Archive for August, 2012

Google Voice Guided Bike Directions

Google has added a new and much anticipated feature to it’s Google Maps software, Google Voice Guided Bike Directions. Here’s a link to the official  details.

This will allow you to have the directions to your destinations read out loud to you through your smartphone headphones.  Personally I can’t wear headphones when riding in traffic. I’ve learned that I need all 5 senses just  to stay alive. On the other hand cranking up the  tunes to blow off some steam while riding off road can be very therapeutic for me.

Google Map Maker  Bike Paths looks like a really grand idea. I’m very curious to learn more about how it will be curated. This type of tool would deliver great information for planning bike commuting routes and errand running.  It takes me a few weeks to find the best route from point A to point B. sometimes, a year later, I’ll  take a new turn and discover an entirely new off road path to work that was just 2 blocks east.

Being able to share the favored routes with other cyclist and being able to label them “prefer” and “avoid” based on if the street has bike lanes, or fast moving traffic for example sounds like a truly democratic  process and worthy effort.

I think this will help a lot of newbie commuters that are just stuck in a web of side walks, intersections, killer  SUV’s and buses.

Being able to connect off road trails to form circuits and paths to do your daily tasks can foster a community of cyclists and hopefully connect stewards of the trails so that they can work together and properly maintain the paths all season round.

This information could in time  lead city planners to take notice in the most traveled bike routes and be able to respond to areas that need  improvement such as where bottle necks occur, or where nasty intersection are hiding or my favorite, where stretches of tarmac are totally  missing from the streets of Winnipeg.

Canada however is not one of the countries on the beta for Google Map Maker Bike Paths, but here is a video preview of what the service has to offer.

 

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The business of mapping and really, and at the end of the day designating bike traffic routes not just in one city, but the world is a tremendous undertaking, but  I can’t think of any one better to  step up to the challenge than Google.  My helmet’s off to you folks for a job well done.  Now how about that beta test for Canada….?

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Ahhh….Green Winnipeg and the River Rouge

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Sometimes I forget how beautiful and scenic Winnipeg can be. For having a really harsh cold season, things really get green in the summer.

Winnipeg is a city covered in trees. One of the first things you notice when you fly over is the harmony of green scape and concrete. Ancient Elms and Oak trees line the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

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Of course the consequences of having all those snaking rivers means a lot of bridges. For much of the season tour boats like the River Rouge are cut off from some of the best tour areas due to high water levels or flooding.

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I wonder if any of the passengers checked for the life vest before passing under the South Osbourne Bridge?

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Will they make it?

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Phew! Just barely.

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Everyone in Winnipeg should take a boat down our beautiful rivers. I think the brown murkiness and current can turn a lot of people away, but the two rivers of Winnipeg make for a world class landscape which is something we residents take for granted living in our boxes for the better part of the year.

Review: Black Diamond Icon Headlamp

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My constant search for the best all around bicycle lighting solution has led me to the Black Diamond Icon Head lamp. I have tried other options, including handle bar mounted options, 1 and two watt bulbs, as well as models with and with out external battery packs.

The choice to have the light attached to the head rather than the handle bars is obvious when you can direct a beam of light right into the eyes of  drivers from merging traffic. Having a light mounted on the handle bars will do nothing but make you watch the small patch of road in front of you.

The Icon is one of Black Diamond’s brightest headlamps and it features 3 different brightness settings between it’s three modes. The most powerful spotlight mode is for viewing objects in the narrow distance and has made riding bike paths in pitch blackness a peice of cake.

This mode will draw the most power and I find myself using it the most for bike commuting where you want to put out as much light as you can to compete with the interfering lights from cars and street lights.

The Icon’s brightest of the 5 LED’s is a a 3 watt Xenon bulb and claims 100 meters and 100 lumens of viewing pleasure on the high setting and 50 meters on the lowest setting.

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Even if you don’t go with the Black Diamond Icon, you can’t argue the difference that you see between 1-2 watt LED lights and the 3 Watt headlamp bulbs.  At three watts you can clearly single out objects in the horizon and most importantly that extra light gives you the ability to not “over drive” your vision, or go faster than your ability to see whats coming at you when booking it down the street or path.

The  flashing white strobe light delivers a terrific solution for emergency situations or when visibility is poor, like morning fog or rain and you need to be seen more than you need to see, if that makes any sense?

An area illumination mode using the out side 4 lower power LED’s is perfect for reading and hanging around fellow campers and cyclists with out blinding them. This mode will give you a much longer run time and conserve battery life. You’ll also appreciate this setting when working with reflective objects as the the bright setting can momentarily blind you when reflected from a shiny bicycle rim or wrench.

