Sunday, March 30, 2008

It Seemed Like a Bright Idea...

Here in the US, we count on the Onion or the Fat Cyclist for stories like this. In the UK, they have NewsBisuit. Check this out:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sheldon Brown Memorial Ride - April 1, 2008

To celebrate the life, spirit and enduring wisdom of Sheldon Brown, a bunch of us are gathering in Seattle for a ride on Tuesday April 1st, 2008. We will meet at 6:00 PM at the Seattle Bikestation at 311 3rd Avenue South. From the Bikestation we'll ride through the International District, up Dearborn to Hiawatha, connect to the trail for the climb up the hill and ride a cool, twisty descent through Coleman Park to Lake Washington Blvd. From there we'll ride over on Genese, etc to Bike Works. Tuesday nights are volunteer repair nights at Bike Works and they are busy prepping bikes for the annual Kids Bike Swap in May, so there will be opportunities for those mechanically inclined individuals to work on getting kids bikes into safe shape after the ride. Bring yourself, your bike, your helmet decorated in whatever way you like and your enthusiasm. This ride will be socially paced and if we manage to get slightly organized between now and next Tuesday, we have some kind of refreshments and munchies at the end. We'll definitely have fun.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Lightweight Helmet With Lights

I use my bikes for transportation and that often involves riding around in the hours of darkness. I find it handy to have lights not just on my bike, but on my helmet as well. A helmet light shines where I'm looking so it can be handy for making eye-contact with drivers, spotting street signs, illuminating maps and generally putting a bit of light just where I need it. I don't need a super-powerful light on my helmet and I like to keep the weight low. Over the years, my system of helmet lights has evolved. The helmet shown here is the lightest configuration I've worked out to date. Other systems can be set-up that are brighter or that use more environmentally friendly batteries, but this set-up works pretty well.

The Lazer Magma Helmet is one I got a great deal on a few weeks ago. It's light weight and has a lot of well-placed vents. I added a few bits of reflective tape and removed the helmet's visor.

The front light is a Petzl E+Lite. The E+Lite only weighs an ounce and has a couple of different brightness and blink settings. The downside is that it uses a couple of non-rechargeable CR2032 batteries. I've been using the light for weeks and pretty much just use the low setting and I have yet to change the batteries. It would easily work as a cue-sheet & sign-spotting light for an entire 1200K brevet and would probably work for an entire year's worth of brevets without a battery change. And CR2032 batteries are lightweight and fairly commonly available.

The Planet Bike Blinky 3H Tail Light runs off a single AAA cell and it is fairly bright, although not as blinding as the 2AA Superflash. The 3H comes with a little helmet pivot mount, but I found a single zip-tie lets me attach the light without the pivot.

Jan Heine on the Virtues of Friction Shifting

Over on the Randon list a discussion of some upcoming electronic shifters has spawned some interesting posts. I personally am not one of those people waiting for electronic shifting nirvana. I happily run friction shifters on all my derailler bikes, while my hub-geared Dahon has rock-solid Sturmey-Archer indexed hub 3-speed shifting. Indexed shifting for derailler systems, which is now the industry norm, has never been very useful for me. Actually, that isn't quite true, it served up a steady stream of customers for tune-ups back when I worked as a bicycle mechanic. For reasons I don't understand, people who normally seem quite intelligent are baffled by a simple barrel-adjuster or cable housings that compress over time. I know how to work on indexed shifters but like Jan Heine, I prefer the simplicity, elegance and reliability of friction shifting.

Note that in this thread Jim and Jan use the common term "cable stretch" for the phenomena that really should be more accurately identified as "cable housing compression." You can read the full thread here but I've quoted Jan Heine as he makes the case thusly:

From: Jan Heine
Date: Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 7:45 AM
From: "Jim Bronson"

What you fail to mention is that the electronic system has the capability to eliminate the need for mecanical cables, which would be an increase in reliability from my standpoint. If it wasn't for cable stretch, we'd never have to fiddle with our derailleurs.
The problem you describe is not inherent with cables, but inherent with indexing in the shift levers. Moving the indexing to the derailleurs would solve the problem. The cables could stretch all they want, but the indexing adjustment would not change. However, indexing in the derailleur also would mean that you could use any shift lever. And Shimano invented indexed shifting specifically to make you buy a group, including their shift levers (and freewheel). Then they combined freewheel and hub into a cassette hub, so you had to buy their hub, too. Then they combined their brake and shift levers, so you had to buy their brakes, too. Then they combined their cranks and BB, so you had to buy the set as well.

