Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Going solar by parts - offset what you can -homeworking remotely; remote working

Why offset some things solar?

The GoalZero Nomad 14 Plus will keep a Macbook 12", a MiFi and a SmartPhone working  all  day in good sunlight
So let’s start with a couple of things this article is and this article isn’t. One this article is not how to live off grid; I would love an off-grid eco home, but I live in Central London and that is not going to happen. This article also ins’t supposed to give you any idea that I am feeling like greenwashing prius driving let’s jump on the solar bandwaggon on the cheap or whatever criticism may be waiting. Its also not a zombie apocalypse guide to ... 
Using preferably the largest battery you are allowed to get on a plane makes the best  storage option on the move

Can I now justify buying some solar gadgets?

Yes. In short. Great right? You are welcome! What it is is an article on how we can all learn to be more power efficient, see where we are and are not using power and provide a basis for how we can all move slowly more and more to offloading to renewable sources and decide whether or not we can change our ways or not to remove the things that are very “power hungry” and work out what balance you may or may want, or be able to afford or accommodate in your life.
The 14W panel managed a brief peak of 17W, all monitored from the great display on the Sherpa 100AC

Why I wanted to write this and why we should all have some solar generation.

Why did I want to do this / do I think this important, well mainly because at the same time I saw both an add for an energy company promoting natural Gas, while a committee recommended getting rid of gas from homes by 2025, presumably under the view that we can all run full heating and cooing and everything else under solar. And of course you can - but a few things need to be said: you need to plan / be lucky and have a south facing window (in northern hemisphere at least) and having a car with a both a sunroof and panoramic glass roof was great for seeing the panel's position and adjusting as the day went on. There is also a lot of faff or attention needed to keep everything in the sun and every so often check that things have not just stopped after a cloud went over, or the wind blew the panel shut... let alone see the video below when the wind blows things 6 storeys down to the concrete floor below! Then there is the luck of the weather! But even without sun, the battery below should keep you going well enough - you will just need to charge it another way afterwards!
By using the first and last rays of sun back at hotel  I could fully power the USB-C laptop, phone and MiFi all usage 
By using the first and last rays of the day, and leaving the panel out of the sun-roof while off for a run, etc. It was possible to fully power the usb-c laptop (USB-C important as if I was using the AC inverter I would have need 30-50% more solar power - possible daisy chaining two Nomad 14 plus or  using the more cumbersome 28 plus, but no where near as easy to just hang out of the window or pop-ip on a roof) however doing so left me very, very tight on one of the days. Another day I was glad I did not squeeze every last drop, as I ended up inevitably working late...

Click to see the video showing the average power being used over a the various use cases (charging vs. running the laptop, and just running peripherals) as well one of the perils of perching devices on window sills and what happens when your wifi falls 6 stories onto a solid concrete floor... 

There is a final angle and that is wellbeing. More and more we are either tied to an office or a home office. I often work all day with the good intention of getting out and doing some sport and doing my 10,000 or whatever steps, but it often does not happen, and this is where home and personal life can suffer. 
Working from here all day is a lot nicer than a desk, and if you go dressed for a run, walk, etc. promotes exercise as well
The solar in this review easily lets you get out and working remotely, wherever you may need to be within a reasonable budget and in a portable manner.

Another inspiring view from the office; this one came with full 4G fast data coverage!
The alternative I saw for equipping a single vehicle with the ability to work were just way too complex, expensive and really not for me as I cannot easily use it in a hire car for example as in the below experiment.
Back in British winter you need to choose days more wisely and rely on the battery more :)

The short list. Yes gadget time :)

Being able to see the devices is key, but hard if you are not near a Rei or similar / travel to the US, etc. to see 1st hand
What is really imporant is to get out and see things, this is one of the biggest barriers to going solar - I see all these amazing products online, but is very difficult to get  a fewel for how big they really are, for example the Sherpa 100AC and the Nomad 400 Lithium, I was lucky enough to see in the wonderful Rei shop in Seattle between meetings on a business trip, and realise for example that the latter would easily fit in the bayyert box of a land rover defender alongside the main battery.

