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Dispatches : Tools

Topeak Bikamper

You don’t need a tent to go camping. And when you’re riding across the U.S. on a bike, you definitely don’t want to lug around a stuff sack full of tent poles.

Enter the Topeak Bikamper, a personal shelter that forgoes poles in favor of a 26-inch mountain—or 700c road—wheel and handlebars for support. Just prop the wheel at one end and the bike frame at the other to give structure to the tent's walls.

The three-season tent weighs just over three and a half pounds, and comes with mesh panels for ventilation and stargazing, and a waterproof 70-denier ripstop-nylon fly. It packs down into a stuff sack that straps onto handlebars so you'll be able to fly as you tour the country. 


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Onewheel Electric Skateboard

Segways are so 2001. The future belongs to the Onewheel—a one-wheeled electric skateboard that’s self-balancing and battery-powered.

The rider leans forward to accelerate, back to slow down, and side-to-side to turn. The skateboard can reach speeds up to 12 mph, and has a range of up to six miles. And if you invest in the “ultra charger,” you can charge the Onewheel in less than 30 minutes. (The standard charger takes about two hours.)  

Like every other gadget these days, the Onewheel will soon be app-ready, too. The company estimates the product will ship this December. 

Pre-order for $1,499 (includes ultra charger),

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PicoBrew Zymatic

What if you could design a craft beer and then brew it in your kitchen with just the click of a mouse?

Thanks to two former Microsoft employees and a food scientist, you can. The trio has used technology to simplify the ancient art of brewing beer without sacrificing any of the fun—or the taste.  

Their machine is called the PicoBrew Zymatic, which allows homebrew aficionados to make high-quality beer at home with about as much effort as it takes to run an espresso machine. And even though Zymatic automates most of the brewing process, it doesn’t completely quash creativity. Brewers still can tinker with their recipes and ingredients.

The Zymatic connects to the Internet so you can download a recipe directly to the machine. That information lets the Zymatic know when to release the grains and the hops you’ve selected. You then fill the gadget up with the ingredients you want, hit the start button, and wait three and a half hours. Voilà: You have a wort that can be cooled and then fermented. After about two weeks (once the yeast has done its job turning the glucose into alcohol and carbon dioxide), you’ll have beer. Next step: Drink.

But, traditionalists might cry, isn’t homebrewing just as much about the process of making the beer as it is about the final product? Well, there’s a lot that can go wrong in homebrewing. Sterilization is key, but can be easier said than done. (There are opportunities for your brew to be contaminated, which will ruin your hard work.) The Zymatic, on the other hand, is intended to remove human error, thus allowing brewers to focus on their recipes and ingredients, says PicoBrew co-founder Bill Mitchell.

The master plan is to bring homebrewing to the masses. And if recent stats are any indication, there’s a broad market for this sort of technology: The American Homebrewers Association estimates that 1.2 million American brew beer at home and that number keeps growing.

PicoBrew waged an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign last fall (it raised $511,000 more than its intended goal) and its founders believe that the social aspect of their machine will revolutionize homebrewing. The website allows users to share and rate consistent, clone-able recipes, thus growing the amount of high-quality homebrew out there. We can toast to that.

Available for pre-order now.


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The Outdoor Exchange: Never Buy Gear Again

If your friends’ lack of kayaks keeps spoiling your dreams of organizing flotillas in nearby lakes, weep no more: last week, a small group of New Jersey men formally quit their jobs to focus on The Outdoor Exchange (OX), a subscription-based gear closet.

The brainchild of outdoor enthusiast and startup veteran Dariusz Jamiolkowski, five-week-old OX gives subscribers access to a catalog of high-end, expensive gear. Basic subscriptions to OX (there are a few options, the cheapest of which is $100) allow users to rent one item per week. You can rent more items at 10 percent of each additional product’s value. OX recently started an Indiegogo campaign to boost its membership, and expects to be “fully operational” by July, after which point basic subscription costs will double. 

So far, most of the rentals come from New Jersey (OX is based in Fairlawn), but subscribers hail from California, Colorado, Florida, and even England. Jamiolkowski estimates the young company rents about 10 items per week, and he hopes to attract more than 1,000 total subscribers by the end of summer, mainly by preaching the company's cause at big events like the Philly Folk music festival and relying on word of mouth. 


But while OX is still young (currently it only has a couple hundred paying members), it's run by seven business- and tech-savy teammates whose resumes are padded with names like Lockheed Martin and Novo Nordisk. Jamiolkowski officially left his position as Handybook’s vice president of finance in February after being accepted into startup incubator TechLaunch, while marketing lead Adam Hackett quit his day job on June 6.

That team has come up with a unique gear-sharing model. Unlike GearCommons—another peer-to-peer program that depends on its users to supply gear—OX stocked its warehouse full of gear by working directly with manufacturers and distributors. The majority of the 300 products in its inventory were provided by companies like Black Diamond, Hobie, Maverick, and Folbot, a foldable kayak manufacturer. It's a relationship that benefits both parties. 

“The issue (Folbot’s) having is that they have a great product, but it's hard for somebody who hasn't been in a foldable kayak to spend $1,200 on a foldable kayak,” Jamiolkowski said. “So we're putting butts in the seats for these guys. We're gonna get people to try the product and nine out of 10 people are gonna try it and say it was great, but one person is gonna end up purchasing the kayak...And our customers are going to be happy because they get to use a premium product at a low entry-point.”

The company is still working out some kinks, including how to streamline shipping costs. For New Jersey residents, OX will drop off and set up gear at trailheads within 25 miles of its warehouse for $20. But the idea of spending $100 a year on shared gear doesn’t sound as good if you have to pay an additonal $200 in shipping.

This week, OX began testing what its founder calls the Trailblazer Program. For a set $74 per year, subscribers can ship all their rentals for free within the continental United States. Ultimately, the team hopes to open local warehouses where subscriptions are most concentrated to help defray costs. 

You may be wondering, “What happens if the gear gets damaged?” Well, Jamiolkowski and his team have set up a system to incentivize good gear treatment. OX rates both customers and gear internally when products are returned. If a customer gets low enough marks, she can’t rent gear anymore. “In order for this to work, it's gotta work both ways,” says Jamiolkowski. “Have you seen Meet the Fockers? We're building the Circle of Trust.

“We have families to support and mortgages to pay for, but we strongly believe in what we're doing, based on everything we've done so far to build a very successful, not only business, but a community for outdoor enthusiasts,” he says. 

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