The obvious solution is to forego indexed shifting altogether and use friction shifting. I employ it on my bikes, and I don't ever worry about cable stretch, nor do I fiddle with my derailleurs. And I can combine any components I want (Maxi-Car hubs with Shimano freewheel, Huret derailleur, Simplex shift levers, Mafac brakes - no problem at all on my PBP bike).

In addition, downtube shift levers give you a warning when the cable frays at the shift lever (where it usually frays) - the sharp ends poke your hands. (In case you ignore the warning, or the cable fails elsewhere, replacing a shifter cable in the field is easy with downtube shifters, too.)

Finally, downtube shifters let you move your hands around every time you shift, thus preventing hand pain and numbness on long rides.

Maybe, once all the problems with electronic shifting have been worked out, and the system works off my generator hub (I think Shimano is working on that, their latest generator hubs provide more power at low speeds to make this possible), I will consider it. Then I'd want voice activation, too. Just like I say on a tandem to warn my stoker: "Shift" and the new gear comes in. Based on my cadence, the system will know whether I want an upshift or downshift.

In the mean time, the old Alex Singer will have to do.

Jan Heine
Bicycle Quarterly
140 Lakeside Ave #C
Seattle WA 98122


From: Russ Loomis
Date: Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 8:23 AM
To:, Jan Heine

Bravo!!! Jan Heine! I could not have said it better myself. I also use down tube friction shifters on all my bikes ( after having tried STI for over 5 years ) and thus eliminated all the shifting problems of index shifting. They are cheap, reliable, and last a lifetime but the best feature is that I can use any cassette or freewheel combination from 5 spd - 10 spd. It also puts the riding experience back into riding. Like driving a stick instead of an automatic. Fun.

I have become so put off with the bike industry pushing "newer and better" down our throats when they are the only benefactors. Put friction back on your bike; you could even save almost a pound in weight ( for all you weight weenies ) and ride worry free of having a bike fail during an event.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Tell Olympic National Park to remove the proposed ban on bicyclists

(This is from my pals at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington)

Hurricane Ridge Road inside Olympic National Park is a popular summer destination for bicyclists who like the challenge of a 17-mile road rising from virtually sea level to 5420-feet. Park managers have been planning to repave the road for several years and Congress has provided $12.7 Million to repave and repair 12 miles. The road recently sustained storm damage.

Citing “safety,” the park is planning to ban bicyclists for the entire two year duration of the road repairs. The road will remain open to all other vehicle traffic, including motorcycles.

We believe that this is an unnecessary exclusion of bicyclists on what is a federally funded road open to all other forms of traffic. Write to your members of Congress and interim park superintendent Sue McGill and let them know that the proposed ban is totally unacceptable. Request that McGill meet directly with the Bicycle Alliance and other bicycle groups to reach an improved solution.

Key points to raise:
  • Hurricane Ridge Road is a popular destination for bicyclists
  • Bicyclists who ride this road tend to be very experienced, fit riders
  • The road will remain open to all other vehicle traffic
  • State, county and city governments in Washington manage to accommodate bicyclists during reconstruction projects without any problems
  • No construction work will take place at weekends, but the ban is to remain in place then too
  • Olympic National Park did not contact a single bicycle group in its out-reach efforts, even though bicyclists are the most affected users
  • Contractors routinely deal with bicyclists on other road projects – this project is no more a safety issue than other road works.

Enter your zip code to obtain the name of your member of Congress:

Washington’s two senators can be reached by email or by calling a local office:

Senator Patty Murray:

Senator Maria Cantwell:

Olympic National Park
Sue McGill, Superintendent
Olympic National Park
600 E. Park Avenue
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Background on the issue is available at:

Information on recent storm damage to Hurricane Ridge Road:

Saturday, March 15, 2008


I'm starting a new venture with some of my pals. It's a multi-authored blog called Veloquent and you can see it here:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

Space Monkey = Me

Just over a week ago, I wrote about people zoning out. Among other things I wrote:
Be careful out there. Pay attention. You can be certain that somebody isn't. They may be jogging, they may be driving, they may be riding a bike.

All I can do is try to remember to be here now.
I really should take my own advice.

Maybe the time change had a bit to do with it but this morning as I was riding to work my mind was elsewhere. I was the space monkey I warn other folks to watch out for.

I prefer riding on the road instead of the trail, so once I cross the bridge onto Mercer Island, I turn onto North Mercer Way. And as I ride along instead of being here now, I was thinking too far ahead about a project waiting for me at work.

