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Wahoo Fitness Blue HR Review

As you may have figured out from my previous review here, I have been using my iPhone 4S to record my rides and runs.  A few weeks ago I got a Blue HR heart rate monitor from the folks at Wahoo Fitness.  It’s a Bluetooth heart rate strap which was incredibly easy to set up and use.

At the time I first started using it a couple months ago, Strava didn’t support it (they do now), so I downloaded the WahooFitness App from the app store.  There is a big list of supported apps so your favorite training app is probably on the list.
I didn’t play around too much with the settings, just turned it on and let it find the HR monitor.  It has options to upload saved runs or rides to Strava so it all gets over there in the end.
For $79.99 it’s a really great accessory for the iPhone 4S.  Worked seamlessly, easy to set up, and pretty versatile with variety of compatible apps.
Here’s the Strava chart for my off-road lunch ride from Tuesday with the Heart Rate input:

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Element Case Vapor Pro Chroma iPhone Case Review

An iPhone might not be your idea of standard cycling equipment, but your cell phone is one of those things (like your keys) that pretty much go with you on all your rides. I recently got an iPhone 4s and was very happy when Kurt sent me the Vapor Pro Chroma case to review.

I had not put a case on my iPhone yet. There’s just something about being a mechanical engineer and a cyclist that makes me cringe at covering up beautiful stainless steel housings with brightly colored silicone rubber or plastic covers. I’m also a bit skeptical with the fact that you are putting in extra effort to protect something that probably will not be an heirloom in your family passed down from generation to generation.

Here is where the Chroma comes in. If you’re going to cover up a nice metal housing, what better than to use machined and anodized aluminum? And despite my “heirloom” comments above, nobody wants to accidentally drop their phone and crack the screen or accidentally scuff it across the parking lot.

So, here’s what came in the box. A black anodized case, a nice little zippered case (more on that later), a little keychain/hex wrench for assembling and with a couple extra screws, a microsuede cover for the back, a smaller one for the front, and a screen protector.

A couple of features on the case that I liked was the integrated button on the top, and the dove-tail press fit (see below). I did notice that on the black phone, most of the housing has a slight matte finish but the dove-tail piece is more of a brushed finish. It’s different enough to notice but not different enough to look like it was intentional. Some of the other color cases use a completely different color for this piece.

Installation was pretty easy. The installation tool has a nice little o-ring for grip. I am willing to bet that the small diameter of the installation tool is designed to try to prevent you from stripping out screws so use it! The frame really doesn’t add much physical size to you phone, but the phone feels much bigger. It’s a lot easier to grip and hold, especially with your full-finger cycling gloves on. The frame has a generous cutout around the headphone jack but a standard 90 degree non-Apple one may not fit.

I was pretty skeptical of the microsuede back cover. It’s just kind of weird to go from smooth glass to living room sofa. I was curious if over time it will start looking like my living room sofa, but a couple months in it looks fine. So what is it for? Want to put your phone on your legs while your sitting legs-up on the couch? The microsuede grips your jeans perfectly. Also the thickness is just close enough to the frame height that if you set your phone on flat surface, the frame contacts the table but you can’t accidentally slide it around and off the table due to the friction from the back cover. It’s different but it’s really grown on me. With that said, I chose not to install the little microsuede cover for the front. At first I put the screen protector on the front instead. Then I decided that de-resolution of the screen wasn’t worth it. Maybe the front cover would help with grip but the frame is already doing a great job on that.

Another thing I was skeptical of at first was the zippered case. Looks nice but why do I need a zippered case for my phone? I pretty quickly figured out why the case is awesome. I use my iPhone on all of my commutes and lunch rides and runs to track miles using the Strava app. I don’t have a handlebar mount or anything. I don’t really care where I am or how fast I’m going in the moment (that is until someone invents the hands-free bluetooth heads-up display), but I’d like to track my miles and see how I did when I’m done. This means starting the app, stuffing my iPhone in my pocket or bag and heading out. Not a problem in nice weather, but when you’re talking about a lunch time mountain bike ride in the rain, I need something better. I didn’t test if the case is waterproof, but it’s in my bag anyways. I figure the added protection against water and the added padding protection against any superman-over-the-bars moves are totally worth it.

