blooming problems. Sometimes cats have kittens, and sometimes, those kittens like to climb things. Make sure they’re not climbing around on your cassette or chewing through your brake cables.
  • Verify lighting. Just because you charged it doesn’t mean the charge took. Make sure.
  • Verify computer. Same here. Make sure.
  • Eat good breakfast. Every engine needs fuel, and you’ve ditched the internal combustion engine in favor of you and your legs. Fuel up. Bonking ain’t fun.
  • Kiss spouse, significant other or friend-with-benefits. This is just a nice thing to do. Plus it might lead to an excuse to be late. If you don’t have one, then my apologies for being so incredibly insensitive.

On the Way

  • Don’t hit children or animals. They squawk unpleasantly when you do, and you might break a spoke. There’s no ‘S’ in the ABC’s, so if that happens, you’re on your own.
  • Be a positive advocate of human powered transportation.
    • Know local traffic laws, regulations and requirements. Obey them. Give those drivers out there every reason to think positively of you, and the rest of us. You can’t control their behavior (they break the rules all the time), but you can control your own (so please don’t).
    • Don’t be all road ragey. It makes people uncomfortable, and we’re all in this together after all. Plus, it’s dumb.
    • Have fun, because there’s no better way to be an advocate than by simply having fun. After all, you’re on a bike! Enjoy it, and show everyone else how enjoyable it is! It’s infectious.
  • Watch for flying fruit. Sometimes people throw things, or apples and coconuts fall from trees. Also, potholes have a nasty habit of springing into spontaneous being right in front of you. Be safe out there and practice your avoidance maneuvering techniques.
  • Ride safely and defensively. This is the single most important thing you can do. Being a bloody pulp isn’t any fun, and it doesn’t serve as a positive example.

Upon Arrival at Work

  • Wipe bike down if wet. If you work in a nice place, then it’s just considerate to wipe down the bike so you don’t drip greasy muddy street water all over the carpets. If you work in a warehouse, a barn, or a meth lab, then it’s probably not a big deal.
  • Wash and clean up as necessary. A stinky advocate is an ineffectual advocate.
    • As an aside, I keep certain toiletries, such as deodorant, face soap and washcloths at work so I don’t have to carry them back and forth all the time.
    • Sometimes I keep shoes there too.
  • Cool down before changing. Believe me, you’ll want to wait until you stop sweating before you change into your clean clothes. This may not be a problem if you work in the aforementioned warehouse, barn, or meth lab.
  • Find a private place to change. Have I mentioned being a positive advocate yet?
  • Find a place to stash your bike clothes. Show off the bike, not your sweaty clothes.
  • Park bike in out of the way, yet highly visible location to promote friendly advocacy. You want people to know how cool you are, right? How will they know if you don’t let them see your bike? Just don’t put it in their way, or they’ll get a little testy. But if you store it considerately, it’s a great conversation starter, and lots of people will be amazed that you ride to work, especially when it’s 16°F out!

That’s all there is to it! Honestly, there’s absolutely nothing else. Now get out there and ride!

No Mote in Your Eye

I wear contacts. That means it’s important that my eyeballss are protected from the dust and wind that’s all but unavoidable on long rides. If they aren’t protected, then by the time the ride is over, my vision is either so clouded and hazy I can’t see at all, or my contacts so dust-ridden that it feels like I’m sporting twin Rocks of Gibraltar in my eyeballs… or more likely, both.

There are several things I’ve been unable to completely conquer in my years of riding: Cold hands in weather below 10°F, cold feet in weather below 0&deg:F, and crusty contacts after long rides.

This is about the last item on that thankfully short list.

I’ve tried various protective eye gear, from basic sunglasses, to over-sized reading glasses, to cycling sunglasses and now, I’m trying a pair of 7Eye Capes with “AirShield” and “PhotoChromic NXT” technologies. They’re a little different than other things I’ve tried in that they’re actually motorcycle glasses, and being so, are just shy of being actual goggles.

The Glasses


The glasses come with a hard case, a microfiber cleaning cloth, and a neck strap (called a leash) that slides on the arms like a sock. I originally took a look at the Diablo line, but on trying several pair on at a local eyeglasses store, found the Cape to be more to my liking. I’m glad I opted to check them out IRL, rather than buying them outright online. Certain things should always be bought in person…

The glasses are plastic, and lightly constructed, but in spite of that they don’t feel cheap. Rather, they feel sturdy, if not as solid as a metal frame would. The fit is adjustable to a point. You can adjust the fit around the ear with two screws on each arm, but they don’t have any bridge adjustments, so your mileage may vary. They fit my face and ears right off the rack, so I count myself lucky on that point.


AirShield

The AirShield is a little snap-on addition made of plastic and foam that hugs your face when the glasses are properly fitted. The plastic fits next to the frame, and has vents to let some air flow through so your eyes don’t suffocate. The foam fits next to your face and helps form a “seal” against too much air flow which would dry out, freeze or cook your eyes, and let dust and rocks and sticks in.


