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by James Huang
January 12, 2018
Photography by James Huang
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Cycling is generally thought of as a mostly analog activity: more legs and lungs than bits and bytes. But even if you’re not one with the Strava crowd, it’s hard to ignore the fact that electronics are playing an increasingly prominent role in our sport. Gears are changed more often than ever with motors and batteries instead of cables and housing. Rides that aren’t tracked via GPS are regarded by some as never having happened. There is an ever-increasing array of sensors available to measure anything and everything. All of it is intended to enhance our experience and performance in one way or another.
Whether or not that’s actually the case is up for debate, but there’s no denying that the electronic wave is not only heading toward the cycling shore, but steadily building in size and intensity.
There is arguably no better showcase for how our worlds are becoming increasingly connected and digital than the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The convention center halls may shine a brighter spotlight on massive TVs, fancy cameras, smart homes, and drones galore, but there’s also a healthy collection of cycling-related gadgets tucked away in between if you’re willing to do a bit of digging.
CyclingTips US technical editor James Huang brought his shovel to Sin City and found all sorts of intriguing gadgets for the two-wheeled crowd, including sunglasses with built-in heads-up displays, GPS locators to help recover your stolen gear, and fitness trackers of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps most interesting, however, is how the automotive world is figuring out how to make self-driving cars self-aware of cyclists on the road — because if our increasingly distracted population of human drivers isn’t going to take responsibility for their actions behind the wheel, maybe it’s best that something else take the controls instead.
Solos Wearables showed off some new sunglasses built with an integrated heads-up display.
The display is impressively crisp (this image is shot through the sunglasses), but it remains to be seen how distracting it might be while on the road — or how useful it might be to have information directly in your line of sight.
The concept behind the Solos Wearables heads-up sunglasses is intriguing, but there are aspects of the design that make me question how well its designers understand the general eyewear needs of cyclists. Note how the frame impedes the field of view up top, for example.
The display articulates in several directions. The clear section is practically invisible, so the display appears to float in space in front of you.
One of the most interesting products I saw at this year’s CES (at least as far as cycling is concerned) was Nuheara’s IQBud wireless earbuds. Active noise cancellation supposedly keeps wind noise as bay, but they’ll also allow wearers to adjust how much ambient sound is passed through. This means, in theory, that riders will be able to listen to music while riding, but still hear traffic noise, all without the additional din of wind noise.
The Nuheara IQBuds store in a nifty case that doubles as a charging station. Retail price for the standard version is US$299.
Garmin’s new Fenix 5X is its most powerful multisports watch to date.
Whereas most GPS-equipped multisport watches with mapping capabilities often only provide a breadcrumb map, the Garmin Fenix 5X can include more information.
As with all Garmin smartwatches, the new Fenix 5X can display any number of different watch faces.
This is one of the more conventional looking watch faces for the Garmin Fenix 5X. Retail price is US$650.
The Garmin Fenix 5X can also pair to a power meter, furthering the argument that it can be a legitimate replacement for a bar-mounted computer for many riders.
Garmin’s Varia Radar puts virtual eyes in the back of your head, detecting approaching vehicles from behind and alerting you as they get closer so you can react as needed.
The Garmin Varia Vision pulls data from your bar-mounted Edge computer and displays it in your line of sight. More advanced devices have recently come on the market, though, so it’s unclear how much longer this can remain competitive in that space, especially at US$400.
Comparatively speaking, the Garmin Vector 3 power meter pedals are a pretty good buy at US$1,000, offering dual-sided direct power measurement in a form factor that’s easy to transfer between multiple bikes.
Garmin has rapidly diversified its portfolio of cycling products in recent years. A burgeoning category for the company is action cameras, headlined by the Virb 360 with its dual cameras and full 360-degree field of view for panoramic recording and easy editing.
If you want a more conventional action camera setup, there’s also the Garmin Virb Ultra 30, which can overlay ride data right on to the recording.
The most promising tracker I found at CES for recovering stolen bicycles is the new Roadie by French company Invoxia. While most device trackers (such as Tile) rely on a network of dedicated smartphone apps to determine its location, the US$99 Roadie uses a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The purchase price includes a three-year service subscription, and extensions cost a modest US$10 per year afterward. The size and shape are nearly perfect for dropping down into a seat tube, too. The Roadie does rely on the Internet of Things network, however, so the quality of coverage will vary greatly depending on region (you can find a coverage map here).
Coros has followed up on its initial smart bicycle helmet, the Linx, with a second model called the Omni. This one is more conventionally (and originally) styled than the Linx, but is packed with a similar network of electronic gadgets.
At the rear of the Coros Omni helmet are bright LED lights for enhanced daytime and nighttime visibility. The battery is tucked in at the rear of the helmet, too, and is rechargeable via a micro-USB cable.
