Bikes, canals and Starry Night paths or how biking in the Netherlands works

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I learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid. Or at least that’s what I thought until I moved to live in the Netherlands.

First of all, forget about getting a fancy bike – anything more than EUR 50 will most likely get stolen within a week if you live in any of the large university cities (Leiden in my case). Think cheap, rusty, screeching, pedal-break type. And definitely double locked – once with an integrated rear tire lock and once with a chain lock, just to be sure! Oh, and don’t forget to pick a strange, easy to recognize color to paint the body, so you can spot your bike among the hundreds of bikes parked at Leiden Centraal.

media_xl_1991996[1]So I bought a used bike on my first week in Leiden and went on to explore the city. The Netherlands has a very extensive network of bike paths – I am sure you can go from A to B anywhere in the country with just a bike. However, there are some things to keep in mind – always stay in the bike lane – usually they are red in color or have the bike sign drawn on them. Careful, some of them are one way, and people will look at you funny, even ring their bells if you ride the wrong way. Always have both rear and front lights, you can get a pretty hefty fine if you get caught without one at a regular police checkpoint (usually at a busy part of the city, at night). Luckily, almost anything counts as having a light, even tiny LED blinking lights you can attach to your regular (most often not working) lights. You can buy them at any convenience store for a few bucks. Drunk biking is also a reason for a ticket, sily as it sounds – the Dutchies take their biking pretty seriously! Crossing a street while the bike light is red is also not advised.

Alright, I have a bike now, with working lights, side bags to put groceries, working breaks, even a bell. I am only riding in the bike lanes and I even stop at the traffic signals. So far so good, until it starts raining! And the wind comes out! Usually I am not a whimpy kid, I think I can stand a bit of discomfort, but that wind just knocks the breath out of you! Not only that, but sometimes it is side wind, so I almost got shoved into the canal running by the bike lane! Interestingly enough, most Dutch people around me just continued on, while I got off my bike and went on to push it miserably along the way. I also seemed to have forgotten my rain suit – a pretty spacy-looking water resistant pants you put on top of your regular clothes, and a gigantic jacket with a hood. Some people looked like mini ships at full sail! But, when it is not windy or raining, biking in the Netherlands can be pretty awesome. There are a ton of tiny villages and pastoral scenery to enjoy. And, if you are in Eindhoven, you most definitely need to see the Van Gogh-inspired luminescent path that looks like straight out of Starry Night!

Starry Night path

Tom Woods, illuminated bike path inspired by Vincent van Goh’s Starry Night paiting by Dutch artis Daan Roosegaarde

 

Connected Gadgets for Your Bicycle

CES 2015 has been certainly the year of connectivity.  Gone are the days when the stars of the show were 60-inch, then 80-inch, then 105-inch flat panel TVs…Those are now well underway to the homes of many consumers.

This year, it seems like transportation has invaded the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – all sort of smart cars and…..wait….gadgets for bicycles as well.  In previous article I talked about the Car-to-Bicycle Communicating Helmet, and now we have a pedal that allows the bike it is part of to be connected.  A French company Connected Cycle, has developed this pedal which notifies you any time the bike is moved and also provides you with the location of the bike.

Connected Pedal Smart Phone and Pedal Connected

Connected Pedal Colors

The pedal has integrated GPS functionality that creates the tracking and prevents the bicycle from being stolen – a significant plus in a big city or part of a bike sharing program.

In addition, the pedal records the bike’s speed, route, incline, and calories burnt and of course those will be stored and accessed via a cloud service.  So overall, useful and interesting.

 

 

iPhone Bike Mount

Well folks by now (2+ years after starting to use my iPhone as a bike computer) I am completely sold on the concept and convinced that using my smart phone on the bike handlebars and going on multiple trails is OK, safe and useful.

The phones I have used on my bike (actually two different mountain bikes – a Specialized Rockhopper Comp SL 29 and a Trek X-Caliber 29 Gary Fisher) have survived multiple accidents, including 2 or 3 major spills from my bike with the phone on the handlebars in its holder….without any damages to it.

2+ years ago I wrote about the phone mount I have been using — I still use it but lately have started searching through companies that supply new and more versatile mounts and cases including water proof implementations.

Here I must add a disclaimer on my current setup – the mount I am using  does not provide splash, rain, etc water protection.  In those cases I have to remove my phone and put it in my under the seat pouch for safety.

So, what have I found from recent browsing through manufacturers’ web sites – the company that appears to have developed an interesting water proof and very versatile – ie being usable on bikes and other situations, is Tigra Sport.   The specific mount and case I am considering is  which has some very interesting features. These images (from the Tigra Web site) provide a good idea why I consider them a good option if you are looking for water proof solution:

Tigra Sport Bike phone Case  Tigra Sport iPhone Bike Case Tigra Sport  Tigra Sport This last image shows the versatility the case offers.  So next stop for me will be the long term test – i.e. riding for a few (very cold – burr…..!) Winter weeks with the case – as soon as I get it.  Stay tuned for another update.  In the mean time I do believe this mount and case will be a winner.

