Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Portland Design Works Fenderbot: A Review

Back in May I reviewed the Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000. I'm happy to report the RADBOT is still going strong and it's still my favorite tail light. At the time of that review an astute reader posted a comment noting that the shape of that light and wondered if it could be modified to mount onto a fender. It turns out the fellows at Portland Design Works were already thinking along those lines and they now make a light specifically designed to mount on a fender. It's called the Fenderbot.

As you can see by the pictures, the Fenderbot looks very similar to the RADBOT. Like the RADBOT, it has a built-in reflector and it is powered by 2 AAA batteries. Close inspection reveals that the Fenderbot isn't just a repackaged RADBOT, however. Instead of the RADBOT's myriad quick-release mounting options, the Fenderbot mounts permanently to your fender. You drill two holes in your fender and bolt the light in place. The holes in the package serve as a handy drill guide.

It took me a grand total of two minutes to mount the Fenderbot on Christine's bike. I didn't even need to dig out my drill, the reamer on my Swiss Army Knife did a fine job drilling the two necessary holes. An 8mm nut and lock washer hold the Fenderbot in place.

Like the RADBOT, the changing batteries in the Fenderbot involves loosening a single screw. This screw is right above the reflector, just below the power switch and you can change the batteries without having to unbolt the light from the fender.

The Fenderbot is bright, but not as bright as the dazzling RADBOT 1000. Still plenty visible even in daylight, but drawing less power. Based on the ratings on their respective packages (200 hours vs 50 hours) the Fenderbot draws 1/4 the power that the RADBOT requires. The Fenderbot can be set to either flash or steady but lacks the the RADBOT's fancy flash-flash-POW pattern.

The Fenderbot seems light enough that it shouldn't weigh down a fender too much. If your fenders run super close to your tires I suppose clearance for the mounting bolt could be tight but it clears fine on Christine's bike. Being bolted in place, the light looks nicely integrated with the bike and (at least in theory) a bolted down light is less likely to be stolen by some light-fingered scumbag.

You may have to hunt a bit to find a Fenderbot. It's a fairly new product and Dan at PDW tells me that at least one big bike shop supplier thought the Fenderbot was "too much of niche product" and decided not to stock it. By the way, it's disclaimer time. PDW sent me this light for review and I don't have to give it back, so make of that what you will. I've known Dan through the internet since the days back when he was at Planet Bike and I was with the Bike Alliance of Washington and he helped me get a great deal on lights for our Get Lit project. Dan and the crew at PDW are folks who ride bikes and care about the stuff they make. In my last email conversation with Dan, he was really excited about the "PDW company car" which is an Aherne Cycle Truck.

So that's the lowdown on the light. Good light, secure mounting, made by good people.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Trek Earl

Back in the old days, we scrounged parts to make our fixies. Armed with advice from Sheldon Brown, the Obi Wan of the fixie movement, I converted an old Peugeot PX-10 into a fixie and rode it damn near everywhere. I later replaced the PX-10 with a fixie Merckx that I also managed to put quite a few miles on. Bikes come and go in my life, but as near as I know both machines are still rolling down roads somewhere. And pretty much anywhere you look these days, you'll find fixed gear bikes.

Now, you don't have to build your own fixie. You can walk down to your local bike shop and buy one ready to go. The bike pictured here is the Trek Earl. I'm probably biased by working in a Trek shop, but I think it's pretty cool. The bike comes stock with a flip/flop hub so you can ride it either as a coasting single-speed or a true "it only goes when you pedal it" fixed gear. The dual top-tube not only looks funky, the gap is just the right size for carrying a U-lock. I also like that the bike doesn't fall for that "I don't need brakes" fashion and it's got decent clearances for fat tires and fenders if you want to go that way. You can even put a rack on it. It's a good, simple bike for well under $500.

Friday, August 20, 2010

For Sale: 1985 Mongoose ATB Pro

I'll make this quick. Now that the Octocog has gears, I really don't have much use for the bike pictured above. It's a classic 1985 Mongoose ATB Pro. Fully chromed frame. Seat-tube is 19" center to center. Top-tube is 22". Old-school slack geometry, makes a this great fire-road touring bike. Suntour thumb-shifters & deraillers. Suntour/Cunningham Powercam brakes. I got rid of the original wheels and the brakes now have Koolstop pads. That stuff isn't original but it works great. The bike now has coroplast fenders and a Blackburn rear rack.

I'm short on space and cash so the bike is going to finance my next human-powered, wheeled acquisition (hint, it's not a bike!)

