Pedaling a bad day away

It was one of those days when nothing seemed to be going right.

The banality of work.

Politics.

The uncalled-for cacophony within the cramped walls and cubicles of the office floor.

The insult to my intelligence and the dynamite to personal relationships that is the Philippine presidential electoral campaign.

The oppression of being forced to watch and listen to a bad TV sitcom, without being able to switch channels or turn it off.

All that negative energy and helplessness had crept in as poison. I needed to be rid of it.

In the final hours of the day, I pull over in an empty parking lot and kill my car’s engine. I break out my bike, slapping on its front wheel, and clamping on its quick release skewer. Squeeze the tires for air pressure and the brake levers for deceleration. All its lights go on.

 

Helmet in place, I slide on the saddle, clip into the pedals, and go.

In the dark of night, with the summer heat largely absent, my legs mash away one stroke after another in silence.

All I hear are the rustling of the wind past my ears, the wheels crashing into the ruts of the asphalt, the rattling of the chain as I summon cogs.

With 1200 lumens burning away, my front light illuminates all the road acne in front of me. Any oncoming cars behold the strong white light, warning of a rider hurtling their way at the same speed they run along these quiet, narrow roads. They give way and leave enough room, as they should.

I see a patrolling security guard astride a cruiser bike. As I approach from his left, I greet “good evening” as I pass by.

Hands on the drops. I stand up out of the saddle and sprint. The cyclocomputer glows green, its speed reading growing. The bike dances from side to side underneath me every time one of my legs straightens out.

The intersection looms. I hook my fingers around my brake levers, get into attack position, and pull. Speed scrubs off, until I slowly roll up to the junction. Look left, look right. No need to unclip and put my foot down, so I turn and mash away again.

I return to the parking lot. It had been four laps. I am sweaty. I am “tired”. It is the good kind of “tired”. I feel it in my legs and lungs.

And yet, I feel refreshed. Reinvigorated, and now free from the toxicity of the day, I feel alive.

For half an hour, riding in the wind, all is right with the world again.

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Review: Cat Eye Commuter (CC-COM10W) wireless cyclocomputer

At its core, a cyclocomputer is a measurement tool for distance and speed. Ever considered what else it could do if you rode your bike as a means of transport?

Osaka-based Cat Eye asked the same question and came up with the CC-COM10W…or the “Commuter” if the model name is a mouthful.

 

FEATURES

  • Date and time
  • Elapsed ride time
  • Instant temperature measurement
  • Speed measurements: instant, average, and maximum
  • Distance measurements: Current, day, week, month, year, and total (odometer)
  • “CO2 offset” measurements: Day, week, month, year, and total
  • Electro-luminescent backlight on LCD, either instant or “Night Mode”
  • Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) function

HARDWARE

As this is a wireless cyclocomputer, it is dependent on two components for data: a speed sensor mounted to one of the fork blades by two zip ties, and a small magnet you pinch to one of your front wheel’s spokes by screwing it into a plastic bracket. As the front wheel spins, the magnet passes through the sensor’s range, and its speed data is sent to the computer unit. Both the speed sensor and computer unit require their own CR2032 batteries.

The Commuter mounts on your handlebars or stem via Cat Eye’s now-ubiquitous FlexTight system, which makes use of a worm-geared strap and a thumb wheel to tighten. Once the strap is on, the Commuter mounts by sliding into the bracket, where it stays solidly locked in place. Physically separating it from the bracket is actually a daunting prospect at first, because Cat Eye say you have to pull the Commuter away from you while lifting up the edge nearest you. With practice this becomes easier.

The plastic-bodied Commuter makes use of the ClickTec interface, which does away with all buttons on the front face. Instead, all three buttons are on the back of the unit, and while riding, you push down on the trailing edge of the Commuter’s face. This engages the primary Mode button on the back. Single presses switch between modes, while resetting of current ride data to zero happens when it’s held down for five seconds. This makes for a streamlined appearance and simplified operation, but introduces its own caveats – which I will discuss later.

SETUP

You enter setup mode by pressing the partially sunken Menu button on the back. The Commuter has to be off its bracket for this. Initial setup is done by date and time input, unit selection (metric or English), and most importantly the setting of your wheel’s circumference. On the 20″ x 1.5″ Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires I roll, this is 1510 mm. The manual contains a convenient table of circumference values if you don’t want to measure this via rollout method.

USE WHILE RIDING

Display mode: Instant speed + ride distance. Note the segmented ETA bar in the middle of the two main tiers of numerals. The blue bottom bar houses the clock and temperature.

The Commuter has a large two-tiered face with easy-to-see block numerals. Time and temperature readings are permanently displayed with smaller digits in a blue bar at the bottom. Another black bar, broken into ten segments, divides the two tiers – this is the ETA’s permanent display function.

Display mode: Instant speed + maximum speed, with backlight in action.

