Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good Design is Intuitive

I was completely sold on those top-mount brake levers on the Cross Check in the first ten seconds this morning.

Going down my eroded dirt and gravel driveway, I wanted to slow down to check for approaching traffic before pulling out. Intuitively, I used the iterrupter lever on the front brake, as if I'd always had it. Perfect.

Later, in town, I rode in the multi-variable environment on Main Street with my hands on the top levers. I could see better than when I'm more extended on the hoods and I could stop instantly for darting pedestrians or other sudden intrusions.

Out on the road I could tell the levers were there, but never felt they interfered with any of my favorite cruising positions.

I would not slap them on any bike, but they're perfect for this one. Setting them wide the way I did leaves room for light and handlebar-bag brackets whenever I might add them. If I transfer the multi-gear setup to the Traveler's Check for a trip that might call for it everything will work just as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brake Hack, No Pictures

I'm at work, so time is short. Here it is:

Customer wanted reach adjusted closer to bars on the brakes of her child's road bike. Levers are already small, considered close reach.

Space is tight in the lever body, preventing me from sleeving a nut or other cylindrical closed spacer in there. I solved that by using a spring from a derailleur cable adjuster. It had a wide enough diameter to span the cable holes but was skinny and flexible enough to squeeze into the lever body. Using a cut-off spoke through the cable mounting hole I was able to orient the spring along the axis of the cable path. The spoke was skinny enough to allow me to feed the cable along it.

Next time I might try softer springs or cutting them a little short. I think these will work, but they could be perfecter. I just don't have time to extract, adjust and reinsert them when it doesn't seem absolutely necessary.

EDIT 16:20 EDT: Stupid perfection. I couldn't stand it "good enough," so I yanked it apart, trimmed a couple of millimeters off the springs and put it back together. It is better.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We interrupt this cable housing to bring you these levers

I'd been thinking about adding interrupter brake levers since I first saw them. Many times on the roughest dirt roads and technical trails I'd wished I had convenient brake levers when riding up and back on the tops of the bars. I've also wished for them when riding slowly, touring with slower riders. In both situations I want to sit up and look around.

Adding these will definitely limit my positions on the top of the bars. That had kept me from trying them. Overall, I hope they make this bike more versatile. I set them wider than the reinforced center section to add more light-mounting positions above the bar now that the levers and different cable routing take up space below it. I can easily fit four Planet Bike Beamers now. I could probably fit a fifth one under the bars on the right (bike right, not photo right). That's gettin' crazy.


Jim Ayyy got his rain bike this far before dragging it home for final touches. His hilly route discourages him from building a fixed-gear. Perhaps crunchy derailleurs and wet rim brakes will change his mind. He did look into various internally-geared hubs, but wanted to keep costs near nil. The snazzy yellow fenders represent the largest expenditure on this project so far. I believe everything else was salvaged. The frame was Arf's first fixed gear. He moved on, first to a Surly Steamroller, then to his own web design business.

Jim Ayyy says the setup is very uncomfortable. A Technomic stem and wider bars will push the investment higher, but it needs to be finished so we can go into a drought.

This thing has been frustrating me for months. Pulled from a trash pile in Arlington, VA, the basic carcass looked like a good starting point on which to build a trashmo commuter for my nephew. He doesn't have protected bike storage where he spends his summers, so a really nice bike would suffer needless exposure.

My older brother (Orang Basikal) salvaged the wreck and brought it to me with some parts. But then, one little hitch at a time, it got worse instead of better. The rear wheel is too bent for bash-and-tweak. The BB is corroded too solidly into the frame to come out. The Shimano Crank of Death replacement parts kit requires a new BB to fit the crank they send. Meanwhile, I haven't been able to find a crank that fits the spindle length in the current BB.

Used bike bandits conned my boss into selling a pile of junkers in the shop basement for cheap money at the end of winter, before I was back from our seasonal second location. A lot of raw material got away when that happened.

