Monday, December 31, 2012

Tried And Liked, 2012 Edition: The Stuff

Now, for those who are huge geeks for product reviews, here are the new gidgets and widgets I slapped on a cycle in 2012 that earned their place in my pantheon of Things That Don't Suck: 

POLAR BOTTLES: A brutal heat wave inspired me to test a couple insulated bottles this summer. While I found Camelbak's attempt somewhere between "meh" and "blech" (usually hanging around the "feh" part of that continuum), Polar was a winner -- once I figured out that what I thought was leakage was actually the result of sloppy filling, a.k.a. operator error. I can't count the number of times that bottle's been through the dishwasher since my initial review, and it still looks and works like new. Even disregarding the insulation (which is nice, don't get me wrong), this is a better bottle than any of its plastic competitors on basic bottle function -- even the mighty and ubiquitous Specialized bottle.

CRANK BROTHERS CANDY PEDALS: Originally purchased as a stopgap while I hunted for new ATACs, my low-budget Candy 1s are still mounted up and going strong. My only real complaint so far is with cleat durability -- even mounted in recessed-sole MTB shoes, those suckers wear down pretty quick compared to (steel) SPD cleats or (also brass, I think) ATAC. Still, gosh, these are some nice click-in pedals for the price. 

STI: This one completely spit in my inner-Luddite's eye, having been a bar-end-shifter guy for the better part of 15 years. Still, I greatly enjoyed the Tiagra brifters on my Raleigh Clubman. I can still see the benefits of old-school, non-integrated shifting, but I have to admit that the newfangled stuff works and the ergonomics are delightful (for my chubby paws, at least). If they blow out on me, I might consider going back to a retro option, but until then, I'm going to keep on brifterin'. 

COMPACT CRANKS: This was less of a stretch for my inner Luddite since I've been a proponent of smaller-diameter bolt circles (and their resulting lower gears for years. However, 2012 was the first time that I tried Shimano's take on what we retro-dorks have always known. The 50/34 combo has its challenges (there can be a bit of a clunky double-shift in the sequence), but for this flatlander, it's a great compromise between the dork factor (yeah, I'm that vain) of a triple and the "who's got quads to push that?" feeling of a racerdude double. 

THE HORRIBLY NAMED BUT NICE SHIMANO TIAGRA GROUP: Other than crummy bottom bracket bearings, I was duly impressed by the whole Tiagra kit on my Clubman this year. Sure, it sounds like an (ahem) "male enhancement" pill, but the 9-speed version of the T-group has impressed me as solid, effective stuff that isn't awful to look at. If you're a fan of esoteric midrange Shimano road groups of the mid-90s (and really, who isn't?), I'd liken this group to the RX100 of yore... sitting right under 105, mostly forgotten, basic silver, and good to go. 

V-BRAKES AND DROP BARS: 2012 was the year that I finally worked out the kinks which were keeping me from converting my Swift folder to drop bars, including the whole "how to pull a V-brake with a drop-bar lever" conundrum. I'd tried (briefly) the Tektro RL520 before, but had them on a flared drop bar that was not to my liking and ended up throwing out both baby and bath water. Once I mated them to a more traditional bar, perfection. Solid and powerful braking, good (for me) ergonomics, not fiddly at all (I installed inline cable adjusters but haven't touched them in months), no complaints.

Okay, 2012, that's a wrap. Here's to many happy miles in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tried And Liked, 2012 Edition: The Generalities

It is a long-standing tradition in one of the many online forums (fora?) where I prowl to compile annual lists of things that were tried each year and found to be acceptable -- nay, even likable. While these lists often focus on stuff (and I have a list of just stuff forthcoming) there's room for ideas, experiences, and whatnot. So, without further ado, here -- in no particular order -- is my compilation of general things that made me smile in 2012. 

OWNING A GO-FAST BIKE: I actually took possession of my Raleigh Clubman late in 2011, but she didn't see real riding until 2012, so I'm counting it. After several years of fat-tired all-rounders (pshawing and harumphing all the while at those "one-trick-pony" road bikes), I finally put skinny tires under my wide arse again. And it was good. Sure, 700x28 with fenders isn't exactly cutting edge racer stuff, but still. Felt nice. And fast. And not uncomfortable or one-trick-ponyish at all. (Disclaimer: Calling anything pedaled by me a "go-fast" bike is probably grounds for pants on fire.) 

TANDEM HAMMERING: The tandem (and tandeming in general) was nothing new, but my stoker lost a jaw-dropping 50-plus pounds in the last year or so. The result? The tandem got a massive upgrade in power/weight ratio with no extra effort from me. We did long rides, we did fast rides, we did long fast rides. From the captain's chair, it felt like astronaut training... I swore my face-skin was being pushed to the back of my head. If I ever drop the 25 pounds of bonus features I'm carrying, we may have to put bigger gears on that thing. 

QUASI-MODERN BIKE TECHNOLOGY: With the new go-fast(er) bike came an influx of non-retro parts... threadless headset, STI, external-bearing bottom bracket, modern crankset, blah blah blah. While my decidedly Luddite internal monologue again wanted to pshaw and harumph these supposed advancements, I have to say that (with the exception of a quickly-toasted Tiagra BB), they have all performed admirably so far. It's also nice to be able to walk into a bike shop and get a replacement part that isn't a freaky "do they even make that any more?" special order -- though given the speed of planned obsolescence in the bike industry, that should last for about two more months. (Aside: The fact that I'm calling threadless headsets and STI -- two  breakthroughs from the grunge era -- "modern" should tell you just how far behind the curve I am.) 

MAKING VAGUELY MUSICAL NOISE: All the bikers in the house are shouting "digression!" at me, but one of the things that made me happy in 2012 was the time I spent rebuilding my bass-player calluses. I haven't actually shared this "gift" with anyone (save my long-suffering spouse) or attempted to perform with anyone else, but it felt good to knock the dust off a few musical synapses that hadn't fired since the last century. 

