Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Another 14 Kickstarter inventions for your bicycle

There's been a bunch of new projects surfaced on Kickstarter and while some of them look quite interesting, others just beg to ask "why?" or "what for?". If you enjoyed the first part, read on. Let's look at them one by one (in no particular order):
 

This invention, pronounced "no-key", is well... a keyless bicycle lock. My biggest problem with Noke is that it tries to be smart.
 
It's Bluetooth-connected so you have to use your smartphone or smartwatch to lock/unlock it. It probably works quite well in California. Not sure if inventors tested it while wearing thick mittens at 0F weather, which would be fairly typical here in Boston.
 
On top of that, there is social sharing (obviously, because everyone wants to share their bike with others), loud alarm (because they are sooo effective at deterring car thieves that now we have one on the bike too) and GPS tracking (that could be useful in Amsterdam, but here in U.S. we have little chance of losing our bike among many others).
 
Then, there is a key. Wait, a key for a keyless lock? That's right. In case your smartphone battery has just died you can punch in your access code to unlock Noke, which makes it no different than many combination locks (provided that you would remember the combination that you use maybe once a year). Or, you can also order an optional Bluetooth fob, which turns Noke into a regular keyed lock. Pretty much.
 
My verdict: Interesting, but no thanks. My old u-lock works well even at less than 0F and when I leave my phone at home. It doesn't need charging and it's built from 5 parts instead of 105. It's just an u-lock and doesn't try to be a kitchen sink.
 

Another bike lock. This one is just plain dumb, that is, it's not a Bluetooth-Facebook-connected gizmo but a simple lock, which means I immediately like it much more.
 
When it comes to bike locks you can have them light, flexible and insecure (cable locks), heavy, flexible and secure (chain locks) or heavy, rigid and secure (u-locks) - 2 out of 3, as with nearly everything else in this world. LiteLok tries to be light, flexible and secure (3 out of 3). So is it? Well, not quite.
 
I believe it's secure and it's obviously flexible. But at claimed weight at (just) under 1kg (or 2.2lbs) it's much heavier than my Abus Granit Futura 64 Mini that weighs 692g. Sure, Granit is an u-lock so it's not flexible nor as secure as many heavier locks are. But I wouldn't use it (nor LiteLok) to lock my bike on street overnight anyway.
 
Having said that, there are two things of LiteLok that I like: the option to chain two of them together into a longer lock (even though any chain lock can do it) and the click-to-lock feature (that makes it better than u-locks).
 
My verdict: Not bad. It's a nice lock that surely works well. Not a particularly light one but it's lighter than most high-security u-locks. And it's flexible.
 

Let's stay with bike locks for a bit longer. Kadalock is similar to Noke just much less secure. It uses a thin cable to lock your bike, it needs to talk to your smartphone to lock/unlock, it has an alarm and it's obviously smart (Cloud-connected, social, etc.).
 
My verdict: I'll definitely pass on this one. Can't find any feature of this lock that I would like.
 

The last bike lock here. This one is really weird because it hides under your saddle. At first I didn't know what to think about this concept. It tries to solve the problem of storing the lock on your bicycle, but this usually isn't the most serious problem we have (unlike, e.g. finding a secure object to chain the bike to). The biggest issue with Seatylock is that you have to use the saddle that comes with the lock. That disqualifies this entire idea right from the start.
 
My verdict: Who cares if it works. If I can't bolt my favorite Brooks or An-Atomica saddle to it, it's useless.
 

Done with locks. Now something entirely different. Rapido is a pump head adapter - a tiny device that attempts to make your life a bit easier when inflating tires.
 
In general, it seems to be pretty useful if you happen to use several bikes with different tube valves and a pump that requires different valve adapters. Rapido may help solving the most annoying issue with modern Schrader valves.
 
The only problem I would expect with Rapido is its size. It may be a tight fit on some wheels, such as my rear Edgerunner wheel. It's has a small 20" rim so spokes sit pretty close to each other and the large disc brake rotor may get in the way.
 
My verdict: Looks good. For ~30 bucks it may be worth trying.


Cam Cycles sounds more like a bicycle manufacturer but these things are just wooden fenders. If you need fenders on you bike you may take a look. And go away. Here is why.
 
There are three problems with these fenders. One, they are made out of wood (which is not a problem) but like nearly all wooden or bamboo fenders they lack curved edges. They are just flat boards, which doesn't make them particularly effective as fenders.
 
