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Most people are at least aware of Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ iPad. I still recall, exactly a year ago, when Apple pulled off what was quite possibly the most extraordinary ‘magic’ marketing feat of all time: unleashing a tidal wave of demand for a device with a purpose and value that, to nearly everyone then and still most of us today, is almost a complete and total mystery. Six million units were sold in the first 60 days. Forty million units will probably sell this year. It’s a revolution! It’s a game changer! But what’s it for? And why would you be interested (if you don’t have one already)? And what, exactly, has this to do with cycling?

The pundits tell us that you have to use an iPad before you really know how invaluable to your lifestyle it will become. So we are expected to hand over anything between $579 to $949 for a device that we can’t possibly justify via the the usual (at least intuitive) cost benefit criteria most of us apply to discretionary purchases of this kind? Now that’s a clever marketing pitch. No wonder Apple has $66billion in cash sitting in the bank.

But it really is true; and it certainly was for me. We don’t really get a grasp on what this iPad thing can do until we live with it for a while. But when you think on it, isn’t that a familiar kind of purchasing plan for the more fanatical cyclists some of us are and who most of us know? How, exactly, did you justify that exotic carbon high end bike you’ve been busy pretending was an essential necessity of life in lieu of shoes for the kids and a holiday for the wife? Apple is just standing by to satisfy loose logic of that deliciously irrational, economist-defying kind.

I have to say, though, that while I did wonder about the uses to which my iPad might be applied, these days, I can’t imagine life without one. Like the soles of those oven-shaped carbon shoes that mould to the contours of your feet, the iPad ingratiates itself into the intimate eccentricities and peculiarities of each of us who fall into Apple’s marketing plans. This is probably the most individualistically adaptable piece of technology of all time. Non-iPad users are a black iPad-shaped hole waiting for revelation to fill the gap! Almost every day we iPad users find a new application through which to tighten the knot that now ties this machine to the contours of our lives. If this sounds like the impact of a bad drug habit, you are probably not far off course. But then again, so too are those voracious bicycles that keep me prisoner for at least two hours each and every day.

So how useful is an iPad to a cycling obsessive like me? Does it live up to all this hype? Can I live without one? Can I live without clip-less pedals? You bet. Do I want to? No way.

OK, let’s make a start. Let’s consider a few key iPad Apps (applications) to illustrate how it all works.

Zinio Reader

Do you read cycling magazines by any chance?

I must confess to wearing a trench into my local newsagent in my pre-iPad days. Cycle Sport, Pro Cycling, Cycling Weekly, Single Track, Peloton, MBR (Mountain Bike Rider), RIDE Cycling Review, Bicycling Australia, Spoke and Bike. Too much to read and far too many dollars spent. So let’s just pick the essentials. Cycle Sport and Pro Cycling, say. How much to subscribe to these? Nearly $200 pear year. Or $310 if you buy them monthly off the shelf.

One of the first Apps I installed on my iPad was the Zinio magazine reader. This amazing (game changing, newsagent nemesis) application allows you to choose from literally hundreds of magazines, one off or via subscription plans. You get the exact same magazine as the one in print, but now you read it on the screen. Yes, the screen is smaller, but you can zoom in and around in a most ergonomic way. I now prefer to read my ‘zines this way. Fonts can be any size you want and you can view in portrait or landscape depending on the layout of the page. Just swivel your iPad around to change the mode and the page resizes in a millisecond or two. And the price? Pro Cycling is AUD$36.46 a year and Cycle Sport is the same. $73 a year for both instead of $200 plus for the printed option; and you get each issue on the day of release. No longer do we have to wait until after the Tour de France to read the pre-race reviews each magazine presents. It’s like having a personal courier system direct from the publisher to your door. Way faster than even an air freighted paper subscription will allow. And you don’t have to store all these magazines somewhere in your house. You just archive them when you’re done for re-download if you want to re-visit in a year or so. If your favorite cycling magazine isn’t on Zinio, it may be available as a standalone App; like Single Track. Sometimes these standalones are even better presented than by Zinio. Do a search in the Apple App store and see what you can uncover. What you won’t find, though, is a e-version of Ride (but you can install an App that allows you to purchase Ride’s bicycle reviews – probably the best reviews available in print). No doubt the folks at Ride will give us an iPad version soon. Looks like I still have to visit the newsagent at least quarterly, for now. Oh, and by the way, I have paid for my iPad just in savings on my usual magazine subscriptions. Three times over.