Just how spaced out can one person be? So spaced out that I didn't see the GIANT YELLOW SCHOOL BUS with the FLASHING STOP ARM parked and loading up kids. The bus was parked pointed eastbound, ready to make the right turn up Shorewood Drive. I was headed westbound on North Mercer Way.

I'm a guy who stops for stop signs. I sure would have stopped for this one if I'd seen it but I didn't see it because I was totally zoned out.

I was so zoned out I not only didn't see the bus and the stop arm, I hadn't been checking my rear view mirror either. So I didn't see the police car that was right behind me either.

I don't think the bus driver could quite believe how zoned out I was, but he hit his horn as he saw that I wasn't slowing down. That snapped me out of my stupor just in time for me to be aware that I blew past the stop sign.

And of course the police officer hit his lights and pulled me over.

The bus driver and the police officer were totally right. I was totally wrong.

The officer was very professional and nice about things. I deservedly felt like an idiot. The officer was a bit surprised when I explained that I don't have a driver's license but he was perfectly happy to run my passport through the system. He also explained my options with the ticket. I can either pay the fine, schedule a mitigation hearing or contest the ticket. I'd only contest the ticket if I felt the officer was wrong for issuing me the ticket. He wasn't wrong, I was.

The fine is a hefty one, designed to impress on one the importance of driving safely around school children. It's a $394 ticket.

I'm going for a mitigation hearing. The hearing will at least give me more than fifteen days to come up with 394 dollars. And both the police officer and my lawyer friends tell me the judge may reduce the fine if I'm truly sorry and keep a clean record going forward.

I really do try to be here now but sometimes I forget. I feel I got off easy. If I was zoned out enough to space out on both a school bus and a police car, I could just as easily have been in an accident that would keep me from learning this or any other lessons.

With luck we get to live and learn.

I'm still learning.

Be careful out there.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bike Folks at the Seattle Bike Expo

Val Kleitz summed it up best when asked if he minded being "stuck" in the SBS booth at the Seattle Bike Expo, "spending all day chatting about bikes with folks? That's not stuck! Where else would I want to be?"

While wandering around the Expo yesterday I was struck by the fact that while it's fun to see all the shiny new bikes, the lovely old bikes and the various bits of clever innovation, a show like this is at least as much about bike folks as it is about bikes.

My camera was still flaking out and I'm sure other people have great shots of shiny bikes. I spent most of my time chatting with my buddies, plotting some new adventures and mostly taking pictures of people. I'm a little bummed my shot of Leo didn't turn out and that I just plain spaced out on getting a photo of the lovely editorial staff of Momentum Magazine. The good news is that this will give me an excuse to head up to Vancouver sometime soon.

Jacquie Phelan and I finally managed to be in the same place at the same time. My pal Matt Newlin took the photo documenting this happy event.

Matt checks out some of the wonderful old bikes in Bob Freeman's amazing vintage collection.

Jacquie Phelan, the Queen Wombat.

Coach Tammy
almost convinced me to weight train until pal Matt pointed out that our entire lives are spent basically in the "base" and "taper" phases. "Go out easy, then back off" that's our motto. Tammy had all kinds of great advice for those of you who actually want to compete and do things like run and swim as well as bike and maybe do these things with something like speed and grace. Her main advice is that the advantage of weight training isn't strength, it's that it's a great tool to train the opposing muscle groups to prevent injury. Many of Tammy's clients have the problem of working too hard. Matt pointed out that I don't seem to have that problem.

Val really looks like he's coping quite well with being "trapped" at the SBS booth. In addition to being a top notch mechanic and a super nice guy, Val won the award for "best facial hair" at last month's Handmade Bicycle Show.

Mark Vande Kamp, famous writer for Bicycle Quarterly, contemplates the reasonable price tag on the lovely wool Seattle Bicycle Club jerseys.

If Joe "Metal Cowboy" Kurmaskie could write half as well as he talks, he'd be a best-selling author. In fact, he writes about twice as well as he talks, so he is a best-selling author. If you haven't read any of Joe's books, stop reading this blog now and go buy one of his books.

Jan Heine explains the advantages of the classic French-designed randonneuring bicycles. Jan is not a person who blindly believes that the old ways were better but he is very interested in what works. He learns things on the roads of today and from the riders and builders who have gone before us. Every issue of his magazine, Bicycle Quarterly, is packed with interesting,useful and beautiful stuff. Of course, I may be somewhat biased since everyone working on that magazine is a pal of mine and my words sometimes show up on Jan's pages, but the man does know what he's talking about. He can write and talk and RIDE. This year Jan was the first American across the finish line at Paris-Brest-Paris. He seemed a bit embarrassed when asked about that at the end of his talk and sounded almost like Yogi Berra when he explained "I wasn't really that fast, it's just that the others were slower."

