Saturday, October 31, 2015

The best thing that happens to cars is their absence

Cars. I mean their absence. That's what I like where I'm going.

This is the Big Corn Country. Or actually the Pumpkin And Turkey Country this time of the year. Anyway, today we are celebrating (?) Halloween, which means that you are supposed to dress up in a goofy outfit, yell "boo" and beg your neighbors for candy. Even if you are 45.

This also means that I should probably write about something scary. And what can be more scary to millions of Americans than a thought they could take your car away? Boo!

Cars are an extension of our lives that we seemingly can't eliminate. Why would we? They take us to places we want to go, they are comfortable, safe and the least expensive way to travel. At least that's what we want to think.

Sure, there are a few minor problems like 33,000 dead annually and the high national cost of driving everywhere. That's right. Cars may seem like an inexpensive way to travel because driving is highly subsidized so you pay extra for this privilege from your taxes, whether you like it or not.

Alright, let's say that driving everywhere is not as cheap as we would think. But no matter what, cars are here to stay, right? Modern economy needs them. If we can't eliminate all cars, maybe we could at least do something to reduce the number of road collisions? Except increased law enforcement, better road design, and reduced speed, apparently, we can soon benefit from self-driving vehicles.
Google cars drive like your grandma - they're never the first off the line at a stop light, they don't accelerate quickly, they don't speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).
Those who love their 5 liter V8s won't be super happy with a self-driving grandma car. But in the dense city center a driving grandma may be what we need (As long as grandma is not deaf, blind, and pays attention to the road). At least an overly cautious self-driving car won't likely run over pedestrians.

Or will it? "Many people think driverless cars could be the best thing to happen to human transportation since the internal combustion engine." And they may keep thinking that as long as those driveless cars aren't programmed to kill people.

Self-driving cars may look like a second coming in the world of transportation until we realize that they won't solve the congestion problem in city centers anyway. A driverless car is still a car and whether it carries a driver or not, it still takes the same space on the road and still requires a parking spot.

This, and the fact that city center are not made out of rubber and won't just stretch to make space for more cars, lead some city officials to opt for a drastic change - ban all private cars from the downtown. The first large city that will try that is Oslo. By 2019 the city center is supposed to be car-free despite 90,000 people going to work there every day. Instead, Oslo will offer "more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) of new bicycle lanes and a massive expansion in public transportation services". Imagine something on that scale in any large US city and you will have a national outrage: "They are taking our cars away!"
After the self-driving cars arrive, our roads will likely look like this. Better?

But if you think that Oslo is far away enough to treat this news as a curiosity only, think again. Things are changing on this side of the Great Pond as well. For starters, one of the Chicago suburbs is trying to kill the car as well.

Scary? It shouldn't be. Those of you in rural America can still keep your V8s. But for those living in dense urban centers the change is real. Face it - there simply isn't enough space on roads for all your vehicles. Living car-free may not become a lifestyle choice but a necessity. Which may not be that bad actually, considering the hassle of buying one.

Now out to get some candy...

Friday, October 23, 2015

What to eat on a 100 mile bike ride?

In my previous post I wrote about a popular video that lists all the things every cyclists "needs" on a ride. It gets better! There are more videos from the same author who this time is trying to teach us on what to eat on a ride. Now I know that all those times when I went for a 60-100mi ride, I ate wrong things.
The video is rich in advice: "wake up at least 2 hrs before your ride", "eat soy or whey protein before the ride", "have some caffeine before you start", "don't forget your vitamins, just like you take them every single day", put "ice in your water bottles to cool down your body", etc.

That's all great. For an athlete who is getting ready for Tour de France. But for all others, us - mortals, that advice is questionable at the very least. I did a few 100mi rides and a bunch of 60mi ones. I never followed a rule to wake up 2hrs before the start, never ate protein before the ride, never had coffee (don't like it - weird, I know), never put ice in my water bottles, not to mention using any vitamin pills. You don't need them, provided that you eat healthy. I never did all those things and I managed to not only survive my rides but actually truly enjoy them.

But that's OK. Maybe some people like to use a whole bunch of chems, pills and supplements. My main problem with the approach presented in the video is simply stated by one question (to quote one of the comments under the video): "Where is the food?!"

