Monday, March 16, 2020

Adjusting to New Realities

My friend Jan Heine wrote some very wise words over on his blog:

Here in Eugene, Christine & I spent this past weekend hunkered down at home with our cat, Inkling. As of today, my place of work (Bike Friday) is still in operation and the main business impact of COVID-19 has been on the supply side of the business (we have had various delays and availability issues around getting parts), but with all the travel restrictions and economic shocks (not to mention the serious medical issues), I am certain the demand side is going to drop precipitously. Our main business is travel bikes and there will be a lot less travel happening this year.

Various businesses in your town having to cope with difficult circumstances. This article has some good advice on ways you can help:

Stay safe, friends and do what you can to help each other through this.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Drive Fast

Today is Ash Wednesday, a Christian Holy Day of prayer and fasting. While I don't particularly care what (if any) faith a person follows, I do think the idea of abstaining from certain things is a valid way of exploring different ways of living. About nine years ago, I wrote a post proposing the idea of a "Drive Fast." I still think the idea is a good one. The original post is here:

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Bike Friday Ever-E-Day

There's a new bike in the works at Bike Friday and you can read about on the Bike Friday Blog at:

I had a tiny bit to do with the development of this bike, but most of my day to day work involves converting customer's existing bikes to E-assist. We also do full maintenance & factory repaints on our older bikes. So whether you want to keep an old bike rolling smoothly, want to add e-assist, or want a nifty new e-bike, Bike Friday can probably help you out.

Kurt Vonnegut once pointed out that one of humanity's problems is that everybody wants to build but nobody wants to do maintenance. Well, at Bike Friday, we do both.

By the way, the little dog that shows up now and then in the gif at the top of this post is Gertie. Brad, our Service Manager, is Gertie's roomate and she comes to work with him several days a week.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

My Somewhat Solar Life

“It’s not a very solar day.” My lovely and long suffering wife is by now used to my gloomy pronouncements on cloudy days. Also, after decades of marriage, she is used to my committing to some random goal (“I’m going to ride my fixed gear bike back to Minnesota!”) and then seeing me devote what many folks would think of as an unreasonable degree of time and energy in pursuit of said goal.

My latest obsessive project began when I somewhat reluctantly got an ebike. In my work at Bike Friday I wound up doing more and more ebike work and my boss Alan gave me enough parts and encouragement that eventually I pretty much had to add an electric assist system to my own bike. The purist in me felt guilty about adding an e-assist to a bicycle that I was perfectly capable of pedaling around 100% on my own but I did have to admit that the e-assist was handy and useful.

To assuage my guilt, I came up with a plan: I would vow not to plug my bike into the main electrical grid. Any e-power I would get would come from the sun. That was last April and since then I’ve stuck to my vow. Along the way I’ve learned some things and I quickly added items to my “no grid power” list. Since April my phone, laptop, radio, Kindle, ebike lights and the ebike itself have been 100% solar powered.

My first attempt at solar power I documented in a post I called The Sheddy Kilowatt Story and the solar shed still forms the basis of my solar system. As time has gone by I’ve learned some things and made some changes and I figure this update might help other folks who might be interested in lessening their dependence on the main power grid.

First off, I don’t claim to be 100% grid-free. Christine and I are still (semi)normal people who have a fridge, stove, washing machine and other big power items that plug into the wall. I just figured I’d see how much stuff I could manage to run on a fairly small solar power system.

The first thing I learned from my solar shed was that my cheap flexible Chinese no-name solar panel was, in retrospect, too cheap. It claimed to be a 100 Watt panel but it never even came close to generating half that and a spring wind storm somehow mysteriously killed it. I replaced it with a heavier, rigid, name-brand Renogy 50 Watt panel. The Renogy panel consistently puts out more power than its predecessor ever did.

My Floureon Power Bank is the heart of my solar system and it continues to perform like a champ. This is one of those products that is so nice I bought it twice. I’ll explain more about the second one and how I use it a bit later on.

As solar skeptics like to point out, solar energy is variable. On a bright, sunny day you get a lot of power, at night you get none, and on cloudy days things are somewhere in between. But if you have a lithium ion power bank hooked to your solar panel, what power you get can be stored for when you need it. Most of the devices on my list have their own internal lithium ion batteries and charge via mini USB ports. The bike and the laptop charge via their wall chargers which I plug into the 120 VAC inverter on Floureon Power Bank.

For charging small things, like a phone, the 50 Watt panel is overkill. Renogy makes a little ten watt panel with a little lithium ion power bank that is very reasonably priced. I wound up getting several of these when I had delusions of going into the solar business but I quickly figured out that I am not really an entrepreneur. I’m more just a guy who explains things. I wrote a little paper about how to charge your phone off solar power and decided that I was not a businessman.