THE DREADED LYCRA: I've been a baggy-shorts guy pretty much since I became a chubby desk jockey. However, with the purchase of the go-slightly-faster bike (see above), I figured it might be time to pull the old sausage casings out of storage, at least for the occasional longer ride (alone, in complete darkness, where there's no chance of anyone seeing the abomination of me in Lycra). It didn't take long to remember why I used to wear that stuff. I'm still a baggy-shorts guy for most of my riding, but if I know I'm going to put in a long and slightly faster day in the saddle, I reach for the girdle. If I ever become that guy who clomps around the farmer's market on his cleat covers in full kit with his RAGBRAI jersey stretched over his beer belly, take me out back and shoot me.

Next up, the bike-related products that I added to my quiver (and found good) in 2012.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Huh? What? Did Somebody Say Challenge?

Fearless Leader Tarik, grand pooh-bah of the Tarik Saleh Bike Club, and miner of blog gold over at Moscaline, has announced his Tarik Saleh Bike Club 100 Challenge... and, as early-joiner (perhaps a charter member?) of TSBC, I have dutifully made myself aware that a challenge is taking place.

In case you're too lazy to follow that link and read the challenge rules, here they be, quoth Tarik: 
  1. Just ride your bike 100 miles from 12/24-12/31/12 and you have achieved the challenge.
  2. Or just ride your bike every day from 12/24-12/31 and you also have achieved the challenge.
  3. Or just try to ride your bike just a bit more than you might have otherwise and you have achieved it. 
Progress to date: I was working for The Man on 12/24, and thus did a very cold 2-mile round trip commute on studded tires. 12/25 is a holy day of Chinese food and cinema for my people, so I was forbidden by rabbinical edict to do more than hamster-spin in the garage (total distance traveled: 0 miles, natch). 12/26: Another cold 2 miles. 12/27: Another cold 2 miles. I will predict yet another cold 2 miles for 12/28. On 12/29, I'll be visiting a very sick girl in the hospital for zero miles (though I assume it qualifies for the club rule of trying not to be an ass). 

So, that's going to leave me 12/30 and 12/31 to either a) ride 92 miles, or b) ride more than I might have otherwise. I don't see the first happening, so we'll have to see on the second.

(This just in: You're saying, "But Jason, you dolt, it's already 12/27... how can I be expected to complete a challenge that started on 12/24?" Great Leader has amended the original challenge to allow for pro-rated/post-dated challenging.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

One Is The Loneliest Number

Poor little guy... had to leave his warm garage and slog through the snow, then none of his buddies showed up to keep him company in the rack.

Now, I should note that this photo was taken on December 21, 2012, so maybe all the other commuters (and their bikes, I hope) got raptured.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I Come To Bury Square Tapers, Not To Praise Them

By now, it's probably pretty clear that I'm a cantankerous old bastard. I don't trust anything new, anything fangled, and you can bet your sweet bippy I don't trust anything new-fangled. (And don't get me started on threadless headsets, what with their star-fangled nuts...)

However, I'm coming around in the realm of the bottom bracket, having now installed two Shimano external-bearing BBs (one for a friend, one for myself) versus literally hundreds of square-taper BBs. Tonight's adventure was replacing the crunchy Tiagra BB on my Clubman with a new Ultegra (I tend to demolish inexpensive BBs, so the extra couple bucks seemed worth it). Here's a bit more crankiness in the realm of environmental package design, though. This is the "disassembly sequence" I had to go through just to get to the new BB:

Box #1
Box #2, which was inside Box #1, apparently so the instructions had a place to sublet.

Two (count 'em, TWO) separate plastic bags inside Box #2, which, as you'll recall, was inside Box #1 
Now, I don't wear hemp undies or compost my unused compost, but really? It takes that much cardboard and plastic to hold two bearing cups and a plastic tube that weigh all of 95 grams? Uh, OK. So score one for the old-school square taper bottom bracket, at least, since those came in one box with no plastic and the instructions tucked in with the BB. So the instructions got a little greasy... you planning to keep them in archival sleeves and put 'em on eBay? Harumph, harumph, harumph.

(Update: Reader Jeremy tells me that new square taper BBs are just as overpackaged. Thus, I strike my comment... except for the harumphs.)

But, grumpy man, get to the point and replace your bottom bracket. Here are the tools needed:

One Park BBT-9, and one regular old 5mm hex wrench. Simple. So simple, in fact, that I will endeavor to describe the entire removal process without taking a breath: Loosen the two hex bolts on the non-drive-side crankarm, remove the plastic cap on the non-drive side of the BB with the plastic end of the BBT-9, pull the non-drive-side crank off by hand, pull the drive-side crank out, and unscrew the BB cups using the metal end of the BBT-9. Whew!

Having done that, I was left with one toasted Tiagra:

The bearing on the non-drive side still feels good, but the drive side is crunchy. If I feel really bored and/or advanced, I'll try to replace the bearings someday. The rusty gunk on the central sleeve concerns me a little, though not enough that I'm going to go to the trouble to strip down the frame and shoot anti-rust goo in it. Yes, Neil Young says rust never sleeps, but there are so many other things to get uptight about. If the world doesn't end when the Mayan calendar runs out, I'll consider it.

It wasn't until I saw an external BB sitting like this that I had my forehead-slapping moment: It looks like a little headset! In fact, that's pretty much what it is, turned 90 degrees and with cups that screw in instead of press in. At that point, these things stopped being all scary and new to me. You think it's a coincidence that Chris King (maker of maybe the bestest headsets ever) didn't dip a toe into bottom brackets until external bearings became the norm? Did you just slap your forehead too?

So having already extracted my shiny new Ultegra from its labyrinthine packaging, I just had to screw the sucker in (using the metal end of the BBT-9 again):

Did you forget that the drive-side cup is left-hand threaded... unless your frame is Italian... or French... or Swiss? Hell, I don't remember. No wonder all the even-newer bottom bracket standards just use press-in bearings. All the mechanics who could keep track of the different threadings are gone (rest and wrench in peace, Sheldon).