I’ve seen some shielding inserts that attach to the frame via strong little magnets, rather than snaps. I think those are just freakishly cool, but the snaps used in the Cape model seem sufficient. They’re neither too hard to get out, nor too easy. The models I checked out with the magnets didn’t seem to have sufficient shielding for me, so I sadly put them away, and went with the 7Eye frames that weren’t necessarily as freakishly cool, but did the job better. That’s more important to me, after all.


So much for how they attach, how do they work? I’ve not had a chance to try them out on a multi-hour ride across country, but I have tried them out in 18°F temperatures with a decent headwind. Every other pair of cycling glasses I’ve ever tried at those temperatures resulted in my eyeballs streaming tears as they fight off the chill. These glasses solved that problem entirely. There’s enough ventilation that my eyeballs aren’t suffocating, but not enough so that they’re suffering from the wind. I’m looking forward to pushing them into the below 10°F range and taking them on longer rides (not at the same time), and I’m confident they’ll work.


Another concern with this type of eye gear is that they fog up. I can tell you I’ve tried to fog them up. I’ve taken them momentarily off and breathed on them. I’ve directed my breath up towards them while riding. I’ve done everything I know how to get them all opaque and blind, and though they fog up for a bit, they clear up almost immediately. So, I’m going to have to say they win on the issue of fog.

PhotoChromic NXT

I opted for the PhotoChromic NXT lenses so that I didn’t have to worry about switching out lenses when my rides cross that sunrise/sunset boundary (which they invariably do). For me, switching lenses while out on a ride is troublesome. There’s grease and dust and oil and grit and it always gets on the lenses, and it’s never easy to clean off. So I solved that problem with lenses that make that switch for me.

My verdict… Though they are effective in helping with glare and bright light, I don’t think they ever get as dark as a dedicated pair of sunglasses, or as clear as a dedicated set of clears. Then again, do these types of non-prescription lenses ever work as well as their prescription-based brothers and sisters? They do adjust, however, and if the fact that I’ve not been bothered by sunlight or the lack of it is any indication, I have to conclude that these lenses are doing their job sufficiently for my needs.


The Look

Well… with the AirShield, they look kinda silly, if my wife is any judge. She rolled her eyes and said I look like a big bug. Then again, they are effectively goggles. What do you expect? Look is so subjective though, so all I can say is that you’d have to make up your own mind. You may think they’re the most coolest and awesomest looking eye gear on the planet, or you may find yourself throwing up in your mouth a little bit. I suspect your opinion will fall somewhere in the middle, but it’s really up to you.

The Price

At $129.00, this is the most expensive pair of non-prescription glasses I’ve ever bought, so it was a bit of a stretch for me in the justification department. I went ahead with it, in the interest of protecting my eyes and keeping my contacts pristine. There’s nothing like gritty contacts, and dusty eyes to ruin an otherwise fantastic ride. It’s been enough of a bother for me that I thought the price was worth it. That price isn’t outlandish or unheard of in purpose built eye gear… you *can* spend a lot more for cycling glasses if you really want to.

The Conclusion

I’m definitely a fan so far.

Fancy Helmet for Fancy People

Last autumn, I picked up a Lazer Helium helmet to replace my aging Giro Atmos. I’d had the Atmos for about 4 years, and many thousands of miles, and it was starting to show signs of age. Also, it’s recommended that bike helmets be replaced every few years anyway, so I decided to try something new.

I got a good deal on the Helium, too. After pricing it out and trying it on at my LBS, I found the same helmet online for about $100 less than retail. Yes. I contributed to globalization to the detriment of my LBS by buying online. Feel free to stop reading now if that’s a sensitive subject for you.

If you’re still here, then here it is: a fancy helmet for fancy people, the Lazer Helium.


Fit

I opted for the Medium/Large helmet, because I wanted a helmet with room for head coverings during the colder winter months, but with sufficiently effective internal tightening apparatus such that it would still fit snug during the warmer summer months. Because it’s a larger helmet, it has a bit bigger headprint than my Atmos. That is so say, it probably looks a little goofy on my head. That’s fine, because I’m pleased to say, having ridden with this helmet in both 90+° weather, and 20-° weather, it works well on either a bare head and one decorated with a thick wool cap.


The Lazer Rollsys® feature works very well towards making that fit happen. In fact, it works a little too well. While tightening it down so that the helmet fits snugly does, in fact, make the helmet fit snugly, it also results in a mild headache after about 30 minutes in the saddle. On my longer rides, I ended up having to loosen the helmet to get some relief and keep pedaling. It took some trial-and-error, but I eventually found a sweet spot that was tight enough that the helmet didn’t wobble about, but loose enough that I avoided throbbing pain. This issue could be unique to my noggin, but it’s something to consider. It might be argued that this helmet does not, in fact, fit, as evidenced by the headache. However, since I was able to overcome the issue, I’m not going to worry about it.