I just need to talk the nephew into riding a single speed, which I could knock together for him in jig time. Just not on this frame, because it has VD.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plucky Environmental Group Seeks Votes to Secure Grant

The Green Mountain Conservation Group, named for the centerpiece mountain of Effingham, NH, not the famous range in Vermont, has made it to the second round of an Internet popularity contest to secure a $15,000 grant. This money will help fund our programs promoting water protection in the largest stratified drift aquifer in the state. The watershed is a major contributor to the Saco River drainage, so water quality here also has effects through a large swath of Maine.

VOTE HERE, as often as the site will let you, through July 9.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time is running out for everyone

While reading this article on "The Importance of Social Justice in Cycling Policy," I found much with which I agree. The authors, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, stress that no single change will miraculously bring about a great cycling environment in the United States. While their names might invite mocking comparison to mewl and puke, I mention this merely to knock the legs out from under any detractor who might think it was an overlooked gem of wit.

In any situation that could affect the expenditure of a large amount of money, one might reasonably sniff carefully to detect disinformation and propaganda. If the study authors had highlighted the massive effort, expense and complexity of instituting changes to infrastructure and education to improve cycling, I might wonder if it was faint praise by cycling opponents working undercover to discourage any attempt. Indeed, the zealous insistence that vehicular cycling techniques on existing roadways are the one true faith does more to discourage major participation in cycling than does a frank and full evaluation of problems involved and their potential solutions.

If the bike industry can bury a disinterested population under hundreds of bike models, surely we can entertain many valuable options to improve the conditions in which we ride.

In particular I appreciated Pucher and Buehler's reference to aging or elderly riders. I plan to be an elderly rider, and I don't plan on retiring obediently to some separate path to nowhere to toddle along in my dotage. Cycling can improve the quality of life for older people from both a physiological and an economic standpoint. I have stretched a modest income a long way by keeping my transportation and health care expenses low. The bicycle has been a crucial part of this.

I was still in my 30s when I began to wonder how I might fare as a transportation cyclist in old age. Since the only way to avoid old age is to die young, I want options, should I happen to survive.

Failure to provide better transportation options amounts to class warfare against people who can't afford to play the car game or who try to avoid it. Right now, many people in many parts of the world aspire to own cars and whiz around the way we do. It was a good few decades, from the end of World War II through the 1980s. Unquestionably, we are the victim of our own success with motor vehicles. Traffic and parking issues afflict every urban center and Sprawlopolis.

The people who can remember how it was before car ownership became almost a universal requirement don't tend to remember it as a good time. An 81-year-old man I know in Wolfeboro drives his car a few hundred yards to the grocery store and post office rather than be seen demeaning himself on the sidewalk. In the summer I regularly beat him to the store and back, whether I'm cycling or walking. But still he drives. What's more, he's been doing it since he was a lot younger. And he's a very well-preserved 81. He could easily walk on his errands. He's just embarrassed to do so.

This same octogenarian cycles happily on the rail trail in town, once he drives the mile to it from his house. If he felt safer on the roads he might consider riding more. And he is not alone in his trepidation. We fit out dozens of riders for the path. They use it even after they take one of the nasty spills for which the path is famous because of its poor design. The path has definitely sent more people to the hospital than car-bike crashes have contributed in the years since the path was built. It is still viewed as a safer, more desirable cycling venue than the street.

The path highlights the desire for cycling facilities protected from the perception of motorist harm and the need for those facilities to be truly well made.

Car-free downtown areas would help a lot. To accommodate this, cyclists and walkers would have to accept pedicabs, rickshaws and low-powered motorized transport for people who really can't get themselves around and those who obstinately refuse to. Traffic is traffic. People make mistakes or do boneheaded things. Things can and should be better. They will never be perfect. I hope the voices of reason prevail soon, so we can actually get moving. It starts with people repeating reasonable ideas and refusing to be drawn into shoving matches.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What a Spaz!

Ibuprofen, my old friend --
I've come to chew on you again.
It's been four hours since my last two pills
that take the edge off this pain that kills.
And it hurts even worse than a swift kick in the balls,
or cycling falls...
leaving the sound of groaning

Thursday morning when I tried to put on my socks my back exploded in pain as a muscle spasm gripped it. I dropped to my knees, sobbing profanity, trying to breathe.