Put the cranks back on by hand, use the plastic end of the BBT-9 to screw the non-drive-side plastic cap back on, tighten the hex bolts on the non-drive crank, and you're good to go. It's simple enough that I'm very tempted to swap the square-taper on my folding bike to newfangled, just so I can get the cranks off with only a 5mm hex wrench and the plastic doohickey from the end of the BBT-9 (it looks removable to me). That could be suitcase-packing nirvana.

Now here's why my once-passionate devotion to the square-taper bottom bracket (even the un-killable Shimano UN-72 cartridge) runs dry. To accomplish the same thing in a square-taper world, you need these tools:

An 8mm hex wrench (middle) to get the crank bolts off, a crank puller (lower left) and BFW (Big, Forceful -- hey, it's a family blog -- Wrench, right) to get the crank arms off, and a bottom bracket tool (upper left) with the BFW to get the cartridge out. All this so you can have a press-fit crank interface with much rounding-out potential and smaller bearings (albeit ones that are protected inside the frame). Meh. I certainly can't describe the process in one breath, though I've packed an impressive number of expletives into one breath when I accidentally left a washer in a crankarm before applying the crank puller and BFW, thus extracting only the crank's threads.

Now, granted, if you're a REAL bodger, the square-taper BB comes in a zillion lengths, which allows you to customize your chainline with dang near every square-taper crank ever made. And yes, most cranks made for the square taper are prettier than the newfangled stuff (Shimano's new elephant proboscis drive-side crank is pretty awful). But man, that install was a piece of cake. The only thing that might sway me back to ye olde times is if this Ultegra BB proves to have short bearing life like its Tiagra cousin... but then again, there's always Chris King...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Close Encounters Of The Brompton Kind

I met another local folding bike enthusiast at a neighbor's party last weekend and -- finally -- got to put my paws on an oh-so-British Brompton origami cycle.

First impression? WOW, that is one compact fold. In its fully-folded state, the thing looks like a bicycle that's been squashed in a trash compactor. It's just a little rectangular block of twisty metal with the occasionally recognizable bike part showing through. But in a few simple motions, the owner turned that little block into an actual bicycle. And, zip zip zip, just as quickly, he had it back in "cube" mode. Even better, the rear rack (which ends up on the bottom when the bike is folded) is equipped with wheels so the package can be rolled around instead of carried. So elegant.

Even more impressive, he was able to teach me the folding sequence -- despite the fact that at that point in the party, neither one of us was in any condition to operate machinery of any sort (lest there be any concern for our safety/responsibility, I walked home while he and the bike got a ride from a designated driver). Once I'd mastered the fold, we had to head over to my garage so he could geek out on my Swift and my wife's Raleigh 20.

I obviously have no ride report, considering my state at the time, but we did promise to get together again under less festive circumstances and play Musical Folding Bikes. I'm crazy excited about this prospect, as the Brompton has always fascinated me. My only fear is that I'll feel the need to own one after riding it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Off-Season Hacks And Follies

I am an absolute pansy when it comes to winter riding.

Sure, I commute by bike year-round, but c'mon. My commute is one stinkin' mile each way. If the weather's bad enough that I can't ride a bike one mile, I shouldn't be going to work. Heck, if it's too bad to actually pedal, I can always just lower the saddle and Fred Flinstone the mile to work like I'm on a gigantic scooter.

When it comes to "fun" (non-commuting) rides, my good bike goes up on the hamster wheel pretty early in the winter... which inspires the eternal indoor cyclist's quest: How not to bore oneself to death upon the off-season torture device? Enter those wacky newfangled "smart" phones: music, TV, the Internets, games, all in the palm of your hand. With the increased popularity of GPS and bike computer apps, there are even a bunch of doo-dads designed specifically to hold a phone on your bars within view.

But me, I'm cheap, and I often see ready-made solutions as an affront to my bodging tendencies. So when I wanted to prop my pocket internets on the handlebars of my indoor suffering machine, I got some of these:

Basically, big ol' hunks of wire dipped in very thick, grippy textured rubber. Bend them, shape them, any way you want them, as long as you love them, it's all right. I crafted one into this:


Don't get it yet? Imagine that this plastic small-parts box is some sort of electronic entertainment device:

I tried putting my phone in there and using a mirror so it could take a self-portrait, but the thing took one look at itself, developed self-awareness, and now it refuses to open the pod bay doors.

The resulting mount has a tiny bit of jiggle, but it works great. I can adjust the angle with a bit of bending, and the phone shows no sign of ejecting. And since the giant twisty-tie things come in a two-pack, I have one more to play with -- it certainly looks like it has potential for many more interesting hacks, from accessory installation to the world's wackiest chainstay protector.

HUGE, MASSIVE, PLEASE-READ-THIS DISCLAIMER: This may not be a recommended use of this particular product. Please do not hold me or the folks at Nite-Ize responsible if your phone leaps to its death on a concrete floor. And I would NOT even THINK of using this on a real-world outdoor ride, both because I don't look at screens during real-world rides and because I can almost guarantee that use on an actual road would result in phone suicide.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Prozac For The Ex-Mechanic

A while back, fellow blogger/virtual pal bikelovejones posted a very poignant (at least for this ex-wrench) discussion of how it feels to leave the bike-fixing business. Maybe if you've never turned a wrench for a living, it won't make a dent, but it warmed at least one cockle of my otherwise cold, dead heart.

I'm nowhere near the mechanic that blj is -- my tenure was only six years, intermittently spread among four shops -- but I still feel that pang. I can dribble a wheel,too, and my favorite shop apron (a long denim one with Schwinn embroidery) still hangs in the garage near my Park stand, crusted with the same nostalgic stains and smells blj describes. Mine was sent to me as a gift (along with some other shop memorabilia, including the annoying disco CD we used to play all the time) by my boss after he decided to close the last shop where I'd worked, and when I pulled it from the box, I was overcome by the same sadness. I'd long since become a "grown up" with a "real job" (whatever those things mean), but I missed being a mechanic. And now, 12 years later, some part of me still does.