Seriously, where is it? Maybe I'm weird, but I actually like to stop for lunch. You know, a real lunch, like a panini, burger or something else delicious. If I was forced to eat gels, tabs and some powdered stuff exclusively on my rides, I would start hating cycling very quickly.
The second video covers nutrition "problems" on short distances - about 20 miles. My favorite part is when we are told to drink the content of one water bottle for every hour of the ride. First I thought that in the peak of summer heat this may make sense, only to realize that 20mi is only 32km (I'm a metric guy). It would take me about 1.5hrs to ride that distance and I have done it many times.

Usually I don't take any food with me on such a short ride. Just eat something before it and take 1 water bottle with you. You're all set. Drinking so much water within 1.5hrs would likely give me a heavy stomach feeling. Even in summer.

If you are about to become a pro athlete then by all means, use all those special food products. But if you, like me, just want to ride 100mi for fun, then better stop for a grilled Reuben sandwich, freshly-squeezed juice or a delicious burger. Why give up on real, good food if you don't have to?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gear every cyclist needs

It's 2015 (still) and apparently, riding a bicycle is not as simple anymore as we used to do it when we were kids. You can't just hop on your bike and start riding (or can you?). Now you need a whole bunch of stuff you have to carry with you. According to this video, here is the list of gear every cyclist needs:
Sunglasses - I almost never wear them on bike. In fact, the first time I wore them some nasty bug (a bee?) hit me in the face at high speed and got stuck somehow between my face and the glasses frame. Then it panicked and stung me. The part of my face next to the right eye was terribly swollen for the next 3 days. I would've done better without any glasses at that time.
Because I wear my normal prescription glasses on daily basis, I find it inconvenient to carry 2 sets of eyewear on a bike ride. Hence, sunglasses get some use only in the summer, on longer day rides. Oh, and they are certainly not aerodynamic as the video suggests. I'm not in Tour de France anyway.
Water bottle - Good advice but I found out that an ordinary plastic bottle with a pull-out cap you can buy in most grocery stores works very well. It's also lighter and you can always trash it after the ride if you don't need it anymore. You don't need a cycling-specific bottle at all. Having said that, I do use them sometimes but I don't find them necessary. 

Floor pump - This is actually really useful. Makes inflating tires a trivial task. However, you don't have to check your tire pressure with a gauge "every time you ride". In fact, if all you do is ride to work or to run some errands, why would you bother to know whether you have 30 or 40psi in your tires? As long as they roll well and don't get punctures, you are likely fine.
Shoes with stiff soles - "Always wear them on bike"? - it's a myth, I say. Stiff soles are absolutely necessary with tiny clipless pedals for the simple reason that there is very little area available to transfer force from your legs onto the cranks. But once you switch to large platform pedals and leave SPDs at home, you will quickly find out that stiff sole shoes are not necessary at all. Years ago I used to go mountain biking wearing... Converse sneakers with very soft soles. Now I use Five Ten shoes with moderately stiff soles, still much softer than any SPD shoes have. Not to mention that if you do a fair amount of walking during your cycling escapades, stiff sole shoes are a pain. Literally.
Helmet - The one I use on my ride to work is awesome. It's called AirHelmet, is completely transparent, invisible, fully ventilated and weighs zero grams. Ok, but joking aside, I wouldn't go serious mountain biking without one. 

Full finger gloves - This applies to mountain bikers, not so much on a road bike. However, even on my daily commute in winter I use such gloves (duh!). But they are not cycling-specific at all. 

Padded shorts with chamois cream - On a 50-100mi ride? Sure, why not. But I really don't need them on a 10mi ride to work. 

Jersey - I stopped wearing these years ago. Maybe at some point I will go back. For now, I'm really happy with thin, wool, fitted t-shirts. I don't know if every cyclist needs a jersey, but probably every cyclist should at least try to avoid cotton. Regarding the back pockets for storage - that's what on-bike bags are for. 

Saddle - By all means yes. A good saddle is God-given. Unfortunately, most bikes sold in stores come with really shitty saddles so it will likely be the first thing you are going to replace on your new bike. I always go with either Brooks or Selle An-Atomica. 

