Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Day with the Faraday Porteur

Faraday Bicycles is a fairly new company who make an electric assist bicycle called the Faraday Porteur. While Faraday doesn't have a network of dealers, they do have a few demo bikes available at a few bike shops around the country. My friends at G&O Family Cyclery are one of the shops lucky enough to have a Porteur and I got to spend a cool November day in Seattle riding the bike around the city. In this post I'll do my best to sum up the experience of riding the bike.

The porteur rack is quite handsome. It's rated for 10 kilograms and unlike a front basket that turns with the handlebars and fork, the rack is attached to the frame of the bike. The rack is an optional accessory for the bike and is fairly easy to take on and off. On the demo bike, the Faraday's headlight is mounted on the stem and thus its beam could be blocked by a big load on the rack, but if you intend on keeping the rack on the bike permanently, the wiring for the light can be rerouted to allow mounting the headlight under the rack.

This is the control for the e-assist. The little e-ink bar graph read 3/4 full when I picked the bike up. The guys at G&O also loaned me one of the surprisingly compact chargers for the bike (it comes with two). I stuffed the charger into my backpack. Davey at G&O commented that he's surprised that the Faraday folks don't equip the bike with a fancy frame case for the charger.

I was curious how much the bike weighed and the guys at G&O don't have a scale ("We should get a scale" was the comment, followed by "Kathleen at FreeRange has one.") so I strapped my pack to the porteur rack and headed off to the Fremont neighborhood to see Kathleen. It's mostly a downhill run from Greenwood to Fremont, so I really didn't engage the e-assist except for a couple of quick starts from stop lights and little climbs to make sure everything was working.

Kathleen is a very savvy bike person and even she didn't notice right away that the Faraday is electric. That's the most striking thing about it, it looks, rides and feels like a non-assisted bike. The bike is heavier than a non-electric bike, of course a motor and batteries don't come for free, but the balance of the bike is quite wonderful. The rear of the bike houses a Shimano Nexus 8 speed hub, the batteries are concealed inside the bike frame and the electric motor is inside the front hub. In my job as a bike mechanic I've often had to wrestle unwieldy e-bikes into a repair stand and in general it's like trying to hoist a metal pig. Not so with the Faraday, this is a bike I could carry up a set of stairs or easily hoist onto a bike rack.

The Faraday does weigh more than the 30 pounds Kathleen's scale is rated for so the scale's dial wrapped around and settled on 17 pounds. 30+17=47 pounds which seemed heavier than my heft guess and I think the wrapped scale over reported the bike's weight. Faraday's specs list the bike at 39 pounds and I could believe that the rack adds another 5 pounds so that would make the combo more like 44 pounds. Whatever the case, the bike doesn't feel like a heavy bike and more importantly, it rides like a normal bike.

Kathleen had to test the bike out. The grin is an automatic side effect of engaging the e-assist.

Here's a good shot of the bike. My pack is strapped to the front rack. The leather pouch is a very fancy holder store the rack bungie cords when they're not in use. The fenders are bamboo and look pretty although I'd prefer something longer, with more curvature around the tire for better water deflection. This is a medium size frame and 5'6" me was perfectly comfortable on the bike. The double leg kickstand is standard equipment.

Here's the bike looking pretty at the Seattle ship canal.

The bars are very comfortable.

Of course a bike this fancy comes with a Brooks saddle. The rear panel on the frame has the power switch (top), LED lights which serve as both tail lights and charging indicators (middle) and the plug for the charger (bottom).

If you were riding behind this bike in the rain, you'd wish this fender was a bit longer.

I really got to like the porteur rack. The load up front didn't seem to alter the handling of the bike.

The bike gets lots of attention. Strangers would stop and comment on the bike, noting how pretty it is or asking about the front rack. Nobody noticed that it is electric.

By the way, you can click on any of the pictures in this post to embiggen them.

Another shot of that very comfy Brooks saddle.

Let's talk a bit about the electronics. The Faraday Porteur comes with a 250W motor built into the front hub and a custom 240Wh battery pack concealed inside the frame.  I'd wondered about the replace-ability and durability of the batteries but the folks at Faraday assure me that the high quality lithium batteries should last through several years of charging cycles and when they ultimately do need replacing, it's an easy job for a local shop. They estimate current battery replacement cost at $400, but battery tech is getting better year by year and the prices are dropping. The batteries power both the bike's lights and it's motor. When the bike is switched on, the lights are on. The integrated lights are nice, bright LEDs.

