Falling off your bike, literally

I’ve been cycling for years. I was playing squash before I learnt how to ride a bicycle, but probably only got on a bicycle when I was 5ish. My Dad got into cycling, and the whole family kind of followed along, we did fun rides occasionally and I did my first Argus Cycle Tour when I was 14. I then proceeded to do the subsequent 10 Arguses, this year being the first one I’ve missed. And in between this I’ve kept up a bit of mountain biking too. I enjoy both disciplines for different reasons, but in general over the past 5 years I’ve tended more to offroad.

My trusty steed (aka the Giant Iguana Bomb), cantilever brakes and all

My trusty steed (aka the Giant Iguana Bomb), cantilever brakes and all

I’ve been fortunate to live in areas with great mountain biking. Living in Somerset West and Stellenbosch a mountain was only ever a 10min ride away. Whether it was the farm roads of Lourensford or the multiple dirt roads around the bases of the mountains surrounding Stellenbosch, it was quick and fun to get a cycle in. Now in East London we’re fortunate enough to have multiple mountain bike tracks in the vicinity that are open to the public and a steady supply of events as well. But it seems like the longer I’ve been riding, the more I’ve been falling off. I don’t know why.

I never really had any crashes/falls until last year. About 8 years ago I came off my bike on the road, going round a corner and hitting a patch of gravel, I lost my front wheel and went hands first into the tarmac. I wasn’t going too fast, but managed to sprain my wrists enough to keep me off a bike and the squash court for a week or two. And then there’s the odd fall in between. Usually going quite slowly, and on two occasions on other people’s bikes, being almost stationary and falling over sideways without being able to unclip my shoes in their much tighter cleats.

Giant Iguana Bomb 2

Then end of last year I had a ‘nasty’ fall. I was flying down a dirt road, dodging some washed away sections of road and not looking far enough in front of me when all of a sudden I was going in the wrong direction towards a donga. As I arrived, the bike went down and I launched myself off, landing sprawled out on the otherside of the donga chest down. My body took it surprisingly well. I hurt my shoulder a bit, and was completely winded, but was able to get up and cycle home. The bike took it slightly worse, putting a nice buckle in the front wheel, breaking one of the gear changing levers and damaging the brake lever a bit too. And it wasn’t even my bike :x

Two weeks later doing some nice downhill single track, I fell twice on my ‘sore’ shoulder, managing to cycle home but cutting my cycles short. And I’ve come off my bike another one or two times since then. This last weekend I managed to do what I consider a fairly graceful roll onto the ground as witnessed below. Youtube made it a bit blocky though.

I’ve been fairly lucky though. Although it’s happened a couple times, I’ve never had any lasting damage. And my confidence knock doesn’t seem to be as lasting either. As I write this I’m having more opportunity to think about the incidents, and it seems like it’s often because I don’t commit entirely, or commit to the wrong choice. This last incident involved my weight wanting to go in one direction, but my front tyre deciding to step down a slight ledge and altering my direction of choice

I don’t really know if there was a point to this post. I felt like writing. And I get to post a great video of me falling off my bike. But otherwise I hope that my falling doesn’t increase. I have a very old bike. Like seriously old, it may be partly to blame for my falls. But for some reason, although I have the money available, I can’t bring myself to get a new one, maybe it’s sentimental, I’ve done so much on this bike, like the Karoo2Coast. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Google Calendar Sync to end

I just received an announcement email from Google stating that their service allowing the syncing of one’s calendar to Outlook is going to be discontinued.
Although I’ve never been the greatest fan of this app, or method of syncing, it was the only option I could find and it did the job. Now I’m left with nothing, short of abandoning Outlook entirely and embracing the online world. But I like storing my emails locally, and I like being able to see my calendar in Outlook, I prefer it to Google Calendar.

The only reason I need the syncing is to match up with my phone. But alas, as we’ve seen time and time again, once Google make a decision like this, little is to change.

See below the email sent out:

Important Announcement about Google Calendar Sync
Almost two years ago, we announced that we ended support for Google Calendar Sync. Starting on August 1, 2014, this app will no longer sync events between your Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook Calendar.

You can continue to access all of your Google Calendar events at calendar.google.com or on your mobile devices. Follow these instructions to uninstall Google Calendar Sync from your computer.
- The Calendar Team

Update: From the comments below, here are some alternatives to look at:

SyncMyCal
Sync2
Outlook4Gmail

A review of these and some other products can be seen here.

Autonomous Vehicles make me sad, but happy

I read an article a while ago and tagged it for later comment here. So I reread it now and had some time to think it over.

I’m an engineer at heart, I love technology, I love the advances I’ve been alive to witness, they excite me, we’re in a time where processing power is increasing at a semi exponential rate, allowing us to accomplish more and more tasks that previously we were restrained from doing. One of these is the autonomising of driving.