Within a minute or two I could move a little. I managed to evade my wife's notice as I made my way to my bike. Maybe I could ride my way out of this. Perhaps spinning the gear would ease the spasm and end this misery.

Then again, perhaps not. I crawled to work at about 14 miles per hour. Once I got on the bike the actual pedaling wasn't too bad. Getting off it was another matter. I could barely drag it into the shop. But what the hell. If I was going to be in miserable agony I might as well be at work. Who wants to waste a day off on that?

Every few minutes I had to sit down as the pain made me nauseous. Good times! I left my wife a phone message to tell her I was incapable of walking across town for a violin lesson. In return, she brought me pain killers and a cold pack to put on the knotted muscles.

My boss dragged my twisted carcass to my house after work. Friday I only left my house to get a massage.

Things are getting better. No disks seem to be involved. Massagiste says the likely trigger was the psoas muscle, a deeply-situated hip flexor. Stretching it as part of an overall campaign seems to be helping, along with fistfuls of my one-time favorite snack food, ibuprofen.

This is the problem with mindlessly cycling hard, day after day, with an aging body. Things like this sneak up on you. I used to be obsessive about stretching and supportive conditioning. Unfortunately, between work, domestic chores and transit time, I have to slice the remaining minutes pretty finely. The weights and stretching kept getting squeezed out. The stretching obviously has to squeeze back in.

I'll just cut back on work.

Pains like this are scary when they seem to come out of nowhere. I felt absolutely fine, with none of my usual warning twinges. It was a classic case. Pain like that makes you wonder if you'll ever move freely again. Prior to the Big Stiffie of rigor mortis, that is.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The First Thing Dog Owners Always Say

I got bitten on the hand by an enormous St. Bernard last week but I didn't want to post about it until I had a chance to draw this.

Backed By Statistics, Sides are Drawn

At the Mercy of Experts

If we each take the time to do exhaustive research and independent experiments to determine for ourselves whether bike helmets really work, and we do not ride until we have made up our minds, a lot of cyclists will be kept off the road while they do their homework.

If, instead, we trust experts on one side or the other, we're really taking it more on faith. But faith is the one thing we are told to suspect. Read the studies and decide for yourself! It's as simple as [insert disputed topic here].

Let me know how it turns out.

In Other News

A few years ago, when Lance Armstrong was at the height of his Tour de France monopoly, Dasani offered a cheesy little road bike as a promotion. Now this full-fendered commuter graces the produce department of my local grocery store. How cool is that?

Let Freedom (and your ears) Ring!

Ladies and germs, I am AGAINST MANDATORY HELMET LAWS. I am against them for the same reason I am against a number of other societal compulsions related to personal behavior.

I watch the actual scientific debate about helmets with interest. With equal interest do I view the squalling of the most ardent opponents of the brain bucket.

At the very least, your average helmet will blunt the impact of the average thrown beer bottle hurled by some redneck humorist with a better than average pitching arm.

I've never cycled outside the United States. Some places have been better than others. A lot depends on your goal for cycling. I don't like to do it as a destination activity -- something I go to do in a closed venue and then return home, usually by automobile. Other people will only do it that way. Every different cycling group perceives it in a different way.

Back in the 1990s I even remember a letter to a bicycle magazine, allegedly submitted by a mountain biker, promising to run road cyclists into the ditch if he saw any, because he believed mountain biking was the only form anyone should do. Here was a cyclist who believed roads are for cars, who threatened bodily harm to any Lycra faggot roadies who slowed him down on his hurtling journey to his favorite trail. Since these letters are as hard to verify as an anonymous blog comment, who knows if it was true. It got published.

This was right in line with what Brock Yates was saying at the time. Bikes are great. Keep them out of the way of progress.

Helmet choice depends on an individual rider's perception of the potential dangers of each riding venue. I guarantee that cycling in traffic in the United States significantly increases the chance you will have an openly hostile encounter. Just as military helmets wont stop a bullet or prevent a traumatic brain injury from an IED, so will a cycle helmet be of little use against the weapons leveled by road-raging motorists. But in the multi-variable environment of many streets, it might come in handy.

