Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tern Tool Review

Introducing the Tern Tool! This is an innovative multi tool that is specially designed for bicycles. Contrary to the name, this tool is not specific to Tern bicycles. The range of tools available on this tiny package is quite comprehensive. There is also a very similar multi tool by Biologic, called FixKit. It is basically the same except that the Biologic FixKit does not come with a patch kit.

Simple paper packaging

The list of tools! It is amazing how the designers managed to fit so many tools into such a small package.

The pouch that is used to keep the tool. This protects other items in the same bag from being scratched by the Tern Tool.

Close up look at the tool. Well designed and very compact!

Some Allen key wrenches, Torx wrench and Philips head screwdriver

Surprise! The smaller sizes of the Allen keys are actually hidden in between the larger tools. This means that they don't take up any extra space. Very innovative indeed.

The bottom of the tool, with the two removable pieces. These are the special pieces that really makes the Tern Tool stand out from the other multi tools.

One of the two pieces that can be separated from the main tool body. This piece has size 5 and 6 open ended wrenches, the size 5 Allen key, and 2 spoke wrenches.

The other piece of the tool. This part has the size 8 Allen key, the size 10 and 15 open ended wrenches, a spoke wrench and a bottle opener!

The main feature that differentiates this tool from other multi tools is that the removable pieces can be fixed onto the main tool body to create a new tool!

Fix the first piece onto the tool body (using the size 5 Allen key), and you get a tire lever! The tool body extends the lever length for proper leverage.

Fix the second piece onto the tool body (using the size 8 Allen key), and you get a size 15 wrench! This is the most wonderful part of the Tern Tool, as it allows you to have a size 15 wrench in this small foldable package.

To increase leverage for the size 15 wrench, just fold out the other Allen keys, and you get a longer tool!

Just in case it still hurts your hands to turn the axle nuts, slip on the Tern pouch for a more comfortable grip!

I have tried using this size 15 wrench on the axle nuts of my Avanti Inc 3, and the tool works as advertised! There was plenty of leverage, and I could turn the axle nuts without excessive strength. Very useful indeed.

As an add on, it also has a patch kit that you can put inside the pouch.

And that's not all! This Tern Tool also has a chain tool, which can be very useful. Just insert the piece with the size 5 Allen key into the side of the tool, and you will be able to turn the pin! It might be rather difficult to turn it though, as the side of the lever is narrow.

I am quite pleased with this purchase as this tool is really very useful. The build quality is good and feels solid in the hands. Not only does it have the standard Allen keys and screwdriver bits, it also has an integrated chain tool and a size 15 wrench. As of now I have not decided which bike this tool should go on. Maybe on the Avanti Inc 3, as the Tern Tool can replace both the Topeak multi tool and the size 15 wrench that is currently on the bike.

If your bike uses axle nuts, this tool will be super useful as you can have a size 15 wrench in a small package. On the other hand, if your bike uses quick release skewers for the wheels, then this tool will not show its full potential as a multi tool, although it is still an excellent multi tool.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Polaroid XS100i Wifi Extreme Edition: First Impressions

I have been looking for a suitable bicycle camera for some time. The most popular action cam is probably the GoPro, which is used by many professionals and also casual users to film action sports. However, I am not a fan of the squarish design which makes it awkward to mount on handlebars or on top of the helmet. Also, the price is rather high, and that price does not even include mounting accessories!

Someone recommended the Polaroid XS100 action camera as a good alternative to GoPro. The specs seem pretty impressive, and there are also some other advantages over GoPro. While researching on the XS100, I found that the Wifi version, XS100i has recently been launched! With Wifi capability, it becomes much easier to access the camera's contents and also control the camera with a smartphone.

With a camera mounted on the bike or the helmet, we would be able to share interesting ride videos with others. On a more serious note, it can also serve as video evidence in the event of an accident on the road. After reading lots of good reviews on Amazon, I decided to get the Polaroid XS100i to try it out, as it was the first time I am getting an action camera. The Wifi edition is actually not available in Singapore yet (as far as I know), therefore I decided to get it online from Amazon.