I should note that I never experienced anything like that with my Atmos, no matter how tightly I set it. I suspect it has to do with the specific placement of the head straps and blood flow.

The chin straps are, in my experience, pretty standard. They’re long enough to be adjustable to the longest faces, and the latches latch as one would expect.

Padding

The “Antimicrobial and temperature regulating padding system” is pretty solid. That is to say, I don’t notice any pointy bits on the inside, and the helmet, once the proper tightness using the Rollsys® feature is achieved, feels very comfortable. Once it’s on right, I don’t notice it at all, and just enjoy the ride.

Like any padding system, it’s going to show some wear after a while. The pads in my Atmos had to be replaced about once every few thousand miles. Time will tell how well these hold up.


Airflow
I can speak from experience that the airflow offered by this model is top notch. On a 40° day, I rode without head or ear covering, and I knew it. I wasn’t freezing, but I could tell that the air was flowing. Last autumn during the Octoginta, things got pretty hot, but not once did I worry about sweat in my eyes. It just wasn’t there. I credit the ventilation for that.

I’d say the airflow on the Helium is a definite step up from my previous helmet.


Options

Due to the fantastic ventilation, if you’re going to use this helmet in colder weather, it might pay off to use a head shield of some type beneath it. Lazer offers winter padding to help keep the helmet warm in colder weather, but I’ve not tried it. My wool cap was more than up to the task the last couple of days.

They also offer an insect net to keep the bugs out, and an “Aeroshell” to keep the rain and snow out, but I’ve not tried either.

In theory, all three options look nice, but they aren’t available through their web site, and I’ve not been able to find them online (I’ve tried Amazon, Nashbar, Performance Bike, Pricepoint and ProBikeKit), so it looks like they’d have to be ordered through an LBS. I’ve a few other winter items to pick up, so I might see about that winter padding while I’m at it.

QPR

At over $200, this helmet isn’t cheap, and I probably wouldn’t have gone for it had I not found a fantastic deal online for a new one. Aside from the high price, I can say it’s probably more than most people need out of a helmet. After all, a helmet is supposed to stay on your head, and protect that head from bumps. Truth be told, that’s it, and most helmets these days will do exactly that. Anything else, from fancy magnetic latches (not included on this model) to fancy bug screens and winter pads is just that… fancy designed to appeal to those with a little extra scratch to throw around on fancy.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m pleased with the helmet, though I’m a little disappointed in the headache issue. Once I found that sweet spot, however, I can honestly say that I can wear this helmet and not feel like I’m wearing this helmet. I put it on, tighten it just enough, and forget about it. That, to me, is a sign of a great helmet.

Still, I can’t say with a clear conscience that it has a high QPR. It just costs too much for that, given that you can get the same protection and most of the same benefits for much less out of cheaper helmets. If a prefab bug screen or winter padding is important to you, then maybe this is the way to go. On the other hand, maybe you can find your own solutions out of stuff you already have around the house. That’s your call. As for me, I had a little extra scratch at the time (well… no, I really didn’t), and went for it.

For now, I’m going to reserve final judgment for the performance of the winter padding. It could be that it pushes the QPR over the hump.

Tiny-HelmetTiny-HelmetTiny-HelmetTiny-Helmet

Four helmets out of five, a point taken off for the price and for having to overcome the headache issue.

Oh, and no, I didn’t receive this as a gift or anything like that. I bought it my own self.

Starting Line Bike-for-Transportation Setup for 2011

I’ve decided that I’m going to return to my 2008 habit of getting to work on my own power, sans internal combustion engine, as much as possible. There will be days when I have to resort to the relative warmth of a car cabin, due to meetings in another building, but I think I’ll be able to make it happen again with the same commitment I had back then, barring compelling spousal objection or injury, of course.

It looks like I picked a decent week to start:

  • Monday – Mostly sunny. High: ~41°F
  • Tuesday – Mostly sunny. High: ~38°F
  • Wednesday – Mostly sunny. High: ~44°F
  • Thursday – Partly cloudy. High: ~42°F
  • Friday – Partly cloudy. High: ~43°F

So I’ll have some things cycling related things to write about again. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about my new helmet, a Lazer Helium. Wednesday, I’m going to talk about my new cycling glasses, the 7eye Cape with Airshield.

Today, I’m going to go over my rig and gear.

The Rig

I’m riding a nearly stock ’09 Kona Dew Drop. The details are given below on the off-chance you’re interested, and b/c I’m not sure how long they’ll be available on the Kona site. It’s a fine bike with good parts. The only thing I’d change is the frame for which I’d go steel instead of aluminum. I’ve not ridden it enough (~600 miles), in spite of how long I’ve owned it, to really get a comfortable sense of how it handles. Thus far, I’ve treated it with kid gloves. I can say the handling isn’t as tight as my Torelli, but it’s been saddled with heavy panniers for most rides. Those tend to alter the handling characteristics a bit, ‘nom’sayin? Besides, it’s like comparing a sedan to a Ferrari. It’s just not a fair comparison.