Still, I've moved on for the most part (only took 12 years!), so in the spirit of helping blj do the same, here's my Advice for Former Grease Monkeys:
  • GET GOOD TOOLS: If you're still a cyclist (and good luck getting THAT monkey off your back), then you're still going to have bikes to fix, and you should stock your workshop right. You may think that a cheap pedal wrench is "good enough for a home shop" and that the heft of a real PW-3 is overkill that will only make you sad. Wrong. Having the right tool in your hand will put you in mechanic autopilot mode where the tool is just an extension of your hand, while having a flimsy piece of crap will only remind you that you aren't a "real" mechanic any more.
  •  THAT MEANS A WORKSTAND, TOO: This is a corollary to the previous point, but it's worth a stand-alone (no pun intended). If you've never known any better, you can get away with shelf brackets, hooks slung from the rafters, or any number of other mono-buttocked wrenching solutions. But if you've done time on a real stand with a real clamp, there's no going back. Maybe you don't need a stand on a 120-pound steel base, but find something that will give you that "shop experience" while you work.
  • GIVE YOUR BIKES A BREAK: At some point, you will find yourself swapping shifters, brakes, cranks, bar tape, spoke nipples, and pretty much everything else on your own bike because a) you're bored, and b) you have the parts. Fight the urge. Your own bikes will eventually bore you. The fun of shop wrenching is the variety of things you get to work on. Endless mechanical onanism won't scratch that itch. When you find yourself saying, "I could equalize the wear on my pedal bearings if I rebuilt the left pedal with the balls from the right pedal and vice versa," put the wrenches down and go for a walk.
  • BECOME THE NEIGHBORHOOD BIKE FIXER: This is how you scratch that "variety" itch. Get known among friends and neighbors as the person who can fix bikes. You'll have a great time, your friends will have happy bikes, everybody wins. I have a hard time convincing my friends that they don't have to pay me to work on their bikes -- I really, honestly, no-foolin' LOVE to do it. An evening in the garage, chatting with pals, getting greasy, perhaps consuming an adult beverage or two... what's better than that? If people insist on paying you back, bike-fixer-uppering is a great skill to barter. I can go through most of the Spring without paying for coffee or those adult beverages mentioned above thanks to preseason tune-ups.
If you've never wrenched for a living, you probably find this mildly ridiculous. It's just a job, right? But it's also a hard habit to break. So if there's an ex-mechanic in your life, find out what sort of beverages they prefer (adult or otherwise), and give that person an excuse to keep their tetanus shots up to date. You won't regret it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Even Bloggers Have An Off-Season

Mine appears to be October and November.

Sure, I could have built up a knobby-tired blog and participated in the increasingly popular sport of blogocross, but then I'd need to invest in a second pit blog and a bunch of spare keyboards for muddy blog posts, dry-conditions blog posts, etc. Plus, it's hard to think of something to write with all those people ringing cowbells in your ears and handing you beers after every paragraph.

So, I napped out November, completely neglecting to immortalize my 40th (eh, what's that, sonny?) birthday on the 8th, which came and went with the "meh" it deserved. My inability/unwillingness to compulsively log miles this year prevents me from knowing if I reached my '40,000 lifetime miles by 40" goal (if I had to guess, I'd say "not even close"). But hey, it's all good.

The main reason I shut down in November is that this is the time of year I start to bore myself, never mind my reader(s). Other than my thrill-free commute and hamster-wheel torture in the garage, I really haven't been riding. Equipment-wise, this is the time of year I start to get whiny and unsatisfied with the stuff that was perfectly fine last month, and who wants to read about that?

I do have a bit of a mechanical challenge in the queue, however -- a problematic clunk in the bottom bracket area of my Raleigh Clubman. I've whittled down the variables (with thanks to some even more mechanically minded pals) to the bottom bracket itself, and have a replacement en route. Once that arrives, I'll do a how-to on newfangled Shimano external BB installation for my retro-grouchy readership. Plus, if I can find a cheap source for the (relatively common) cartridge bearings in said bottom brackets, I'll try to resurrect the old one with punches and hammers and brute force.

Thanks again for your patience. Your next bill will be pro-rated to reflect the interruption in service.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

You Say Excess, I Say Success

The daily driver that takes me from The Cycle World Headquarters to my top-secret day job has been under attack by an accessory thief lately. So far, I've lost a very old Planet Bike headlight and mounting bracket (not a huge loss, other than the four Eneloop rechargeables contained within) and had multiple attempts made on my Planet Bike Superflash taillights (thwarted by well-placed zip-ties).

In the ever-escalating war, I stumbled into perhaps the most overbuilt flashlight-mount-cum-bike-headlight ever conceived. The first key component is an LED-based flashlight like the one I first mentioned in my old headlight shootout. You don't necessarily need the same flashlight, but the key is to find one using that case design ("form factor", I think it's called). For example, here's one on Amazon (and as usual, if you go buy it, I get a cut -- at least in theory, since no one's ever bought anything off one of my links yet):

The key is that the main body of the light needs to be very close to 1 1/8" in diameter. Next up, you need a stem for a 1 1/8" threadless steerer with a handlebar clamp compatible with your current bars. Oh, and those current bars need enough clamping space on them for another stem. See where I'm going here? Clamp the flashlight into the stem as if it's a steerer tube, clamp the stem to your bars alongside your current stem, and you get this: 

One insanely stable, difficult to remove headlight mount. I happened to have a very stubby, upjutting stem lying about, but any old angle or extension will do. I also would have preferred running the stem hanging down from the bars, but I had some cable interference issues there.

The obvious comparison is the Twofish Flashlight Mount (hey, look, another Amazon link). I've used this, and found it unsatisfactory -- no matter how hard I cinched the Velcro, there was too much jiggling for my taste. Obviously, the stem is 100% jiggle-free. A stem is more expensive, so I probably wouldn't buy one just to do this, but since I already have a pile of them, it was a no-cost experiment for me.

In my old headlight shootout post linked above, you can see that I did basically the same thing using two hose clamps turned 90 degrees to each other plus some rubber shims. That was a decidedly cheaper (and equally stable) approach, but I'd run out of hose clamps and didn't want to make a dash to the hardware store. The stem looks nicer, too -- more elegant, less hacked. 