Similarly I quickly saw that the Boulder was huge, but at the same time saw another opportunity here, and will be updating on that later.

What other gadgets were considered.

The 20,000 to 28,000 mah batteries and The Sherpa 100AC

There are lots of these batteries, I already own a few of these, from the one that came with my G-Ro luggage, that goes nowhere due to a proprietary charger, to a usb-c Anker 20,000, a RavPower 28,000, and a tp-link 21000, but none have the digital display, nor the wireless charging, nor the built-in battery holder or the rubber non-slip on hardwearing metal nor a simple AC power that can charge my drone... in short, the Goalzero is very expensive but does everything I need, and even sits on my bedside table doing daily and nightly phone charging.

Yeti 150 and 400 Gel

Too big and cannot bring myself to buy lead anymore

The yeti 400 Lithium

This was an option, but you cannot take it on planes, but it does fit into the battery box of my Land Rover defender, so more on this coming soon.

The nomad 14+ and nomad 28 plus

The nomad 28 plus is very appealing as it sits between the 14 and the 50 watt options, and would potentially make a better option in weaker sunlight / enable more devices, however the simple problem is size and convenience.

The boulder 50

Having seen (above) in Rei that the Boulder was huge, I went with the Nomad 14 plus, but at the same time saw another opportunity here, and will be updating on that later.

The others that were cheaper and ...

I already have the Anker solar lite, which is great, however its just not as easy to hang /stand and is just slightly underpowered, although there are times in weak lite that it will deliver 3w whereas the goal zero is not even registering a watt...

The background and why?

Self driving cars are coming, they cost a lot of money, to just sit in jams and car parks?

We spend so much on our cars and we covet them so much, yet all we do is sit in traffic and get bigger and bigger ones, which at some point will be self-driving; let us aspire to more freedom, when in fact they just languish in traffic and parked most of the time, or accumulate tickets otherwise. Set them free I say.

What if our home is not work from home friendly?

Part of this experiment ocurred to me whe I was working a few days a week on a client site so dull, so uninspiring, that I honestly often needed to retire to the cafe, a local starbucks, or often my car on sunny days to escape the sheer unpleastenness of the environment. It was fetid. It also occurred to me that many people may only have that option, or may be in shared or other accommodation that is just not work from home friendly, yet more and more we are expected to work from home.

Sometimes you get a new dog, a new child, people staying over, in short a new circumstance that can make certain times of the day / week / month / year - can we work from our car?

Do more exercise, get out more

While I do have the fortune and luxury of working form home in an environment that is conducive to that and it is great, what happens when everybody comes home and kicks back and you have been caged up all day… well you can be a little grumpy: and the answer is do work from home but get out there, get that lycra on, get o it and between those call get a run, a walk, a coffee and a chat with your old parents, and old friend, etc. It will be good for your mental health, it will be good for the people who have to put up with you. You are also more likely to get out on that trail, hike, ride if you are seeing people out there, vs. coupes up at home. The amount of times I have been working at home, dressed ready for my run / ride when planned, but then not bothered is too many to count.

Laptops already have all day battery don't they? Doesn't your car have a battery?

So I hear you all say: my laptop has “all day battery” and so does my phone… why do I need this. Well, yes, maybe it does, when its new, and you do a bit of this and a bit of that. But on that day of back to back calls, when your device is a little older, the last update did not go so well, etc, etc. and in general other than in ideal circumstances the answer is; no they do not. and do you want to be where you want to remote work and have no car battery to get home / pick the kids up, make that meeting, etc? No, did not think so either!

There is then the issue of the mifi, a mifi may survive a 4 storey fall onto snow-safe reinforced concrete, but it won’t last a working day and so needs to be plugged in.