My Gear

My additions to the bike, simple though they be, are a front fender, handlebar mounts for my Garmin 705 and Cateye Triple Shot, a top tube bag for the light battery, a couple Shimano A530 SPD pedals, an old tube lovingly and protectively wrapped around the chain stay, an Axiom Journey disc brake compatible rear rack, one Cat Eye TL-LD600 facing the rear, and a couple cheap bottle holders.

Note that I don’t have a rear fender. That rack, plus the disc brakes and mounts made for a problematic rear fender install… I eventually determined that, for me, it wasn’t necessary. The rack takes most of the water when it’s wet out anyway.

I’m carrying my clothes back and forth in a Nashbar Commuter Garment Pannier. It’s been pretty solid for me over the last couple of years. I really should write up a full review of it, though. For now, I’ll say that I’ve had no problems, but have changed out the stock rack hooks with a couple of small stainless steel carabiners. While the stock hooks worked on my old rack mounted to my Kona Fire Mountain, the new rack on the Dew Drop (necessary due to the disc brakes) has different hook points, and the stock hooks weren’t stable. The carabiners are definitely more stable, but they’re also a lot more difficult in the tight spaces under the pannier. I’m thinking larger hooks would be easier to handle, and wouldn’t slide through the eye holes in the rack (yeah, I really need to write a full review).

I’m looking for some additional lights to mount on my front forks pointing either to the front, or to the side. Ideally, I’ll find some wraparound lights that light up the whole fork in the round. I dare a driver not to see that! Wait… nevermind, they won’t see me no matter what I did. Maybe a helmet mounted front/rear lighting set up would help.

Rig Details

Saved for last b/c I know most people just won’t care. This is here primarily for my own future reference.

Frame Size C56cm
Frame tubing Kona 7005 Aluminum Butted
Fork Kona P2 700c Disc
Headset Ritchey LB-Plus
Crankarms FSA Vero
Chainrings 52/42/30
B/B RPM 7420
Pedals See Above
Chain KMC Z-72
Freewheel Shimano C Series (11-34, 8spd)
F/D Shimano 2203
R/D Shimano Deore
Shifters Shimano 2203
Handlebar Kona Sweeper
Stem Kona RD
Grips Velo Wrap w/Gel
Brakes Avid BB-7 Road Disc
Brake Levers Shimano 2203
Front hub Formula Disc
Rear hub Shimano M475 Disc
Spokes Sandvik Stainless 15g fr/14g rr
Tires Continental CountryRide 700x37C
Rims Rigida ZAC19SL
Saddle Kona Comfort
Seatpost Kona RD
Seat clamp Kona QR
Color Metallic Red
Extras Kona Bell

Impressions on Google Chrome OS & Cr-48: Nothin’ but Web

When I filled out the Pilot Program survey the day it started on December 7th, the last thing I expected was to be chosen. Yet here I am with a Cr-48 on my lap.

Now that it’s here, I feel something of an obligation to do at least an initial impressions post on it. After all, everyone else has (march ye to the Googles to find more), and it doesn’t seem right to accept this free laptop without at least paying for it with some typing and whatnot.
The Arrival

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I opened the Fed-Ex box, and found within the now-famous illustrated box, with the explodey drawings on it. I absolutely love the drawing style. It has a distinct Captain Mark sensibility, which I worshiped as a young lad. I especially like the little mouse.dvicciChrome02

I couldn’t remember at first where I saw the drawings, but I felt my excitement build for reasons I couldn’t quite explain. Something cool lay waiting within… I just knew it. I just couldn’t quite place what it was. Then it hit me, and I immediately went to get my camera.

On the hardware

I’m not going to spent a lot of time because it’s a basic reference that won’t be sold retail, has little in the way of fancy, and because it’s been done a many times before (forget ye not the Googles, my friend). That said, on the off chance that my vote will count for something, I should at least offer a little something by way of critique.

Like
The first thing I noticed, and one of the things that I continue to love is the rubberized chassis. It’s a little tougher to keep pristine, as the surface tends to hold on to blemishes (oils, spilled coffee, dog slobber, etc.), but for me it’s worth it.

I also love the chiclet keyboard. I like the weight. I like the design of the thing. It’s functional. It’s also quiet. I’m also becoming fond of the layout, including the replacement function keys above the top row, and the embedded power button. I can’t say I’ve used the search button that much, except by way of testing it’s functionality, and I miss my dedicated “Home” and “End” keys (though the shortcuts CTRL-Alt-Up and CTRL-Alt-Down respectively, are easy enough to get to after they’re committed to muscle memory).

I love the matte surface display. I’m used to the glossy display of my Alienware Aurora m9700, and I have to say I don’t miss the reflections. At 1280×800, it’s as wide as I need, and provides more vertical space than a lot of smaller laptops today, which stop at 766. That’s just not enough room for me. It’s no 1920×1200, but for a small netbook style laptop, it’s plenty.