The e-assist is what really makes the Faraday special. A left hand control contains the e-ink display showing how much power is left in the batter pack and a little thumb switch controlling how much of an assist the motor will add to your pedalling. The switches three positions are OFF (no assist), ON (normal assist) and BOOST (which is additively fun).

Here's the number one thing I noticed about the Faraday Porteur. It rode so well as a bike that on flat sections or going downhill, I'd wouldn't turn on the e-assist. Unlike many other e-bikes I've ridden, the Porteur didn't feel burdened by the weight of its motor and batteries. It felt like a bike so having a dead battery wouldn't be a disaster, you'd just pedal home. This makes it pretty much impossible to answer the "what's the range" question on this bike. It would be odd to ride it with the e-assist on all the time.

But I was intent on testing the bike, so I consciously looked for steep hills (plentiful in Seattle) and engaged the e-assist to give a turbo boost as I pulled out from stoplights. The boost only assists your pedalling, this is not a bike where you coast and let the motor pull you along.

So in my quest for hills I picked nasty ones. It's hard to convey grade in a photograph, but this wall along the sidewalk of 23rd Avenue climbing up from Montlake gives you a bit of idea of the grade. I spent the day in counterpoint to my usual, pick the gentle slopes strategy and instead played around on various nasty hills.

My missions for the day included visiting various bookstores and having lunch and a bike ride with my friend Mark Canizaro.

After going up and over various climbs on Seattle's Capitol Hill. I pulled up to Mark's place. Literally on the last 1/2 block of the climb to Mark's, I depleted the last of the battery.

While Mark and I had a bit of lunch and chatted about various things involving bikes, books, philosophy and darn near everything else, we charged up the bike.

We let the bike charge for 45 minutes and then headed out. The battery meter was reading 50%

Of course we did more climbing.

This picture basically shows off two pieces of art. One of them is also extremely fun to ride.

Mark managed to get a few shots of me on the bike.

It was a lovely day for riding. On one steep climb a passerby commented "You don't even look like you're working!" He wasn't wrong.

Here's an example of the Faraday Porteur in front of a house that is undoubtedly owned by someone (not me!) that could easily afford a Faraday Porteur. In case you're wondering and haven't already surfed over to the Faraday page, this is not a cheap bike. The retail price is $3500, which is pretty much out of this bike mechanic's price range. But the more I rode the bike, the more I sensed that this bike is worth its price tag. Good engineering doesn't come cheap.

By the way, when you live in that fancy Seattle house, this is the view out your front door. It's normally not blocked by some dorky looking guy on a really nice bike.

Mark and I traded off with the Porteur as we made our way over to Bike Works in Columbia City. Mark's comment as he crested the wickedly steep 37th Street, "It's like having a ski lift attached the bike."

At Bike Works a couple of the mechanics took the bike for a spin, both returning with huge grins. Both Mark and I have 50+ year old ears and would swear that the Porteur's motor is silent but Homer's comment corrected our impression when he said, "Man, you can barely hear the motor!" So I guess the motor does make a tiny bit of noise.

At the bakery Mark and I sipped our drinks while I fielded more "nice bike" comments. I took a few more detail shots of the bike. Those are Shimano cable activated disk brakes and they work very well. The belt drive and Nexus hub make for a smooth, clean, quiet drivetrain.

The front motor is rather compact and attracts little attention.

Here's a shot of the e-assist controller. The e-ink gauge shows the battery at something under 50%.

The Shimano Nexus 8-speed shifter. Nice shifting and I found the gear range to be quite nice.

Mark and I rode up Lake Washington Boulevard, parting ways as he headed for home on Capitol Hill. I continued North to the University and then rode the Burke Gilman Trail over to Fremont and then up to G&O. At the end of the day I'd ridden 36 miles. I used up pretty much the last of my battery charge on the climb from Fremont to Phinney Ridge, so I feel I timed things just right.

The Faraday Porteur is an amazing bicycle. It's the only e-bike I've ridden that basically feels like a normal bike. It's a bike where the weight of the electronics are so well integrated into the bike, you can easily forget they are there. But when you engage the power assist, the bike becomes more than a bike. When you ride the bike without the e-assist, it feels like a very, very nice bike. When you engage the e-assist, it feels like flying.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Salzmann Spoke Reflectors

Sometimes a picture really is worth at least a thousand words. I'm going to tell you why I think Salzmann Spoke Reflectors are one of the best safety accessories you can buy for your bike, but the above photo quickly makes the point.

