Saturday, December 29, 2012

Buy it or build it?

If you were looking for a new bicycle, would you just buy one or build one yourself?

I realized that most of the bikes I owned, I put together myself. The explanation is simple - there is only one thing about cycling that I would like more than riding a bike - building one! It is true that the last two bicycles I have been using recently, I purchased at the local bike store. But that happened only because at that time, I wanted to go back to riding as quickly as possible and after my move to U.S. I had no tools at all to work on a bike, not even a bike pump. That's why i decided to buy a complete bike.

But building a bike can really be lots of fun. Sure, some basic skills are needed and some tasks are better to be left for pros (such as wheel building). But the rest is simply straightforward. Once you know what you want to build, find a suitable frameset, get matching components and put everything together. Seeing your own bike emerging from a pile of random parts is an instant gratification. Then, when you realize that you have just built an unique bicycle that is truly yours and no one around will have, you will smile again.
I have just picked up some components I left behind in my parents house. I happen to own a pretty much complete Ultegra 600 groupset: road crankset (53/39T), both hubs, 8-speed rear cassette, brake levers, bar-end shifters, and both rear and front derailleurs (not shown in the picture above). I also have a 8-speed Shimano chain, threaded headset, bottom bracket, seatpost, and a stem. That's a lot of components and even though they are a bit greasy and dirty they show very little use. Now I have to figure out how to give them a new life.

This can be the beginning of a new, nice bicycle.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Taking a break

I am taking a break from cycling for a while. Christmas is around the corner and this week I have some last-minute Christmas errands to run. It turned out that due to the distance and some bad weather earlier this week, this task was easier to accomplish by car than by bike, which doesn't make me happy. Shopping centers are mobbed this time of the year and parking space is scarce. Despite this, it is still easier to simply throw some boxes and bags into a car and drive home, instead of figuring out how to strap them to my bike and ride many miles in rain. Yes, bicycle is a solution, but not in every situation.

Next week, my cycling break will continue since I am planning on visiting my family for Christmas and getting there by bike isn't really doable.

I am sure I will miss my bike(s)...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CCI = DB + OB * temperature / rain

Weird title? Let me explain...

This morning was pretty chilly. In fact, it must have been quite freezing since when I left my house I noticed the frozen windshield on my car and some frozen puddles on the way to work. Despite that I counted 2 (!) other fellow cyclist on the road. Those of you living in more urban area such as Cambridge or downtown Boston will start laughing but seeing two other cyclists on a cold winter morning in Arlington is a lot. Most people drive here.

That weird equation in the title of this post is a way of describing this with numbers. Let's say that CCI is a City Cycling Index and it shows how many bikers are out there on the road. There is always a few, no matter if it's a pleasant sunny day or a center of the hurricane Sandy - they are Dedicated Bikers and they always ride their bikes. The number of other cyclists - the Occasional Bikers, strongly depends on weather. It is directly proportional to the air temperature and inversely proportional to precipitation. Well, in most cases.

In some cases it isn't. Such as in the city of Oulu in Finland. It is located pretty far north at the coast of The Gulf of Bothnia and locals enjoy temperatures of -30C (-22F) more often than we do. I am not kidding - they really seem to enjoy it. Otherwise how would you explain that there are more bikers out cycling in those freezing temperatures than we see here in the summer? See for yourself:
So the next time you think it is cold outside and you will want to drive instead, think about people in Finland.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


I bought my Schwinn Coffee about a year ago, in October. And now, I've just realized something - it's just paid for itself. That's right, now I ride for "free". I did a quick calculation and based on the distance I travel daily, the number of days in the week I usually spend biking, the price of a gallon of gasoline, and the fuel consumption of my car that I don't use when I ride my bike - it seems that about right this month I saved as much money by riding my bike to work, as I would spend on gas.

Sure, I could have been riding my bike for free from day one if I sold my car. But since it is an old car, fully owned and requiring low maintenance, I figured that it is not worth selling it right now. The insurance I have to pay monthly is actually pretty low so I decided to keep it as a backup.

