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Dispatches : Gear

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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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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First Look: Shimano XTR Di2

Though Shimano’s announcement at Sea Otter of a new 1x11 XTR component group had us excited, it was the whispers of a new electronic mountain group that sounded truly groundbreaking. Having kept the group set under wraps for the last two months to finalize development, the company announced XTR M9050 Di2 last Friday.

The new components blend all the user control of the new XTR M9000 group, including 1x, 2x, and 3x11 options and compatibility between all three, with the technology of the second generation of road Di2

That means M9050 utilizes the same plug-and-play E-tube wiring, which lets riders easily add and subtract components from the system. And it also permits user-driven programming by way of a personal computer to customize shift speed, preferences such as auto-shifting through the entire range with a single button push, and even which components control what functions (for example, front shifting could be controlled either right or left). 

But Shimano has also improved on its Di2 system. For one, the new Firebolt shifters aren’t constrained by the shape and form of earlier mechanical designs, but instead get a brand new look and shape based on ergonomics. If we had one criticism with Dura Ace Di2, it was that Shimano didn’t take the opportunity to rethink and overhaul the shifter placement and design for easier use, so it’s nice to see this function-driven metamorphosis.

Even more radical is the new Synchronized Shift system, which allows riders who use two- and three-ring setups up front to control both front and rear derailleur movement with a single shifter. The company has created a handy, in-depth video that delves into the mechanics, but the short of it is that if programmed to run off one shifter (which is entirely optional), the software picks the most efficient gear combinations and ratios and shifts both front and rear derailleurs accordingly. In the instance that both derailleurs need to move at once, the groupo first emits an audible tone to alert the rider before the shift. 

While Synchronized Shifting should produce the most efficient gear combinations (and is only possible because of Di2’s ability to shift under load), Shimano acknowledges that some users may want full manual control. So users can program that option themselves, including the use of two shifters, as well as easily switch between the settings at home. That means you could use both shifters and a manual setting on a course that you thought might have especially demanding or peculiar shifting needs, but then plug in and switch to Synchronized Shifting mode for a different ride the next day.

One other interesting development: Shimano has collaborated with Fox so that the new XTR Di2 system and battery work seamlessly with the electronic Fox iCD (Intelligent Climb Descend) suspension.

It’s a good move on Fox’s part given the ease and utility of Shimano’s E-Tube wiring, and we’re happy to see the standardization between the two. Then again, given Magura’s incredibly effective wireless system, the big question is when and if both Shimano and Fox will nix the wires completely.

Though M9050 Di2 has several additional components to the mechanical group set, including the battery and a head unit that displays gear ratios, battery power, and other pertinent info, the system should be comparable in weight to the standard equipment thanks to reduced weight of the tubing and a few lighter components.

Shimano says that a 2x M9050 Di2 setup controlled by one shifter will weigh exactly the same as an M9000 mechanical arrangement (with two shifters). Note, there are two battery options: the heavier of the two mounts to the bosses behind a standard bottle cage and acts as a data hub and charging port, while the lighter one hides in the seat post.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether an electronic system is durable enough for the mud, water, and rough surfaces of mountain use. Shimano insists that wires are actually more resilient and less susceptible to trail and weather conditions than are standard cables, and they say XTR Di2 is a fully waterproof system. They claim to have logged some 12,000 miles in development and insist they are confident the parts will hold up. We hope to take delivery of a group set later this summer and log some significant time on it to see whether or not that’s the case.

Prices aren’t set, but as with the road components, XTR M9050 Di2 is expected to carry a similar 40-percent premium over the mechanical option. The system will go on sale to the public late this year.

There’s no word yet on when, or if, the technology will trickle down to the XT level, but judging by the road Di2 components, that’s a distinct possibility—though it might take at least a year. We also anticipate that Synchronized Shifting could soon be integrated into Dura Ace and Ultegra Di2 systems.

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Windrider

By employing Cuben fiber, a bantam-weight fabric that's waterproof and nearly impossible to rip, Maine-based Hyperlite achieves an impressive weight-to-carry-capacity ratio: the Windrider offers up to 70 liters of space but weighs just over two pounds.

Even more impressive: it's not (completely) stripped down. Three big mesh pockets swallow layers, hip pockets hold snacks, and the roll-top closure is simple to batten down. It's also comfier than we expected. "The well-cushioned shoulder straps and hipbelt kept me free from bruises, even after 40-mile days," said one tester. "I fell in love with this pack."

It's a dream pack for ounce shavers and a great option for the rest of us. 2.3 lbs


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The Sweetest Running Swag

Going the distance means getting some goodies. And no, we aren’t talking just the sense of accomplishment you feel at the finish line. We are talking freebies, treasures, and swag—whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter when it’s free. At these races you will find the best, the worst, and some of the weirdest stuff in your swag bags.

Most Luxurious

Nike Women’s Marathon; San Francisco, California
Sorry guys, but the 15,000 runners who come together in April to take on the roads of San Fran are ladies only. Lottery-only entry makes the Nike Women’s Marathon even more exclusive. But you have to be selective when you are doling out Tiffany & Co. necklaces at the finish line by the hands of firefighters in tuxedos. The beginning is just as extravagant as the end, with pre-race festivities including a four-day expo chock full of free vendors giving out boutique and spa products. For all the ladies who are always multitasking, here is a way to pound the pavement while getting pampered. 


ORRC Garlic Festival 10K; North Plains, Oregon
The ORRC Garlic Festival 10K does feature some pretty vanilla race goodies. Finishers get a medal and can win running gear at the raffle. Winners get plaques and ribbons. But that’s where is the blandness ends. The ice cream at the finish line is garlic flavored. So is the celebratory beer. So is the shape of the medal. In the past, “secret” prizes for the winners have included giant bags of garlic bulbs. Don’t expect to get any kisses in the winner’s circle at this event. 

Most Indulgent

Hershey Half Marathon; Hershey, PA
Well if you are a running lover of dessert with a child-like love for theme parks, the Hershey Half is a dream come true. Along with chocolate-filled swag bags, a Chocolate Aid Station at mile 12, where volunteers hand out Reese’s and Special Dark like it’s well, candy. The finisher’s goodie bag includes two tickets to Hersheypark amusement park. After running 13.1 miles, and eating an equivalent amount in ounces of chocolate, we dare you to take a spin on the Sooperdooperlooper coaster. 

Most Random

London Marathon; London, England
You would think that a World Major marathon would be handing out some pretty legit stuff but in the past, London swag has been a little swag-less. Not only do they hand out one mish-mash, but two. The pre-race bag contains the common and expected nuts, nutrition bars, and leaflets. It’s post-race where things get really weird. That one includes everything from Mars Bars, a beer, a single prune, a sachet for a pasta bake, chewing gum, and a one-size fits all shirts the size of blankets. 

Best International

Le Marathon du Medoc; Bordeaux, France
With a 2014 theme of “The Countries of the World and Their Carnivals,” you can bet the Medoc is going to be a party. Before you even get to the start line, the marathon oraganizers a proper carbo-load, called “Soiree Mille-Pates,” complete with fine china and a twenty-piece band. The pre-race celebration seems to carry right through the race, where 23 different red and white wines are offered at drink stations along the course in the middle of France’s vineyards. Wine serves as hydration and gourmet foie gras, entrecote steak, pain au chocolat, fruit and oysters at pit stops serve as fuel. Put all this together you have yourself some world-class swag. After the race, and downing nearly six bottles of wine, winners are given their weight in even more wine. All finishers are rewarded with a rose, a kiss gym bag and a bottle of vintage Medoc to go. 

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