The right headphones for the right job – cycling and the office

When you use headphones for a variety of different things it can be hard to find one pair that does all the jobs. I recently acquired a Plantronics Backbeat Go 2 bluetooth headset in the hope that they would fill in the gaps and replace my Avantree Jogger headphones.

The dedicated headphones who compete for my veracious favour were both from of an elite store of mobile accessories known as MobileZap.

These are their stories.

Plantronics: The Upside

Plantronics really do make a nice headset that has a good audio quality and nice microphone. The interface is intuitive and nice to use.IMG_4739

I chose them because I am having trouble with the quality of voice calls on the Avantree headset. On that front they’ve done a superb job, I use my phone a lot for work and this makes it much easier.

Another bonus was the fact that they are much better at syncing with multiple devices. I walk into the office and open my computer up and pretty quickly I’m using the headset for my Macbook Pro also.

They come with a range of earbuds sizes and it has taken a while for me to figure out the right for my ear but they stay in reasonably well. Once they’re in they block out a lot of outside noise which is nice if you’re trying to concentrate with lots of noise around you.

These babies are tiny, they wrap up to the size of a regular set of headphones and most people don’t even notice that they’re a bluetooth headset until they see that they’re not connected to anything.

When I’m trying to nap with these, I can lean comfortably on them as they’re just tiny earbuds that are connected by a wire.

Plantronics: The Downside

Battery life is key for me with riding and due to the tiny size of the Backbeat earbuds they don’t have much room for a big battery. That means I probably only get 3 hours of use compared to the 5-6 hours I’ll normally get with my Avantree Joggers.

On two more rather important counts the Avantree Joggers still win out; background noise and fit.

When I’m cycling and running it’s important to hear what’s happening around me so the noise reduction of the Backbeat that I love in the office make them a no go for cycling.

Although the ear fit is nice on the Backbeat Go, they don’t stay in nearly as well as the firm Joggers. If I take one ear out or am doing vigorous exercise one will simply fall out and then quickly shake the other one out.

Horses For Courses

For now my “universal headphone” search continues, maybe with no end in sight. However, I’m happy with the Pantronics Backbeat Go 2 for making calls and using in the office and keeping my pair of Avantree Joggers for my more rigorous activities.

If you have any headphone recommendations please leave them in the comments below.

How to wake up without disturbing your partner: the nerds solution

“But whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun.”
– Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Vine Utley, 21 March 1819

I dream that one day I’d love to live in a situation where my wife and I could both go to sleep and rise with the sun without the need for an alarm and disturbing each other. Alas my life right now simply doesn’t allow for that.

Manly Beach At Sunrise With Bikes
This is why I get up early. Can’t argue with that.

We have a bright light right outside of our apartment window so we try and keep the room as dark as possible and I like to get up early and exercise before work and my wife likes to stay up late and sleep in. This can cause a bit of problems when an alarm starts blasting as early as 3am sometimes. It’s a horrible way to wake up and not entirely fair to your partner that is still sleeping.

A few weeks back I started trying the Fitbit Flex wristband fitness tracker and while I love the “quantified self” capabilities of its activity tracking that can help you to stay active and meet your goals, the best feature I’ve found is its silent alarm.

You wake up slowly with three vibrations on your wrist that you can then turn off by tapping twice on the device.

The beauty of putting an alarm in a activity tracker is that it knows if you’ve got up and started moving about or not.

I have a fairly regular schedule so I set my recurring alarms for the week and “voi la!” I don’t have to think about it again. You can also use it for reminders throughout the day without having an obnoxious alarm go off in the office (I use it to remind me to stretch). It stays on my wrist all day, can be showered with and has only needed one charge in the last fortnight!

The idea is genius and (until I can just sleep at will or have screaming kids wake me up) I can’t imagine waking up another way.

Keeping the lights on over the long bike kilometers

I do a lot of long distance cycling. This can often mean 18 hours in the saddle between overnight checkpoints that requires battery life for my lights, phone and GPS.

