Category: technology

Just before we went off to Interbike, our friend Jim at Bushnell sent us a sample from their new PowerSync line of portable solar chargers. The sample we received was the SolarWrap Mini:

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Some details directly from Bushnell’s website:

-Durable, flexible solar panels roll up into a small lightweight package for easy storage
-High solar collectivity even in less than full sun conditions
-1x USB outputs for charging your devices
-1x Micro USB for charging from a wall outlet
-On board dual long-life Li Ion batteries

Also, according to Bushnell, the SolarWrap Mini will:

-charge the internal batteries via wall outlet in 4 hours
-charge the internal batteries in full sun in 10 hours
-provide 2.5 charges to camera or GPS, 2 charges to an MP3 player or 1 charge to a smartphone.

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The solar panel itself is made of a very thin and flexible film over a woven nylon backing. It’s pretty amazing how far solar technology has come in the last 20 years — no heavy plastic or glass panels here!

Rolled up, the SolarWrap Mini is about the size of a BMX handlebar grip (about 4″ x 1.25″). It easily fits into a pocket or bag. The SolarWrap Mini comes with a “bikini-style” endcap system (rubber caps, elastic cords) to keep dust out of the USB ports. There’s a port on each end; one side houses the Micro USB “input” end (with LED charge/full indicator), the other has a standard fullsize USB port for output.

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Unfurled, the device is just a hair over 18″ long. Hook-and-loop fasteners on one side of the solar panel keep everything tidy when it is rolled up. There’s a sewn eyelet on the end of the panel to lash the device to something. I would have liked to have seen additional lashing points so that I could securely strap this device to the top of my rear rack or over the top of my backpack as I rode.

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(carabiner clip shown not included)

As claimed, the SolarWrap Mini charged in about 4 hours via wall outlet, and about 6 hours via computer USB. In the most direct sunlight I could find, I left the charger out for 12 hours and the red charging lamp was still lit. I have no way to test how much charge was in the internal battery, but the red lamp indicates that there was additional charging room to spare. Granted, the sunlight shifted throughout that period and I may have gotten some inadvertent shade at times — this is why being able to securely lash the device out into full sun would be a great addition!

The SolarWrap Mini was a godsend during our trip to Interbike. With all the time spent in airports on my way to and from Las Vegas, I put the hurtin’ on my smartphone’s battery. By plugging in the SolarWrap Mini, I was able to fully recharge the battery. Eventually, I just used it as an auxiliary battery, leaving it plugged in to my phone while I texted, chatted, and Facebooked in the various terminals I visited. The SolarWrap Mini also came in handy out in the desert — allowing me to trickle-charge my phone via solar panel while I walked around the Outdoor Demo.

The Bushnell SolarWrap Mini retails for $89.99. I think that’s a reasonable price for this device — a little extra power when you really need it can be a lifesaver! Other than the issue of securely lashing the device, the SolarWrap Mini worked as claimed and kept me in contact during long trips away from electrical outlets.

Bushnell offers a few other sizes in their PowerSync line. That means there’s a charging solution for everyone’s needs!

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

You all may have seen photos of the sidecar project that I have going on. One of the complaints I have with the sidecar is how heavy it is to pedal. As much as I wanted to try and find some sort of multi-geared solution for the bike, that option just can’t be executed due to the way the sidecar mounts on the rear axle. So I was stuck with a single speed configuration. But it gave me an idea after I saw an ad online for Leed Bicycle Solutions. I then got in contact with Mike Merrell over at Leed and we began talking about creating an e-bike solution for the sidecar.

After a few emails, photos and text messages, Mike got all the info he needed to make this happen. Mind you, the sidecar uses 20″ wheels. So this meant Mike had to acquire a 20″ rim and build a motor into it. The whole process took about a week and once it arrived at the Wold HQ of BikeCommuters.com, I immediately went to work to install it.

