Wednesday 24 October 2018

3T Strada Pro Review - First Impressions

First Impressions Summary:
super bike looks, ride, speed, feel and handling at pro bike cost:
The 3T Strada Pro blue paintwork is stunning and prefer it to Red, Black and other blue available in higher spec frame.
The 3T Strada Pro begs for speed like a tri / TT bike, has the geometry to most likely handle extensions properly like a TT bike (I cannot stand the twitchy handling of road bike geo with extensions) but handles like a road bike when you need to do a group ride / road race; and as such can probably replace both my road and tri bike in one. 

Strada 3T pro first review Highs

  • Rolls, rides and handles like a superbike, with the geometry to handle extensions for TT (yet to be tested)
  • All carbon contact where you expect on a super bike (crank, bars, seta post) / more expensive bike, lacking in similar priced complete pro level bikes

  • Stunning paint, details and details, everywhere you look
  • Quarq power ready is nice, and again a super-bike detail
  • It seems to do both: it is definitely replacing my shiv, and may even replaced my tarmac, in a way the Venge, and even the Cervelo S series, etc has never managed to seem convincing. The Strada is not a compromise like all other aero-road bikes I have tested; its an evolution, and you get the feeling Gerard Vroomen has made here the bike he has always wanted to make. Now that, its a privilege in itself, and is a bike I want to ride and ride!

  • It begs you to give it (and have) Summer peak fitness in October, yet unlike a tri bike, you can sit back and enjoy when you are just not rested enough or (insert one of many reasons) you just can't wind it up to 11

  • Its perfectly poised and comfortable on all terrains and in both the wet and dry I have tested so far, though with a slightly different rebound rate, more if which in final thoughts below.
  • The stealth aerobat is very, very nice and worthy of a review in itself.
  • The seatpost comes with anchors for bottle cage, etc and is the hardest seat tube I have ever cut, though it has slipped down on a wet ride.
  • You know you are riding the future; everybody asks what’s it like, in the way that you know they want one!
  • Handling, again, was able to tail whip on harsh braking shows it likes to play, and can play, but was in no way worrying to me or other riders, like other disc brake bikes I have seen squirrel under hard braking. In short I hit every corner and downhill section at the speed I reserve for my best handling bikes, but on the first ride out.
    Stunning details everywhere you look. The seat stays are wire-thin, seat post has plenty of clearance but still noticeably "aero-close". A fine piece of Italian design it is.

Strada 3T pro first review Lows

  • The wheels are alloy rather than carbon, and initially thought I would be swapping them straight out, however so far I did not notice the extra weight on the (7% average) box hill climb at least, but will come back on this one. So far they sound and roll as good as anything I have ridden, I like the 35mm sweet spot (the most aero I have tried that I never needed to/wanted to ease off with on a windy section) am enjoying the extra stiffness

  • Saddle - overly long old school long thin wedgie special… swapped before first ride, and at this level I am usually picking more serious and hard to change things like swapping out crap allow handlebars that need a re-wrap and often even new cabling..
  • Seatpost slipped on first wet ride, fixed by actually adding the supplied carbon paste... yes I know I should know better... thank you...
  • Having to cut seatpost with this design, as with shiv, etc. But then if it does replace a TT bike (which requires even more fettling) then I will forgive that, there was something also very satisfying at how hard the carbon was to cut!
  • it came without bar tape installed… If I had known I would have ordered another tape I like, but no biggie, am going with what came for now and it has great grip in wet, which is handy from October on in UK!
  • Would like to have the option to go even wider, with 28c tyres on Enve 4.5ARs, Reynolds ATR maybe, but some have said they get rub at this side... will proceed with caution, but do not want to drop a fortune on wheels at mo
  • The brakes have a long, long amount of travel before they kick in, I can adjust to that in general, however it makes one finger braking difficult on rougher tarmac fast sections (despite what people in the world may think, that in Britain we have roads as smooth as a cucumber sandwich with the crusts cut off, the truth is that British road surfaces are truly woeful) as the lever starts cutting into the fingers that are holding the bar. This may have a fix and will investigate, and from first investigations is not a 3T /3T bar issue but a road disc brake issue....