The battery life is advertised at about 6 hours with maximum brightness, and 8 hours at minimum. I’ve not pushed it to the limits, but I’ve spent most of my Chromebook time on battery vs. AC power, and have been satisfied. There’s a nice little display in the top right of the UI that gives you battery charge percentage and time remaining. I have no reason to suspect it’s inaccurate.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the quality of speakers. I messed around with Grooveshark a couple nights ago and, while they’d never suffice for long term use, the speakers aren’t horrible for laptop speakers. I haven’t tested my headphones with the Cr-48 yet, but I reckon they’ll work fairly well.

At first, as a whole, the Cr-48 felt (though I hate to use the word) cheap, and more like a toy than a computer. The more I use it, though, the more solid it feels. I understand it’s a little heavier than most netbooks, but as I have zero experience with other netbooks, I can offer no thoughts on the matter.

Not so Much

I’ve never been a fan of touch pads, and as such, don’t have much experience with them. Though I do like the two finger scrolling feature, I find the use of the touch pad, as a whole, less than ideal. I’ve had a hard time getting the two-finger-tap to bring up the context menu, and my cursor tends to jump around a lot. I’m not sure if that’s me just fat-palming it, or some sort of software glitch. However, they win points with the simple and easy differentiation between the touch pad and the surrounding chassis. There’s enough of a difference so that you know where the boundaries are, without it being a distraction otherwise.

As a whole, it’s a little underpowered for the more intensive flash driven web sites. For instance, Bejeweled on Facebook (yes, I’m a fan) is barely playable due to the lag. Other than that, for basic web use, the hardware is more than sufficient.

The final point regarding hardware, and this is very much specific to the Cr-48, is the size of the bezel around the display. I would love to see a laptop with a screen that fills up the lid nearly completely.

On the OS

Chrome OS basically amounts to an RDP session with the Chrome browser set with `alternate shell:s` There’s more to it than that, obviously, but that’s essentially what it is. Anything you can do from within the Chrome browser, you can do in Chrome OS. Most anything you can’t do outside the Chrome browser, you can’t do in Chrome OS. It’s been said that if you’ve worked with Chrome, then you’ve worked with Chrome OS. That’s mostly true.

Like
I like the general simplicity. Being little more than a browser, there’s not much to do except log in (Google accounts only for now) and start working. You can add different apps (or rather, bookmarks) via the a Web Store, and you can adjust a few things under the hood much the same way you do with the Chrome browser through the wrench icon to the right of the Omnibox, but for the most part you log in and get to work (or play, if that’s your preference). The downside is that there’s not much for the power user like myself to configure.

Along with the general simplicity is the fact that it takes about 14 seconds to go from a completely cold state to being out and about, doing whatever it is you want to be doing. The SSD, combined with a distinct lack of extraneous features makes for an extremely fast boot time.

I like the multiple window support (Shortcut: CTRL-N). It desktop parlance, it’s basically launching a new browser instance, which is easily accessible via the “Next Window” button above the “6″ key (SHIFT-Next Window chooses the previous window).

From a security standpoint, they’ve covered their bases fairly well as well. Like the browser, updates are done behind the scenes automatically without any user input. The trade off for never having to worry about out-of-date code is the chance that a faulty update will be released that crashes the OS, or corrupts data in some way. I’ve not had that happen, and haven’t heard of it, either. But it’s certainly possible.

Still talking security, the sandboxing feature keeps different processes isolated (on a per tab basis) from each other and the base linux-based OS, and encryption keeps the data on the SSD safe from potentially prying eyes.

The OS designers gave a nod to the CLI junkies among us with crosh>. The Chrome Shell launches in a new window that’s accessible via the “Next Window” button. It’s pretty basic, and sticks to the overall network-only philosophy by providing very little besides those basic diagnostics and an SSH client. It’s a start, and if Google isn’t lying about the OS constantly improving, we can expect good things there as well.

I’ve mentioned shortcuts. Those and quite a few more are available via the CTRL-ALT-/ shortcut. It brings up an interactive screen that displays all the shortcuts available. There are quite a few, which presents a learning curve, but not an unmanageable one.

Not so Much
The sensitivity of the touch pad sometimes causes the cursor to jump around on the screen, this could be my own lack of experience with such things, but given how often the unexpected jumps happen, I’d like to be able to adjust the sensitivity more. The plus side is that it forces me into a proper typing posture with my hands elevated well above the chassis and touch pad.

The lack of granularity and feedback in the Wi-Fi settings was troublesome at first. I had my wireless security set to WPA2, and found that the Chromebook simply would not connect. I had to drop back to WPA before it would recognize it. However, I spent too long in trial and error before I figured this out.