The third button on the Commuter controls the backlight, and it’s mounted on the top right corner of the unit’s back side. Pushing it gives around four seconds of usable light. While the backlight is active, you can again press and hold the backlight button to activate Night Mode. Here, the first press on the face of the Commuter turns the backlight on, before cycling through the modes.

Speaking of which, below are the Commuter’s display modes while riding, with the top tier information mentioned first:

  • ETA display + Instant speed
  • Instant speed + Elapsed ride time
  • Instant speed + Distance
  • Instant speed + Average speed
  • Instant speed + Maximum speed

Display mode: Instant speed + elapsed ride time. The Commuter doesn’t count time spent not moving.

ETA FUNCTION AND DISPLAY MODE MECHANICS

Most of the time, the larger top tier displays your current or instant speed reading, while the bottom tier cycles through distance, average and maximum speeds for the current ride session – pretty standard cyclocomputer stuff.

The main difference of the Commuter is the ETA (estimated time of arrival) function, which is calculated from your average speed and a preset distance. The distance is either entered manually, or automatically taken from your most recent previous ride. The ETA is then displayed on the top tier while you are riding in the ETA display mode, and updated in real time.

The ETA functionality’s manual distance setup mode, set here to 13 kilometers.

Remember the ten-segment black bar dividing top and bottom tiers? This is a permanent progress indicator for the distance you’ve set. The closer you get to completing the distance, the more the bar fills up. Once completed, the Commuter will momentarily switch to ETA display mode and flash the digits around three times before reverting to the previous display mode.

This is a decidedly bicycle commuter-specific functionality and reflects Cat Eye’s focus with this cyclocomputer. However, there are a few flaws in the implementation.

The “Automatic” ETA setting  assumes that your last ride’s distance will be repeated for the current ride. In reality, I don’t do this, and I would assume most don’t, as well. It makes for an idiot-proof kind of setup, but it’s also not a very smart implementation, either.

I find myself using the “Manual” ETA setting more often. This is useful for distance training; it’s a good way of ensuring that you hit at least a target distance per ride. Unfortunately, for commute duty, it isn’t granular enough to be truly useful, because you have to set distance in whole units – either whole miles or whole kilometers. Cat Eye don’t give you the ability to further break distance down into fractions or decimal values. If you’re bike touring or joining an audax, this is fine; if you’re bike-commuting in the city, this is a strange limitation.

CO2 OFFSET CALCULATION FUNCTION

With the focus on environment friendliness, there will be people turning to bicycle commuting as a carbon-neutral form of transportation. The Commuter has a function for measuring exactly that.

Here the Commuter tells me that based on my accumulated ride distance for February 2014, I saved 51 kg of CO2 emissions.

Cat Eye have used a simple output value of roughly 140 g/km of CO2 for this, based on the 2008 vehicular average in Japan, and included it mainly for comparison purposes. Incidentally, this is just about the CO2 emission value that my own car, a 2005 Honda Jazz, was rated for in the UK. However, many cars since have been rated for much lower – a lot of cars have broken the magic 100 g/km CO2 barrier in 2012, especially in European countries where cars are taxed by emissions.

Basically, the Commuter takes the 140 g/km CO2 emission figure hard-wired in its brains, and multiplies your distance to get a carbon offset value in kilograms. In the Philippine context, I think this is a nice-to-have feature, but is by no means essential. Treehuggers and hardcore environmentalists may brag about this value, though.

WEAKNESSES AND CAVEATS

The ClickTec interface works very well, and the five-second delay makes deleting a ride’s details a deliberate act. I think Cat Eye deliberately chose the five display modes to avoid information overload for the rider, which is thoughtful. However it also restricts the Commuter’s on-the-go functionality a little too much.

The “odometer” or total distance summary view.

Riders who’ve used other cyclocomputers will notice that there is no easy way to access the total distance summary (or “odometer” reading) while on the go. This is a shame because the Commuter is versatile enough to report your distance for the past day, week, month or even year, too. To access the distance summaries, you have to physically take the Commuter out of its bracket and press the Menu button – there is no way of doing so while on the bike. Riders who use distance to determine replacement of consumables like tires, brake pads and chains will find this annoying.

Distance summary for 2014…when I was writing this.

Even the CO2 offset calculation function, sharing the same day/week/month/year/total summary categories as distance, is also tucked away like this, which isn’t so bad. Most baffling is that the setup of the ETA function also requires physical removal of the Commuter – because it’s hidden in the Menu button as well! Cat Eye decided to take the ETA function – basically the unique selling proposition of the Commuter – and hid it so that manual changes to the ETA distance are more involved than they have to be.

Finally, all operations that require removal of the Commuter are done via combinations of pressing and holding the Menu and Mode buttons with your fingers. They are small, round, hard plastic things about as fun to push as a pimple. Yet Cat Eye require you to do data input with them, which means having to press the Mode button multiple times.