Motorists need not be hostile to be dangerous. They might simply be ignorant and impatient. You're running with a herd of nearly blind beasts with thick hides. Many of them have no thought for the little scampering things that insist on sharing the stampede trail with them. Others will swerve so far as to endanger their own kind, further increasing the anger of a few of them against the little scampering things. What are these little scampering things?! I want to stomp one!

Experienced cyclists using either official Effective techniques or whatever techniques they have individually developed will have far fewer accidents than cyclists that blunder around carelessly. On the other hand, maybe you just get the chop when your number comes up. Dance naked through live machine gun fire in the morning, slip and shatter your skull in the shower that night. We only think we know what we know.

I think, therefore I am mistaken?

If we all weren't already nuts, this would drive us crazy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Helmet "Skeptics": Do They Protest Too Much?

The vehemence with which the bicyclist opponents of bike helmet use attack the practice of wearing one makes me wonder if they secretly (or not so secretly) feel they might be wrong about not wearing one. They feel the need to state (even screech) over and over that helmets HURT CYCLING! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!? HELMETS ARE BAD, VERY BAD, NOT GOOD! GET RID OF YOUR HELMET AND REALLY HELP CYCLING TO GROW!

Sorry, I've just been following this thread on another cycling site. The helmet debate heats to a boil instantly. Each side throws its statistics at each other. Then the snide meter goes through the roof.

I hate wearing my helmet. But then, the designers of the Titanic hated how their pretty ship would look with a bunch of fugly lifeboats all over it. The vast majority of ships make it to harbor without ever needing lifeboats. If you have a good ship and know how to operate it, you'll never need those lifeboats anyway. Lifeboats, in fact, give the impression that SHIP TRAVEL IS DANGEROUS. Ticket bookings drop precipitously when potential customers think they might be in danger out there. And if you've ever actually been in a lifeboat, you will surely agree, those things will only save your life by the wildest stretch of luck. They're so small, in that huge ocean. Every passenger should have the choice of bringing their own lifeboat if they feel it will enhance their safety. The poor misguided sods.

Brothers and sisters, people started to stop riding on the streets in the 1980s, long before there was a thriving bike helmet industry. Their perception of the danger stems from large numbers of pushy bastards shoving ever increasing numbers of vehicles through curb-lined death canyons in city and suburb. In fact, cyclist numbers began to drop well before the advent of the SUV. Maybe things were different in some specific regions, but in general many industrialized countries spent the 1980s falling out of love with the bicycle. Why do you think those of us who rode through that period are so shell-shocked and bitter? We believed all that 1970s horse shit about peace and love and ten speeds. We knew from experience that a better life was as close as our local bike shop and your own streets and roads. And the vast majority of our fellow citizens couldn't shit on us enough.

The tide seems to be turning, hallerlooya. A whole bunch of people have suddenly gotten the word, and that's good. I'm willing to bet that a large number of the people in the helmet debate weren't there from 1975 to the present.

Skimming the principal (and possibly only) study by Dr. Ian Walker regarding motorists overtaking cyclists with and without helmets, I see only points of departure for further, better organized and targeted studies no one will ever undertake because of the trouble and expense involved. For instance, Dr. Walker states that motorists passed cyclists much closer when the riders were farther out in the lane, "contrary to what many experienced cyclists believed would happen."

Dr. Ian, I don't expect motorists to give me more room when I cover the lane. I either intend to block them completely until it is safe for them to pass, or I'm just trying to gain myself a little more escape room when something big decides to wedge in beside me.

Dr. Walker states that helmets do protect the head in low speed crashes. Because of this, he says, they are good for children, but of dubious benefit to adults. Of course. Adults never ride slowly. Here's an idea: as soon as you get up to a really safe speed you can take your helmet off and put it on the rear carrier until you plan to slow down again. "Please return seat backs and tray tables to the upright position and fasten seat belts as we make our approach to the runway."

