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Why Cycling’s Hour Record Matters

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling’s governing body, recently announced that it’s changed the rules for the Hour Record—an event that pits a cyclist against the clock to see how far he can ride in 60 minutes.

Previously riders attempting to beat the record had to do so on bikes without any aerodynamic benefits, which ruled out shaped tubes, deep section rims, drop handlebars, and anything resembling a modern time trial position. Because of these limitations, Eddy Merckx’s 1972 record of 49.431km (30.715 miles) was long considered the mark to beat.

Under the new rules, any attempt at the hour record moving forward will be bound by the regulations that apply to endurance track bikes (including equipment and position) in place at the time of the ride. That means modern TT positioning and aerodynamics will now be fair game, and it moves the benchmark up to the 2005 record of Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka, who rode 49.7 kilometers (30.882 miles).

Though this all may sound like eye-glazing esoterica, the decision has some interesting, broad-based implications for the cycling world.

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First of all, it’s important to remember that not too long ago the hour record was a prestigious accomplishment that appealed to fans in much the same way as the quest for the four-minute mile did in the 1950s.

The ping-pong record trading of the ‘90s between Graham Obree and Chris Boardman, as told in the biopic The Flying Scotsman, captivated the public—even people outside the bike-racing niche. The record gained so much cachet that even some of the biggest names in the peloton, including Tony Rominger and Miguel Indurain, tried their hands at it.

That period culminated with Boardman’s 56.375-kilometer record in 1996. But the UCI cut the heyday short when it amended the rules to disallow records set during the period because the organization felt technology—including unorthodox aerodynamics such as Obree’s superman position—was making for an uneven playing field.

The move away from the anachronistic 1972 standard—as well as the simple act of explicitly clarifying the rules at all—should help reignite interest among the top pros. And with all the bad press cycling’s had in recent years, that’s a good thing. Wouldn’t it be great to see some of the most respected names in the sport battling it out for the honors? An Obree-Boardman-style rivalry could help reignite some interest in road cycling as a whole among the public.

Before the rule change, several riders—including time trial world champions Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin—had talked about taking a run at the record. Cancellara is reported to have put his plans on hold since the ruling, presumably because Trek had been developing gear for him based on the old standards. Meanwhile, Tour de France champ Bradley Wiggins sounds more interested than ever in giving it a go

But the import of the rule change reaches beyond the hour record. The UCI has come under fire for all sorts of ineptitude and malfeasance in recent years, and it is widely considered too stodgy and dogmatic regarding equipment. Hopefully, this move on the hour record signals that the organization, under the direction of its new president, Brian Cookson, is ready to move into the future. 

“This new rule is part of the modernisation (sic) of the UCI Equipment Regulation,” said Brian Cookson in the news about the changes to the hour record. “Today there is a general consensus that equipment used in competition must be allowed to benefit from technological evolution where pertinent. This kind of evolution is positive for cycling generally and for the hour record in particular.”

That’s refreshing talk, and there have been other promising signals in this vein, including word that the UCI is considering the legalization of disc brakes in professional racing.

I’ve also heard rumors in recent months that there could soon be changes coming to the minimum weight for race bikes (currently set at 6.8 kilograms, or 14.99 pounds). Many have criticized this 14-year-old standard because it means professionals are constrained to equipment that is inferior to that of many recreational riders. Just imagine if the general public drove nicer cars than F1 drivers or piloted finer boats than America’s Cup sailors.

Of course no equipment regulation is all that important. But the fact that the UCI is thinking about these things hopefully signals that it’s in the process of much-needed reform, both in terms of equipment and beyond. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” And right now, the UCI—and professional cycling in general—could use some expansive thinking to rescue the sport from the doping morass.

In the meantime, I just hope we see a few top pros throw their legs over an hour attempt. It might be the closest we’ll ever come to seeing an in-form Cancellara race against Eddy Merckx at his prime. Let the betting and conjecture begin.

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Building the Ultimate Green Home

How do you build an energy-efficient home on an island that’s 20 miles from civilization—and electricity? Let’s just say you’ll need some creativity, and a lot of time.

The owner pondered how to build this private home, located on a remote island off the coast of Maine, for 30 years. The first challenge? Establishing the boundaries of the three-quarter acre lot, which the locals call the “floating island.” Next, the team had to determine the perfect spot to lay the home’s foundation.

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Take note: if you’re building in a remote area, you better follow energy-efficient best practices. This cabin’s design is deliberately compact and efficient. The island has no electricity, so only battery-operated power tools were an option during construction. Now, four solar panels power the lights and refrigerator, while the stove and water heater run on propane. The owners even collect rainwater for drinking and washing dishes.   