As far as durability goes, While changing for one of my lunch rides I dropped my iPhone about 3 feet onto a hard tile floor. If I look hard I can find a little dent in the frame. No issues with the phone. As with most cases, you will get some dust between the case and phone over time, so you might want to take the case off every once in awhile and dust.

My main gripe is actually the difficulty I had finding an armband for running. The frame is not big, but it’s big enough so you won’t be able to fit it in most iPhone specific armbands. I found one from Cygnett which sort of works. Maybe if you got one for a larger phone. You do have the tools to take the frame off, but that’s not something you want to do every time you go for a run.

So if you have an iPhone and you are looking for a case that doesn’t totally ruin the looks of your phone you should check out the Vapor Pro Chroma. Being a machined metal cover, it’s going to cost more than an injection molded silicone cover, but you probably already guessed that.

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Osprey Viper 10 Hydration Pack Review

I’ve had quite a few hydration packs over the years.  Most of the time, I wore the old one out (or got tired of the leaks) and bought a new one that had a couple new features and was maybe a little bit nicer.  They held my water and tools and food without complaint.  One of them even did a little extra duty as a pillow during a fateful night-riding incident.  But that’s a different review…
So when Kurt said he had a new pack for me to review I was expected something  little bit better and maybe a little bit nicer than my current pack.  This one is A LOT better and A LOT nicer than my current pack.  In fact, I’m pretty sure this one is much better in every regard.
The pack in question is a nice yellow-orange Osprey Viper 10.  The first thing I noticed is that they seem to have used about 15 different types of fabric.  Just listing the types that are orange, you’ve got the stretchy outer pocket, the sort of waffle-weave rip-stop outer fabric, the embossed bubble-wrap looking fabric, and probably a couple others.  Instead of just picking up whatever was on the shelf at the factory in the right color, they really put some effort into picking the best technical fabric for the specific case.  As a mechanical engineer who has done a bit of industrial design implementation, this is the kind of detail I really love because to me it’s the difference between a small bag with arm straps that you stuff a water bladder in, and a real designed hydration pack.  It’s nice to see a product where an up-close inspection just reinforces the appearance of quality.  But enough industrial design talk let’s get to some more details:

Basic Stuff: 3.0 liter reservoir, big internal pocket for tools, small zippered pocked for other stuff, big stretchy pocket on the outside for stashing things.
One of my favorite features is the magnetic clip for the bite valve.  I’m used to blindly feeling around for that little clip to put the hose on, giving up because the trail requires two hands, and then having to put up with my pack slowly peeing on my leg.  What the thoughtful folks at Osprey did is put a magnet on the sternum strap, and put one on the valve.  It’s not totally automatic and you do have to blindly feel around for a little bit, but then it clicks into plate and you’re good.

The rotating valve is also a nice feature.  It lets you get it at just the right angle, and also functions as the lock-out when you have it rotated parallel to the tube.
The next thing I loved about this pack is the resevoir.  Pushing a floppy bag full of water into a small backpack that already has a bunch of stuff in it has never been an easy job.  On this one, the 3.0 liter reservoir has a ribbed plastic back which helps it keep it’s shape, and a nice long handle on the front side which also protects where the tube exits the reservoir. Weather hasn’t been too warm lately, but I expect the ribbed back will also provide some air insulation to keep your back cooler in hot weather.