Coming from a Specialized Shiv and Specialized tarmac as my go-to road bikes, and having since converted them both to 1X for their reliability and simplicity, having also made the transition from triple to double to 1X on the mountain bike, from triple to double to 1x on the road bike - when the 3T Strada came out I knew I wanted one: the question was what build... enter the Strada Pro making it all very easy
The Strada 3T Pro instantly feels at home on your usual routes, scoring Strava trophies even on gentle rides
I had also been fitting ever fatter tyres and wondering whether to go disc brake or not. I did not get my tarmac in 2016 in an s-works disc version, as I did not like the fact that rear hubs still seemed (and turned out to be) in flux and that the brakes were non series in the Shimano I looked at at the time at least - so you were getting all dura ace or Ultegra groupset, except the brakes, which were Shimano Rxxx or whatever they were. while both the Shiv and Tarmac now handle 25mm tyres on 21mm wide runs (making them a 28mm tyre) that is pushing it and the Strada should handle 28mm on wide rims, which I will be trying next.
With a bike that looks this good, prepared to hear a lot of "nice bike" comments - if you are shy, get the black frame option
I also still have to say, there is something cleaner, lighter and simpler about a top-end rim brake bike, at least from a purist point of view: I have gone to a lot of effort to select mostly blacked out and to my  spec parts for my bike, like scouring the internet for limited edition sram red black edition brakes, which are not only more powerful than the gawky red, silver ones, but are also dual pivot. The bike is, as some would say, sick. However the minute it rains, or you are on a hard downhill after a hard uphill, tired, etc. the is no question that disc brakes are better.
One of the finest top-caps in industry. Cable routing requires some trimming at some point when I dial in the stem / cut steerer, etc.

Why get a Strada 3T, Pro or otherwise

So first off, the Strada 3T for me was  one of those biles that when it was launched I went “oh hello” someone has designed a bike just for me :) 
  1. I have been converting road bikes to 1x for years, frustrated by the fact that the only thing to go on long rides or play havoc with a race for me had ever been front chain drops due to front derailed issues or chain dirt issues that a front derailed is just not well equipped to handle.
  2. I love short chainstays
  3. I never could live with bar extensions on a pure road bike as the geometry makes them twitchy - that maybe fine in a closed road pro-race, but for amateurs that is downright dangerous, and I will never draft someone using this combo for that reason. This promises to change that, and if so will be replacing my tri specific bike in 2019
  4. I hate chain slap and 1X cures this
  5. The only thing I hate more than chainslap is chain drop, and on a 2x roadbike it is always into the frame, which is just awful and costs a lot of time in a race and requires you to man wrench the chain physically with the bike upside down... ugh. On 1x its always outwards, and can be reattached in seconds, without inverting the bike or touching the chain (tyre lever / stick).
  6. love wide clearance
  7. love aero
  8. I have to admit I had been looking at the Strada 3T for a while
Box Hill in the rain is not my first choice, but the bike handled it admirably, here you can see where I forgot to add carbon paste to seat post assembly and the post slipped in the wet... The bike comes with a pouch of it for a reason doh!
Make no mistake, this is a super bike. Whilst some may scoff and say that this has a cheaper carbon layup that it’s team level sibling, there is never a feeling that this has been paired down to encourage you to upgrade: it comes with carbon bars, carbon seatpost, and a killer paint job that is arguably better than it’s more expensive siblings. If I had to nitpick, which many will, it would be at the alloy wheels, coming in at a hefty 1700+ grams vs the 1500 of carbon equivalents, however I cannot really do that as they sound, accelerate, corner and perform impeccably to the point that everybody who has ridden it thinks they are carbon. They also come in at 20c internal width, which makes them more difficult to immediately change out, as I thought I would and the bike snob within us urges us to do.
You know you are dealing with a design icon, the minute you set eyes on the 3T Strada in the flesh
When you know you are riding a super bike is at key moments, like being able to go as fast as you would on your well known bike on descents and corners, where you would normally er with caution, until you work out a non super bikes quirks.
I had never stopped at this hill before, but after two weeks of longhaul travel, the Strada was asking me for speed I just could not keep delivering! Here with Quarq power ready dzero spider power meter added and the "Quarq ready" sticker removed :)
You also know you are riding a super bike when you get a bit of tail whip at 20-30 while hard braking on your first proper ride, it was wet, the tyres were not even bedded in, and you just carry on with a smile on your face thing “wow, this bike handles”

