The story behind Veloloop

Sometimes, as bike commuters, we meet the most interesting people at stoplights. Maybe it’s because we’re not ensconced in metal-and-glass shells, so we seem more accessible. I’ve met my share of folks at stoplights; just ask my friend Gordon R, who sometimes posts here as “The Other GR”. We met at a stoplight in Tampa and became fast friends.

A few weeks ago, I was out riding at an unusual hour (for me), trying to get some night shots of a dynamo light I am testing. At a stoplight, another cyclist rolled up behind me and asked me about the light. We got to talking, and he mentioned that he is the inventor of the technology behind Veloloop.

Have you seen this thing? Veloloop uses radio signals to communicate with the induction loops that control stoplights, and triggers them in a way that bicycles sometimes cannot on their own. Turns out the inventor lives a block away from me, and holds a variety of patents. He wishes to remain anonymous for the time being, but was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Bikecommuters.com. Veloloop has already received favorable press in a number of news outlets, including Outside Magazine and Bike Radar.

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A couple of weekends ago, my neighbor and I met and he demonstrated how Veloloop works. I hung back to watch so as not to inadvertently trigger any stoplights. I can say that the device really works — my friend would roll over the induction loop, the light on the Veloloop device would blink for a bit and then go steady, and the crosswalk countdown timer would start ticking away. Seconds later, we had a green light to proceed!

BC: How did you come up with the idea?

Many years ago a co-worker asked if it would be possible to do something like this. There are other approaches in the patent literature, but I found them to all be a little less than elegant. I’ve done a fair amount of radio design, and I had studied how to make radios that transmitted while they received, and eventually I realized how to apply that knowledge to this problem.

How long have you been working on Veloloop?

I spent a significant amount of time over the 1999-2008 timeframe learning how traffic sensors work and exploring various ways to electronically activate them. Then about two years ago Nat Collins approached me because he wanted to do something similar and had seen my patents. So, we cooperated and developed a practical version.

How does Veloloop work?

First, you have to understand how the loop sensors work. They are really just big metal detectors. They transmit a high frequency signal into a loop of wire beneath the road surface. That loop has an electrical property called “inductance”. Inductance is a measure of how much magnetic field is creted by a current. When a car drives over the loop, the inductance changes. It actually goes down. This is because the metal in the car intercepts some of that magnetic field. The sensor detects this sudden change in inductance.

There are several ways to do this, but usually the sensor’s own frequency depends on the inductance, so it can notice a sudden change in frequency to indicate vehicle presence. The key thing here is that it’s a high frequency signal, and the inductance changes when a vehicle is present.

The Veloloop has a transmitter. Once it figures out what frequency the loop is using, it sends back a signal at *almost* the same frequency. In fact, the signal it sends back deliberately varies its frequency, a little high, then a
little low, etc., just to be sure all bases are covered. It is able to keep listening while it transmits to make sure it is still over a sensor and near the right frequency. This transmitted signal gets picked up by the loop in the ground and looks to the detector like a sudden change in inductance. Voila, the bicycle gets detected.

How prevalent are inductive loop traffic sensors in the U.S.? Are there other technologies to detect cars and bicycles at intersections?

They appear to be going away in some areas, and are being replaced by vision systems. Vision systems are often unable to detect bicycles and have trouble with accumulation of dirt. Inductive sensors are still common in many places and there are several well-established companies making them and coming out with new models. I expect them to be around for a long time.

What is some of the backlash you’ve seen regarding press coverage of the Veloloop in news sources? Any persistent myths that bicyclists repeat?

Much of the backlash comes from the fact that often proper placement of the bicycle over the sensitive part of the sensor is adequate to generate detections. So, there is a perceived lack of need for an active device. There is also the stupid idea that if you don’t get detected, it may be permissible to run the light.

In reality, there are many detectors that are just unable to detect bicycles regardless of placement, and many situations where it would just be a whole lot safer, faster, and more convenient to get detected. This is where the Veloloop can help. It also takes a burden off of traffic departments who often have trouble fiddling with sensitivity.

