Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SLADDA - transport for Swedish meatballs lovers

Apparently, there is no real winter this year but despite this, the shifter cable on my old Schwinn developed some weather pains. Looks like there must be some water inside the housing that freezes when it gets sufficiently cold. Yesterday morning I had to limp to work in 3rd gear, but as it warmed up significantly during the day, I returned back home with all 3 gears working.

Maybe I could avoid all these problems if I had one of the new IKEA bikes. Yes, IKEA started selling bicycles. The one and only model they offer is called SLADDA, which means "limp forward" in Swedish (Or was it actually "a skid"? Not sure.) and it looks like this:
Interestingly, according to IKEA this vehicle is just a piece of furniture:
Tipping furniture, err.. I mean bike, can kill you. Thank you IKEA for a friendly reminder.

It has two wheels, adjustable stem, both pedals and a fancy forward-propelling device called belt drive, so it's virtually maintenance-free. It has two (2) automatic gears to keep you moving (cleverly hidden in the rear hub) and a set of brakes to make you stop (coaster in the rear, mechanical disc in front). It comes with fenders, lights and even a kickstand. Finally, it can be yours for a total of $499, not counting the optional front and rear racks that will cost you $60 extra. On top of that it's covered by a 25-year warranty on the frame and a 10-year one on the belt drive.

I didn't have a chance to test it in the real life, but it all sounds pretty good on paper. Very good actually.

Of course, there is one question that we have to ask - do we need to first assemble it with the included hex wrench?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Winter rollercoaster

Stupid winter. The air temperature changes more often than politician's opinion. One day it's warmer and everything melts, then the following day it freezes again. The whole cycle then repeats again and again. The result? Ice on bike paths, like the Minuteman Bikeway I use daily. The Bikeway runs through an environmentally protected area, which means that no salt can be used there to melt ice. So basically, riding on the Minuteman this time of the year is more like ice skating.

Lesson learned. I ordered studded tires for my winter bike.

The other problem is even more frustrating. I'd much rather have a winter like two years ago when everything was completely frozen for the whole two months. Otherwise, water gets into all possible gaps during the day, then freezes overnight and I end up not only with frozen shifter cable, but also frozen storage door. This morning, I had to fight with the lock for a few freezing minutes to open my bike garage door. Riding a bicycle to work seemed questionable, at least for a while.

Honestly, it's not my kind of winter (even though it could be far worse, of course). Five American degrees (or -15) this morning, followed by 50F (11C) this Wednesday. Then down to freezing on weekend. It's a winter rollercoaster ride!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Another 8 Kickstarter inventions for year's end

It's almost Christmas, year's end and winter has started as well. But before we sit at the Christmas table let's take a quick look at the newest Kickstarter bike projects.

OttoLock
I will start with the first ever Kickstarter invention that I would actually buy. In fact, I'll probably preorder one.

OttoLock is a bicycle lock but it seems to solve the eternal problem of all bike locks - they can either be lightweight or secure. A thin cable lock is very light, but can be cut with pretty much anything. U-locks on the other hand, are very secure but weigh a ton. OttoLock, thanks to its smart construction, is supposed to be much more secure than cable locks (although it will likely not beat the best u-locks anyway) and much, much lighter than an u-lock - just 120g for the 18" OttoLock.

The only feature I'm not very fond of is the 3-digit combination lock, instead of a key. Yes, it's technically 1000 combinations but most of these type of locks I've seen were not high quality. I just hope that the locking mechanism is not the weakest link of OttoLock.

My verdict: Very nice. Interesting offering for someone looking for a lightweight and secure bike lock, which is pretty much every cyclist, I think.

Moskito

This thing is pretty weird. Or maybe it's smart? Moskito is a "precision chronograph and smart bike computer in one". Basically it's a cycling computer (Strava-connected, of course) in a form of a classic, analog Swiss watch that also talks to your smartphone. If you don't think that's weird you probably already have one.