Immediate upgrades:

  • Saddle

3T Strada Pro upcoming upgrades:

  • Quarq power spider dzero to do the sram / quark (added already)
  • Overdrive / bailout casette (Arrived, waiting to install)
  • Qrings down to 44t to match bailout (in my stock cupboard, tho may go for 46T...)
  • XD-R drive (arrived)
  • barfly extension (blacked out) ready to install but cannot find a torque wrench that works with the reverse bolts of the excellent Arx stem
  • extensions for triathlon days / tri training

3T Strada Pro upgrade wishlist

  • a wheel set that is almost 30mm wide external, 21mm + internal to go 28mm with the tyres that plump up to 30 external but with a smooth transition between tyre and rim
  • torno crankset for the hills??? having done the Dzero upgrade this may not make sense, but the torno is nice!

A couple of final thoughts at this stage on the 3T Strada Pro:

I was initially having a what are they doing moment when I saw this bike came with a medium cage rather than long cage rear force 1 (medium will go up to 36t, long up to 42T rear cassette) but then saw that 3T has what maybe a better solution: a 9-32. This achieves a few things: 1) not having to listen to dinosaur roadies quip (look at that satellite dish / paella pan / other tired comment) when seeing a 42t cassette 2) it may, may, be easier to keep in tune, easier on drive train? the 42t rear on a road seems to be beyond some bike mechanics to get right, especially with q-rings, 3) its definitely lighter and possibly even a simpler solution, with both a 44T up front and only 9-32 out back, vs 50T and a 10-42T.

One thing I have also noticed as well is that the wire-thin seat stays combined with super rigid rest of frame create a slightly different rebound rate of the flex from what I am used to, and it can lead to going slightly wide on certain roads. Coming from mountain bikes I get that, but pure roadies may not realise this, specially if they are like a lot of my riding friends who go "yes I know there is overwhelming evidence that I need to run my 25c tyres at a lower pressure but I just cannot help myself and am at 100 PSI" lol. You know who you are. I cannot wait to try a wider tyre / rim combo that the bike was designed for and dial in the tyre pressure.

Monday 24 September 2018

1X triathlon bike for age groupers, amateur triathlete, etc

Does 1x road setup work for a triathlon or 70.3

Does 1X work in the real world for Joe Blogs on the street trying to get through a Triathlon, Ironman or a time trial?
Ready for just one shifter in your next event? You should be - read on to see why I feel so from my experience
First of all, getting a Tri bike fitted is not just like any other bike - you need a fit, and that fit takes into account many things, all of them static in a room, not out there in a field, in an amateur's case with many people who have never raced in a group before, or have too much testosterone ... and that all adds up to having to just worry about one hand focussed on shifting being a good thing, especially if you are mechanical shifting! 

But that is all subjective, what about in a race as the results, well it just so happened I went 1X on my first middle distance event to throw myself in the deep end and find out :)

If you can manage a smile on a 19% hill too many; you know 1X was the right choice!
Well the short answer is yes, it does, and the data I use as proof of that is that using a 1x set-up I not only:

