Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Outsourcing Strikes The Cycle

It's about time to turn this dusty corner of the internet over to another one of my beloved (because he ain't me) guest reviewers. This time, it's long-time Internet BOB member, known cycling sartorialist, and the man who's never met a steel frame he couldn't improve with a ball peen hammer and a hacksaw, Patrick Moore. I sent Patrick a sampling of my Leg Shield booty so he could put it through its paces in the desert climate of Nuevo Mexico and see how it fared compared to here in Iowa. But enough of my mindless circling the airport... take it away, Patrick!

When I opened the package and first saw it -- bright yellow -- I laughed. It reminded me so much of the greaves of a medieval knight, or even better, of a cast for a broken tibia. Although I've often thought that puttees should make a comeback to protect one's pants while riding in dirty conditions, this thing seemed in comparison to the old fashioned metal spring "trouser clips" that used to hang by the cash register at every bike shop huge overkill, yet compared to puttees or spats they are too short to protect more than your ankles. I debated between "insufficient" and "overkill" and finally decided on the latter. You don't, I thought, need something this elaborate to keep your pants out of your chain.

But I did try it. I often ride the 7-8 miles to church in civilian clothes, and recently I've been wearing a $16 pair of Target "khakis" made  from nylon. Don't laugh; they look better than they sound, and they are much more comfortable in the saddle because they don't bind and chafe as cotton khakis do. They have 80% of the looks and none of the discomfort. The nylon is well woven and sturdy; it doesn't pill, and it doesn't bag. And they cost $16.

But the fabric has a more slippery hand than cotton twill, and my trouser clips slip off after a mile or less. The reflective ankle band supplied by the same company, which I used on my left leg, slipped off after 1 1/2 mile. But the Leg Shield stayed on. And, the Leg Shield was easier to attach: its tall and full shape helps gather the fabric when you strap it in place. 

I rode 7 miles to church via our sandy acequia (irrigation ditch) roads -- this is NW Albuquerque, where the pre-Colombian and Hispanic-era irrigation system diverting water from the Rio Grande is still very much in use, with the ancient water laws still in place under the independent water authority. The system of ditches and sluices extends the length of the state and, in the Albuquerque area, I've read that there are some 600 miles of acequias an associated paths and roads.

The Leg Shield went on easily, without having to fight to fold the fabric underneath; it stayed in place for the distance; and it kept even slight traces of acequia trail dust off my hems. It does work. I ordered a second from Amazon. Black, this time.

The company's ankle bands are wholly undistinguished; you can find those things anywhere. I didn't even bother with the wrist band, after at first trying to attach it as an ankle band and wondering why it was so short. But the Leg Shield, as risible as it is, is worth at least a look.

So there you have it, folks. Big thanks to Patrick for classing up the joint, teaching me the very apt word "greaves" (praise be to my MFA, I already knew "risible"), and making me wonder how I've thrown words at this blog for so long without finding an excuse to mention sluices.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What's In The Box?!?

Proving that every bike nerd is his or her own unique and precious snowflake, here's something from the Bicycle Museum of America that caused me to geek out mightily, yet most visitors probably never gave it a second look:

If you've already zoomed in on the signage, you're probably asking, "What's so special about a 1913 Shawmut Racing Safety in Crate from Bigelow & Douse Co. in Boston, MA?" Or maybe you've looked at the top of the crate and wondered if Willard C. Spencer of (some illegible town in New Hampshire) is a distant relative of mine.

It's the "In Crate" part. Having unboxed and assembled literally (and I literally mean literally) hundreds of bikes in my brief career as a bike mechanic, I was nerdily fascinated by this example of how bikes were packed for shipping over a century ago. Surprisingly, this early 20th century box job bears some striking resemblances to its late 20th century counterpart. (Having been out of the business for a while, I don't know if the 21st century has brought about some new jetpack-fueled Jetsonian miracle of modern bicycle packaging technology, but I kinda doubt it.)

Your late 20th century bike arrives in a corrugated cardboard box about the same size and shape as this 1913 wooden crate, though it will have its front wheel removed and tucked alongside to reduce the length of the box slightly (I guess UPS drivers weren't so picky in 1913). Its handlebars will be zip-tied to the frame, zip-ties being the Y2K equivalent of the twine holding the 1913 bike's bars (unless you're Grant Petersen, in which case twine is the Y2K equivalent of twine). And finally, all the small, loose parts will be packaged in a separate, smaller cardboard box inside the larger box, just like the wooden cubby in the upper left of the 1913 crate containing what appears to be the saddle, a bell, and a little adjustable wrench (IKEA's got nothing on Bigelow & Douse). In both cases, your bike travels mostly assembled, just waiting for some shop mechanic to set it free via crowbar or boxcutter, finish the assembly, and make the final adjustments. After that, it's New Bike Day for Willard C. Spencer of (unintelligble) New Hampshire!

