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.