  1.  Managed one of the steepest 70.3 courses on a 48t 11-36 set-up, with 19% and 1400m of ascent, many propose the gearing either has to be too tall or too short which is Weymouth 70.30 bike course, but 
  2. Also managed the same top speed, over 76km/h, as my colleague who did the whole event two hours quicker than my and qualified for the 70.3 World Champs, so again, enough gearing to keep up on the downs.
  3. It was also one of the bumpiest courses I have ever been on, with some sections seeing competitors dropping chains, and hearing the awful sound of steel chain smacking against carbon chainstays all around me, but not my chain or chainstasy, and that is even without a clutch derailleur.
17% gradient 61.9km into the bike leg of an IM 70.3 and 76km/h max show that 1X has the range even for an amateur
So headline facts of why I consider the experiment a success dealt with, let's get on with the more subjective stuff of feel, and confidence going into my first 70.3 distance event with a 1x I had only tested in Richmond park beforehand... as well as the other benefits, especially for a triathlon bike set-up, and two other key factors of why I am never going back to 2X...
Sram XX 11-36t Cassette and a 48T got me up 19% gradients and a 76.8km/h top speed - who says 1x lacks range!
I normally ride a 50t or a 52t with a wider 11-42t cassette range, and yes, the extra top-end flexibility is nice, but if you look at the stats you can easily extract out of a di2 groupset - you will see you only ever use your top gear in anger for very short period of time, and if you cannot get the RPM, I suggest getting a singlespeed and working on your range, there really is nothing easier to maintain in winter either (other than couping yourself up on a turbo / rollers...).
Having only tested in Richmond park did not prepare me for the long, rough IM 70.3 Weymouth Course
One problem I did have was not finding the time to take the bike to anywhere like the hills I would face in Weymouth. It turns out however, no matter how bad you may think some of the surrey roads are / can be, it was nothing compared to the Weymouth IM 70.3 course, where in one part I even heard someone in a Yorkshire accent say "should have brought me gravel bike"... Now for those of you not familiar with UK regional nuances; if a "true grit" Yorkshireman says a road is rough... its probably quite rough :). 

Other reasons I choose 1x for triathlons: no dropped chains

Anecdotes aside, even gravel bike rough roads did not unsettle the chain, which in races costs you time, can seriously damage your frame, usually damages it cosmetically (costing you resale money / potential warranty issues) and can be downright dangerous. For me, aside from the bullets above
the XX 11-36t was a game changer when it came out, and is still a superlight, superbike-worthy piece of kit

Other reasons I chose 1x Tri / TT setup: simplicity, safety and weight

So let's get to the meat. I bought a reduced low-end Shiv and seriously upgraded the wheels and crank; two areas of rotating weight, and for me two key contact areas; one with the road, the other with yourself!

Let's be clear, while fast on the flat, and surprisingly so also a good handler when pointing down, anything other than top-end Shivs come with a very heavy alloy cock-pit and fairly basic shifting. While the Sram Rival rear to me is not a problem, the non indexed front at probably even a lower level in the Sram range was a serious "you have to be joking me" moment the first time I rode it. This is not a Sram or Specialized choice of kit issue, this is a Tri / TT issue that means you have fiddle around changing front gears while not having access (in a UK set-up at least) to your all important rear brake. This is a major safety issue, not just the time and physical hand coordination, but also concentration: only having to think about gears with one hand makes one less thing to worry about.

Then their is the weight, while going 1X I also swapped the alloy bar for a Zipp 40mm drop (more on that another time) and used some deda extensions that are the only comfortable extensions I have ever used and really meant for putting on the front of a road bike, again something I find really unsafe when matched with roadbike geometry, but on the TT geometry I can ride all day. In short, dropping the front der. cables, dreadful basic heavy cassette, and extra front ring, I dropped about half a kilo, take the 1kg plus from bars and we are talking night and day in the way the Shiv now climbs... All I need to do now is the same to my waist line (work in progress).
1X Specialized Shiv making light work of Box Hill with the extra weight shed converting to 1X
Other points to think about are the aero gains which I first got to thinking about when looking at the Strada 3T website. I honestly cannot say I can feel that difference, but then I think anybody who says they can, well, I am sceptical of...

One final added safety point is the issue of chainrings in an accident: I was once unlucky enough to see a bad case of what they call "chainring kiss". Do yourself a favour and do not look it up on google images, as it is rare but when it happens it can be nasty, and only really happens with the sharper profile of chainrings made for shifting, and usually only when in the smaller gear, however I have seen chains come off in accidents on geared bikes... This is not a deciding factor at all but an added bonus that makes me happy of my decision. 
Final thoughts: I was more worried about my choice of wheels if it had rained that riding 1X in my first Im 70.3
Would I ride 1X again in a 70.3: absolutely. My only concern going into the race was really the fact that rain had been forecast and carbon wheels with rim brakes in a race are like torture; not only for you not knowing how your brakes will perform, but also seeing so many inexperienced riders hit the floor and the sound of grit destroying carbon...