Anyway, it is a good news. One year to break even is reasonable. From now on, my bike will be making money for me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Riding in rain

Winter is almost here. Earlier this week, we were supposed to get some snow but I guess it is still a bit too warm for it and we ended up with a light rain only.

I mentioned before that I don't like riding my bike in rain and in general, my main motivation to ride my bike to work is to have some fun. Riding in rain is not fun for me so I try to avoid it. Sometimes, it is not exactly possible. Just like the last Tuesday - it all started really nice in the morning. It was just a bit chilly but dry. Then, instead of the snow, it started raining. It wasn't a heavy downpour, just a light drizzle. I had no choice but to go back home the same way I arrived to work - by bike. There was no way I could get soaked from that rain since I was properly dressed for this situation. But the worst thing is the vision. I wear glasses. So technically, I should see this:
But unfortunately, I see something like this instead:
Well OK, it maybe wasn't really that bad as shown in this picture above but it wasn't much better either. Sometimes I wish I had some mini wipers on my glasses...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving work commute

I was leaving my house yesterday morning and looked at the car in the driveway. Definitely, an iced windshield is the reason why I prefer to ride my bike to work.
Today's morning was much warmer though (another good reason to choose the bike) and on my way to work I stopped at the hardware store to pick up some painting supplies. That's right, after I finish the turkey, I have some painting to do this long weekend. Seeing my helmet, the clerk asked me if I used their bike rack at the front door. When I confirmed, she just said: "Yay, somebody is using it!". Apparently, cyclists in a hardware store are a rare occurrence. Maybe most people have not figured out yet how to transport a snowblower or a shovel on a bike.

Winter will be here soon and it's not the colder mornings and iced windshields that remind me about it. It is the... Christmas decorations I start seeing everywhere. We are supposed to have Thanksgiving first, but I guess that some people are thinking about Christmas already.

Anyway, days are getting shorter and since riding in darkness is unavoidable at this time of the year, I decided to add some extra lights to my bike. Unfortunately, my Coffee doesn't come with a generator front hub so I have to rely on rechargeable lights. I am using my tiny DiNotte light all the time and it works great. It is small, light, bright and consumes batteries at a reasonable rate (usually, when I commute daily, I recharge it just once a week). But I thought that I should have a just-in-case backup so the last weekend I visited REI and got a Planet Bike Blaze Two-Watt front light. REI had it on sale for only $45 (Regular price is close to $60). I really like this light. It is powerful enough to illuminate the road ahead and runs on only 2 AA batteries. Nice! The minor problem I encountered was when installing it on my handlebars. I had to mount it upside-down, otherwise there was no place to have it positioned properly since the wide basket bracket occupies most of the flat section of my bars. It's probably not designed to be installed this way but it does its job just fine.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The age of a bike?

Earlier this month, British newspaper The Times published an article announcing the end of car domination in large cities. Apparently, at least in London, car use has been on a few-years long decline and it seems that it has passed its peak.
Travel statistics in London, UK (Source: The Times)
The number of miles traveled by car each year has been shrinking since 2007, while at the same time travel done by bicycle has became much more common. There are probably 2 main reasons for this phenomena:
  1. Recession - people will not buy new cars if they can't afford them (expensive gasoline, high purchase prices, high maintenance cost),
  2. Frustration - people will not buy and use cars if they can't park them and have to drive them at snail speed (congested cities, lack of parking spaces).
So it basically narrows down to money and freedom. Since bicycle will cost you less and gives you more freedom (faster in heavy traffic, less maintenance, easier to buy and sell) the choice for those living in London's City is obvious. Will London follow Dutch or Danish example? We will see...

Meanwhile in Boston area...

This morning I had to drop off Elka at Harvard. We drove from Arlington to Cambridge using our favorite side streets and generally avoiding Massachusetts Ave., which is terribly congested at that time of the day. This was a rare chance (for me) to see how Cambridge and Somerville look like in the morning.

It's been a while since I visited Harvard Square the last time. I commute to work in the suburbs, outbound - riding my bike from suburban Arlington to even more suburban Burlington. And I was pleased seeing so many cyclists on streets of Cambridge. It should not be surprising but I was still amazed how much... better a city looks with many cyclists and pedestrians around, not just anonymous cars passing by at too high speed.