Before we get on with the rest of the article, here’s some tech info about the kit I received: 30k powered by Samsung Li-Ion Batteries. The kit is everything you need to convert any bike to electric. The online price is $699 and MSRP is $799.

Here’s more technical info about the kit:
30k E-Bike Kit powered by Samsung:
http://www.e-bikerig.com/products/30k-e-bike-kit-samsung-li-ion.html

8Fun Planetary Motor:
http://www.e-bikerig.com/24v-bike-hub-planetary-motor/

10.4 Ah Li-Ion Battery powered by Samsung (Leed 30k):
http://www.e-bikerig.com/products/30k-extra-battery-samsung-li-ion.html

Ok, now that we got all that technical stuff situated, here’s what the finished installation looks like. That clear, square box in the spokes are LED lights that I’m also reviewing. Notice the fork strut? I had to make a small cut in order to open it up to fit the larger sized axle. This also meant that I had to drill out the strut a bit bigger so it will fit. Once I got the strut on, I just snugged it up on both sides.
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The “throttle” is a basic On-OFF Switch. You just push it to make the wheel go. Can be strapped on either side of your handle bar.
electric sidecar

Wires can be neatly zip tied to the frame.
bicycle sidecar

I originally wanted to install the battery pack under the seat board of the sidecar, but the way the wiring worked out, this was my best option. Besides, I was able to secure the pack to the frame of the sidecar with the velcro straps that it came with.
custom electric sidecar

Voila! All set up and got a max speed of 12mph. That’s including my weight, the bike/sidecar and my daughter. That’s a pretty decent speed considering the weight of the sidecar itself.
leed bicycle solutions

Here are those PBLights (LED) that I mentioned earlier. The Leed Bicycle Solutions e-bike kit makes the sidecar even more fun to ride. We have a whole series of articles that will pertain to this project build. We plan on getting the sidecar either powder coated or painted and finish up the upholstery as well.
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Here’s a couple of short clips of the e-bike kit in action. Forgive the quality, not sure what happened there.
The motor has enough torque to where you don’t have to pedal just to get it going. Here’s my daughter riding it.

Then it was my turn.

Earbuds and cycling are not a good mix in my opinion, though there is obviously controversy with this statement. Just look at the variation of law by state regarding headset use in cars (and bicycles) (1). In California, for example, “wearing headsets or earplugs in both ears is not permitted while driving or operating a bicycle” (1). Not sure about you, but a huge pet peeve of mine is listening to anything with just one ear. Most of us were born with 2 ears, making stereophonic perception the “norm,” if I may use that term.

The point is, wearing earbuds in both ears while cycling, I believe, can present a significant safety hazard by preventing the rider from hearing critical audio cues, such as another cyclist attempting to pass you, a siren, an approaching car, a pursuing dog etc. On the other hand, wearing an earbud in only one ear, while legal in most of the United States, is annoying. There are some alternative designs of headphones out there, most notably, Aftershokz’s ® open ear sport headphones that rely on bone conduction (as opposed to air conduction seen in conventional headphones/ earbuds) (2). However, review of these headphones has revealed relatively lacking audio quality, especially in the bass frequencies(3).

Outdoor Tech (OT) ® presents another approach to the issue of safely listening to your media while cycling by creating a simple, portable, durable speaker that can be mounted on your bicycle. As an introduction, OT is a Los Angeles based company whose goal is “to address the ever growing issue of blending a modern lifestyle in the age of mobile technology with the drive to be outdoors” (4).

They present a unique array of products including apparel, mobile phone cases, and pretty innovative wireless audio equipment. Featured in this article is a review of the OT Buckshot ®. Here are some stats:

Dimensions: 3.5in (9cm) long1.5in (3.8cm) diameter

Weight: 5.5 Oz/ 150 grams

10 hours on a single charge

Rechargeable lithium-ion battery, micro USB charging compatible

Built in microphone for conference calls

Bluetooth-enabled with range of up to 33 feet from device

Handlebar mount accessory

IPX5 dust and waterproof standard: will protect from water jets at any direction.