Here it is! Polaroid XS100i Wifi Extreme Edition.

Some impressive specs that can rival or even surpass GoPro specs!

So what convinced me to choose the Polaroid XS100i over the GoPro Silver Edition?

1) Slim and cylindrical shape is easier to mount, much like mounting a front light on the bike.
2) Waterproof up to 10 metres without the need for a bulky and expensive waterproof case. This would make it rainproof which is really useful when using as a bicycle camera.

3) All mounting accessories are already included with the camera, there is no need to spend more money to buy the accessories.

Most other specs (170 degree FOV, Wifi, Full HD recording) are on par or just slightly inferior to GoPro Silver. What is most attractive is also the price. For USD $180 (S$230), you get the camera plus all the accessories. I have enough parts to be able to install the mount on the bike, and also a separate mount on the helmet, and move the camera between the different mounting easily, without buying any extra mounts or parts.

On the other hand, the GoPro Silver (S$389) gets you the camera plus a basic adhesive mount. This is all you need for mounting the GoPro on full face helmets, but it is not for me. Handlebar or helmet strap mounts are not included and need to be bought separately. Since I don't need the high end features of the GoPro (such as Full HD 60FPS recording), the Polaroid XS100i seems to be good enough for my needs.

Yes it comes with all accessories! Only thing missing is the MicroSD card.

First view of the camera out of the box

Wifi capability shown clearly on the side, to differentiate it from the older XS100.

Waterproof rear cap. Wifi button activates the wifi capability of the camera

Spherical front cover protects the lens and also seals the camera against water.

The main buttons on top of the camera. Power button at the front and a sliding record switch in the middle.

The buttons are big and easy to differentiate from each other. To turn ON or OFF the camera, just press and hold the Power button. The camera will vibrate to indicate that it is ON or OFF. When not in video recording mode, the Power button also acts as the shutter button for taking pictures.

The sliding switch will activate or deactivate the video recording. Just slide it forward to start recording, and slide it backwards to stop recording. Again, the camera will vibrate to indicate the start and end of recording.

These buttons are really easy to use, as their operation mode is different (press vs slide), and are big enough to find and operate even without looking at it (such as when mounted on the helmet out of sight).

The full range of accessories for the Polaroid XS100i!

Bulky but solid mount for mounting the camera onto the handlebar

Standard 1/4 inch bolt on the adaptor mount, fits to the underside of the camera body.

Helmet mount (straps not shown)

Screw the bolt to the underside of the camera body. Take note not to overtighten as the thread on the camera body is made of plastic. With this adaptor, the camera can be removed from the other mounts easily without any tools.

The weight of the camera is 149 grams including the adaptor, but not the mounts.

Nice pouch provided to protect the camera. Useful when I put the camera into a bag.

Helmet Mounting
Mounting on the helmet has its advantages, such as being able to record exactly what you see. When you turn your head, the camera will follow. This is useful for showing the action from your point of view. However, if you turn your head too much, the video footage might move too much for comfortable viewing. On the other hand, the head might be the only part of your body and bike that does not shake too much on rough roads.

The additional weight of the camera on the helmet might be a problem if the weight is not distributed evenly on the head. It can cause the helmet to tilt forward or backwards.

If riding through a trail, the additional height of the camera might cause it to catch or hit low hanging branches along the trail.

Compared to a bike mount, it is also easy to bring the camera along no matter which bike you ride, as long as you use the helmet with the camera mount.

Installed the helmet mount onto my helmet! Quite tricky to mount the straps as the instructions were not clear.

The ball joint on top allows all-around angle adjustment

With the camera mounted on top! Sticks out quite a lot though. The weight distribution feels OK.

Sticks out too much in my opinion. Will give it a try anyway since the helmet mount has already been installed.

Bicycle Mount
The alternative to mounting on the helmet is to mount it on the bike instead. Usually, the camera will be mounted on the handlebars. It is possible to mount it elsewhere on the frame, but you need to get creative with using the adhesive mounts provided.