I left Elka at Harvard and drove back to Arlington. What a change! On my way to work I counted... one cyclist. That wasn't surprising at all. Normally, I don't see more than 1 or 2 of them on the road. Do bikes belong to downtowns only?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Daylight "savings" and ninja drivers

So we pushed the hands of the clock back the last weekend. And now, I am still trying to grasp the benefits of it. I can't see any.

Sure, it is brighter on the way to work. I only need to run the little blinking red light at the rear rack of my bike. That's enough for cars to see me. But on the way back home it is completely dark now. Just last week I could still have some daylight, now it's gone. Four months of darkness ahead.

I have read and heard so many times about it - when it gets dark turn on your lights. It is dangerous to ride your bike ninja-style, i.e. lights out. This statement has even more meaning once days get shorter, just like now, in early November.
Bike ninjas (Source: YehudaMoon)

One day the last week, before the time change, I was riding my bike home, as usual. I left work after 5 p.m. and it was obvious to me that I had to turn my lights on. The sky was cloudy and grey and I had only about an hour before it got completely dark. I passed only maybe 2 other cyclists on the way. Both had lights on as well. Great!

Not so great and very difficult to understand was the number of ninja-drivers on the road. Considering the late hour, complete overcast and general low visibility, it should be clear to them that turning on their headlights is as important as fastening their seat belts. I understand that there is no law, based on which police could stop those drivers and ticket them (unlike in Sweden, Poland and many other countries). But if you drive your car and it gets dark, please turn on the headlights! It doesn't matter that you can still see the road. What if others can't see you?

Just thought I would share this, since there is a lot of talk everywhere how bad cyclists are not using any lights on their bikes. Judging on what I see around me - drivers are much worse. Statistically, many more of them drive ninja-style than cyclists. And if you're a cyclist, turn on your lights too. Those reflective accessories you have on you or your bike are not good enough. Especially, with ninja-drivers around.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Impatient drivers

I am sure most of you, cyclists, were in a situation when an impatient driver required you to give the way, thinking you were slowing him/her down.

Last evening I was riding back home from my workplace. At an intersection, the light was red and I was patiently waiting for it to change. I stopped my bike in front of all other cars, a bit to the right. This way, I was sure that drivers could see me. Then, I heard a loud honk. First I thought: "Relax, it's red. You are not going anywhere". But I turned around. The car that stopped behind me had no turn signals on, so I was sure that driver's intention was to go straight. I was about to ignore it when I saw a woman driver hectically waving her hands and showing me to move over. I assumed she wanted to turn right on red (legal in Massachusetts in most situations) and I was blocking her way. Well, I moved over, saving her less than 10 sec. That's how long I had to wait for the green light.
I wish there were more signs like this on our roads (Source:

I noticed that before - cycling to work relaxes me. When I am on my bike, it doesn't matter if I arrive a minute earlier or later. I know that I will be there anyway. But I think when people drive, they are more stressed, more impatient.

She was lucky, anyway. Lucky that I saw her hand gestures. Usually, I just look for turn signals, no further, so I would simply ignore such a "request".

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The price of back pockets

I have been looking for a new cycling jersey recently. It was supposed to be a short sleeve one, made in 100% of lightweight wool. And also one that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. It turned out to be a nearly impossible task.

First, I looked at Rapha. They make some pretty nice jerseys! I really like the colors and styling - they don't try to look too much retro but also they don't have team logos and brand names all over the place. They are made of 100% Merino wool. Great! Unfortunately, at $200 and more a piece, they are ridiculously expensive. I gave up on Rapha.

Then I checked what Ibex sells. Much smaller selection here. A few wool jerseys, starting at $120. Still not cheap, although I like the green Indie Freeride. I decided to look further.

Then I found Swvre. Not many wool products there. Plus, from the pictures on their website I figured that since I am not a hipster and I am not planning on growing a full-face beard, I don't deserve Swrve products.

