Ken Self – Bicycles Network Australia The Top Australian Cycling Portal Fri, 25 May 2018 06:40:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Supernova Airstream: High Powered German Rechargeable Bike Light Wed, 21 Aug 2013 01:21:36 +0000 If you are a commuter, a cycle tourer, or an endurance rider who does a lot of night riding, the Supernova Airstream could be for you. It is a high powered USB rechargeable light in a torch format that mounts on your handlebars and offers four levels of brightness plus a flashing mode. Sounds simple, […]]]>

If you are a commuter, a cycle tourer, or an endurance rider who does a lot of night riding, the Supernova Airstream could be for you. It is a high powered USB rechargeable light in a torch format that mounts on your handlebars and offers four levels of brightness plus a flashing mode.

Sounds simple, but beginning with the presentation in a tin box with Supernova stamped on the lid, this is something more. Inside the tin box you have: the light itself with a mounting plate, two shims of different thickness, a mains recharger, two O-rings, two dust caps for the recharging socket, and instructions.

My first impressions were that this was a very attractive light, and solidly built. I liked the rubber O-ring attachment system, though this obviously needed to be tested in practice. What I didn’t like, however, was the small rubber cap that covers the recharging port, as I’ll explain later.

Supernova box kit parts

Intelligence test
Before I received the light, Christopher (BNA Overlord) had challenged me to work out how to operate the light without reading the manual and I eagerly took the challenge. To start with, I gave the button one press and nothing happened. I then tried a long press but still nothing. There are no other buttons so this had to the right approach. After a few random presses at different intervals it eventually it switched on and subsequently changed into flash mode and then was adjusting the brightness. This confirmed that the battery was charged and I was not the target of a practical joke and facing an unproductive evening. A long press turned off the light which is conventional.

Stylish bike light supernopva airstream

After further experimentation I discovered that a double-click switched the light on. Once the light was switched on, another double click started flash mode and a single click returned it back to the steady beam. Single presses cycle the light through the 4 brightness levels but the clicks have to be “long enough”: a quick click is too short while a long press of course switches off. This brings me to the first of my “dislikes”. The double-click to switch on is not intuitive, but I guess an advantage of that is that you are unlikely to switch on the light accidentally by stuffing it in a bag when not in use. Also, getting the right amount of “press” to change brightness levels reliably takes a little practice.

The top two brightness levels are  hard to tell apart, and there is no other feedback that you have successfully changed, so I spent a few times cycling through the brightness levels till I was sure I had the mode I wanted. I won’t lose any sleep over this, and of course I could read the instructions, though it is nice when you get a product that works intuitively.

Now that the experimental phase was over, I  was allowed to read the manual. I found that the light comes out of the box with 30% charge and needs 6 hours to charge fully. To charge the light, remove the cap covering the recharge socket (that’s right, the rubber cap I don’t like) and plug in the mains charger.  A USB charge cable is an optional accessory. With the mains charger connected a pulsing green LED indicates that the light is charging and a solid green LED indicates full charge. The manual has dire warnings about shorting out the recharge socket, so once charged it is a good idea to replace the cap right away.

Here comes the dislike again, perhaps it’s because of my age or eyesight but do you think I could find that cap? It took me 15 to 20 minutes of looking to find it and on each subsequent recharge I also had to spend time looking for it. Luckily there is a spare cap in the pack, but if the cap was attached to the light it would be much harder to lose it.

Supernova light button

Lab test
I was interested to see how long the light would last in different modes. The manual states 2.5 hours at maximum brightness, 3.5 hours at level 2, 7 hours for the third brightness level and more than 24 hours for the fourth level. For most uses I would expect level 3 or level 4 to be the most practical. At the higher levels, commuters would probably want to recharge during the day to ensure a safe trip home and tourers who like having lights on during daylight would need more than 3 hours.

At level 3 it took 3.75 hours from switch on till the indicator LED changed from green to red+green indicating 50% charge or less. After 7.25 hours the LED turned to red only indicating less than 10% charge. At 7.5 hours the red LED started flashing and within a couple of minutes the light died. So the light performs in this mode as claimed. Recharging to a full charge from flat took six hour, also as claimed.

The manual gives no information on the burn time for flashing  but the Supernova Airstream website says 12 hours which was confirmed by testing. Flashing mode has a rate of about 2 flashes per second.

Level 4 brightness is only available for the “international” (non-German) model and the manual states “> 24 hours” burn time while the website says 25 hours. On the bench it lasted 24.25 hours. The following graph shows the bench tested burn times for each level along with a rough indication of the brightness.

Supernova Airstream Chart Graph
Level 4 is quite dim compared to the other levels, but does it meet the Australian requirement for visibility from 200 metres? As a crude test, I set up the light at level 4 at night and walked 200 metres down the road. The light was clearly visible so I would expect it would be legal to use in that mode.

A feature of the Airstream is its heat management, which gives higher light output and longer life. At maximum brightness, an ambient temperature of 19 degrees, and with no airflow, the temperature at the heatsink  stabilised at around 40 degrees after 50 minutes until about 145 minutes when the light dimmed to conserve power before switching off some 15 minutes later. With a domestic fan blowing air over the light to simulate the airflow when riding, the temperature stabilised at around 24 degrees after 15 minutes until it dimmed at around 140 minutes.