For many driving is a pain, a daily task, something they’d avoid if they could. It’s also an extremely dangerous task. But for many they have no other option. Even in countries with good public transport, some times the convenience of having your own vehicle cannot be ignored. But it’s not the act of travelling in the car that’s frustrating, it’s the actual driving, the constant vigilance and focus required that they dislike. The other drivers on the road that make the task dangerous. And thus the high appeal to have autonomous vehicles. It will also give the convenience of driving your own car to many people who aren’t able/allowed to drive, such as children, old people, drunk people and the disabled.

But then there’s me. And the many like me. Who enjoy driving. Who derive pleasure from the act of being in control and steering these vehicles. And this is what saddens me. Is that in the future I won’t be able to climb into my car and drive to work. I can be driven to work, but I can’t do the driving. And unlike the version shown to us in iRobot where one was still able to take manual control, the system that will ensure the greatest benefit for us all is one where everyone’s vehicle is autonomous. If everyone’s vehicles are linked, it would allow for much faster travel speeds, and will lower our vehicle collision occurrences to negligible amounts. Overtaking no longer becomes an issue as the cars all know exactly where the others are and how long it will take to overtake. And even Google in their latest promos are showing off vehicles that can’t be controlled manually.

Google prototype - googleblog

Google prototype – googleblog

But I won’t be allowed to drive. I spent 3 months in Germany at the end of 2012, and not once during my time there was there an occasion where I though, “Damn, I really need a car now”. There was a good public transport system that met most of my needs, bar one or two abnormalities. But it’s not about need. The first thing I did when I got home was hop into my car and go in search of a nice windy road.

And again, from an engineering perspective I admire the progress they are making. The modelling and control systems alone are enough to incite wonder. I myself doing my masters and applying some focus on an extremely simple autonomous vehicle system feel in the position to truly appreciate what is being achieved. But then I get sad again.

Google Self-driving test vehicle - google.com/press

Google Self-driving test vehicle – google.com/press

I know it’s good. I know this. I know it’s the way things have to go. The roads are only growing more congested as our population grows and the access to motor vehicles increases. There are obviously still lots of hurdles to overcome. Having the technology is half the problem, the other half is getting governments on board, and then getting the population on board, this will not be an easy or quick task, to me even the projection of 2050 is too early, merely from the human aspect. Then again I have little experience in long term projections, and if you consider what has happened in the last 50 years, who knows.

Maybe with this we’ll see a rise in recreational driving. Make driving circuits more available to the public. Maybe that’s all I really want, is an output. In the mean time, California are busy setting out their regulations for autonomous vehicle testing, for manufacturers only. So I think we’ll see the continuous small incremental progress for the next 10 years or so, before we really get somewhere.

Mercedes-Benz C350

The last 3 months I’ve had the privilege of driving a 2013 Mercedes-Benz C350 (3.5l V6 naturally aspirated engine putting out 225kW and 370Nm torque), and it’s been great. For the past 4 years I’ve been driving a ’96 Audi A4 1.8. It had power steering, aircon, leather seats and ample power to get by. It was comfortable on the long road and it’s treated me well. So what do I think of the C350?

c350

It’s a fun car. It’s a ‘yes’ car. No longer do you ask yourself, can I make that gap, the answer is always yes. Can I go faster than I’m currently going? Yes. That is until the electronic limiter kicks in at 250kmph. But such opportunities don’t exactly happen. But quite often when overtaking on the free-ways one has to be careful else you can be going considerably over the speed limit without realising it.

Mercedes-Benz has never been top of my list of favourite car brands. I don’t know if it’s just a societal thing, but I’ve always felt they were cars for an older generation. I’ve always been a fan of the BMWs and Audis. Not necessarily thinking they were better, but from a subjective view of the brand and the cars’ stylings, Mercs weren’t my favourite. It has obviously grown on me in recent months, but I’d still choose an Audi or a Beemer over the Merc. It is a good looking car though, especially with the Avantgarde styling, big 18″ mags and other marks.

Prince Albert 1

Inside the car is comfortable. Leather seats with some electronic adjustment controls. Sometimes the rear passenger could complain on space if I’m in front, but in most cases I could still sit comfortably and provide the person behind with enough space. I did several long trips in the car, both by myself and with passengers, and I rarely felt fatigued. The car is also much quieter. Even with that 3.5l V6 up front, inside the car remains quiet. Road noise is also noticeably less than my old ’96 Audi, and the new car obviously had less squeaks and rattles than my 17 year old sedan. 3 zone climate control means everyone can be kept happy, usually I left it set a nice 23deg and one rarely noticed any change due to outside weather conditions.

