Monthly Archives: May 2010

Google Bicycle Directions: A Review

Not too long ago, Google came out with bicycle directions for its Google Maps utility, as well as a map view that shows bicycle paths and designated routes in green.

When you search for a route, Bicycle Directions takes you on bike paths or designated bike-friendly routes whenever possible, and also avoids dangerous spots like highway interchanges and busy intersections.

I’ve used Google’s bike directions a few time now, and it definitely has some good points, as well as some room for improvement. I asked for directions from my house to PHEW, and it gave me virtually the exact route I normally take to work, which links city streets and bike paths, avoiding high-volume car traffic as much as possible.

This weekend, however, some friends and I put Google’s bike directions to a more stringent test- a bike-friendly route from Philly to Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore. The directions took us over the Ben Franklin Bridge, through Camden, Cherry Hill and other town, and routed us around bad interesections and busy highways like it was supposed to. The directions then brought us to the rural area around the Pine Barrens, a fairly vast forest of pines, scrubby bushes and marshes. In keeping with its purpose, the directions took us off of a main highway and onto deserted country roads with virtually no traffic.

From Philly to Jersey Shore

That’s when things went a bit awry.

Our wonderfully quiet, smooth paved country road soon ended at a gate and a sign for a state nature preserve. The road beyond the gate was composed entirely of sand and curved into the monotony of flat pine forest. We weighed our options, deciding that we should go back to the last fork in the road and go the other way. That road soon turned into an unmarked, sandy track as well, but since there was no gate barring the way, we figured it was a much better option. We forged ahead through the semi-packed sand, occasionally slipping on a loose spot and falling down. A light rain began to fall.

From Philly to Jersey Shore
From Philly to Jersey Shore

After three hours of uneasily riding, wondering whether we would have to spend the night out there, we spotted some trucks driving up the road. We flagged them down, and they directed us to the nearest paved road, which happened to be a main road we had turned off of hours earlier. Because of our mishaps, we had made a long southeast curve and were around fifteen miles south of where we made our fateful turn.

From Philly to Jersey Shore

After stuffing ourselves at the nearest restaurant, we stuck to the easy, straight highway for the rest of the trip. We fell into beds at a cheap motel and awoke to a beautiful day at the shore.

From Philly to Jersey Shore

In the end, I can’t really fault Google for our misdirection, it is only an electronic map service after all. I certainly would not have expected it to anticipate the lack of any road signs or the difficult road surface.

So if you’re considering using Google’s bike directions in a rural place, either confirm the route with other sources or at least bring a good local map and a compass.

And maybe don’t put so much faith in directions you found on the internet like we did.

We’re now a Dahon Folding Bike Dealer

At PHEW, electric bikes are our specialty, and we want to help people use electric bikes for cleaner, healthier commuting and all-around fun. We aren’t electric-only zealots by any means, though. We recently became a dealer for Dahon, a manufacturer of conventional folding bikes. We chose Dahon because their bikes are simply well-made, easy to use, and fun to ride. They’ve been making folding bikes since the early 1980’s, and it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.

Dahon makes folding bikes in many different configurations, including urban commuters that fold in seconds to no-compromise folding mountain and touring models. Since we focus on commuting and general urban mobility, we have three models in stock that we feel work best for traveling and storing in the city.

Dahon Mu P8

The Mu is a light aluminum city bike with an eight-speed drivetrain. Some nice features are the nearly flat-proof Schwalbe Marathon tires and the seatpost which conceals an integrated air pump that works just like a standard floor pump.

Dahon Speed D7

The Speed D7 occupies the middle ground in Dahon’s city bike line. It has a steel frame that trades a bit of weight for value and reliability  and is spec’d with a seven-speed drivetrain that offers plenty of versatility for all kinds of terrain. It also comes equipped with full fenders and a rear cargo rack for commuting utility.

Dahon Boardwalk S1

The Boardwalk is the simplest offering from Dahon, with a single speed coaster brake hub that allows for worry-free riding and greatly reduced maintenance. the Boardwalk would be great for trips to, well, the boardwalk, but also would make a great machine for covering short trips to and from the train station or around the neighborhood.

So come down and check out what Dahon has to offer. They ride great, fold really easily, and could be the missing link in your car-free commute or limited-space life.

Volkswagen and Lexus explore E-bike concepts

Aside from being a recreational tool, electric bikes are emerging as effective tools for transportation. Here at PHEW, we see e-bikes as commuting machines and most of our bikes come with full fenders, cargo racks and lights to make them as functional and practical as possible.

We also carry some folding bikes, which work great for riders who commute using several forms of transportation. They fold up small enough to be allowed on rush hour trains and subways, and they can be taken on the bus even when its bike rack is full. They also work great for people who travel long distances by car, then also need to travel locally once they arrive, since folding bikes are a cinch to store in a car’s trunk.

The car maker Volkswagen just came out with an electric scooter concept that could make commuting a lot more convenient for many people.

Aside from its interesting look, the VW scooter is innovative because it can be connected to the car’s DC power supply, so the user can charge the scooter while driving to the train station or parking area.

The main catch, of course, is that it is a scooter, meaning that it can’t be pedaled to extend its range or to propel it once the battery is exhausted. This is still a concept though, so hopefully VW will make it a true e-bike if they decide to put it into production.

Moving from the supremely practical to the blatantly frivolous, Lexus displayed a radical new e-bike that features a full carbon fiber frame, belt drive, and twin motors which make the bike all-wheel drive.

The concept was created as a joint venture with motorcycle maker Yamaha, and from the sound of the video report, the bike is more or less made by Yamaha and branded by Lexus.

We doubt that VW and Lexus will be the only car manufacturers to be getting into light electric vehicles, so we’re going to stay tuned to see what else comes out in the future.