Chris Richards

marketing | branding | tech | startups


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Vilano Single Speed Bike: Reviewing the Good and the Bad

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Vilano Track Fixed Gear / Single Speed Road Bike for a while now. I’ve enjoyed it a lot since buying it in the fall, but honestly, it’s been tough to ride!

Vilano Track Single Speed Bike Built

Excuses, excuses, but it’s true. Literally, it’s been difficult to ride! The area of Philadelphia around me is known for its hills. It’s not in “the city” with flat ground, so truthfully, I’m now realizing that buying a single speed bike might not have been the wisest choice.

That’s where my review starts: hills. This Vilano is an awesome bike for the price, but its single speed gear makes my legs feel like exploding whenever I encounter the hills around here (and that’s often). Hills are bad news for single speed. I should have known that, having grown up riding on bikes with dozens of gear choices. As a kid, I would have never made it without those precious gears to save me.

On flat ground, though, this bike flies. The single gear seems to be set at just the right ratio for flat-land travel. I reached an open half-mile stretch along a bike path and was able to make it up to around 22 mph with some vigorous pedaling.

But, aside from the inability to ride up hills, I have very few complaints about this simple ride. Like I said, it was cheap (only a little more than $200 on Amazon!) It came in a big box, right to my door. I opened it, to find the bike in several pieces well-protected by packaging and ready to set-up. Building it was a breeze, and Vilano just included a piece of paper with a link to their instructions online (in the form of YouTube videos) in case you needed extra help assembling the parts.

Vilano Track Single Speed Bike Assembly

At first glance, the bike frame is a conversation starter. I ordered a bright orange frame, though they had a variety of choices. It definitely stands out from the other bikes I’ve owned which have more subtle coloring. This thing isn’t quite neon, but it’s close.

There are no labels on the bike. No branding. Which I hear is what the hipsters like. No branding means there’s ample room to add your own little personal touches. I’ve added a few stickers, but the bike is still mostly just nice and orange.

The tires are very thin. I’ve never ridden a bike with such thin tires and wheels. Coming off a mountain bike, this thing feels absolutely rail-like. It’s thin, fast, and the tires are meant for speed. That being said, I’ve had issues keeping the tires inflated. I think replacing the stock tires with something a little more substantial would be a good first move for anyone buying this bike.

Speaking of upgrades, I also added a few accessories after receiving the bike. The stock pedals are cheap and laughable. I ordered some Avenir Ultralight Pedals with toe-clips and those did the trick. I, personally, love toe-clips and grew up using them, so it made sense that I install them on this new Vilano too. And, not that it’s totally necessary, I bought a cheap water bottle holster to screw onto the frame.

Basically, having moved to a new city, I was looking for a fun, cheap bike to get around. Though I don’t use it as my primary means of travel, this Vilano bike has served me well so far. As long as I remember to avoid the hills, it’s all good!

 

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Flying Around the World with Google

After waiting for a delayed flight in Philadelphia for over 5 hours, I was really loving my new Samsung Google Chromebook (oh, and the free airport wifi) as a travel companion. Having just gotten the computer during the holidays, I saw my trip to Tasmania, Australia as a way to test-run the new little machine’s capabilities and put it through the paces of international travel, airports, and hot-spots. In the end, I was not disappointed at all with how well the device worked for travel, and how well Google’s products complimented my journey.

The first perk of traveling with the Chromebook I experienced was the free in-fllight wifi offered by GoGo. With 12 free passes to use on domestic flights, my plane to LA was the perfect chance to try logging in from 27,000 feet up. It worked perfectly. As the first time using wifi on a plane, it was all very novel to me, but very natural too. Up in the air, you seem closer to the “internet gods” or something…either way, I was checking email and Facebook with no problem, and would not have experienced that had it not been for the free passes packaged with the Chromebook.

Chromebook free inflight wifi gogo

The free wifi pass worked perfectly on my flight.

Then, most obviously, the small form factor of Google’s device was a blessing while navigating airports. While making connections and waiting for flights, it was easy to whip out the computer and log in for a minute. Oh yeah, and while sending it through security scanners, the workers had to send it through a couple times just because they didn’t believe it was a laptop: “That doesn’t look like a laptop’s insides to me!” one said.