Extra tube - For long(er) distance rides it's definitely a good idea. Add two tire levers, a tire boot and a mini pump as well. But if you ride to a supermarket five blocks away, don't bother. 

Cash - For a person who never carries any cash this is a good idea. Having some spare cash with you on a longer ride may be live-saving sometimes.

That's what I think about the video's list. For any long ride I would also add a phone. It can be a lifesaver in some situations.
In general though, there isn't much you should need to ride a bike. Unless you plan on riding 100mi in one day, just your bicycle should be all you would need.

What's on your list?

Friday, October 16, 2015

9 more Kickstarter inventions for your bicycle

Looks like it may be time for another Kickstarter cycling inventions review, Vol. 3 (See also Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Kickstarter is a tremendous resource for someone with a bright idea who seeks funding to turn his/her concept into reality. However, as with all ideas, not many of them are actually bright.
"Gi FlyBike is an electric, smart, maintenance-free, folding bicycle with full size, 26” wheels that we created for the future of urban commuting." At least that's what inventors say. 

Because we live in 2015, as most "novel" bike concepts, it's smart, which means it requires a smartphone to operate. I won't comment on that or other FlyBike's features except one (OK, two) - this bike folds in half to save space in storage. The folding mechanism seems simple to operate but unfortunately, if you were looking for an electric Brompton, look elsewhere. Flybike's seatpost nor handlebars don't fold and it doesn't look like it would stand upright on its own when folded.

Also, I'm not super excited about "airless, solid tires". Yes, they may be puncture-resistant but usually, ride quality on such things suffers a lot. Maybe that's why FlyBike needs a shock-absorbing seatpost.

My verdict: Perhaps some people will get excited about this thing (120 backers bought it!) but I'm not. It looks like an over-engineered vehicle. If I wanted puncture-resistant tires, I would go tubeless. If I want to share my bike with a friend, why do I need a smartphone app for it? If I wanted a folding bike, I would likely buy a Brompton.

Parkis is "a unique mechanical bicycle lift for parking bicycles in small spaces". The idea is sound - for those of us who don't own a large house with even larger basement, storing (many) bicycles may be tricky sometimes. Unless you are fine with your bicycle living outside year-round, you would need to come up with some designated space where you can keep it safe and out of your way.

Parkis is supposed to help with it. It grabs a bike by its front wheel and automatically lifts it up into upright position. My biggest problem with Parkis is that... it doesn't really solve the problem! Yes, it frees up a bit of space on the floor but it's far from the space you could gain by simply hanging your bike on two wall hooks.

Also, if you wanted to store more than one bicycle with Parkis your space savings look even less exciting - you can't install two Parkis close to each other because those wide handlebars will get in the way.

My verdict: Wall hooks are way cheaper and don't need electric power.

The two first inventions could actually be useful for some people but this one seems just plain stupid. It's a pedal that has a built-in locking cable, auto-retractable and with a combination lock. Oh, and an alarm. Because we all know that alarms are extremely effective in deterring thieves. Right.

There is so much wrong with this thing that I don't even know where to start. First of all, it has a thin cable, easy to cut. But let's say it's supposed to be used to lock your bike in places where thieves don't use cable cutters (in deep woods of Montana, maybe?). Then, you are limited to these crappy pedals with lousy grip surfaces. Then, there is an alarm, which usually has only a psychological effect of you feeling more secure. Not to mention that putting a lock in a pedal seems a bit strange. Pedals get dirty, either from mud or even some dog shit.

Having said that, I understand where inventors are coming from. They designed it to be used on beach cruisers. Their pedals may have to be used barefoot (hence the design) to occasionally lock your bike when you stop to refill your Pina Colada. There must be a lot of Pina Colada fans out there as inventors managed to get over $27,000 already for their pedals.

My verdict: A retractable cable lock in a pedal? Come on, seriously?! If I wanted to design something like it I would put it into a small housing that can be frame-mounted and leave my pedals alone.

These are simply bar ends like the ones you had on your mountain bike in the early 90's, but they can be quickly rotated on handlebars for different riding positions.