Oh, and then there’s the “magnet myth”. This is the urban legend that says that putting magnets on your shoes will somehow trigger the sensors (Editor’s note: I was guilty of believing in this myth — had a hard-drive magnet glued to the bottom of my cycling shoes back in Florida). As I pointed out, the sensors use a high frequency signal while a magnet produces a static field. They are not the same. This old idea is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of electromagnetics and has been disproven many times. What probably happens is that someone glues a magnet to their shoe or frame, and then proceeds to place their bike over the sensitive part of a cooperative loop, and gets a detection. They think it was due to the magnet, but in reality it was the placement (or the car that came by in the opposite direction). Enough people have done the scientific test with just a magnet without a bicycle at a deserted intersection, to debunk this one.

Anything else we should know? Any improvements in the works, or other details to share?

We’ve looked at eliminating the loop and using the bicycle frame as an antenna. That would involve some big up-front costs to make a special transformer, so we didn’t start there. We are also looking into the motorcycle market. We’ve have a lot of inquiries there. Neither of us (the Veloloop developers) are motorcycle owners, so we don’t have first-hand knowledge of the requirements.

Recently, the VP of engineering at a major induction loop manufacturer contacted us to test one of the Veloloop devices. He can tell us just what effect the unit is having on their sensors (trigger, error condition, etc.).

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Editor’s note: The Veloloop’s Kickstarter campaign is struggling a bit — so there’s still time to contribute if you’re interested. We’d like to thank the developer for taking time to demonstrate the device and for answering our questions. We’ll have a followup once the induction loop manufacturer submits his report, too.

Friday Musings: 5 Signs You May Be a Paranoid Bike Commuter

Mir.I.Am confesses that she may be a paranoid bike commuter. Any other Bike Commuters readers out ther partake in paranoid lock-up behavior? Or do you more faith in humanity and the greater bike population?!

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Hey there Bike Lovelies. It’s fall/autumn/friggin’-awesome season for commuting again! Has everyone sufficiently converted an office-mate to stick with bike commuting since the ye ole days of Bike To Work Week back in May? I hope none of you have decided that Spring and Summer are over, and fenders and rain slicks are just not your jam… But even if you are a fair-weather commuter, high five, my friends. High Frickin Five. I’m personally a big fan of the autumn season, as there are some days when you can ride up a big hill and still miraculously arrive at your destination sweat free and rain gear free. Gone are the hot hot days of summer. Bring on the apple cider themed drinks and galoshes.

Yellow Boots #cambridge #street #bikeride #bikes #ground #wet #rain #feet #boots #lowangle #2012 #downpour
photo: courtesy of David Bunting on flickr

So, enough of the rambling. And on to the musing. It’s been awhile since we’ve come up with a Friday Musings posts, but I decided to bring it back, because, well – there’s just no other explanation for why the hell this topic would be on the blog!

It all started with a recent realization that I may be a paranoid bike commuter. What the eff does that mean, you ask? I mean the kind of commuter that thinks that every living, breathing, opposable-thumb having soul is OUT TO GET YOUR RIDE. A group of visiting clients from Honolulu asked me, “So, is Seattle the type of place where people get their bikes stolen? Or no, because so many people ride bikes that no one would steal one?” I responded that I assume everyone ever wants to steal my bike from everywhere. But, honestly, I had no idea! (You can have a better idea, if you want to click on this link for bikewise.org, where people report thefts and crashes and they populate to a google map).

Then, I looked around at all the bikes parked at my office indoors, with keycard access only, at the bike lounge/loading dock area and realized that my bike had a very high lock-to-bike-value ratio compared to some of the other pickins’ in the corral. Take a looksies below…

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One cable lock, with helmet, panniers, and lights all up for the taking!
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Cannondale road bike tied up with a garden hose, lights, bike computer, saddle bag AND helmet – open season!
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Completely UNLOCKED Marin Hybrid. The equivalent of free-ballin. Just letting it all hang out there.