Two, they are way too short. And I'm not talking about those super short ones shown on Kickstarter because they are likely just a toy. But even the regular Cam fenders would work much better if they were a few inches longer.
 
Three, the mudflaps are joke. They must be there only for decoration. Such short mudflaps on such a short fenders have simply no function.
 
My verdict: Poor design. If you want good fenders buy them from SKS, PlanetBike, VeloOrange, Honjo or PDW.
 

KP Cykler is a custom bicycle manufacturer from Denmark. They make custom brakeless, suicide fixies for Viking hipsters. That should give you idea about what you're dealing with. If you want a truly custom bike, build it yourself.
 
My verdict: Nothing new to see here. Another company like many others. And because I'm not a Viking, I'm not interested.
 

Holy shit, Gordon Ramsay is selling bicycles! Sutro is a custom urban bike "designed for city riding". It must be a Californian city though, where there is no winter, no rain and no night. Some place always sunny where people ride wearing shorts and sandals. Sutro costs over $1200 and comes with no fenders, no rear rack, no chainguard and no lights. But it can be ordered in one of 200 colors (wow!).
 
My verdict: Boring. Seriously for $1200 I would expect a little more. Sorry Gordon.
 

Another bike company but this one may actually offer something usable. The Dreamer is a Dutch-style urban bike with American twist. It comes with full fenders, chain and skirt guards, lights and a rear rack. Can't judge from the pictures how it rides, but it does look promising. Dreamer clearly doesn't have any top shelf components, just a basic steel frame, 7-speed freewheel drive and even it's integrated lights are battery (not generator) powered. But for $700 you can't expect much more.
 
My verdict: It may be a nice, simple urban bike. Has everything you would need to start your work commute in a $700 package.
 

And one more bicycle here. Vello is a "high performance folding bicycle". It folds (well, kind of) and it costs only $900 so it looks like Brompton's cheaper cousin.
 
My problem with Vello is that its folding ability seems limited. The mechanism is simple but it only shortens the entire bike a bit - far cry from what Brompton can do. Just picture that Vello is a middle-aged man who can bend down and barely touch his toes, while Brompton is a Russian 15-years old gymnast that can fit herself into a purse.
 
My verdict: Unless you really need a (barely) folding bike and can't afford a Brompton, go ahead and buy his poorer cousin.


Another bicycle. Lumen is a "retro-reflective city bicycle", which means it's a bike that glows in the dark. Well, sort of. It doesn't actually glow but it's highly reflective from all angles. The trick in Lumen is its frame and fork, coated with a special reflective paint. And while the presented bicycles aren't interesting at all, the paint may actually do the trick to keep you safer at night. But only if you don't mind glowing like a radioactive ghoul.
 
My verdict: Bikes are boring but Lumen paint is worth a try.


This one is actually really interesting. Jyrobike is a gyroscopic front wheel for your kid's bicycle. By gyroscopic action it can help your child tremendously with the early learn-to-ride process. With a built-in flywheel, I don't expect it to be particularly lightweight, but it's not designed for pro racers anyway.
 
It's for kids. Those youngest ones including those with some health problems (dyspraxia) who would have problems riding a two-wheel bicycle otherwise. For about $150 Jyrobike can be yours.

Then, there is a secret use for Jyrobike. If you put it on your adult bike (if only you can find a bigger version of it), use it for returning home at 3 a.m. from your favorite bar!
 
My verdict: Innovative!
 

Helmet totes are... just totes to put your helmet in (duh!) and they are supposed to solve the biggest problem cyclists face every day since the invention of wheel: "where do you put your helmet when you are not on your bicycle?". Because carrying it in your hand is so old-school.
 
I found a better solution to this problem: lose the helmet. You shouldn't need one in a well-designed city. But then I woke up and realized that I live in America.
 
My verdict: Get it if you need one. I don't.
 
Fix It Sticks

These are some little, sexy hex tools every cyclists should have. I mean, every cyclists should have a set of basic hex keys but not necessary Fix It Sticks. Why? For $25 you get a set of 2 stick tools with 4, 5, 6mm hex keys and a flat head driver. This set is supposed to weigh close to 51g. Is it worth it? Maybe. But for $0.62 you can buy 4mm and 5mm wrenches and spend some time to grind the end of the 4mm one to make a flat screwdriver blade. This 22g set will work for 90% of all on-road adjustments on your modern bike. For the remaining 10% there is always a bike shop nearby.

