big data needs big tools to sort it

The idea of “big data” is very popular in big business, but it’s trickling down into a lot of other things we use. This should be good; more is better, of course. Well, it is when it doesn’t add to complexity of use. I wanted to share an example of a less than great implementation of big data in a consumer use case…

strava heatmaps

This is the route builder in popular bicycle ride tracking app, Strava. It has a “heat maps” feature that is the big data implementation. It does some mathematical aggregation of all ride traffic to give an idea of how often individual roads are used. The idea, at least I think, is to help you choose “better” bike routes based on the logic that the most people would use the best route. (whatever “best” is a measure of) This is kind of handy in some areas.. Rural places. Small Towns, like Lafayette, where I moved from. But in highly populated areas, like San Diego, where I am now, it’s not as useful. There is a lot of tourist traffic, making some paths, like beachside walkways with high foot traffic, appear to be the right place to ride. My choice of “best” comes from wanting to get to work fast or wanting a hard training ride, so dealing with foot traffic is far from ideal.. but there’s no way to separate it out.

Strava has already started to divide groups by population in other features. “Segments” of routes show a listing by time duration of every user that’s ridden them. This feature has long had a gender segregation, but more recently for paid members offers filtering by age and by weight. Why is this useful? Well, it helps competitive cyclists know how they are doing against other people they might be racing.

I’d really like to see them add to this – it would be great if there was a way to break down the heat map by some categorization. Maybe it’s just max speed on that particular ride. This could weed out the beach cruiser people, or, depending on what you were trying to get out of it, could weed out the folks who are competitive/training.

Regardless, I think this is a decent illustration of lots of data needing more advanced tools to be useful. I think we’re going to be seeing more and more of this as time goes on. It’s a rife place for Interaction Designers to develop new standards.

Some things I learned about Campagnolo ergopower shifters..


I have to admit that I can be pretty frugal when it comes to bike parts. A part of me likes the challenge of building something on a limited budget, and another part of me just can’t believe some things are as expensive as they are.

In my most recent attempts at a cheap build on my CX bike, I went with a Campagnolo setup as I got a wheelset and complete drivertrain sans shifters for $75. I bought a pair of mirage 8 speed shifters off of ebay without really understanding what I was getting into. Turns out, they were pretty gummy and the left one couldn’t pull the derailleur into position. Initially, I didn’t think that these were the “ergopower” levers since they were so old, and I assumed that they weren’t rebuildable. Turns out, ergopower goes back to ’92, including mine. Good news, right? Well.. kind of.

My shifters were of the first generation of ergopower, given away by the pointy hoods. (as opposed to the later, and current, rounded ones) Apparently some people consider this second generation, as the original ones had metal bodies, and these had “carbon”. I don’t know what actual Campy cannon is, because they rarely label anything, a major problem in the whole process of working on old stuff. Regardless, first generation (metal bodied or not) don’t have replacement parts available.

Not that I even knew what parts I needed. It seems like it’s mostly a mystery except to the few big shops who do tons of rebuilds. Some folks in my local club and online pointed me in the right direction though. Apparently, the “g-springs” should be changed every 10k miles, and are a common culprit for problems, and the “carrier” that the springs go in can also be cracked and problematic. I was told that modern g-springs will work in first generation shifters if you put them in backwards. The springs come in sets of 4 (per side) for about $15. So I was looking at $30 + $25 for new hoods to fix my $40 ebay levers, and I wasn’t even sure if they would work.

I gave up. I thought about switching to a shimano setup, or maybe going 1×8 (cringe), or 1×10, but the cost would have been significant. Fortunately, the manager at the shop I work at happened to have a set of broken, but good shifting chorus 8 speed, first gen shifters. One of the bodies had cracked where the lever pin attaches. I used these, and swapped one of my mirage bodies for the broken chorus one. With the help of a Campy rebuild video on youtube, I was able to get the lever apart and back together pretty easily. The video was for a 10 speed, modern lever, and had a few differences, like the return spring on top, and the posted, plastic carrier, but it was still pretty easy to follow. The only tricky thing is that bolt that holds the whole mechanism together is left hand thread on the right lever of the first generation.

In general, this experience makes me feel even more non committal towards Campagnolo products. They certainly have some good things going for them, like the ease of rebuildability, and the ability to upgrade 9 speed levers to 10. Unfortunately the scarcity of parts and information for them, at least in my geography, makes them a huge pain.