Now I’m no expert on these things but the results seem pretty good. I believe the critical temperature for these devices is around 85 degrees, beyond which the brightness and lifetime are degraded. Obviously, the temperature of the LED will be higher than at the heatsink, but a 5 degree temperature rise above ambient should be of no concern. Even with no airflow, the temperature rise was less than 23 degrees which would suggest that you would have to be stationary on a hot day with the light on full to even begin to have any worries and, seriously, who would be doing that?

Supernova battery indication

A great feature of the Airstream is that it can be recharged whilst it is in use. By connecting it to the mains charger I could simulate running the light from an external source, like a dynamo or Powermonkey, and see how long it lasts at different brightness levels. Something more realistic, like a dynamo-USB adapter connected with the USB cable, would have been preferable, but the USB charger is an add-on and I’m a little puzzled why it isn’t included as standard. The charger is rated at 550mA output, which is above the USB standard of 500mA, so it charges the Airstream faster than a normal USB supply. Also, in real life, the dynamo only works to recharge when you are in motion so you can expect shorter running times.

Note: A trap to watch for when using the Airstream in this way. I found I had to first switch on the light then plug in the charger. Doing it the other way around led to the light not recharging.

At level 1 it lasted for nearly 6 hours before it switched off. My own calculations indicated 5 hours would be the limit and the difference is accounted for by the extra current from the charger.  At level 2, my calculations predicted 11.7 hours but it ran for at 15 hours. Note that at the end of this time the light is fully discharged and needs 6 hours to recharge fully.

At levels 3 and 4 running from a dynamo the light should be able to be used “indefinitely” with minimal discharging. Of course that assumes you are moving fast enough to power the light from the dynamo.


Road test
The Airstream mounts onto handlebars using one of the two supplied O-rings. For my handlebars I did not need the shims but noted that they have a convenient lug that fits into a matching hole in the mounting bracket so they don’t fall out. This system makes for easy fitting and removal and adapts to fit different handlebar diameters. The bracket can also be rotated to allow mounting on the stem.

Supernova Airstream Mount

Supernova commuter light

For comparison, I normally run a dynohub driven Busch & Müller (B&M) Lumotec IQ Cyo which is regarded as a bright light at 60 lux. The Supernova website says the Airstream produces  370 lumens. I personally don’t like lumens for rating and prefer lux as it is more accurate for measuring and comparing brightness as it takes into account factors such how focussed the light beam is versus how much of the road it lights up.

So how to compare lux versus lumens? My day job often requires me to come up with “reasonable” assumptions to estimate outcomes so, working off the back of an envelope, I estimated that the Airstream would  produce 100 lux at level 1, 70 lux at level 2, 40 lux at level 3 and 10 lux at level 4, assuming equivalent beam shapes, among other things.

Supernova bike light

Supernova lumins cycling

It was a beautiful night for the test ride. A bit chilly  at 7 degrees, so no chance of the Airstream overheating, but almost no wind and no chance of rain. I rugged up and sallied forth to my local shared path that runs through parklands with no lighting except from the distant street lights. Alternating between my B&M and the Airstream, I felt that the Airstream gave a similar light output at level 3 and with that I could ride comfortably at speeds up to 25 km/h before  reaching for the brakes. The Airstream has a narrower beam that throws an evenly lit oval with a sharp cutoff at the edges which accounts for the brighter than expected lighting at that level. That is, it concentrates less light into a smaller area so it appears brighter. Riding with both lights together was a joy with a very bright spot in front where the two lights converge, and the sides lit up with the wide beam. But of course, not everyone will be in a position to do that.

Levels 1 and 2 were a boon for the winding and dipping path, but leads me to my next dislike. At some points it was useful to use one of the brighter modes than level 3, but to get there requires a couple of long button presses. So getting more light in a hurry is not easy and changing modes in general is quite distracting when you need to keep your eyes on the track. A trick I discovered was to double click to go into flashing mode then a single click to go to level 1 brightness. This was quicker and more reliable than trying to click through the various levels.

On the suburban streets, level 4 or flashing mode were both more than adequate. I particularly liked the flashing mode as it is considerably brighter than other “cheapo” flashing lights I’ve used and I was confident that nobody could possibly miss seeing it.


Who is it for?
If you have a 1 hour commute each way you could run the Airstream at level 4 and still have plenty of charge left at the end of the week. Or you could run it in flashing mode and be close to empty by the weekend. Alternatively, you could run it at level 3 with the odd increase when needed and recharge overnight.

Personally, I would not use the higher levels continuously as it would mean having a charger sitting both at home and in the office. Plus, with my notoriously bad memory, it’s a dead cert I’d regularly leave the light behind at the office.

In the time I’ve been using the Airstream I’ve converted into quite a fan of riding shared paths in darkness whereas previously I was quite wary of them outside daylight hours. Having a bright light when it’s needed makes it that much easier to maintain a reasonable speed.

Supernova bike light design

For touring I enjoy the convenience of a dynamo powered light and the Airstream is beneficial for those wanting to get the most from their lighting investment. With the USB cable and a dynamo USB adapter, the Airstream can be used in place of a hard wired dynamo light running on level 3 or 4, where the USB charger can keep up. It has the advantages of more light when needed, courtesy of its battery power, plus a flashing mode.  Additionally,  you can easily swap it over to whichever of your other bikes you need to whether they have a dynamo or not. Note however, that the USB cable is an optional extra that you should order when you purchase the light.

