Category: technology

It has been a little over eight years since we wrote our non-scientific rear light comparo. Planet Bike’s Super Flash rear light was a top favorite and it is still one of my personal favorites.

2015-12-22_10-02-34

We were offered to review the NiteRider Sentinel rear light featuring lasers. Yup, lasers! In top of the lasers, this light also features a 2 Watt LED light producing about 40 lumens. Let me tell you, even without the lasers, this light is freaking bright. Another cool feature is that the Sentinel is a USB rechargeable light-a huge plus in my book.

2015-12-22_10-03-23

I’m guilty of purchasing those inexpensive Chinese laser rear lights and they eat batteries like crazy, not to mention that the quality of the lights was horrible. Lesson learned.

2015-12-22_10-03-06

We used the NiteRider Sentinel during most of our weekly nightly off-road cycling ride. Our local ride offers a variation of horse trails, small streets and big avenues; a rear light is a must for safety reasons. The Sentinel performed with no hiccups even going through some bumpy trails.

2016-01-10_01-55-54

The Sentinel was also tested during our morning rides to the beach on Pacific Coast Highway. Although the lasers were ineffective during daylight, the 2 watt LED was clearly noticeable.

2016-01-10_02-31-03

Pros:
USB rechargeable
Super bright 2 Watt LED light
Freaking Lasers!
Mount can adapt to most seatpost shapes and sizes
NiteRider Quality
Good run time
5 running modes

Cons:
Lasers are invisible during daylight
A little pricey at $50.00

What I would change:
I think that the concept of having virtual laser bike lanes is a good one, however, I don’t really think that we need a laser on the right side since most of us ride close to the curb. It would also be a good idea if the left laser would be 3-feet away from the bike since a few states have a mandatory 3-feet passing law.

2016-01-10_02-33-50

With its super bright 2 Watt LED, convenient mounting strapping system, USB charging and cool lasers; I can definitely see the NiteRider’s Sentinel being one of my favorite tail lights.
Our review disclaimer.

Sometimes, as bike commuters, we meet the most interesting people at stoplights. Maybe it’s because we’re not ensconced in metal-and-glass shells, so we seem more accessible. I’ve met my share of folks at stoplights; just ask my friend Gordon R, who sometimes posts here as “The Other GR”. We met at a stoplight in Tampa and became fast friends.

A few weeks ago, I was out riding at an unusual hour (for me), trying to get some night shots of a dynamo light I am testing. At a stoplight, another cyclist rolled up behind me and asked me about the light. We got to talking, and he mentioned that he is the inventor of the technology behind Veloloop.

Have you seen this thing? Veloloop uses radio signals to communicate with the induction loops that control stoplights, and triggers them in a way that bicycles sometimes cannot on their own. Turns out the inventor lives a block away from me, and holds a variety of patents. He wishes to remain anonymous for the time being, but was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Bikecommuters.com. Veloloop has already received favorable press in a number of news outlets, including Outside Magazine and Bike Radar.

DSC_2604

A couple of weekends ago, my neighbor and I met and he demonstrated how Veloloop works. I hung back to watch so as not to inadvertently trigger any stoplights. I can say that the device really works — my friend would roll over the induction loop, the light on the Veloloop device would blink for a bit and then go steady, and the crosswalk countdown timer would start ticking away. Seconds later, we had a green light to proceed!

BC: How did you come up with the idea?

Many years ago a co-worker asked if it would be possible to do something like this. There are other approaches in the patent literature, but I found them to all be a little less than elegant. I’ve done a fair amount of radio design, and I had studied how to make radios that transmitted while they received, and eventually I realized how to apply that knowledge to this problem.

How long have you been working on Veloloop?

I spent a significant amount of time over the 1999-2008 timeframe learning how traffic sensors work and exploring various ways to electronically activate them. Then about two years ago Nat Collins approached me because he wanted to do something similar and had seen my patents. So, we cooperated and developed a practical version.

How does Veloloop work?

First, you have to understand how the loop sensors work. They are really just big metal detectors. They transmit a high frequency signal into a loop of wire beneath the road surface. That loop has an electrical property called “inductance”. Inductance is a measure of how much magnetic field is creted by a current. When a car drives over the loop, the inductance changes. It actually goes down. This is because the metal in the car intercepts some of that magnetic field. The sensor detects this sudden change in inductance.