I’ve been looking for solutions for this and currently I use a combination of Fibre Flares (80 hour AAA battery life), battery packs and a 11mAh USB charger. This all adds a lot of weight to the bike.

When I stumbled across the Tigra Sport BikeCharge Dynamo on MobileZap I thought it’d be the next on my list of things to try.

The Good

The idea of getting to dump a lot of batteries and chargers is incredibly appealing, it’s the reason that a lot of town bikes have them and a lot of Audax riders (ultra long distance) use dynamos. The downside with a lot of dynamos is that they generally are a pain to install, expensive or noisy with a lot of resistance.

The great thing about the BikeCharge is that it is incredibly easy to install. There’s no need to replace a hub or spend ages aligning the mount – it just pops on your existing axel.

I had the thing installed within minutes.

The BikeCharge also has a built in USB charger and front/back lights with a handy switch that you can mount to the handlebars.

The Bad

Unfortunately it was quite noisy because it didn’t seem to fit well to my wheels. It is also had more resistance than I was expecting.

The Ugly

While it looks small in the photos it is actually quite big and heavy.

Conclusion

I think this is perfect for a town bike or a run around bike because you’ll always have a light at night. However if you’re going to put in some decent kilometres I think that the battery packs or a high end dynamo will have to be the choice because of the noise, weight and resistance.

I think the BikeCharge is going to live on my hybrid that I lend out to people and use as my backup bike.

In my next phase of this journey to find a power solution I’d like to try the solar panels. They won’t work at night but they could help the phone and GPS get through a multi-day event – plus they’d also be great for camping.

Yours in trying to figure out the right bike setup,

Luke

I’m back and no longer playing secret squirrel!

I’m back from my travels with as much if a tan as a pasty guy can expect and many stories to talk about!

I’m also finally writing the post that I promised so many of you I’d write to tell you what I’m actually doing now for work. I know I’ve been playing secret squirrel until now but it’s come to a stage where I can talk about it.

So the long and short of it is that I’ve joined James Moody (innovator, entrepreneur andauthor who you may remember from ABC’s New Inventors) and a small, very talented team to work on two startup projects: TuShare and Sendle.

I’ve told some of you already about TuShare, it’s Australia’s fastest growing giving network where every item is free! The goal is to divert as much of our perfectly reusable stuff from ending up in landfill while building a positive community. I encourage you to check it out and see if you can snag something you want for free, or if it can help you do some much needed de-cluttering.

This leads onto the project which I’ve been quiet about so far: Sendle. After setting up the logistics of the door-to-door delivery of rescued resources for TuShare, the idea was to make door-to-door delivery at post office prices available to everyone! No more waiting in post office lines during precious business hours, needing to pick things up at inconvenient times, being charged extra for tracking or insurance or getting parcels delivered to the wrong address — we even have a cool feature where addresses remain anonymous!

If that sounds good to you then please let me know as I can probably swing some free/cheap delivery for you guys while we’re still in beta (initially it’s domestic only).

If you have any questions or want to catch up please don’t hesitate. I’m still living in Lane Cove and my new office is now near Town Hall/Hyde Park if you’re ever in the neighbourhood and want to get a beverage or a meal.

Solving Battery Anxiety During Big Rides And Travelling

Momax iPowerYou may already be aware from my previous post that I rode 600km over 2 days recently to raise money for Good Return. However, what you may not realise is how important it was to have charged lights, phone and GPS for the 30 hours or so of riding time.

When stumped with this problem it seemed like the best solution was to have a portable USB emergency charger (a battery that you carry with you to charge other batteries). I found the Momax iPower 16800mAh External Battery Pack and decided to give it a go because it had one of the highest battery capacities (about 9 full iPhone charges). Not only did it really save me on the big ride, it has also been a useful device to travel around Europe with!

Charging Suunto with Momax iPower while riding 600km audax.
Charging Suunto with Momax iPower while riding 600km audax.