My initial idea was to mount it on the handlebar, but there is simply no space. Also, the tightening barrels on the mount were too big, and will get in the way. In the end I managed to mount it on the handlepost of my Dahon Boardwalk instead.

I used the clamp sideways and mounted it on the handlepost with no problems. Mounting the camera on the handlebar or handlepost means that the camera will always point in the direction that the bike is facing. Not sure if the video footage will be bumpy, need to try it out first.

Handlebar mount used on the handlepost instead.

Lots of stuff mounted on my handlepost! Topeak fixer, 2 x Moon Comet Front Light, and now the Polaroid XS100i.

 Front view of the accessories on my handlepost. The Polaroid peeks out from the side of the lights.

The button and switch on the camera can be seen and accessed while riding.

Overall view of the Polaroid XS100i camera mounted on the Dahon Boardwalk.

For this Polaroid XS100i camera, the only downside I can think of compared to GoPro is that the Polaroid XS100i has a non removable battery. This means that the battery life cannot be extended easily while on the go by swapping out the battery. However, you could use a battery pack to charge up the camera if you wish to.

Well all this is just about the initial unboxing of the camera and the installation on the bike and helmet. Next, I will try the camera out and see how well it works!.

Part 2 of the review is now up!

Polaroid XS100i Wifi Extreme Edition: In Depth Review

Saturday, February 15, 2014

BLAZE Laser Bike Light: In Depth Review

Continuing from the first part of the Blaze Laser Bike Light introduction, here is the second part of the review! After getting the chance to use the light on the roads, I can now give a better review of the light.

Before we take a look at some pictures of actual light usage, let us first look at the mounting bracket for this light. I did not have a chance to review the mounting of this light in the previous post, as I had not installed it on the bike yet.

This bolt can be loosened to adjust the yaw angle of the light, useful when the light is not mounted at the centre of the handlebar.

Fixing the light onto the mounting bracket. The hexagonal profile is supposed to help prevent rotation.

Secured onto the mounting bracket! To remove, just depress the lever and unhook the light from the mounting bracket.

As shown in the previous post, a variety of rubber shims are provided to help fix the mounting bracket onto various handlebar diameters. However, when mounted on the handlebar with the rubber shim, the clamp of the mounting bracket does not seem to close properly.

When fixed onto the handlebar with the thick shim, the open ends of the clamps are offset from each other, instead of being aligned.

It is obvious that the open ends of the clamps are not aligned when tightened. You can also see that the end of the clamp is only holding onto a small portion of the clamp bolt.

As seen from the previous two pictures, the mounting bracket design is not so ideal. When clamped onto the handlebar, the open ends of the clamp tends to become offset from each other. The result is that the clamp will only hold onto a little part of the clamp bolt. It does not look secure at all, although the Blaze team has assured that this is normal, and it will hold the light securely. No matter what, even if it is actually secure, it does not seem that way visually.

To help solve that issue, I tried mounting the bracket onto a different part of the handlebar. Previously, when mounted on the smaller diameter part of the handlebar (22.2mm), I had to use the thick shim, which caused the big offset. I then rearranged the stuff on my handlebars, and mounted the bracket onto the centre of the handlebar instead, which has a diameter of 31.8mm.

As mounted on the centre part of the handlebar, with diameter of 31.8mm.

I can then use the thin rubber shim instead, which reduces the clamp offset. However, it also means that the clamp cannot close as much. The end result is that the clamp is still holding onto just a small portion of the clamp bolt.

This mounting bracket design is not up to the standard of the light, as it does not inspire confidence when mounted, and seems to be flawed from a visual point of view. Even though it may be designed and tested to be OK, the fact is that the visual appearance does not look secure. Anyway, I will try it out, and if the light does fall off the bike due to a faulty clamp, I think I should be entitled to a replacement.

After fiddling around with the mounting bracket for some time, I have finally managed to mount it on my Avanti Inc 3.

Light is tilted downwards to focus the laser at the right spot (5m in front), and to prevent the white light from blinding other road users.

Handlebar has been rearranged to make space for the Blaze light.

Front view of the crowded handlebar

After putting on the light onto the mounting bracket, I found that the light can be a little loose. It can rotate sideways and forward/backward. This is because after slotting in the hexagonal pin into the mounting bracket, there is still some play between these two parts. The spring of the lever is not strong enough to remove the play.

This means that when I rode over some rough patches, the light will rattle quite a bit. Although it did not drop out, the rattling is rather unsettling. This has also been reported by other users of the Blaze light. To the credit of the Blaze team, they did not deny the problem. Instead, they have been trying to work out a solution, and have also promised to send out improved replacement clamps to all users to resolve this looseness issue.

As a stop-gap solution, I used a rubber band to secure the light to the mounting bracket to remove the play and stop the light from rattling. Spoils the clean look of the light!

Finally, the light has been mounted properly on the bike. Also, I could now go out and test the light further, to see how effective it is on Singapore roads.

One of the places where I tried it out is on the park connectors. The pictures below are all taken at about 645am, when the sun is starting to rise but it is still dark. I prefer to project the laser image as a flashing mode, because a flashing and moving bicycle symbol can really catch attention.

Taken directly under the lamp. The bicycle symbol can still be seen clearly despite the light from the lamppost.

Taken at a darker spot, where the light is not working. The bicycle symbol looks really bright on a dark road. It will be really eye-catching when it is moving forward in the flashing mode.

Taken at a darker spot, with the white light of the Blaze light turned on (100 lumens). It tends to wash out the laser image and reduce its effectiveness.

I find that the powerful white light tends to contradict the laser image, instead of complementing it. For the most effective laser image, the road needs to be dark. However, you would also use the white light to make yourself visible to other road users, and perhaps to illuminate the road for safer travel. Thus, on one hand you want a dark road to make the laser image more effective, yet on the other hand the white light is lighting up the road, diminishing the laser's effectiveness.

Perhaps a way of improving the laser and white light would be to design them differently. The laser image would still be projected onto the dark road 5 metres ahead of the bike, but the white light would be different. Instead of having a powerful white light (which should not be shining directly straight ahead to avoid blinding other people, and also not shining on the laser image and washing it out), just a white blinker facing forward will do. Perhaps a blinker of 50 lumens directed forward will complement the laser image nicely. This combination would appeal to me as the laser and white light would complement each other instead of contradicting each other. If I needed a powerful front light to illuminate the ground in front of me, I would get a separate light for that purpose.

Tested on the road, with plenty of streetlights at the junction. Laser bike image is not obvious.

Laser image is washed out even more when projected at a greater distance. It will be invisible when vehicle headlights shine on it.

To summarize the review of the Blaze Laser Bike Light:

1) Mounting clamp can be better designed. The light unit itself is beautiful and powerful, but the clamp design is not up to the high standard set by the light.
2) Looseness in mounting clamp needs to be improved on to prevent the light from rattling on rough roads.
3) The laser image is most effective on dark roads. Thus it is best used on poorly lit roads or park connectors.
4) The laser image can actually replace the use of the bell on park connectors. It is really interesting when people see the moving bicycle symbol and are intrigued by it.
5) Laser image is directly safely towards the ground, and will not shine in anyone's eyes under normal circumstances. However, it may be possible that it will shine at a child if he/she is directly in front of the bike. In that situation, it means that you need to move away and avoid the child! Or just turn off the laser when you encounter such situations.
6) Laser image can be seen by bus/truck drivers and motorcyclists, as they can see the road and thus the laser image from their vantage point. It will not be as effective for cars as car drivers are seated  lower and will not actually see much of the road.

Overall, I would say that this is a good idea to help make cyclists more visible on the road at night. However, I will need to use it for an extended period of time to see if it is actually effective. So far, I feel that its effectiveness is somewhat reduced by well-lit Singapore roads (which is of course a good thing). It is more effective on park connectors as they are usually not well lighted, which makes the laser image very effective.