You — Yeah, You! — Can Get Paid To Ride Your Bike

They say that if you can do what you love while making a living at it, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds. Guest poster Jeff Hemmel might have stumbled onto that situation — he thinks.

HemmelsRide2I am so pro. If, that is, your definition of professional cyclist is someone who’s getting paid to ride his bike. Just this morning alone I made an easy $3. By month’s end I should have about $40 in the bank.

And if you use Strava, now you can be paid, too. The details were in an email that crossed my desk last week. Competitive Cyclist (www.competitivecyclist.com), which is part of the better-known backcountry.com, is paying Strava users $1 an hour, up to $40 a month, just to ride their bikes. The money gets put in your Competitive Cyclist account, where you can then spend it on whatever gear or equipment you want. Your money expires at the end of the next month, meaning if you ride a decent amount you can have about $80 to spend every two months.

I thought there had to be a catch, but there’s really not. You have to set up an account on Competitive Cyclist or Backcountry, and then link that account to your Strava account. There really wasn’t much to the whole process. Your credits then show up automatically. I went out for my first ride, came home and updated Strava and, boom, next thing I knew money was waiting for me. Sure, Competitive Cyclist is getting some basic info about you. Apparently they also hope that users will review products, and they can eventually increase the validity of their reviews by showing how much the writer rides.

Think $40 isn’t that much to spend on cycling gear? Think about what you routinely buy. I go through Clif Shot Bloks pretty regularly, and love Skratch Labs drink mix, but both aren’t cheap. They’re cheap enough, however, that my newfound credits will pay for a month’s supply. Bankroll two months at the $40 max each month and you’re $80 into that new pair of bib shorts, jersey, or pedals.

I know, I know — it’s good to support your local bike shop. And I do, believe me, and still will. There’s just too many parts and services that I want to go to a local shop for, and this $40/month won’t change that. But I don’t know of many people who couldn’t use some more money to spend on those endless necessities, or long-lusted-after piece of new gear. And if every hour I ride my bike banks me $1, I can certainly find a good use for it.

Road-Tested, Inexpensive Holiday Gift Ideas For Cyclists

Unlike the tongue-in-cheek Christmas gift ideas I posted a couple of weeks ago, our guest poster Jeff Hemmel has some ideas that might actually merit a spot under the tree.

HemmelsRide2Recently I was asked to write a Holiday Gift Guide for one of the publications I write for in the real world. The task got me once again thinking of all the great things I’ve assembled over the last year for my bike. Looking back, my favorites aren’t pricey, high-end items. Instead they’re simple, smaller products that just make day-to-day riding a little bit easier.

Need something to get the cycling enthusiast on your shopping list…or more likely, a few hints to drop for a stocking stuffer? Here are a few of my road-tested suggestions, all available for under $30.

Fix-It Sticks ($29.99)

I like to keep a small multi-tool in my saddle bag, but my former tool had a few limitations. The most obvious was that its jackknife-style tool design didn’t allow me to generate a lot of torque when trying to loosen or tighten a bolt. I also didn’t like the way it rubbed up against things — like spare tubes — in my compact saddle bag.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.15.28 PMFix It Sticks are a pretty cool alternative. Rather than the typical “jackknife-style” multi-purpose tool, Fix It Sticks are literally two separate aluminum “sticks” that fit together (each stick has a hexagonal hole in the middle to accommodate the other) to form a T-handle wrench. When not in use, they sit side-by-side in a cool, slim case made from recycled tubes. When it’s time to go to work, just fit them together so that one stick forms the handle and the other the working end. The setup generates far more torque than possible with a mini tool, yet takes up less space.

You can get Fix It Sticks in a variety of combinations, depending on what you need most for your bike. I like the simplicity of the original version, with its fixed bits. A replaceable bit version is also available. www.fixitsticks.com

aLOKSAK ($8.39/3-pack)

I throw my phone, license, credit card, and a $10 bill in my jersey when I ride. To keep them together and sweat free, I’ve long opted for a bag like the Jersey Bin. It protects the items within, allows me to use the touchscreen of my iPhone through the bag, doesn’t cost much, and is a lot more durable than a Ziploc sandwich bag.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.17.56 PMBut while I still like the Jersey Bin, this year I was given a thinner, more flexible bag from LOKSAK. Made from a polyethylene blended film and guaranteed to be 100% water and air tight, the aLOKSAK pouch offers all the advantages of the Jersey Bin, but has so far been able to resist the cracking that could plague the latter product with frequent use. aLOKSAKs are favorites of divers, as they’re certified to a depth of 200’. I just know they’ve kept my phone safe — and usable — for about the last 10 months with no problems.

aLOKSAKS are available in a wide range of sizes in three packs starting at $8.39. www.loksak.com

Bar Fly 2.0 ($24.99)

Like a lot of riders I use a Garmin Edge bike computer, but I don’t like the stock rubber O-ring attachment setup. It just seems a little flimsy, plus I like the idea of getting the computer out ahead of my handlebars where it’s easier to see. There are a number of products on the market that solve the problem, but my favorite happens to be one of the cheapest — Tate Labs’ Bar Fly.