Of course, the day after I hooked this up, the headlight-thieving jerk unscrewed the lens from my flashlight and took it -- not sure what he hoped to do with it other than annoy me, but if that was the goal, mission accomplished. I've since resorted to easily-removable lights that I can take with me during the day, but I thought that this hack deserved to live on in Web-based infamy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Steve K Provides Some Enlightenment

In my recent whine about current (no pun intended) LED headlights, I released an unabashed troll attempting to lure friend, bike dude, and soldering-iron gunslinger Steve K to talk about lights. Being a swell fella, he's obliged with perhaps one of the more concise and readable cut-through-the-marketing explanations descriptions of how lights are measured and how those measurements translate into reality. Since I'm learning (slowly) that this blog improves when I shut up, I'll let Steve talk. Take it away, Steve!
The biggest confusion is just about the way light is measured... most often in lumens, but sometimes in lux, and sometimes the manufacturer just says "it's a 3-watt LED!!!" Well, there are 3-watt LEDs and then there are 3-watt LEDs!

The quick explanation is that lumens are a measurement of the total flow of photons out of the light. Sort of like saying that a pump can output 2 gallons an hour.

By contrast, lux is a measure of the intensity of light hitting the target. To quote the Wiki folks: "It is used in photometry as a measure of the intensity, as perceived by the human eye, of light that hits or passes through a surface."

The thing that converts the lumens to lux, so to speak, is the optics or reflector of the light. If your light's reflector (or lens/optic) is designed for mountain biking, it'll produce a wide beam and scatter the precious photons over a large area. As a result, the light at any given spot will be dimmer (i.e. a lower intensity) than what you would get with a road bike headlight that had a tight beam that spreads the light over a relatively small area. Same number of photons hitting the ground, but producing a higher intensity since they aren't being spread as thin. Simple, eh?  Same number of lumens in each case, but the lux will be lower for the wide beam relative to the narrow beam.

The business about wattage is confusing because it is usually a measure of electrical power, not light power. Most modern LEDs will produce about 100 lumens per watt, so a nice Cree XP-G being run at 3 watts will produce about 300 lumens, and can make a decent road headlight. A cheap LED might only produce 70 lumens per watt, which will be barely noticeable as being dimmer than the Cree XP-G. Human vision is logarithmic, so a big change in lumens really doesn't look like a big change to us.
So there you have it. The introductory lecture in our Lights 101 course. Please address your questions to Professor Steve in the comments section. And big ol' thanks to the professor for contributing his astute guest lecture.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Folding Bike Fun: A Reader Responds

Reader Alex P. (everyone: "Hi, Alex P!") recently contacted The Cycle World Headquarters in response to the folding bike "dorkaleur" (trademark pending) cooked up in our top secret Skunk Works laboratory. Seems our crack team is standing on the shoulders of giants yet again, albeit ones riding on very small wheels:
 Images courtesy of Alex, so please do not hork them.

Rather than jabber on when I know next to nothing about the bike in question (like that's ever stopped me), I'll let Alex tell his own tale:
I built the frame. It's heavily inspired by the Raleigh Twenty, except for front geometry and hinge placement. The front geometry copies the Swift Folder. A couple years ago I took a position at work where I would be traveling a lot. I had built a full size frame the previous year and decided to try making a folding frame before the travel started. For a little over a year I often traveled with that bike (set up as a fixed gear with a front drum brake) packed in a soft bag (this is the bag directly over the rear wheel). I'd get out of the airport or off a train, unpack the bike, roll up the soft bag, tie my backpack up front and cycle away. It's a fine way to travel, although I will say the bike got pretty beat up on a couple flights.

The photos are from a two week tour of Shikoku Japan. I felt I could travel indefinitely with that setup, thanks to the massive cargo capacity of the backpack. Well maybe not indefinitely. I was getting tired of not being able to coast.
Got the touring itch yet? I know I do.

HUGE thanks to Alex for letting me share his words and photos. With reader contributions like this, I'm starting to wonder why I don't outsource this thing more often. Definitely classes up the joint compared to the usual drivel.

Friday, September 28, 2012

As Usual, I Have Baggage

In case you couldn't tell from posts like this humiliating review of a whole lot of bags, I have serious issues when it comes to bike luggage. There just isn't a biking bag out there I've been able to walk away from. The latest addition to the shameful collection is a Jandd Duffel Rack Pack.

The concept is just a little gym bag with added Velcro straps so it can be mounted to a rack (plus some added reflective stuff and a blinkie clip for good measure). Easy peasy. Of course, if you happen to buy it on the day that you're riding the one bike that has no rack, you're going to be stuck with some kind of low-budget "superlight touring frame bag" setup like this:

Just a note -- nylon brushing against one's fat calves for several miles will eventually wear a hole through one's skin. You have been warned.

Here's what the bag looks like sitting on a rear rack, as Jandd intended:

Of course, that's way too easy for our crack staff of bodgers here at The Cycle. No, we want to mount this thing on a FRONT rack, and a tiny one at that. And we will not be denied:

Of course, that looks like crap. The ideal solution would be to turn the bag 90 degrees and mount it across the rack, but the spacing of the Velcro straps doesn't allow that. Are we daunted? No! We are, in fact, UNdaunted!

Couple loops of high-test elastic (which was all of two bucks at ye olde fabric and sundries store) and we are good to go:


The bonus of the elastic is that the bag goes off and on the rack much quicker -- a nice benefit if (like me) you want to be able to transition from "bike guy" to "walking into work guy" with the speed of an Indy 500 pit crew. It seems pretty stable so far (no unplanned bag ejections), but time will tell.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Outsmarted By My Readers Again

Quickie update on the Raleigh 20...

Not only did Sir Tarik correct my blatant misinformation regarding the Raleigh tubular fork crown, but he photographed and blogified a headlamp made to fit the bracket that so mystified yours truly.

And not to be outdone, my other reader Steve K sent me some information on what appears to be an even older oil lamp for just such a bracket that he's updated with an LED. Why? Because... well, because he's Steve, and that's what he does.