News Readers

If your taste extends only to free media, fear not. If you currently read blog news sites like Cycling News, there’s an App for that too. Actually, if you are into reading news feeds of all kinds, be sure to check out Flip Board. This one is an iPad exclusive and you can populate it with any cycling (or other) news feed you like. I subscribe to about 50 cycling blogs and related news sites through the free Google Reader setup. Flip Board grabs those feeds automatically and displays them in an extraordinarily clever magazine format (stripping out all the adverts and other annoying stuff in the process). There are other readers like Flip Board with different variations of the same theme. Pulse and Zite are two others that I also have installed (both free).

Just to demonstrate that I am not quite the single interest cycling obsessive I might otherwise appear, the iPad is a seriously astounding device on which to read other journals too; like the New Yorker and the Economist Newspaper… I used to subscribe to the paper version of the New Yorker a few years ago. The sub was around $150 and you’d end up with a linear metre of magazines to store by the end of the year. The new digital iPad version is only $75 and is way, way, better to read on the iPad than on paper (you even get some great interactive stuff like embedded videos and photo libraries to scroll through).

Watching (Cycling) Videos

Of course, the iPad has a web browser and you can look at web casts all you want (so long as those feeds are not displayed via Flash – Apple rightly hates that buggy format and has exiled it from the iPad). But you can play really clever games with video if you want to explore. For instance, I am a keen advocate of the EyeTV technology available for the Macintosh (there are other options for those who insist on owning a Windows PC). EyeTV works via a small USB dongle that is actually a TV receiver that connects to related software on your computer. You can watch TV on your computer and record whatever programming you want. For instance, once a month I do a search for ‘cycling’ in the EyeTV program guide and then schedule a recording for all those cycling related shows I want to see. As long as your computer is turned on, EyeTV will record automatically and you can then edit all the advertisements out! You can then install an iPad version of EyeTV and watch either live programming or your recordings from wherever you are in the home (via wifi connection). This works a treat for recording and watching Le Tour each year! No stupid DVD R’s to play around with. If you have a private corner in your home, you can settle down with your ear phones plugged in and watch the cycling without interference from or with anyone else. A real marriage saver if you are watching Le Tour live at 2AM.

Mobile Library

This one is probably the killer feature for me. I like books. I have a grand design to own the best cycling books collection in the country. Any collection is certainly better than what’s on offer at my local public library… or available in my local bookshop for that matter. But, if you are a cycling book collector, you will know that many titles are rather hard to get, and very expensive if you can. I was browsing away at my local bookshop a week or so ago when a guy fronted to the counter asking about a new title he’d just found via a review in Bicycling Australia called ‘It’s All About the Bike’ by Robert Penn. The ever helpful bookseller did a search and was able to offer in indent import deal for $50 and a month for delivery. I grabbed my iPad, opened the iPad version of the Kindle App, located the title for $9.95 and had it installed within two minutes. So too with the Bicycle Snob NYC’s new book. That one would otherwise be a special import with uncertain delivery. And yes, you can indeed download the entire collection of Lance’s greatest works…

Reading a book on the iPad is seriously refined. This is the ebook reader we have all been waiting for for 20 years (or at least, that I have been hanging out for since my first foray into ebook reading on a Mac Plus way back in 1988 – when books came on floppy discs and cost over twice what you’d pay for the paper version).