Keeping warm / cool, etc in a car

Do you get cold? This is a question I have often been asked, especially with all the snow, well first off, no, cars are like a greenhouse, however, when its minus something and a polar vortex - don’t be an idiot and decide to work from your car! This is very much something for a day when you want to get out there, and it's a question of regulating window opening.

The premise is that a topped up Sherpa 100AC will keep a Macbook 12", a MiFi and your phone in working order all day and then some, and with sun, the solar output of a nomad 14 plus you may even keep that topped up, a nomad 28 or two daily chained nomad 14s especially so, and if you go our and get that run in the sun in, while leaving other things charging then you may even be offsetting all your working electronics to the power of the sun. And that makes you feel good, hopefully in a non annoying way.

Common sense however, dictates that you have water, food and warm clothes / blanket etc. in case you get stranded / brake down beyond that sunlight and the greenhouse that is / was your car, turns into a fridge.
This test was done at a latitude of 42.7000° N with clear sunlight, obviously a little closer to the equator, you will in theory get a better result (in practice maybe not as when a panel gets hot it delivers less power) however YMMV with days with cloud, no matter how much sun there is between and further north, I have had days where in the UK I have had half the watts in bright winter sun, but others with nothing... will update this as summer comes, so be sure to follow.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

3T Strada Pro Review - First Impressions

First Impressions Summary:
super bike looks, ride, speed, feel and handling at pro bike cost:
The 3T Strada Pro blue paintwork is stunning and prefer it to Red, Black and other blue available in higher spec frame.
The 3T Strada Pro begs for speed like a tri / TT bike, has the geometry to most likely handle extensions properly like a TT bike (I cannot stand the twitchy handling of road bike geo with extensions) but handles like a road bike when you need to do a group ride / road race; and as such can probably replace both my road and tri bike in one. 

Strada 3T pro first review Highs

  • Rolls, rides and handles like a superbike, with the geometry to handle extensions for TT (yet to be tested)
  • All carbon contact where you expect on a super bike (crank, bars, seta post) / more expensive bike, lacking in similar priced complete pro level bikes

  • Stunning paint, details and details, everywhere you look
  • Quarq power ready is nice, and again a super-bike detail
  • It seems to do both: it is definitely replacing my shiv, and may even replaced my tarmac, in a way the Venge, and even the Cervelo S series, etc has never managed to seem convincing. The Strada is not a compromise like all other aero-road bikes I have tested; its an evolution, and you get the feeling Gerard Vroomen has made here the bike he has always wanted to make. Now that, its a privilege in itself, and is a bike I want to ride and ride!

  • It begs you to give it (and have) Summer peak fitness in October, yet unlike a tri bike, you can sit back and enjoy when you are just not rested enough or (insert one of many reasons) you just can't wind it up to 11

  • Its perfectly poised and comfortable on all terrains and in both the wet and dry I have tested so far, though with a slightly different rebound rate, more if which in final thoughts below.
  • The stealth aerobat is very, very nice and worthy of a review in itself.
  • The seatpost comes with anchors for bottle cage, etc and is the hardest seat tube I have ever cut, though it has slipped down on a wet ride.
  • You know you are riding the future; everybody asks what’s it like, in the way that you know they want one!
  • Handling, again, was able to tail whip on harsh braking shows it likes to play, and can play, but was in no way worrying to me or other riders, like other disc brake bikes I have seen squirrel under hard braking. In short I hit every corner and downhill section at the speed I reserve for my best handling bikes, but on the first ride out.
    Stunning details everywhere you look. The seat stays are wire-thin, seat post has plenty of clearance but still noticeably "aero-close". A fine piece of Italian design it is.