What next? I may try Di2, which again would make the right hand gear changes safer / easier still, and no I would not go back to 2X, but would plump for an XT/ XTR rear and get a 42T or bigger on the rear so as to put a 50 or 52t on the front. I may also add a Sram Force 1X to the rear as I have done with the road bike, however the Wolftooth Roadlink is doing better with this 11-36 set-up than it did with the sram red 11-40 set-up I had on my road bike.

From there its going to probably be a disc specific 1x aero bike, but for now, the Shiv is still a formidable aero bike, and with the Omega X front brake has quite a lot of stopping power

Monday 14 May 2018

Real IoT 2018: Smart Bicycle (continued from 2016 article)

Following on from the 2016 realworld IoT article on IoT and M2M, as we used to call it :), is a 2018 view on how that has update, again via another Kickstarter success.

Here at Conecto IoT HQ we have been testing quite a few innovative travel and sprot related IoT products that are interesting in that they pose a problem for non Cloud IoT platforms, in that:

  1. Nobody knows their usage pattern, which causes problems for "box and wires" IoT as they do not know how to dimension the service
  2. Lot's of people get obsessed with them being either high bandwidth 4G (not needed, honestly) or crappy 2G which is being turned off quicker than any new IoT models can go mass market, more on that below.
Many of these have been in the cycling space, and are confidential / require permission to publish, however one I want to share is public, and its the long awaited Hammerhead Karoo, which I have now had time to test with a Conecto IoT Connect SIM, which is sold to customers on AWS IoT platform via one of our partners and is available in test packs by contacting Conecto directly and making your case.

The British Summer is a great testing ground for riders ability to apply the Velominati cycling rule #9 as well as test IoT
And this is where the true meaning or Real World comes in. Everybody is talking about IoT needing 100s MB or even GB, but that is the key: these people are just talking about IoT. People who are actually doing IoT know that for every high bandwidth SIM, there are literally thousands to millions of low bandwidth SIMs, and volume my friends, is all that matters in IoT!

So it was refreshing for Hammerhead to do two things with the Hammerhead Karoo while I was busy testing 4 SIMs, 18 IMSIs and 4 IoT devices on a typical rainy summer's day in the UK
  1. They have paired it down to the bare bones of android, even to the point that when I signed in on Google I had an alert from an "unknown OS"! More on that in a bit; it would at least be nice to see the Operator logo, since I spent 5 mins, the time it takes on the Conecto platform, to edit the SIMs service provider name to "Hammerhead".
  2. The devices is 4G ready, but does not have 4G enabled yet. This is good, due to the roaming nature of the Conecto SIM I always had 4 to 5 bars of signal, even in the depths of the Surrey Hills, and this was good as we will see later. So many devices are 2G only and we can see that in dense urban areas in the UK these have now been turned off, as has 2G in its entirety on the AT&T network. 
So onto the good bits, how much data does it use and is 3G a substitute for Wi-Fi. Well yes and no. By pure coincidence Virgin were working on my Wi-Fi when I was trying to download a route, so I switched to 3G and

  • The Karoo downloaded a 92km route with Maps very quickly with a total of 31,784,010 bytes, or 32mb to you an me, and that was with a download failure in the middle due to, ok me taking the device past the part of the building I call the "faraday cage". Obviously that would not have been as much fun for the obligatory software update that went before it, however, which fortunately I had Wi-Fi for. Even if I did not have Wi-Fi for it, I would have gone past somewhere I know that has it before the ride, like the office, or local cafe.
So how much does it use in a ride, I hear you ask??? Well I can tell you:

  • During a 92km ride the Karoo used 9,847,998 bytes exactly, or 10mb to you and me, and this was a ride which due to me entering and leaving a faraday cage of an entrance 3 or four times to still misjudge clothing and accessories for British summer (wet) riding, I had the "Waiting for GPS error" all the ride, something I would normally have to restart other GPS devices for, but the Karoo was tracking the route better than the devices the route was done on, so left it using the mobile signal a-GPS to keep riding; again, win for the SIM device!
Despite the "waiting for GPS" warning, with a SIM in it the Karoo tracked the route better than the source GPS route!
So what is my point here? Well it's to force home the fact that even this high end Android device could get by using less than 100mb a month, and its here today making our life easier and saving us previous hardware reboot and satellite search time... This is also important as it also affects battery life. I got the same battery usage as people in the forum got with Cellular / mobile turned off, which is important for the data on the go. There is no point my being able to download a software update on the fly if it then (inevitably) gives me range anxiety on a long ride.