My verdict: Sleek and light, but most individual hex keys are cheaper, lighter and will work well too, despite being less sexy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Don't blame street design for cyclists deaths"

That's what he said. Mr. Cox, that is, who is Wyoming's state DOT representative. Yes, it looks like in the state that has more bears than people, they figured it all out. Cyclists die on roads not because American roads are dangerous by design. It's because those cyclists are simply completely irresponsible!

But apparently, irresponsible cyclists are not only American problem. Down under in Australia some of them attempt riding their bikes and not wearing a helmet. Which, as we all know, is a serious crime punishable by immediate execution on spot. Recently, brave Australian police caught one such scofflaw in Melbourne but he got away somehow. Maybe because his last name was Schwarzenegger and who would want to argue with Mr. Terminator himself?

To be honest, Australia looks like one messed up country (not the only one though) with their mandatory helmet law. To make matters worse, now they also consider mandatory high visibility vests for all cyclists. I bet this means that Australian roads are so well designed that the only thing left to reach their Vision Zero goal is to dress all people on bikes in neon rags and styrofoam hats.

By the way, if they are so concerned about visibility of vehicles on roads, have they already banned all dark cars in Australia? No? Weird.

Another great example of how irresponsible and inconsiderate cyclists can be comes from UK. British police excels in eliminating those most dangerous criminals from society so no wonder little 4-year old Sophie caught their attention. She was clearly committing a serious crime by riding her bicycle on the sidewalk. Her place was obviously on the street between speeding taxis and heavy lorries. Thank you Grantham police. We all feel so much safer now.

There you go. In case you wonder how to deal with cyclists in your town, learn from the best. And when all methods fail you can always try to ban some of them from your streets. Remember, less cyclists means less irresponsible people on roads!

UPDATE (3/19): I have bad news for Mr. Cox from Wyoming. It seems that the roads in his state are not as safe as he would like to see them. They ranked as 2nd the most dangerous across the U.S. (after only Mississippi). That's surprising, considering that Wyoming is the least populous state in the Union. How did they manage to be the worst?

Not surprising is the position of Nantucket (not too far from my hometown) as the safest county in the United States. There are hardly any cars there.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What's the worst month for bike riding in Boston and why it's March?

Let's be honest, I don't mind winter. Actually, I even like it. But not in March. It's so obvious that it's going to snow a lot in January and February that I learned to accept it. It may be a bit more difficult to ride a bike because all bike paths are covered with snow but it doesn't even compare to the mess that happens in March. The snow on bike paths turns into ice. If you thought that it may be difficult to get through that snow on your way to work, try to ride on a skating rink. And a very bumpy one.
 That's how poorly plowed the Minuteman Trail was in Arlington, in February. I cursed whoever was supposed to plow it as it was extremely difficult to ride bike there.

However, now in March we can "enjoy" a skating rink-like experience on this popular bike path, which is even more unpleasant and dangerous than the situation from February.

Therefore, I officially declare March to be the worst month of the year. Here are the reasons why:
  1. It's still winter. Seriously, after 1.5m (5ft) of snow and two months of -20C (0F) temperatures, I had enough. Knowing that spring is coming, I would finally want to see those mountains of snow to melt and warmer weather to arrive. But no. March in Boston is usually still cold (such as -12C or 10F this morning) and  snow won't be completely gone until April.
  2. It's icy. Yes, it gets warmer in March - warmer than -15C but not really spring-warm yet. Average daily temperatures are around 0C (32F) and drop down at night. This makes everything melt during the day and freeze again at night, which translates into very icy roads in morning.
  3. It's ugly. Because snow starts to melt, it gets muddy, grey. Roads get messy and everything is covered with a mixture of melted snow, salt and sand.
  4. It's salty. Roads are white from salt and because snow melts now, the salty slush finds its way to all steel parts on your bike or car. Corrosion is imminent.
So there you go. March is not only bad weather-wise but also psychologically. We are all tired now of this winter and want it to end quickly. But the long month of March and slow transition into spring means that we still have to wait for the warmer weather to arrive.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Americans ride bikes. Sometimes.