For starters, it’s simple. Just loosen the plastic clamp and slip it over your handlebars, then tighten at your preferred angle with a 3mm Allen key. Once in place, just attach your Garmin with the familiar 1/4-turn mounting system used by the stock attachment. The BarFly 2.0 offers two attachment points, stacked one atop the other, to handle a wide variety of Garmins, including the 200, 510, 800, 810, Edge Touring and Edge Touring Plus. As the mount is Delrin plastic, it won’t dig in or damage the tabs on your Garmin through repeated attachment and removal. The Delrin construction also means you don’t have to worry about over tightening and damaging carbon handlebars.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.19.42 PMBarFlys come in a variety of cool colors, have a lifetime warranty and a “buy one and you’re done” crash guarantee. If you’re lucky enough to run Shimano or Campagnolo electronic shifting, you can also mount the shifting module on the underside. www.barflybike.com

Cutaway Neck Gaiter ($18.00)

Hardcore riders don’t stop when the weather gets cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s always fun…or comfortable. Last year I added a Cutaway Neck Gaiter to my wardrobe, and it’s really made a difference on those really cold rides.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.23.13 PMOne of the best things about a neck gaiter is its versatility. Sure you can use it just to protect your neck, but gaiters can also quickly turn into headbands, or open-top beanies to cover your ears. I like to pull mine up to over the lower half of my face balaclava-style and fend off the wind chill. The lightweight microfiber is comfortable and breathable. It’s also moisture-wicking, meaning your hot breath won’t end up making it all damp and nasty.

Cutaway’s Gaiters come in a variety of cool prints, including one dedicated to popular Cannondale/Garmin rider Ted King. www.cutaway.us

The Kinda, Sorta Garmin Edge Review

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, with a look at an item the Bike Noob has so far successfully avoided.

HemmelsRide2Judging by the stems and handlebars of an increasing number of riders, Garmin is taking over the cycling world. Or at least, the bike computer part of it. Seemingly everyone has, or wants, one of the brand’s pricey little, GPS-equipped Edge units. Ray confirms he’s about the only one in his group who doesn’t use one. Fellow guest blogger Don Blount is a longtime user. I’m not immune to the little gadget’s allure. When I got the chance to test ride an Edge 500 for myself (I have a relationship with Garmin through my real-world job in the boating industry), I jumped at the chance. Normally, that would result in a standard-issue review, but considering that by now endless other outlets have already done that job quite well, I decided to take a different approach.

Jeff's Garmin Edge. Yeah, he recently did a century. But he says he's not bragging. (Click to embiggen.)
Jeff’s Garmin Edge. Yeah, he recently did a century. But he says he’s not bragging. (Click to embiggen.)

To be blunt, I decided to look at why so many riders had happily purchased a computer that costs several hundred dollars, when far cheaper alternatives — that do the basics quite well — could be had for much less.

For my friend John Matthews, part of the answer was the unit’s multitude of features. “It goes so far beyond the standard wired or wireless bicycle computer that there really isn’t any comparison,” he says of his compact Edge 500, referencing the computer’s ability to display not only speed, time and distance, but up to 61 other pieces of data including cadence, heart rate, elevation, lap times, and grade. Don agrees. “Lots of data,” he notes, while also pointing out the Edge’s accuracy, long battery life (12-18 hours), and auto shutoff feature. “That saves me from putting my bike away, forgetting to shut it off and discovering before my next ride that it is not charged.”

John also points out the unit’s ability to be easily transferred and configured to multiple bikes, and the Edge’s extensive customization potential. On the 500, up to five separate screens can be individually configured, with as little as one — or as many as eight — information fields per page. John also found the customization process, and the unit’s overall operation, highly intuitive and “ridiculously” easy to learn.

It seems to me that an equal part of that answer, however, is that a lot of us take our riding pretty seriously. As the Edge units are ANT+ compatible, they work seamlessly with any number of external add-ons, including wireless heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, even power meters. They can also record and store all sorts of stats from multiple rides for those who like to upload the information to sites like Garmin Connect or Strava. Don notes Garmin’s online log allows him to “download my data and compute totals and compare as far back as when I first began using a Garmin.”

Stats recording was a compelling reason for another friend, Tim Robinson, who purchased a touchscreen Edge 800, a larger device that includes color maps and can display turn-by-turn directions. Tim likes to track his rides, but found fault with the current slate of smartphone apps. “I had been using MapMyRide and Strava on my cellphone, but it would die part way through a big ride,” says Tim. “I wanted something that would do the same thing, but keep my cellphone fully charged for emergencies.” As part of our local group had recently taken to heading out of town for hillier rides in preparation for Georgia’s Six Gap Century, he also wanted a unit that would show his position and a route map so he wouldn’t get lost if he got dropped from the group.

As to Edge model’s high price points, all seemed willing to make the investment. John contends his 500 is actually a great deal. “I have not found anything else that comes close to this functionality,” he says.

Initially, I thought I’d go back to my previous computer after my test period with the Edge 500 ended, but now I, too, have grown pretty attached. Why? All of the above. Like Tim, I also got frustrated with the Strava iPhone app killing my phone battery. That same app also seemed to not accurately record my elevation, a minor detail but something I like to track when I get the chance to do some serious climbing. I also like the Edge’s ability to be recharged via the same USB cable that uploads its data to my computer. My old computer’s battery indicator was woefully inaccurate, and batteries died unexpectedly several times.

What’s not to like? Don notes the somewhat flimsy, rubber O-ring mounting system. He’s opted for a stiffer mount from BarFly that also puts the computer ahead of the handlebars. I’ve tried a similar mount from K Edge that I would recommend. Don also adds the 500’s side-mounted buttons can be cumbersome to use if you’ve also got a light close by on your handlebars.

Still, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives…but is that enough to justify the expense? I guess the answer will depend on how serious you are about your cycling, how obsessive you are about your stats, and maybe just whether or not you think there’s better stuff to spend your money on.

Clearly a lot of people, however, are living on the Edge…pun intended.