DON’T CALL IT A ‘CASE’ | Optrix turns iPhone into an HD action-sports cam that can take a beating and a bath

The Optrix XD5 and helmet mount in action.

We’ve all done it—fumbled with our iPhone during a ride to try and get “the shot” only to have it wind up face down in the dirt with a new spiderweb screen saver. And point of view with the same iPhone? Forget about it, unless you like riding one-handed.

Enter Optrix, a unibody polycarbonate housing that turns iPhone 4, 4S and 5 models into waterproof, wearable, wide-angle, high-definition, point-of-view action sports cameras. Given the HD capabilities of the iPhone and the fact that most users carry it just about everywhere, this seems like a no-brainer. So, why didn’t someone think of it sooner?

Well, they did.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” John Willenborg, Optrix founder and CEO told The Link.

The first Optrix was designed around the iPod Nano in 2009.

Optrix has been a labor of love for about 4 years,” recalls Willenborg. “I used to be a semi pro motorcycle racer and used a GoPro frequently. One race weekend I was getting ready to head on track and I realized I left the GoPro SD card in my computer. My iPod Nano was just sitting there on the table and I decided to zip-tie it to the front of the motorcycle. The results were fantastic. The Nano was clearer, easier to use and I was able to watch the race back right on the device. The simplicity made so much sense I decided to start Optrix and create a better way to capture action video.”

The XD5 is not Optrix' first rodeo. Photo courtesy Optrix

The XD5 is not Optrix’ first rodeo.

In 2010 the company patented a clamshell design for the iPhone—then scrapped it.

“If there was a mistake to be made on the housings, chances are we made it,” Willenborg says, surprisingly candid about the dead ends in the extensive development process.

“The XD5 is the fourth generation of our XD Series, and it’s the result of countless hours of industrial design and engineering—making Optrix more than just a ‘phone case,'” says Willenborg. “We built prototypes, we tested, we found flaws, and reengineered until it was, in our eyes, perfect. There’s a reason our housing doesn’t look like anything else on the market: we’ve tried them all, and none compare to the durability and user friendliness of Optrix XD5.”

Among those flaws was the fact that the clamshell design required 15-percent more area—read more material—to be waterproof. More material equals more weight, and one of the goals—other than being waterproof and nearly indestructible—was to be lightweight, according to Willenborg. That lack of heft was achieved with a distinctive low-profile, monocoque, polycarbonate construction that still allowed it to take a beating—and a bath. During the marketing, er, testing phase, Optrix dropped its latest incarnation, the XD, from a second story window, threw it against a wall, ran it over with a full-size pickup truck and took it snorkeling in the Pacific, all—safely—while recording.

Not bad considering we’ve had friends mourn the loss of iPhones that met their demise during mundane activities such as getting out of the car or using the restroom. But we digress.

Out of the box

The Optrix XD5 includes everything you need—and a zip tie.

Out of the box, both the XD4 and XD5 include the main housing, an iPhone “sled,” a 175-degree wide-angle lens, a flat base mount, a curved base mount, a safety leash, a removable rail clip and a zip tie (hey, ya never know when you’ll need one).

The main housing—the true brainchild of Optrix R&D—is what makes it unique in the world of cases and mounts for both stand-alone POV cams and camera phones. Optrix claims it received inspiration for the monocoque, unibody construction of its housing from the driver “cocoons” designed to protect Formula 1 drives in fiery 200-mph crashes. It all sounds a bit dramatic, but regardless of the inspiration, the waterproof, nearly indestructible result is impressive. A “membrane” over the screen allows the user to retain full touchscreen functionality while remaining sealed and waterproof. The XD5 features an access door on the bottom of the housing to allow easy access for charging and headphone use while inside, though opening this port mitigates its waterproof properties.

The included iPhone “sled” serves as a sort of protective cartridge for inserting your iPhone into the main housing. Upon slipping an iPhone into the rubberized sled, we discovered it lives a surprising double life. The sled, as it turns out, makes a rather fine iPhone case for everyday use on its own. Bonus.