To do my part, here are a list of links that I’ve found useful in this drivetrain adventure. Hopefully they help someone out there.

Ergopower overhaul instructions from
Part numbers (incl early Ergopower shifters) from
Second generation Ergopower parts and kits from Branford Bike

Fall ’12 Mountain bike setup

The 29er

The 29er


The stars have aligned to set me up with some new mountain bike gear. A bike shop employee discount, student loan check, and a filthy road bike that needs to be completely disassembled and cleaned has led me here. for the last year I’ve been running a single speed setup on my ’07 Gary Fisher XCal and enjoying it quite a bit. Still, I’ve encountered a few hills that were a bit too steep for me to get up in 32×18, and done a few road rides that had me at a laughably high cadence.

Drive Train:

My recent upgrades started out with the SRAM’s announcement of the new XX1 groupset. It’s an 11 speed setup designed specifically to be run as a 1X. I was holding out for this group until I realized I’d be waiting until October and that it would have XO level pricing. Instead, I set out to piece together my own 1X setup. At the center of my setup is the MRP Bling Ring. It’s a 1X chain ring intended to drop onto cranksets with a removable spider. Next up, I needed to choose the crankset that I’d be bolting it to. My initial thought was SRAM’s X9, but after comparing them to lower end SRAM offerings, I ended up with the X7/S1400 cranks. The weight difference was about 10 grams and the price difference was about $100. Both cranks are manufactured the same way, with hollow arms. Unfortunately, our distributor was out of the S1400 cranks, and the currently available X7’s didn’t have a removable spider. Then I turned to the Truvativ AKA. These cranks were pretty much the same thing as the S1400 at the same price point.

Now for the rear.. I had already decided to go gripshift, and I wanted as many gears as I could cram on a standard freehub, so I used the PG-1070 cassette in the widest range available, 12-36. As with the cranks, I started looking at X9 level gear, but sadly, SRAM isn’t currently offering a 10 speed X9 gripshift. I ended up going with an XO unit, even though the price was kind of ridiculous. All online accounts of SRAM rear derailleurs seem to say that they all shift as good as the shifter you pair them with, so I saved a little money by going X7. Once dialed in, the shifter feel is very soft, but the rear engagement is very hard – “KA-THUNK”. I don’t mind the loudness, and the shifting is pretty smooth regardless. The grip shift is going to take some adaptation in technique, but I don’t think it will be bad. After one ride I was already getting the hang of it. The only thing I really don’t like about it is the increased distance that my break lever is from my hand. Some adjustments are definitely in order.


I also decided it was a good idea to ditch my boat-anchor vuelta wheelset in favor of something more modern. I ended up going with the Stan’s Arch EX wheelset with Stan’s hubs. They are _considerably_ lighter and let me run tubeless. As my first tubeless experience, I had a little difficulty mounting my tires. (my old Specialized Fast Trak LK Control’s) The beads just didn’t want to seat properly at first. I think that my main problem was inflating with a floor pump instead of an air compressor. Now that they’re on, all is good. no burps or problems otherwise.

The future:

I think I’m pretty well set up for a while. The only other kit that might be on my wish list is a dropper seat post. I generally ride out of the saddle, but now that I have multiple gears, a XC seat height is more appropriate a lot of the time. Still, the $275 price tag of the Specialized Command post Blacklight is a little daunting. I might also throw some new brakes on. Traditionally, I only run a rear, but I’m probably missing out in by not having a front. Still not sure which way I’d go if I do get new brakes.

summer bike stuff

I’ve recently grabbed a part time job at a local bike shop. So far it’s been pretty cool. I think retail experience is really beneficial for someone studying Industrial Design, and I also like the discount on bike parts. In light of those discounts, I’ve been plotting some upgrades to my mountain bike.

The first upgrade in the works is a new wheelset. I’m currently running a set of  Vuelta Zerolites, ie: the cheapest 29er wheelset I could find at the time. [now there seem to be other29er wheelsets as low as $100] The wheels have done ok and the bike is a lot of fun to ride but the 2200g weight and stray aluminum shards I keep finding in my tubes have made me ready to look for something new.