Audax riders would really benefit from this light on dark country roads as it provides the bright lighting when you need it but also the flexibility to adjust the setting and have a ‘legal’ light that provides illumination the whole distance. This is especially important for extreme events such as the 24 hour Oppy in March when you need to ‘light up’ for 12 hours or more.

The best feature, in my opinion, is that this is one of the few, if not the only light, that I know of that can operate whilst being recharged from a USB port. So for a long overnight ride it is possible to hook up an auxiliary power source, like a Powermonkey or similar, to  almost double the burn time (e.g. around 12.5 hours at level 3), while a Powermonkey extreme would quadruple the burn time (e.g. around 29 hours at level 3). This eliminates the need to stop to swap lights or batteries.


In conclusion
I’d give the Airstream 4 stars out of 5 and I’m a notoriously hard marker. It could be improved by supplying a USB cable as standard, having  more intuitive and usable controls, and a dust cap that is attached to the body of the light.

But these are minor niggles in what is otherwise a great combination of: a bright light with decent battery life, lots of versatility by being able to move it from one bike to another, and being able to power it from multiple sources.

Supernova dropped their previous Australian importer and if you buy direct from the Supernova online store in Germany this light will set you back €199 Euro (plus postage) so over $300. At the time of writing, the Supernova Airstream has been spotted in the Pro-Lite Oz online shop for $199.

This version of the light is known as the Airstream International and further information is available from the Supernova Website:

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LightCharge Hub Dynamo-powered Bicycle USB Charger Fri, 28 Sep 2012 00:42:39 +0000 As a cycling tourist and self-confessed gadget man, it is important to keep all of my gadgets charged whilst on tour; it isn’t always easy to find a source of electricity in the middle of nowhere. On my touring bike I have a dynamo hub that powers the lights and has a little spare juice […]]]>

As a cycling tourist and self-confessed gadget man, it is important to keep all of my gadgets charged whilst on tour; it isn’t always easy to find a source of electricity in the middle of nowhere. On my touring bike I have a dynamo hub that powers the lights and has a little spare juice for charging the gadgets. The problem is that my dynohub puts out 6V AC but most devices these days charge from USB which is 5V DC. Not only that, the output from the dynohub varies quite a bit depending on how fast you are going. This is not ideal for the camera, Garmin, power meter and other gadgets I normally travel with.

The Bike2Power LightCharge USB charger is designed to work with a dynohub putting out 6 to 12V AC and supplies a regulated 5V DC up to 250mA through a standard USB connector. The LightCharge consists of the unit itself with integrated cable and a bunch of cable ties for attaching it to the frame.

LightCharge package contents

The unit is remarkably compact compared to similar devices I’ve seen and used; not much bigger in diameter than a 50 cent piece. It has two push buttons to toggle between using the unit to charge via the USB port or to direct all the power to standard dynamo lights – in effect switching the charging facility on or off. The buttons are weatherproofed by a soft plastic cover. LEDs indicate which switch position has been selected.

The USB port is the standard size and has a cover to keep out dirt and water when it is not in use. When a USB plug is inserted it is a snug fit, but one should position the unit carefully to minimise the chance of water getting in or the plug shaking loose.  Placing the port horizontally would possibly be the best option.

LightCharge Controller Plugged

The back of the unit has a plastic mounting block that is concave to fit on to most standard diameter tubes or handlebars. There are slots in the block for cable ties to secure it to the frame. As an example, I mounted the LightCharge on the underside of  the handlebars,  underneath the Garmin mount.

LightCharge Mounted Underneath the Handlebars

A three core cable comes out of the unit which is  long enough to run all the way down the forks to the dynohub. Two of these wires connect to the dynohub. If you have a Shimano dynohub the bare wires attach straight into the Shimano connector. If you have a Schmidt dynohub (as I do) you need to terminate the wires with spade connectors (not supplied). The third wire is terminated with a crimp joiner. The idea is to crimp the open end onto the wire leading to your headlight.

My setup is a bit different to the usual. First of all I don’t like having two sets of wires running down the fork. So instead I have a kind of extension cord running from the dynohub to the top of the forks that terminates with spade connectors the same as on the dynohub. Also, I like to run my lights all the time and the dynohub can run my lights and charge my Garmin at the same time. So instead of connecting the third wire to my headlights, I wired the headlights in parallel with the LightCharge. If I want to disconnect the LightCharge so it does not draw power, I use its switch as an on/off switch. If I want to run the LightCharge with full power, I can simply switch off the headlights.

For my first ride I just threw the unit into my handlebar bag and grabbed a retracting USB cable with a mini-B end to connect the LightCharge to my Garmin Edge 705. I set out along the Main Yarra Trail and Diamond Creek Trail towards Diamond Creek. These trails are largely unsealed and a bit bumpy so a good test for the mechanical connections. The LightCharge worked as advertised; the LED indicated correctly the switch setting and kept the Garmin charged while I also had the lights running.

