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.