There are several ways to do this, but usually the sensor’s own frequency depends on the inductance, so it can notice a sudden change in frequency to indicate vehicle presence. The key thing here is that it’s a high frequency signal, and the inductance changes when a vehicle is present.

The Veloloop has a transmitter. Once it figures out what frequency the loop is using, it sends back a signal at *almost* the same frequency. In fact, the signal it sends back deliberately varies its frequency, a little high, then a
little low, etc., just to be sure all bases are covered. It is able to keep listening while it transmits to make sure it is still over a sensor and near the right frequency. This transmitted signal gets picked up by the loop in the ground and looks to the detector like a sudden change in inductance. Voila, the bicycle gets detected.

How prevalent are inductive loop traffic sensors in the U.S.? Are there other technologies to detect cars and bicycles at intersections?

They appear to be going away in some areas, and are being replaced by vision systems. Vision systems are often unable to detect bicycles and have trouble with accumulation of dirt. Inductive sensors are still common in many places and there are several well-established companies making them and coming out with new models. I expect them to be around for a long time.

What is some of the backlash you’ve seen regarding press coverage of the Veloloop in news sources? Any persistent myths that bicyclists repeat?

Much of the backlash comes from the fact that often proper placement of the bicycle over the sensitive part of the sensor is adequate to generate detections. So, there is a perceived lack of need for an active device. There is also the stupid idea that if you don’t get detected, it may be permissible to run the light.

In reality, there are many detectors that are just unable to detect bicycles regardless of placement, and many situations where it would just be a whole lot safer, faster, and more convenient to get detected. This is where the Veloloop can help. It also takes a burden off of traffic departments who often have trouble fiddling with sensitivity.

Oh, and then there’s the “magnet myth”. This is the urban legend that says that putting magnets on your shoes will somehow trigger the sensors (Editor’s note: I was guilty of believing in this myth — had a hard-drive magnet glued to the bottom of my cycling shoes back in Florida). As I pointed out, the sensors use a high frequency signal while a magnet produces a static field. They are not the same. This old idea is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of electromagnetics and has been disproven many times. What probably happens is that someone glues a magnet to their shoe or frame, and then proceeds to place their bike over the sensitive part of a cooperative loop, and gets a detection. They think it was due to the magnet, but in reality it was the placement (or the car that came by in the opposite direction). Enough people have done the scientific test with just a magnet without a bicycle at a deserted intersection, to debunk this one.

Anything else we should know? Any improvements in the works, or other details to share?

We’ve looked at eliminating the loop and using the bicycle frame as an antenna. That would involve some big up-front costs to make a special transformer, so we didn’t start there. We are also looking into the motorcycle market. We’ve have a lot of inquiries there. Neither of us (the Veloloop developers) are motorcycle owners, so we don’t have first-hand knowledge of the requirements.

Recently, the VP of engineering at a major induction loop manufacturer contacted us to test one of the Veloloop devices. He can tell us just what effect the unit is having on their sensors (trigger, error condition, etc.).

DSC_2606

Editor’s note: The Veloloop’s Kickstarter campaign is struggling a bit — so there’s still time to contribute if you’re interested. We’d like to thank the developer for taking time to demonstrate the device and for answering our questions. We’ll have a followup once the induction loop manufacturer submits his report, too.

Do you sometimes get confused by all the lingo thrown around by bicycle advocates? Don’t know the difference between a “bicycle boulevard” and a “bike trail”? And what IS a sharrow, anyway? Leave it to the Community Education Manager at Bike Easy in New Orleans, Anneke Olsen, to spell it all out for you:

When many of us hear the word “bicyclist” or “cyclist,” we think of a spandex-clad racer on a road bike, or a diehard urban messenger weaving in and out of traffic on downtown streets.

But there is a much larger and more inclusive definition of “bicyclists” – anyone who rides a bike, whether it is a kid riding on a neighborhood street; a service industry worker biking home from the CBD after a long shift; grandparents and grandkids riding together at City Park; or someone hopping on a bike to get back in shape.

Similarly, there are several different types of bicycle infrastructure – sharrows, bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, shared use trails, etc. – and each serves a different purpose to the end of creating a connected network of streets that are safe and comfortable for bicyclists.

sharrow

Take a minute to swing on over and read the full article by visiting the NolaVie page. In no time, you’ll be an expert on bicycle infrastructure!