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I had some trouble attaching the Icon to my helmet due to to the awkwardness of the battery pack . Come to think of it, the Giro helmets are pretty irregularly shaped them selves. No easy task to be sure.

The battery pack seems to sit best on the rear of the helmet and is connected to the lamp by a silicone covered coiled line.  While I’m sure it will last for some time, I find that the coiled cable presents too much resistance when adjusting the head band and seem to mess up the balance making for a lop sided helmet. It’s near perfect for my head though.

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Perhaps some instructions on how to best attach the lamp to a helmet should be included.  A series of zip ties in all the right places makes for a semi permanent helmet installation. Some lacing grommets could be stylistically designed for the exterior of the battery case making great attachment points.

The Black Diamond Icon features the option of using 3 AA batteries or…

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Black Diamond’s proprietary NRG Rechargeable Battery pack. I find I can run the light every night for a week for at least 45 minutes on this setting before noticing any difference in power output. After two weeks of commuting, it’s time to recharge the batteries.

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I really like the screw down water proof battery case. After many dunkings in rain and numerous bike and kayak camping trips I’m happy to say the Icon hasn’t failed me when it comes to water resistance.

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The one button control makes things easy even for those times where your hands are frozen in winter gloves and you are fumbling for the bike lock in the dark.  I really like that the on/off switch, its totally sealed from the elements. No more marshmallowy smores fused to the headlamp!

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The lamp tilt has been much improved for a more positive click feeling compared to older models. They would become useless after the plastic tabs broke out of the tilt mechanism (The BD Cosmo, or the BD The Spot? This happened to both of mine).

If you’re curious, Black Diamond offers a three year warranty on all of their headlamps.

After three years, all of the LED’s in my other lamps have died out, no matter how good of batteries you install. So you have to think of this purchase as a light that will only last you about 3 three years, anything more than that is on borrowed time.

In three years time, there will be a lighter, brighter, more powerful model that will last you another three years or so. Just think about the difference in technology from tungsten lamps in flash lights, halides, halogens to xenon LED. Things move very fast in the world of portable lighting.

 

The Black Diamond Icon has another handy features that separates it from other wannabe headlamps. A battery power meter with 3 indicator lights: green for fully charged, yellow at 20% and red when power is critical at lower than 20%.

After owning the light, it has become pretty obvious when it time to change the batteries as the output will be severely dimmed when the red LED is indicated.

I know that Black Diamond does not advertise their lights for cycling use as they are primarily a mountain climbing company, but I believe that they could easily cross over into bike lighting. Cycling presents a much larger market.

Over all I highly recommend this light. It will blow away almost anything else on the market in terms of brightness per dollar spent.  At this point there is no substitute for having the power of 3 AA batteries in the external pack.

Bar the coiled power cable and bulky external battery pack  I can’t think of why you shouldn’t pick one up at $40 to $60. I use this headlamp for any projects that need superior lighting, like work with miniatures, cutting wood on a scroll saw or soldering electronics.

I use this light all year round with temperatures all the way down to -35 C. I hardly noticed any battery fade in the cold.

Damn, I could only wish for a lamp this bright and portable as a child, one that didn’t require a small car battery to be bolted to the handle. Try strapping that to your BMX…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go ahead, blind your friends and extend your bike riding hours! Be safe!

 

 

 

 

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Go for a Bike Ride to The Human Rights Museum!

I took a ride through the Forks today to check on the progress of the the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I’ve been following this construction process for some time now. Here’s another updated picture.

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This is one of the most amazing building I have ever had the pleasure to see in person.  It’s a bold design, for more than one reason. Even though the glass sides of the Museum are facing south, we’ll see if they can withstand the cruel North wind of the Winnipeg winter.

The Museum looks different from every angle. Being located in the remaining green space of the Forks cultural centre , the reflections give the building an appearance reminiscent of the ” Emerald City ” from the Wizard of Oz.

The grounds are always very well kept and the surrounding shops and services are a great destination for a bike ride in Winnipeg. The Forks is connected from every direction by bike lanes and paths so don’t forget your panniers when you visit the indoor market for some fresh groceries or a bottle of wine.

As their website claims

“The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is envisioned as a national and international destination-a centre of learning where Canadians and people from around the world can engage in discussion and commit to taking action against hate and oppression.”

It’s a grand, worthy vision, and from a cyclist’s point of view, I sure hope they have an exhibit commemorating bike commuters.

Check out the South webcam here to see how the building process is going for yourself.