Bone conduction headphones are integrated into the straps, transmitting sound waves through your skull and directly into your inner ear so you can listen to music (or make phone calls) without impacting your ability to hear ambient noise.
All of the Omni’s functions can be controlled via a convenient wireless handlebar remote.
Coros also debuted at this year’s CES its first fitness watch called Pace. Packed inside the tiny case is a GPS receiver, optical heart rate sensor, multi-axis accelerometer, digital compass, barometer, and both ANT+ and Bluetooth wireless antennae so you can track your workouts without the need for a bike-mounted computer.
Coros says the Pace competes directly with the Garmin Forerunner 935 in terms of features, but undercuts it by a whopping 40% in terms of price. Retail cost is a comparatively cheap US$300.
Claimed battery life on the Coros Pace multi-sport watch is an impressive 30 days when the GPS isn’t in use, or 30 hours when it is, both of which surpass the Garmin Forerunner 935 by a huge margin. Recharging is done through a custom cradle that clips to the side of the case.
The AfterShokz Trekz Air headphones don’t use conventional drivers and don’t get inserted into your ear canal. Instead, they bypass the eardrum and transmit audio waves directly into your inner ear. This lets you hear your music, but also ambient noise such as traffic. I’ve used earlier versions on rides with mixed levels of success, and these should to be a major improvement. Look for a full review soon.
Connected shoe insoles? Indeed, DigitSole claims that its sensor-packed cycling insoles can quantify things such as left/right power balance, foot angle, foot speed, and more so as to improve your pedaling technique and efficiency.
All of the DigitSole’s features are tucked on to a tiny circuit board that is rechargeable via micro-USB cable. The insoles themselves are cleverly designed, too, with built-in arch support to help combat over-pronation.
Ford is touting a collaboration with Tome Software and Trek on a new project designed to help protect cyclists from being hit by inattentive drivers.
Self-driving cars may be the future, but what’s to keep drivers from hitting cyclists in the meantime? If Ford, Tome Software, and Trek have their way, there will be an interim solution that will alert drivers if they’re about to hit a cyclist, and possibly even hit the brakes automatically if an impact is imminent.
How advanced are self-driving cars? This is what Ford’s autonomous vehicle “sees” around it, using a combination of lidar, radar, and cameras.
Superpedestrian’s Copenhagen wheel was the first to package the motor, battery, and associated electronics completely within a standalone wheel in order to convert standard bikes into e-bikes, but Electron Wheel has now introduced a similar concept.
The Electron Wheel boasts a 400-watt motor, a top speed of 32km/h (20mph), and a claimed maximum range of approximately 80km (50 miles).
The US$800 retail cost of the Electron Wheel undercuts the Copenhagen wheel by nearly half, but it certainly doesn’t look as nicely constructed.
Cosmo Connected created its original helmet-mounted light for motorcyclists, including an accelerometer-based control that automatically turned the device into a brake light for enhanced visiblity. Now, the technolgy has been adapted into a smaller form factor for cyclists.
The Cosmo Connected helmet light also acts as a turn signal.
Turn signals can be manually activated through the associated smartphone app (and the smartphone would presumably have to be mounted to the handlebar for easy access).
Users can also pre-program routes into the app, however, and the turn signals will automatically activate based on your GPS location and where you’re about to turn.
Seattle Cycles specializes in “premium travel bikes”, and showed off a new 20″-wheeled folding e-bike at this year’s CES.
The Seattle Cycles Metrobike is equipped with a 250W e-assist motor built into the rear hub.
The smaller 200Wh battery (housed inside the stainless steel bottle) is shown here, and reportedly will last for about 32km of use before needing to be recharged. A larger 300Wh battery will be offered, too.
The construction quality on the Seattle Cycles MetroBike looks quite impressive. This one weighs just 13kg (29lb) with a titanium frame, but production models will be built with an aluminum one.
Small-wheeled bikes often handle a bit odd compared to their full-sized counterparts, but Seattle Cycles has built the MetroBike with a zero-rake fork that supposedly makes the bike feel much more stable.
When folded, the Seattle Cycles MetroBike will fit into an airline-legal suitcase.
The prototype is built by Lynskey Performance. The cheaper aluminum production model will likely be made overseas, though, given the projected US$1,500 retail cost.
The Humon Hex is said to measure how much oxygen your muscles are using during a workout, as well as how much lactate they’re producing. The inventors claim that this more intimate knowledge of how your muscles are working can yield more efficient training, and faster performance gains.
PlatoScience claims its US$400 PlatoWork neurostimulator can promote “cognitive enhancement using proven neurostimulation technology.” For cycling, the theory is that, by stimulating specific areas of the brain in conjunction with athletic training, your brain can learn and adapt more quickly. Does it work? That depends on who you ask, it seems.