Inventor claims that his Revolver Bar Ends are "finally a way to change hand/riding positions WHILE you ride". Apparently, he has never heard of anything like road drop bars or multi-position touring bars. Seriously, if I had a problem with aching wrists, neck, back, etc. I would rather look into a different bicycle/handlebars/stem length/etc. first, instead of developing something that is a solution to a non-existent problem.

My verdict: If you need these, you are probably simply riding on a wrong size bicycle, with wrong handlebars or other components. Go to a local bike store and get help. You won't need any revolving gizmos.

Geez, what the hell is that thing? It's a "bicycle specifically designed for runners" (Can you still call it a bicycle?). It suspends your body to create an effect of "weightless running". You see, in order to run in XXI century you can't just use a pair of sport shoes anymore. Now you need a complex exoskeleton too!

But if GlideCycle is supposed to reduce your fatigue during your morning jogging, why go jogging at all? Isn't getting a good workout and getting sweaty the whole point of running? If you wanted to make sure you won't get too tired, why not just ride a regular bicycle instead?

My verdict: Unless you are handicapped and have some kind of back trauma that prevents you from normal running, stay away from this thing. A pair of sneakers is all you should ever need.

Now onto something I could actually like. Stellight is a simple bicycle light with powerful LEDs that can be configured as front (white) or rear (red) light. It comes with a handful of features: is nicely packaged into a small housing, uses large knob to control light output, communicates with a second Stellight through Bluetooth so you can remotely control your rear light from the front one, and is easily adjustable/removable.

However, the main selling point of this light seems to be the ability to use hundreds of different light patterns - a way you can "express yourself". I honestly think there are better ways to show the world how cool you are than spending hours with a smartphone, fine-tuning your light patterns. But kids will probably like it.

My verdict: The design is nice. Many light patterns are not. Instead of them, I would rather have the inventors to add a good beam reflector to the front light. Powerful lights are great as long as they don't illuminate tree tops, blinding everyone around.

Another bike light. Unfortunately, this one is pretty dumb even though it's "smart". FAST Tail Light is supposed to be your guardian angel. It will call home (send message to your wife's phone) when you place your bike flat on the ground. This way she can call you back and remind you that you may damage rear derailleur by doing that. Smart!

FAST will also let you create many rainbow-like color patterns. Now you can confuse the hell out of drivers and other cyclists who universally understand that rear lights are red, not purple-yellow-green. Or give them epilepsy. Smart!

My verdict: I don't really see much point in this thing but if you are an 8-grader, you may like it on your BMX.

This thing is awesome! But it should be larger so that when you stick out your middle finger towards an aggressive driver, it would display a welcoming, well-visible F-message.

TurnCycle is a display panel that shows to drivers behind you (using LEDs) your hand gestures (turn signals). It recognizes your arm position using a wristband-mounted accelerometer.

I understand the idea and motivation behind it but honestly, there are several problems with TurnCycle. One, it's too small to be well-visible. Two, drivers don't expect to see any flashing turn signals on bicycles and are likely not going to pay attention to them. Three, a simple flashing arrow on a small screen in the middle of the seatpost won't be very effective. There is a good reason why turn signals in cars are installed as off-center as possible. This way they can be easily understood as right/left signals. But a bicycle is too narrow to do that, hence hand gestures are used. If you want to use flashing turn signals, put them on your wrists.

My verdict: Nice try but no. At least not in this form. Actually, $10 reflective wrist bands would likely be more effective than TurnCycle.

This little gadget is a micro trailer with a complete electric motor kit. It's supposed to turn any bicycle into an e-bike.

Clearly, Wheezy has several advantages. You can use it on many of your bikes, moving it between them as needed. You can also use it with any bicycle - your kid's bike with 24" wheels or your large city bike.

However, some of inventor's claims are certainly inflated. I don't know how Wheezy is supposed to solve problem with storage of an electric bicycle. An e-bike would take less space than a regular bike plus this trailer.

My verdict: It's very difficult to tell how effective Wheezy is without testing it so I am not going to call it a hit or miss. It may work well in urban environment, on well-paved and snow-free bike paths.