I once calculated that the Garmin draws about 0.3W or one tenth of the dynohub output which is why I can run  the lights and keep the Garmin charged at the same time. Other devices may draw more power so this might not work for them. Also, keeping the Garmin topped up is one thing but recharging it is another thing altogether. I did a rough test where I allowed the Garmin to discharge about one third (the only gauge of this is a picture on the screen so it’s hard to be precise). With the LightCharge connected and headlights off I rode around and after about 2.5 hours gentle riding the Garmin was almost fully charged. This should give you the idea that fast recharging from a dynohub is not to be expected. One thing I did not test was recharging from completely flat. From experience, this is not usually very successful and the Garmin certainly wont operate until some minimum charge level is reached. In those situations you are better off recharging it with a PowerMonkey or equivalent.

A slight digression here for Garmin owners. The Garmin is quite picky about the type of USB cable you use. Basically, depending on how the pins are set up, it will decide if it is connected to a charger or connected to a computer. If it thinks it’s connected to a computer, even if only charging, it wont record your ride or show your data. Alas, my retracting cable was not set up properly and partway through the ride the Garmin switched into “computer” mode. Luckily I had also brought a proper Garmin cable just in case. I preferred the compactness of the retracting cable but I really wanted to record the ride and see the data. A quick cable change and all was well.

The LightCharge is compact and lightweight. The standard USB port makes it more versatile than units that use proprietary connectors, and it’s switchable so you can be sure your lights work when you need them or you can charge with full power if you want. Just be careful how you mount the unit to keep the USB port protected from the elements when it is in use.

The LightCharge Hub Dynamo USB charger is available for purchase online from Bike2Power for $67.95 (USD)

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A Squeak-Free Clean Bike Chain with the Hebie Chainglider Tue, 24 Jul 2012 00:22:02 +0000 Why don’t cyclists like riding in the rain? Is it because steel rusts and carbon fibre dissolves in water? Or could it be that riding in the rain throws up mud and grit that gets on the chain so it’s harder to pedal and wears out the chain faster? You then need to clean the […]]]>

Why don’t cyclists like riding in the rain? Is it because steel rusts and carbon fibre dissolves in water? Or could it be that riding in the rain throws up mud and grit that gets on the chain so it’s harder to pedal and wears out the chain faster? You then need to clean the chain and lubricate it, just in time for the next shower or storm. Time and money that could be better spent riding around and sipping latte.

And why don’t more people commute on their bike wearing their normal clothes? Some would have it that lycra is more comfortable. But surely the real reason is the risk of oil and dirt from the chainring soiling your clothing. There is also the danger of catching your trousers in the chain while mixing it with the smokeboxes. Or worst of all, looking like a complete dag by tucking your trousers legs into your socks.

The Hebie Chainglider is a clever solution to the problem of dirty chains and flapping trouser legs. At least for those of you with internal hub gears, a singlespeed or a fixie (and a beard).

The Chainglider is a plastic chaincase that fits just about any chain and fully encloses it to stop water and dirt getting in. As an aftermarket accessory it does not have any fitting points on the frame but is instead supported by the chain itself. This may cause some people concerns about the friction caused by having the chain constantly rubbing on the plastic chaincase. There was a specific issue with Rohloff hubs where the chaincase was rubbing on the Rohloff causing scoring and was therefore not recommended by Rohloff. This issue has since been addressed with a Rohloff specific design and Rohloff now says:

With the use/mounting of a Hebie Chainglider SPEEDHUB (typ 350) one has to pay attention that parts made of plastic are unable to scratch on the surface of the hub case!

With the first series of Chaingliders scratching marks occasionally appeared on the hub case by the grinding touch of the Chainglider’s rear side. In October 2006 the rear part has been modified to prevent a possible abrasion. Scratches on the surface cannot diminish the stability of the SPEEDHUB case – they’ re just ugly.
You can read more about this here >

Hebie Chainglider Installation

Hebie Chainglider Installation

Hebie Chainglider Installation

So what about the friction issue? Well, here at BNA we don (metaphorical) white lab coats and spare no effort to test the products we review. For the Hebie Chainglider test I used my Velosmith Jota touring/utility bike with Rohloff hub, 44T chain ring and 16T sprocket and Rohloff SLT-99-T chain. All the drivetrain components have done about 11000km. The Hebie Chainglider is a model 350 and comes in two parts: one for the chainring and chain and the other for the rear sprocket. You need to order the parts to suit the size of chainring and sprocket on your bike and the type of hub.

The test approach was to set up the bike on a friction trainer then ride it at threshold for 5 minutes while recording cadence. The first run would be with a dirty chain. Then, leaving the settings unchanged, I would clean the chain thoroughly and repeat the test. Finally I would install the Hebie Chainglider and run the test again.

The idea is that power output at the pedals has to equal the opposing frictional forces from the trainer, gears and drivetrain multiplied by cadence. By riding at threshold I could keep my power output at the pedals reasonably constant, so more friction means lower cadence. By keeping the friction from the trainer constant and keeping the Rohloff in the same gear throughout, the only variation in friction should come from the drive train, including the Chainglider.