COMMUTER: YEA OR NAY?

First, the negatives.

ClickTec is a great idea, reducing mental workload mid-ride, but it makes the Commuter too simplified for its own good, while introducing needless complication into other functions. It could do with at least two more buttons, maybe on the top left corner – opposite the nicely located backlight button.

On week 9 of 2014, I saved 5.45 kg of CO2.

The carbon-offset functionality is neat, but ultimately it’s a gimmick. Most riders may not find much use out of it. The implementation is done well enough here, though.

The ETA functionality, however, is a great idea – and here we kick off the positives. It’s a good way of tracking your distance progress in the background, especially for endurance rides. Cat Eye could finesse the execution further, particularly the allowance of partial-kilometer or partial-mile distance setting, and easing the manual distance setting itself, but this is a good start.

When Night Mode is active, the little “light” graphic on the top-right comes on. This means the first press on the face of the Commuter turns the backlight on. You will need to press again to change the current display mode.

The plastic-bodied Commuter is well-built – it stays securely attached, looks good and is reasonably weatherproof. The display can be a little picky with viewing angle, but it’s large enough to be seen even when installed level on a flat-handlebar bike, and while slightly feeble in luminosity, the backlight works a treat.

Lastly, it’s a reasonably inexpensive addition to your bike. It’s not the last word in functionality, but a few niggles aside, it does the basics very well.

VERDICT

Recommended. Not perfect, but reliable, fairly priced, and simple to use.

 

This article was originally published on the now-defunct United Folding Bikers blog on March 14, 2014. It has since been slightly updated.

How to be a self-sufficient cyclist

It’s easy enough to head out the door and pedal off into the distance on your bike, letting the kilometers roll by. But when the unexpected happens, are you prepared?

Here’s a list of things I believe you should carry at all times when you go out riding.

The contents of the saddle bag on my cross bike.

A saddle bag to store most, if not all, of the things I state below. I suggest those with around 0.8-1.0 liter of capacity. If you have multiple bikes, get one for each, and pack each one accordingly.

Two inner tubes. These will account for most of the volume inside your saddle bag. It’s always easier to just replace tubes instead of patching them by the roadside. Patch the tubes in the comfort of your own home, instead. Place them in a ziplock bag to avoid them getting pierced by other objects inside the saddle bag.

A small patch kit. Just in case your luck is especially bad, and you suffer punctures in both your spare tubes. Make sure the tube of rubber cement it contains is still good, and that it contains an abrasive such as a tiny square of sandpaper.

Tire levers. A set of three plastic ones should be enough. Some multi-tools also come with tire levers, but dedicated ones work best.

Giyo GP-41S mini pump with gauge, mounted to its bracket and secured with a Velcro strap.

An inflation system.

  • Mini pumps are dependable, but require correct technique and effort to inflate tires with. Practice required. To free up space in your pockets or saddle bag, mount this to the frame. Most mini pumps have a bracket for this that slips under a water bottle cage.
  • CO2 canisters and inflaters offer quick, hassle-free inflation. However, they are expendable. Note that if you use a canister to re-inflate a punctured tire, you will have to re-inflate it with normal air later on, as CO2 leaks through butyl inner tubes faster than air does.

A multi-tool. At the very least, it should contain the following:

  • Hex keys: 3, 4, 5, 6 mm
  • Torx keys: T25
  • Screwdrivers: Philips and flat-head
  • A chain tool

Chain repair supplies: Joining pins or master links (e.g. KMC MissingLink, SRAM PowerLink).

Zip ties. These are invaluable and very often serve as field repair.

Front and rear lights.

My folding bike has a smaller saddle bag. It has the bare minimum of spares: two inner tubes and a multi-tool with chain breaker and integrated tire levers. A patch kit will fit in a pinch.

Everything fits, like so. Ziplock bags mitigate the risk of the multi-tool piercing the tubes.

A waterproof or rain jacket. Always bring one even if the forecast calls for clear skies, as it is better to be prepared for changeable conditions. This always goes into my jersey’s center pocket.

Identification and some money.

Wheels Manufacturing, a US-based company, makes replacement derailleur hangers out of machined aluminum. This is the #167 model, which fits my TCX SLR 2 and a few other contemporary Giant road bikes.

A replacement rear derailleur hanger. These sacrificial parts are always getting bent or snapped so that you don’t have to replace your frame when it falls over on its drive side. As early as possible, find a replacement rear derailleur hanger for your bike, and keep a spare.

Lastly, it’s best to learn how to use all of these. Practice puncture repair and broken chain repair at home, way before you are stuck on the roadside with either. Alternatively, you could save instructional videos of both on your smartphone for reference.

I don’t care if large saddle bags look “goofy” on my bikes. They let me recover from the unexpected.