The Chainlink

2015 CES Recap

By Brett Ratner

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is a massive event that takes place in Las Vegas every January. Taking up all three football-field sized halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as the humungous Sands Expo Center, there are literally thousands of companies showing off their latest gadgets to industry insiders, retail buyers and journalists from around the world.

Rows upon rows of enormous 4K “Ultra HD” TVs certainly grabbed my attention as I meandered through crowded halls in a daze of overstimulation. But equally mind boggling was how many companies are now offering fitness-related products.

Granted, center stage belonged to the dizzying array of activity tracking wristbands. But I’m happy to report that a lot of cool new cycling stuff is available too.

Here is a quick overview of some highlights:

The Connected Bicycle by Volvo, Ericcson and POC

One of the highest-tech items on display was a The Connected Bicycle, a joint venture between the carmaker Volvo, communications giant Ericcson, and helmet manufacturer POC.

POC is already at the forefront of cycling safety thanks to features like its AVIP Concept and the ICEdot Crash Sensor, but The Connected Bicycle is truly a glimpse of what future safety could look like.

In a nutshell, it’s a cloud-based system where the GPS positions of cars and bicycles are monitored by a centralized computer. A car’s position is tracked via its on-board GPS system. A bicycle’s position is tracked via a smartphone-based cycling app such as Strava.

The phone-based app is connected via Bluetooth to a special POC helmet, which is equipped with a vibrating mechanism, as well as three LED lights just below the brim.

The system is designed to sense a potential collision and alert both the driver and the cyclist in time to take evasive maneuvers.

POC’s Ola Melin explained that, for example, if the bike and car were approaching each other at a blind corner, the driver would get an alert on the car’s heads up display.

The cyclist meanwhile would feel a vibration in his or her helmet. In addition, one or all of the LED lights will flash, depending on the location of the car. For example, if the car is coming from the right, the right-side LED will flash.

“It truly takes safety to the next level,” Melin said.

The Connected Bicycle is a ways off from being available to the public, but you can check out this video to learn more

Visijax Commuter Jacket With Turn Signals

Safety is certainly a goal for much of this year’s emerging cycling tech. Another good example of this is the Visijax Commuter Jacket.

Not satisfied with mere high visibility colors and reflectors, this company took a Dupont Teflon-coated rainproof/breathable jacket and installed 23 high intensity LED lights in strategic locations on the arms, chest and back. Front facing lights are white. Red lights emanate from the back of the jacket, while amber LEDs grace the arms.

Power comes via a rechargeable USB battery pack. A power button on the jacket lets you toggle between three modes: “slow flash,” “quick flash” and “permanent on” (no flash).

The star of the show is their proprietary iMass Turn Indicator System. Motion sensors are designed to detect when you signal a turn using your arm. This activates the amber turn signal located on the appropriate sleeve, which stays on for five seconds and then shuts off automatically.

If the £99.99 price is too steep (this is a British product, currently available through Amazon UK), they make a version without the turn signals for £79.99. For summer riding, they offer an LED belt for £24.99

Visit www.visijax.com to learn more.

Helios Handlebars

I first became aware of this product when it was at the Kickstarter phase: (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kennygibbs/helios-bars-transform-any-bike-into-a-smart-bike). 

Having now seen one in person, I couldn’t be happier that the Helios Bar is making it to market.

There’s no shortage of companies hawking unsightly accessories that festoon off your steed in every which way. By contrast, this is one of the most elegant solutions I’ve seen to add lighting to your bike. In addition, it offers a host of other functions that (like most Apple products) are things you don’t even know you need until you see them.

In summary, The Helios is a combination stem and handlebar that incorporates a 500 lumen LED headlight, left and right LED tail lights/turn signals, and a GPS tracker to help you locate the bike in case of theft.

Additional features include proximity lighting that enables the bars (via a smartphone app) to turn the lights on as you approach the bike, and turn the lights off as you walk away. A “visual speedometer” is accomplished via color changes of the tail lights depending on your speed. Red indicates a speed less than 10mph, Green is 20-30, Blue indicates over 30.