OT Buckshot fullOT Buckshot 3-4OT Buckshot profile

 

Construction (5/5): Mfirst impression of the speaker when it came was the quality, simplicity, and beauty of the construction. Very Bauhaus. It was a monochromatic (matte black) cylinder. The outer protective layer consisted of a geometrically texturized rubber sleeve. On one end of the cylinder was the metal speaker grill: solid construction. At the other face of the cylinder were three push buttons (the 2 volume buttons, and a “link” button) and a micro USB charge port nearly hermetically sealed by a thick plastic cover; these were harmoniously arranged. Overall, the the speaker felt good and solid in the hand. No clinking of internal parts when shaking it vigorously, not even after dropping it (accidentally of course) from about 5 feet.

OT buckshot panel

Ease of use (5/5): Perhaps they did this on purpose, but OT ® never sent me the instructions for the Buckshot ®, and I am glad they didn’t. Because it gave me a sense of the ease of use of this robust little speaker. There are only three buttons, two of which are to raise and lower the volume. The only other one to tweek around with was the “link” button. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out, but basically I enabled my phone’s Bluetooth then held down the link button for a good 4-5 seconds. After a few beeps and some blue and red LED flashes, I was connected. Phone calls, stored media, streaming media etc. were all connected.

Charging is a cinch. And what’s cooler is that the Buckshot ®  takes the very common micro USB port, which charges many smart phones. I actually forgot the Buckshot ® charger on one occasion but was able to charge the speaker with my own phone charger. Once again, simplicity of design, ease of use.
Finally, mounting the speaker to my bicycle handlebar (aerobar) was pretty easy to figure out.

Sound Quality (4/5): I was impressed with the sound, both as an indoor speaker and one to use whilst riding. Regardless of it being a monophonic speaker, I was able to enjoy listening to music and other audio programs through the speaker over extended periods of time. I had to turn the volume all the way up (both on the speaker and my phone) for the music to be audible in 40MPH traffic rushing by me, but it was still audible. Poorer quality of course, but audible. Not unlike car speakers in a noisy old car.

Being a cylinder, the Buckshot ® tends to concentrate sound towards whatever it is pointed at. So I felt that when biking outdoors, my own ears made up the majority audience, i.e. not as much “noise pollution” as I might expect that may or may not annoy other riders, pedestrians, etc. However, people still noticed when I rode around with the speakers on. As a pet peeve of mine is loud music blasting from neighboring cars, I tend to be more conscious of what emanates from my own vehicle (in this case my bicycle). However, I did not get a strong impression that the speakers were disturbing anyone elses’ peace.

Speakerphone Capabilities (2/5):  Having a speaker phone conversation was very good indoors. But when on the road with 40mph traffic rushing by, I could neither hear the other side of the conversation, nor could the other side hear me even when I was shouting into the speaker. I must have looked like a crazy man, screaming into my aerobars, “What’s for dinner tonight?!”

And even when the cars had passed, and it was just me, the road, and the passing breeze, I really had to raise my voice and put my ears close to the speaker to carry any semblance of a conversation, and even then, it was butchered at best.

OT Buckshot mounted CloseOT Buckshot Mounted profileOT Buckshot Mounted

Utility(3/5): Admittedly, I dropped the speaker a few times during this review, but the sound was unflinching. The Buckshot ® was also very portable and was easily packed into the top pocket of my pack. It hasn’t rained much in SoCal, but I had to test the water resistance, so I played some M83 through a row of sprinklers, and it was unscathed and unfazed. I made sure the water sprayed into the speaker grill too and there was no change in sound quality. Plus it was cool seeing the water vibrate when the music hit certain notes!