The wide-angle lens enhances the field of view, making the most of the iPhone’s HD recording abilities. Flat and curved base mounts with 3M industrial adhesive give you some mounting options to get started, but over 40 mounts are available, including our personal favorite, the chest mount. A sliding rail system means that you can easily attach and remove the main housing, allowing you to utilize its protective capacity whether or not it’s mounted and filming.

A safety leash and zip tie are thrown in for good measure.

In action

Head or chest? Life is about choices. Photo courtesy Optrix

Head or chest? Life is about choices.

Setup is easy. The sliding rail system allows for easy attachment to various mounts. The adhesive mounts work as well as any others we’ve used and the unibody construction keeps weight to a minimum. Other than being able to immediately watch footage you’ve just recorded, being able to immediately see what you’re recording on the iPhone’s screen makes for easy adjustment when mounting, taking the guesswork out of getting the right angle. There’s nothing worse than having a great run only to download your footage and find out your chest mount was pointed straight up your nose the entire time.

Once on the sled and in the case, things are pretty simple—but they weren’t simple enough for Optrix. The company developed propriety iPhone apps to maximize POV potential. The Optrix VideoSport is a free app featuring focus lock and adjustability for resolution and frame rate. The focus lock feature prevents the iPhone from “hunting” and constantly attempting to focus while in motion. At the time of press, motion-activated start/stop and a “minutes left” warning are slated for the next update.

An Optrix VideoPro gives users the ability to overlay telemetry data on their videos including speed, G-Force, lap times and a track map in addition to the functions of the VideoSport for $9.99 in the app store. Both also include oversized record, stop and play buttons for ease of use.

Final take

While it may seem counter-intuitive to bomb your favorite trail with an expensive iPhone anywhere but stowed safely in your pack or back in the truck, we’re looking forward to spending more time with and putting the Optrix through its paces and—most likely—testing its crash-test rating. While other dedicated POV cams likely aren’t going anywhere, the Optrix offers an ingenious and viable option for riders who already have a very capable iPhone, but don’t want to drop the extra coin for an expensive stand-alone unit.

by Don Stefanovich 

 

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ENTER TO WIN | Manitou Tower Pro 100mm 29er Fork

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To celebrate the all-new Price Point and THE BIG SALE, we are giving away a MANITOU TOWER PRO 100mm 29ER FORK valued at $550.

 ENTER TO WIN

Price Point is the exclusive online dealer of Manitou in the United States.

No purchase necessary. Full rules and regulations at PricePoint.com.

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ENTER TO WIN | Complete Mavic Riding Kit

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To celebrate the all-new Price Point and THE BIG SALE, we are giving away two complete riding kits from Mavic: one mountain and one road.

 ENTER TO WIN

Winners select color, size and style.*

No purchase necessary. Full rules and regulations at PricePoint.com.

*Subject to availability 

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SRAM XX1 SWEEPSTAKES | Winner announced

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Congratulations to Tim Kemmerer, winner of our SRAM XX1 Sweepstakes.

Tim wins a complete SRAM XX1 drivetrain with Gripshift valued at over $1,200.

Stay tuned for your chance to win more #bikeswag from Price Point.

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TROY LEE DESIGN’S TRAIL ROOTS | New gear recalls the company’s history

The new A1 only the most recent incarnation of TLD's trail helmets.

The new A1 is only the most recent incarnation of TLD’s trail helmets. Photo by Don Stefanovich

If you ride a mountain bike, chances are you know Troy Lee Designs for its line of full-face helmets and gravity gear. And maybe you are familiar with its origins in races requiring internal combustion engines; Troy, after all, got his start racing motocross as a teenager and painting helmets for his friends in his parents’ garage. But what most people don’t realize is that the company’s first venture into bicycle helmets was closer to the recently hyped A1 enduro helmet than anything in between.