For the test I started with a fairly dirty chain after a week long tour on gravel rail trails and a muddy trip on the Main Yarra Trail to Westerfolds Park. I had wiped down the chain to remove the worst of the dirt and had oiled it lightly but had not given it my usual, thorough clean. I set up the bike in the trainer with my Garmin, tightened up the tension and adjusted the gears until I could not possibly pedal faster than 100 rpm in a burst, and with maximal effort could sustain around 80 rpm, which is right in my power zone.

Setting up was a good warm-up, so I started pedalling and started the Garmin. For 5 minutes I time trialled and by the end of it I was pretty wasted. To recover I got out the chain cleaner and got to work. To clean the chain I first ran the chain through a dry cloth to remove all surface dirt and grease. Then I used a Park tools chain cleaner with Ooomph brand degreaser, diluted 50:50, which cleans the deep ingrained gunge. After a thorough going over I then wiped down the chain with a cloth, recharged the Parktools cleaner with Oomph and had at it again. When done, I brushed the chain ring and sprocket clean and dried again by running the chain through a dry cloth. To lubricate I put a drop of Finishline on each link, spun the chain a bit then wiped off any excess.

All that was enough time to cool down and recover for the next test with a clean chain. I had cleaned the chain with the bike still on the trainer so everything was set up identically. Five minutes later the second test was complete and I was just as tired as after the first test.

Hebie Chainglider Front Chainring

For the final test run I had to fit the Hebie Chainglider. The chainring and sprocket sections each break apart into two parts so they can be fitted around the chain. The parts snap together easily starting first with the chainring section. The sprocket section is installed next; it slides onto the chainring section and is adjusted for the length of the chain. This is a little trickier as it is quite a tight fit using interlocking ridges. My thinking was to find the position that made the least noise and therefore least friction. I also had a good look at the rear hub and confirmed that there was no contact between the Chainglider and the gear casing. By the time I had fitted the Chainglider I had cooled down and recovered enough for the final test run. Another 5 minutes of hurt and the test was over.

The results were very interesting. The first run with a dirty chain gave an average cadence of 83 rpm. The second test with a clean chain gave a predictably better result of 85 rpm which is a little over 2% improvement. The surprise was the Chainglider, which gave 86rpm which is even higher than the bare chain. I can only put this down to having become used to the test. The test was not entirely scientific, but was reasonably objective.  I’m satisfied that it shows that a clean chain is better than a dirty chain and also that any friction from the Chainglider over a clean chain is negligible.

Turning the pedal on a trainer is one thing but what about on the road? I took it for a few rides on a mix of suburban streets and shared paths including the unsealed sections of the Main Yarra Trail between Ivanhoe and Templestowe. The Chainglider is hardly noticeable. There is almost no noise, certainly nothing I could discern above the whirr of the Rohloff. On the first ride, when under load,  I did hear some squeaking. I don’t like squeaks and rattles from my bike so I tracked it  down to the Chainglider rubbing on the third bottle cage that sits under the downtube. A bit of tape around the bottle cage at the contact point eliminated the noise as confirmed on the next ride. At times I was quite convinced I could hear less drivetrain noise with the Chainglider than without. Possibly just my imagination or maybe the Chainglider helps to dampen the noise of the chain contacting the chainring and sprocket. Certainly it was quieter than a dirty chain.

Hebie Chainglider Dirty Waterbottle

Hebie Chainglider Dirty

As for keeping the chain clean the unsealed paths were a good test. Recent rain meant there were plenty of puddles and mud although not as bad as the Goulburn River High Country Rail Trail that I toured on recently. Nevertheless, after several km of gravel there was a good coating of dirt on the Chainglider. A week or so of daily riding on that and it would be chain cleaning time.

The Chainglider certainly kept the chain from catching or soiling my trouser legs. It also worked to keep my trouser legs from catching in the chain and chain ring, and from any soiling from those. I did notice that my trouser cuffs were gently brushing the Chainglider on each revolution so it would be prudent to use trouser clips or (gasp) tuck your trousers into your socks, to prevent soiling the cuffs on the muddiest paths. It does however keep the the Chainglider nice and clean on top.

As a tourer who often takes to unsealed roads and rail trails, the Chainglider is a welcome accessory. Out on the road it’s often not easy to clean and maintain the drivetrain, so preventing it from getting dirty is a better option. For the commuter or frequent recreational rider who likes hassle free cycling and wearing street clothes, it adds a level of convenience. And if you commute in your office clothes it could even save you a bit of dry-cleaning from chain ring stains. It’s hard to put a value on convenience but given that it is aimed primarily at the Internal Geared Hub market, it is an inexpensive add-on. As we have seen, it does just what it’s supposed to do.

The chainring section comes in sizes for 38T, 42T, 44T and 48T and costs $50. The sprocket section comes in three type for sprockets 18-22T, a Rohloff version for 15-17T and a SRAM i-motion version for 18-22T. The Rohloff version costs $44.

The Hebie Chainglider is imported by Joad Sportz Supplies and is available direct or from bike stores across Australia.

Flying by instruments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 11:09:09 +0000 Let’s face it, I’m a geek. Everyone who knows me associates me with gadgetry. Not only that, I have a fascination with data. Professionally I am an expert on managing data quality and I love collecting and analysing data to extract every last bit of value from it. So it’s not surprising to see a […]]]>

Let’s face it, I’m a geek. Everyone who knows me associates me with gadgetry. Not only that, I have a fascination with data. Professionally I am an expert on managing data quality and I love collecting and analysing data to extract every last bit of value from it. So it’s not surprising to see a number of gadgets on my bike for collecting data: Garmin Edge 705 computer, iBike power meter and a camera set up consisting of a Sony bulletcam and a miniDVR.