I like it's design as a watch but it seems to over-complicate things too much when used as a cycling computer. Tiny analog dials are much harder to read than large digital display. Not to mention that I would love to see the expression on someone's face when they ask you for time and you show them that beautiful leather strap with the empty stainless ring on your wrist, because you have just realized that you left the watch on your bike.


My verdict: It's a completely unnecessary bicycle jewelry that is supposed to do two things well but in reality messes up both.

PoleProtectr

If Moskito was weird than PoleProtectr is just stupid. It's an "unobtrusive aero-design 3D silicone rubber" that will protect the frame of your bike when you lean it against a street sign, fence or anything like.

The biggest problem with PoleProtectr (except it's ridiculous name) is that there is no innovation in it! You can buy a piece of adhesive silicone in your local hardware store for a few bucks. Why even bother with Kickstarter?

My verdict: Clearly, some inventions should be never invented.

Dyna-Snap

Another little gizmo that looks very useful! Dyna-Snap is a connector system for your dynamo-wired bike lights that uses magnets to keep the plugs together - just like Apple MagSafe.

Not many people use dynamo-powered lights but those who do, would appreciate this quick-disconnect feature. It makes wheel swaps easier and safer.

My verdict: Simple, straightforward and does exactly what is supposed to do. Smart without trying to be Internet-smart.

Nexo Tires

Nexo is an airless tire system. Just like all other systems of this kind it promises no more punctures and... that's about it. Unfortunately, like all other such systems it comes with the same issues. Want a specific tire on your bike? Not a chance. Only several limited options are offered by Nexo. Want a cushy ride? Err... though luck. You have to rely on softness (or hardness) of rubber because the best thing about pneumatic tires - air, has been eliminated here.

My verdict: Not for me. Might be good for someone who has one bike and uses it twice a year. Then he/she doesn't have to worry about inflating tires anymore. Or someone with one bike who is too cheap to buy good tires and a pump. For any serious cyclists Nexo is not a solution.

Kwiggle is just an uglier version of Brompton. This "most compact bicycle in the world" folds into a tiny package so you can hide it in your back pocket. Well, almost.


Yes, it's ugly but it seems to do what is supposed to - be small yet still usable. The one problem that I see with Kwiggle is that due to its size, it can be only either single or dual speed. Brompton (although not great in that regard) offers more drivetrain options.

My verdict: It may work but it's ugly. Would you want to be seen on one?

Air Lever
Air Lever is an attempt to combine two bike tools into one - a CO2 inflator and a tire lever. It's not bad, I think, it's just... completely pointless. Yes, you have those two tools together but then every cyclist knows that to change a tire effectively you need two levers (And that's why Air Level comes with an extra one). So that's two separate tools already. Then add one more, because you need to take a CO2 cartridge with you as well. Without it Air Lever is useless.

My verdict: Is it really worth paying extra for something that minimizes number of tools you carry with you from 4 to 3? I don't think so.

Chirp, despite its name, doesn't emit any sounds. It's a bar end plug with integrated LED lighting. Again, the execution is sound (with no sound in it), but what's the point of it? There is a reason any red lights (especially those blinking ones) are mounted on the rear end of a bike. I don't think I would enjoy any lights blinking into my face. What Chirp reminds me are those marker/clearance lights you find on semi trailers. It's just that bicycle is much smaller than a trailer and doesn't need any clearance lights.

My verdict: Another unnecessary gadget for those who have everything. Need good lights for your bike? Buy something bright that mounts to the rear rack or the seatpost.

