NZ MTB: Prepping for the plane

Man, can’t believe my last post was in January! In the last instalment I talked about the steps to get my bike to NZ. There were a few other little things that I had to work out before getting on the plane.

As you will have spotted in the photos in that previous post, I was traveling pretty light. Bike bag + one travel bag, which meant taking my hydration pack on the plane (and I had one checked bag + the bike bag).

I had to wade through the contents of my bag and remove any dangerous items (matches, lighter, pliers, multi-tool etc.). I left my pump in there with no issues (I have had one query on a plane ride since). Being an international flight I also removed all liquids (didn’t fill the pack, and removed the 200ml sunscreen I had in the bag) and put all that in the checked luggage. I forgot to do this on the return flight, and thus it was confiscated during the security check. Not a biggie, but annoying given how much suncscreen costs nowadays!

Due to weight/size restrictions I wasn’t able to take a floor pump, but my hand-pump had a pressure gauge and this proved sufficient for my needs (and I borrowed the odd floor pump once over there from bike stores and the shuttle operator).

I’d read that I should drop the pressure in my tires, but later found out it wasn’t really necessary. As I changed my tires just before I left, I just left them down, but this had the unfortunate side-effect of not properly seating the tubeless ready tires into the rims (which I discovered when I did a quick test ride around Rotorua on my arrival). On the return trip I didn’t bother dropping the pressure (I was running ~30 psi for the trails there) and didn’t have any issues.

I’d also read (in numerous places) and also been advised that the weather could be a bit unpredictable, so I picked up a long-sleeve merino base layer just in case.

I also booked a small station wagon through Rent a Dent, as they offered the option of a bike rack, and pick up in Rotorua with drop-off in Auckland (albeit with a return fee). And accoms of course (but I’ll list those in future posts). As an Australian citizen with a valid license I was able to drive in NZ without any issue (right hand drive, left side of the road, very similar signage and road rules).

Tern P24h electric conversion

In about a week’s time, Angela and I will be moving to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We’re really looking forward to the shift (more on that another time perhaps), but as I’ll be commuting around 3 days a week I wanted to find a way to reduce the time it takes to get to and from the train station at either end (about 15 mins walk each end — so an hour a day).

Some time ago I started looking into a fold-up bike for work, in part inspired by Digital Eskimo’s “bike fleet” for staff. But also a reflection of the increase in my monthly expenditure on taxis since moving to our shared office at Redfern from the CBD. My friend Miream had also suggested I look into electric-powered bikes/conversion kits.

So I did a bit of digging and found two Sydney suppliers of electric bikes. After chatting to Jake at Sydney Electric Bikes (SEB) and trying out a folding Apollo Stowaway 2.0 at the store, I was excited by the idea.

SEB allows you to hire out an electric bike to “try before you buy” — so I hired the Apollo for a few days to see how it would work in practice. I had it over a weekend and used it to nip across to Parramatta from Merrylands, and then on the Monday I used it to travel from Redfern to Bondi for a client meeting. On both occasions there was a good mix of flats and hills, and at the end of the ride (about 10 mins to Parramatta and 15–20 mins to Bondi) I was quite comfortable — no overly sweaty — about the equivalent of a brisk walk.

While I was sold on the concept, I wasn’t sold on the actual bike. I stand at 185cm tall, and the Stowaway’s ride height was just too low for me. Also, the 8 speed gear set on the Apollo was too low also — once on a hill I was “freewheeling” which I find extremely disconcerting, especially in city traffic.

I’ve had my eyes on Tern folders for some time. They seem to be the natural successor to Dahon, who were leaders in fold-up technology until recently (there’s a lot of politics behind Tern/Dahon, but I’ll save you the details). I learnt from Jake at SEB that Tern are only distributing 4 models in Australia, the Link P9, Link P24h, Link C7 and Verge P18.

Fortuitously, Jake was able to arrange a demo bike, fitted with a rear motor, of the P24h. I tried out the bike and it was a much better fit. But unfortunately the rear mounted engine system left a lot to be desired (the Apollo was fitted with a front-wheel mounted motor). The Tern bikes’ front forks are too narrow for a front-mounted motor, but Jake and the crew started to explore options for how we might solve the problem.

It turns out that the Apollo front forks and stem are suitable to retrofit on the Tern, so that’s what we did. And after using the bike for the last week, I have to say the end result was worth the effort.

Tern P24h converted electric folding bike

The Tern is a terrific bike — I’m really enjoying riding it. The gearing and ride height are perfect for me. The 8 speed external and 3 speed internal hub gear set combination provides an excellent gear range, and I’ve been able to reach just under 50km an hour downhill on the bike, which is very zippy for a folder. The Tern’s folding mechanism is smooth and very easy to understand and use. I did a demo for some of the folks at work yesterday and they were very impressed with how quickly it packed down.

It’s perfect for the train trip in — I’ve stowed it a number of times this week on both the Blue Mountains trains (which have areas in the entrance to the cabin for bikes and luggage) and standard CityRail metro trains. The folding mechanism is important for train riding, as CityRail charge a child fare for non-folding bikes taken onto trains during peak hour.