You can control ambient lighting via the app, so my hope is that there’s an option to disable the speedometer function and simply make the lights shine red for taillight function and amber for turn signal function.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the turn-by-turn navigation. By interfacing with a route you select in Google Maps, the tail lights will indicate upcoming turns by pulsing on the appropriate side as you approach a turn. The closer you get to the turn, the faster the speed of the pulsing.

The bars are currently available in a road style drop bar, a fixie-friendly bullhorn style and a mountain bike flat bar style. Color options are white, black, anodized black and polished aluminum. The integrated stem will work with standard 1 1/8” threadless forks. Threaded (quill style) forks can be fitted via an adapter. Charging is accomplished with an included USB cable.

Currently this bar comes “one size fits all.” If this product takes off, hopefully the selection will be rounded off with variations in bar widths, bar drops, stem lengths, etc.

At $279, it’s not a cheap product. But if you consider the cost of a quality bar, stem, headlight and taillight, this is a bargain.

Visit http://ridehelios.com/ to learn more.

Connected Cycle Pedal

Not every ride is a “training ride” requiring the implementation of a power meter, heart rate monitor, and cadence sensor linked to the latest-and-greatest GPS cycling computer.

In the same way that it’s nice to have a Fitbit, Jawbone UP or Mio Fuse wristband to keep track of the casual “steps” you take throughout the day, wouldn’t it be cool to have an easy, elegant way to track the miles you log pedaling to work, the grocery store and the occasional Critical Mass?

Enter the Connected Cycle pedal. Simply put, it’s a platform pedal that, via GPS, alerts the owner of his/her bike’s location via a smartphone app. This is useful in the event the bike is stolen. It’s also a nice feature if you can’t remember where you parked the bike.

Based on the company’s website, not to mention the general design of the pedal itself, this product seems primarily aimed at bicycle fleets, such as bike rental companies or even bike share programs like Divvy. However, Connected Cycle added some features to make it consumer friendly as well.

Specifically, the pedal automatically records the speed, route, incline, and calories burned on each bike trip. These statistics are sent to a cloud, which users can access through the Connected Cycle’s smartphone app.

You charge the pedal simply by pedaling (no batteries or cables required). A proprietary key helps prevent the pedal from being stolen…or more importantly, removed from the bike in the event the entire bike is stolen.

This product is currently in the crowdfunding stage and not available for sale. However, I personally think it’s an exciting indicator or where things could be headed.

Specifically (as also demonstrated by the Garmin Vector) the pedal seems a very logical place for sensors that track distance, speed, cadence, power, etc. This is because pedals are very easy to install, remove, and move from bike to bike, plus they can easily draw power from pedaling. Installing these sensors elsewhere (such as on cranks, chainstays, fork arms, and hubs) are at best unsightly and at worst, complicated and expensive.

My hope is that this product comes to market and ultimately can expand to include models compatible with common clipless pedal systems like SPD, Crank Brothers Egg Beater/Candy, SPD-SL, Speedplay, Look, etc.

I’m pipe dreaming a bit here, but if these pedals could eventually interface with popular wristband apps, it would allow one to seamlessly transition from “steps” to “bike miles” without having to fiddle with the app. As someone who regularly bikes and walks over the course of my day, I’d personally find that appealing.

Visit http://connectedcycle.com/to learn more.

XensrAIR

In a sea of motion sensor-based activity trackers, one product that really stood out was the XensrAIR.

Aimed primarily at snowboarders, skiers, and wakeboarders, this product is also great for those daring souls who tackle the expert jump lines at The Garden and Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park.

Whereas your Fitbit counts your steps (lame), and your Garmin Edge 1000 keeps track of speed and distance (yawn), this thing senses that 360 downside tailwhip you just landed and records the jump height, jump distance, airtime, number of rotations and landing impact in its proprietary smart phone app.

When you roll to a stop, you can pull out your phone, marvel at your stats, and even see your trick rendered in 3D animation.

And, in similar fashion to Strava KOMs, XensrAIR lets you compare your tricks against other users.

