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It’s not about the bike, Lance (but don’t forget to charge the battery)

Posted by admin on 1st May 2015

First thing to say is please don’t worry, this is a technology blog – not an opportunity to preach about getting fit. I’ll leave that to our Wildfire running club, in particular my 3hr1min25sec London marathon running colleague.

It’s no big secret at Wildfire that I like cycling – a bit too much. The constant supply of Wiggle consignments of unnecessary cycling clothes and gadgets; the selection of bikes and clothing I turn up with depending on the weather, day of the week and my mood. My Twitter ID hints at my obsession, too.

And yes I love bikes and bike gadgets. For a start, the gears on my latest bike are electronic; Shimano Di2 for those in the know. It means faster, smoother and more accurate gear changes, and it makes cool electronic swishing noises that make people go ‘oooo’ when they hear it – and that’s all-important.

Bike computers are unavoidable gadgets – you’ve got to have one. And the tech got serious this year when Garmin launched its Edge 1000 – a top end bike computer the size of an Apple iPhone. With turn by turn navigation, the ability to see the settings on electronic gears, plus every measurement you can imagine tracked and computed: speed, cadence (how fast your legs spin), elevation, heart rate, power, the list goes on – and on. Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity through a phone means you can stream live data to Garmin or Strava websites where family and friends can (but never do) watch me ride, in awe at my cycling prowess (or to check where I stopped for cake). It’s simply a data junkie’s dream and I was living this dream the week the Edge 1000 was launched.

Last month, the Garmin found itself competing for handlebar real estate, when another amazing gadget found its way into my heart and onto my bike. This time, a GoPro Hero4 Black: the size of a matchbox, it’s capable of eye-watering 4K recording, Wi-Fi live broadcasting to my iPhone…. and if that’s not thrilling enough, the dog gets to wear it on the beach. 

So, cycling is fundamentally a very physical and manual pursuit, correct? Muscles in your legs utilising glycogen reserves and battling lactic acid build up, using all the air your lungs can generate; legs spinning furiously to drive mechanical cranks, propelling you and the bicycle speedily along a tarmac road surface…it all sounds very low-tech – almost primordial. The extent to which this harmonious man-machine combination is able to continue functioning is limited only by my ability to feed (with cake, usually), to keep my legs spinning until I get home. On a really good day, that may be for up to 5 or 6 hours.

Now, it was Lance Armstrong who penned a book entitled It’s not about the bike. Ignoring the fact that we know today what Lance really meant… but here’s the crux of my problem: With all of these battery-powered gadgets on my bike, it is clear that the longevity of the power source is not fit for the purpose it’s designed for.
The GoPro records for an hour or two a full charge, if you turn off the wireless functions. The Garmin 1000 struggles to achieve over 5 hours of navigation, even less if you turn on the wireless link to a phone – don’t stray too far from home without a map. Thankfully the battery pack powering the gears is more significant (hidden inside the frame), giving weeks or months of power – but still, if it runs out (or, as happened to me, a cable came detached from the power unit) you’re not going to enjoy the ride home.

There has always been a mismatch between the array of functions built into technology we rely on, and the longevity of their portable fuel sources. But in cycling it’s become more apparent to me that coffee, porridge and cake aren’t the only fuel sources I need to consider. So if someone can please find a way to combine the two: coffee and cake-fuelled bike tech, it might give me a justifiable excuse to eat more cake, drink more coffee and buy more gadgets to enjoy more longer rides on the tech-fuelled bike: that’s the road to my Nirvana.

Photo credit: wikimedia


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