I rode from Redfern to Gardeners Road in Alexandria (about a 5km ride) for a business meeting the other day (in my suit), and again the bike did the job beautifully, with only light exertion equivalent of a walk of similar length. The only (minor) thing I’m not 100% sold on are the pedals. The Apollo’s pedals seemed a better bit of kit to me.

I have to say, too, that I’ve been thoroughly impressed with SEB’s work. The ability to hire before you buy, and the extensive effort they’ve put into this conversion (being the first Tern they’ve converted there was a lot of trial and error) has made me a fan.

Jake is still looking into suitable front forks that may allow us to restore the Tern front stem, as the folding mechanism is smoother than the Apollo’s. But even if what I’ve got is what we end up going with, I think I’m going to be a very happy commuter.

Follow-up: TripIt confirmed bug

Just a quick update on the whole TripIt debacle.

The TripIt support team were very good in responding to the problem. While I didn’t get any money back, they didn’t throw me any legalese/boilerplate response, and took the issue seriously. Kudos to Ruth, the support rep who was my primary contact, for handling this well.

They responded by offering me an upgrade (worth $49 in $$ terms, but pretty useless to me in the context of what has happened, as the primary issue is the fact I no longer feel like I can trust the application) and looked into the matter.

The first suggestion was this was a daylight savings issue with my phone, (as a few folks have suggested to me personally or via Twitter) but I pointed out this didn’t seem to make sense because:

  1. The earlier flight on the same day is also displayed as AEDT and this is displaying correctly as 6:15am (as per the web-based application).
  2. The support team asserted that “in Australia and on April 3, 2011, Daylight Savings Time ended and I believe because the last flight (Virgin Blue 885) coincided with that date”, which was incorrect. The flight was for April 2 at 7:15pm and flight time was 1 hr and 15 mins, meaning I would have arrived in Sydney before 9pm on April 2. DST didn’t end here in Australia until 2am on April 3, well outside the range of that particular flight.
  3. Even if the flight did cross timezones, the departure time should reflect the timezone of departure, not the destination, so this still should not have happened.
  4. I confirmed the bug in both Melbourne under daylight savings (when the error occurred) and in Sydney (upon arrival the following day) outside of daylight savings — which suggests that it was not an issue with the settings on the phone, as the problem should not have exhibited before or after the timezone change, according to this explanation, but it clearly occurred in both timezones.

After this response, the team looked into it further and found:

It appears that in our system, for Melbourne, Australia, our system had the April 2 date listed as the end of Daylight Savings Time for EST.

I’ve immediately filed a ticket with our engineers to make sure that daylight savings time is properly picked up for Melbourne to fix this issue going forward. I’m also having our engineers double-check all timezones in Australia.

So the issue was confirmed as a daylight savings issue, but not related to my phone or setup.

While I still don’t think that particular finding fully explains the issue (if it clicked over on April 2 instead of 3, why was the first flight time on the same day correct?). But at least I’m glad that identifying the issue may avoid future issues for other TripIt users.

Warning: how TripIt cost me $300

NOTE: an update on TripIt’s confirmation of the bug and response.

A word to the wise — don’t rely on TripIt for your travel details.

Up until yesterday I was a big fan of TripIt. Their sign-up process was awesome, and it’s been a great way to keep track of my flight and accommodation details. It syncs with LinkedIn, which helps me keep in touch with my network. I know a number of people that use this service regularly.

Last night I was due to return from Melbourne (another uni trip). I was all set — I’d checked in prior, selected my seat, and was about to head off from one of my fave cafes when I checked the details of my flight in TripIt on my iPhone and realised that I actually had an hour to spare. So I dropped into Degraves for a lovely dinner and wine before heading out to the airport.

I only had to print my boarding pass and jump on the plane to get home. Or so I thought. Upon arriving I went to the mobile check-in and was informed I had to see the service desk. I’ve had seats reshuffled before, and assumed that there was some small thing like that. Alas, I found out that I was an hour late for my flight.

I rechecked the details and went back to my original itinerary only to find that I had, in fact, missed my flight. The first available flight was first thing this morning, so I had to arrange last minute overnight accommodation as well. Total cost: just over $300.

Thinking that I’d incorrectly entered the details, or that TripIt’s famous auto-entry feature had got the details wrong, I checked into the TripIt website. Going to the main TripIt website, my flight details are shown correctly:

TripIt website displaying correct details for my flight

So then, looking into it further, I rechecked the iPhone app and confirmed the time was incorrectly stated (note that the morning flight displays the correct time):

TripIt iPhone app displaying the incorrect flight tim

I acknowledge that perhaps I missed something to do with timezones and the like, but the only conclusion that I can come to is that it’s a bug there…

In hindsight there are a number of things I could’ve done to avoid this problem. If I’d checked my itinerary when I noticed the discrepancy. If I’d looked into my booking details on the airline website, or checked flight delays, perhaps I would have picked up the problem. But the whole point of using TripIt, and especially the iPhone app, is to have one trusted location for travel information. That trust has well and truly been broken.

I’ve reported this bug to TripIt and have asked them to clarify their position with regards to errors like this. I don’t expect to get much of a response (something along the lines of “our terms and conditions state that you use this at your own risk). But needless to say, I won’t be using TripIt in future.

I just hope this can serve as a warning for anyone else that’s using the app to avoid the same scenario.