The Smitty Report Handlebar candy… Part of the allure and joy of cycling for me is found in the hardware. Bike frames, shifters, derailleur, bottom brackets, drop outs, cassettes, Rims, seats, spokes, packs, tires, chains, lights and handlebar candy, that’s right, handlebar candy, toys, bells, whistles, beepers, flashers, computers, heart rate monitors, GPS, cell phones, tassels, wraps… etc. You know, crap that Ancient Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal cyclist never even dreamed were possible much less actually needed during the early days of cycling. Now in our modern age of “make everything out of shiny bright colored Chinese plastic and hawk it to Americans” we can pretty much encapsulate an entire espresso maker, replete with milk frother, and mount it directly to your handlebars. I desperately try to resist such fads. I keep an uncluttered and simple dash on my bike, an incredi-bell, an Air-zound and a Planetbike Protégé 9.0 wireless computer. My handlebars are uncluttered and easy to maintain. I like life uncluttered and simple, although our old friend entropy is constantly jumbling and cluttering things incessantly, including my mind. Often I find myself dismissing the contemplation of items and accessories for my ride based on the fact that I simply cannot tolerate a messy cluttered ride, I carry enough already and adding to the equipment simply must be justified by there being an actual use for the addition, whatever it may be. A couple of years ago I took a tour through southern Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. Nothing all that special just a relaxing ride loosely based on the ACA’s Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. While prepping for this ride I came across a little device that seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for such a trip, a bicycle inclinometer. I toyed with the thought of purchasing one and started looking into who made them and which were worth having. There were, at one time, cycle computers that had built in inclinometers and I think some of those are still available but for the most part they are not made any longer to my knowledge. After a short search I discovered a unit called the “Sky-Mounti”. This unit is relatively simple and small. In simplest terms it is an oil filled bubble level, as simple as it gets. I am a real sucker for high functioning elegant simplicity so this was a unit for me. The specs- The unit is less than 30 grams, 64mm by 48mm by 26mm and measures gradient in % with a scale of +/- 21%. The inclinometer attaches to 31mm or 26mm handlebars and comes complete with rubber spacers to adapt to nearly anything. Figure 1, The hardware Performance- The meter itself functions flawlessly after being calibrated. Calibration is very simple to achieve and surprisingly does not require a perfectly level piece of pavement, but it does require a “flat” spot. To calibrate the unit, find a flat spot on the road or sidewalk and set the unit where the bubble is between the “0’s” on the scale. Then pick up your bike and flip it 180 degrees in the exact same spot where it stands so that now the bike is facing the opposite direction, and look at the scale. You will most likely see an error of some magnitude on the scale at this point. This error has to be divided between both bike positions in that flat spot, so, move the meter until half of the error is eliminated, then flip the bike again and check the meter. The thing you are trying to do is get the same error reading in opposite directions, thereby distributing the error across the scale. This method necessarily sets the meter to zero every time. I can usually get it on the first try and it only took a couple of tries to understand how it worked. I must point out here that when mounting this device, do NOT tighten the meter to your bars with allot of force. Over tightening causes the lower mounting bracket to split and it keeps you from being able to adjust the meter to zero when you need to. Simply tighten the bracket strap until the unit resists movement but yet can still be tweaked with some small amount of force. Using the unit is simple. Simply look down on the scale when pedaling up hill and observe where the upward edge of the bubble is indicating. The unit requires that you lean forward or stand up to view it accurately but I never found this to be an issue. Of course I do not need to tell you that when reporting your days ride to fellow cyclists it is obligatory to add at least 15% to your steepest reading, 15 miles to the length of the climb and 15mph to your speed of ascent. This is a time honored ritual and proven method of conveying a days climbs because the cyclist listening to your report naturally and instinctively deducts the same amounts from any reported adventure, so everything balances out in the end ;^). Figure 2, The scale. Figure 3, Notice the crack in the end of the bracket from overtightening. Pros and Cons- Ok, I know that this unit is in fact a big fat hunk of handlebar candy. It is smooth and bright shiny plastic and cheap. It doesn’t do much and really only takes up space on already precious handlebar real estate. I will admit to having a moment (or two) of weakness when I purchased the unit (hey, I am human) but in defense of what seems to be a completely compulsive venture (which it was) I must say that the little bubble works very well and I had no trouble using it at all, in fact it was quite reliable. The best part of the unit, and one thing that was not advertised, was the way in which it started conversations among fellow cyclists. It seems everybody who saw it simply had to know what it was. After explaining the device to them most simply smiled and turned away with a chuckle on their breath silently uttering “sucker” as they walked away, but ½ of 1% of riders demanded to know where I had bought such a wonderful and indispensable piece of equipment. Yes it is a great conversation starter, well, kind of. Bottom line, if you really need to know the inclination of your climb (other than to make you sweat) it is a good solution in an elegant, easy to use and simple design and it is fairly cheap (around $20). By the way, I took mine off the bars, there is not much call for it here in South Florida ;^)… What is more, my cell phone (DroidX) has a built in inclinometer that performs the same function when nestled in its carrier cradle (who knew?). Anybody wanna buy a Sky Mounti? Cheap!