Sunday, October 24, 2010

Turning heads

For various reasons I have made my autumn conversion from full road commutes to park-and-rides. This puts me on the Cotton Valley Trail, aka the DERT (Disappointing Example of a Rail Trail) for almost six miles each way.

The DERT was built with the rails in place. Long sections run between the rails, giving inadequate space for comfortable, safe passing when bikes meet from opposite directions. The fill varies from firm packed mineral products to loose granules that are only secure to ride on after a soaking rain gives them temporary consolidation. Numerous rail crossings challenge the rider throughout the trail's length. There have been many injuries. In spite of these statistics, the rail users responsible for its shortcomings are quite defensive of their role in its construction. Such ironies seem to make up much of life.

For me it boils down to this: I get the best use out of the path when cold weather has driven nearly all other users off it. I can deal with the crossings at my own speed and nearly never have to accommodate oncoming bike traffic. It angles away from my regular route, so it doesn't tempt me in the warmer, lighter months unless I take a fun but lengthy detour over a mostly dirt road. I used to ride that detour a lot. Now I want the time more than the pretty, traffic-free route. But in the dark and chilly end of the commuting season I can salvage bike miles and save some gasoline by resorting to the path.

Only the first mile of the ride home uses streets. For those I run the whole light array in all its flashing splendor. Once on the path, however, I don't need all the flashing lights because no motor vehicles are going to mow me down. If one does, the operator has to be pretty messed up to get on the path in the first place. The only somewhat likely candidate would be a dirt biker or someone poaching the path on an ATV.

By reducing my lights to the single head and tail light powered by the generator I present a more vehicular aspect. I've noticed cars slow way down when they're on a road that crosses the path and I'm coming up to the intersection in the dark. I wonder if I have been reported as a motor vehicle on the path. One car that slowed almost to a stop while crossing was far enough along to have passed without the slightest risk to either of us. Only the strength of my headlight drew their eye and sparked their curiosity. Coming out of a dark path where they probably expect no one at this time of year makes it particularly conspicuous.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Does your bottom bracket respect you?

What you thought was your faithful servant could be insulting you behind your crankset. This one came out of an early 1980s Peugeot road bike. Apparently it never got past junior high school gym class.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Final modifications

I wanted to nudge the generator roller a little higher on the sidewall of the rear tire to see if it would run a little more quietly and hold up better. To do this I had to cut away some of the fender.

I had tried using files and a Dremel tool to remove some plastic. Those methods removed almost no material. Rather than use more force, sharper blades or coarser implements at higher RPMs I went to the elegant power of the light saber.

Cafiend home and shop mechanic light saber kit

The trusty Chinese knock-off of a Swiss army knife has served as my light saber many times.

Lighting it up
I had to repeat the heating process numerous times to maintain a heat level that provided a smooth cut. Light saber technology is rather primitive as yet.

The roller has plenty of clearance in this smooth arc.

Setting the generator height and angle made me scrutinize the rear rim. A telltale small hop directed my gaze to the section where a small stress crack has developed at one spoke eyelet. This is the life cycle of the modern wheel. This rim is six years old and has more than 12,000 hard miles on it. It's the third wheel on the Cross Check since I built the bike in 2000. Since 2000 I have ridden this bike more than any of my other options. The rainy-day fixed gear probably comes second.

New rim is on order. The Salsa Delgado Cross served me pretty well, but I'm liking the Sun CR 18 these days. It has a triple-box construction and is still lighter than the Delgado. They all crack eventually. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Running with the bull (moose)

I've compared traffic riding to running with the bulls and other metaphors involving large animals, but once in a while the metaphor comes to life.

This morning on Route 28 a bull moose sauntered out of the woods about a hundred yards ahead of me. He stopped in the lane as if trying to remember whether he'd turned off the gas stove before he left the house this morning. Then he spotted me. He took a step or two toward me, then started moving away, but still in the road.

A truck crested the rise. This turned the moose back toward me. Great! decades of successful commuting, and now I'm going to get stomped to death by a large, panicked herbivore.

I was next to a steep embankment I would have to scramble up in my cleats in a vain attempt to get out of the path of this beast. Fortunately he had only taken a few trotting strides before he saw a better route back into the forest.

As usual, the last motorists on the scene had no idea why other cars were all askew in the vicinity of a lone bicyclist. The moose had disappeared completely, the way they do.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Courtesy Switch

On the commute this morning, once we got into town, drivers were passing too fast and too close, as usual.

I reached back and flipped the switch on the Superflash.

Instant courtesy. It was bizarre.

Big G, riding ahead of me, did not know what I had done. When we got onto a quieter street I pulled up to him and explained. I switched off the light. I don't want to waste it where I don't need it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Look! Up ahead! It's SUPERFLASH!

Today I got my Planet Bike Superflash blinky light. I put it in the middle of the three lights I wear on my bum bag, retiring the loyal but less flashy unit that had served there for several years.

I'd been impressed by the Superflash when I saw the one on my brother's Trice this summer. In full daylight I could see the flash from as far away as I could see the trike at all.

Turbulent clouds created dramatic light effects as the sun went down tonight. Bright sun would break through to illuminate colorful leaves or white buildings, highlighting the contrast with the slate-gray clouds. As the sun dropped below the western hills, twilight advanced.

Drivers rushed past me on this Friday of a holiday weekend. Finally I got tired of it. I hit the button on the Superflash.