Tap-to-Click on the touch pad is disabled by default, and as a exceedingly rare user of touch pads, I was held up by the force it takes to actually click the touch pad without tap-to-click being enabled. I’m not sure why tap-to-click was disabled, but I’m sure there was a reason. Plugging in a USB mouse, however, was simple and instantaneous.

Which brings me to another wish… When I have foregone the use of the touch pad and have a mouse plugged in, there is no (obvious) way to adjust the speed or acceleration settings on the mouse. The mouse presents an extremely fast cursor that is somewhat difficult to control. It’s so fast, in fact, that I’ve found myself preferring the touch pad over the mouse, which is something I’ve never done before in all my years working with laptops.

Generally speaking, the downside of simplicity is lack of granularity. As a power user, I’d like to be able to adjust things more to my liking.

  • The ability to sort the Apps section on the New Tab default page. As of this release isn’t available.
  • The ability to control default click behavior of icons on New Tab default screen. It defaults to the current tab. In lieu of a start menu, or finder menu, or dock, I would like an icon to open by default in a new tab, or even a new window should I so choose. You can force it by shift-clicking an icon, but that’s not the default behavior.
  • The ability to move docked panel items (Scratchpad, chat windows, music players, etc.) to the sides or top, rather than being locked to the bottom.
  • The ability to attach more than one file at a time to an e’mail.

Though I really do like crosh> the lack of support for public/private key based authentication for the ssh client is, to my mind, a step backwards in security in favor of convenience. I’ve disabled password authentication on my own server (where I ssh to the most, by far), and have been forced to consider the issue of allowing password auth, if I want to connect via my Chromebook. From within my own network, I don’t see a problem with it, but if I’m connected to another, public network (either a coffee shop somewhere, or via the Verizon 3G plan), it could be an issue. My hope is that they allow key based authentication at some point.

Not at All
The single most frustrating thing (if I may be so bold as to allow myself to be frustrated with a free laptop) was the “easy” and “seamless” automatic setup of the Verizon 3G connection plan. It failed, forcing a call to Verizon Customer Service. As we all know, calls to customer service nearly always try one’s patience.

I called Verizon at the customer service number listed on the failed activation screen, (800) 786-8419. The first person didn’t know what I was talking about, and wanted to set something up through my already existing Verizon Account (or rather, my wife’s account, which meant she had to be there). So I called her upstairs, and she spent some time on the phone setting something up. I don’t know what it was, and I’m not convinced the CSR did either. Regardless, it didn’t work, so that person sent me over to an “Accounts” rep, who had trouble finding any information about the advertised connection plans.

I should mention that yours truly made the process a little more time consuming by misreading the MEID number, and inserting an extra “0″ (zero) after the “A”. Totally my bad, and I now have an eye appointment set up for January.

But back to the available advertised connection plans associated with the Googlebook… Seriously, it’s all listed right there on Google’s own Chrome OS site, complete with a data usage calculator to help you choose the right plan for you. That this wasn’t common knowledge to basic Verizon technical support speaks to a distinct lack of coordination between Verizon upper management and the phone jockeys (or, in other words, business-as-usual for any corporation – admittedly, I’m a tad jaded on that issue). It’s likely that as more people sign up, the process will become smoother. Apparently, I was one of the first.

Accounts was unable to complete the order, having determined that it amounted to a pre-paid plan, with Google being the purchaser. To Verizon’s credit, each person I was transferred to was friendlier than the last, and none of them were unfriendly. Accounts transferred me to the pre-paid mobile broadband accounts division to complete the transaction.

She was able to get me set up, but in keeping with the not really simple and certainly not seamless procedure, I had to go out to crosh> and manually activate the modem with the `modem status` and `modem activate` commands (the later of which is fairly long, which is made even longer by having someone explain it to you slowly over the phone. It went something like this:

crosh> modem status
This provides , the dynamic modem path. Then…
crosh> modem activate-manual /org/chromium/ModemManager/Gobi/[number] mdn [device phone #] min [the Verizon phone # to connect to] spc 000000 system_id [System ID #]

In typical *nix fashion (ChromeOS is linux based), there was no feedback, so the command was successful. We chatted for a bit on the phone (at which point I learned that I was one of the first), and after a while, all was well, and I was connected.

A bit less easy and seamless than advertised, but I have confidence that each call like mine will make subsequent calls easier. Wait. No I don’t. Customer service calls will never be easy and seamless.

Generally Speaking

Overall, I’m very happy with my Chromebook. The nits I have, though they may seem legion, are minor. Given Google’s track record with constant improvements, I do have confidence that my wishlist, and many other things besides, will be answered in time. Until then, I’ll keep submitting feedback and enjoying my Chromebook. My wife, however, has taken to referring to it as “my other woman.”

These are just my initial impressions… I’ll have more thoughts later, I’m sure.

What A Difference Skinny Tires Make

I ran – rode rather, the same gauntlet last night that I road last week. This time, however, I did not bonk. I’m still noticing some distinct lack of power, both “brute” and “staying”, but as a friendly commenter on the last post pointed out (I’m looking at you, Apertome), that’ll change as I keep pushing and pulling the cranks.