Personally, I’d need to spend more time honing my skills in the foam pit before I’d feel comfortable strapping one of these things on my bike. But if you have what it takes, you’re $179.95 away from glory.

Visit http://www.xensr.com/ to learn more.

Wahoo Fitness

Wahoo Fitness didn’t have any terribly new cycling gadgets in their booth, but I’m impressed by their product and approach enough that I feel they deserve mention.

For a little context, most people agree that dedicated, stand-alone GPS-enabled bike computers are great (I happen to own and use one myself). A potential downside to them, however, is that with constant software updates, changes in wireless interface protocols, not to mention new “must have” features, they become obsolete every few years...and replacing them can get expensive.

For example, I’m due for an upgrade. The new model I’m eying retails for $450. If I also need a heart rate monitor, it’s an extra $50 when purchased as a bundle with the unit, or $99.99 if purchased separately. If I need the speed and cadence sensor bundle, that’s another $69.99. Total price is at least $570.

What Wahoo does differently is leverage the power of that high-powered, GPS-enabled computer already sitting in your jersey pocket: your smartphone.

With Wahoo, you download your favorite cycling app and then buy Wahoo’s $49.99 weatherproof case/mount that places your iPhone on the stem. Add in their speed/cadence sensor ($59.99) and their heart rate monitor ($59.99 for the basic, $79.99 for the model that adds running analytics, and $99.99 for the version that adds running plus motion analytics). So for $170-$200 you get essentially the same power and function as a stand-alone unit. And when you upgrade your phone, your cycling computer automatically upgrades too.

There are four downsides to this. First, presumably due to the wide range of available phones, they don’t offer an Android mount. Second, iPhones are now pretty wide and tall...and to be honest, serious road cyclists often frown upon mounting a phone on your stem. Third, if you want to add power metering, some power meters are ANT+ compatible but not Bluetooth compatible. Fourth, running your phone as a cycling computer can use up a battery pretty quickly (though Wahoo does offer an extended battery pack for their mount).

So, I’d suggest passing on the phone mount and checking out Wahoo’s RFLKT bike computer. There’s a Bluetooth-only version for $99.99. The RFLKT+ is a Bluetooth/ANT+ version for an extra $30. It can mount on the bar, the stem, or popular “quarter turn” mounts.

In a nutshell, you leave your phone in your jersey pocket and the RFLKT “reflects” what your phone is doing via a compact but easy-to-read bar-mounted display. Buttons on the side of the display let you toggle through all the vital ride information, and you can even control your iPhone’s or Android’s music remotely. The RFLKT unit will also interface with whatever heart rate monitor, cadence/speed sensor and power meter you have installed, sending the data back to your phone. If you have the RFLKT+, it will work regardless if your sensors are ANT+ or Bluetooth.

Wahoo’s Michelle Gosselin Halsey said that while you ride, your phone will definitely be using up battery, since the GPS is operating and it’s also communicating with the RFLKT via Bluetooth. However, since the phone’s display will be off, it will be using a much more reasonable amount of power. She suggested a phone battery life of more than 6 hours, which would certainly get an experienced cyclist through a century ride. If you need more battery life, a portable USB battery charger isn’t that heavy or take up that much space.

Another major upside, according to Gosselin Halsey, is that Wahoo prides itself on playing nice with all the major fitness apps and software out there. Their website offers a laundry list of popular compatible apps, including Strava, MyFitnessPal, TrainingPeaks, Nike+.com, and Garmin Connect.

In other words, RFLKT is an open platform, allowing the computer to automatically connect with and display the data of whatever popular cycling app you use. This includes GPS data and even turn by turn directions.

All said and done, Wahoo may offer a viable, economical alternative to stand-alone GPS bike computers.

Visit http://www.wahoofitness.com/ to learn more.

About the Author

Brett Ratner (brett@thechainlink.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for Half Acre Cycling and The Bonebell. His goals for 2015 are to complete the Lumberjack 100 mountain bike race as well as a 600 kilometer brevet.

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