Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cue Please!!

A few posts ago, I promised to provide a review on the very thoughtful Christmas present I received from my little Bikeists:

Made by Topeak, the same guys who make my awesome mini-pump (I promise, I'm not on the payroll! -- but, maybe I should be . . .), this handle-bar mount "dry-bag" fits my new iPhone 5s like a glove.  It's a cinch to install, and is easily removed from the handlebar bracket with an effortless press and a slide.  It solves the problem posed by so many other smart-phone mounts, in that they expose your invaluable portable computing device to the elements.  This is a true dry-bag, that easily seals like a zip-lock, but allows you to use the touch screen through the case itself.

So, now that I have found the perfect mount for my beloved iPhone, what to do with it?  Watch a movie while riding?  Definitely not going to use it to play music (don't get me started -- that topic will require an entire post of it's own).  The obvious use would be to turn the iPhone into the ultimate bike computer - displaying real-time data to enhance your biking performance.  The problem, though, is that doing so requires one to set the display so that it doesn't go to sleep and keep the phone in constant GPS mode.  Even with my brand new iPhone's enhanced battery power, my first ride with the iPhone running the Strava app the entire time allowed me only about 2.5 hours of use.  Good for some rides, but not for a day in the saddle.  Also disappointing was that Strava (which captures all sorts of amazing data whilst you ride (average speed, elevation change, segment speeds, and even produces a map of the ride), does not display real-time speed, elevation or grade.  It's a great app to turn on and then leave your phone in non-display mode, but didn't make much of a bike-computer.  My Cateye, which only requires a battery change about every 1.5 years or so, provides better real-time information, while never running out of juice.

Have to admit, though, that none of this came as a surprise.  I did not envision my iPhone replacing devices designed specifically to act as bike computers.  It's interesting to see what bike-computer apps can do (and I'll continue to test others out), but I think the real potential offered by mounted smart-phones is navigation.  For ages, we bikeists have been forced to cram maps and cue sheets into our pockets (where they oft get saturated to the point of uselessness), into saddle or tube-mounted bags where we have to constantly stop to pull them out, or in unwieldy handle-bar cases that can only show us one page at a time (inadequate for long rides through unfamiliar environs).  The smart-phone, with it's ability to display a map which follows us as we go, or display a cue-sheet that scrolls, provides an easy solution to the inadequate analog methods we have all used previously.  While simply having Google Maps available at my fingertips might be enough, I am on a quest to find the best bike-app to seamlessly guide me though a long ride through unfamiliar territory.  The goal is to find the perfect app before I tackle the Oregon coast next summer.  Until then, I'm open to suggestions ("cues" if you please) from my loyal readers . . .

In the meantime, though, a team of developers may have actually come up with a computerized device that does exactly what I'm looking for:

I can't vouch for the "Hammerhead" because I don't have one (yet), but have to admit that I'm extremely intrigued.  I love the simplicity of the concept, though.  You pre-program it (I assume by USB link to your computer) to follow the route of your choice.  You then head out (without the need of an internet connection) and it uses GPS to give you silent cues at every intersection whether to go left, right, or straight.  Rather than pulling to the curb to study your map or cue sheet (or messing with your phone to figure out where you are and the best way to get where you want to go), you just keep on rolling.  Sweet.  While I have accepted map and cue-sheet consultation to be a necessary evil of bike trekking, I love the notion of having a trustworthy device that accurately cues me as I go to follow the route I have already studied or designed before heading out.

Hammerhead designers, if you're looking for someone to beta test your device, I'm available!  Call (or text) me!

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