Archive for February, 2013

Two new technologies – Number 2

14/02/2013
I prefer the one on the left but spend too long, too often, looking at the one on the right

I prefer the one on the left but spend too long, too often, looking at the one on the right

OK, so you were less than overwhelmed by my shock revelations that Sturmey Archer might just perhaps possibly may be about to produce a 16 speed hub gear for bicycles. Jeez, some people are never satisfied.

How about this then? This will turn your world upside down. If it doesn’t then don’t blame me because the problem lies deep in your psyche and you’re not the kind of person I want visiting my blog anyway.

The big technology revelation today is, wait for it, something that means you won’t have to hang around at traffic signals waiting for them to go from red to green while you’re standing patiently astride your bicycle for ages and ages. There, quite a shocker, I think you’ll agree. What follows is the explanation of the problem and the latest solution.

Too many traffic signals have induction loops ahead of them, cut into the road. They detect the metal in cars, lorries, buses and even motorbikes with ease, and pass the data to the control box. When the system inside the control box decides the traffic’s been queuing long enough, it gives them the green light.

But induction loops are utter rubbish at detecting cyclists and bicycles. The problem is that most cyclists and many parts of bicycles are not made out of metal so the induction loops don’t spot us when we arrive. Subsequently, the control box doesn’t know we’re there and, unless another vehicle pulls up, it will never change the signal to green and we’ll wait. And wait. And wait until our patience snaps and we ride through a red light, get spotted by a saintly motorist who then writes to their local newspaper/councillors/police to condemn every single cyclist in the world as a monster the likes of which hasn’t been seen riding on our planet since Attila the Hun.

Of course, we all know that it’s all our fault, we cyclists should stop whinging and be grateful that we’re allowed on the roads anyway.  The obvious solution is that we should all start wearing chain mail and suits of armour containing sufficient metal to be seen by the induction loops.

However, some of us think that there should be a better way for traffic signals to know that cyclists are waiting for a green light. Fortunately, people at Sensys Networks agree. They make their money from traffic technology and they’ve seen how roads agencies might like to buy products that will assist the growing number of cyclists.

Sensys MicroRadar

Seen this on the road? Let me know – and ask your local traffic engineers to install them wherever there’s traffic signals

They’ve invented something branded as MicroRadar. It’s a little box that can be sunk into the road surface. It has a battery so it doesn’t need to be connected to any power supply. It communicates wirelessly with the control box. And, as its name suggests, it uses radar – to detect cyclists. Yippeee!

The diligent among you, by which I mean all of the most beautiful and clever readers of this blog, will already have searched for Sensys and MicroRadar and discovered that, quite unusually, this blog is two years behind the curve. I acknowledge that Sensys released the product in 2011. So why am I devoting valuable pixels to it now?

Because I have discovered that the first such unit in the UK is being trialled. Somewhere out there, on a road on the British mainland, cyclists are being detected by radar and getting a green light on the traffic signals when they might otherwise have to wait for an annoyingly long time.

Talking of being annoying, I’m going to have to be annoyingly reticent about its exact location. I know in which urban conurbation it is sited but I would be breaching confidentiality if I was any more specific. I wasn’t told not to reveal it but the information came to me without any knowledge I’d be writing about it here. See? I do have some morals. Not many, for sure, but I really don’t want to end up as aggregate under some new motorway widening scheme so I shan’t push my luck any further.

If you can be as patient as a cyclist waiting for a green light, the location will probably be released on 16th April 2013 and, if I remember, I’ll post it on the blog. Until then, if you want to know exactly where it is, you’ll have to study the road surface every time you approach some traffic signals.

Of course, if you do spot it and happen to post the info on the web before 16th April, please let me know so that I can republish it without fear of being accused of breaking my informant’s trust.

In the meantime, in case my informant is unhappy with this blog entry and for self-protection reasons only, I shall now put on my chain mail and suit of armour.

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Two new technologies – Number 1

10/02/2013

Technology is science made useful – well, that’s my excuse for posting this item, and the next, about two inventions that could impact cycling. Also, it’s hard to lose the habits I acquired as a budding news hound and I’d like to think I’m the first to bring them to a wider audience.

The first technology is that most mysterious of components – the hub gear. I guess it’s only enigmatic because it’s one of the few bits of a bike that you can’t see working. Those with oil under their nails and a lot of free time have probably taken them apart to understand exactly how the cogs and wheels interact. Me? I have the nails of a dilletante and the free time of a Mayfly.

Ben Cooper, though, knows more about these things and has kindly shared some of his knowledge with my via his tweets. He’s given me some background which helps to substantiate my suspicions that a new, humungous 16 speed hub gear is on its way.

I first got curious when I came across an academic paper (as you do when you’re me) published in Applied Mechanics and Materials. It covers a broad range of topics, including the updraft power of a solar tower, packaging and hydrology – but you, as a regular subscriber, would know that anyway.

Then, in its online edition of 25 January 2013, my eye was drawn as if by sorcery to a paper by Yi Chang Wu and Pei Wun Ren. I’d never come across their work before and forgive me if it’s not new to you, the regular subscriber.

It seems that Wu and Ren have been hard at work analysing hub gears. Not just any old hub gears, but enormous ones with 16 speeds. I’d never heard of such daring. Their paper, “Mechanical Efficiency Analysis of a 16-Speed Bicycle Transmission Hub” does just what it says on the tin. You, the regular subscriber, have probably digested it already but to me it was a revelation.

It showed that people are actually thinking of cramming 16 planetary gears inside the hub of a bicycle wheel. Heavens to Betsy. That could be so helpful for commuters in hilly cities and touring tandemists. Why has nobody every thought of it before?

Actually, it turns out they have. The very same Yi Chang Wu, then working with Shi Liang Lin, had written about it some two years previously. How I’d overlooked their paper “Conceptual Design of a 16-Speed Bicycle Drive Hub”, published in the March 2011 edition of Applied Mechanics and Materials, I’ll never know. I must’ve blinked.

And this is where Twitter came to my aid, in the generous form of helicopter and bicycle builder Ben Cooper. He gave me some history – saying that there had been speculation that Sturmey Archer had been working on just such a design but it was shelved when the company was bought by Sun Race in 2000 and all assets and production were moved to Taiwan.

That, for me, was enough to fantasise wildly. Sun Race is designing and making Sturmey Archer hub gears in Taiwan. Sturmey Archer’s assets may well have included designs for a 16 speed hub gear. Two papers co-authored by Yi Chang Wu are published about research into a 16 speed hub gear. Where is Yi Chang Wu based? Taiwan.

Putting it all together, in the excitable way of someone who has never looked inside a hub gear and whose own brain cogs are beginning to jam, the future of the world seems clear. Any day now Sturmey Archer will be launching a 16 speed hub gear – if they haven’t done so already by the time you read this. Remember where you read it first.

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If you got carried away reading this as over-enthusiastically as I did writing it, you may like to check back in a few days to read the forthcoming post about the second new technology I’ve found that should soon benefit cycling and cyclists.