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Most of the materials for the home were gathered on the mainland, shipped to the building site on an amphibious truck, and then moved to the job site on a converted lawn mower. (Remember how we mentioned the need to be creative?) 

When the cottage isn’t in use, the windows are covered with sliding metal panels to protect them against the often-ferocious weather. Smart storage units are concealed under the sofas, beds, and dining benches, while a sleeping loft is tucked under the single slope roof.

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Why Solar-Powered Roads Won't Work

An ambitious plan to build solar roadways across the country sounds almost too good to be true. And guess what? It is.   

First, some backstory: A two-person startup called Solar Roadways wants to pave roads with solar cells, and they’ve already secured almost $2 million in crowdsourced funding. The basic idea is pretty simple. The solar road would use existing asphalt as a base layer, while the tempered-glass cells would generate about 52 watts of power each and last about 30 years.  

The company’s math is quite compelling—if all the asphalt roads in the U.S. were paved with solar cells (about 31,000 square miles of land), they’d generate three times the electricity we use today. And the potential interface between the roads and future electric cars (with the solar cells providing wireless power to undercarriages) also sounds great. And it gets even better. This “information superhighway” wouldn’t only generate power for cities and cars, but also for powerlines and fiber-optic cables.

You might also be wondering how tempered glass is supposed to hold up to all this abuse. Well, the company claims the new roads can withstand vehicles weighing up to 250,000 pounds. In fact, Solar Roadways claims that a tank convoy could traverse the road. (It also admits that the material it plans to use hasn’t yet been load-tested tested in an environmental chamber.)  

With a small town in Idaho promising to build a solar parking lot and a bike path this year to test the technology, and with plans to move from prototype to production relatively soon (although there’s no mention of exactly when or where), the road to the future seems to be coming along nicely, right?  

Um, not so fast. There are some potholes in the plan.  

One seemingly mundane question has to do with tire marks. You’ve seen them—skid marks on the highway that look so dark you wonder what terrible accident occurred. Solar Roadways says it hasn’t yet tested the effect of car tire marks on its solar cells. Instead, it’s only used bike tires to see if these black streaks impede power generation. The company claims the answer is no, but we’re still waiting for more data during the next round of testing.     

Then there’s the question of funding. In several of the FAQ comments, Solar Roadways says the cells “pay for themselves.” Back in 2011, I asked noted Gartner automotive analyst Thilo Koslowski if the project sounded feasible. His main objection at the time? That building solar roads would cost several billion dollars and require serious government and taxpayer involvement. We’re still waiting to hear from the company regarding how much it anticipates the next phase of the project will cost, although it claims we should have those numbers later this summer. 

There’s no data available about what would happen to the road after a year of heavy commuter traffic, trucks, and buses following their routes on a daily basis. And the effect of skid marks and the everyday abuse roads must take from the elements is still unclear.  

The takeaway? While we’d be stoked to see this idea succeed (sounds like a win-win, right?) the tech is still untested. Solar Roadways hasn’t made it obvious, from its FAQ or the crowdfunding campaign, what its long-term plans entail, how much a stretch of road will actually cost, or when the company will start building working models. 

 

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6 Essential Survival Tools

Start a fire. Bunker down in a gale. Navigate through the backcountry. Those are all important survival skills that can save your life in an emergency—if you have the right gear in your kit.  

Casio G-Shock Rangeman GW9400NV-2

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For long treks, check out one of these solar-powered watches. You never need to change the battery, and the timepiece is durable enough to handle the elements: mud, shocks, and water (up to about 600 feet). There’s an electronic compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and even a sunrise/sunset alert. $300, gshock.com

Gearward Fire Cord Waterproof Tinder

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In certain situations, this 15-foot spool of tinder could be a lifesaver. Cut each section into a two-inch strand, then use the material to get a flame started. The tinder, made from jute cord, is treated with a highly flammable but long-burning paraffin wax that also happens to be waterproof. A single spool can help start about 450 campfires. $10, gearward.com

Zippo 4-in-1 Woodsman

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The Woodsman is part saw, part hammer, part ax, and part stake puller. The 15-inch bow saw can cut through small trees, while the ax—concealed in a plastic compartment that doubles as a hammer—measures about five inches long. $80, zippo.com

NPower Solar Powersports Charger

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Survival camping isn’t always about lighting a fire or building a shelter. For some, it might mean figuring out how to get their electronics running again. This 14-inch solar panel generates 12 volts of power from the sun and comes with battery clamps. The panel can constantly keep your battery charging, or you can use it for reviving a dead powersports battery. $25, northerntool.com