Observant readers may have also noticed a new addition to ye olde blogroll, too. A net-friend tipped me off to Chuck Glider's Bicycle Workshop as another good source of Raleigh 20 information. I don't know who Mr. Glider is, but after reading his entire blog (seriously), I'm convinced that he's my brother from another mother on the other side of the pond. When it comes to bikes, there seems to be very little "well enough" that he's satisfied to leave alone... much like your humble narrator here at The Cycle.

The new-old 20 in our fleet still needs some better brake levers and fresh rubber before it can get a legitimate test. Patience, dear reader. Patience.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Micro-Bike In The Fleet

This is a red-letter day here at The Cycle: Our fleet has a new addition, and it is not (repeat, not) intended for our Chief Word-Dork. Instead, this one will be piloted by our Maker of Graphically Designed Stuff. And, seeing as it will be a part of our little Island of Misfit Toys, it's a bit... well, weird:

That, for those who don't know, is a Raleigh 20 folding bike. Cosmetically rough, but as far as I can tell, all original and mechanically solid as a rock -- which is especially important considering some of the oddball proprietary parts. I'd be lying if I claimed to have any knowledge about these things, but thankfully, I can rely on the late, great Sheldon "Who Else?" Brown.

Looking at the joints, you can see that this is a worker, not an elegant show bike:


Still, she's been getting miles (if the patina's to be believed) for almost as long as I've been on the planet, so the ladies and gents in Nottingham clearly knew what they were doing. This one also features Raleigh's tubular fork crown (shown here with more of that patina):


My understanding is that these were just made from tubing scraps, though that could be apocryphal. (Update: I recant! 'Tis a real fork crown, though an unusual one, per the comments of ever-wise Tarik of Moscaline, who has/had his own seriously pimped Twenty). When we brought the bike home, it was still wearing original brake pads (which the new owner described as "Fred Flintstone Brakes"), so I dug some Kool Stops from the stash. Had to run the front ones backwards due to tight fork clearances, but they work much better and don't squeal.

As I've already proclaimed my ignorance about these bikes, I'll spare you my drivel and just show off some gratuitous detail shots. Headbadge? Check:

Box lining? Oh, we got box lining:

Chainrings full of herons, and a pump peg behind (historical re-enactors should disregard the not-period-correct pedals):

Since this is our graphic designer's bike (and she's a giant typography nerd) , I'll throw in a "cool old logotype" shot:

Even the giant, dorky chromed mirror rocks a pretty cool reflector design from another era. I've yet to figure out how to adjust this thing so it reflects anything happening behind the rider, but it adds so much killer mod-scooter-style to the bike, it has to stay:

And, being a Raleigh, it has one more heron. My laughable research tells me this doohickey is a "lamp bracket", though I don't know what sort of lamp fits on there:

Since I can't resist trying out everything that comes near the top-secret laboratories here at The Cycle, I gave this one a very short spin. My first impression? I get why these bikes have a bit of a cultish following. It's certainly not as nimble or light as my Xootr Swift, but it wasn't intended to be. These were supposed to be a more compact version of the workhorse Raleigh Sports 3-speeds, and given that design brief, I'd call the bike a success. It is surprisingly solid -- if you didn't see the hinge, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that it folds.

Once I get some fresh rubber on the hoops (time has not been kind to the original tires), I'll feel safe turning our design staff loose on it and getting a report from the intended user.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Taking It To The Streets: The Dorkaleur In Action

Since Steve in Peoria mentioned that he's holding his breath for a ride report on the epic (trademark Rapha) dorkaleur/World's Largest Handlebar Bag combination, I figured I'd better bang out a quick writeup before he turns blue and topples off his recumbent.

In short, the ride is surprisingly anti-climactic. In my pre-dorkaleur days, I tried the Xootr Crossrack and Arkel "big orange sack" in both a front-mounted and rear-mounted configuration without any rack support. On the rear, there was a definite "very heavy tail wagging a very small dog" effect. On the front, cornering got downright spooky. The big bag seemed to want to pull the front end over into corners, very much like overloaded and unbalanced front panniers. Of course, with no front rack under it, i had to mount the rack higher to avoid front wheel interference, and the higher center of gravity was not a good thing.

In dorkaleur configuration, the load rides a little lower and gets some support from the front rack. The result is a bike that just corners like a bike -- nothing terribly out of the ordinary. The steering may be a little heavier, but on a small-wheeled bike, the front end feels a bit light to begin with, so it all balances out. With that much bag sitting right out there in plain sight, I fully expected at least a little placebo effect, but after a week of commutes, nothing.

With all that said, I've actually de-dorkaleured the bike because, frankly, it's just SO much overkill. How much bag does one need for a 4-mile (round trip) commute, anyway? Plus, I stumbled into a great deal on a Jandd Duffel Rack Pack that's more appropriate for my commuting load. Of course, being unable to leave well enough alone, I've done some custom tweaks on that as well, but that's grist for another post.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Frickin' Laser Beams

The good news: Thanks to LEDs, bike lights are getting brighter, cheaper, lighter, longer running, and smaller every year.

The bad new: Thanks to LEDs, bike lights are getting smaller every year.

Have you noticed? With the latest crop of high-power LEDs, it seems like manufacturers have figured out that they can pack all their lumens into a tiny little "bulb" surrounded by a nickel-sized lens/reflector. It looks great from the saddle, when you're lighting up road signs from a mile away. But I'm not entirely convinced it's a great thing for a commuter sharing the road with inattentive drivers. When other riders approach me with one of these new micro-lights, it looks like they've taped laser pointers to their bars: All power, no spillover. The lumens aren't wasted from the rider's perspective, but they also aren't doing much good for anyone approaching the rider from an angle.

To defeat this problem, I've taken to mounting up my long-ago-discontinued Planet Bike 1-watt Super Spot for my commute instead of the more modern, brighter, and focused Blaze series (you can see beam comparisons in my critically-disdained "man in a dark bathroom" post). As far as I can tell, the Super Spot is an even older halogen light with its halogen bulb swapped out for an LED -- same case, same lens, same reflector. It makes a beam like the antique Schwinn-approved generator light on my grandparents' old tandem: weirdly striped, not terribly bright, but -- here's the kicker -- incredibly wide-angled. Unless you're directly behind me (and my eclipse-causing arse), you're probably gonna see it.