I looked at a couple more websites but I couldn't find anything that would look relatively plain, be made of 100% wool and be reasonably priced. Then, I ended up ordering Minus33 703 Lightweight Crew Neck Top. It was a no-brainer at $47. Especially that I already have their 705 Midweight Crew Neck Top and I really like it. Now I have a lighter, short-sleeve version of it. Of course, it is not a cycling jersey. Maybe that's why it costs so much less. But I have hard time noticing any significant differences between those tops and real jerseys. They are equally comfortable and compared to a jersey they lack a zipper (I don't need one anyway) and... back pockets. Seriously, from the functional standpoint, those back pockets are the only feature I am missing here. Hmm... it seems that attaching back pockets to Merino wool shirt costs between $70 and $150. At these prices, I am going to pass on pockets and use simple wool shirts for cycling.
What pockets are used for? (Source:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Impatient cyclists

I had to drive to work this morning since I had some errands to run and bicycling was unfortunately not the best option. On my way there, I met a cyclist on the road. She was dressed in style and was riding her electrically-assisted city bike with confidence. This view put a smile on my face and I thought to myself "We really need more cyclists like her".

And then, she ruined it. All the positive impression she made was gone in split second. We got to the intersection and stopped at red light. All of us, drivers. But she decided that waiting for the lights to change is unnecessary and continued straight through the intersection. Why?! How much time are you going to save this way? Can't you just wait 10 sec. for the green light (It actually took less than than)?
Running red "meme" (Source: QuickMeme)

I know that in certain situations (totally empty intersections) and some places (Paris, France) such behavior may be acceptable, even legal. But since our law is different here in Massachusetts, bicyclists like her should obey it. Seriously. Otherwise, they are just putting one more argument into motorists' basket named "We will accept cyclists on roads once they start obeying the law!"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seven Mudhoney SL - test ride

 Seven Mudhoney SL in tested configuration

Riding back home from work yesterday, I decided to stop by at Riding Studio Cafe in Lexington to test ride one of their demo bikes - a titanium Seven Mudhoney SL. It is a mid-range cyclocross bike built locally by Seven Cycles from Watertown, MA. Prices start at $3598 for frame only and $4140 for a frame+fork set. The SL version is built from double butted Ti tubing, which apparently saves about 250g of weight compared to the straight gauge tubing. Whether it is worth extra $800 compared to the basic S version - it's up to you to decide.

After the very helpful staff at the Cafe spent a few minutes setting up the bike (installing pedals, adjusting the saddle height, etc.), I was good to go. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time since October days are short and I could spend only about half and hour riding. Not enough for a full test, but certainly enough to give me some sort of feeling on how it handles, and to be able to compare Mudhoney SL with my own Lemond Poprad. Plus, I don't mean to judge this beautiful machine on its suitability to cyclocross as I don't race, so my test would be meaningless to those who do anyway.
The bike arrived with a road-like crankset. The small chainring had 34 teeth, which would indicate its cyclocross origin. But the larger one had 50 teeth and gave the bike more of a on-road than off-road feeling. My Poprad has a 46T chainring and even though it makes the bike slower than all regular road bikes, I am very happy with it. Arlington, MA is a hilly place and having a smaller chainring helps me avoiding unnecessary gear changes. In fact, I noticed that I never really have a chance to ride fast enough to use the tiniest 11T sprocket in my cassette (I don't race). That makes me use the top 3-4 sprockets much more often than any others.

But Mudhoney was different. Because of its 50T chainring it was a fast bike but at the same time I was quickly running out of gears despite the 10 speed cassette. Sure, I could just drop the chain on a smaller chainring but then I had to make some serious adjustments with the rear derailleur too. Otherwise the 34T front chainring would change the gear ratio too much. Overall, these are details since chainrings are easy replaceable, but I think that for me more than 46-48T for daily riding may be unnecessary.
 Mudhoney's front brakes and mud clearance with 38mm tire (WTB Interwolf).

Mudhoney had Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes installed and I have to say that they worked too well. It's likely either the pads or rims (Ksyrium Elite) that made a huge difference but their setup was also quite different than on my Poprad. They were very powerful and could stop the bike very quickly. Too quickly, I think. Plus, it was quite difficult to feel what the right dose on the brake levers was since even at a moderate speed brakes (especially the front one) were easily vibrating and I thought that bike had a stutter. Or maybe it was just a new kind of ABS system I never heard about...
Clearance with 38mm tire. Still enough space for something slightly wider.

