Monday, July 16, 2007

High Tech Reaches the Two-wheel Set

I recently returned from a bicycle trip through Virginia and was surprised to see how electronic technology has permeated this seemingly low-tech industry. For sure, bikes have embraced space-age mechanical technology with frames built of high strength composites making them light and strong. That being the case, for years about the only electronic technology one would see among fellow riders was a speedometer. Things have changed big time.

Over the five days of my 300 plus mile trip, I saw several bikes equipped with GPS systems. These devices, about the size of a small cell phone have some powerful features. Instead of gathering speed information from your spinning wheel, it computes your speed using satellites. Why one needs to have that level of accuracy while peddling through Colonial Williamsburg is beyond me, but it is cool.

Using the GPS you can load in your planned daily route and the display will show you exactly where you are and how far it is to the next rest stop. Call me old fashioned, but when the heat index is hovering around 100 degrees, sometimes you just don’t want to know how far you have to go.

One other feature provided by the GPS is readout of your altitude. Again, my legs tell me that I am going up hill. Do I really need to quantify how much climbing I am doing?

Of course there were several riders carrying on phone conversations using
Bluetooth™ ear buds. It is somewhat disconcerting to ride up behind a solo cyclist who is babbling away with no one else in sight. Talking while riding a bike is as dangerous as driving a car under the influence of “Ma Bell.”

One of the great new beneficial technologies comes in lighting. Using LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) instead of regular incandescent light bulbs, bicycle lights are now brighter and battery life is extended almost exponentially. I have a tail light on my bike that has used the same single AAA battery for more than a year and I am sure it has been on for more than 200 hours. Likewise I have an LED headlight that can be set to strobe. The bright white blinking light grabs the attention of drivers who might otherwise fail to see my bike coming.

I leave at the end of the month for another bicycle trip in Iowa. Who knows what I might see?

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