Logbooks and Record Keeping

Do you keep a log book of your cycling endeavors? I am blessed with a Garmin Edge 800 that connects to a seriously clever bit of software called rubiTrack. You can then export all your records from rubiTrack to Apple’s own world beating spreadsheet software, Numbers. Of course, Numbers is also available as an iPad App so you can sync your all important cycling logbook between the desktop and your iPad. You never know when you will need to consult your vital statistics and you can direct enter your stuff on your iPad if you are away from home, like on that dream tour of the French Alps.

Other Stuff

The iPad has the full compliment of photo Apps, is a full on iPod music player, has a calendar program, address book, camera (on the iPad 2), video conferencing, is a recording device, alarm clock; you name it. There are over 40,000 Apps awaiting your attention.

Do you subscribe to any cycling Podcasts? I am a regular for the Two Johns Cycling Podcast, the Real Peloton podcast from Pommy journalist Matt Rendell, and 26 others!. Yes, you can even listen into the Fredcast. All these podcasts can be downloaded direct to your iPad via wireless or GSM if you buy the GSM version (I have the 64GB wifi only version).

Oh, and by the way, I wrote this blog entry with the iPad App Blogsy. In between reading the latest edition of Peloton magazine on another App called GoodReader. All the time while broadcasting music from the iPad direct into my home hifi system via inbuilt wireless networking. Yes, the iPad2 has multitasking… All this for the price of a pair of Sidi Ergo2’s…

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There’s this extended bliss-out track on Yo La Tengo’s most recent album (Popular Songs) that has a kind of high cadence mesmerising beat that plays an amazing soundtrack to those intensive kind of rides of which we cyclists occasionally dream. Now I know all about that politically corrected stuff about not plugging your ears as part of all those things we have to do to present a united front of saintly example to children, motorists and the like. But sometimes… the devil took hold and in a fit of pure unmitigated evil, I rode with my noise cancelling earphones tuned to world-cancelling Yo La Tengo.

So sue me.

Anways…there I was. Riding along tuned to tunes tuned to the sensations of the ride. A veritable chorus of celestial harmonies ringing to the chord of bliss. So much so, that I had no idea at all about the double semi-trailer directly on my tail. A double semi trailer loaded with cattle off to the yards. It was a remote rural road and we were the only two vehicles in sight. Occupying my usual place right in the centre of my lane, I guess the driver behind was kind of bemused. It must have looked a sight to the cows grazing beside the road. A fly holding up a train. One tiny cyclist holding up a marauding army of a truck.

Eventually, I tuned to there being something larger than life coalescing around my wheels. Was this a gale force tailwind I was enjoying? Ride faster, enjoy the push! Yes, it was a bow wave air surge of sufficient ferocity to power a wind turbine for a year’s worth of household power. Just part of the picture of perfection this ride had become.

Until the truck overtook.

All of which gave cause for me to reflect on just how important the iPod can become as an accessory to a ride. I’ve been riding this way for years. As I said, I ride on rural roads (which, as you can now see, is not always removed from the dangers of competing traffic…). That aside, If you ride wired to sound like me, perhaps we should occasionally share insights into the soundtracks to which we might ride.

Podcasts and music, tuned to the day and the mood. Clearly there are many other cyclists who ride with an iPod connected to their ears. So it’s probably reasonable to present some key recommendations for things to which we cyclists might like to listen. I’ll leave my musical choices out of the mix (any recommendation is as likely to annoy as it might otherwise inspire…).

But did you know that there are now a handful of podcasts aimed squarely at cyclists? What’s a podcast?! If you don’t know, perhaps you might be in for a wonderful surprise.

Podcasting is the latest in customised audio programming available to anyone with access to a computer and a MP3 playing device. Mine’s an iPod; a tiny device seemingly customised to the obsessive weight weenie predilections of hard-core roadies like me! If you have iTunes, you are set. if you don’t, you’ll have to run some extra steps. But no matter what, podcasts are files anyone can download and then play like any other long-playing tune. There are three main cycling-centric podcasts now available for anyone to enjoy for free. Here are some reflections on each if you are not already subscribed.