It does appear that we've become better about protecting paint in the last 100 years, since today's bikes travel with all their tubes swaddled in foam, cardboard, or both. 1913 bikes also didn't have delicate, dangly rear derailleurs to protect in transit. Still, having traveled by plane with a valuable bike in a cardboard box, I'd feel much safer trusting my precious to a crate from 1913... if only to see the TSA guys scratch their heads and go searching for a crowbar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Bucket List: Checked

Dear Spouse and I recently spent a long weekend in Columbus, Ohio. Yes, you heard me correctly: I vacationed in Columbus Frickin' Ohio. The rumors you've heard about the jet-setting, party-never-stops lifestyle of the amateur blogger are true.

During our journey, we took a short side trip out to New Bremen, Ohio, home of the Bicycle Museum of America. That website may be a trip back in time in an entirely unintended way (I kid! I kid!), but the museum? Wow. I can almost guarantee that even the most jaded bike nerd will see at least one bike in the collection they've only seen in a book, and maybe one more they didn't even know existed.

I intend to share and possibly pontificate upon all sorts of lousy photos I took in the museum, but for now, here's one from Dear Spouse, capturing me achieving a Major Life Goal:

That, dear friends (like I have to tell you) is Pee Wee Herman's bike from the greatest cycling film ever committed to celluloid, Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Think I'm wrong? In the words of Mr. Herman himself, "I know you are, but what am I?"

I tried to buy the bike, but it's not for sale, Francis.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Strap In

My long-ago promised long-term test of lots of light-reflecting, leg-strapping technology has at long last arrived! (See, you thought there wasn't even a blog here any more, didn't you?)

In a nutshell (so you can stop reading and go back to cat videos): I am duly impressed by this Leg Shield stuff, especially their ankle and wrist bands. Sure, it's hard to get super excited about reflective ankle bands, but if you're going to make (or buy) a reflective ankle band, why make (or buy) a crappy one? The price difference between "lousy" and "really well done" is about the price of a fancy coffee, and it's safety we're talking about here (though one could argue that not giving me coffee is also a safety hazard).

Nothing illustrates that "safety" point better than this photo I just snapped in our top-secret testing laboratory here at The Cycle World Headquarters:

In the interest of science, I grabbed all the reflective bands I could find in the garage (er, laboratory), wrapped them around the basket of my commuter mule, turned on the flash on my phone camera, and snapped away. The two visual representations of the word "meh" on your right are the sort of thing you can find at just about any sporting goods store (I think the brand is Nathan), while that retina-searing, sci-fi-movie special effect on your left is a Leg Shield ankle band. The Leg Shield folks confirmed that their reflective material is not made by 3M (for now), but jeez, looking at these results, who cares? Not I. The thing is so bright, it even summoned the ghost of another reflective band which you can see on the floor next to my front tire.

So let's talk about the less-photogenic Leg Shield, which is the product I was really interested in at the start of this test. Sure, I have a chain guard on the mule photographed above, but my go-slightly-faster bike sports no such built-in pants protecting technology, and I often ride said go-slightly-faster bike in human clothes on my morning commute. As such, I need something to keep chain grunge off my pants, it needs to be easy to take on and off, and it shouldn't make my calf gross and sweaty during my commute.

I'm happy to report that after several months of testing, the Leg Shield hit 2.5 out of 3 of those requirements. It keeps crap off my pants, both of the chain variety and the "puddle scum that got around my front fender" variety. It's easy to put on and take off. And for my short, relatively low-exertion commute, it doesn't trigger my Sweaty Calf Syndrome. However, in the interest of science (yet again), I wore the Leg Shield over jeans a couple of times this summer and took my "long way home" (about 10 miles) in legendary Iowa humidity as a "worst case scenario" simulation of what someone with a longer commute might encounter. In those admittedly sub-optimal conditions, the sweat was pretty prodigious (even for me), leading to one obviously wet and wrinkly pant leg when I took the shield off, even after stopping to loosen it up for improved airflow.
In response to my initial concerns (since confirmed) about Sweaty Calf Syndrome, the good folks at Leg Shield had this to say: "We tested various materials (perforated neoprene, felt, spandex) but they weren't much cooler... if we make the shield smaller it's not as effective. Neoprene is durable, flexible, and not as flimsy, so it's easy to put on." Fair enough. So my recommendation would be, in cooler temps or areas of the world with less humidity, go with a Leg Shield. When the temperature (or your commute distance) climbs, use the ankle band instead. It's wide enough and grippy enough to keep your pant leg off the chain but doesn't have enough surface area to fire up the sweat glands... and you get more reflectivity to boot.