This is the news: apparently, in the country that  ruined its public transportation (), designed its cities for cars, considers mandatory helmets for everyone (at least in California) or fluorescent clothing (at least in Wyoming) and hardly ever punishes drivers who run over pedestrians (even in crosswalks), many people still ride bicycles. Sometimes.

It turns out that "34% of Americans age three or older rode a bike at least once in 2014", which equals to 103.7 million people. That's a big number. But before you start thinking about America as the next Denmark or Holland, keep in mind that the key words in that statement are "at least once". This means that those who thought once about buying a bike and tried one for 5 minutes in their local bike store, count too.
 
What's more interesting that 57% of all those people rode bikes for recreation in 2014, which leaves us with the other 43% who rode bikes for... transportation, I suppose (?). That accounts for 44.6 million people or 14.6% of all Americans, as long as you assume that 16,193 U.S. adults surveyed in the study are representative for the entire population.
 
I would be really happy if we really had 44.6 million regular bike commuters in the United States but unfortunately the study tells us that's the number of people who commuted "at least once" in 2014, which doesn't make them regular at all.
 
On top of that, "48% of U.S. adults do not have access to a bike at home, and 52% worry about being hit by a car while riding" and that clearly doesn't paint a pretty picture of the status of our bicycling nation.
 
Interestingly, in about the same time as this study was published, Slashdot did their own online poll that surveyed over 20,000 people. Results are below. It seems that there are two groups of cyclists in... let's say America (We don't really know where the surveyed people came from as the poll was done online and Slashdot is by no means representative to any population as its main readers are IT engineers, developers, scientists, etc.).
The first group are the people who never ride bicycles or do it very rarely (most likely for recreation). That is sadly 45% of all responses. The second group (29%) rides bikes everyday or at least a few times a week. Those will likely be either people who regularly ride bicycles for sport/recreation or simply commute to work.
 
Even though it seems that many Americans spend at least some time on bike throughout the year, this number would definitely be much higher if only we could fix our road network. Then the worried 52% might eventually joint the happier minority.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Parking problems

This isn't funny anymore. This white stuff is everywhere and while roads and even (surprisingly) some bike paths are plowed quite well, the amount of snow this winter created a new kind of problem for me - with a place to park. To park a bicycle, that is. Not a car.

Bike advocates (myself included) like to point out the obvious fact that there is simply not enough space in the city to accommodate everyone's personal car (i.e. one per person). This makes other solutions such as public transportation or bicycles much more suitable in congested residential or commercial zones. Well, this winter I realized that there are exceptions to this rule but these seem to exists only because of our car-centric city planning.

What gets plowed first in winter? City streets. What gets low priority for snow removal? Sidewalks and bike paths (They become snow storage in winter months). And everyone follows this pattern, at least in my area. Everyone is expected to drive, roads are cleared of snow and parking lots too. Sidewalks - not so much (or not at all), so if you need to go to the store two blocks away you better drive there. Weird.

I know that I'm a bit of a weirdo, since in my building with hundreds of employees I'm the only person riding a bicycle to work, year round. This obviously means that clearing out the snow from the bike rack at the front door gets lowest possible priority from our maintenance crew. It simply never happens. The rack got buried in the snow a month ago, after the first blizzard and hasn't been cleaned up ever since. Facing this problem, I had to find another place to park my bike. The railing at the unused back door worked fine for the next few weeks but after the last weekend's snow storm, it got buried in the snow as well. I'm slowly running out of options. Since the beginning of the last week I've had to lock my bike to another railing at the loading dock.
This how NOT to lock your bike but believe me, I had no choice.

Meanwhile, everyone else who drives can enjoy a snow-free parking lot. You may say that my example is isolated because in downtown Boston the situation is probably quite the opposite. Huge snow banks resulted in reduced parking spaces on street and while you can chain your bike to any lamp post, you can't do the same with your car.
This is how you park your bike in Boston this winter.

However, this would be largely avoidable if you didn't have to drive into the city at all. The problem is, most public transportation systems in United States are slower and less efficient than driving your own car and most Americans who could bike to work, won't, because they picture cycling as sport, exclusively.

Fortunately, as of yesterday the white stuff seems to be melting slowly. By the end of this week I might start seeing the top of the bike rack at my workplace again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thinking outside the box - how to keep cyclists safe?

