Friday, March 20, 2015

The Internet, social media and the Kiwi Brevet

 The following is a brief story of my introduction to the Internet and its impact on the Kiwi Brevet via social media.

My first introduction to the "Net" came in the late 80's where I became aware of email at my work-place, and then the Usenet. The Usenet was a bit like a series of  "bulletin boards" where there were topics of interest for people to join, or even create, like rec.bicycles.tech and alt.binaries.misc. There was a strict etiquette and FAQs, and pecking orders with a user-base that was either from an educational, science or military background, as these people were usually the only ones with access. This lead to the idea that the  people using this "thing" were relatively intelligent. There were no trolls as such, but there was the odd bit of "flaming". FAQ and Flaming were probably terms that came out of the Usenet.

The Mosaic Browser home page
This content was all viewed on the command line... you know, white or green text on a black background. The first web browser wasn't yet available and most people were viewing this stuff on monitors hooked into main-frame computers because there weren't that many PC's about.

Many workplaces eventually shifted to PC's and in 1993 the first web browser "Mosaic" was available.

In those days the world wide web was so small that there was a list of new websites each week, and even an Internet yellow pages was published annually.

VORB forum
Out of the world wide web came web-based forums, and Paul Kennett started the NZ mountain bike forum on mountainbike.co.nz  and later on Tama Easton started VORB. These forums were a lot more accessible and easier to use than the cryptic Usenet or bulletin-board type affairs and the Internet soon became frequented by people less likely to be nerds, but still keen on sharing and learning new things.

In 1999 I discovered Pyra's Blogger, and used it as a CMS (content management system) for a few sites. Kashi Leuchs (NZ's top MTBer) and the Wellington Vets Cycling Club to name a few.

Blogger by Pyra, before Google
Blogging became a bit of a "thing" but I didn't start doing it myself for quite a while as I didn't think I had anything to say that anyone else wanted to hear. Eventually my fear of strangers knowing stuff about me passed but I still didn't put anything on it about my family.

Web-based Forums on any number of themes ruled for many years, and then in 2004 a thing called Facebook arrived. Most people didn't "get it" to start with and figured it was a place where "people without actual lives" could hang out. In 2006 Twitter was the new kid on the block and once again it took a while to figure out just how to use it and how to get the most out of it, as a "reader" or "poster" and the delineation between the SMS part of it and the internet part of it added another layer of confusion.

All of a sudden no one was worried about privacy anymore. In 2007 the Iphone launched and then in 2010 fortunately Instagram appeared on the scene as an app to enable Iphone users to share their images. Android users had been able to share photos since 2008 but there wasn't a personal "stream" available for them, and Instagram for Android followed later.

With the advent of tablets (the Ipad) in 2010 the emphasis shifted totally from a web base to an app base with increasing numbers of the people using phones and tablets to get their information fix instead of their desktops. In early 2014 Mobile internet usage passed desktop usage in the US.

Blogging was being replaced by Tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking and SMS texting was being replaced by snapchatting, vibering and gchatting. The line between cellular and internet based networks was becoming blurred. In a few years time I imagine the new users wont know how to distinguish between them.

1993 Mosaic web browser launched
      1999 Blogger
           2004 Facebook
             2006 Twitter
              2007 Iphone
                 2010 Instagram
                 2010 Ipad

Q. How useful are these new "media" as a record of our lives; who holds the information and is it accessible by us, our friends, or only the clients of the "media platform"?

I can go back to the Usenet archives and find every silly question I asked in the late 80s; I am sure I could  go to the Vorb forums and find similar things. (NB, Google seems to be looking after the Usenet archives at the moment. Maybe we should be worried.)

In 2002 Google brought Blogger from Pyra and it became part of the massive Google information gathering empire. Every thing I ever posted on Blogger is still out there and probably by virtue of its association with Google it is all completely searchable. Blogger have dropped the ball as far as keeping up with their "Blogging" competition but they were probably thinking that Google + wasn't going to be so slow to catch on.

How searchable is your content?
How searchable is Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I've heard Facebook is used as an example of poor usability so it is possible that I am just not skilled enough to find something I saw an hour earlier on FB, let alone a week later. There is no doubt that Facebook itself knows where everything is but that is for them and their clients to know. Maybe that will change?

On Twitter, it seems it is searchable using tags, and you can just scroll down a person's feed for as long as you can be bothered until you get to the end of their timeline. Instagram is similar although Instagram is an example of the shift to a complete mobile (phone and tablet) focus. You cannot (officially) upload photos to Instagram via the desktop, or search Instagram via the web directly, although you can browse a persons "stream". Currently there are 3rd party sites (like ICONOSQUARE) that will allow you to search Instagram, but that's not to say that this feature will remain if Instagram pulls their card, like Twitter did to companies using their API. You can search Instagram via hash tags or users on the mobile app, but not on the desk-top.

An example of the rapidly changing face of Social media can be seen over the last 5 years since the first Kiwi Brevet.