I noticed that the speaker was pretty wobbly when mounted “over the bar” and shifted significantly when going over even small bumps. As such, I mounted it under the bar, and it was a bit more stable. But going over larger bumps really caused the speaker to wiggle and nearly come off the mounting strap, and intermittently I had to push the speaker back into place to be resecured to the strap. Maybe it was because my aerobars are thinner than the handlebars.

OT buckshot laptop compare

Applications:

1. Bike to work with your speakers then set up a conference call (indoors) at work with those same speakers.

2. Bicycle-picnic trip with portable music at your destination to set the right mood. No more need to lug around larger speakers/ radio.

3. Fun way to watch movies on your phone in a group. I actually leaned my phone against the speaker and the audio-visual worked pretty well.

Overall, the OT Buckshot ® is a robust speaker for playing music on bike rides that are not too bumpy or noisy. A nice beachside cruise would be one appropriate setting. Unfortunately, it did not perform well with the speakerphone function while riding. For $50, I think it is a good purchase, and besides the three aforementioned scenarios, this speaker has many unrealized applications.

Hope you enjoyed the review. Do good and ride well.

1. http://drivinglaws.aaa.com/laws/headsets/

2. http://www.aftershokz.com/

3. http://gizmodo.com/5972389/aftershokz-sportz-m2-review-decent-sounding-headphones-no-ears-required

4. http://www.outdoortechnology.com/Welcome_2/-Outdoor-Tech-.html

 

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

BikeCommuters.com is the first blog review site to have had a go with the new Motiv Shadow. Cameron Pemstein handed us two battery options to test, the 36V and the 48V. The price difference between the 2 battery packs: $400.

This was one of 3 demo units they have available. The Shadow will be available in Spring 2014, MSRP: $2,249.99.
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Battery pack with a built in power level indicator.
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New for Motiv is this LCD control panel, with backlighting. You can set how much pedal assist you want to have. 1-5, 5 being the most. The control panel is very user friendly. Simply turn it on by hitting Mode on the remote by the bell, set your pedal assist and you’re ready to hit the road!
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The Shadow is equipped with Tektro Novela Mechanical Disc brakes with 7” rotors. With rotors that size, you can pretty much stop on a dime. I’d have to say this is good planning on Motiv’s part. Here’s why: if you’re using the 48v battery pack, there’s a bit of torque there. You can hit 23MPH within a few seconds. So that means if you’re going that fast, you’ll also need to stop; 7″ rotors are the way to go. If you really wanted to, you can later upgrade the mechanical Tektro brakes to a hydraulic set, but during the testing period, these mechanical brakes worked well enough to stop me going 30mph down a hill and I weigh 195lbs.
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With an electric bike, we’re not all that concerned with how it shifts and all that jazz. But since we are a bicycle review site, I’ll delve into that a bit. The Shadow is equipped with entry-level Shimano 7 speed components and a 44T chain ring up front. I thought that having a 44T would make climbing difficult. But if you have the bike set on pedal assist, climbing is actually a breeze.
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As I mentioned, I tested both battery packs on the Shadow. On the 48v with full pedal assist level of 5, I rode 15 miles on a single charge. This is a mix of gravel roads, dirt trails, steep hills and streets. With the 36v, I was on full pedal assist level of 5. By the time I finished my 17 mile ride, I looked down at the control panel and saw that I still had 3/4 life left on the battery pack. So that means if I wanted to keep going, I could easily reach in the upwards of 30+ miles on pedal assist. But if I turned down the pedal assist levels to 1-3, then the Shadow has a potential battery life of over 50+ miles.

Charging took a minimum of 5 hours. I’d basically charge it the night before, then in the morning I’d head out for a test ride. After I got back, I would recharge it.

Here are some more details about the difference between the 48v and the 36v: in terms of performance, I’d consider the 48v as the High Performance battery pack. It delivers so much more torque which translates to a quicker bike. With the 48v battery, I was able to get up to 25.4mph in just seconds. The Shadow does have a safety feature where the power will be cut off once you hit 25.5mph. With the 48v battery pack, you get on the Shadow, set the pedal assist to 5, then pedal. The motor kicks in and you’re zooming down the road. The pull on it is so quick that you can’t help but smile the whole time.