Car-to-Bicycle Communicating Helmet

Volvo, the automotive company most of us associate with safety has gone ahead of the class again!  They have put in product car-to-bicycle communicating helmet for bicycle riders.  This is not just a lab experiment and something that works on “a Tuesday morning if it is sunny, and you are peddling your bike really slowly…”  but a real product instantiation — in a real SUV.

Volvo has implemented communications link that allows drivers to communicate directly with bicycle riders and avoid collisions on the road.   The solution is a GPS tracking application where the helmet (worn by the bicyclist) establishes a two way link between the rider and the driver, calculates the position of both the SUV and bicycle and ultimately the driver is notified via the Volvo dash information system, while the cyclist gets notified via a helmet mounted light.

You can also take a look at another very interesting concept (already funded on Kickstarter.com) bike — a connected bike which counts your spent calories riding, provides navigation guidance (via integrated lights and your smart phone GPS system), uses integrated proximity sensors to detect approaching vehicles and notify via vibration of their approach.    Here is a video by the developers:

Maryland Bike Trails – Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Maryland bike trails can be found in many places across the state – both in the city as well as outside in various parks.  Just recently I posted a slideshow and a brief description of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge – a park we discovered only after having visited Maryland and the Annapolis area for more than 20-years.  This time around we decided to use the time after Christmas for exploring areas on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as well as later on during our stay – areas in West Virginia in the Shenandoah valley.

So back to the Eastern shore – after driving for a couple of hours east and then south of the Bay Bridge we came upon the Blackwater park.
Here is a map of the park and surrounding area:

 

The park and surrounding area offer several bike routes for both novices as well as experienced cyclists. The different routes are anywhere from a 4-mile or 7-mile loop route along the paved Wildlife Drive – where you will be able to see a great number of birds (see the slideshow below). There are also the 20-mile and 25-mile routes along the surrounding roads.


Here is also a link to the slideshow I posted on YouTube:

And finally a link to the park itself.  Enjoy your visit!

Carbon Frame Mountain Bike Under $1000 – Continued

Carbon frame mountain bike is one that carries a heavy price tag usually.  This is a continuation of the article about a newly discovered (at least for me) sub-$1000 carbon fiber frame mountain bike – the brand being BEIOU from a Chinese manufacturer. Part-I of the posting was here – and not I wanted to summarize some additional info about the bike – which it turns out is actually a set of bikes with different component complement but similar carbon frame.

The BEIOU bikes come in several different tiers – per the company:

  • Entry level: with Suntour fork, 80mm travel, and Shimano Deore 596 brake kit

Carbon frame mountain bike - Beiou bike

  • Athletic level: with upgraded front fork – Rockshox REBA 100mm travel with remote control; and Shimano Deore XT brake set and drivetrain;

Carbon frame mountain bike - Beiou Rockshox REBA Carbon frame mountain bike - Upgraded Beiou

Furthermore, the tires are KENDA, the hubs – Novatec, and finally, need to point out that some of the bikes actually may come outfitted with MOZO air forks;

Overall, this is a good value bike with different configurations you can find at Amazon.com all the way up to $2599 — the link to this configuration is shown below:

Carbon Frame Mountain Bike Under $1000

Well folks, I was surprised to see something I did not expect – a mountain bike with a carbon frame for under $1000! As you probably expected, the company bringing you this deal is no other than AMAZON.COM   — I guess enough said?  No, not really as the bike is actually coming in pretty well equipped.  This does not appear to be a cheap knock-off….

When I noticed it on Amazon.com I decided to do some comparisons and see what else is in that price range.   It looks like if you wanted a 29-inch mountain bike then Diamondback bike with mechanical disk brakes :-( is the option or you will have to consider a Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29 but with Tektro brakes (I have used them 2 bikes ago – they were very noisy) or the better outfitted Trek X-Caliber 7 but still in both cases you will be in a heavier aluminum frame and somewhat lower components.

Here is a link to the bike on Amazon.com:
 this is for a 19-inch frame (there are also 17-inch available)

Zhe jiang Beiou

I researched the company that manufactures the bike and it turns out it is a Chinese OEM based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.  I have visited the place many times since 1988, but have not found the bike factory, so given the type of products they have designed and are marketing now globally, I should make an effort to visit them – will plan for my next trip

Finally, back to the bike – I will add its detailed description as I research this further but in the meantime, here is the summary from Amazon:

Carbon Fiber MTB, with Speed 27/Hydraulic Braking/Pneumatic Front Fork/Whole Bike Weight of 10.75KG, is a symbol of BEIOU lightweight bike series

It reads well and multiple reviews on amazon.com point to so far happy customers.  Will check it out further and report.