The first Kiwi Brevet's web presence  started as a blog using the Blogger platform in 2009, and was promoted using the VORB Mountainbiking forum. For this, and the next Kiwi Brevet, riders shared their experiences by writing their own blogs, many of which are still linked to via the Kiwi Brevet blog.

For the 2nd Kiwi Brevet in 2012 there was less talk on the forums, but it was still the go to place for  information, along with the actual Kiwi Brevet blog which became a portal of sorts. More individual rider blog links were added. The event organisers used Twitter to share news and updates and riders were encouraged to tweet using the KiwiBrevet hash tag.

For the 3rd Kiwi Brevet in 2014 the VORB forum got a lot less use and and Facebook had taken over as the method of sharing progress during the event. With linked "apps" it was possible to post to a Blog, Facebook and Twitter simultaneously. The blog was also populated with news as it happened and riders were still blogging about their experiences afterwards.

For the 4th Kiwi Brevet in 2015 Facebook and Instagram had taken over pretty much from the VORB forum. Despite the unwieldiness of Facebook, it had the numbers and for the people who could figure out how to do it, they could follow their friend's progress, or befriend the organiser and follow his commentary during the Brevet. Instagram was also very popular using the KiwiBrevet tag, and the use of a 3rd party aggregator meant that people who were not actually on Instagram could also see the posted images that were uploaded. The blog was added to with news as it happened as usual.

The big losers in 2015 were the forums, and Blogs. So far in 2015 we have only 3 known blogs. In 2015 there were over 261 Instagram posts, but only 7 Twitter posts. It looks like people have opted for the quick and easy, formats Facebook and Instagram, with Instagram being the only one that offers a useful record from an outsiders view point, provided they know how to use a hash aggregator. It would be difficult to say how many comments or views Facebook has had.

There is an element of gear-freaking in Bikepacking so the rider/gear profiles have been very popular on the Kiwi Brevet Blog, although hits have come down over the years as people become more comfortable with finding their gear selections. Page views on the 2012 profiles are at 16,000 hits, which has dropped down to 5,600 for 2014 and 3,169 for 2015.


               Year VORB postsVORB viewsBlogsTweetsInstagram posts
201082559,317700
201246533,4808850
201429618,0008717
2015303,17438261


The Blue-dots that the blue-dot junkies follow for 4-8 days in February!
One thing that has remained steadily popular and has done more than anything to spread the bikepacking phenomenon are the spot tracking websites that allow people to watch the rider's progress via the GPS trackers that they carry with them. The followers; known as blue-dot junkies, can share in the excitement as their loved ones ride on into the dark, or take wrong turns down no-exit roads! It also gives a level of protection to the riders as they are able to press a button on the device if they are in peril.



Without the spot-trackers the Kiwi-brevet would have had limited interest as a spectator sport. In 2015 a different spot tracking service was used to previous years.

Things change quickly in the Social media world and we don't know what is around the corner, but I cant help but think that we need something less cumbersome and more open than Facebook to build the community for these events, if you know of anything that is out there give me a comment or email me via the form. It would be nice to take back control of our content.


kiwibrevet Instagram tag in http://iconosquare.com/tag/kiwibrevet







Thursday, March 12, 2015

My favourite derailer Shimano XT M750

An awesome CX derailer and will even go to 36 teeth.
Do you like using drop bars off road?
Do you like using large rear sprockets?
Do you use Shimano?



See below my favourite derailer. Its my favourite for many reasons.

1. It is very robust
2. It has a lot less moving parts than the more recent designs that have (a) clutches and (b) sacrifical mounts that don't actually sacrifice themselves because the derailer construction is too light to actually take a hit anyway, plus they introduce two much thinner areas to develop play in instead of one wider more robust one.
3. It works on a wide variety of drive trains.
4. It works with large sprockets on the back, up to 36 teeth anyway.
5. Its cheaper than a more high-end MTB derailer (which isn't road compatible anyway; dynasys 10 isn't) and you might well find one in your LBS's bin, you will have to look hard though because there will be a pile of shimano shadow derailers on top of it !!

These are the three bikes I am using this derailer on currently with indexing.
An 8 speed MTB
A 9 speed cyclocross bike with 9 speed durace road shifters
A 10 speed MTB with 10 speed durace road shifters

It will also work on a 5, 6, 7 and 9 speed MTB setup.
So 5-9 MTB and 9-10 road.

Why  is the 9-10 road important?
Because if you are a tourer, or monster-cross or cyclo cross rider and you like big hills you may want to use a derailer that works on sprockets up to and over 34 cogs. This derailer will do that. It came out in 1999 but was supersed with the bottom normal derailer in 2003. That flopped, and with egg on their face Shimano relaunched an identical 1999 derailer again in 2005.  Another good to reason to use one is because they are dirt cheap, and even though I have used them for at least 3 years of cyclo-cross I have never come close to tearing one off. How many people can say that?