Soon enough into the ride I discovered that when running at full navigation capacity my GPS (the Suunto Ambit 2) needed to be charged really quickly. In this picture you can see how the charger is hooked up to my GPS watch so that it could charge while riding and not increase the time that I had to spend waiting at checkpoints. I could have the charger safely packed away while the Suunto was charging and being used.

For a ride of this length the high capacity battery was an absolute must. However at almost half a kilo of extra weight it certainly adds to the load that you carry (every bit counts). This unusually high capacity will be very useful for VERY long rides but if you are doing ones shorter than 900-1200km then I would recommend something lighter.

Aside from the weight, it was relatively small compared to other chargers of the came charging capacity (similar weight but only about half the size of the other competing devices).

Having two separate USB ports came in handy when I ended up having the GPS plugged in for most of the ride. It allowed me to plug in my phone or a USB light for a while without needing to unplug the GPS.

Them charger has also turned out to be very durable and lasts through the drop tests well!

We’ve just finished a month of travelling and it’s been really nice to bring along with us to Europe. It’s allowed us to add extra charge to our devices while being or planes or trains that don’t always have charging capabilities (or charge you a pretty penny for it).

All in all I definitely recommend the Momax iPower for those looking at the top end of the market for chargers with high capacity!

2014 Cycle to End Poverty: Festum Prophate Ride Report

Sunday at 6:10pm marked the end of my 600 gruelling kilometres and just over 25 hours in the saddle, many of which were off road & hard climbs. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Thank you so much to everyone who sent messages of support and those that demonstrated their support for me by ponying up the cash to also support something that I care deeply about. Thank you from all the people whose lives will be changed by getting access to the means to bring themselves out of poverty.

As of the end of the ride there was $3,115 of donor support to Good Return and I’m so touched by all the support that I’m going to find a way to match the $3,115 instead of just the first $2,500. In the days since the ride the total has come to $6,350.

I didn’t think I could have got back on the saddle after stopping at Hornsby 325km into it… everything hurt and I was exhausted. Seeing all the support got me back on the saddle (wincing as my rear end touched it!).

The pain my body suffered is relatively fleeting, I am well on the road to recovery… but the support to helping those facing poverty will make a lasting impact to people like Candy who I met during my trip to the Philippines last year.

Candy Paris
Candy Paris

Just four years ago Candy received an AU$50 microloan (and financial literacy training) and since then she has developed several streams of income by cooking and selling native foods and delicacies, raising and selling pigs for the local market, selling solar lamps and energy efficient stoves to her village, and her most recent passion is making peanut butter and other preserved foods. She has reinvested in her community and is helping to put her grandchildren through school. The impact of a small investment is huge.

All the people who donated are AMAZING for their generosity! By investing in the prosperity of the lives of people facing poverty they are making the world a better place. I’m blown away by the generosity displayed and cannot express my appreciation enough.

No one deserves a life of poverty and I can’t thank people enough for their support!

Now, I’m sure some of you are wondering how the ride actually went down. So if you are interested in the minutia of detail as to how it all went then you can continue on and read my ride report (full of photos).

Thanks everyone!

Ride Report

At 5:45am I arrived at Jersey Street in Hornsby and was wondering where everyone was. About 10 minutes later a couple more riders showed up.

Seconds before starting I realised that my final bike modification from the night before had gone afoul… the thick bar tape I’d wrapped on top of his other bar tape was loose.

At 6am I was told that it’s just me and one other rider (a fellow Easy Rider nicknamed Wilson) still signed up to ride the 600km course and only 3 others on the 200. Everyone else had pulled out.

At 6:10 we rolled out in the cold & wet.

Fifteen minutes later the rider that Wilson and I were riding with had the first “mechanical” of the day; he broke a spoke.

This was the last we saw of any other Audaxers (the 600km ride is called an Audax which is latin for “dare”).

The clock struck 6:30am as the rain started to pelt down harder.

By 7 am my handlebar tape was completely unwrapped below the shifters on the left (Wilson soon gave me a piece of double-sided Velco which did the trick – note to self: bring strips of double sided Velcro on long rides).