Flat Pedals – Another Way to Get Extra Power

I have always believed in flat pedals as a preferable ‘propulsion mechanism’ when compared to the clip shoes and pedals. I have been sold to by many bike store professionals about the great value and benefits offered by the clip based pedals for mountain bikes, but for some reason – just personal preference I would say – I have always stayed with the platform pedals.  Now I have been vindicated – more and more trainers and store assistants offer the platform pedals for mountain bikes as the preferred approach.

Why do I like the flat pedals:

  • They offer the ability for you to jump off the bike easily if you see yourself and the bike falling
  • the big surface of the pedals allow you to exert significant power and propel the bike well
  • the large surface they offer also provide for good stability when you ride upright for additional power as you climb hills
  • overall they offer a lot more stability on the bike and make you feel more in control

Assuming you like the pedals (as I do) here is a list of pedals you can consider for your mountain bike:

  • Spank Spike Platform Pedals: these pedals are about 420gr. weight, thikness of 12mm, 20-adjustable pins for traction; made of cold forged alloy – which has proven to be the best approach for rigid / stiff body while still being molded in a thin size for best fit on the bike – i.e. not to be in the way.  (The Oozy Trail is another option from Spank – costlier but lower weight)

    

  • Shimano PD-MX80 Saint Pedals:  These pedals are very comfortable, offer VERY strong grip to your shoes – still no clips mind you! — and a big platform, hence lots of ability to push for power.  Their key differentiation: Concave platform shape for long ride comfort and pedaling efficiency;  These pedals come also with washers to allow you to adjust the pins for the right fit to your shoes.

     

  •  xpedo Spry pedal: I like this pedal for it is probably the lightest at 260 gram weight and 11mm thickness and of course a very low price.  The manufacturer has used softer material – magnesium – and that contributes to more scratches and dents on the trail.  But overall a good set for your mountain bike.
  • DMR Vault Pedals:  has a platform shape that is concave for better fit with the shoe sole – and makes this pedal well liked even if it is larger overall and heavier; 

SmartHat Concept Helmet

It is the season for gift giving – with Christmas approaching – we all look for the special gift for the special people in our lives.   As all of you know the Web has become the proverbial shopping mall for many of us – we search through it, browse as we think of ideas for presents and in the process often come across the unexpected.

Late last week I came across the unexpected as well – the Smart-Hat – Helmet for the Responsible Cyclists.  The notion is being developed by a startup focused on adding tons of sensor and information gathering and displaying technology to the ordinary bicycle helmet.  Take a look – images courtesy of the Smart-Hat web site (http://www.smarthat.info/)

Smart-Hat  Smat-Hat-Detail

Here is the list of features offered in the Innovative (Too much innovation in my opinion):

  • multi layer helmet construction with impact absorbing features
    and facial protection from ground impact

  • in helmet bluetooth display with speaker, full satnav, speedometer, speed zones, temperature, heart rate, tilt sensor, ultrasonic object proximity warning, turn signal indicators, system icons, time

  • remote control turn indicators

  • automatic brake lights

  • automatic head light and night lights

  • a retractable visor system with rear view mirrors

  • a remote control, motorised wiper system for bad weather

  • integrated digital camera

  • smart phone storage

  • e-tag storage

  • batteries

  • bluetooth remote control switch mounted on bike handlebar

  • provision for an ID sign

  • customisable outer skin to any colour or graphics

  • provision for an in helmet cooling fan

  • superior comfort and safety in operation

At any rate, I hope we can get the current limited number of sensors integrated into a useful display on the bike – or on a smart phone securely attached to the bike – see my articles / postings about the phone-caddy.  That will be a good step forward.  This helmet (in my opinion) can wait…

Bicycles and Trains – Progress

Fellow bicycle riders, progress continues… I am headed to Maryland and as a result wanted to check out the Maryland public transportation.  So I checked out the local trains and in the process came across a brand new press release — turns out the MARC Train service started to offer a special train car — allowing passenger to bring bicycles into the special train car.  Up to 16 bicycles can be loaded and later on the car can be expanded to accommodate up to 26 bikes.

Bicycles on a Train

This is a great move forward for our ability to have flexible transportation.  Just think you jump on the train, and next you are arriving in Boston, you jump on your bike and pedal off to your local destination.

California, of course, is well ahead of the East coast in this endeavor — the Southern California Metrolink has had similar facilities on its train cars for a couple of years.  And its capabilities are extended across a 512-mile network of the train service.

Here is a link to the press release from MARC