The A1 recently received quite a bit of buzz, and rightfully so. After three years of development and scrapping several concepts, TLD released what it felt to be a proper all-mountain helmet—not a road helmet with a visor. The A1 features deep rear coverage and EPS (expanded polystyrene, the impact-absobing material in most helmets) that is strategically thicker in common impact zones and reinforced with fiberglass strands, but combines that extra protection with “super vents” for improved cooling over similar designs without compromising safety. Inside is a one-piece liner for comfort, so you won’t have to fuss with separate pads. Naturally, as an artist, Troy couldn’t let the A1 leave the factory without a custom look, so techniques used on moto helmets were applied to the paint and graphics along with anodized hardware. It all weighs in at a tidy 320 grams.

But among all that buzz in the bike-industry media, the A1 was widely regarded as TLD‘s first trail helmet without a chinbar—a statement that happens to be both true and false.

A young Troy Lee makes visors on at a time on the punch press. Photo courtesy TLD.

A young Troy Lee makes visors one at a time on the punch press. Photo courtesy TLD.

Troy Lee Designs‘ deep [bicycle] roots can be traced back to the ’70s when Troy and his brother Kelly roamed around in the hills of Laguna Beach on beach cruisers,” bicycle division marketing manager Craig “Stikman” Glaspell told The Link. “And later on when Troy started painting helmets in 1981, he would eventually find his way to BMX racing in the late ’80s painting Dave Cullinans helmets, who would be the first BMX racer to have a custom painted helmet.”

In the early ’90s, motorcycle helmet manufacturer Shoei decided it was going to take a stab the mountain-bike market, but needed a little help. Troy got the call.

The Edge lived double lives as trail helmet and downhill dome bucket.

The Edge lived double lives as trail helmet and downhill dome bucket. Photo by Don Stefanovich

Shoei’s now-iconic—among those old enough to remember it—louvered shell was soon splashed with wild paint schemes by Troy and outfitted with a custom visor. One of the first “real” mountain-bike helmets was born. Donned by pro riders the likes of Brian Lopes, Greg Herbold and Leigh Donovan in races at the time, it quickly put the motorsport-goods maker on the mountain-bike map. When Lopes wanted a little more protection, Troy devised a detachable chinbar, making the Edge both TLD‘s first half-shell and full-face lid. While the chinbar design wouldn’t pass TLD‘s strict safety standards of today, the concept was revolutionary at the time for a bicycle helmet—and even moto helmets of the day featured removable chin pieces.

A young Troy Lee shows his nephews how to paint an Edge helmet. Photo courtesy TLD.

A young Troy Lee teaches his nephews how to paint an Edge helmet. Photo courtesy TLD.

“Later in the ’90s was when Troy would make the groundbreaking full-face that set the standard, the Daytona,” said Stikman. The Daytona closely resembled today’s full-face helmets, and was a giant leap forward in 1995. Mike King, Nico Vouilloz and Dave Cullinan—luminaries during the ’90s in BMX and mountain-bike racing—all had their heads inside a Daytona. Soon everyone wanted one. TLD began production in 1996, and soon the Daytona was making appearances on the World Cup circuit on noggins the likes of Steve Peat and Shaun Palmer (yes, the snowboarder was a World Cup downhill racer—and a damn good one).

A detachable chinbar was was good enough for motocross, why not mountain bikes?

A detachable chinbar was was good enough for motocross, why not mountain bikes? Photo by Don Stefanovich

While the Edge helmet planted TLD‘s feet firmly in the mountain-bike market, the Daytona’s popularity carried more momentum, eclipsing the Edge and eventually evolving into the popular D2 full-face in 2001 and later the D3 in 2009.

Today the company is predominantly known for its strong footing in downhill and freeride helmets and gear but Stikman is quick to point out that it’s only a part of TLD‘s bicycle segment. “Troy Lee has been making BMX and mountain-bike apparel since the ’90s as well, from number plates and racewear to the introduction of trail-riding gear in early 2000, to what is now one of the best lineups in all-mountain, enduro, freeride and racing apparel on the market,” he said. The company counts to its credit an all-star big-bike roster including Aaron Gwin, Sam Hill, Brendan Fairclough, Troy Brosnan,Cam Zink and Brandon Semenuk, but is growing its enduro team as well. Nicolas Vouilloz, Curtis Keene and Lars Stenberg are all on board.