This was a huge leap of faith in my fellow office companions today, as I decided to leave my planet bike blinkie and front lights on the mount, instead of grabbing them and stowing away in a Golom/my precious, LOTR, creepy fashion. Trust in humanity was confirmed, when I returned 11 hours later, and my lights were still there. I’ve got to say, however, that I was still skeptical and kept a backup set of lights in my bag in case someone decided to get frisky.

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Cantaloupe, a clunker bike that’s no good for hills, U-lock on the back tire and frame, cable through the helmet straps and front wheel, and debating if someone might want my blinkie lights.

So, since I forkin’ love lists, I thought I’d write one for you.

5 Signs you may be a PARANOID Bike Commuter:

  1. No Accessories Left Behind
  2. U-Lock + Cable, Even Indoors
  3. You Lock Up for a Coffee Run/Mail Box Drop, Etc.
  4. You Think About Stealing Unlocked Bikes, Always
  5. You Get PTSD When You Think About That One Time  A Homeless Dude Stole Your Seat Post/Wheel/Etc.

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Lucky for me, there’s only been one time an unlocked (non quick release) wheel was stolen from my bike while at the movies. And I don’t act on my evil intentions of stealing unlocked bikes. And my crazy paranoid precautions have kept my bikes within my possession, regardless of how unnecessary they may seem. Any other Bike Commuters readers out there partake in other paranoid lock-up behavior? Or do you have more faith in humanity and the greater bike population? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Hiking socks for biking?

We we’re all about multi-purpose and re-purposing things here at BikeCommuters.com. So when it comes to apparel, we wanted to make sure that things we wear while riding can double as apparel for other activities such as hiking, camping and etc. With that in mind we reached out to one of our favorite backpacker-world traveler Chasie D. She’s sharing with us some information about socks.

Are you planning on taking an outdoor excursion with a few friends? If so, biking/hiking socks are essential apparel to your adventure; especially if it’s going to be a long one. While there are numerous travel sites that offer great advice in terms of clothing and safety tips, very few actually address these foot-warming wonders. So what are some of the top tips that will enable you to choose the best pair for your next trip?

Thickness

What climate are you planning to be in? Will it be a temperate environment or are you planning a trek across the Scottish Highlands? In either scenario, temperature plays an important role. Thicker socks are obviously better for colder climates and they will provide an extra level of comfort for your feet while they are pressed against your shoes. Thinner models are essential to avoid excessive sweating in tropical locations. Excess sweat can easily lead to the development of fungus.
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Aeration

How easily can your feet breathe within the sock? This is critical for two reasons. First, the aforementioned sweating concern needs to be taken into account. Secondly, feet that are sweaty within a cold environment risk developing hypothermia. In cold areas, this can even lead to frostbite! On a final note, socks which are aerated also tend to dry quicker. This is the reason that cotton has always been a preferable material over wool or polyester.

Layering

Professional hikers will often layer their socks. This keeps the feet warmer and the outer pair helps to provide a dry barrier against elements such as snow and water. Also, materials which are layered will contain tiny pockets of air. Air is actually one of the best insulators against the cold. So, it only stands to reason that layering your socks is a great tip when it is frigid or wet.

Good socks are one of the most important concerns while planning an outdoor journey. Thankfully, there are countless manufacturers of quality materials and with these tips, you can be certain that you are completely prepared for your upcoming adventure!

A doctoral student needs our help!

A doctoral student at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health in Brooklyn, New York named Mark Hoglund reached out to us a while back to gauge our interest in an online survey. The survey aims to collect bicycle commuter data — here, let me have Mark explain it better:

A RESEARCH STUDY ABOUT BICYCLING AND SAFETY

DEAR FELLOW BICYCLE RIDERS,

IF YOU ARE 18 OR OLDER, please take part in an anonymous survey for a research study about bicycling practices and bicycling accidents. The survey will take only about 15-20 minutes to fill out.

IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER OR NOT YOU HAVE HAD AN ACCIDENT RIDING YOUR BICYCLE. Your answers will help researchers find out how to make bicycling safer. YOU WILL NOT BE ASKED FOR YOUR NAME.

No one will find out how you answered the questions.

TO GO TO THE SURVEY, please use this link: http://survey.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_eXRDaDI9sn3TrrT

THANK YOU! If you have any questions, please feel free to call me. (I won’t ask you to tell me your name.)
Mark W. Hoglund
Doctoral Student
School of Public Health
SUNY Downstate Medical Center
450 Clarkson Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11203

Again, you can access the survey online by clicking here. Please fill it out and share it as much as you can with other bicyclists — the more responses, the better the data! Thanks from all of us here at Bikecommuters.com.

Some basic commuter tips

Bike commuting is a great way to stay active, save money, and help the environment at the same time. With your route planned out, and the proper mindset, you can set yourself up for a great experience. But without a little thought and the wrong setup, you could be setting yourself up for disaster.

Pick the right bike for the job

A lot of riders ride simple bikes to work every morning, and some ride the Ferraris of the bike industry to work. An expensive bike is fine but you don’t need it. The idea of commuting to work is to save you money. If your morning commute is mostly flat, there is no reason for a carbon fiber road bike with 30 gears. A simple bike that fits you comfortably, meets your budget, and has around 5 to 10 gears will suffice.

If you plan to commute at night or early enough in the morning that lights on a car would be required, you may want to also look into front and rear bike lights, as many states are now requiring them.

Protective gear
Not every state requires an adult to wear a helmet. Any seasoned rider can tell you there is no shame in wearing a bike helmet. In 2009, 91% of all bike fatalities were due to not wearing a helmet. These can and most likely will save your life. Although your commute might not be long, you will still be surrounded by other bikers and cars. Anything can happen, but know this. There are all kinds of helmets in all kinds of styles and shapes. Some of them are pretty amazing and comfortable.

As you will also be commuting near roads and highways, you may want to invest in some protective glasses or goggles to protect your eyes. Like helmets, these come in all forms of shapes and sizes and can even be made to prescription as needed. You’ll want to be sure these protect you from the sun’s UV radiation and are sturdy enough with polycarbonate lenses, as regular lenses offer less protection from small rocks and other debris flung from cars passing by.

Keep it simple
Take the time to get on your bike and ride to work on your days off. Take different routes and time yourself to see which one will save you more time. Also keep in mind the type of traffic and obstacles you may encounter during the morning work rush. You may also want to keep a backup route in mind in the case that there is an accident or road construction.

Carry only what you need
If your daily commute is only a few blocks, there is no reason to pack for a huge journey. Carry what you need for your day in a back pack or a messenger bag. If you normally carry a brief case, find a bike rack that will best accommodate it.
Make sure that in your pack to carry an emergency kit, emergency contact info, and possibly a rain kit just in case. The emergency kit should consist of at least an extra tube, tire levers, and a tire pump. Tire pumps come in many forms and sizes, so be sure to find one that fits your tube style and will not weigh you down too much. For rain gear, a simple poncho and rain pant will suffice, and usually only weigh a small amount.

If you are worried about carrying your dress clothes with you, or wearing them on your commute, you may want to stash a couple shirts, jacket, and a pair of shoes for work , in you cubicle or office. It might also be a good idea to keep a towel and clean up kit in your office just in case.

Bike security
Unless your office allows you to bring your bike inside, you may have to store it in a bike rack, or attach it to a sign post, or some other immovable object near your work. In most cases a u-lock will do the job by simply running it through your rear tire and frame. If you are worried this will not work, you may want to invest in a longer cable style lock. With a cable lock you can run it through you rear tire, frame, front tire, and then around the object you would like to attach your bike to. If you bike seat is attached to a quick release, you may want to take that and any other item that would be easily stolen with you.