Most people matching MTB derailers to integrated road brake/shifters (Americans call them "brifters") use SRAM, because for 10 speed at least, SRAM road talks to MTB, and you can go 1x with a clutch derailer on the back. I think this compatibility may have changed with 11 speed. Other people spare themselves the grief and use friction bar-end shifters which may suffice for touring but would suck big time in CX.

Best derailer ever. 255 grams. 

This guy also makes a 9/10 speed long cage derailer for touring.
http://sunxcd.net/rearder/

Read what Sheldon Brown said about derailers and marketing hype.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Francis Hoen, Johnsonville Cycles

It's 11am on a Saturday morning at Jville Cycles and a guy walks in off the street with a flat tire. A mum shopping for junior's first bike is asking a multitude of questions and the people who have turned up to drop off and pick up their bikes are starting to fill up the tiny shop. For me it would be like being the first medic at the scene of a plane crash but Francis Hoen is as calm as the Dalai Lama. It's what he has done for years. The subconscious load balancing and priority setting is a skill that only comes with experience.

Francis tweaks a wheel that has seen better days.









I first met Francis in 1987 when I had mostly weaned myself from my motorcycling addiction. I had tapered down to a 1973 Yamaha 350 that was so old it had two sets of ownership papers. My attempts at keeping it roadworthy had me visiting a place in Lower Hutt called the Bike Spot.

Bike Spot was run by a guy called Al Heinie with the front desk being manned by Francis. A few years later as the mountainbiking scene hit critical mass in Wellington I was to come across Francis again as the proprietor of Johnsonville Cycles. The scene in Wellington back then was like the wild west with shops popping up all over the show as the local appetite for mountain biking exploded. The Kennett bros and Brent Hoy's Muddy Trails made sure that there were events on continuously pretty much throughout the year. Wellington differed from most places in that the events were managed outside of a bike club which worked well for a long time.

I asked Francis for sponsorship help in 1996 before the MTB Worlds in Cairns and have been a Jville Rider ever since. Francis manned the shop with a fiery red haired sidekick called Blair for many years until Blair went off the grid and moved down to the west coast with his lady where they still live. I recall a rumour that Blair would hide the "Jville Cycles" sign that used to sit on the corner of the street, to stop a steady stream of punters coming in to hassle him.

Unlike most of the other local bike shop owners at the time Francis was a competitive MTB rider and was usually on the podium, winning the master 2 category outright in 1993 and podiuming many other times. This is no mean feat as a bike shop operator with all the travel that was involved at the time. With the best 4 results from 6 races from all around the country counting, it was quite a commitment. Francis raced at the MTB Worlds in Vail, Switzerland and Canada from 1994 to 1998. He also has the record at the Karapoti Classic of 25 finishes on the full course.

The bike industry went through hard times with online sales but somehow Johnsonville Cycles  survived. A few helpers came and went over the years, but eventually Francis went back to working by himself for the most part and has reached that delicate balance. Some days he is run off his feet and other days he has time to sneak in a bit of work on his beloved VMX (Vintage Moto cross) bikes.

His old school approach is the antithesis of the modern "concept store". His solutions often don't come in branded packaging but more likely from a greasy box in the corner of the workshop. I can't count the amount of times I've seen him give a pre-loved item to a customer with the line "Nah there's no charge for that" when he could be selling them a new high dollar item off the rack instead.

A home-made tool for a job that needed doing.
He's not someone to have the latest high-tech gizmo-tools but he will find a way to do what those tools would do, using alternative techniques. I have seen him using what I presumed was an antiquated technique on something and said, "There's a tool for that now Francis". He goes "Yeah I've got it, but it doesn't work as well as this home-grown method".

When I see him dealing with a mum who would otherwise feel out of place in a shop staffed by youngsters I know his concern is bonafide. No matter what kind of newbie questions she is asking she gets his full attention. One of Francis's regulars was telling me one day how when she first came in to see him she was well over 100 kgs and since she had been biking and working out she has shed about a fifth of her body weight. Another woman I met on Sunday while helping out on "Bike the trail" told me she'd go back to see Francis at Johnsonville because he was lovely. She was a solo mum riding with her daughter and didn't know I was a Jville rider.

It's a hard way to make a living and there has to be a fair bit of passion involved as the financial rewards aren't great. I'm sure Francis's BA in Philosophy was a great help as he weighed up his decision to soldier on in the face of online competition. He adapted his business to excel in the areas that the online competitors can't compete in; service. His wife Kathy is also a small business owner; this is one very hard working couple. Francis is a very rare person, a business owner with socialist leanings who would give you the shirt off his back.

The bicycling industry is full of hype with products that fail on release, as the consumer beta-tests them to short-term destruction. If you want to know what works, and lasts, check out what Francis runs. The Jville Cycles "shop rides" go rain or shine Wednesdays and Saturdays and if a component fails it will likely fail on one of these rides, and it won't be used again. So if you are keen to ride some trails around Wellington in places that you didn't know existed, give Francis a bell or pop in to 11 Burgess Road and join the shop ride. Everyone is welcome at Jville Cycles.