That's it folks. I'm taking a brief Christmas break. Enjoy your holidays!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cultural learnings of Switzerland for make benefit glorious nation of America

Earlier this week I had to spend a few days in Switzerland. It's certainly not the best time of the year to go there - too early for snow and skiing season, yet too late to enjoy good weather. But since the primary reason for my trip was business, I wasn't there to enjoy the weather anyway. Nevertheless, I took a long walk through Zurich trying to get a feeling how different a cyclist's life there is, compared to what we experience here in the United States.
First of all, given the number of old, narrow, cobblestone streets, Zurich is more walkable than any large city in America, but that's certainly not surprising. What struck me more though, was apparent lack of on-street parking nearly everywhere in the center. Instead, motorists are asked to park in either multi-level garages or designated bays such as the one in the picture below. (But there is also less reason to even drive into the downtown, as Zurich's public transport system is quite impressive.)
It doesn't mean that on-street parking doesn't exist. It does, but it's not a norm. At least I didn't have that feeling while walking around the center.

The lack of on-street parking means that there is more space for bike lanes. There are many bike lanes in the center but don't think that Zurich is Copenhagen. Things are clearly better there than on our side of the pond, but infrastructure is far from perfect. Most bike lanes are simply painted with yellow lines, right next to traffic lanes.
I didn't notice any properly constructed protected bike lanes, expect this one - separated with a simple curb.
 Unfortunately, in some places where such a curb would be most needed, bicyclists are "protected" by just a strip of yellow paint.
All this left me feeling a bit disappointed. I was hoping for more exemplary bicycling infrastructure. On the other hand, drivers seem to drive more cautiously than here in Boston and be more aware of pedestrians and bicyclists. Maybe that's why, despite lacking infrastructure, bicycles were everywhere and seemed to be a popular form of transportation. That included mostly city (or similar) bikes, but cargo bikes could be seen as well. I also noticed a large number of electric bicycles, which may be understandable considering hilly terrain. Interestingly, electric bikes in Switzerland are registered (!), with a small license plate attached to the rear rack. I think this comes from European regulations, where e-bikes are considered more of a mini motorcycles and for example, their speed and motor power must be limited.

Because of a large number of bicycles in Zurich bike racks were plentiful. They often had a form of a single bar with multiple hooks where bicycles could be hung up by handlebars. An included steel cable was then used to secure bike in place.
Overall, even though I was expecting a bit more, I would still feel more comfortable riding a bike through Zurich than doing it in Boston. Yes, there are more bike lanes there but since they are very basic, it's not the bike infrastructure that would make me feel safer. I think it's because of calmer traffic in general. They simply don't seem to have that many cars in the center of the city. If that's the case, we could do the same in Boston. Even without heavy investment in bike lanes, simply slowing down and limiting traffic would benefit both pedestrians and cyclists.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Buying a bicycle - your options or the lack thereof

It just happened so that I was near a bicycle store recently and decided to peek in purely for entertainment reasons. I'm not interested in buying a new bike at the moment, but the store in question advertised on its front that Trek, Specialized, Surly and Salsa bikes were sold there. I figured it would be good to see if the newest 2017 offerings by Surly and Salsa already arrived and check them out in real life.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. In fact, after carefully checking the on-the-floor inventory, it turned out that not a single bicycle showcased was different than either Trek or Specialized. That made me think that I have seen similar situation in many other stores previously. The Two Big Guys (Trek and Specialized) sell their products in essentially every single bike store around. However, if you wish to purchase a bicycle from a bit lesser-known brand, such as Surly, Salsa or let's say, Kona, you're out of luck.

Specialized Roubaix - sold in every single bike store near you...
  
... but if you prefer Salsa Colossal instead, good luck finding one.

Why is that the case?

Could it be that Two Big Guys have such a strong marketing power (Or is something else?) that they require bike shop owners to present their products (nearly) exclusively?

Could it be that other brands are not showcased that often, because "they don't sell well"? But then I could argue that they would sell better if they were actually available in store.

Could it be that those niche brands offer bicycles that are too expensive for an average mortal? Unlikely. You can have a Salsa bike for not more than $1000. That's well in the same ballpark as majority of bikes from the Two Big Guys.

So what is it? Why a store that advertises to sell other brands doesn't have a single bike available for a test ride? When asked, owner's response is usually - "We can order it for you", but that's not the point! I can order it online myself, but I would be much, much happier to try it out at a local bike store, buy it there and likely spend even more money on some extras too.