My stock of those little Renogy panels are great when dealing with the one big problem I have with my solar shed. The problem is this: it doesn’t move. In the spring and summer, this is no problem, plenty of sunlight lands on the shed’s solar panel. In the fall and winter I’d figured that I would get less sun due to cloud cover but I’d inconveniently forgotten the basic fact of the earth’s tilt. In the dark months the days are shorter and for the bulk of the daylight hours my shed is in the shadow of my house. Oops!

The shed still manages to crank out just enough power to keep the ebike charged if I don’t go too wild with using the e-assist. I’ve decided that this is one of the great lessons of my solar experiment, I am living within my solar means.

I can move those little 10 Watt panels to where the sun is shining. I have one on my backpack and when I get asked about it on cloudy days I say it is there because I am an optimist. And then I explain how it charges my phone. I have a couple more panels stuck to my south-facing bedroom window where they and the cat look out at the squirrels who feed in the morning sun.

My darkest day (literally!) was the winter solstice. My shed generated zero Watt Hours but I’d socked away enough juice in the various power banks that I didn’t go empty. The little south-facing panels put out enough to keep my phone and other little gadgets going. The days are getting longer now.

The last piece of my solar puzzle fell into place when I realized that the 50 Watt Renogy panel is actually small enough I could fit it on a bike trailer. A 50 Watt panel, an inexpensive Allen cargo trailer, a storage bin from Home Depot, and a second Floureon power bank combine to give me a mobile solar e-bike charging system. So now I have a solar bike shed and a solar bike trailer.

The trailer is handy for grocery shopping and I can use it to keep my ebike solar powered on tour.

I may not be 100% solar powered (yet!) but my somewhat solar life is rolling along.

Kent Peterson
on a not very solar day in Eugene, OR USA

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Good Set of Be-Seen Lights

I divide bicycle lights into two classifications: Seeing Lights and Be-Seen Lights. A seeing light is a light you use to see where you are going. A be-seen light is one whose purpose is to increase the odds of someone seeing you.

For seeing on my urban commute I'm pretty happy with my Wildken Smart Headlight. It has a great beam pattern and the amount of light it puts out is based on how much ambient light there is. It auto-dims when there is an oncoming light, and auto brightens when I ride through dim underpasses.

On kind of dank, rainy days, however, the Wildken needs help. The "smart" light rightly figures that I have plenty of light to see by, but I want to help the drivers behind rain-smeared windows see me. For that I use a couple of Ascher USB rechargeable lights. I got these little guys as an impulse purchase, something I added to another order to reach a free-shipping threshold.

I've been pleasantly surprised by them. They cast a broad, diffuse, bright light. Lousy in terms of helping me see the road ahead, but perfect for drawing attention to my bike. They are not blinding to oncoming traffic and they last a good while on a charge. And while they are inexpensive, they don't feel or seem "cheap". They come in a nice little box with extra rubber mounting straps and so far they've held up fine to a damp Oregon winter.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Bike Theft Can Happen To Anyone

As a recent story in the New York Post illustrates, bike theft can happen to anyone. In this case, the victim was a member of the Portland, Oregon Police Department's Bike Patrol Unit. He was "in a rush" and "secured" his bike with his handcuffs. Obviously, this was not good enough.

I've had bikes stolen. My sons have had their bikes stolen. So far, my wife has not had her bike stolen and I haven't had any of my bikes stolen recently. But, given enough time and opportunity, even the best locked bike can be stolen. With any lock and locking strategy, you are buying time to slow down or discourage a determined thief.

This is probably a good time to revisit this classic short film where Hal Grades Your Bike Locking.

Be safe out there.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The War on Air Continues

The great Sheldon Brown wrote these words on the subject of airless tires:

Of all the inventions that came out of the bicycle industry, probably none is as important and useful as Dr. Dunlop's pneumatic tire.

Airless tires have been obsolete for over a century, but crackpot "inventors" keep trying to bring them back. They are heavy, slow and give a harsh ride. They are also likely to cause wheel damage, due to their poor cushioning ability. A pneumatic tire uses all of the air in the whole tube as a shock absorber, while foam-type "airless" tires/tubes only use the air in the immediate area of impact. They also corner poorly.

Pneumatic tires require pumping up from time to time, and can go flat, but their advantages overwhelm these difficulties.

Airless-tire schemes have also been used by con artists to gull unsuspecting investors. My advice is to avoid this long-obsolete system. They might make sense is if you commute a short distance to catch a train, and a flat tire would mean missing the train and being very late to work. 

The folks at Bridgestone Tire are the latest folks to take a shot in the war on air and we'll get to see their airless tires on a couple of hundred bikes ridden by the Olympic staff at the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games. You can read all about it here:

Time will tell if Bridgestone is on to something but I'll bet that ten years from now Sheldon's words will still ring true and our bicycles won't be shod with airless tires.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA