Tag Archives: Reviews
Jun 16, 2017

New tandem headset system

Recently my very ancient review on the Tandem Club of America website brought me in touch with a blind tandemist from the Amsterdam area. Richard was hell-bent on finding a great solution as he has many “pilots” who don’t hear well. After exploring the Wiwi from Korea which looked promising but they were impossible to communicate with and had no refunds and another system that was $1000+ designed for surgeons, we settled on giving the Arbiter a try. They’re designed for, and widely used by, referees and sold in the USA with a brief return policy. They’re not inexpensive, about $500 for a pair with headsets (use the $25 coupon code you get when you subscribe). We decided given that our old Simultalk from Eartec was needing repair and they’re not making it anymore and we were tired of the wires of our very old Tandem-Com (note they do offer a wireless system but it’s using Eartec’s Simultalk) that it was worth trying the Arbiter since we’d have a narrow 3-day return window.

We rode about 55 miles yesterday with our new Arbiter system. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons. Bottom line, we’re keeping it.

Pros:

  • small & light weight
  • well-made and sturdy construction
  • excellent headset, can easily switch ears as needed
  • no interference experienced between us or with others around us
  • charged quickly in wall
  • wind did not seem to be an issue
  • Full Duplex Communication System (No Push-To-Talk required)
  • Waterproof (IP65)
  • lasted way longer than any other device we’ve tried which is a HUGE plus for us (advertised as 10+ Hours of battery Life)
  • Charged in about 2 hours (advertised as a charging Time: 3 Hours)
  • We could talk when pretty far apart (2 floors in our building still worked without line-of-site, and when it finally didn’t work and I returned to range it reconnected automatically) advertised up to 800-meter line-of-sight range
  • 1 Year Warranty

Cons:

  • the antennae and headsets plug protrude from opposite ends of the device. Not a huge problem but slightly awkward for putting in a jersey pocket
  • the headset cord is short….just long enough to go under the arm to the back pocket. Would be too short to use these headsets in a wired device as stoker couldn’t stand if connected to captain by wires. They are reportedly working on making it longer and it’s not an issue now.
  • sound quality was not as high fidelity as I’d like. Several times Spencer sounded garbled enough that I had to have him repeat. This was close to a deal-breaker for me but since Spencer’s hearing is not that great he didn’t notice. And I like so much about it we both think it’ll be OK. Their rep suggested we re-pair when away from any other blue-tooth to see if that helped. They were surprised as they’re known for good sound quality.
  • Bluetooth pairing has to occur and took a while to figure out. Then turning it on each time is a multi-step process which we’re still learning but not a big deal. The documentation for this is not great. But once you have it you never need it again.
  • You have to reestablish the necessary volume setting each time since it’s a +/- system and not a dial that can be left at the setting.

I’ll report back after we ride STP with it next month. That’s back-to-back centuries. We’ll need to charge overnight but theoretically they should hold up each day without issue.

Post-STP Update

We were VERY happy with our headsets on STP. We had the headset on and working from 6 AM to 6 PM both days with a 2-hour charge before going to bed Saturday night. It never failed us. Please note that if you mention that I referred you we get a tiny commission. Thanks!

May 8, 2017

Tandem Headset Review

This article originally appeared in the printed Doubletalk Magazine in 2012 and then migrated to the Tandem Club’s website.

We’ve been riding tandem since 1999. My Captain has a hereditary hearing loss so having some assisted listening device has been essential to our happiness riding together. In case you’ve never run into a tandem headset, it’s simply a way to make it easier for the Captain and Stoker to hear each other in wind and traffic without yelling at each other all the time. Typically there’s a pack that resides in the Captain’s back pocket that you both plug into. There used to only be two such devices available, Tandem Talk and Tandem-Com. And while one of those is gone now, there are finally new options to choose from.

We first learned about Tandem Talk shortly after beginning to ride tandem. They were a small family owned company who custom built a simple and affordable device ($80) that worked quite well. It was a wired device with an on-off switch and no volume control. The headset was in-the-ear and could be used in either ear though we preferred the right so our traffic-facing ears were unencumbered. The first time our Tandem Talk died was less than a week before we were heading to Europe to ride. They were SO accommodating, rushing us a new one overnight in time for the trip. Sadly, the company no longer exists. Therefore, as our old device is on its last legs after crossing the country with us this summer, we’ve been on a quest for a suitable replacement.

The only other long-standing device is the Tandem-Com. We tried that early on and found we preferred the Tandem Talk. Tandem-Com offers both a wired and wireless option and runs $369. We were comparing the wired version and didn’t like the fact that the volume needed to be adjusted every time it was turned on, and that the headset covered the left rather than the right ear.

Thankfully technology is catching up. For a long time now there’ve been Bluetooth devices for motorcyclists and if you search the web there are riders who’ve jerry-rigged the motorcycle headsets to work on bicycle helmets. That is no longer necessary. As of this season, the company who makes motorcycle headsets has developed a system for cyclists. We tried one out recently called Cardo BK-1 Duo. It had a transmitter that straps on the top of your helmet. Because it’s Bluetooth it has the advantage of being able to hookup with a smart phone, MP3 player and/or GPS so you can take calls and get directions in your ear. Sadly a brief test ride with this system left us unimpressed. There was a tinny echo and slight delay as we spoke to each other which was annoying. We found it completely unusable. UPDATE: As of mid-2017 this system is no longer available. There are other BlueTooth options out there but since we found them unacceptable we haven’t evaluated any of the new ones. See note below about one such option.

On to the next option: from Eartec in Rhode Island (my home state). They’ve been around a long time and build headsets for a wide assortment of specialized purposes. The Simultalk Cycle-Com Wireless System runs $300. It’s no longer on their website but they still have them available. Contact Eartec directly.  So far this system is a keeper.

Pros

  • Great natural sound
  • Comfortable lightweight headsets
  • Wireless and works up to 150 ft
  • Optional headset upgrade
  • Can carry a pre-charged backup battery for longer rides
  • It has a series of dip switches so the two packs can be set to communicate with each other on a unique channel that won’t compete with your Garmin or other technology. It took us a couple of rides to realize that’s why my heart rate monitor and cadence were no longer working. But with a little trial and error we ironed it out in no time.

Cons

  • The volume is controlled with the on switch so has to be reset with every use.
  • The battery pack can only be charged in the unit (takes 6 hours and should not be left charging more than 12 hours).
  • The battery pack will only last for about 4-5 hours of talk time, longer in standby mode.
  • The headset that comes with it is a left ear headset.
  • We tried the upgraded headset which costs more and is a right ear headset but it hurt the top of our ear where it sat.

On the horizon is a system out of Sweden called the Hiod. They don’t have it licensed for US sales yet so we haven’t tried it yet. Judging only from the website it looks to be an innovative and unique approach. Only time will tell how it performs and what it costs. Meanwhile, we are thrilled to have found the Eartec solution and hope you’ll find this information useful.

UPDATE (Summer 2015)

We are still using the Eartec device and find they need the batteries swapped every 4 hours. On longer rides this is somewhat tedious. It’s also a bit annoying to only be able to charge the batteries inside the device and the 6-12 hour window means one must plan your charging times. We now carry the wired TandemCom pack as a backup which has been helpful. Now that we’re comparing the sound to the wireless Eartec the wired TandemCom actually offers superior sound quality. Though it’s also not ideal to switch between wireless and wired. I still prefer having a wireless device. I hope someday someone will design the PERFECT solution, which none of these offer. If you find something please let me know!

UPDATE (Spring 2017)

I was contacted recently to see if I had any updates. I didn’t. But decided to see what was happening out there. Sadly, not much. The Hiod mentioned at the end of the original post is nowhere to be found now. Our Eartec batteries no longer charge. I contacted them and they said they’re discontinuing this model because the technology has “advanced” and they can include it all in the headset. I looked at the headset and laughed. It’s huge and would not work with a helmet. They assured me they’re working on a belt-pack that is due out this summer and we’d be able to continue to use our existing headsets that work with a helmet. There’s a new Bluetooth option Terrano-X that some might find acceptable. Our experience when testing BT in the past was unacceptable. With the close proximity of the captain and stoker the BT delay is disturbing as you hear both. But “your mileage may vary” so  check ’em out. If anyone finds another great solution, we’re all ears.

UPDATE (June 2017)

We bought a new headset. I’ve posted a whole new review about it.

Jul 7, 2014

Digital Pedometer Overview

jawbone-upEditor’s note: please read latest updates at the bottom.

To encourage more walking (10,000 steps a day to strengthen my bones) I decided to get one of those digital pedometers. I wanted one worn on the wrist. I thought I’d share my research.

FitBit is the most familiar name and has two models the Flex ($100) and Force ($130). The Force is newer, wider, syncs wirelessly and has a small display that serves as a clock. They actually had a recall due to the bands causing rashes.

Jawbone also has two models. The $130 one has to be plugged into your phone to sync data and the $150 UP24 now syncs with both Androids & iPhones. HOWEVER… it uses Bluetooth 4 (my phone isn’t new enough). But the Bluetooth sucks your phone battery dry.

Both have about the same capabilities. The Jawbone has significantly better customer service (American humans that are helpful vs no phone number at all for FitBit). And their app is far superior as well. Jawbone’s return policy is 60 days if you order off their website. I think it’s nicer looking and easier to use. It also comes in an assortment of colors.

Here is an article from Huffington Post about fitness bands and sleep detection. It basically concludes they can’t realistically tell whether or not you are sleeping, much less what stage sleep it is if they only rely on an accelerometer. And the New York Times did a whole feature section on this burgeoning category of consumer gadgets.

There are a wide host of apps to track your fitness both in conjunction and separate from a device. For tracking both activities and nutrition, including both macro and micro nutrients I found SparkPeople to be the comprehensive (free) website. It does sync with FitBit but not Jawbone UP.

I chose the UP (shown in the image) and have enjoyed it since January 2014.

4million-steps

Update (October 2014)
I’ve had to exchange my band twice since January due to the sleep button not functioning correctly. Both times they readily sent out a replacement with a pre-paid label to return the broken one. Also, I’ve been using a site called EveryMove that syncs the data and allows you to earn points toward purchases or donations to non-profits. Pretty cool to be able to donate money just for walking which I do anyhow.

Update (December 2014)
Jawbone has come out with UP3 which now includes heart rate monitor functionality. I also researched the online food tracking apps and found Spark People to be the best from the standpoint of being able to track micro-nutrients such as sodium and calcium and not just the macro-nutrients (carbs, fat and protein). There are many free choices and these devices generally will sync with them.

Update (January 2015)
It’s been a full year. This device has successfully motivated me to walk. The recommended goal is 10,000 steps a day and I nailed it! I felt pretty proud when I saw this. To be fair I did wear it on my shoe when cycling. But even so, I definitely got significantly more weight-bearing exercise last year due to this band.

BBC Article (June 17, 2015)

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit?

NEW! Thanks to friend Arden Clise for turning me on to this great resource where you try 5 different bands for two weeks! Sweet.

Update (May, 2017) – Bought a FitBit Alta HR

While my UP24 continued to work, the older blue tooth technology was competing with my phone’s headset necessitating too many gyrations. After some comparative shopping I decided to get a new band. My priority was small size for my tiny wrist. I settled on the FitBit Alta HR. I didn’t feel like I needed the HR version which includes heart rate, however when I found a deal that made them nearly the same price and realized that the band on the original Alta was inferior to the new Alta HR model, I used a 20% off coupon and went for it. I’ve had it a month now and really like it.

Pros – I no longer have to look at my phone for the time or my number of steps. And it’s nice to also have the heart rate when riding the tandem. I’m pretty happy. The app allows a lot of customization in how the display looks, what’s included, etc. And there does seem to be some community built around it.

Cons – Everyone on the FB user group and on the FitBit forums is complaining about the lack of ability to read the device outside. And it’s true. However, on my old band I always had to use the phone app. So for me it’s still a huge boon to be able to see the time and steps when indoors and even outside if it’s shady. It takes about two hours to charge rather than 90 minutes and only lasts 7-8 days instead of two weeks. Some of that depends on the settings you choose but I think I have it maximized.

May 7, 2013

Focal Standing work station

If you haven’t already read my first post from last December about standing workstations you might want to start there. It includes the background and lots of links to resources. I found the saddle stool to be a bit too wide for my pelvis and didn’t use it much. I was coveting the newly discovered Focal workstation but couldn’t figure out how to afford it, especially with the expense of the original saddle stool I wasn’t using. In February, while I was in Rhode Island to move my Mom home, I stopped by their office to try it out. Because they knew I was interested, when the Ergo Depot in Portland (where I’d bought my stool) had a Focal “scratch-n-dent” available at 30% off I jumped at the chance. Especially after they agreed to only charge a restock fee for the stool (an exception to their 30 day policy).

So last weekend, almost exactly 5 months after the initial purchase, we returned to Portland and after some family time, returned home with a 100 pound box on top of the car! The setup was pretty easy with their great videos to guide us. Here are a few photos. Only time will tell how my body adapts, but so far, so good. I’ll report back again in a few months.

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Dec 11, 2012

Standing work station for better health

Bambach

I sit at my desk, often without getting up, for way too many hours a day. Over the years I’ve tried setting alarms to get me up imagining I’d do a little yoga or climb some stairs in the building. It never lasts long. I’ve been aware of the standing desk movement for 20+ years but I’ve always thought it wasn’t for me due to the plate in my foot and my “bad back” (from scoliosis). Recently I connected up with a WordPress colleague who is a massage therapist and has a new niche called Office Fitness. He’s big on standing desks which got me exploring what’s out there.

The Whys

As it turns out, there’s a ton of new research out there and it’s pretty convincing. Mark Lukach‘s review of standing desks includes a host of links worth checking out. I’m not going to copy all he wrote but I do want to share a little in case you don’t head right over and read his whole article. Here are a couple of links and quotes from his detailed review:

The problem with sitting is essentially two-fold. AJ Jacobs, editor-at-large at Esquire, and author of the book Drop Dead Healthy breaks it down this way in his newest book:

The first part is obvious: We burn fewer calories when we’re sitting. The second part is more subtle but perhaps more profound: marathon sitting sessions change our body’s metabolism.

Jim Carlton writes, for The Wall Street Journal, ” A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours, while the early-death rate for men was 18% higher.”

And the final info from Mark’s article was the most convicincing for me (as an exerciser):

No, really, exercise only helps a little bit, or not at all. Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist and research fellow in biology at Imperial College London who writes on the “influence of science and biology on modern life” for The New York Times, says,

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

My process

Suddenly I had a fire lit under me to do something about this. I decided to experiment. First I borrowed a “perching stool” from our cohousing friends at Schemata Workshop. I liked it conceptually but my desk was the wrong height and the stool a bit too uncomfortable for long usage.

Then I had good friend Bill W. create blocks to lift my desk so I could see what it was like to stand at my desk. Surprisingly, not too bad. In fact I found that just the very act of standing caused me to do more stretching and moving around which is great. BUT…one cannot (and should not) stand still all day any more than sit all day. The borrowed stool needed my feet on the floor which was no longer possible with the taller desk. So I borrowed a different one from Spencer’s school. It was too high and too hard. Sounds like Goldilocks doesn’t it?!

So I started looking on the web to see what was out there and stumbled on a nearly local expert on standing work stations, Ergo Depot “the healthy sitting experts”, located in Portland, Oregon. In case you’re doubtful why I even bothered exploring standing desks let me share their compelling video called  Sitting is Killing You:

After exploring stools that would work at my height-boosted desk for when I needed to be seated I decided I liked the idea of a saddle stool. The higher quality ones are the Bambach and the Salli. I needed to TRY them before buying online. Luckily Portland is only 3 hours by car. We spent my birthday driving down to try these two plus a couple of other options on the showroom floor. I came home the proud new owner of the Bambach (shown below). It’s not been a week yet so I’m still getting used to it. But I like it. It really puts my spine in alignment and feels good.

BambachI had hoped I could just use my desk on blocks for awhile but I’m already seeing that having an adjustable height desk will make a big difference. While I can both stand and sit now with my monitor and keyboard at approximately good heights, I’m already noticing that depending on my shoes everything needs adjusting. I do not want to trade back pain for carpel tunnel from having my keyboard at the wrong height!

So now I’m in the process of deciding about an adjustable desk. One interesting possibility was the Kangaroo adjustable height desk. However I decided for the money the surface wasn’t large enough. This Forbes review: Six Desks to Save You from Death by Sitting offers many other options. The best bang for the buck is clearly Ergo Depot‘s offering if you want something electrically powered. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and patient. And they stock the best selection at the best price. I highly recommend them. They ship free so you don’t need to live nearby. I’ll be buying my desk from them in January.

The latest offering in this burgeoning category of furniture is from the founder of Keen who has invented an innovative combo solution called Focal. Check out their website’s article on Sitting Disease and their current list of what major medical research is finding out about the health risks of sitting to much, sitting disease and more.

For those on a tight budget you can skip the electric aspect and find many low cost standing desk options at this creative site called Ikea Hackers (search on standing desks). And for those who want something less static try treadmill desks! I’m pretty sure they’re not for me! But you never know, I didn’t think standing was either.

New links

Is Standing the New Smoking by Eileen Lonergan

Update: Brian Williams did a feature story on NBC January 10, 2013:
Obesity expert says daily workouts can’t undo damage done from sitting all day

Update: The New Yorker, May 20, 2013 Walking Alive,  an article on treadmill desks

Update: Another website called Just Stand offers a lot of research and facts.

Update: Just found this excellent post that includes video on posture and proper sitting/standing.

Update: Washington Post, Health Hazards of Sitting, January 2014

Follow-up: I returned the stool and bought a Focal!

FUN Option: Hamster Desk will keep you moving!

 

Sep 30, 2002

Osteoporosis

If you have been diagnosed with Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, as Sheila has, and don’t want to take Fosamax, there is a new weight vest that can add to your bone density. By adding weight high on the body your bone gets stronger while you walk, exercise or do chores. There is a lot of great info and research on this site.

To learn more about Osteoporosis and why you might not want to take Fosamax, read this article from Alternative Medicine Magazine, 4/2007, Bones of Contention by James Keough. Here’s a PDF copy of the same article.

And here’s what Joel Fuhrman, MD has to say on Osteoporosis. He offers a simple 10 exercise video you can do anywhere without props to build strong muscles therefore strong bones. And this is a newer hour-long audio with Michael Klaper, MD doing a Q&A on osteoporosis. It’s targeted to a vegan audience but full of useful information.

your-bonesYour Bones: How You Can Prevent Osteoporosis & Have Strong Bones for Life Naturally by Lara Pizzorno

“The information is presented in a straightforward and easy-to-read style that will be understandable to lay readers. Consumer(s)…looking for [a] book about the natural ways to prevent osteoporosis would do well to choose this title.” —Library Journal

“Lara Pizzorno emphatically raises the red flag on conventional bone medicine…. Highlighting natural prevention and treatment strategies for different situations, Your Bones offers uncomplicated scientific advice for bone health.” —Spirit of Change Magazine

There are several good articles by Lara Pizzorno on the supplement AlgaeCal‘s website. is now my supplement of choice.

amazon-review

Related article of interest on Digital Pedometers.