One thing I couldn't complain about was the frame. It was beautifully made, with clean welds, smooth lines, great color (bare titanium) and plenty of clearance for even 40mm tires. It was also very visually appealing with its stainless Seven crest bolted to the head tube and subtle decals.
One interesting detail I noticed was that the right (chainring) side of the bike had a white Seven decal on the downtube (see the first photo on top) but the other, left side had a much more stealth one without the white contour (see photo above). I don't know if that was intentional but I definitely like the stealth look of the left side much more.
Toe overlap is still there. Barely.

The bike I tested turned out to have a 52cm seat tube (measured center to center). That surprised me at first, since my Poprad has a 55cm seat tube (measured the same way) and I always thought that it was maybe slightly undersized for my height (6ft). However, Seven's top tube is sloped a bit so the effective frame size is larger - probably about the same as my own bike. On the other hand, Mudhoney's top tube was 1cm longer than on my Poprad. Even though, there was still a tiny bit of toe overlap.

The biggest surprise came when I compared the handlebars height on both bikes. I have absolutely no idea why but the first impression I had after mounting the Seven was that its handlebars (made also by Seven) were positioned higher than on my bike. This made them more comfortable as I didn't have to bend down that much. That turned out to be exactly the opposite - my Poprad's bars were about 2cm higher (due to a different stem) than on Mudhoney and both bikes had the same bottom bracket drop. Now I think that this feeling came from the handlebars themselves. The bars were just more comfortable than what I have on my bike. Their bends were more square, leaving more space for hands on flat sections. And at the same time they were shorter, placing the brake hoods closer to rider.
Mudhoney I tested, had SRAM Rival shifters and derailleurs. As far as I know, this is just a mid-range groupset and I wasn't awed by it. There was nothing wrong with it but I had a feeling that gear change was not as easy and smooth as with my Shimano 105 shifters. I am definitely biased, since I have never really used SRAM shifters before and have no experience with them. Even though, I didn't really feel like their Double Tap way of shifting gears is in any way superior to Shimano's and I didn't like that upshifting required a long travel of the shifter lever. Once I returned the bike and hopped on my Poprad I felt like home again. It is definitely a matter of taste but since I am perfectly happy with Shimano STI shifters, I see no reason to switch to anything else.
The Fi'zi:k Arione brick... err, I mean... saddle.

The saddle attached to this bike was Arione. Fi'zi:k states that it is a "high performance saddle" that weighs 225 grams. My Selle An-Atomica Titanico weighs double that and feels like riding on a comfy couch while Arione feels like sitting on a brick. Or a log of firewood. Well, I guess it is still better than sitting on a bare seatpost. Since me and Elka are planning on having one more child some time in the future I would never install Arione on my bike. Those 250g of saved weight are just not worth it.

I really like the Mudhoney I tested. Surely, I would select different components but overall, the ride quality is really high. It is a beautiful bike that I may consider buying at some point in the future. Then, I would rather go with the basic S version and since Seven offers a very good custom program, I would also like to add rack and fender mounts to the frame.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Smelly mornings (cont.)

Beautiful weather this morning. It's sunny, cool and all the trees tell me it's a full-blown fall season. Then something disturbed my picture-perfect commute. It wasn't a smelly truck this time but an animal. A dead one. Ever had a chance to ride your bike next to a freshly-flattened skunk? Sure, I had such encounters in the past when I was driving my car but this doesn't count. When you drive you move faster than on a bike and you are protected by the metal cage around you.

Riding my bike, I am much more exposed to these things. I can't say that I enjoy it but it makes me more aware of the world around me. So I tried to pass the poor creature as fast as I could and I could only hope not to mess my bike with its guts.

This is one thing I remember well when I took Elka to Poland the very first time. We were walking through the city and passed a local zoo when I said: "You see, the big difference between this country and the U.S. is that the only skunk in a several hundred miles radius is in this zoo".

