Friday, August 22, 2014

The Phoenix Bike Project - part 3

It's been a long time since I started working on this bike. The last time I reported any progress was last October. Then the winter came and I had other things to take care of, so building the Frankenbike was put on a back burner for a while.
But recently things were better again. I got a free access to a really good bead blaster that stripped the frame of the old paint with ease. The only difficulty was reach all sides of the frame as the blaster's chamber was just big enough to fit the frame inside, but not big enough to rotate it around freely. Nevertheless, the last week my old/new frame was finally ready.
Putting all the parts together was then simply straightforward and within a single day the Phoenix Bike was reborn. I'm pretty happy with the final result. Even though the raw steel frame and fork looks nice and shiny for now, I'm sure it's not going to last like this for too long. I'm actually curious to see how much corrosion I'm going to find on this bike within the first year of use, keeping in mind that I won't use this bike when the weather is not perfectly dry (meaning no riding in rain or after rain). It's going to be my summer commuting bike.
Working with old components that I removed from the ancient bike I built 20 years ago was a pleasure. They are still in a very good condition so I'm happy I could give them a new life. After the first ride, I quickly discovered how fast this new bike is and how surprisingly comfortable the old Selle Italia Flite saddle was. The brakes were great, the bar end shifter works well with modern Alivio derailleur, the 39T chainring gives me a nice usable gear ratio range combined with the 11-34T, 8-speed cassette.
The only part of the bike that still needs my attention, I think, is the handlebars. I installed Soma Oxford Sparrow bars upside-down and they are actually very comfortable in this configuration, making for a very sporty riding position. But eventually, I think I'm going to try a bit more relaxed config by flipping the bars over and installing flat-bar brake levers instead. Especially that the bars I got are pretty wide and will be better suited for use with flat-bar levers anyway. I think I'm going to ride the bike with Oxford Sparrow bars in both positions for a while to figure out which one I like better.
My Soma Oxford Sparrow bars seem way too wide for the upside down installation, but they should work nicely when flipped over.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sunday cycling and why you wear tight shorts on your ride

I see them almost weekly, but most often on weekends. Couples in their 60's, riding identical "hybrid" bikes (something that allows for a more upright, comfortable cycling position but is not a typical city bike - lacks fenders, chainguards, lights, etc.). They stroll slowly on a bike path clearly enjoying it. Would be an idyllic picture if it wasn't for what they wear on their ride. They both have reflective cycling jersey's or jackets on, cycling gloves, helmets, sunglasses and obviously padded, tight shorts. Wouldn't you think there is something wrong with this picture?
(A typical American family enjoying their weekend ride, I think. Source:
If you have errands to run and take your car to a grocery store, do you dress like this
(A male representative of a typical race car driver as found on the Internet)
or you just wear whatever you happened to be wearing at a moment? When you want to go for a few miles-long bike ride to a grocery store, a café or a park would you dress like you are ready for a Tour de France stage? I guess not. So why would some people think they need some specific clothing to enjoy a bike ride?
I guess the answer is in the way American culture presents cyclists and cycling. In this country, cycling is still just a sport, something we do for recreation, fun, fitness. We don't see riding a bicycle simply as a... faster way of walking. A way to move from point A to B. In this sense, in America people on bicycles are cyclists, while in Denmark, Holland or China, they are just... well, people on bicycles. This way, even just riding to a café we feel like we need to put those padded shorts on, glasses, gloves and all the other superfluous gear. Those couples in their 60's certainly didn't use helmets, gloves and tight shorts when they were riding their bicycles in their childhood. That time they just enjoyed the freedom of moving around faster than on both feet. Someone or something must have told or showed them that this funky clothing is absolutely necessary to ride a bike in XIX century.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Are all STOP signs created equal?

I used to think so. Stop means stop, after all. But I am not so sure anymore, after I started riding my bike on Minuteman Bikeway more often.
Stop signs have obviously their purpose and even on a bicycle I obey the rules by stopping at them. However, the stop signs in places where a bike path crosses the street are a little bit different animals. Here is why:
  1. Riding on a bike path and approaching an intersection with a stop sign I'm required to stop my bike completely and verify if the road is clear on both sides before crossing it and continuing riding on the other side.
  2. At the same time, at least here in Massachusetts, drivers are required to yield to everyone (pedestrians or cyclists) who intend to cross the street, even if there is no stop or yield sign displayed.
  3. This creates a situation where both cyclists and drivers stop looking at each other, trying to figure out who would move first.
I noticed, while riding on Minuteman Bikeway to work every day that about 99% of drivers stop at the crosswalks seeing cyclists and pedestrians attempting to cross the street. This is good. However, because of it, the cyclists here got trained that all stop signs at Minuteman Bikeway intersections are only a "suggestion" to stop and most of them don't stop at all. Either they simply slow down significantly and after making sure that the road is clear, proceed to the other side of the intersection, or they don't even slow down at all, assuming that cars will stop for them. While the latter behavior may be just plain stupid or at least risky, it seems to me that cyclists who approach the intersection and seeing cars stopped there, ignore the stop signs and cross the street as quickly as possible, are actually saving those drivers time. We often hear from the motorists that "cyclists should obey all traffic laws to gain respect of motorists" but this situation makes me think that sometimes the same drivers would want us to break the law and get out of their way ASAP.