Salzmann Spoke Reflectors are 36 little plastic tubes covered in 3M Scotchlite material. The tubes are 70 mm long, slit along the side and shaped so they easily snap securely onto a standard bicycle spoke. It took me all of two minutes to install Salzmann Spoke Reflectors on my Allant. My Allant has 36 spoke wheels so I placed a reflector on every other spoke. The Salzmann folks sent me two sets of the reflectors for this review but these little reflectors don't need to be on every spoke.

Compared to the CSPC wheel reflectors your bike may have come with, Salzmann Spoke Reflectors are basically better in every way. They're very light and what little weight they have is evenly distributed around the wheel. They don't look dorky, in daylight you barely notice that they're there.

But at night, they shine. Really shine. They're reflectors, so they provide no light of their own, of course, but they are highly reflective and glow like bright moonlight reflecting car headlights, streetlights, lights from store windows or other bike lights. They reflect light back from every angle and the spinning movement of your bike wheels really makes the reflected light visible in the darkness in a shape that clearly says "bicycle."

Salzmann Spoke Reflectors are not a replacement for good front and rear lights, but they are an inexpensive and effective way to greatly increase your visibility. At less than $20, they're a bargain.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

3 LED Bike Headlights Compared

Bike headlight technology is a bit like computer technology, each year newer, more powerful products are available at a lower price than what was last year's latest and greatest. Advances in LED manufacturing and battery design have resulted in some bright, compact lights. While I don't have the time or funds to obtain and exhaustively test every light on the market, I did get my hands on three LED lights, all of which charge via USB. In this article, I'll summarize the features of these lights and give my impressions. The numbers listed for brightness and battery life are those provided by the manufacturers. The lights compared in this article were either given to me by a representative of the manufacturer or purchased by me at dealer cost.

 The three lights I examined are the Cygolite Dash 320, the Portland Design Works (PDW) Lars Rover 450, and the Bontrager Ion 700. Here are the three lights with their high beams on laying on my kitchen table:

Cygolite Dash 320 (top), Bontrager Ion 700 (middle), PDW Lars Rover 450 (bottom)

The Cygolite Dash 320

The PDW Lars Rover 450

The Bontrager Ion 700

 It's hard to do an "apples to apples" comparison as the lights have different powers, designs, prices and features, but the table below is a compact summation of the various lights specifications.

Cygolite Dash 320 PDW Lars Rover 450 Bontrager Ion 700
Weight 74 grams 122 grams 141 grams
Charge Time 4 hours 5.5 hours 5 hours
Charge Connector USB Micro B USB Mini B USB Micro B
Side Visible? Yes No Yes
Attachment Stretchy Band Stretchy Band,
Adjustable Screw Clamp,
Helmet Mount all included.
Stretchy Band.
Bontrager Blendr and
Screw Clamps available.
High Beam 320 Lumens
1.25 hours
450 Lumens
2 hours
700 Lumens
1.75 hours
Medium Beam ? Lumens
2.5 hours
250 Lumens
3.75 hours
450 Lumens
3 hours
Low Beam ? Lumens
9 hours
125 Lumens
7.5 hours
250 Lumens
5.75 hours
Pulse Beam 2.75 hours 10 hours 22 hours
Flashing 10 hours (primary)
55 hours (secondary)
10 hours 45 hours
Price $54.95 $85.00 $99.99

People have differing degrees of night vision and senses of how much light is enough. While a lumen rating can be a guide, beam patterns vary. I found 250 lumens and a broad beam pattern OK for night riding in the city at non-breakneck speeds, but for racing down a dark mountain trail requires a more lumens packed into a beam with a tighter focus.

I'd like to say a word about flashing vs. steady lights. In some locales flashing lights are illegal and some folks find them very distracting. Other people find the blinking is eye-catching and more clearly IDs the light source as a bike instead of a distant car and favor the blinking for those reasons. And blinking lights do extend the battery life.