Also features, the Merc was full of them. Auto adjusting brights. Lights that shine to the sides as you go around corners. The media setup with bluetooth connection to your phone. Steering wheel controls to let you control your phone, the music, or view real time car data. Then there’s the tyre-pressure sensors (which I’ve made far more use of than in previous vehicles), parking distance sensors and many more that make life in the car more comfortable. While I liked the control of the headset using the ‘joystick’ near the gear lever, the amount of buttons around the radio frustrated me, as everything you could do with them you could do with the joystick too, and I felt all the buttons unnecessary. Hands free voice calls were crisp and clear, and one contact even commented on better quality than when I normally speak to them.

Sunroof, yay!

Sunroof, yay!

There’s also the automatic windscreen wipers, which always seem one speed to slow, or just behind how fast I want them to work. They also give petrol attendants a fright when you forget to turn the ignition off when they wash your windscreen :) I actually wasn’t fond of the auto-adjusting brights either, as when you drive around town, the brights never come on, and there’s no way to force them on, so that was one thing I did disable.

Then there’s the handling. First thing I noticed was the lack of body roll, compared to my old Audi. Even compared to my dad’s ’01 Alfa 156, which was markedly better than my Audi, the Merc had very little. And when driving through a tight corner, this helps leaps and bounds with confidence when the whole car is not leaning outwards; and a big part of driving well is confidence. Further to this, the large 215/40R18 tyres provide plenty of grip, and when the grip runs out the active Electronic Stability Program is always only split seconds away, and relatively easy to activate if one wants it. Floor the accelerator, traction control kicks in after a brief moment of wheel spin. Turn late in a corner, flashing light on the dashboard lets you know the car has better things to do with it’s time. Add a bit of rain and wet roads to the scenario and the light is sure to flash. I did a fair bit of distance on dirt roads too, and the car handled these with grace and poise. Even when the roads weren’t in the greatest condition the ride was comfortable at 60kmph and only the odd pothole resulting in a slight cringe. And to top it all off, nice big disc brakes let you slow down as fast as you sped up.

from the back

Another big change for me was the switch from a manual to an automatic. I’d never been particularly fond of automatics previously, and my opinion hasn’t changed that much, I still prefer a manual. Automatics certainly do have advantages, they are much easier to drive. In traffic, or even on the long road, it’s one less thing to think about. What I didn’t like is not being in the right gear at the right time. Both for overtaking, going through corners, and my least favourite, going over speed bumps. Even in sports mode I found the time delay between down shifts after I accelerate hard to be slower than I was comfortable with, once the car realised what I was intending to do then it got going, and got there fast, but the delay annoyed me. This can be alleviated by using the ‘manual’ gear selection option, but I didn’t find this as comfortable as I’d like. Going over speedbumps annoyed me, as in a manual I’m usually quite friendly with engine braking so that when I go over a speedbump the revs have climbed a bit and I can accelerate comfortably after the speedbump in the right gear and right speed. In the automatic I’d always brake arriving at the speedbump, but then never got the acceleration quite right after the speedbump and the car always felt like it was accelerating faster than necessary, I don’t know if this is specific to the automatic or if the engine power was maybe partly to blame as well.

Other things to note on the car… The stop-start feature where the engine turns off at robots and such is a bit offputting at first, but one gets used to it, and doesn’t really impact use of the vehicle. The front seatbelts try to ‘strangle’ you, as my girlfriend put it, whenever you get into the car, part of one of the safety features. The 18″ tyres in this car mean you don’t get a full-size spare, but a biscuit instead. This isn’t the end of the world, but in my 3 months I ended up with 5 punctures in the tyres. Only 1 of them resulted in a tyre change, the rest were all nice bolts (3 of which I picked up at work) which lodged themselves in the tyres. That was a bit frustrating. The foot activated hand brake was also a new experience, And I found it odd that no matter how hard I pushed it down, the car always had a slight roll before stopping.

Dirt roads

Dirt roads

One last thing I would like to mention is the fuel economy. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be great. But before I got the car I looked it up in CAR magazine, and it gave mixed figures from their testing of 8.2l/100km. I was pretty shocked, and it raised my expectations a bit. But wrongly so. I did a fair amount of long road driving where I wasn’t pushing it, and I managed a best of 8.7l/100km, averaging about 10l/100km on the open road. Round town however was really not great. Take note that I also do 10-20km at work everyday, where I drive 2km at 30kmph, stop for a bit and then drive back, not exactly helping consumption, but still I was averaging 14l/100km. In total I tracked 8884km of driving, of which 6000km of it was ‘open road’ driving. My average consumption 10.4l/100km, a far cry from the claimed 8.2. This is just part of the deal of driving a high performance car, and not a complaint per se, I just don’t like the claimed values.

It’s difficult for me to say how good the car is. The only real comparison I have is to the 17 year old Audi I’ve been driving for the past 4 years, and isn’t really a comparison of other currently available cars. The 3.5l engine definitely had an impact on my enjoyment level of the car, I don’t think it would have been the same had I been given the 1.8 but that shouldn’t detract from the well built, comfortable and beautiful car that the W204 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is.