Monday, May 26, 2014

Beat's gadget genius

I was laughing at the glut of gadgets for my mountain bike's dashboard, which include (but are not limited to) an odometer, a headlight, a rotating map holder (not pictured), a compass (also not pictured) and Beat's electronic cue-sheet gizmo. I find the cue-sheet gizmo immensely endearing, because of the thought and creativity that went into it. What it does is display turn-by-turn directions based on digitalized maps and distance readings from a magnet on the front wheel. So, without tapping into the Global Positioning System, it can alert me to upcoming turns as long as I'm on my intended course. It has buttons to reset and backtrack if I'm not. And it also features pre-programmed notes on the route (while nearing the top of Black Mountain on Thursday, it informed me that "Woot Woot" was coming up in 0.2 kilometers.) It's a fun device. Beat made it himself.

By made it himself, I mean that he compiled the various parts, soldered the circuit board, wrote the software, programmed the device, and designed and printed the plastic casing on his 3D printer. He takes the art of geekery to impressive levels that I never knew were possible for a hobbyist until I knew him. It involved dozens of hours of late-night tinkering to create a wonderful little device that serves few practical purposes outside my unique need for fast-moving, route-specific, GPS-free navigation. It's not that I'd be lost without this device (well, in fairness, I'll probably get lost no matter what ...) But he enjoys this kind of work. Some people paint. Some people write in their blog. Beat creates esoteric outdoor gear and even more arcane gadgets. That's one of the many things I love about him.

I was going to aim for the "peak" week of training this past week, but in many ways, I wasn't feeling it, and there's a point where perceived drawbacks outweigh diminishing returns. It was a trifecta of nagging Achilles tendon after the Ohlone 50K, trying to spend more time polishing a manuscript so I can get it to my editor — finally — before I leave, and allergies that were on a particularly sharp tear. I was alternating between Claratin and Benedryl and trying to decide which drug made any difference at all, arriving at different conclusions mostly based in how much more time I forced myself to stay outside in the grass pollen haze. Liehann and I planned our last long ride on Saturday and actually convinced Beat to join, as well as a roadie friend of Liehann's, Giles. It was a fun day; we rode virtually the same route I took on Wednesday, but backwards. Through lots of sputtering and wheezing, I managed to feel stronger as the day went on.

Over a 55-mile ride with 8,500 feet of climbing, we threw a final insult into the mix with a climb that gains 841 feet in just over a mile. Liehann hasn't been running, so he decided to push his bike up the climb, reasoning that he needed more hike-a-bike conditioning. Based on that logic, I need more experience pedaling up ridiculous grades that are probably faster to push, so I resolved to stay in the saddle. Given my general performance this week, I thought I'd be a sputtering mess by the end. But I broke through that wall, and felt great all the way to top.

Beat hasn't been riding much beyond his daily commute to work, and dug deep for the eight-hour ride, on his fat bike. He's just an all-around sweet guy like that. I'm happy to have little bike gizmos to remind me of him while I'm away. 


  1. Very cool little device, wondering if my boy scouts could use something like that for our non-GPS hikes...

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  3. I wonder if the race organizers will be satisfied that Beat's cool device is not using GPS? Could be an interesting discussion if you have to "prove a negative" to non-techies. Maybe you could carry a schematic diagram with you, just to demonstrate you're prepared to answer such questions.

    1. It's a legitimate consideration. Odometers are allowed, and in a way this is just hybrid of an odometer and the maps. It's only useful as long as I'm paying attention to map navigation, so it doesn't (in my opinion) take away from the spirit of the no-GPS rule. I don't have a little electronic device telling me exactly where to go, I just have one that alerts me when I should spend more time looking at the maps, thereby freeing me to look up once in a while. But if the race organizers object to it, I wouldn't use it of course.

    2. Yeah it crossed my mind. However, it'd be a lot easier to cheat with a smartphone if one wanted to, and Jill isn't gonna be gunning for the record either. If you look at the display it's pretty easily clear it's not actually mapping, nor has an actual track on it - we just noted intersections (which we could also have done on the cue sheet itself). It really doesn't replace the map and cue sheet, which contains pretty important information. Most people have a more capable GPS with them even if they don't intend on using it.
      It won't help much in the more complex navigation scenarios either (off-trail etc), plus once you've lost your position on the map, it becomes less useful as well, as the accuracy of the data is limited in the first place.

  4. Good luck with the ride. I'm always amazed at the distances you race. Some neat kit on your handlebars. Beats a very clever person.

  5. I should order the Beat Direction Finder for my wife. She seems to get her bearings in a completely different fashion, by specific waypoints (turn left at the big tree, turn right by the creek, go straight at the big rock), where I build a mental map of the whole area and navigate by major landmarks and general direction,with the waypoints just confirming my position. I've read arguments that it is a male/female difference, hunting vs gathering?

  6. Beat is the best. True love through gadgetry!


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