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chatham Light Trial

A long weekend, finally. The last warm one this year. And since the weather forecast looked good we are spending this weekend with the rest of the family at the Cape.

This means that I had a rare opportunity to sneak out early on the Saturday morning, leaving Elka and Dr. J sleeping, and go bike riding. I quickly got my bike ready, snacked something and by 6:30 AM I was on the road. I was actually planning to leave even earlier as I woke up at 6:00 AM, but it was still completely dark at that time and I didn't feel like riding in darkness.

My goal was to reach Chatham, which is over 40km (25mi) away from Osterville, where we stayed. In fact, the full route there and back would be close to 60 miles, hence the early start was necessary.
My Chatham Light Trial

At this point sun was barely above the horizon and roads were completely empty. I didn't see a single car before I merged onto Rt 28 East towards Hyannis. It is a busy road and normally I would avoid biking there as people drive fast and aggressively. However, this section of Rt 28 has a bike path going eastbound ending close to the Hyannis airport.
Sun was just rising above the airport when I took Iyannough Rd towards Yarmouth Rd and eventually found the bike path off Higgins Crowell Rd. The path was surprisingly comfortable, nicely graded and paved with asphalt. I quickly realized that it was cutting through the golf course and was also used by golf carts. That would explain its surface finish.
 Sun over Hyannis Airport.
I continued through Yarmouth, passing the Bass River Golf Club on my way and crossing the bridge on Highbank Rd.
 Bass River Golf Club.

Finally, I turned into Rt 134 and found the Cape Cod Rail Trial (CCRT). At this point I thought that I could have cheated and simply drive my car up to there, as the entrance to the trial has a nice parking lot just off Rt 134. It would save me a few hours but on the other hand, where is the challenge?
I entered the trial and kept going east. I passed a few people walking their dogs and 2 other cyclists. Quickly, I got the point where the CCRT splits - its eastern part goes to Chatham, my destination, while its northern part ends in Wellfleet. The split is not just a simple fork in the road but a roundabout (!) - the first bicycle roundabout I have ever seen in the U.S. I had a chance to bike in Denmark before, and roundabouts for cyclists are as common there as bike racks, but seeing one on this side of the ocean is quite surprising. Anyway, this roundabout had well-marked signs pointing cyclists into right directions, bike racks, and some benches (all still wet from the morning dew).
 CCRT roundabout.
 Chatham? This way!
Chatham Airport.

After a few more miles I finally entered Chatham. I had to go around the Chatham airport and eventually I got to Main St, which looked very sleepy at this hour (it was shortly before 9:00 AM), with only a few cars on the road and a few businesses opened. Then, I reached the Chatham Light. Normally, this place can be chilly since it is elevated and exposed, but that morning was different. The ocean was quiet and peaceful. Not even a single breeze. Warm, sunny but not hot, as you would expect on October mornings. Just beautiful. I stayed there a few minutes, snacked on some chocolate, finished the first bottle of water and started riding back.
 Chatham Light.
Beach in Chatham.

There were many more cyclists on the trial at that time and I pretty much rode back exactly the same way I came to Chatham. I kept wondering if the grinding noise I heard at that point was coming from my knees or pedals. It turned out that my SPDs got a bit sandy even though my knees started to hurt.
I arrived home at 11:30 AM so the entire route took me 5 hours to complete. I rode 93km (57.7mi). It's a distance I haven't ridden in a long time - my last rides were much, much shorter. And probably because of this, I was really tired. However, I think that maybe it wasn't because of the distance, since I did 100km rides before, but the time I took to ride this route. When I used to go on 100km rides it was taking me more time than 5 hours to complete them. Usually, I wasn't rushing, I was taking it easy, making multiple short stops on the way. I think I pushed myself a little too hard this time. Once I got back home I showered, ate 4 eggs with toast and took a short nap. Me knees were sore for the remainder of the day. I think I deserved a good beer...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To encourage biking - lose helmets

Helmets again. Yes, it is an old issue, discussed multiple times. However, since the recent article in NY Times has been already discussed many times around the web, maybe finally those who think that mandatory helmet law is THE solution, will change their minds.
Cycling. Helmet-free (Drawing by Eric Hanson)