Some people like to listen to music while riding, I prefer to crunch numbers. Seriously. The Garmin and the iBike both provide a vast array of data and even the camera tells me the time of day. Aside from providing some useful diversion to pass the time, these devices have practical uses as well. From just riding around to competing against the clock, having the right data from the right gadgets helps me to get the most out of my cycling.

High Powered Cycling

Just riding around

Most of my riding is “just riding around”. I usually work from home, so I need to take opportunities to get out for a bit of exercise and fresh air. On working days the most important information is the time, as I often have a window of opportunity between teleconferences to get out. Of course I could use a watch, but why look at your wrist when you can look at your handlebars? They’re right in front of you.

My main reason for riding is to keep my weight under control, so I want to know how many calories I’ve burnt. The Garmin Edge 705 calculates calories burnt but is notoriously inaccurate. The data provided by the iBike is based on power output and is thus more reliable. It’s a great feeling to see you’ve burnt 300 Calories from a ride to Studley Park Boathouse then wipe it out with a yummy ice-cream.

Tracking calories burnt is a bit of a chore so to keep things simple I set myself a target distance to ride per week and I record distance travelled per trip. I can download that from the Garmin onto the Garmin Training Centre in order to track by week, month or year. I know from my analysis that I burn between 15 and 20 Calories per km depending on the intensity of the ride. That equates to a couple of grams of fat per km if I don’t indulge in those ice creams.

On weekends I like to explore new routes so my riding doesn’t become monotonous. For those rides I need to know where I am so I don’t get lost, and where I went so I can incorporate the ride into my mid-week schedule. The Garmin has a map with GPS navigation and records the ride into a file. I’m a keen mapper for Openstreetmap and use the GPS traces to record new roads and paths. For the more complicated routes, I plan them out first and load them onto the Garmin. Occasionally I use the navigation feature if I get a bit lost. I point to where I want to go on the map and ask the Garmin to take me there. It works best in this scenario over short distances.

Newton iBike Garmin

I occasionally go to the office for administrative stuff. As an infrequent commuter I have to carry everything with me. I used to commute in lycra then shower and change at the office but that means taking a complete change of clothes and towel as well as my laptop, security pass and other paraphernalia which in turn means remembering to do all of that. All too often I’d forget one thing or another which meant  turning around and going home for it. These days I commute at low speed in normal clothes and aim to not work up a sweat. That means I only need a pair of shoes (I ride with SPDs) and my laptop and pass.

The most important thing to know when commuting is the time, in order to know if you are running late or not, or whether you’re about to encounter the school run or heavy traffic. Distance can be useful so you know how far you have to go, but on a regular route you should already know that. When aiming to stay cool a power meter is incredibly useful. I aim to keep my power output under 100W, except for the steepest pitches where my limit is 150W, and that only for short stretches. One does have to get to the office in time after all. Cadence can also be useful to maintain discipline. It’s often harder, mentally, to ride slowly than to ride fast.

Training for me means preparing for a specific event like the Alpine Classic. The single most useful data for this is power. Power meters let you train without having to replicate the conditions of the event. Climbing a mountain at speed requires a certain amount of power over a certain amount of time. You can train to produce the same amount of power on the flat for the same amount of time.

When I was training for the Alpine Classic I realised I might no be able to generate enough power for the final climb up Buffalo at my normal pace, so I needed to train how to climb at low power output. This means riding slowly uphill and is more about technique. For this, things like gradient, speed and cadence can be useful.

Before I had a power meter I used a heart rate monitor, but no longer bother. Power is much more responsive to your efforts and there are a huge number of tools out there for training with power. They usually centre on your FTP or functional threshold power. This is how much sustained power you can produce for one hour. One way to calculate it is with a sustained 20 minute effort with a power meter.  The iBike has built in workouts that you can then follow for different purposes.

I don’t do any competitive cycling but I do Audax rides which are against the clock. The most important things to know on these rides are: how long have you been riding, and how far have you gone. The organisers provide cue sheets, but having a map of the route is also useful. Riders have been known to go off course. The Garmin takes maps that I build from Openstreetmap data.

Being endurance rides it’s important to conserve energy and last the distance. The biggest aid for that is power output. When I’m doing a hilly or undulating ride I’ll set myself a maximum power target and try to stay below that. Cadence can be useful to make sure I’m in the right gear and spinning rather than grinding. Knowing the headwind let’s me know if I should be in the drops and also helps find the sweet spot when drafting. Gradient helps me to understand why it’s hurting or why I’m going so slow.

The Garmin has a nice feature of alerts based on distance or time. I usually set an alert every 5 minutes or so to remind me to take a sip of water. I have a bad habit of not taking enough fluids when I’m on a long ride, so having a frequent reminder is a big help.

Cycling Geek Gadgets

When touring the most important thing to know is where you are and how far to your next stop. Knowing the time is also important in case you need to get to the destination before it gets dark, and your average speed so you can estimate how long it will take. On hilly tours gradient can be useful for very steep sections so you know if you need to dismount and walk before coming to a grinding halt and clip-stacking.