Installation is also helped by the fact that the reservoir compartment is separate from the others and has an easy velcro opening.  There is a big nalgene screw on lid which is big improvement over my current hydration pack which has a weird inverted lid which is unfortunately really easy to overtighten and then impossible to get back off.
Other things I liked were the well thought-out straps to keep everything tightened down so it doesn’t flop around while riding.  The stretchy back pocket is awesome and easily fits an extra 29er tube and my vest, knee-warmers, a couple clif bars, etc.  It works pretty much like the usual criss-cross stretchy stuff that many packs like this have, but you don’t have to worry about stuff falling out, or listen to your vest flapping in the breeze.  Pockets are well thought out (no surprise here) with a smaller one for cell phone and sunglasses, and a separately accessible bigger one for tools, pump, emergency blanket (after my “incident” I started to carry one of those), and other things that you hopefully won’t need to get to during a ride.  There is a little stretchy pocked one of the arm straps that could hold a small phone or credit card.

They couldn’t even leave the zippers alone and put these cool injection molded loop things on the nylon loops that keep them open for easy grabbing.  You probably think I’m a little bit crazy for talking about the zipper pulls but seriously folks, these are awesome!

If you’re current pack is at the end of it’s life and you want something new, I highly recommend the Osprey.  It does come in some different sizes if you want something bigger for big epic rides or you want something a bit smaller.

I know I’ve listed a lot of positives up above but I’m having a hard time coming up with a real negative.  I guess it did take some getting used to the shape on the bite valve.  Also, if you check the website to look at features, you have to really dig to find the reservoir capacity.  Another possible downside is you may not find these at your LBS.  If you can’t find it there and you don’t feel like buying it online, try your local REI.


When you know a trend is on its way out…

Riding home yesterday I pulled up to a stoplight and noticed on the opposite corner a young man with black pants, white shirt, tie, pocket protector, helmet and backpack on a standard issue mountain bike.  I thought it was odd he was by himself and then guess who rolls up?  None other than another young man with tie, pocket protecter, etc. but what is he riding…  a slate blue fixie with bright yellow deep dish rims!  No brakes, yellow grips on a tiny flat handlebar.  Wish I had pulled out my phone in time for a picture…

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Traffic laws, what traffic laws?

My commute is usually pretty uneventful.  I’m hoping it will stay that way but for some reason drivers are really being stupider than usual lately.  Maybe it’s back to school mania or delayed shock to the debt limit crises, I don’t know…

First problem was the Jetta that almost ran over me and my four year old as we rode our bikes in the cross-walk to her preschool.  It’s one of those cross-walks with the big neon yellow sign glued to the middle of the road.  You can’t miss it.  Unless you really try hard… or maybe you’re blind.. or maybe you can’t read.

Oh well.   Dropped of my daughter at school and started riding to work in Palo Alto.  I was waiting at a stoplight with a couple cars.  Light turned green and we started to go.  Some lady in a mercedes SUV came in from the left completly blowing through the red light.  This wasn’t one of those attemps to make it through on the yellow, she actually didn’t seem to notice the color of the light.  The best part about it: she laid on the horn because she was upset that we were in here way!  So sorry your highness…  won’t happen again.

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Prius vs. Bike

Almost got run over by a Prius on my ride to work this morning.  Normally when I almost get run over I get mad, but a Prius is just so darn non-threatening.  It’s like getting nudged by an old lady with a walker.  Once I finally got control of myself and stopped laughing I just waved him on.  It reminded me of  a local news story from a couple weeks ago:

 “Google’s robotic Toyota Prius rear-ended a second Prius, which then hit the Honda Accord she was riding in, which pushed another Accord into the fifth car, another Prius.” (full article here)

Silicon Valley is really a pretty good place for bike commuting given the large percentage of little cars.  I have a feeling that in Sacramento it would have gone more like this:

“Google’s robotic Tahoe rear ended a Suburban which rear ended an Escalade who’s spinners distracted the driver of an F350 who ran over a cyclist and crushed a Prius before smashing into the Tahoe”.

You Sacramento commuters can tell me if I got it right…


Alligator i-LINK Brake Cable Review

My circa 1999 Magura Louis disc brakes were starting to show signs of their age and needed to be replaced.  I decided to go the cost-effective and reliable route and replace them with Avid BB7’s.  Since I was going the cost-effective route on the brakes, I spent a little extra on the cables and went for the Alligator i-LINK brake cables.  They also have shifter cables, but as my bike is a single speed, I didn’t need any of those.

