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Skiing and Snowboarding : Biking

The AAA Club for Cyclists

Trouble can strike at any minute on a long bike ride, and your contingency plan ought to involve more than just keeping a dollar handy to fix a flat (though you should probably teach yourself how to do that anyway).

Luckily for you, a handful of companies are bringing roadside-assistance services to road cyclists. After all, it's just as annoying to break down far from home on a bike as it is in a car.

Several regional AAA clubs have announced plans to outfit trucks with bike racks—just in time for Bike to Work Day on Friday. Members who find themselves with a bum bike can catch a ride back to civilization and get their bikes repaired.

This is a good idea with some obvious limitations. The trucks can’t access bike paths, so if your derailleur suddenly snaps off, you’ll have to make your way to the nearest real road for AAA help. Plus, options for roadside-assistance services are still slim and dependent on where you live—only six states have AAA clubs that offer bike services. Each club member receives two free calls per year, which some dedicated riders might complain isn’t enough.

But we’re happy to see more organizations looking out for cyclists in distress. Better World Club, another auto club that aims to support sustainable transportation, has offered bicycle roadside assistance since 2012. It's a fairly new offering in the U.S., but a potentially crucial tool for bike safety. "When we talk to cyclists about why they don't ride more often, being stranded is right up there in the key reasons," says Kate Powlison, marketing manager at People for Bikes.

Flaws and all, this month alone we've seen three AAA clubs in six states jump on the bike-assistance bandwagon. Maybe one day you won't have to worry about getting stranded with an unexpected mechanical ever again. Just remember: this isn’t an excuse to leave your flat kit and multitool at home.

For now, here's a breakdown of available services.

AAA

Cost: Free, but you'll need an AAA membership, which starts at $15 a year.

What You Get: Call the number on your AAA card and a service vehicle will meet you on any "normally travelled road." If the truck driver can't repair your bike, they'll take you to a repair shop or home for free. You do have to stay within a limited radius, which varies by state but is usually around 10 miles. After that, you’ll have to shell out for the extra distance.

Fine Print: Not all AAA clubs offer this. So far, the list of covered states includes Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington. You also have to have broken down in the state your AAA club covers. And you're only allowed two free pickups a year.

Better World Club

Cost: $39.95 a year, or an extra $17 if you want to add it to an auto membership.

What You Get: Transportation for you and your bike for up to 30 miles for free. If you ask, the service provider who comes for you can bring a spare tire or other basic tools, and you can get reimbursed up to $50 if you have to call a service to unlock your bike. Better World Club services are available everywhere and you don't need to deal with regional clubs. 

Fine Print: You only get two free service calls a year.

Velosurance
Cost: The annual premium starts at $100.
What You Get: Velosurance is a full bike insurance company, so your plan comes with more than just roadside assistance, such as complete cost replacement for anything from failed wheels to a broken frame. 
Fine Print: Not available in Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wyoming

Velosurance

Cost: The annual premium starts at $100.

What You Get: Velosurance is a full bike-insurance company, so your plan comes with more than just roadside assistance. For example, coverage plans will reimburse you if your bike is broken or stolen.  

Fine Print: Not available in Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wyoming.

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Building a Better Lid

Helmets used to be unwieldy chunks of foam that did little more than protect your noggin. But as manufacturers pour money into R&D, they’re getting lighter, more aerodynamic, and safer. Some even include smart electronic functionality. Now if only someone would design one that didn't make you look like a bobblehead.

Future Foams

Helmet maker Kali Protectives bonds a layer of low-density, pyramid-shaped foam to an outer layer of harder foam. On impact, the cones compress and transfer the energy of the crash away from your skull. Inside the shell, memory-style foam improves fit and feel.

Crash Sensors

When an ICEdot sensor detects a critical impact, it notifies your emergency contacts and relays your GPS coordinates via your phone. It also acts as an electronic dog tag, giving first responders access to your medical history. The ICEdot can be attached to any helmet. POC’s Octal comes with an integrated mounting clip.

Heart-Rate Monitors

Built using technology developed for astronauts, a new breed of helmets will embed a heart-rate monitor into the retention system and collect data from your forehead. The forthcoming Lazer Lifebeam Smart will include Bluetooth and Ant+ protocols to beam the info to your cycling computer.

Rotating Shells

By separating the outer and inner liner with a layer of plastic, MIPS (multidirec­tional impact protection system) is the first helmet technology specifically designed to address rotational forces. It allows the shell to move independently, absorbing up to 50 percent of rotational acceleration. Lazer, POC, and Scott all have MIPS models.

Integrated Accessories

More and more models, like Bell’s Super and Smith’s Forefront, have built-in GoPro mounts. Giro’s Air Attack has integrated sunglasses that affix to the helmet with magnets, an option that’s also available on any Lazer helmet. And the Torch T1 has rechargeable lights embedded in the shell.

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Strava’s Plan to Revolutionize Commuting

Just in time for Bike to Work Day, Strava has unveiled a new service that it hopes will help cycling advocates and city planners improve the commuting experience for cyclists.

Strava Metro is a data service that allows planners to view routes taken by Strava members in a given urban area and use that data to improve flow and build infrastructure that serves cyclists and runners. It’s a broad departure from Strava’s primary service, which lets athletes track their activities and compete virtually against other users. “Our primary mission is motivating and entertaining athletes,” says Michael Horvath, co-founder and president of Strava. “But when we began in 2009, we knew that once we collected enough data, there would be so much more that we could do with it.”

The activities members log might have only personal significance as individual tracks or routes, but as an aggregate they show user trends and common routes. Strava doesn’t release its membership numbers, but it says that its users upload more than 2.5 million GPS-tracked activities each week worldwide and claims to currently have a data set that exceeds 300 billion GPS points. The company estimates that in metro areas almost half of the GPS-tracked activities uploaded to its site are from commuters. 

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Strava illustrates Metro with heatmaps, which depict users’ tracks with emphasis and weight given to the most common routes. You can limit the user set to only bikes or runners and zoom in and out, down to a neighborhood or even to the single-street level.

But it’s more than just psychedelic maps. Clients who subscribe to the service—currently a mix of cities, departments of transportation, and not-for-profits working for municipalities—will license the information for a given area from Strava and receive full GIS-ready data that they can parse and overlay with their existing statistics. “Most cities already have traffic data. But the way of collecting data about cyclists has always been very limited, both from a breadth standpoint and even from a collection standpoint,” Horvath says. Strava Metro fills that gap.

Strava says cities can use the service to both appraise current patterns and also manage the future of its spaces. Urban planners can bore into the information for specifics, for instance where cyclists are traveling in a given area between 7 A.M. and 9 A.M. on Mondays or how many cyclists are moving from a given quadrant of an urban area to another.

They can also use the service to appraise the effectiveness of new bike or running infrastructure, with before and after evaluations of the same routes that will show any changes in patterns. And, Horvath hopes, in the long run the tracked data will lead to new bike paths, bike lanes, and improved infrastructure. 

Prior to launching Metro, Strava was already working with six clients, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, Johns Hopkins University on behalf of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, Orlando, Florida, and England’s capital city, London. Since unveiling the service last week, Horvath says that Strava has received hundreds of enquiries from municipalities worldwide. 

“If cyclists were cars, even in just the numbers that cyclists have now, and they were using the infrastructure that is generally provided to bikes, people would be up in arms about how bad the infrastructure is,” Horvath says. “So we think Metro is important because it shows just how much commuting is being done by bike and pedestrians. Even before the question of infrastructure, it’s about advocacy and awareness.”

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