With all that said, it's now shifting to winter here in Iowa, and I'll be switching almost exclusively to the chainguarded klunker for my commute needs, so I won't have much use for leg shielding for a while... which is why I'm going to share my test samples with a Mystery Guest Reviewer (stay tuned!) to get even more opinionated blather. I'm wrapping a couple straps around strategic parts of the klunk-muter, though -- no way I'm letting something that bright go to waste during the darkest months of the year.

I said it before, but it bears repeating: I was not bribed, coerced, or otherwise unduly influenced to review this stuff favorably, though the Leg Shield folks did send me free review samples. I am susceptible to schwag but tried not to let that influence my opinions.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Spoiler Alert

Rosebud was a sled! Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father!

Sorry, nope, not that kind of spoiler. Here, I'm talking about bicycle accessories that I once thought were dorky, but now that I've given them a chance, I find them eminently functional and kinda hard to live without. In other words, they've spoiled me.

Exhibit A: The front basket. Dorky, right? I mean, what are you, a paperboy? A Frenchman delivering baguettes? The one shown was purchased for Dear Spouse's now-departed single bike (what can I say? she likes riding the tandem despite having to look at me the whole time) and languished in the garage until I brought home the Klunker Project. I slapped it on there on a lark, and whaddya know? It's downright nice. Who needs a fancy commuting backpack (and a sweaty back) when you can just throw your lock and lunch in a basket? Picking up some groceries? Basket. Garage sale? Basket. Six-pack of malted adult beverage? Basket. Stray puppy? Basket.

Exhibit B: The kickstand. Epitome of dork-ness. How many times did I have to stifle my bike-shop-snob sneer when a customer asked, "Can you put a kickstand on my new bike?" Sure, I put one on our tandem because it's not always easy to find someplace to lean that two-wheeled stretch limo. But a stand never graced my single bikes... until the Klunker Project arrived. For an errand/townie bike, self-leaning is a pretty nice feature. Consider this a retroactive apology to every customer I silently judged back in the day.

I'm getting a three-fer in this photo:
  1. Singlespeed drivetrain: So little to go wrong.
  2. Flat pedals: Who needs special shoes? Just pedal!
  3. Chainguard: My pant leg shall never know the touch of grease again.
So, those are my spoilers. What are yours?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Let's Get Visible, Visible

It's time yet again for a product review here at The Cycle! All together now: "Yay."

I was recently contacted by the folks at Leg Shield to see if I would be interested in trying out a few of their visibility aids. Being somewhat obsessed about not getting run over while commuting (hence my status as the World's Most Conspicuous Ninja), I said (paraphrasing), "Heck yes."

Shortly thereafter, an envelope arrived in the mail containing the following:

You're seeing two of the eponymous Leg Shields (one stealth black, one tennis-ball yellow with reflective stripes), two ankle bands (both are reflective on the outside, I just flipped one over to show its black underbelly), and two wrist bands (ditto). All are made from a fairly thin, stretchy neoprene material.

Now, the real fun with reflective stuff is to turn on the flash on your phone and take the same picture... so I did just that:

As expected, the stealth Leg Shield disappears. The reflective parts of the yellow shield light up, but there isn't much reflective there. The stars of this simulated headlight scenario are the screamingly bright wrist and ankle bands. My benchmark for good reflective material is 3M Scotchlite tape, and these are just as bright, not to mention having more reflective surface area than any other reflective band in my vast collection.

Construction quality seems good at first glance -- the stitching is well done, and the Velcro even has nicely rounded corners. That's a nit-picky detail, sure, but it does feel better when you use it compared to a squared-off corner. Brace for groaner Dad-joke wordplay: I guess you could say that by cutting corners, they're not cutting corners. (Thank yew! I'll be here all week! Tip your waitress!)

I wasn't planning to put a "ride test" in my first impressions post, but after tonight's commute, I noticed this:

See the little schmutz spot above the lower reflective stripe? I lubed my chain last night (first time in months), but I wasn't very fastidious with the "wipe off excess" step. It certainly wasn't a planned, scientific test, but the photo doesn't lie -- the Leg Shield did in fact shield my leg.

I'll have more to say once all the shields and bands have spent an extended test period wrapped around my chubby ankles and wrists. I'm especially curious how they'll fare over the long term compared to the bands I've been using, and whether or not the shields will trigger Sweaty Calf Syndrome (SCS) given than I have an almost superhuman ability to produce a disproportionate amount of perspiration from the most meager exertion.

The usual disclaimer applies: I was not bribed, coerced, or otherwise unduly influenced to review this stuff favorably. The Leg Shield folks did send me the products you see above at no cost to me, but I will do my level best not to let that color my opinions about the products themselves.