Sunday, August 4, 2013

My New Toy

            I remember my first time. It felt a little risky, but then I gave in to the burst of joy and thought: I’m gonna keep doing this! No, not that…I’m talking about riding my bike with earphones, letting upbeat music help me sail along the path, time flying by with the miles. And so, for several years now I’ve used music as a biking companion – first the playlists on my I-phone and then the happy discovery of Pandora. Even though I always keep the volume low enough to remain aware of other sounds, I’ve had a nagging feeling that it’s not really safe to ride with earphones.

            So I was excited to try out the Tigra bikeconsole, especially since I got it free of charge from bike2power to review. (There, full disclosure.) I requested the I-phone 4 case and here’s what I found. The waterproof case slides easily on and off the compact handlebar mount, although I had to take the mount to a bike shop because I couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the handlebars. I confess I have zero mechanical ability, confirmed when the friendly young cashier at Big Wheel Bikes in Arlington looked at it, puzzled for a moment, and then proceeded to attach it in about 60 seconds – no charge.

            On Tuesday I biked to work, I-phone securely encased in the bikeconsole. My initial concern was whether it would go flying off when I hit one of the many bumps on the Custis or Mount Vernon trails (those pesky tree roots!!) But it held steady – no worries. The sound volume, however, was a challenge. Once the case is closed completely, it muffles quite a bit of the sound, and I had to set the I-phone to its maximum volume. It was adequate for quieter parts of my commute, but much of my ride is near busy roads – and then I really couldn’t hear a thing.

            Even though I know my way to work, I decided to try out the bike navigations apps I have on my phone. First I tried BikeNav, and – so long as I wasn’t in direct sunlight – I could easily read the turn-by-turn directions while the phone was held in the mount. Also, the phone’s touch screen operated perfectly through the case. But, to my annoyance, a message quickly appeared on the screen asking whether I wanted to “cancel keystrokes.” I switched to the BikeRoute app: same problem. Apparently the little bit of jiggle while the phone is in the case upsets the sensitive feelings of these apps. Still, if I was in a situation where I really needed directions, I would keep “canceling” the message and appreciate having the phone mounted where I could read the directions.

            For the last third of my ride, I turned to Strava – an app that calculates time, speed, and distance. Although I’ve had the app on my phone for several months, this was the first time I’d used it. I’m now in danger of turning into a stats geek – as I delighted in watching my speed, mileage, and time on the display.

            On the way home, I received a phone call while I was on the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track. I was able to answer my phone call, put the phone on “speaker” and have a short conversation while riding, then returning to my music. I was rather astonished that even in the midst of traffic I was able to hear and be heard.

            I used the bikeconsole again on Friday, this time with headphones. The device has an earphone opening, so I suspect it’s intended to be used this way. I also tracked my ride on Strava, discovering, to my pleasure, that I average about 12.5 miles per hour – even with traffic stops. So I’m not such a slowpoke as I’d thought (though hardly a speed demon). On the way home I decided to try music through my I-phone’s play list, rather than Pandora – wondering whether the volume would be adequate without earphones. Sadly, it wasn’t. Later I looked at the bikeconsole box and, reading the fine print, noticed that one can attach a “nano speaker” to listen to music without headphones. However, when I searched on the Web, I didn’t find anything that looked compatible. I might try a visit to the Apple store or a bike shop, since I expect to use the console regularly.

            The bottom line: bikeconsole is easy to use, holds the I-phone securely, and is a convenient device, both for navigation and music. I probably will continue to use earphones but I may try out a speaker, if I can find one at a decent price.


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