If it’s important to conserve energy for days of long touring then power, cadence and headwind can be useful. Knowing how many calories you burnt can also be useful so you can be sure to replenish before the next day’s riding. In general I prefer to minimise the gadgetry on tour as it is one more thing that could go wrong and distracts from the joy of just watching the scenery

It’s great to have a video camera going as you ride along. You never know when something unusual will happen, like a lyrebird running in front of you. My camera set up works well for tours as it has a long battery life and recording capacity.  The camera batteries last over 20 hours and being AA cells are easily replaced when they go flat. The mini-DVR battery lasts about 4 hours but can be supplemented with a Powermonkey and recharged at stops with a plug in USB charger which is not a burden to carry around. In theory I could power the miniDVR from the dynohub but I’ve not yet tried that.

After the ride you want to know where you went for posting on blogs like crazyguyonabike. The Garmin lets you download the GPS trace for the route. Some stats like average speed, and calories burnt can be useful for planning future rides.

The Gadgets

The Garmin Edge 705 has been superseded by the Garmin Edge 800, but even though I love new gadgets I also like to make them last as long as they can and a bit more.The 705 has a multitude of features: speed, cadence, heart rate and power from ANT+ devices. A barometric altimeter gives altitude and calculates gradient. It tracks routes on GPS and also provides navigation with either the supplied maps or DIY maps you can build from Openstreetmaps.

Power meter
For the last few years I’ve used an iBike iSport which I am now upgrading to the new iBike Newton. The iBike is a “reactive force power meter” which means it determines power output by measuring the forces reacting acting against you as in Newton’s law “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  The forces it measures also provide additional information to the cyclist: an accurate gradient using an accelerometer, and wind strength

The camera is a model 21CWSHR “bullet cam” from RF Concepts (UK) which is a Sony CCD 480TVL 1/3″ colour camera with a 8 mm lens. A bit dated now but it does the job and, importantly, the external battery pack provides over 20 hours of continuous use from 8 AA cells. It is in NTSC format of 768×494 pixels and works well in low light with sensitivity of 0.5 lux @ F2.0. This type of camera can be mounted onto a helmet, hat, bike or just about anywhere and records onto any suitable recording device.

The recorder is a CC-KL509 Mini DVR with 16Gb SD card. My choice of the miniDVR is a result of evolution. I started recording fishing videos from the bullet cam onto a digital tape camcorder. The tapes only allowed 1 hour of recording even though the battery life was great at 9 hours. As technology improved I replaced the camcorder with an Archos AV-500 DVR with 80Gb hard-drive. The Archos battery life was about 4 hours and it had plenty of storage, but hard-drives don’t like rough treatment. The KL509 also has about 4 hours battery life that can be recharged via USB and the 16Gb SD card can hold about 12 hours of video. And of course it’s easy to carry around extra cards.

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to enhance my cycling experience. If you have a different gadget, or even novel ways to use the same ones I’ve got, post a comment below. Of course, having all this data is only useful if you can do something with it. Analysing it and planning ahead based on what you find is a story for another day. Keep an eye out for further instalments.

Front Pannier

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Arundel Gecko and Cork Bar Tape Review Sat, 28 Apr 2012 11:26:43 +0000 When you’re riding a bike there are three points of contact with your body: your posterior, your feet and your hands. While there seems to be endless discussion on the merits of various saddles, pedals and gloves, people often neglect a very simple way to improve the bike/human interface: the bar tape. The Arundel Bicycle […]]]>

When you’re riding a bike there are three points of contact with your body: your posterior, your feet and your hands. While there seems to be endless discussion on the merits of various saddles, pedals and gloves, people often neglect a very simple way to improve the bike/human interface: the bar tape.

The Arundel Bicycle Company specialises in bottle cages, but they also offer two types of bar tape: Cork and Gecko. Both are available in black, white, red, blue and yellow. Arundel products are supplied by Artisan Cycles in Albert Park.

Cork bar tapes like the Arundel Cork have been around for a long time. I have often thought about putting on some yellow bar tape to match my frame, but hesitated because of worries about discolouration from my black mitts which seem to stain anything that comes in contact with them. Arundel however, claim their bar tape is easy to clean, so it was time to give the Arundel Cork bar tape in yellow a try.

The guys at Arundel are up front about their products and clearly a bit tongue in cheek, as evidenced by the fitting instructions which say:

8.) Slap the enclosed “finishing tape” on your toolbox, chainstay, bumper etc

9.) Find some nice electrical tape and use it to hold the barwrap in place

Opening the box you find two rolls of tape, two pieces of the above mentioned black finishing tape and two bar end plugs with the Arundel logo of an old stone castle, namely Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England.

The  tape has the Arundel name embossed continuously along one edge so you can choose to wrap the tape to either show or hide the name. I chose to keep the name in view.

There is a narrow adhesive strip along the back that is quite sticky.  The yellow cork tape is very similar to my existing Cinelli cork tape in texture and thickness, possibly a bit thicker although I did not stretch it as much. Like most “cork” tapes it is in fact a foam with cork chunks which gives the lighter coloured tape a slightly speckled look.