Reading some recent news, I keep thinking that people in Denmark or Holland are clearly delayed when it comes to all this bicycle tech and innovation happening around the world right now. I mean, they are still riding their wooden bakfiets and other old-school bicycles like it was 1920 or something. With so many cyclists in Amsterdam or Copenhagen safety must be a primary concern. And because it's not 1920 anymore, we need to start thinking outside of the bakfiets box. So let's see what the rest of the world can offer to Danes and Dutch.

The main problem with keeping cyclists safe in cities is that they have to share roads with cars and other heavy vehicles. While urban planners in Denmark or Holland tried to solve this issue by closing some streets to cars and building dedicated bike paths, a much better solution has just been developed in England - The London Underline.
This brilliant idea puts cyclists underground where they stay safe, away from the real traffic. Speaking about the traffic, the article noticed that The Underline would solve London's current traffic problems:
"This could be the energy-efficient solution London has been looking for to solve its traffic problems."
Right - because London's traffic problems are caused by too many bicycles on the streets, so if we move them underground, we will make more space for cars and traffic will flow nicely again. How convenient!
 
Meanwhile, South Dakota state representatives want mandatory reflective or fluorescent clothing for all cyclists. That's to make them more visible, of course. I don't have data on how many bike collisions happen each year in South Dakota but I'm pretty sure that number is much lower than all car collisions in that state. So why not just paint all cars fluorescent yellow or bright neon pink to keep South Dakota safe? They don't say. Perhaps the Governor of South Dakota doesn't like pink.
 
Now when we know that in order to keep cyclists safe the best we can do is to put them underground and give them all neon pink vests, is there anything else? Helmets, you may say. Australians, being the most advanced cycling nation in the world are already doing this - 90% of all cyclists in Australia wear helmets (Hmm, I wonder why?). What an example! But what about the countries where cyclists still refuse to wear styrofoam hats? Let's make them wear airbags!
This solution not only offers more protection than an ordinary helmet but looks simple and stylish too, which means that even those conservative Dutch or Danes should like it. And Australians. On a hot summer day.
But I think we should try to see even further. There must be a better way to protect cyclists. I quickly realized that the ultimate solution was developed by the British. For James Bond. I'm talking about that inflatable jacket he used in "The World Is Not Enough."
So there you go - the safest cyclists should ride underground on a bright yellow bike, wearing a neon pink inflatable armor and a helmet. And this is the ultimate solution for Vision Zero.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday - the day my bike froze still

I mentioned recently that the last snow storm dumped 2 feet of snow over everything in my area, which made my usual work commute a bit more difficult. Not because of the inaccessible bike paths (they were plowed the next day) but because the bike rack in front of my office building got buried in a massive snow pile. This left me with no good spot to park my bike. This is how the bike rack looked last week:
And this is how it looks now:
It's somewhere there. You will have to believe me. Yes, we've got more snow (clearly we had not enough), with even more coming every other day. Such as this morning. It started snowing heavily when I left my house and because this white stuff was blowing into my face, my today's commute was not particularly enjoyable. Well, at least it was warm (around 32F or 0C).
 
The bigger problem emerged later - something I didn't expect, even though I should've probably anticipated it coming. The air temperature dropped a lot during the day and when I was leaving my office at 5 p.m. it was only about 14F (-10C). But because my bike was left outside, wet and covered with morning snow, it froze - pretty much completely. It turned out that the rear brake was frozen solid but fortunately I managed to get the front one working after short struggle. The shifter cable was stuck as well but thankfully it started operating properly after the first few hundred feet. Cranks and chain were super stiff and I had to spin them for some time to get them going again. Overall, that was all a new experience. I've never had a chance to ride a frozen bicycle. I managed to get home safely and slowly even though the rear brake was still stuck tight once I arrived at Arlington.

I noticed that despite the last generous snowfall, DPWs of Lexington and Bedford keep up a very good work at plowing the Minuteman Bikeway. Sometimes I feel like I'm rolling on a winter cycling superhighway.
Minuteman Bikeway in Bedford, MA

However, I can't say the same about the section in my home town. Once you cross the Lexington-Arlington border you quickly notice that the Minuteman becomes much narrower and is covered with piles of snow. It clearly hasn't been plowed in a while. It is still accessible and usable but it's much more difficult to ride bikes there. Is Arlington's DPW sleeping or did they completely give up on plowing the bike paths assuming everyone should get a fat bike anyway?

More snow to come next week. I don't have a fat bike so I can't say I can't wait for the white stuff to blow into my face again.