Strada 3T pro first review Lows

  • The wheels are alloy rather than carbon, and initially thought I would be swapping them straight out, however so far I did not notice the extra weight on the (7% average) box hill climb at least, but will come back on this one. So far they sound and roll as good as anything I have ridden, I like the 35mm sweet spot (the most aero I have tried that I never needed to/wanted to ease off with on a windy section) am enjoying the extra stiffness

  • Saddle - overly long old school long thin wedgie special… swapped before first ride, and at this level I am usually picking more serious and hard to change things like swapping out crap allow handlebars that need a re-wrap and often even new cabling..
  • Seatpost slipped on first wet ride, fixed by actually adding the supplied carbon paste... yes I know I should know better... thank you...
  • Having to cut seatpost with this design, as with shiv, etc. But then if it does replace a TT bike (which requires even more fettling) then I will forgive that, there was something also very satisfying at how hard the carbon was to cut!
  • it came without bar tape installed… If I had known I would have ordered another tape I like, but no biggie, am going with what came for now and it has great grip in wet, which is handy from October on in UK!
  • Would like to have the option to go even wider, with 28c tyres on Enve 4.5ARs, Reynolds ATR maybe, but some have said they get rub at this side... will proceed with caution, but do not want to drop a fortune on wheels at mo
  • The brakes have a long, long amount of travel before they kick in, I can adjust to that in general, however it makes one finger braking difficult on rougher tarmac fast sections (despite what people in the world may think, that in Britain we have roads as smooth as a cucumber sandwich with the crusts cut off, the truth is that British road surfaces are truly woeful) as the lever starts cutting into the fingers that are holding the bar. This may have a fix and will investigate, and from first investigations is not a 3T /3T bar issue but a road disc brake issue....

Coming from a Specialized Shiv and Specialized tarmac as my go-to road bikes, and having since converted them both to 1X for their reliability and simplicity, having also made the transition from triple to double to 1X on the mountain bike, from triple to double to 1x on the road bike - when the 3T Strada came out I knew I wanted one: the question was what build... enter the Strada Pro making it all very easy
The Strada 3T Pro instantly feels at home on your usual routes, scoring Strava trophies even on gentle rides
I had also been fitting ever fatter tyres and wondering whether to go disc brake or not. I did not get my tarmac in 2016 in an s-works disc version, as I did not like the fact that rear hubs still seemed (and turned out to be) in flux and that the brakes were non series in the Shimano I looked at at the time at least - so you were getting all dura ace or Ultegra groupset, except the brakes, which were Shimano Rxxx or whatever they were. while both the Shiv and Tarmac now handle 25mm tyres on 21mm wide runs (making them a 28mm tyre) that is pushing it and the Strada should handle 28mm on wide rims, which I will be trying next.
With a bike that looks this good, prepared to hear a lot of "nice bike" comments - if you are shy, get the black frame option
I also still have to say, there is something cleaner, lighter and simpler about a top-end rim brake bike, at least from a purist point of view: I have gone to a lot of effort to select mostly blacked out and to my  spec parts for my bike, like scouring the internet for limited edition sram red black edition brakes, which are not only more powerful than the gawky red, silver ones, but are also dual pivot. The bike is, as some would say, sick. However the minute it rains, or you are on a hard downhill after a hard uphill, tired, etc. the is no question that disc brakes are better.
One of the finest top-caps in industry. Cable routing requires some trimming at some point when I dial in the stem / cut steerer, etc.