I know a lot of slow adults. Indeed, many of the "street clothes cyclists" who make the loudest noise about the massive benefits of riding helmetless make a big point about how they ride upright bikes in a non-strenuous way: SLOWLY.

None of this would draw my interest except for the ululating of the faithful on both sides of the battle lines.

"Ayeyeyeyeyeyeyeyeyeye!! Death to helmets!"

"Ayeyeyeyeyeyeyeyeyeyeye!! Death to the naked-headed!"


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Talking Head for Cycling

Many people are already aware that former Talking Heads front man (and much, much more) David Byrne is a cyclist and cycling advocate. If this is or isn't news to you, enjoy his review of the book, "Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities," by Jeff Mapes.

Byrne points 0ut an important aspect of bike transportation: it's fun. It requires effort, but gives enjoyment. The exercise just comes along for the ride:

“Pedaling Revolution” is not all facts and figures. Mapes, a journalist who covers politics for The Oregonian, describes how he gained weight and started feeling a bit down when he was forced to exchange his 10-mile daily bike commute in Portland for a “super-sized, 50-mile” drive to the Legislature in Salem. He argues that cycling promotion can raise society’s level of general fitness, since people exercise more when it seems less like exercise and more like something mostly enjoyable that also performs a function, like getting to work. “Bike and walking advocates,” he writes, “have been rebranding their cause as ‘active transportation,’ which manages to come off as nonthreatening to your average couch-bound American while carrying a nice touch of gravitas as well.”

Byrne points out that some of the more extreme manifestations of cycling hobby and sport may give the public the impression it is too intense an arena for them. The industry's fumbling for silver bullets that will suddenly turn bikes into the hot commodity they were at the early peak of the mountain bike boom hasn't helped. Consumers are more confused than ever by all the choices. Manufacturers continue to apply technology to what is a communication problem.

As an urban cyclist, Byrne understands that facet of transportation cycling very well. I would have stayed in a town if I could have afforded to live there. Annapolis was great for cycling, but lousy for a member of the working class. Now I live in a rural area, so my bike commuting is a more athletic and time-consuming endeavor. The work I do here is important. I worry a little, however, that the longer-distance cyclist in a growing area might get plowed under and paved over by arteries between urban enclaves. True urban areas need attention, but areas of lower density present more of a challenge. Meat grinder traffic churns in six-lane troughs with high curbs and deep storm drains, from stoplight to stoplight, mall to mall. That, my friend, is Hell.

Anyway, the book sounds like a good one to own and share. Cycling advocacy has to proceed on many fronts, to allay the fears of uncommitted riders and slay the notion that bike riders are freeloaders sucking off the financial contributions of the dutiful motorists.

Remember, the jersey should say "One More Parking Space" not "One Less Car."


The daisies along Route 25 look like snow

Sun sparkles and clear water from the bridge

More daisies on the far shore.

Huntress Bridge Road bisects a wetland and delineates a change in type that probably predates the road. It's also just pretty. Wild irises and azalea-like things make tiny spots of color amid the jumble of green shades and textures.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Input from Virginia Beach

In reference to "Cycling is a Civil Right," Paula said...

I'm a Virginia Beach resident, and it's not the worst place to ride, nor the best. A lot of it depends on what part of the city. The area is unfortunately a victim of sprawl and the cul-de-sac, and there just are some just plain unsafe roads with no alternative route. That being said, I commute by bicycle pretty regularly and don't have that many problems. Things can be a bit stressful if you can't bike comfortably over 15 mph in some places though.
It's just such a large city to get from place to place, and it's connected by mostly 45-50 mph main roads, some of which have nice wide shoulders, some have widened sidewalks, and some have "bike routes" on regular sidewalks, which doesn't work. City planning needs to be pressured more, but the general attitude isn't that bad.
On the downside, local legal official have proven they don't really give a damn if a cyclist gets hit, even if they have a reflective vest, front and back lights, are rear-ended, then killed. Definite anger at that bit.

When I checked Paula's profile I saw she's a martial arts instructor.