See.Sense’s lights have long had built-in vibration sensors that can detect the quality of the road on which you’re riding. Now, the company is finally starting to crowdsource that data and supply it to a few selected municipalities to help improve road safety for cyclists.
See.Sense has several of its connected lights roaming the streets around its home base in Dublin, Ireland, providing city planners with valuable data on what routes cyclists use most, potential danger areas, and even where the roads need to be repaired. See.Sense is also running similar pilot programs in Milton Keynes, Manchester, and Belfast, and hopes to expand soon beyond those UK and Irish cities. Photo: See.Sense.
Tile is clearly targeting the cycling market to at least some degree based on this display. Tile is, far and away, the largest ecosystem of Bluetooth-based device trackers, and arguably makes the best case for being able to recover a bike that’s stolen with one of these hidden inside.
Tile has also now partnered with Ruckus Wi-Fi routers to provide an additional locating source. Imagine a thief’s surprise if they were to steal a bike with a Tile device inside and brought it back to their Ruckus-equipped home.
If drivers can’t be relied upon to keep from hitting cyclists, can self-driving cars do better? Hopefully.
Maybe this is the future of driving, and maybe it isn’t. But either way, it’s at least possible that the technology’s architects will do a better job of keeping autonomous vehicles from running cyclists off the road than humans currently do.
Suunto’s new Smart Suunto 3 Fitness watch is yet another entry into the hyper-crowded activity tracker market. This particular model is aimed at more of a mass-market user as it lacks the built-in GPS receiver that is arguably necessary in a true multisports watch.
An optical heart rate monitor is built into the back of the new Smart Suunto 3 Fitness watch.
The Smart Suunto 3 Fitness watch is still useful for cycling, however, when paired with a speed sensor. Otherwise, the device has no way to know how fast you’re going.
More appropriate to the multisport crowd is Suunto’s Spartan series, which is equipped with onboard GPS for more accurate speed and location information. This Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro will even alert you of an incoming storm if it detects a sudden drop in barometric pressure.
The color screen on the Suunto Spartan Sport HR Baro is impressively bright and crisp.
Otherwise, the Suunto Spartan sport watches just look and feel like other smart watches on the market, including push notifications for calls and texts from a paired smartphone.
Sleep tracking was a dominant theme among health and fitness products at CES. Given that many people have issues sleeping due to stress and the constant attention of various devices, I’m not sure how useful it would be to add yet another device to combat the issue.
SpotyPal is yet another company promoting its ecosystem of trackers. Unlike Tile, these have replaceable batteries, but the effectiveness of the system for recovering stolen items (such as your bike) is still completely dependent on the breadth of the Spotypal app community.
Smith Optics has partnered with technology company Muse to produce the new Lowdown Focus sunglasses. When used with the associated smartphone app, the claim is that these can help athletes improve their ability to focus on specific tasks.
For cars that aren’t equipped with automatic collision avoidance technology, there are add-on devices such as this setup from Movon Corporation. They’re quite expensive, however, and can only alert you if you’re about to hit something, not stop the car for you.
Nokia is branching out into the world of fitness trackers and smart watches such as this one, which features the usual step counter as well as an optical heart rate monitor.
There was no shortage of sensor-packed headphones at CES for tracking your workouts. These KuaiFit “smart coaching” earbuds can connect wirelessly to speed, cadence, heart rate, and power meter sensors, and then provide audio cues to guide you through prescribed workouts. Retail cost for the cycling version is US$199, and perforated silicone rubber eartips are included so that you can still hear ambient noise while riding.
Tiny joysticks at the base of each KuaiFit earbud control the various functions.
KuaiFit’s smart coaching earbuds are not equipped with a GPS receiver; instead, they rely on a conventional wireless speed and cadence sensor to determine how fast and how far you’re going.
It’s clear that most car companies are anticipating that autonomous vehicles represent the future of driving. This Mercedes-Benz concept has no driver controls at all. Just hop in, tell it where to go, sit back, and relax.
Forget standing desks; how about a pedaling one instead?
Device trackers are quite popular at CES, and while Tile has emerged as the dominant platform, that hasn’t stopped others from trying to cash in. Small Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as these from Cube Tracker, all operate on the same idea: by communicating with smartphones that are running the dedicated app, the network can provide the location of the item that is tagged. This can be potentially useful for tracking a stolen bike, for example, but its effectiveness is reliant on the robustness of the network in use.
Need a longer run time for your new GoPro Hero 5 or 6 action camera? DigiPower comes to the rescue with its supplemental battery pack, which will power the camera for up to six hours in 4K mode, or up to nine hours when recording at 720p.
The BenjiLock is just what it appears to be: a padlock that is operated by your fingerprint, not a key (although a key will still work). It’s only available as a pre-order in padlock form for now, but one could easily see how such a mechanism could be adapted for bicycle lock applications.