The Two Johns Podcast
What can you say! Eccentric ramblings from two American cycle-nuts with deep convictions to the views they both personally hold and an utterly infections enthusiasm to share with anyone who might be fortunate enough to listen! The Two Johns podcast is a roughly two hour show updated with a cadence of approximately one week. Usually presented with appalling sound, microphones that keep coming unplugged; sometimes grumpy, sometimes cynical, always with conviction. This is a compelling show for road cyclists to enjoy. Mountain bikers and recumbent riders will be less impressed (unless a predilection to being insulted is something that turns you on…).

The basic formula is for a three part show. International news, local news and listener feedback (with tech news an occasional addition to the mix). International news is international news, just as you’d expect. Local news tends to be news of each John’s recent personal racing exploits. And listener feedback is the one that goes on for hours… The Two Johns get lots of emailed questions and listener feedback. Each episode, our heroes attempt to read and respond to everything in their InBox. Invariably interesting, often confronting, frequently hilarious, always entertaining. This is premium listening fare. So long as you don’t hope for encouragement to ride a recumbent or head off on a mountain bike…

Click on this link to find out more and to subscribe. It’s free. Chapeaux Two Johns.

The Velocast Podcast

The new kids on the block (well, they are up to episode 50 plus by now). The Velocast is another free, approximately weekly show from two Scottish cycling enthusiasts with commentary on the racing scene, cycling industry news, and simple reflections on what’s interesting or annoying in the cycling scene as viewed through the drizzle of Scotland. Hosts Scott and John give us selected views on the latest trends and are not shy to give their views on issues that challenge and inspire. Kind of a Sunday features approach to cycling news. Less abjectly opinionated than the Two Johns, and one suspects less adamant about the virtues of their personal views, this show is a perfect compliment to the Two Johns Podcast.

Click on this link to find out more and to subscribe. Again, it’s free so no excuse not to listen.

The Fredcast
The podcast with high production values but also quite a bit ‘dryer’ than the other two in terms of eccentric flavour and ideosyncratic views. But that’s OK. The Fredcast aims to cater to all cyclists, roadies, mountainbikers, commuters, and yes, even recumbent riders. It’s the best source for industry news (and a great place to find out if any of your bike bits have been recalled via regular recall notice surveys), and updates on cycling community news. You are not likely to hear about the next meeting of Critical Mass on the Two Johns. You are likely to hear about that on the Fredcast. The Bicycling Magazine of cycling podcasts – despite the fact that when Bicycling Magazine did attempt there own podcast, it was cringingly, embarrassingly feeble…

Click on this link to find out more and to subscribe. As always, this podcast if free so try it out!

One final observation here might be worthwhile. Each of these podcasts is presented for free by dedicated folk motivated by passion and dedication to the cycling culture we all love. While there’s no fees or subscriptions to pay, each has a homepage with links to places where listeners are encouraged to donate (the Fredcast also accepts advertising/sponsorships as part of its routine).

Speaking of which…! In this brave new world of passion-driven media, the business model we bloggers and podcasters employ is usually pretty simple: no business model at all. As some of you will have noticed, I have recently started soliciting for donations to defray the costs of maintaining my site. And, to be honest, as some kind of attempt to solicit encouragement! With more than 25,000 unique visits to my blog site each year (not counting RSS downloads which probably puts my numbers at 50,000 plus), my efforts to encourage donations over the past month has produced one single donation! That’s not exactly encouraging, I must say (but thanks to that solitary donor, nonetheless). Such would seem to be the name of the game in this new world of social media-making with which we are all engaged. Most folk are not yet in tune with paying for, contributing to or even interacting with the content they consume. But, with no support at all, encouragement to continue on is kind of ‘thin’. So… as always, here’s my usual plug for support:

Please consider making a donation to keep Bicyclism Blog going! Any contribution you make will indicate your support for my efforts and help cover bandwidth and related costs. You can make a donation through clicking the donate button on the Bicyclism Blog or the home page. Thanks!

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