I mostly resisted geeking out on the equipment side of the Expo, but I love my Ergon grips, so I had to stop by to see Jeff Kerkove at the Ergon booth. Last year Jeff hooked me up with a free set of grips for my green bike and I liked those so much that I actually went out and paid full retail for a second set for my M2 Stumpjumper. This year Jeff is showing off Ergon's new backpack which has an astounding harness system that really changes the way you think about weight on your back. Matt, John and I all had to try the pack, which Jeff loaded up with Ergon brochures. The dang thing feels lighter on your back than it does when you lift it and because the pack pivots in the harness as you move, it almost feels like you're not wearing a pack. My wife will tell you I'm a sucker for a neat pack and only my thin wallet and the thought of explaining to her why I bought yet another pack kept me from walking out of the Expo with one of these babies.

This year's Expo was a lot of fun. I could have spent much more time talking to folks and easily could have spent a ton of cash on some very cool things. The Expo is still going on today and if you're in Seattle and haven't been to the Expo yet, it's worth the trip.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mindfulness In Motion

I ride up to Redmond to chat with my friend Mark Thomas. We meet up at Victor's Coffee, discuss weighty matters of the world and then each go our separate ways on the various errands that will fill our day.

Redmond is north of Issaquah and I usually traverse the dozen miles which separate the two towns on via the eastern side of Lake Sammamish. On this side of the lake I have the option of either taking the paved, mostly well-shouldered Sammamish River Parkway or the more scenic, unpaved Lake Sammamish Trail. I'd taken the Parkway on my trip north, so I opt to take in the slower scenery of the trail for my southbound journey.

I ride down the trail which runs along an old rail corridor. Over the past few decades almost every bit of land that either overlooks the lake or has direct waterfront access has sprouted a multi-million dollar home. Despite the fears of some local residents that the creation of this public trail on public land would create a corridor of crime allowing roving pedestrian and biker gangs to spend their free time bashing Bentleys and lobbing Molotovs at Mercedes, no such crime-wave has been forthcoming. Instead the trail crimes tend to be more aesthetic in nature, tiny dogs whose tiny running suits match their owner's perfect Polarfleece, software executives jogging while under the influence of Bluetooth, middle-aged men riding bicycles while wearing clothing far too fluorescent for decent decorum...

That last character, of course, would be me.

So I'm riding down the trail minding not only my own business but the business of others, because I've learned, over the years, that fortune favors the vigilant. I go slow. I click my brake levers, ding my bell, clear my voice whenever I get even remotely close to other trail users. I look for the telltale white earbuds that warn me that their wearer may be paying more attention to Britney or Bono than anything as mundane and dangerous as the actual real world.

And even so, for all my vigilance, my attention isn't always perfect and sometimes I can be surprised.

I'm surprised today, but not by my inattention. Today I'm surprised by how far a person's mind can be from their body.

I see them jogging towards me. This is a straight section of trail and they came into my field of vision at a distance of at least 200 yards. I'm rolling towards them, they are running towards me. They are two young women, running side by side. As the distance between us closes, I can see them clearly. No earphones are visible, they are not conversing. They are jogging, looking straight ahead.

Straight at me. The guy on the red bike, with the bright yellow vest. In what I believe is called "broad daylight."

My spidey-sense is tingling. I slow way down. I click my levers and ring my bell.

I'm now going at just about walking speed. Neither woman seems to have the slightest awareness of my existence. And one of them is in my lane, running straight for me.

"Hey!" I shout as we are about 15 feet from each other and I basically track-stand on the trail. The woman's eyes flip into focus and go wide. She slows, slips in behind her companion and says, "sorry, I didn't see you" as she jogs past me.

I don't have a response.

There is little I can do but tell this story and note that I've kicked the paranoia level on my clue-less meter up one more notch.

We all have distractions in our lives. My friend David Smith pointed out to me the other night that even something like a rear-view mirror, which generally increases your safety and situational awareness, can be detrimental if you are looking back at the particular moment you need to be looking forward.

The best advice I ever got on this subject came from a zen master: "Be here now."

Be careful out there. Pay attention. You can be certain that somebody isn't. They may be jogging, they may be driving, they may be riding a bike.

All I can do is try to remember to be here now.