The cable housing is made up of a bunch of small aluminum bell-shaped segments that snap together, with a couple different end fittings for housing guides, etc.  Inside the aluminum housing, there is a polymer liner which runs from the brake levers all the way to the brake.  A PTFE coated steel cable runs inside the liner with some cable crimp ends and a couple of orange rubber sleeves to protect your frame.  The housing comes in a bunch of anodized colors but I went with black.  The aluminum links reportedly save a bunch of weight over normal housing.  Good for weight weenies, not a big factor for me.  Comes with very minimal instructions but who reads those anyways…

First thoughts..  a little weird… like my bike is sprouting antennae.  Easy to snap on and off to change lengths.  For someone who does not enjoy cutting cable housings, filing cable housings, and struggling to get the little end caps on over my mangled housing ends, it was a revelation!  Granted, those of you with proper tools may not have this issue but my motto is “Any tool can be the right tool.” and I plan on living up to it.  That orange thing in the pic by the headset is the rubber tubing to protect your frame.  I turned it inside out to hide the big logo.  The whole i-“your-product-name-here” thing is a little overdone.
Since the links are a little loose where they snap together, a strand will change length significantly if in tension or compression, so you need to keep pushing them together to get the correct full length.  I started with the rear brake and the first time I tried it, things felt good until I clamped down the cable and pulled the lever.  Friction was very noticeable.  I added a couple links to the rear section of the housing and the problem was solved.
The good news is that it’s really easy to add more links or take some off to dial in the length.  After I got it all put together I decided on a whim to flip my stem around which made my front brake housing a bit too long.  Normally (especially with hydraulics) I would have just lived with it.  In this case, since I also bought a jar of 100 crimp cable ends, it took me 5 minutes to pull off a few links and put it all back together.  This is with “help” from my 18 month old and 4 year old.  Fortunately the 100 cable ends in the jar are bright red so that got The Little away from her new favorite pastime of sticking her fingers in the spokes.

The fit between the aluminum segments prevents you from getting tight cable bends which is a good thing.  Due to the position of the rear brake boss and the frame routing bits, I ended up bypassing the last one for more direct routing.

I didn’t bother to install the end fittings at the brake and just ran the housing all the way into the boot and to the end of stop.  The liner can fit through the little end boot but I trimmed it off just before.  I figure this keeps water from wicking up between the cable and liner.  To cut the liner while the cable is inside use some wire strippers or you can score it with a knife and give a quick tug.

On the front brake I ran the housing on the inside of the fork.  It’s a more direct routing, and I’m less concerned over rocks and mud in my tires than branches on the side of the trail.
With everything installed, I went for a ride to try it all out and wear in the brakes.  I climbed up a couple thousand feet into the Santa Cruz mountains on a nearby road and came back down.  The housing was absolutely rock solid!  Of course that doesn’t help much when the brake pads are brand new, but after a couple minutes the BB7’s were feeling good.  I thought I might hear some rattling from the aluminum links but even with county “maintained” roads, I didn’t hear anything.  Maybe on bumpy singletrack, but with a rigid fork I probably couldn’t hear it over my own rattling brain.
First impressions: the i-LINK cables are a really nice product!  Once you get the hang of how it all fits together, installation is simple and easy to dial in.  Styling is probably a love-it or hate-it kind of thing.  Time will tell how they hold up.  The liner will probably be the first thing to wear out, but I’m not sure how long that will take.  The kit comes with enough extra fittings and housing that I didn’t have a problem running out of anything.
You can buy a decent standard cable set for less, but they are in the range of the more specialized mid-high level cables.  Nokon has a similar product but at a significant cost premium.  This being the world of cycling you always have the option of spending more…  for me, I feel like the extra $20 or so I spent over a standard cable set was worth was cost.
I’ll ride them for a few months give an update on how they are holding up.



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