Mancrates Outdoor Survival Crate

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Handpicked survival gear that comes in a large wooden crate you can throw in your trunk? Sign us up. This kit includes a combination shovel, ice pick, ax, and saw that’s perfect for clearing an area for your shelter. There’s a paracord knife, a survival blanket, glow sticks, a cooking pot and stove, a meal bar, and a small pack of beef jerky. The crate even comes with a crowbar. $99, mancrates.com

Eagle’s Nest Outfitters JungleNest Hammock

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I know what you're wondering. Do I really need a hammock to survive? Probably not, but we're sure you'll appreciate it on those rainy nights when you want to get off the wet ground. Made from 210-denier nylon, this hammock has a mesh tent cover to ward off bugs, and the seams are triple-stitched to ensure durability. Plus, the aluminum carabiners are strong enough to hold up to 400 pounds. The hammock, which is about ten feet long, comes with a stuffsack and weighs about a pound and a half. $100, eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com

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First Look: Garmin Edge 1000

Cycling computers have come a long way from the simple speed and mileage counters of just a few years ago. And with the slick new Edge 1000, which boasts a larger and higher resolution touchscreen than previous models, as well as both WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility, Garmin has transformed the lowly cyclometer to a veritable handlebar-mounted PC.

The Edge 1000 won’t replace the current top of the line Edge 810, which is just over a year old, but instead will offer users an even higher-performance and more expensive option ($599). 

As noted, the 1000 is distinctly larger than the 810, with a screen size closer to that of an iPhone. It’s also slightly heavier (115g vs. 98g) and significantly slimmer than the previous model. The new size and form give the 1000 a substantial, modern feel, although it also makes mounting directly to a stem almost impossible if you ride a short stem or have any steer tube protruding. Fortunately, a clamp-on, out-front mount is included.

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Perhaps the most interesting new features on the 1000 are the new Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi capabilities. The former means that you can pair the unit with a smart phone and receive notifications on screen when you receive calls and texts. You won’t be able to respond from the 1000, but it will at least let you know if someone is desperately trying to reach you. The addition of WiFi makes it possible to download data over trusted networks. 

Garmin has also added support for reading gearing information from Shimano Di2. That means that if you have the Shimano D-Fly Data Management function, the 1000 will capture a host of information, including front gear, rear gear, gear ratio, and Di2 battery level.

Currently, it’s strictly for reporting sake and probably only useful to training nerds, especially given that you must use a third-party software to view the info because Garmin Connect doesn’t currently support the function. That’s sure to change soon, however, and as the technology progresses, the ability for the 1000 to control the Di2—picking optimal gearing options, for instance, or shifting automatically to maintain a given wattage output—could be added.

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Like an iPhone, the 1000 has the ability to switch orientations, from vertical to horizontal. That might sound like a gimmick, but it’s a feature that could come in handy for navigating. The unit also comes bundled with a full set of base maps. (Yes, you can download these for free, but the included maps are a nice addition given the 1000’s higher price tag.)

With the new maps, Garmin adds its routing function, which allows you to plug in a distance you want to ride and then makes suggestions of routes to take. It’s handy if you’re in a new town searching for the best way to a destination, or want to find an afternoon ride. Previously, you could do the same thing using a personal computer and a program like Garmin Connect or Strava, but having the ability to construct routes on the 1000, without a personal computer, is a definite advantage.

Garmin has also added segment challenges, meaning that you can see segments on the 1000 in real time and ride against them on the fly. It’s a neat idea that has its limitations, at least for the moment because it pairs to Garmin Connect, not Strava. Because Garmin Connect just added segments to its offerings a few months ago, and because it’s not the market leader like Strava, the range and depth of segments to compete against is relatively small, though that will likely change over time.

Finally, a host of interesting peripherals comes bundled with the 1000, including new speed and cadence sensors that don’t require magnets. Unlike the previous iterations, these little devices use accelerometers to calculate their metrics, which makes installation and calibration quick and simple. There’s also a small three-button remote control that lets you use the 1000 without taking your hands from the bars. Two of the buttons are pre-programmed to toggle between screens and mark laps, respectively, while the third can be programmed by the rider to control any number of other functions.

All said, the Edge 1000 is sleek and powerful with an impressive amount of functionality—more than any other computer on the market, Garmin or otherwise.

Whether or not the new functions justify the added expense is an interesting question, especially given that it will be awhile before functions like the Di2 compatibility and support for Bluetooth 4.0 peripherals are actually useful. However, if you’re looking for the best cycling GPS that money can buy and want something that won’t be outdated as third-party manufacturers continue to develop their platforms, the Edge 1000 is definitely worth a look.

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