We then continued along the well trodden path of the Old Pacific Highway until taking a convoluted back route to Wong near the reptile park.

Within an hour we were hit by our first off road section which was worse than some of the fire trails in Terrey Hills. Our road bikes were shocked… literally.

I soon learned that my GPS navigation file compression had made it easy to miss details because we almost didn’t make it back on track! Thankfully the other rider, Wilson, had a better GPS navigator so we were soon back on track.

We made it to Wyong, completely drenched by about 9:30am for a cheeky bacon & egg roll and a flat white (which apparently comes with chocolate powder sprinkled on top).

 

The easiest leg was over and we were back in the saddle.

The trip to Yarramalong included a lot more off-road sections than we anticipated. We arrived all shaken (not stirred), muddy, hungry, in need of charging the GPS and in need of refilling our water.

The All-Day Breakfast we ordered for our late lunch was served to us at a leisurely pace (delaying by half an hour or so) but it REALLY hit the spot.

There was no mobile phone reception in Yarramalong so the respective bosses (spelled W.I.V.E.S.) were left to worry about our safety until the next checkpoint (and Luke’s Instagram followers were left without a photo update).

We got back on the bikes with USB chargers all jerry-rigged to charge GPS devices while riding and we started relying more on our cue cards.

The next section had the most off road/unsealed road conditions and they all felt much longer than it says on paper.

Le Tour De Bœuf

“Toto, we’re not in Sydney anymore… we’re in cattle country.”

We had a few run-ins with cows.

In the first instance we were cycling along an unsealed road and went past a few cows lingering along the side of the road. As we went a little further past a tractor we saw a herd of cattle (20 or so heads) running along all over the road… A gap opened up and I raced through it, making it through on the left and causing the cows to all to rush to the right. This opened up a short gap. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough and Wilson missed the gap and the cows quickly covered the road again. Almost a minute passed as Wilson sneakily crept through our remaining bovine comrades.

Another hour or so passing after seeing the cows and we saw some brief signs of civilisation…

For the second run in it was pitch black and we were cycling along another unsealed road, minding our own business… what do we find smack in the middle of Wilson’s path? A big black cow. Wilson screeched to a halt and once again made it through in one piece.

(see the cow? neither did we)

After a 35km stretch of unsealed road is over we came into St Albans and I rushed in to grab an OJ (not the Simpson variety) from the bar and filled up my water bottles.

The bartender then informed me that “it’s not far to Hornsby from here”… When I pulled up my drink bottles he then added “…by car that is” and suggested that we stop for a meal. I thanked him and told him that we’d better get to Wisemans Ferry soon or I wouldn’t make it to Hornsby at all (I then started to dream of drinking several pints to numb the quite literal pain in my rear end)!

Onwards to Wisemans we went!

We cruised into Wisemans at about 7:30pm and quickly headed to the bistro to order some dinner (we may have got lost along the way and found ourselves ordering an “isotonic beverage”).

All fed we jumped back on the bike and slowly grinded our way out of Wisemans (yet again on unsealed road).

We spent the next few hours trying to stay awake and safe until we made it to the Berowra ferry (we subsequently made some more friends on yet another ferry).

It’s not until after 11pm that we find our way to the Hornsby Golden Arches and top up our energy with supreme nutritional value.

At this point Wilson bowed out after a champion effort (biggest ride ever and only ride bigger than a 70km this quarter) and I found my way to the car to catch a little bit of sleep.

Day 2

At 4:20am I woke up very disorientated and aching all over, wincing as I walked to the Golden Arches to get changed into fresh clothes and address the calls of nature.

After doing some work try to fix things on the bike (trying & failing to change seats) and restocking I realise that time is of the essence and I must get going.

Everything hurt.

“Ouch.”

“Owie.”

“Oh mummy, please make it stop.”

…eventually the self-doubt subsided, the sharp pain became a dull ache and as the sunlight hit hope was regained (although moments later I was overtaken by a few bikes out for their Sunday ride).