Paula: I fenced in college and have felt that a little training in a combat sport has helped with my attitude in traffic. Do you think your martial arts training has helped your riding? I wonder if the temperament that gravitates to sports like that helps us accept the flow of action and assert ourselves more strategically.

I also raced a little. I wasn't very good at it, but it also seems to have helped in the traffic criterium. I feel safer with the cars and trucks than I did with a bunch of fired-up Cat Fours.

Grease Before You Roam

This seatpost came out of the "Groovy Girls" bike pictured in the previous post. It shows what happens when you don't grease a seatpost when you assemble a bike.

As I said in "Detailed Assembly," grease everything with threads, too. I spent the day following up on substandard assemblies from our shop and elsewhere in today's repairs. In particular, I had to grease brake post threads in order to complete proper adjustment and threadless headset top cap bolts. I also extracted ungreased crank arm bolts from a Trek.

Without grease on the threads of brake shoe posts, the nuts bind on the threads so the pad will rotate as you try to tighten it fully. Or you can stop where it binds and find out if that pad will suddenly loosen while you are using it. Do you feel lucky?

All this is made more amusing when the two conscientious technicians are told to work faster as we redo work done shoddily by some of our own personnel. The attitude from on high seems to be if you want to do it right it's your own business. It's not our business, of course. We don't own it. But I often feel self-employed as I pursue my standards in the face of such disinterest from the owners. This is the down side of family businesses. The clan closes around its members rather than respond professionally. When we get "help" from certain people we know that job will need to be completely redone. Then we get called "anal" and worse when we take it apart and start over.

I furnished my own lifeboat with all the tools necessary to ply my trade in the event that their style ultimately undoes them. In the meantime it does more good to try to pump at least some good work out of there. They are an organic product of their community, with connections to many good things. Their collapse would be somewhat of a loss. I won't jump in front of a bullet to keep them from bringing it about by themselves. Nor will I pull the trigger. The community could learn to live without them, but it does no good to hasten their demise. My co-mechanic and I just do what we can.

Groovy Girls

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dirtbags, Tax Evaders and Self-Righteous Fitness Freaks

People who don't like bicyclists portray us as filthy parasites on the shining body of their magnificent, motorized society. They depict us as insufferable snots who refuse to understand the realities of the modern sedentary lifestyle, as in this comic from Pearls Before Swine.

Unfortunately for cycling's public image, our numbers include cycling chauvinists and destructive outlaws. Enough riders use the road as if they owned it, as arrogantly and uncooperatively as the worst motorists, to feed the stereotype that we are all that way. Because they do it without an armored shell, powered by their own muscle, these cyclists believe they deserve to make their own rules. Then when any one of us protests motorist misbehavior and oppression, these bad examples are flung in our faces.

The parallels to any minority group are striking, because of the homogenization of our image when viewed by outsiders and the difficulties of managing our own internal diversity. It's made more difficult by the fact that activists have to be passionate people to speak out in the first place. Their strong feelings can convey an intensity that repels as many people as it inspires.

Cycling hits people in multiple sensitive areas. How do they feel about exercise? Their weight? Their shiny, expensive motor vehicles they may have enslaved themselves to buy? The economy? Society? What constitutes "the good life?" You make people feel guilty about their choices, then they feel resentful. How dare you question their assumptions or the paths they feel they had to take? Get out of my face, you sweaty freak! My Suburban could crush you like a bug!

Professional mockers smell blood in the water and swarm around the people everyone loves to hate: those idiots on bikes clotting up the flow of traffic on roads they don't even pay for!"

While a minority of cyclists may manage to evade the taxation dragnet and therefore contribute nothing to infrastructure, they are probably living in abandoned buildings and eating from garbage cans. Many of the rest of us actually own and use motor vehicles and contribute to the public coffers in numerous other ways. On top of that, every cyclist represents one more precious parking space that the motoring public so desperately needs. The dedicated motoring public should be doing everything possible to encourage bike riding on plentiful safe routes so the die-hard motorists have more room to express themselves on uncrowded expressways and convenient places to dock the barge on arrival. That's the message we need to keep selling.