Admittedly under-informed on MTB wheels, I was looking in all the wrong places for a new set. My first go-tos were the Specialized Roval wheelsets, but they were a little spendy for my super thin budget. I googled reviews of Crank Brothers wheels since I can get a team discount on them, but most bigger folks didn’t have much nice to say about them. Then I checked SRAM RISE wheelsets. They looked good, but aren’t touted as “tubeless ready”, something that I kind of wanted despite the fact that it doesn’t mean much. (with rim strips and sealant, I’m told that you can make just about any wheel tubeless) With the tubeless issue in mind, a coworker turned me on to the Stan’s NOTUBES wheels. They are designed specifically to be tubeless and the Arch EX model which best fits my weight seems to be as light as anything else, and has a nice wide rim, another feature I was looking for. The price is pretty nice too. I should be ordering a set in the next week. Stan’s also has a new cyclocross wheelset that sounds to be super tough, and are 400g lighter than the Neuvations on my road bike.

The other upgrade in the works for my mountain bike is the drive train. Since I assembled it, I’ve been running a rigged up 32-18 single speed setup. I really enjoy the single speed, but with collegiate Mountain bike season coming up, I felt like having some gearing options would be beneficial. The announcement of SRAM’s XX1 line got me really excited. It’s a purpose designed 1X groupset with 11 cogs on the cassette. Unfortunately, XX1 wont be available until October, and I also realized that it’s position in the upper levels of SRAM’s components mean it will be crazy expensive and will likely wear out quickly. My solution was to piece together a budget minded but still high performing 1x groupset of my own that is currently looking like the following:

SRAM x7 2×10 crankset

SRAM 1X conversion kit (32T)

X7 10sp short cage rear derailleur

X9 10sp grip-shifter

X9 1070 cassette 11-36t

1071 chain

MRP 1X chain guide

Motorcycle customization with found parts.

I like to keep an eye on the CX500 forum‘s “customizations” section to see interesting approaches to modifying these little bikes. I saw one yesterday that I thought was creative enough from a design standpoint to share.

Many motorcycles have a grab bar around the back seat. It’s purpose is for a passenger to hold on to, hence the name. One of the most popular modifications to CX500’s (and other bikes) is to put a smaller seat on. As such, the grab bar gets modified to match the new seat. In this case, the poster uses a set of BMX handlebars as source material for his new grab bar. This is a great idea, because he gets the curves he needs without having to do any bending. (tube bending requires expensive mandrel benders to do properly)

A handlebar becomes a grab bar

A handlebar becomes a grab bar

Of course this got me thinking about sources for inexpensive BMX handlebars to chop up. My go to for such things is Sidewall Distribution, and they didn’t disappoint this time. They always seem to have some closeout and promo deals. They’ve got a couple of options on $10 chromoly handlebars, so I may grab a set or two in case I decide to go this way on my motorcycle.

I want a pump track in my back yard.

For a while now, I’ve wanted a pump track in my backyard. This video of Tammy Donahugh that was posted on bikerumor yesterday with her bike check got me thinking about it again.

[EDIT – After posting this I found out that only allows embedding videos from select sites. To view the first two videos in this post, you’ll have to click the link. sorry. :/ ]

Tammy Donahugh – backyard pump track

If you aren’t familiar with pump tracks, here’s a definition from

Pump track: (n) (pumb-p tra-k) is a short, off road course of smooth rollers (humps) and bermed corners; where the movement of the rider propels the bike rather than conventional pedalling.

And here’s a video that does a good job of breaking down the physics of pumping and explains why it’s a good skill to work on:

There are a lot of places where you can go to ride pump tracks. Both Ray’s indoor mountain bike park locations have them, and if you have any BMX oriented trails in your area, they usually have a nice pump section. Unfortunately for me, I live in an area that’s far from Ray’s, and has no suitable BMX trails. I’m always keeping an eye out for a good spot to build a little pump track, but nothing good has appeared. (If you know of, or have some land suitable for a pump track around Lafayette, Indiana let me know!)

I started thinking about how much of a track I could cram in my back yard. Not much, but certainly something. I started googling the idea, and it seems like a lot of people have had success with it.

Here’s a particularly small one. It doesn’t look like you can get up much speed, but you can still get your skills up on it.

Backyard Pumptrack from Shawn Murray on Vimeo.