Following the masochistic route into Springwood (wondering “does the route REALLY need to depart from the main road to take all those small detours up bigger hills?”) the first 100km of the day hurt and I arrived at Springwood with only 40 minutes to spare before cut-off.

A quick bacon & egg roll and coffee was followed by a banana bread and I quickly got back on the bike on my way to Sackville.

I was back onto the off-road/unsealed sections for a good chunk of the next 100km to Sackville. When I arrived I saw that the next checkpoint was closed (see the bandits on bikes who shut the place down) and that there was nothing else in town.

With empty water bottles and empty stomach I went on an excursion to try and find more food & water.

No luck.

Off to the Sackville ferry it was then.

A few more km down the road and this sign appeared…

I was without phone reception so I followed the detour not knowing where it’d take me.

Quickly enough I was back on path.

Eventually I found a service station at Maraylya to refuel and revisit the route. My rough calculations showed that I needed 9km more to make up for the River road affair.

A second wind came on and I powered it back to Galston with dreams of eating dinner before 7pm…

After grinding up from Galson Gorge I was passing by Somerville Road when I remembered that I was still going to end up 8km short at this point so an extra loop would be necessary to reach the 600km. In the meantime my mum was following my location on Find My Friends and started to think that I was delirious because I was off the official course and heading away from Hornsby.

Soon I was back on track and finally arrived at the final checkpoint, Hornsby Police Station, at 6:10pm.

 

It was quite an experience, one that I will remember.

But at the end of all that the question is, what does pushing myself out of my comfort zone and cycling 600km have to do with helping to end the cycle of poverty (aside from the word ‘cycle’)?

I had a lot of time to think during the ride and during the lead up and I thought it would help for me to unpack that question.

What is the link?

  • Is it that it’s (perhaps more) uncomfortable to think about poverty than it is to ride 600km?
  • Is it that it’s hard to live in poverty and it’s hard to ride 600km?
  • Is it that a rickshaw driver toils for over 12 hours a day and I sit at a comfy desk job?

I’m sure that there are many links that could be drawn but for me the answer was really quite simple (albeit less direct).

  1. I’m incredibly lucky to have a network of family and friends who support me.
  2. I’m incredibly lucky that through the means of the ovarian lottery I was born to be affluent by global standards and so were my friends and family.
  3. I’m incredibly lucky that when I choose to do something difficult my friends and family are not only happy to support me, but generous enough to transfer that support to something I care about, to helping make the world a better place.

I’m one lucky guy with awesome people in his life. I got their attention by doing something brave and I’m endlessly thankful that they came through for me.

Now the world is just that much better.

And for that, I am truly thankful.

Solving my USB charging problems with the Capdase Porto

One Thursday morning after a 140km ride before work, I was starting to plug in my lights, phone, Suunto Ambit 2, iPad Mini, Bluetooth headphones and iPhone charger case. I quickly realised that I had not only run out of USB outlets on my computer to charge everything, but that everything was also charging very slowly. I clearly needed a better charging solution.

After doing some Googling, I decided to give the Capdase Porto V4 Quartet USB Power Adapter a go. This was in part because it comes with all the international power outlet adapters I’ll need when travelling Europe for a month in June/July with my wife.

So, the fifty-seven trillion dollar question is obviously: How did it fare?

I love the capability to charge everything separately from the computer without having lots of individual USB adapters, all it requires is one power socket and it charges four things — quickly too!

The carry bag is a bit big because it’s built to carry all the extra adapters with room to spare. That’s not so great if you want something compact, but for me it’s great to have all my electronics and USB cables in one place.

The four USB ports are nice and compact which is great, however if you have USB devices that plug in directly without a cable it can be a bit difficult to do (I can only fit one of my Knog bike lights on at a time).

The 1m cable is also great because if you have short USB cables then the transformer can be plugged in away from you (e.g. under the desk) while the 4 USB ports are nice and close.

The Capdase Porto USB charging station has a very clear value proposition and pretty much is what is says in the name; an easy to use 4-port USB charger that is going to keep me well-lit on the road & pack light while travelling!