Even though they are separated by two decades, the A1 bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor

Even though they are separated by two decades, the A1 bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. Photo by Don Stefanovich

The Link was recently able to preview TLD‘s newest technical trail products—including gloves, shorts, jerseys and even an expansion on TLD’s partnership with Shock Doctor to include post-injury support products such as knee and wrist braces—but most of the goods are still top-secret. We will give you full details as soon as we’re able, but what we can say is that the new gear will round out the line to cover just about any style of riding when it comes time to put two wheels in the dirt.

Vintage cross-country race bikes and kits from the likes of Brian Lopes, John Tomac and Greg Herbold remind visitors of TLD's trail roots.

Vintage cross-country race bikes and kits from the likes of Brian Lopes, John Tomac and Greg Herbold remind visitors of TLD’s trail roots. Photo by Don Stefanovich

Lest anyone forget TLD‘s trail roots, cross-country race bikes and kits from the likes of legends like Greg Herbold, John Tomac and Brian Lopes hang among the wild array of clothing, products and memorabilia in its So Cal showroom.

“We have been doing it for a few years and some of the items we have had were the first to market: trail-riding shorts, freeride shorts, loose-fitting jerseys, etc.,” Stikman said. “It is definitely a buzzword right now, but these new formats are things Troy and I did 20 years ago. Racing mountain bikes you had to race the uphill to race the downhill. We were out all day on trails, having fun with our friends, cooking at the campsite, having a beer fireside. It is a lifestyle that we all still live today, not just the latest craze for us.”

by Don Stefanovich 

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GIVEAWAY | Aaron Gwin autographed jersey courtesy of Troy Lee Designs

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Congratulations to Mike Mitchell! He is the proud new owner of an autographed Aaron Gwin jersey courtesy of Troy Lee Designs.

Mike, email us at [email protected] with GWIN GIVEAWAY in the subject line by 5 p.m. PST on Thursday, March 21, 2013 and we’ll get it on its way!

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ENTER TO WIN | Free SRAM XX1 complete drivetrain

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To celebrate the all-new Price Point, we are giving away a complete SRAM XX1 Gripshift drivetrain (32t, 175mm) valued at over $1,200 to one lucky rider.

 ENTER TO WIN

No purchase necessary. Full rules and regulations at PricePoint.com.

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VIDEO | Troy Lee Designs A1 Enduro Helmet

Troy Lee Designs spent nearly three years crafting its most recent entry into the half-lid all-mountain/enduro market, and it looks as if it’s been well worth the wait.

The TLD A1 features full coverage and an aggressive style, making it a worthy contender for today’s emerging crop of enduro racers and all-mountain riders. Sixteen large vents coupled with a specially designed air-channeling visor are designed to keep the rider cool, while a deep rear profile provides more coverage than a traditional trail helmet.

TLD has a history in motorcycle racing, and it shows. In addition to the aggressive lines, the company has applied a paint/graphics process used in moto helmets—very unconventional to bicycle helmets—along with anodized hardware to create a unique and custom moto-inspired look.

Whether you are an elite enduro athlete or an after-work ripper, the long-awaited A1 was developed for you and the love of your sport.

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AND THEN THERE WAS ONE | SRAM’s XX1 simplifies drivetrain performance

"Push, fellars! There's singletrack in dem der hills!"

Before gears, there was only one way to the top. Photo by Gary Fisher, courtesy of Charlie Kelly/Sonic.net

Gravity junkies and freeride fiends have been espousing the benefits of running single-ring setups nearly as long as they’ve been using shuttles and ski lifts in order to maximize their down time.