I wrote about this issue months ago. But since the problem still exists - it is not a bad idea to discuss it again.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Smelly morning

One big problem with cool September mornings is that the air is too crisp and all the usual smell of the road seems to travel further quite easily. This morning on my way to work I had to ride alongside three smelly vehicles: two large mover's box trucks and one landscaper's dump truck. Obviously they were faster than me and once they passed me, they left a grey stinky could of smoke behind. I met them again at the next intersection waiting for a green light. I passed them and the cat-and-mouse chase continued.
Hold your breath! (Source: Google Images)

After one more intersection I quickly realized that I am not having much fun on this ride and I decided to stay far behind and not try to be first at the lights. Sometimes it is good to be last.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The future of (e)bicycles

Remember "Ginger"? A device that was supposed to be the solution to our everyday short-distance transportation? Yes, the same one that after much hype was finally presented in 2001 as Segway PT. Well, Segway did not become THE solution - it didn't really revolutionize anything. Partially, due to its cost, partially due to problems with classification in many countries (Should it be allowed on sidewalks or not?) and partially or perhaps mainly, due to a fact that there was already a much cheaper vehicle, available nearly anywhere and with a well-established infrastructure (paths, lanes, parkings) - a bicycle.

Yes, bicycle is an amazing vehicle: amazingly simple and amazingly power-efficient. However, there are still people who can't use it e.g. for medical reasons and there are situations where its use becomes questionable and impractical. For an average person a bicycle works best on short distances and in a relatively flat terrain. Once you start increasing the distance and start riding in very hilly areas you may quickly realize that a simple bicycle is just not enough. You may have to look at other solutions. Obviously there are cars, motorcycles and scooters. But in the recent years we can witness a rapid growth of one more class of vehicles - electrically-powered bikes.

Electric bikes are a wonderful invention but their design looks a bit too much like a rough hack job. Usually, an e-bike is based on a regular off-the-shelf bicycle with an electric motor added to one of the wheel hubs and a bulky battery tied to its frame. Surely, there are advantages of such a solution since a simple conversion kit can be installed on nearly any bike. But the complete package is not integrated at all and feels like randomly put together.
Electric bicycle (Source: Google Images)

Hopefully, we will see more interesting e-bikes showing up in the next years and hopefully, they will start being designed with a specific goal in mind - to be electric bikes. Some very rare examples exist today:

1. Specialized Turbo
Specialized Turbo (Source: Geir Anders Bysykling blog)

Earlier this year we heard about Specialized Turbo (Unfortunately, at this time for European market only), which proves that things are moving in the right direction. Even though the big hub motor is still there, the battery pack is nicely integrated with the frame and you can clearly tell that this bike was meant to be an e-bike from start and wasn't simply put together from one of the standard Specialized models and an aftermarket e-motor kit. The Turbo comes also with a nice set of components and essentially lacks only fenders and a rack to become a very nice daily commuting vehicle.

2. Faraday Porteur
Faraday Porteur (Source: Faraday Bicycles Inc)

For those of you who prefer bicycles with a retro look, the small West Coast company Faraday has prepared Porteur - a classic-looking e-bike. The most unique feature of Porteur is that it doesn't look like an e-bike at all - there is no bulky battery and the front wheel e-motor is quite small. The manufacturer claims that 250W of electric power will assist us for 10-15 miles. Other features are also well-designed, such as beautifully integrated lights in the frame and the front rack. Definitely, Porteur is a very stylish solution to run your daily errands.

3. Mando Footloose
Mando Footloose (Source: Mando & Mark Sanders)

Finally, there is Mando Footloose, which I noticed just yesterday on BicycleDesign blog. Footloose lets me see how the future of e-bikes may look like. The concept is simple and brilliant. It takes the best of the e-bicycle - mobility, speed, power and ability to be folded for storage and removes all that seems obsolete - a dirty chain and an ugly battery box.
Mando Footloose (Source: Mando & Mark Sanders)