Why get a Strada 3T, Pro or otherwise

So first off, the Strada 3T for me was  one of those biles that when it was launched I went “oh hello” someone has designed a bike just for me :) 
  1. I have been converting road bikes to 1x for years, frustrated by the fact that the only thing to go on long rides or play havoc with a race for me had ever been front chain drops due to front derailed issues or chain dirt issues that a front derailed is just not well equipped to handle.
  2. I love short chainstays
  3. I never could live with bar extensions on a pure road bike as the geometry makes them twitchy - that maybe fine in a closed road pro-race, but for amateurs that is downright dangerous, and I will never draft someone using this combo for that reason. This promises to change that, and if so will be replacing my tri specific bike in 2019
  4. I hate chain slap and 1X cures this
  5. The only thing I hate more than chainslap is chain drop, and on a 2x roadbike it is always into the frame, which is just awful and costs a lot of time in a race and requires you to man wrench the chain physically with the bike upside down... ugh. On 1x its always outwards, and can be reattached in seconds, without inverting the bike or touching the chain (tyre lever / stick).
  6. love wide clearance
  7. love aero
  8. I have to admit I had been looking at the Strada 3T for a while
Box Hill in the rain is not my first choice, but the bike handled it admirably, here you can see where I forgot to add carbon paste to seat post assembly and the post slipped in the wet... The bike comes with a pouch of it for a reason doh!
Make no mistake, this is a super bike. Whilst some may scoff and say that this has a cheaper carbon layup that it’s team level sibling, there is never a feeling that this has been paired down to encourage you to upgrade: it comes with carbon bars, carbon seatpost, and a killer paint job that is arguably better than it’s more expensive siblings. If I had to nitpick, which many will, it would be at the alloy wheels, coming in at a hefty 1700+ grams vs the 1500 of carbon equivalents, however I cannot really do that as they sound, accelerate, corner and perform impeccably to the point that everybody who has ridden it thinks they are carbon. They also come in at 20c internal width, which makes them more difficult to immediately change out, as I thought I would and the bike snob within us urges us to do.
You know you are dealing with a design icon, the minute you set eyes on the 3T Strada in the flesh
When you know you are riding a super bike is at key moments, like being able to go as fast as you would on your well known bike on descents and corners, where you would normally er with caution, until you work out a non super bikes quirks.
I had never stopped at this hill before, but after two weeks of longhaul travel, the Strada was asking me for speed I just could not keep delivering! Here with Quarq power ready dzero spider power meter added and the "Quarq ready" sticker removed :)
You also know you are riding a super bike when you get a bit of tail whip at 20-30 while hard braking on your first proper ride, it was wet, the tyres were not even bedded in, and you just carry on with a smile on your face thing “wow, this bike handles”

Immediate upgrades:

  • Saddle

3T Strada Pro upcoming upgrades:

  • Quarq power spider dzero to do the sram / quark (added already)
  • Overdrive / bailout casette (Arrived, waiting to install)
  • Qrings down to 44t to match bailout (in my stock cupboard, tho may go for 46T...)
  • XD-R drive (arrived)
  • barfly extension (blacked out) ready to install but cannot find a torque wrench that works with the reverse bolts of the excellent Arx stem
  • extensions for triathlon days / tri training

3T Strada Pro upgrade wishlist

  • a wheel set that is almost 30mm wide external, 21mm + internal to go 28mm with the tyres that plump up to 30 external but with a smooth transition between tyre and rim
  • torno crankset for the hills??? having done the Dzero upgrade this may not make sense, but the torno is nice!

A couple of final thoughts at this stage on the 3T Strada Pro:

I was initially having a what are they doing moment when I saw this bike came with a medium cage rather than long cage rear force 1 (medium will go up to 36t, long up to 42T rear cassette) but then saw that 3T has what maybe a better solution: a 9-32. This achieves a few things: 1) not having to listen to dinosaur roadies quip (look at that satellite dish / paella pan / other tired comment) when seeing a 42t cassette 2) it may, may, be easier to keep in tune, easier on drive train? the 42t rear on a road seems to be beyond some bike mechanics to get right, especially with q-rings, 3) its definitely lighter and possibly even a simpler solution, with both a 44T up front and only 9-32 out back, vs 50T and a 10-42T.

One thing I have also noticed as well is that the wire-thin seat stays combined with super rigid rest of frame create a slightly different rebound rate of the flex from what I am used to, and it can lead to going slightly wide on certain roads. Coming from mountain bikes I get that, but pure roadies may not realise this, specially if they are like a lot of my riding friends who go "yes I know there is overwhelming evidence that I need to run my 25c tyres at a lower pressure but I just cannot help myself and am at 100 PSI" lol. You know who you are. I cannot wait to try a wider tyre / rim combo that the bike was designed for and dial in the tyre pressure.