The Shadow’s frame does allow the installation of a rear rack and fenders. I recall having a conversation with Motiv E-Bikes’ Cameron Pemstein that commuters want to make sure that the bike they buy can accept fenders and racks. Well, I am happy to report that he listened and took that into account when designing the Shadow. If you look at the photo above, you’ll find tabs on the rear seat stay and on the bridge is a spot for you to screw in some fenders. Another feature that the Shadow has is an RST Headshok style fork. This makes for a more comfortable ride. It absorbed potholes and other road imperfections.

One thing that has won me over with the Shadow is its styling. In my opinion, it looks better than many of the e-bikes that are currently available. I do like that it looks like…a regular bicycle. The battery pack can be found behind the seat tube, which makes the Shadow a well-balanced bike. Other E-bikes that I’ve tested in the past have the cumbersome battery pack on the rear rack, which affects the bike’s handling. Often, batteries mounted on the rear rack have this flip-flopping characteristic that make the bike squirmy. But the Shadow felt great to ride; it handles really well, is very comfortable and easy on the eyes. In other words, it’s a sharp looking bike. Motiv plans on making 3 color choices available, Red, White and Blue…Merica!

There was only one complaint I had with the Shadow: the magnetic speed sensor that is very similar to most cycle-computers out there. There’s a magnet mounted on the spoke, while a sensor is placed on the fork. When I was riding up some rougher terrain and I’d hit bumps, the sensor couldn’t get a good reading. At times it showed that my speed was 32 and 54. When this occurred, the safety switch would turn off the power to the motor. But once it did that, the speed would go back to normal. Mind you this would only happen when I was riding up a bumpy fire road. Like I mentioned, the bike was tested in various types of terrain just to make sure we put it through its paces. However, I did have this issue a few times while riding on the street after hitting a pothole really hard.

In closing, the Motiv Shadow really is a great example of what a great E-bike should be. It’s not super complicated, is very easy to use, looks good, and I like that they have 2 different battery pack choices available. I’m sure some of you are thinking that an e-bike should have regenerative capabilities. Well, this one doesn’t. But that’s ok. I’ve tested 2 different e-bikes before that had that option and in all honesty, the regenerative system didn’t regenerate enough energy to help put more power back into the battery. The Shadow is attractive, simple and a load of fun to ride. But before you get the 36v, you might want to consider getting the 48v battery pack, you’ll have more fun with it!

FTC Disclaimer

One of the highlights of our Interbike trips every year is to visit the kind folks at Planet Bike. They’re always happy to show off their new products, and they ALWAYS fill our sweaty hands with great swag (we got t-shirts and PB-branded Sockguy socks this year). And, we finally got to meet Mark LaLonde in person…he’s been our contact at PB for a couple of years and has been instrumental in donating products for RL’s Mobile Bicycle Repair Unit.

Here’s Mark at the PB booth:

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Planet Bike’s big news was a couple of new microlights and some updates to the ever-popular Superflash series of lights. Let’s dive in and take a look, shall we?

First up is the Superflash Micro…the same great visibility as the original Superflash, but in a smaller package. These lights take “N” size batteries, and a USB option may be coming soon:

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Speaking of USB, Superflash now comes in a USB-rechargeable version…handy for quick juice-ups at work:

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Here are a couple of Superflash Turbos, but in the new mini-size:

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Planet Bike has updated their popular ALX floor pump…new wooden handles and great features that make these rock-solid for home or shop use:

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Planet Bike has a giant collection of commuter-friendly accessories for almost any application. Head on over to their website for a full look at the many light, fender, and pump options and a whole lot more.


Interbike 2013 Coverage Proudly Sponsored by Black Tiger Jerky
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