I personally have been more in the steady light camp but all three of these lights have a great light mode that is sort of a middle way and it's become my favorite for city riding. Pulse mode is different than a simple On/Off flash. The beam is never off but instead it's punctuated with a cycling brighter pulse. This effectively extends both the battery life and the reach of the beam and seems to be less distracting while still drawing attention.

I mounted the three lights on my bike and went out in the alley behind my house on a dark, damp night to do a bit of beam comparisons of the three lights. It's hard to get good pictures at night, but these shots will give you a bit of an idea of the relative beams of the three lights.

Cygolite Dash 320 (high beam)

PDW Lars Rover (high beam)

Bontrager Ion 700 (high beam)

Note that the Bontrager Ion 700, the most powerful light of the three, suffers in the above picture by having it's light shining on the cables. In actual use I wouldn't have three lights on my bars and I'd place the Ion so its beam clears the cables.

The Cygolite Dash 320 has a unique design, featuring 4 small LEDs across the top and a high-power LED below. Riders interested in a "be seen" light for daylight use might find it's Daylighting mode handy. This mode combines lights the 4 top LEDs constantly while flashing the high-power at a claimed 500 lumens for a 10 hour runtime. This mode should not be used at night, it's too obnoxious and freaky. There is also a mode that just flashes the top LEDs which gives 55 hours of runtime.

The Cygolite Dash 320 mounts via an integral rubber band and only really works on a handlebar. It's a well designed unit, well-balanced and the stretchy strap mount works well. The main beam is nicely directed with side channels to allow a bit of side visibility. The USB Micro B charging port is located in the back of the light and covered with a rubber flap. So far I haven't had any problems with water leaking into the light, but the other two lights have their charging ports underneath the light which is probably a better location in terms of things staying dry.

I've found the Cygolite Dash 320 provides plenty of light for my city rides and its compact size makes it a perfect light for my kick scooter.

The PDW Lars Rover 450 has a very nice, well directed beam and comes with most mounting options of any of the three lights I tested. The light is a bit front heavy and I found it would be prone to rotate downward when used with the stretchy mounting strap, but the included screw clamp is rock solid and the light also comes with a helmet mount.

The PDW Lars Rover 450 charges via is USB Mini B port instead of what is now the more common USB Micro B. A charge cable is included with the light but users should be aware that the charge cable that works with their phone or tablet is probably has a different connector than the Rover does. The build quality of the Rover is excellent and the charge port on the bottom of the light should stay nice and dry under its rubber cover.

The PDW Lars Rover 450 doesn't have any side lighting, all the photons are blasted out the front. I've found it to be a nice light for night trail riding, casting all the light I need. But for folks who want even more power, PDW makes a more powerful version, the PDW Lars Rover 650.

The Bontrager Ion 700 is a very elegant light. It's got the sleek look and feel of an Apple product. I found myself never using the highest power settings on this light, instead using its power to get both perfectly adequate light and great runtime. But it's great having the 700 lumens in reserve in case the night turns dark and stormy.

While the Bontrager Ion 700 is the heaviest of the lights I tested, it's nicely balanced and I found the included stretchy clamp worked great on my handlebars. The Ion can also fit into any of the Bontrager Blendr stem mounts or various Bontrager helmet or clamp mounts.

The Bontrager Ion 700 has a good beam pattern with little amber side lights. The charging port on the bottom of the light uses the common USB Micro B connector and is nicely protected under a rubber cover.

My only real complaint with the Bontrager Ion 700 is aesthetic. I've never been fond of white bike accessories. While I'm sure the Ion looks great on the latest Trek Madone, I think something like the PDW Lars Rover 450 looks better on a mountain bike or my scruffy-looking Allant. But I've never been known for my fashion sense.

I know there are lots of other lights out there but these three lights are good examples of the current crop of USB rechargeable lights. For a hundred bucks or less you can get a good light to keep you rolling through the dark of night.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Review: Our Own Day Here by Richard Risemberg

Our Own Day Here is a fine collection of essays, thoughts expressed in concise, passionate, quotable prose. This book is clearly the work of someone who takes the time to truly experience a place and taken the time to get to know people. There is a lot of love for city places in these pages and a fair bit of rage directed at a society that often places cars and corporations ahead of people.

While I enjoyed every essay and found food for thought on virtually every page, a few of the essays would perhaps fit better in another book. I loved the recounting of a bike tour and the humorous misadventures with various sailing companions, but I'm not sure these tales added to the work as a whole. Kind of like adding raisins to a chocolate-chip cookie, sometimes not everything should go in one batch!