Also, in case you are wondering, the average IoT SIM on our platform uses 1.2Mb per month, with the vast Majority being under 1Mb and a small % being in the 10-100mb zone.

Also read the 2016 Realworld IoT article on smart bikes

Friday 9 March 2018

Real World IOT that happened in 2017 and will grow 2018 - Smart Luggage

This is the second in a series of entries on IOT in the real world that impact people's lives directly, i.e. what is not just a predicability of the future, but things that are going to happen! smart luggage has been a while in the making, with the big brands dabbling for years, however as they have appeared on kickstarter successes already; mainstream will finally dig out their initiatives, dust them down and follow. If they don't, you know where to spend your money doing it yourself or buying from the likes of G-Ro.
OK not a great photo, but here you see the G-Ro, plus tracker, and wi-fi hotspot set-up set-up myself.
Why is this important? Well, we have all heard of smart fridges, etc. however there are two problems with the smart fridge:
  1. fridges are large "white goods" that are unlikely to be on kickstarter
  2. Fridges fall very, very heavily into the corporate dilemma above, where staff in organisations that make fridges are no longer rewarded for innovation. In fact sometimes quite the opposite, cost reduction, conformity and who is longest in the office sucking up to their boss will never create innovation.
I am sure that after using a smart fridge, for now at least, we kind of are ok or even happier with our “just as we want it” premium fridge, or in fact just a fridge. The difference of real world IoT is when you try something and know you can never go back, no matter how premium your non msart version is. Great examples ate smart watches. I have had versions, and not all of them were quite there, I had various garmin devices: 310xt, 910xt, Fenix 2, however once I put the Fenix 3 on, my premium swiss chronograph never went on again. The same, if not moreso, happened with smartphones.

Why smart luggage?

I travel a lot, both personal and business, and have always spent the extra to have decent luggage. By decent I do not overly expensive… in many places arriving with expensive luggage that is like screaming “follow me from the airport and mug me”, but in that the luggage has decent wheels, zips, compartmentalisation and built to last the rough and tumble of travelling without arriving like some luggage you see with a wheel missing, or a wayward handle or weighs half your weight allowance before you have even packed it. Despite being descent, This has meant sometimes fixing my own luggage, I have preplaced wheels whose bearings have worn out, handle pins that broke and even a handle… but the quality of a good Samsonite or Antler superlight luggage mean its all fixable wherever you may find yourself on this globe.
After peace of mind, the biggest advantage of smart luggage is saving time on arrival

Saving time on arrival

One of the biggest benefits of smart luggage is its saving time on arrival and smart luggage does this in a few ways:
  1. If your luggage is lost, by the time you land it will tell you and you do not have to wait until everybody has left the conveyor and there is a 2 hour queue of other people with lost luggage in front of you. It also saves time again, as usually when you report lost luggage it takes them a day or more just to work out where it is: you can tell them its in terminal X y airport y from the off and you get your bags back way earlier
  2. Proximity, proximity is amazing as more or less, and with a certain margin of error, its able to sense a) when your luggage has arrived outside the conveyor, and b) by if its close by, again leaving your time to catch-up with all things mobile notifications related before your luggage arrives
  3. Other errors. Sometimes your back says its in the right airport but your, or luggage staff can see its gone to the wrong conveyor... this last happened to me arriving back to heathrow at nearly11pm... the staff said you can either wait about an hour or we will send it to you tomorrow... that was an easy choice!
  4. Being shipped back: when your luggagesis being shipped back to you, you are not at the mercy of the courieror 3rd party updates that arrive an hour or a few after the event. As your luggage leaves the airport you know it, and if like once they cannot, or pretend they cannot find you to go home early... then you say: I can see you are just around the corner, do me a favour and do your job. Yes that has happened... and not just once!
You can even track your luggage as it makes its way via courier back to you after delivery to the wrong airport!

Battery Life

One of the issues with trackers is that they tend to be built to a price, and that price does not seem to run to batteries... While high end ones I have built myself or been part of specifying for clients have higher end batteries that have higher power, and are consistent (one batch of cheaper trackers that were specified to have 700mah batteries had 200mah, 400 may and 500mah across the first three tested)!

On that note I have taken to using lithium or high end rechargeable batteries on the trackdots, although for some reason they say not to (one assumes that network resources hurt profits, but again we have a solution for that which we worked out for a customer). The best, and most responsible, solution is rechargeable, with 2100mah Panasonics managing up to 10 days across 5 airports recently.
With rechargeable batteries (not recommended by manufacturer) the track dot can manage 10 days tracking, two of those it was awake in a car highlighting all the airports on the way :)

Requirements to DIY smart luggage.

There are basically, from I can work out from my own needs and those of people I travel with, as well as what G-RO are productising:
  1. Location
  2. Power
  3. Hotspot/connectivity

Trackdot, etc was my first port of call for location.

Trackdot and the G-Ro devices which is a rebranded lug track I believe, are very slick at what they do, but I cannot help but see it as a one trick pony with limitations. First the good: its very slick: you turn it on with one button, and track through a simple app, though you do need to read the manual. The apps are simple, though, despite pioneering Bluetooth since its inception, and having one an innovations award in 2001 for stretching its limits, I could not get the trackdot thing to connect via Bluetooth.

My second port of call for location was using certain MiFi devices with GPS in the chipset, which allow you to access the location; however, like the cheap GPS devices from Alibaba, ebay, etc: when you arrive at an airport you want to just open an app and see where your luggage is, not a web page or web pages... this is 2018...
Bad: cannot be waken from sleep remotely (at least not to consumers), does not have GPS for real tracking of needed, AA batteries and no micro-USB mean no way to back-up / extend batteries (yes I am aware AA are readily available, but not always within time restrictions of business / flight schedules). This is how I started using rechargeable batteries despite the warnings not to, as I stole the two batteries from my DSLR camera Flash!

Power The next category is power, which is a bit more difficult.

Whilst there are a plethora of batteries out there, there are a few things to bear in mind. 

  1. power; over 27,000mah and its considered a fire risk by most countries, so avoid building a portable generator :)
  2. more importantly, how it wakes up: most require you to pres a button or insert the USB cable into the battery to wake up, which means you cannot bury the battery at the bottom of your case behind the lining out of the way. The best for this is the white tp-link 21000 battery usb one from the image above of the suitcase - whenever you plug something into a cable on the end it charges... and will not turn off if the draw is too low on the wifi router.
  3. charge and be charged. Many devices can either charge or be charged, which when travelling is not always ideal and means more devices

The one that comes with the G-Ro is quite good, but its heavy, only has two USB ports, a charger you do not normally travel with, but moreover its tablet format means its constantly being stopped in security, which is very not good as it wastes time you will never, ever get back!

The Anker usb-c Battery ones are solid alloy and well built, and some have usb-c, but they cannot charge and be charged.

Rav power make a 26,800mah one, but it needs the button be pressed to activate.

One of the main reasons for having batteries that can be charged while charging, is that you can use them as a charge point in the hotel, and also when out and about in good sunlight, you can solar power your smart luggage, and complete your off the grid, ready for anything collection!

Wifi access point. 

So this is not in the G-Ro but is not difficult to add either with a wifi or a dongle and a router, which has more uses when travelling as you can use it as a bridge for hotel / airport wifi. Since 2014 many Huawei MiFIs also have this built in, as do others. You can always use a second handset, which I often also carry as a back-up anyway, but they can get very, very hot in luggage!

Huawei has two devices, the E576 and the E5772, the former 3G and the latter 4G. There are others, however these devices have both GPS and can handle SIM toolkit, so will work with all types of SIMs, including my own IoT MVNE Company Conecto SIMs with multiple IMSIs.