The result was immediate and gratifying. I could tell by the sound of tires on chip seal, and grumbling engines, that drivers were slowing down five or ten miles an hour. Almost without exception, they swung wide as well. They passed politely and sedately before resuming speed.

A few minutes later I had activated the whole system: generator light, Beamers, and the flanking blinkies.

The whir of the dynamo gets higher as my speed increases. The light becomes incrementally brighter as well, urging me to ride even harder. The beam is strong and white. It seems to intrigue drivers. The sharp power of the Superflash and the steady, relentless illumination of the generator light indicate a power disproportionate to a cyclist's size.

In a more populated area where life is plentiful and cheap, the mass of drivers would probably shove on past with their usual disregard. Around here, though, a transportation cyclist is a strange bird, worthy of a second look, especially when equipped with something better than the typical toy light. When the novelty wears off I may get less respect from drivers here, too. Right now, though, the difference is night and day.


While I was replacing the generator drive roller I figured out how to make the tail light mounting work better. The generic seat stay clamps I'd put back there pulled the light crooked. For some reason I could not get them to bend exactly the way I wanted. I was able to adjust the angle and get a more solid mount by inserting the thinner set of spacers from a linear-pull brake pad. We've accumulated a large coffee can full of these. They come in handy for all sorts of little tricks like this.

With the generator remounted and carefully aligned, the light works better than it has since the first night. It impressed me then. Now I realize its true power.

I'm so eager for darkness to fall, I start my ride home with my eyes closed.

People perceive night riding as more dangerous than riding in daylight. With inadequate lights that is certainly true. On rural roads without many other sources of light, a good set of cyclist's lights stands out. With fewer distractions from the scenery, the night driver tends to look where the headlights point.

At intersections the cyclist's small lights may not catch the eye of an impatient motorist. Flashing modes help there, but the wise cyclist assumes no one has seen, and rides with appropriate caution. But in the darkness a cyclist can see headlights coming around bends or approaching from cross streets, giving better warning of other vehicles than we get in daylight.

Motorists react to the sight of something different. Because bicycles don't have a standard light configuration, each little variation may serve to engage the motorist's curiosity. That's probably a bicycle up there, but it could be some weird space alien thingy. You have to hope then that the motorist does not subscribe to the "kill it before it multiplies!" school of thought popular in 1950s sci-fi flicks. Tinfoil helmet covers and cheesy ray guns may buy you crucial seconds in which to make a getaway. Extra points if you ride in a closely-tailored pastel colored jumpsuit.

Those of us who pedal get treated like an alien species anyway. Our garb often inspires harsh commentary. It might as well be a space suit.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Talk about mud flaps, my bike's got 'em

Last week was not a good one for riding. I had a bad cold, so I missed the day with the nicest weather. The next two days brought nastier weather than I felt like riding in, especially finishing up in deep dusk, regardless of the lights. But I finished off the week with a ride on Saturday.

I spent a few hours yesterday getting the fenders on the Cross Check. I won't expose it to road salt, but I will have to take some rain with it if I intend to try commuting into the darker months. Either that or get a thermonuclear light set on Silver the rain bike. I'm sorely tempted. I have to pay off the first light before I can get another one.

Maybe I'll try to revive my ancient set from the 1980s for Silver. If I do that it will probably prevent me from flipping the wheel because it needs to stay in the same position relative to the generator. I would use the Sanyo bottom bracket generator, so maybe I could rig a sliding bracket. I just don't know if everything works. I'll probably just wuss out and take the car in case of real rain.

The front derailleur presses on the fender when I shift to the outer ring. It's not bad enough to prevent shifting or move the fender significantly, but it's annoying. If I space the fender back from the seat tube I can't get the rear wheel in and out of the dropouts. Mildly annoying since I tend to be a bit neurotic about function and aesthetics within my own strange standards. I hate for things to be just slapped in there. I just need to ride it to see if it will bug me.

Cross Checks are prone to toe overlap. It already made the bike a bit tricky on technical terrain. The fenders increase the overlap. I was surprised how little I encountered it on test-circles in my driveway, however. On low speed, tight turns I would have nipped the front wheel even without the fender. Again, only riding will tell me whether I can put up with it. I know how great it feels to hit a wet stretch of road and not have a spray of water and grit come squirting up all over everything.

On the way home on Saturday I discovered my generator drive roller wasn't turning consistently. The drawback to the stand light feature is that in less than full darkness you might not notice that the generator's output is repeatedly interrupted. The backup power kicks in to keep the beam shining, albeit at less than full intensity. I happened to notice the odd rhythm coming from the generator, so I stopped to investigate. The rubber roller was almost completely worn away in just a few rides. I nursed it the rest of the way home because I had to.

I believe I did not have the bracket tight enough. I was trying to keep from marring the paint too badly, using a rubber shim under the radius of the clamp. I accepted that the set screw on the inside of the seat stay would have to bite in. I hoped to limit the damage to that. As a result, the generator could wiggle out of alignment and lose contact with the tire. Or I could have a bad generator, but it will cost me another roller to find out.

I have not had the best luck with prompt shipping from Peter White Cycles. Neither of my orders so far have shipped on the day they were placed. The first order included all the equipment for the light set, so I accepted the delay. But this one is four rollers in a padded envelope. If I had planned to ride tomorrow I would be out of luck. Shipping from such a short distance definitely only takes overnight, but that's from the time it actually ships.

Fortunately the weather is supposed to be wet again and I carpool with the cellist on Wednesdays. With luck the errant rollers will have rolled in with tomorrow's mail.