Note that I am not telling you, dear reader, to ride around with outdated lights. With the size of my audience, even losing one would be somewhere between a 33% to 50% reduction. I'm just telling you to choose the light that works for your riding situation. Also, once you think you have the right setup, fire it up and walk away from your bike. How does it look from the front? The side? Don't assume you're visible because the road lights up in front of you while riding. See how it looks from the other guy's perspective.

(Ulterior motive... I'm hoping that good pal, frequent commenter, and professional electron wrangler Steve from Peoria will chime in with the World's Perfect Bike Light. Of course, it will be something he made in his top secret laboratory that isn't available to mere mortals. But, Steve, if you want to write a guest post on one of your retina-searing creations, mi blog casa es su blog casa.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Behold! The Dork-aleur!

If you have an interest in mid-20th-century French randonneuring bikes or are a regular reader of Bicycle Quarterly, you probably know that a "decaleur" is a doohickey that works in conjunction with a front rack to keep a large handlebar bag steady while still allowing it to release with (relative) ease when the bike is stopped. Currently available examples include the Berthoud Decaleur du Sac and the Velo Orange decaleur kit. When executed correctly, it's a nifty little gadget, high on elegance and functionality.

Now, when it comes to MY version, you can keep the word "functionality" (and maybe "nifty"), but pretty much throw away "elegance". I give you... the DORK-ALEUR!

My little mash-up combines a mini front rack (sold under a zillion different house brand/generic labels for maybe $15) and the Xootr Crossrack designed to hold a single standard pannier perpendicular to the bike. Pairing it with the front rack gives the load some much-needed support from below -- even when the pannier in question is a gigantic Arkel stuffed to the gills, a load that the mini rack could never hope to handle alone:

So far, I've only tested the new combo in the parking lot, but I liked it a lot. I'll load it up with my usual commuting junk this week, bang it around the quasi-urban jungle of Des Moines, and report back. If nothing else, it does put me in the running for the World's Weirdest Touring Bike competition:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Great Moments In Professional Cycling

Okay, so pro cycling isn't all bad. For example, there's this great moment from the London Olympics:

Of course, anyone who's followed Herman's storied career in the peloton knows that this photo is obviously faked, since he's a stage racer, not a track cyclist:

Somebody test that guy's B sample.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

It Is About The Bike

I promise, zero Lance content today, other than the allusion in the title. I'm sick of the story already.

But I do want to talk about what I find so relentlessly boring about professional bike racing, namely that these guys are such pampered little babies. Not that it isn't tough to ride such ridiculous distances at such ridiculous speeds -- I certainly couldn't do it without some very good drugs (heck, I need two cups of coffee with an Advil chaser just to do my commute in the morning).

What bugs me, though, is that these guys aren't expected to be cyclists. They're just very expensive (and often heavily medicated) meat that pedals. Got a flat? Just grunt into the two-way radio taped to your head and a car will be with you shortly to provide a whole new wheel. You don't even have to put it on -- a mechanic monkey will hop out of the car and slap it on there while you stand around with your skinny arms crossed. Need some water? Grunt into the radio again, and one of your helper meat-pedalers will drop out of the pack, fall back to that car (again), pick up a bottle, and pedal it back up to you. Total mechanical failure? That car's covered in brand new, insanely expensive, decal-encrusted bikes just like yours -- or you can just steal one from your helper meat-pedaler until the car shows up. In perhaps the most bizarre example (pointed out by BikeSnobNYC in his recent Vuelta coverage), if you can't keep your bike upright, don't sweat it -- the code of honor amongst meat-pedalers means that your competitors will (usually) wait up for you.

Today's professional racing shares about as much with my cycling experience as NASCAR shares with a drive to the grocery store for milk. If I get a flat out there, I either change it myself or walk home. If I need water, I'd better be carrying it, or I'd better be able to find some. And failure of bike or body means I have to call for a follow car that isn't following me -- it could very well be on the other side of town or unavailable. In short, I have to do everything possible to make sure that I can take care of myself out there.

Luckily, there is racing that matches my cycling experience. You just won't find it on Versus (or whatever that weird network out in the cable hinterlands that shows pro cycling is called these days). I get my racing fix from Kent P's reports from the Great Divide. Or I follow the mustachioed singlespeed cyclocross exploits of Team Tarik Racing. Or I track local pal/regular reader Steve F as he preps for (and rocks) the Dirty Kanza. Or I take inspiration from the short-track adventures of bikelovejones. Normal folks (who I happen to count as friends), holding down jobs, being there for their families, putting in the miles, fixing their own stuff, and in general, being cyclists who compete.

I'll take that over watching meat-pedalers on TV any day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

High Trestle Trail: A Photo Essay Featuring My Head

Last weekend, dear spouse/Chief of Graphically Designed Stuff and I finally got ourselves up to the High Trestle Trail that Iowans have been so darn excited about. I know, I know, a cool trail right in my (approximate) backyard, and it took me this long? Whatever.

The day started like this:

Yes, the bike is bigger than the car. Thanks for noticing. On the upside, if the car breaks down, we can just carry it home on the bike.

So, off we went to the bucolic hamlet of Slater, Iowa. The trail starts in Ankeny, but its entire length would have been a 50-mile round trip... and since the namesake High Trestle Bridge is at the far end near Woodward, we wanted to make sure we had enough leg to reach the end and back.

Most of the trail featured "scenery" like this:

That's the chubby captain of the vessel against a backdrop of -- you guessed it -- corn. This monotony was occasionally broken up by a soybean field. Woo hoo!

Not far from Woodward, though, things got a little more interesting, other than the continued presence of my Spunik-like melon:

Head! Move! That looks like a bridge up there!

That's better, thanks.

And not just any bridge -- a really funky, twisty one. The effect is like riding through a rotating tunnel. There are blue lights on the arches that come on after dark, which -- I'm told -- make the sensation even more funky (here's an article with a photo -- scroll all the way down). Maybe regular reader and local dude Steve F. can comment, since I think he's been up there on a night ride or two.