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History fills in the gaps on how the awesomeness that is the bicycle came to be.

Up-front confession: this book was not featured (so far as we know) at Interbike!

However, it DOES chronicle pretty much all the innovations throughout bicycling history, so rest assured that the predecessors to many of the “new” things there are mentioned in it!

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History is by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing, and in the authors’ words seeks to fill the neglected gap addressing the technical aspects of the history of the bicycle. It starts out with… well, actually it starts out with ice skating and wheelbarrows… but it quickly moves on to velocipedes and draisines, the predecessors of the bicycle.

Another confession: I haven’t read the whole thing. I did read all the bits about velocipedes and high-wheel bikes and wire wheels and the development of the safety bicycle (aka a bike having 2 wheels of the same size), but after that concluded that this wasn’t really meant to be read straight through – and yeah, it took me a bit longer to figure that out than it might take most people, but what can I say… I’m a bit of a bike nerd!

 

Apparently we should call these draisines!

So after some deliberation, I’d consider this more of a reference book: the next time you wonder, “when WAS the first bamboo frame made?” rest assured that this is the place you can find that answer! (page 178: 1890’s, patented in 1896. Calfee wasn’t exactly the first!).

The first 5 chapters of the book detail the history up to the invention of the diamond-frame steel bicycle. After that point, it diverges into chapters on different aspects of bikes, such as transmission, braking, and lighting. It also – at the end – includes specific sections on “racing” bicycles and mountain bikes, folding bikes, and military bikes (an interesting chapter!).

Overall this is a very informative book, and I say kudos should go to the authors for assembling all of the information in a scholarly fashion, complete with TONS of references at the back (if anyone out there needs to write a term paper on anything about bicycles, this should be your starting point!).

My one minor (major?) complaint about it is that it reminds me of several of my history classes in high school. How so? No, not because I fell asleep… I like history, and this book is written pretty well, so I didn’t do that during either high school or while reading this! It’s because in high school I had several years of history classes where we spent a ton of time on something early in the semester… and then gradually less and less time per topic, until by the end we rushed through the 1960’s on in only a couple weeks (I don’t think I had a history class that ever made it to the decade we were in!). Bicycle Design reminds me of this: it spends a lot of time on early development, but we get to the end and there are a scant 10 pages on mountain bikes. Two paragraphs on disc brakes. Two pages on suspension. Etc. etc. Yes, these are relatively recent in the scheme of things – but they’re BIG things right now, they involve some pretty neat increases in bicycle capabilities, and they deserve to be included… not lumped together in a hash that includes everything from the 1970’s til now in a handful of paragraphs.

Gripes regarding recent history aside, this is something every serious bicyclist should at least flip through sooner or later. I highly doubt many people (apart from the authors) have a good grip on all of the developments mentioned in its pages, so you’re guaranteed to learn something (and probably something interesting!). At $20-something on Amazon (for a nice hardcover), it’s definitely worth picking up for the coffee table, or for the bike-themed coffee shop, or for the bike shop, or for a stocking stuffer, if Santa’s real nice and someone you know has a stocking that can accommodate a 564-page volume.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

 

Over the past few years, we’ve posted articles about bike theft prevention, from locking your bike, to web series about catching thieves, to Kickstarter-funded bike trackers, among many others.

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was a great article about the efforts of the San Francisco Police Department in combating bike theft using a variety of high-tech tools and techniques:

SAN FRANCISCO — Officer Matt Friedman fights crime with modern tools: Twitter, which he uses to publicize pictures of suspects and convicted criminals, and a GPS device, which he uses to track down stolen property.

In both cases, his lure is stolen bicycles — including the “bait bikes” that have recently been seeded throughout the city to tempt potential thieves. Equipped with GPS technology, the bicycles, which exist to be stolen, can be tracked down in real time and the thieves can be arrested.

Take a look at the complete article by visiting the NYT page here.

These aren’t run-of-the-mill “bait bikes”, either. SFPD doesn’t play around; they use expensive rigs equipped with GPS trackers to guarantee that when they catch up with offenders, they can charge them with a felony, not a slap on the wrist. Bike thieves, beware!!!