I would think that a bike store offering those "different" brands could have a marketing advantage. After all, why should I buy this particular Trek bike in "my" store if 5 other stores nearby offer it too?

If you are a bike store owner, please help me understand this.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's still November so go helmet yourself

There are only four weeks left until this year is over, which means that very soon we will have a new president who is going to make our country great again.

These last few weeks flew by too quickly. I didn't even had a chance to do much bicycling even though weather was favorable, as I was out sick for over a week. That's what happens when you decide to grow little human children of your own. They go to preschool and bring back home viruses you have never heard of before. In no time, everyone in your household gets sick.

Nevertheless, there's been some interesting news circulating recently. First of all, our roads still suck. Their outdated design is killing us and lately we can also add Driving and Using Phone Applications (DUPA, which means ass in Polish), to the list of main reasons why we drop like flies on U.S. roads.

Don't think the situation will improve in 2017. We just love driving too much. Driving is safe, right? It doesn't require those stupid foam hats. Well, they don't have to be made out of styrofoam actually. Apparently, helmets could be made out of paper too. This folding blue banana won even an international award:
Not sure why this origami was awarded at all, since according to the inventor it's not sure whether "you can make a helmet cool" (No, you can't.), but apparently, "you can design it so it's not embarrassing". Unfortunately, this paper pasta strainer is:
Interestingly, this funky device was invented by an American, even though I would think that Australians would be the first to develop it. The good thing is that they finally start asking themselves the question that should've been so trivial to answer decades ago - should cyclists be forced to wear helmets? Results are promising:
On the other hand, who knows - maybe there are just 645 cyclists in Australia who don't feel like wearing one?

Finally, because it's the end of the year, let's talk about the future. You may find various different reports forecasting what new "standards" and "must haves" we will see introduced in the cycling world in 2017. For me, the most interesting one predicts the rise of sub-compact - or simply-speaking, road cranksets made for an average Joe who never uses a 53/11T combo because he's not a superhuman on steroids. Sub-compact crankset may let him use more than just 3 largest cogs of his cassette. Too bad this "novelty" is still up to come. A few years too late but better late than never, I guess.
My sub-compact crankset. No need to wait until 2017.

Alright, it's getting late. That's it for now. I'm going to bed but I will put my paper strainer on first, because "it absolutely makes sense to wear one—always".

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Turkey Day!

Thanksgiving - a holiday also known as The Mass Turkey Slaughterfest To Thank All Indigenous People Of America For Showing Us How To Grow Corn, By Giving Them Smallpox.

Anyway, the bird is in the oven so let the celebration begin. Provided that you are able to reach the table first and this might be difficult, as many others got the same idea. This is that time of the year when Americans travel more than usual, which results in a huge clusterfuck at airports and on highways, such as this one in Los Angeles:

Not sure if this was intentional but if citizens of Los Angeles wanted to honor Poland's Independence Day (of November 11th), they are late by nearly 2 weeks. If they had Indonesia in mind, they should've planned for such gridlock on August 17th. On the other hand, there is always huge traffic on 405 so red and white ribbon must be a common sighting there.

My number one rule for going back home from work, prior to any major holiday or summer weekend, is simply not to drive. When roads are clogged with hundreds of vehicles, a bicycle is the only sure way to be home on time. This way no matter how bad the situation is, I know I'll be home at the same time as usual.
Of course, I realize that not everybody is in such a comfortable situation to be able to ride a bicycle to work, which is why we should definitely invest in public transportation and high speed rail. But we somehow know better, so we would rather spend millions on the extra lane on Interstate that will get clogged shortly after cutting the ribbon. And it doesn't seem that 2017 will bring any changes here. Apparently, "making America great again" means simply "greatly clogged". I wish our government introduced a radical prune juice policy ASAP.

Happy Turkey Day everyone!