But why lose gears? At one point in the ‘70s—when a few boys in Nor Cal riding 1940s Schwinns figured out that grafting road gears onto their “klunkerz” allowed them to climb up as well as ride down—being able to shift was the single greatest innovation in the blossoming sport of mountain biking. We’ve been adding gears and complicating things ever since. More is better, right?

In theory, yes, but if you weren’t much concerned with climbing, it made sense to ditch the front rings—it was simpler, and, with the addition of a chainguide, all but eliminated dropped chains and the cacophony of chain slap.

So many a ham-fisted freerider went to work—not unlike those Nor Cal incendiaries years before—mixing and matching parts. They paired a single front ring with a rear cassette, then slapped some sort of chain-chastity containment unit around it. Which was fine, considering the extent of climbing on their “big” bikes was rather limited.

But what if you do climb and want a wide range of gears for a wide range of trails? And what if you climb mostly to reach the same kind of rowdy, chunky downhills capable of rattling the fillings out of your head, and don’t want to add guides and pulleys and gizmos just to avoid dropping your chain? We were trying to simplify things, weren’t we?

Enter XX1

SRAM’s XX1 goes up to 11. If they rode bikes, Spinal Tap would be stoked.

 

SRAM’s new golden child pairs a single, front chainring—available in 28, 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38-tooth flavors—with an 11-speed rear cassette for a wide range of gearing conducive to today’s all-mountain and enduro riders. But that’s not to pigeonhole it; everyone from cross-country hammerheads to aforementioned gravity junkies can find something to like here, especially with the wide range of rings available—rings designed not to drop chains. Seems like common sense.

Traditional rings are designed to drop chains, and traditional chain management then is designed to attempt to negate another component’s intended purpose. It all sounds a bit convoluted, doesn’t it?

In addition to lacking the ramping of traditional rings meant to dump the chain, XX1 ring features teeth of alternating thickness designed to fill the different size openings in the chain. SRAM calls it “X-Sync.” As it will be doing all the work all the time, SRAM made the front ring of durable aluminum, and paired it with carbon crank arms for a light-yet-strong package.

The X-Sync tooth design is designed not to drop chains. Who'd have thunk it?

The X-Sync teeth are designed not to drop chains. Who’d have thunk it?

 

Even the chain gets some special treatment here. Aside from playing nicely with the aforementioned X-Sync design of the front ring, the XX1 chain is coated with HARD CHROME—a friction-reducing coating to prevent wear, elongation and weakening. We see no reason this technology shouldn’t trickle down to other chains (it probably will), but it particularly makes sense here, where a thinner profile is necessary to mate with the tighter spacing of the 11-ring cluster.

Along with the Type 2 chain-tensioning clutch-style tech on the rear mech, all this means dropped chains essentially don’t exist. Sure, some riders may still opt for a guide of some sort, but most will likely never miss it should they ditch it. It also makes for a quiet ride—a really quiet ride. And anything that allows for greater appreciation of the sweet sounding duet that can only be performed by tires and dirt is fine by us.

Aside from the Type 2 technology, the XX1 rear derailleur moves in a “straight parallelogram” as opposed to the traditional “slant parallelogram” of traditional modern derailleurs. All this mumbo jumbo really means is that the shifting path moves perpendicular to the chain line, since the rear derailleur is now dedicated to rear shifts—not attempting to compensate for changes in chain length due to front shifts. Again, simple. Nice.

Shifting duties will be handled courtesy of an 11-speed shifter available as a trigger or the recently revived Grip Shift.

You rang?

While we can only guess what the next addition or subtraction might be to mountain-bike technology, SRAM’s XX1 seems like a simple-yet-elegant solution from which most riders—regardless of bike or riding style—can benefit.

Have you ridden XX1? Give us your impressions in the comments below.

Want to ride XX1? We’re giving away a complete XX1 drivetrain here.

The only real question now, is what will you do with all that newly vacant real estate on the other side of the bars? Maybe it’s time for a bell.

by Don Stefanovich 

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