Udûn spawn is beyond me. The point is he’s a danger to himself and all those around him, and should be given a wide berth whenever possible.

Or perhaps the point is that I didn’t have a flat, which happens very rarely anyway, so it’s really not that notable.

Still, it’s rather ironic (I think I’m using it correctly here… it’s tough to tell sometimes) that when I ride my heavy bike with thick wide 37c tires I get a flat, and when I ride my crit bike with thinning skinny 23c tires, that have literally been to the mountain top and back, I get through without incident. Oh well… I’m not complaining. Truth be told, I was happy to not have a flat.

And what a difference those skinny tires made. If you compare the previous ride on those thick tires to last night’s ride you’ll note that I shaved 22 minutes off my time on the EXACT SAME ROUTE! Now, that’s something! Of course, I increased my average heart rate by 11bpm (though I was significantly less tired afterwards), but that’s not the point. The point is 22 minutes! I can’t explain the difference in elevation gain, except to say that maybe elevation detection isn’t the Edge 705′s strong suit. But 22 minutes! I wonder how I’d do if I dropped down to 12c tires?

I had a friend waaay back in the day (I don’t consider him an un-friend now, mind you) that played pool with a snooker cue. He used a much thinner 9mm shaft compared to our 12mm shafts. It’s amazing how much difference just a few millimeters make (“That’s what she said!” – thank you, Michael Scott). He was an amazing player as well… so much more amazing than we were (and we were damned amazing). I think that shaft had a lot to do with it. Certainly more than the countless practice and seasoning hours he spent with it.* Too bad he kept breaking with the cue until it shattered. Oh well…

So now I’m left wondering… if he was so much better with a skinny shaft (shut up, Michael-in-my-head), then how much better would I be with 12c tires? I’m assuming, of course, that the tire wouldn’t just flat out flat out immediately due to lack of support.

But you know, in the end, the speed isn’t the point. It’s the exercise and all the benefits of that, and the joy of being out on the road on the bike amidst all the drivers who hate me (and the precious few who don’t).

I think I’ll stick with my 37c’s and 23c’s, thank you.

I just need to find a way to fend off the chaos swarming around my friend…

new Lazer Helium helmet. It gave me a headache. I loosened the Rollsys® Retention System though, and I was fine.

* Statement is false

Winter Checklist

Winter is approaching. It’s snowing in Colorado right now, so my friends tell me. It normally follows that whatever they get, we get here in eastern KS a few days later. We may not get the snow, but I’m sure it’ll get cold again real soon. Maybe not next week, or the week after, but it’s coming.

So, it’s time to take stock and make sure I’ve got everything I need in order to weather the cold air on the bike.

The Bike

It’s a nearly new bike, with only a few hundred miles on it, so there aren’t any major issues, and all the components are in top shape. A Kansas winter will be a good test of it.

Knobby tires: Well, sorta. The stock tires on my Kona Dew Drop are Continental CountryRide. They won’t do too well in standing snow, I don’t think, but they’re fine in wet conditions. With any tires, though, it pays to ride very carefully when it’s wet.

Fenders: Check. I don’t have the rear fenders on, but the commuter panniers I got from NashBar serve the same purpose. If it’s crazy wet, I’ll bolster their water resistance by lining some plastic on the inside.

Brakes: Check. Disc brakes, stock to the Dew Drop. One of the reasons I picked up that particular bike. They’ll serve no matter the weather.

Me

Body

Wind Breaker: Check.

Layers: Check. I have plenty from last winter. Wicking layers, thicker warming layers for when it gets really cold, and the wind breaker will serve. I can double up the under layers for those sub zero days. The key is to layer layer layer.

Legs

Layers: Check. My legs don’t get nearly as cold as my torso, so I don’t need as much. Winter leggings and thick sweats will do. Standard bike shorts under the leggings will serve as an extra layer as well where it counts.

Hands, Feet and Head (aka “extremities”)

My fingers and toes are the hardest to keep warm when it gets really cold, so I’ve devoted more energy and thought towards them than everything else combined.

Winter Gloves: Check. I have thin and thick fingered gloves for cool and cooler days, lobster gloves for cold days, and neoprene liners for very cold days.

Shoes: Check. They’re basic MTB shoes, if you consider $200 basic. At least I got them for half price.

Shoe Covers: Check. Toe covers for cold days. Neoprene boots for very cold days. I can double up the toe covers and the boots for exceedingly cold days. For cooler days that aren’t quite cold enough for the boots, I have a stock of plastic bags I wear between the shoes and my socks to help keep the wind off my toes. It’s a very effective and very cheap method. I like the Target plastic the best.

Socks: Check. Wool. I need a couple more pairs, but I’m pretty good here.

Head Cover: See below.

Helmet: See below.

Eye Wear: See below.

