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The personal site of Jamie Knight, a slightly autistic web developer, speaker and mountain biker who is never seen far from his plush sidekick Lion. View the Archive

Topics: Autism Development

2013 Kona Dr Dew Review

After almost 2 years without a city bike I am back in the saddle with a new Kona. For those keeping track, this is my 3rd bike in London. The first two (another Kona and Specialised) were both stolen, so this time i am being extremely careful. After all the specialised was stolen from outside my office whilst it was triple locked!

Anyway, the Kona is their replacement and 50 miles in I thought now would be a good time to do a little review.

Overview

The Kona Dr Dew is a mid to high end hybrid ‘urban commuter’ bike. It’s designed for efficient movement around the city but with more comfort and control that a traditional racing bike. It has a more comfortable mountain bike style riding position and disk brakes. But with road like wheels and running gear.

I use it mostly for leisure, in London I ride around nearby parks, but i have taken it further afield down to somerset for a 25 mile ride along the Taunton and Bridgewater canal a few weeks ago.

I have two other uses in mind. The first is that I would like to one day try a commute. The route from home to work is simple enough, it’s mostly just following a canal. The issue is the busy roads on both ends. Neither are very encouraging.

The second future use is perhaps more realistic. Sponsered cycling. I originally purchased the bike to do the RideLondon 100 mile bikeride with a friend in aid of the National Autistic Society. We missed out this year due to my health. But i hope that if i train hard perhaps i can enter next year or a similar event.

The Kit

The Dr Dew is the top spec city bike that Kona sells. The retail price is around £900 but I picked mine up for less than half that amount. The bike has a good all around spec but the highlights for me are defintely the brakes, tyres and gearing.

Brakes

The Kona has a set of Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic disk brakes which are about mid range. They are designed for mountain bikes rather than city bikes which means they have much more power than typical cable pull disk brakes found on commuting bikes.

Other bikes i looked at even at £300 more had generic hydraulic disk brakes or cheap Shimano units. While the Shimano brakes are good, they dont have the same feel on the low end as the Avid models.

I really like the confidence these brakes provide. When they were new, they took a little bit of time to fettle into shape, but now they are running absolutely smoothly. When out at the park, I have the confidence to let speed build knowing that if needed i can bring the bike to a stop rapidly.

When combined with the tyres, the braking is predictable and precise. This leads to extremely enjoyable, highly controllable brake drifts when desired. At the far corner of a local park is a long sweeping downhill follow by a 90 degree bend which is massivly satisfying to drift around on the brakes.

As well as being fun when wanted, the brakes are reliable and good at more mundane stopping duties to when riding to and from the park.

Tyres.

The Contenential CityRide 32mm tyres are also very impressive. They combine a high profile centre (for high speed, low resisitance cruising) with a very gripping side tread for more grab in the rain or when the tyre is pushed.

My previous Kona also had Contenental tyres. They were much less sporty, with a 37mm width and no high profile ridge, i much prefer the new rubber.

The performance is not entirely free. The trade off is comfort. The 37mm CountryRides on my last Kona where much happier with light off road riding and bumpy lanes. The CityRides on the Dr Dew are best for surfaced paths. Riding along the gravel tow path of the canal was much rougher than it was on my old Kona.

For the majority of my riding this tradeoff is fine. I can deal with reduced comfort in return for the increase in efficiency. I don’t run the CityRide tyres that hard at around 45 PSI, but for my next long canal ride, i made drop the pressures slightly to see if that helps with the comfort.

Gearing.

The gearing is powered by a Sram Via Centro unit. The Centro is a hybrid bike specific gearset based on mountain bike technology. It has 2 × 10 setup using a wide ratio 10 speed rear cassette.

In general, I have found the gearing to be excellent. Shifts are smooth and predictable and the mech is very quiet and refined. I have made them crunch a few times, but mostly that was due to user error and trying to put power through the drivetrain while shifting at very low speeds.

Being a city based rider, i dont intend to throw much mud into my general riding, but the small amounts of mud, dirt and dust already thrown at the Centro seems to have been shrugged off without issue. When i got back from the last canal ride i also pulled a few large sticks out of the cassette which i had not noticed while riding.

The other finishing kit on the Kona is all very good. While i dont have any plans for upgrades at the moment. I do have a good feel for where future upgrades could be well placed.

The ride

With the background and kit discussed, how does she ride? In the 50 miles we have shared so far she has ridden very well indeed. On smooth surfaces the kona dew can gain and shed speed easily and smoothly. Even when the going gets a little rougher, the kona remains smooth.