But the book is well worth its price and your time.The essay on graffiti and songbirds is just terrific and the late night and early morning walks are recounted so well you not only see and hear them, you damn near smell and taste them. Richard Risemberg has looked closely at his city and his words will make you look much closer at yours.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

My Awesome Wednesday Commute

My main job is at The Bicycle Center in Issaquah, four blocks from my house. While I love Issaquah and the luxury of a quick commute, I found I missed the comfortable vibe of Seattle, the bigger city 17 miles west of Issaquah. I missed the bookstores, the tree-lined neighborhoods, the bookstores, the little independent coffee shops... I also missed seeing a lot of the friends I'd made in the years I'd spent working in Seattle.

A few months ago when my friend Davey mentioned that he and his pal Tyler were looking for someone to help out at their shop, G&O Family Cyclery, in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle I said "well, if you can use somebody one day a week, I'm free on Wednesdays." And ever since then I've been heading into Seattle on Wednesdays to help Davey, Tyler and Donald at G&O.

This post isn't about how much fun it is to work at G&O (it is!) or what a cool shop it is (it is!) It isn't even about all the cool cargo bikes and Brompton's that I get to work on at G&O. No, this post is about my awesome Wednesday commute. I could bike back and forth or take the bus the whole way but I tend to optimize my commutes for fun. And my Wednesday commute is just terrific.

I take the Sound Transit 554 bus from just outside my doorstep to downtown Seattle. I have my NYCeWheels KickPed folded up beside me on the bus. In downtown Seattle I could transfer to the Metro 5 bus but instead I unfold my KickPed and scoot from Westlake, through the South Lake Union neighborhood. At my scootering pace of six to seven miles per hour, I'm a bit faster in traffic than the cars, the bus or the South Lake Union Trolley. I scoot north along the lake. The views are awesome.

You don't have to take my word for this. My android phone has developed this odd habit of tagging certain pictures I take, deciding they're "awesome" and then applying some filter it calls "auto awesome" which turns them into, well, awesome little virtual paintings. I don't know how or why my phone decided to do this, it's just something the Google elves have decided to do. But as you can see below, my commute is awesome.

My extra Wednesday work means I get to spend some more time with pals and I have a bit of extra money to spend in coffee shops and used bookstores. And I get 12 miles of really great scooter riding in every Wednesday.

I know I'm a lucky guy. I live and work in a pretty awesome place with some awesome people.

Keep 'em rolling,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

OLAF Scooters on Kickstarter

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of kickscooters. I'm really intrigued by the designs from new company, OLAF Scooters. They are currently raising funds and taking orders via Kickstarter. You can see all the details here:

They have two products, a carry-on/scooter aimed at business travellers and a backpack/scooter aimed at urban folks. The urban platform can either be used with OLAF's own backpack but the open design means that it can work with a wide range of backpacks or other bags.

I am now at the "count all my change and save all my pennies" stage to work up the funds to get my hands on the urban platform. As of this writing, the OLAF folks are over halfway to their goal, so I guess I'm not alone in liking their design.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Velocipede Races by Emily June Street

The Velocipede Races is a fast paced tale of a woman born into a repressive society. Emmeline Escot is a twin, a blood-born Serenia. She is expected to be a proper lady, corsetted into the proper shape for her proper role. Emmeline's family, though noble of birth, have fallen on hard times due to her papan's love of gambling and drink. Emmeline's brother, Gabriel, is a talented velocipede racer and his budding career is the family's best hope for a better life. The fall-back plan is to marry Emmeline off to some rich man of some status. But Gabriel does not love to race and Emmeline has little interest in suitors. Her true love, you see, is the velocipede. But it is forbidden...

The Velocipede Races is fine tale and as written by Emily June Street the first person voice of Emmeline tells a thrilling story. It's a rare novel that I can say reminds me of both a Jane Austen novel and the movie Rocky, but The Velocipede Races is both witty and thrilling. Ms. Street's characters and the world they inhabit are believable and fascinating. The racing scenes are written with skill and perfect pacing.

The Velocipede Races deftly combines sport and romance and I enjoyed every turn of the page and pedal as I rolled through this wonderful book. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story, a good fight against long odds and who is thrilled by the freedom that can be found on two wheels.