Footloose is powered by an electric motor hidden in the rear hub that is connected to the frame-hidden battery and an alternator in the bottom bracket. Its rider is therefore not powering the rear wheel directly and his/her legs serve here as a device to recharge the main battery. While you may not like this idea since it does not follow a typical bicycle design and makes the whole vehicle feel more like a moped or an electric scooter, in the city commute it definitely makes sense - the more you pedal the further you go. Footloose seems also designed with simplicity of use and maintenance in mind. Its single-side suspended wheels allow for tire change without removing them from the frame. No chain means no lubrication needed and no dirty clothing. To be fully functional it just needs lights and a rack. I really hope this bikes makes it into production.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Disappeared in Maine... for a while

Windjammers in Rockland harbor

I am back. I disappeared in Maine for a week taking some vacation with my family. We drove nearly 1000 miles along the Maine coast. That's right - we drove. No biking this time.

We like visiting Maine in September and October and we usually do it every year. The summer crowds are gone by then, weather gets milder and air loses its unbearable humidity, but at the same time most businesses are still opened and we can enjoy time spent outside and inside.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Poprad fine-tuning

After riding many kilometers on my Lemond Poprad, I finally realized that some changes were necessary. First, I decided to replace the stock saddle. My main complain about this bike was a major PITA during longer rides. Not anymore. The new saddle is a white Selle An-Atomica Titanico that I got on sale.
Next, was the time to adjust the handlebars position as I had a feeling that I was too stretched on my bike. I decided to try out a shorter, 80mm stem. Now the whole bike feels even more compact than before but finally my riding position is pretty comfortable, even during a longer, 3-4 hrs ride. I still have to find some time to do a full-day biking and see if my current adjustments are final. You never know - what feels right during a 3-hour bike tour may be painful on a 6-hour ride.

In my review, I also pointed out that Avid Shorty 4 cantilever brakes had inadequate stopping power and I have seriously considered replacing them for some time. Ideally, I would use regular v-brakes since they are very easy to adjust and deliver lots of braking power. The problem with v-brakes is that they require long pull levers and STI combo levers do not have adequate pull. I found out that there are three effective solutions to this problem:
  1. Use regular v-brakes but install Travel Agents to compensate for shorter pull of STI levers,
  2. use special, short mini v-brakes,
  3. use better, stronger cantilever brakes.
I have never heard about option 2 before I did some research so this was a bit unknown territory for me. I considered option 1 but then I thought that this whole assembly would look a bit messy so eventually, I decided to get better cantilever brakes, even though adjusting them can be seriously bothersome sometimes. I got Tektro CR720 for $48 (both front and rear), which looks like a really good deal considering that they provide much, much more stopping power. They look a bit funny though, as they are really wide.
The main use of this bike is short-distance "touring". I wrote touring in quotes, since I don't even know if I can call it this way. I just use my Poprad for short rides around the neighborhood: 30-150km (20-90mi) in one day. I think it should serve me well for this purpose. However, it means that I would need some storage space for a couple of things I would take on a ride with me ( a thin jacket, a camera, tools, food, etc.).

I thought about a saddlebag, but most of them look too retro to my taste and are heavy so I ended up with a Tubus Fly rear rack. It is an amazingly light (330g) rack designed for use with road bikes. Despite its lightweight construction its max. load is rated at 18kg (40lbs). I thought about some small panniers for it but I ended up with a simple stuff bag instead. It is a much smaller and lighter solution than two wide panniers. Secured with just one bungee cord such bag fits all the things I need on the road.
The last addition is a small handlebars bag that I can use for storing my camera and a few things I have to access frequently. It is good to keep the camera easily accessible, which means that it should not travel in the saddlebag or on a rear rack. The bag I found on Amazon for $8 is not much lager than 8"x4"x4". It seems to work quite well for me although it could unzip a bit more to have a better access inside.
That's it. I feel like my bike is now complete. Well, almost. My last complain is the handlebars that I may replace eventually. The bars I have on my bike are old-style drop bars and they don't have much space for my hands on the top, flat section. I wish the handlebars had a much smaller bend radius (see the photo below). This would leave me extra space for my hands on flats and allow me to place my hands further apart from the stem. The problem I have is finding something appropriate with 25.4mm clamp size since most modern bars have 31.8mm clamp.