Random stranger offers to capture the whole team and their vehicle on the mid-bridge scenic overlook:

Thank you, random stranger, for not dropping and/or stealing an iPhone. It's tough to get any perspective from this photo, but that signage says we're a good 13 stories above the valley floor, and it's a half mile from one end of the bridge to the other. Wowsers.

Nutshell ride report: Conditions were perfect... comfortably cool, overcast, no wind. The trail surface is so smooth, you'll find yourself doing the Field of Dreams "is this heaven? no, it's Iowa!" bit, and the "topography" (quotes intentional) is typical railbed: you'd be hard-pressed to know if you were climbing or descending. We absolutely hauled from Slater to Woodward and back (26 miles) and could have tacked on more if it weren't for a sudden-onset case of SBS (Sore Butt Syndrome) afflicting captain and stoker alike. I suspect that once we've toughened up those regions a bit more, an Ankeny-Woodward-Ankeny trip (defeating my stoker's Half-Century Curse) is in our future.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ugly Hack Of Yesteryear Revisited... And Rescued

I admit it, I have a problem.

I like taking parts that shouldn't go together (like mountain bike shifters and road handlebars) and grafting them together in some sort of evil experiment. As much as I'm ashamed to even remind my reader(s) of this horrific hack, here's some evidence of my twisted proclivities. Thankfully, the malformed creature shown in that post only lived a short while.

My most recent experiment started harmlessly enough -- as they all do. Still hoping to put together things that don't belong together, I trolled the interwebs for a Hubbub adapter: perhaps one of the neatest, simplest little gizmos ever designed for freaks like me. Basically, the Hubbub pairs the expander portion of a bar-end shifter with a section of MTB-diameter handlebar, giving the hacker a section of MTB bar at the end of his/her drops where a twist-shifter can mount. And, good bud of the iBOB list Jeff L. (hooray, Jeff L!) hooked me up with BOTH a Hubbub AND an old set of contraband, UCI-banned Cinelli Spinaci bar extensions as another potential hack-solution. (I shall not reveal more of Jeff's identity lest the Federales show up to arrest him for trafficking in illegal parts.)

So, with the best of intentions, I set out to install drop bars and the Hubbub on my Swift Folder (which uses a twist-shifter). But of course, the cable in my shifter's too short now that the housing needs to loop out to the end of a drop bar -- and while SRAM has fixed many of the ills of cheap, early GripShift (i.e., the things actually shift now), they have NOT made cable replacement any easier. Long, painful, curse-laden story short, I wrecked the spring and a couple detents in the shifter. Ugh.

Thankfully, I also had a SRAM push-button shifter at the ready (their answer to Rapidfire Plus -- I'm stuck with SRAM unless I also want to replace the 1:1 cable-pull rear derailleur too.) Put that on the Hubbub, and while it looked fine and seemed like it would work, I just wasn't entirely satisfied.

And then, the memory of that nasty hack surfaced. Looked at the SRAM shifter and realized that (unlike the not terribly coercible aluminum clamp of a Shimano), this little number was held on by a very flexible stainless steel band wrapped in cosmetic plastic. A little coercion, a longer fixing bolt, and... IT LIVES!

That's right, you saw it here first: the World's Only Drop-Bar Bike With SRAM's Answer to RapidFire Plus (WODBBWSARFP). Boo-yah.

As you can see, I cracked some of the decorative plastic around the clamp. After that awful cable replacement debacle, the human torque wrench was a bit out of calibration. Given another shot, I could have done this without damaging anything -- and had I thought to keep the plastic chunk instead of chucking it, I probably could have glued it back on. The result seems to work quite nicely, though I must admit to feeling a touch of guilt that I won't be using the Hubbub from generous, awesome, and (one can only assume) handsome Jeff L. I can only promise that (along with the contraband Spinaci) it will live in a treasured place in my hacking arsenal and will undoubtedly save a future hack. Did somebody say "Rohloff rear wheel for the tandem"?

Oh, in case you're wondering what's up with this particular project, here's a tantalizing spy shot from the Skunk Works laboratory here at The Cycle:

Thanks to generous, awesome, and... well, I know what he looks like, so let's leave it at that... reader/commenter/bud Scott L. for the front bag custom monogrammed with an "N" for (obviously, right?) Nunemaker.

More details on this little bucket of fun as they become available.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just Another Metric Monday

I played hooky from work on Monday (okay, so it was scheduled time off, as I'm not fond of getting fired) and took advantage of a gorgeous day to put in some miles. 63 miles (a.k.a. 100 kilometers, a.k.a. a metric century) in just under four hours -- not bad for a middle-aged fat dude. Even paused to snap the trailside shot above (I'm standing on a paved rail-trail in case you think I was doing some kind of insane Rapha-esque epic road-bike off-road tour). Not sure where the giant red rock came from, but I'm guessing the farmer who found it in his field once upon a time wasn't too pleased. Glaciers have quite the sense of humor. And, being a country boy (yes, my parents were teachers, but we lived on a farm -- it counts!), I can't resist a shot of rusty old farm equipment.

At some point in the excursion, I toyed with the idea of stretching it to one of them 'murican centuries, 100 miles. But, with my average speed dropping, that was going to be at least another three hours in the saddle, and -- letting the discretion in my valor show -- I realized I just didn't have it in the tank. Now, two days later, I'm glad I didn't. I still have aches in places I forgot I had muscles. It makes me wonder if "big distance" (he said, realizing that 100k is a nice warmup for some of his readers named Steve) just isn't worth it for me any more. I'd rather bang out 30 miles and have enough spring in my step to captain the tandem the next day than double that and be utterly worthless for 72 hours.

Or, maybe I'm just out of shape. Food for thought, I suppose.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Defense Exhibit A

This is the cleanest that the workshop here at The Cycle has ever looked, and probably will ever look:
No, I'm not a huge LeMond fan (though I was Back in the Day).
Someone just gave me the banner and I thought it looked cool.

No real point to this, just wanted to capture it before entropy got the better of me again.

Thanks to our intrepid Senior Graphic Designer and Chief Neatnik for the much-needed assistance with this long-overdue project.