The battery life was another major plus. Even after many hours in airport cafes, the thing still had a charge. I’ve never had a laptop that could last more than 3 or 4 hours, so this felt pretty good.

The combination of the Chromebook and my Galaxy Nexus phone felt like Google heaven while traveling. I’ve never felt so in sync with technology, and they just worked well together. During a day-long layover in LA, Google Now kindly prompted me about my upcoming flight time, the traffic in LA, and the local weather.

Better yet, while in Australia, Google recognized my new location and prompted me with awesomely useful Google Now cards. As you’ll see above, it showed me the currency conversion rate between the US and AUD, the time at home, and the current weather in Australia.

There’s not really much else to say other than that my two Google devices worked together seamlessly during my trip. They were portable, powerful, and just what I needed to stay in touch back home.


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Off the Grid: Social Media in a Developing Country

During the summer, I went “off the grid” for a volunteer trip to Honduras. As someone who lives and breathes social media, tech, and the internet on a daily basis, I thought this trip would be a welcomed break from being connected. As it turns out, even in the rural countryside of a developing Latin American country, I couldn’t escape the powerful reach of Facebook.

A Line of People Await Treatment in Honduras

To provide some context, I was volunteering with Global Brigades, an organization with a mission to “empower volunteers to facilitate sustainable solutions in under-resourced communities while fostering local cultures.” There are multiple facets to the program, though the one I attended was focused on providing community health care.

Each day, we traveled several hours away from the capital city, Tegucigalpa, into the countryside of Honduras. Arriving at a small concrete compound which was normally used for a school, we set up stations to speak with, treat, and distribute medicine to the residents of the village. The village had no electricity and many of the homes had no running water. We brought our own gas generator to provide power for an electronic medical records system. We had to haul in tanks of fresh water just for our use during the day. Needless to say, I figured I was about as far away from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or the internet as I would ever be!

By the end of the week-long trip, I had all but forgotten about keeping up to date with Facebook statuses or checking-in to places on Foursquare. Then, the true power and reach of Facebook smacked me right in the face.

There I was, in the middle of a small village in rural Latin America, talking to a teenage girl from the area to which we were providing service. She told me she was studying to be an English teacher. We discussed her career aspirations and the differences between Honduran and American life. I enjoyed our conversation and the novelty of sharing about our different cultures. Then, she did it…she asked, “Do you have El Face?”

What? Had she just asked me if I had  Facebook? I had to double check. “Do you mean, FACEBOOK?” I asked. Not being fluent in Spanish, I had to make sure that something hadn’t been lost in translation. Certainly, a teenager from a village that had no electricity, barely had running water, and had no garbage collection service, couldn’t be asking me if I used Facebook. But she was.

Sí, por supuesto! Todo el mundo tiene El Face!” she exclaimed. Roughly translated, she was saying, “DUH, of course I have Facebook. The whole world has Facebook!”

Me and My New Honduran Facebook Friends

Me and My New Honduran Facebook Friends

I shouldn’t have been surprised. With over 901 million active monthly users, Facebook could stand alone as the 3rd largest country in the world. It was after returning home to find a friend request from my new Honduran friend, though, that the global power of the social network really struck me on a personal level.

To me, this story highlights the point that the world is truly your audience with Facebook. Though we may all experience vast differences in our day-to-day lives, Facebook has become a common ground for interaction. Sure, the Honduran teenager I met may not be as involved with Facebook as I am. (I rarely ever close it!) In fact, she probably only accesses it about once a week when she travels to a bigger city. But, the very fact that the social network could serve as a common ground between our two very different lives in the first place is intriguing to me.

In the future, I’d love to see more small businesses, “Mom & Pop shops,” and local brands embrace this worldly point of view. Why think locally when you could be making connections globally through a Facebook page? Has your brand started engaging fans globally? What could you do to provide value to others outside of your local area? Clearly, with Facebook, global is the new local.

There’s no reason to limit your audience when Facebook seems to have penetrated almost every corner of the earth. Or in the words of my new friend, “Todo el mundo tiene El Face!”

*Originally written for the Fanpage Toolkit blog.

 


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Honduras – Video

This past week, I was lucky enough to visit Honduras with Temple University’s School of Medicine and provide volunteer medical and educational services. I had an amazing time, and felt really good about just “unplugging” and exploring a different country. Along the way, I shot some footage with my new camera and turned it into a little video. Take a look!