What I’m lacking

There are a few things I’m missing, though. I need something for my head, and better riding glasses.

Where the head is concerned, I have some specific requirements that others might not share. I’m not a fan of the balaclava, b/c I don’t like my face covered. While it does get cold, even the coldest days last year didn’t make me wish for something over my face. It’s just a pet-peeve of mine, I guess. What I’d like is a hood that covers my whole head and neck, but leaves my face open. Something tight, made of neoprene, I think, would be nice.

I’ll also need a helmet that’s got a generous enough fit that I can wear it with and without the additional layer over my head. My current helmet fits my head fine, but when I start layering, it’s a little too small.

Finally, the glasses I’ve worn do a less-than-stellar job of keeping the wind out of my eyes. When it drops below 40 or so, it’s immediately apparent by the fact that it looks like I’m bawling like a baby. Tears just stream down my face b/c of the cold wind. I need some cycling glasses that do a great job keeping the eyes out of the wind. I almost bought some onion goggles, but they were a touch too small. That’s the idea, though.

Conclusion

So, I have a few things to procure before winter really sets in, but for the most part, I’m nearly completely covered. Last year taught me a lot of hard lessons with regards to staying warm in the freezing cold and wind. As I said, my fingers and toes are the hardest to protect. There were a few mornings when I was sure I’d take off the gloves or the socks to black frostbitten fingers. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, but the pain was still very real. I’m hoping that I’m prepared enough for that this year. My route is shorter by two miles, and it was during those last two miles last year that the most pain occurred, so I’m confident this winter won’t be as hard.

In the end, it’s all about preparation, and if you’ve not ridden in single digit weather before, you’re just going to have to accept that it’s going to be a trial by error process until you get it right.

Good luck!

A Balmy 42 This Morning

To this day, I very clearly remember the joy and relief I felt when the morning temperatures finally returned to the 40′s and 50′s last year. It was sometime in March, I believe, and it was a blessed relief after a couple months of temperatures below 10°F, and in the teens and twenties. It didn’t stay steady in the 50′s, but it was a wonderful sign of things to come.

Now, I know it’s only going to get colder, so I’m enjoying the 40′s while they last.

This morning, at 42°F, I was quite comfortable.

Some thoughts about my equipment:

Feet: Wool socks with plastic bags around my toes for wind breakage. And Shimano MTB shoes.
Torso/Arms: A moderately thick wicking layer, a thin wicking layer and a wind breaker.
Hands: Salsa N’AGUA™ Gloves.
Head: A thin head scarf pulled down over my ears and the standard helmet.

If I were to change a thing, it would be to eliminate the thin wicking layer. I got a touch warmish up top.

I think it’s time for a new helmet, too. I’ve had my Giro Atmos for a few years now, and I hear it’s a good idea to replace them periodically. With all the weather extremes it’s seen, I’m sure it’s ready to retire.

I think I’ll go for something a little cheaper, and with a little more breathing room for the head coverings I’ll be using this winter. I’m thinking about the Urbanize N Light, though I can’t help but think it looks pretty dorky. Then again, is there a bike helmet that doesn’t? Maybe I’ll pull out all the stops and go for the pink one.

Regardless, I won’t buy anything without trying it on, and the only place in town that appears to carry them is Waldo Bikes. Does anyone have any experience with this helmet? Any reviews worth reading? Any other ideas? My only requirements are that the helmet fit, and that front and rear lights can be mounted to it.

Preferrably blinky lights.

The TransIt Garment Bag works out a lot better on my Kona Dew Drop than it ever did on my (now deceased) Kona Fire Mountain (may she rest in peace). The rack just holds it in a much better position, and though the straps don’t hold it down quite as tight, it’s still plenty tight for urban/residential riding.

Oh, and I need to correct a previous post. The last time I rode to work last year was December 8th. Don’t know where I got that October 3rd date. So it really hasn’t been that long.

First Commute Ride in over a Year

I had no idea that it’d been that long. The last time I rode my bike to work was October 3rd, 2008. Well, unless you count today, that is.

I dressed well for the chill 44°F air, and 12mph ENE wind. Naturally, I’m heading SE, so it was a head/side wind. The wind will undoubtedly shift so that it’s a head/side wind this evening.

The only thing I’d change is the panniers. The TransIt Garment Bag is a great bag, and I’d recommend it to anyone, though I would stress trying it on for size first. On every back stroke, my heels scraped the front of the bag, and it’s set on the rack about as far back as it’ll go. Were the strap on the front of the bag that ties it to the seat tube a little longer, it might work better. As it is, though, it’s going to scrape.

So, tonight I’ll bring clothes for the rest of the week in to work (I have to come back up here anyway – and yes, I’ll drive due to the schedule and the various buildings I have to visit), and try to figure out something to do with the panniers.

The digs in the new building aren’t ideal, but I’ll make it work.

All in all, it’s damn nice to be back on the saddle again.