When the going gets really rough (muddy tracks!) her harsh ride does start to jar. But as mentioned above, this may be resolved with some tyre pressure tweaks. This is a very small part of my riding so generally is not of concern.

Where Next

As I alluded too earlier, within the next few years I hope to get good mileage out of the Kona. At first around the local parks, but hopefully with some sponsored cycle rides and perhaps a bit of commuting too.

The few changes i am considering making are more for comfort than for need. The first would be to swap the handle bar for a slightly more flexable Carbon Fibre model. This would help to reduce the harshness of the ride while also reducing the weight a little.

The second change is more functional. I am very tempted to invest in a bottle holder so that i can drink while i ride without needing to reach into my bag and upset the lion who dwells there. Carbon fibre bottle holders are cheap these days, so I may splash out on somehthing swish with some of the money I was given for my birthday.

Final Verdict.

I am really impressed with the Kona Dr Dew. It has a good build, fine ride and manages to stay pretty light. I expect it to last me for a very long time, and i look forward to many more miles to come.

Published: 16 August 2015 | Categories: , Permalink

Building friendship online for autistic teenagers.

I saw a twitter discussion today which asked:

“What’s the best way to help #autistic teens develop good friendships?” (Source: @reachoutASC)

I had a think and here is my response.

Find online forums relating to special interests then spend some time supporting the individual to write an introduction and contribute.

What is a forum.

Online forums are also known as discussion boards. When I was a teenager I joined one called Boagworld forum about my big obsession (web design and development) and it worked really well for me.

I think a forum works well because:

What about safety?

Safety online is never perfect. But with a few techniques it can be manageable.

For younger teenagers, they should not be online unsupervised. This is even more important for those who are naive or vulnerable.

For older and more able users, support is required.

I would suggest looking for a profession forum relating to a special interest. These can often be found in Magazines.

I would then suggest the young person is supported to write an introductory post to introduce themselves.

In my opinion, for a professional forum disclosing autism is a sensible thing to do. In my experience (10+ years) professional forums are very likely to welcome a knowledgable new member regardless of the autism. By knowing from the start, you create an environment where you can explain needs and hopefully also raise some awareness along the way.

It’s also sensible to follow the transitional ‘cyber’ safety rules:

It won’t always be smooth sailing. I use to get upset on the forum often. But that was part of the learning process. It had huge value.

Outcomes.

I met most of my friends online via forums. My friends also provide a great deal of support for me, so the web was instrumental in my life and my journey to independence.

A friend i met online 10 years ago is currently living with me providing support. So while the return may not be immediate it can be huge.

Finally, interaction on the forums led to me attending events. When i attended events, everyone knew me and that made it much easier. People could focus on my skills not my needs.

Attending events became invitations to speak at events. Via a whirlwind of awesome involving Apple, Channel 4 and the BBC that led to my current career.

I didn’t interact with my ‘age peers’. I still don’t. I interact with my actual peers, my age is unimportant.

If you want to try this, let me know and I would be happy to help identify forums and the like.

Published: 31 July 2015 | Categories: Permalink

Using defaults to manage anxiety

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at Digital Croydon called ‘The Developer Mindset’. The talk details some of the engineering principles I have adopted for my day to day life as part of managing the transition towards independence.

The talk discuses a few things such as spoons and avoiding burnout. But I have written about that before. So for this post, I want to focus on a different topic. This post is all about ‘defaults’.

Default all the things.

I have a timetable and I like to follow it. I don’t follow it perfectly unless I am specifically quite anxious and seeking structure.

My timetable provides me with a default. I can choose to follow the default or go with something else.

Knowing the default is there gives me the structure I need to reduce the anxiety. While also giving me some flexibility.

For example, I can choose to avoid a shower in the morning because I had a shower the night before.

Or I can choose to go for something different for dinner knowing that the default is in the freezer waiting for me.

It’s a simple concept but I have found it to be very useful.

To put a development spin on it; effectively I have just decided on some sensible defaults for my ‘life’ API.

The default covers me for when I don’t know what to do or don’t have the energy or interest to make a comfortable decision.

In the past, departing from my timetable gave me a sense of falling into chaos and with it a surge in anxiety.

These days, I choose to treat my timetable as a defaults mechanism. It’s there when I need it or want it. But it’s just the default, if I think I can do better I am free to do so.

Published: 29 July 2015 | Categories: Permalink

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