Arundel Yellow Cork Bartape Cockpit
Ed. Now this is a Cockpit… we will get Ken to share his secrets of high-tech cycling soon.

Dan from Artisan Cycles warned me that stretching the tape too much can break it and that removing the backing can also cause the adhesive to come off. These problems did not eventuate with the first tape I tried, which went on surprisingly easily. I followed the instructions carefully, apart from points 8 and 9 above. Before starting you need to cut of a short piece to go under the brake levers. The strong adhesive definitely helped to keep the tape in place and I had no problem with removing the backing. As per the instructions I finished off with yellow electrician’s tape. The extra thickness did make it a little harder to get the bar end plugs into place and it was especially tricky to get the logo right way up.

When fitting the second tape I encountered the problem I was warned about with the backing tape.  The backing adheres to the adhesive, which is itself a clear plastic and comes off the bar tape with the backing if you are not careful. I wasn’t and it took me till halfway through the wrap before I realised what had happened. Even so, it made no difference to the ease of wrapping and I just separated the backing from the adhesive and continued

The colour was not a perfect match for my frame but it was near enough and certainly changed the appearance of the bike. On the road I could not discern any difference from the Cinelli tape in either grippiness or softness. It only took a few hours riding in fine weather for the inevitable staining from my mitts to occur, but a quick wipe with a damp sponge was enough to clean off the stains. The speckled look from the cork may also have helped hide any lighter staining but it looked clean to my eye.

The tape got a better workout by accident while I was doing some maintenance and grabbed the handlebars with my greasy hands. Wiping with a damp sponge was not enough, but a spray with mild cleaning liquid and a wipe with a sponge did the job. I had occasion to re-wrap some of the tape and underneath was brighter in colour but without that contrast the discolouration was of no concern.

Arundel Gecko Bartape

The Arundel Gecko tape is a new style of tape that that offers a better grip than cork. The Gecko tape is made of foam and polyurethane with a dimpled surface. The one I tested was black and the colour is uniform.

It is a bit thinner than the Cork and feels very different. Interestingly, the Gecko comes with two pieces of bar tape about 8cm long, already cut to fit around the brake levers. The box has the same fitting instructions as the Cork tape and the same warning about the adhesive applies. As with the Cork tape I had no problems wrapping it on.  I took the bike for a longish ride with the Gecko tape on one side and my older tape on the other to provide a direct comparison. The Gecko felt slightly grippier with my gloves on, but the real difference was when I was riding bare handed. In the drops, putting some power down, I found the feel of the Gecko grip to be very comfortable and easier to maintain a tight hold of.

Only time will tell whether the Gecko retains its grip, but for now I’d say the Gecko tape adds another level of comfort, especially when you need to pull on the bars under power, such as when you’re climbing.

Arundel bar tape is available through Both the Cork and Gecko tapes are $21.95 RRP

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Arundel Stainless Steel Bottle Cage Review Sun, 25 Mar 2012 10:07:54 +0000 Artisan Cycles in Albert Park occupies a small shop front amongst the cafes of Victoria Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the beach and Beaconsfield Parade which is part of the famous Beach Road cycling route. It does not look like a typical bike shop. Instead of rows and rows of mass produced bikes there […]]]>

Artisan Cycles in Albert Park occupies a small shop front amongst the cafes of Victoria Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the beach and Beaconsfield Parade which is part of the famous Beach Road cycling route. It does not look like a typical bike shop. Instead of rows and rows of mass produced bikes there is a select number of more unique bikes and frames of visibly high quality just inside the front door.

I spoke with the proprietor Dan Pickering who is a bike enthusiast. Artisan Cycles sells Cyfac bikes and Arundel accessories. Dan explained that the Cyfac produces about 1000 hand made frames a year in France while Arundel is a two man US operation that started out aiming to make high quality carbon bottle cages at a reasonable price.

Arundel’s carbon fibre bottle cages look very smart but one look at my steel touring bike and Dan suggested the Arundel polished stainless steel bottle cage as the right match.

What can one say about a bottle cage? The most striking feature is the highly polished finish. You then notice the shape which is quite different to conventional bottle cages having two wrap around arms. The back plate is soldered to the frame and has the Arundel name proudly embossed into it. The cage has a solid feel that contrasts with the delicate appearance of the 4.2mm tubing.

For the weight weenies, the cage weighs 52 grams according to my kitchen scales, which is a whole 3 grams more than my aluminium cages. A typical touring bike has 3 cages making 9 grams extra or the equivalent of a couple of teaspoons of water.

On the bike, I found the cage held my bottle less snugly than I am used to but despite a ride over numerous speedhumps and bumpy tracks the bottle held firmly and there was certainly no danger of it bouncing out. I did however find it easier to return my bottle to the cage, not just because it was not as tight a fit, but the wrap around shape makes the cage easy to spot on either side of the top tube, almost like a bullseye. It was also easy to find the edge of the cage by feel so functionally I think Arundel have got the design right.

If you are looking for a strong, light bottle cage that adds a bit of bling to a classic style bike; or if you just think steel is real then the Arundel stainless steel bottle cage is well worth a look. If carbon is more your thing, Arundel have built a solid reputation and are worth checking out.

You can pick up the Arundel Stainless Steel Bottle Cage in the store or online ( for $25.95.