$225. I'd prefer to sell the bike to somebody in the Seattle area, but if you have to have this bike and live elsewhere, let me know and maybe we can work something out.

Keep 'em rolling,


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Monocog is now the Octocog

While doing my long walk-push-coast through the Great Divide Basin in June, I had a lot of time to think about how I was going to rebuild my Monocog when I got back home. The Tour Divide beat the bike up pretty bad and I told the machine "When this is all done, I'm gonna get you some gears." I followed through on that promise and also touched up the worst of the paint dings. The saddle took quite a beating, including a permanent dent to one of the rails (probably from this bumpy landing), so I splurged on a brand new WTB Rocket V. Finally, since many of my miles involve local errands and tours where I may want to carry a bit more gear (things like a tent for two and the Kelly Kettle), I added a rear rack and baskets.

The rack is a Blackburn Ex-1 Disc Rear Rack which I'm sure fits fine on a 26" wheeled bike, but is too close to the tire for my comfort on a 29er. The Octocog lacks rack eyelets but I got creative with some clamps to get the rack mounted with good clearance all around.

The nifty copper baskets cost $6.71 each at the Issaquah Lowe's hardware store . I love re-purposing non-bike stuff as bike stuff. I tied the baskets to the rack with nylon parachute cord. I can strap all kinds of things into the baskets with straps I make from inner-tubes. Anything that needs to stay dry can get packed into a bag before being stuffed in the basket. My faithful RADBOT mounts nicely on the back of the left basket. A single bright rear light is plenty, but for the sake of symmetry, I'll probably add a second one soon.

The Octocog's rear wheel is new, as is the right dropout featuring the dérailleur tab. Both items came from Seattle Bike Supply. The used rear dérailleur cost $7.00 at Bike Works.

My all time favorite shifter is the old Suntour Power Thumb Shifter. I had this one in my parts stash, but I think I got it a few years ago from Bike Works for $5.00. The front handlebar bag is another bargain, a Gap kid's lunch bag that I picked up at a thrift store for $3.00.

One gear up front and eight in the back gives me a wide range of gears. After years of single-speed riding, having 8 distinct ratios at my thumbtip seems rather decadent. Sheldon Brown's handy Gear Calculator tells me that my 32 tooth chainring together with an 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 26, 32 cassette gives me a range from a high of 84.7 inches down to a low of 29.1 inches. That's plenty for me.

The Octocog is now ready for thousands of more miles of adventures. This fall I'm planning on mapping out a Tour Divide-ish route from the Canadian border to the Oregon border via the wildest parts of Washington State. Next year, Christine and I will be touring some rugged parts of Montana. I'm sure I'll manage to find some other interesting trails as well.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mrs. Mountain Turtle Goes to Carnation

Ever since I got a new tent for my birthday back in February, Kent and I have been wanting to go on a camping trip to try it out. The requisite synchronicity of our days off, good weather, and no other pressing commitments finally happened this week, so we loaded up our bikes and headed up to Tolt MacDonald Park in Carnation. Kent's Monocog has made it back from Wyoming and become an Octocog (somewhere during that 40-mile walk through the Great Basin, he promised the bike he would get it some new paint and some gears). He also got it a rack, which it failed to properly appreciate due to some tire clearance issues, so Kent has the tent, the Kelly Kettle, and most of the food in his backpack. This is hardly an equal division of labor, but given that I am going to be way slower than he is anyway, I decide not to protest too much. In the basket on the back of my Bridgestone XO-4, I have my sleeping bag and mattress, my thermos, snacks, and a rain jacket (it's a beautiful day, but the advice of tea master Sen No Rikyu -- “Be prepared for rain even if it is not raining” -- has served me well for as long as I've lived in the Pacific Northwest). I've got water and a few other things in my new CamelBak L.U.X.E., which is also being put to its first use on this trip. As we leave, I have the feeling that I am forgetting something, but I can't think of what it could be, and it's time to get going.

It's a beautiful day, clear and sunny and not too hot. We head out of Issaquah and are soon riding along on a wooded trail up to High Point. We pass a lovely spot by the creek which would be perfect for camping, but it's way too early to stop so we keep moving on up to High Point and Preston and onto the Preston-Snoqualmie trail. We come off the trail onto the Preston-Fall City Road and head towards Fall City.

It is starting to occur to me after a couple of hours of riding that I am not particularly comfortable on this saddle, and the traffic on the Preston-Fall City Road is freaking me out a little bit. A sign advertises “The Wizard of Oz” playing someplace along the way, and I think that I need a bike like the Wicked Witch of the West rides in the movie, so I can sit completely upright and spin speedily along with sinister music in the background -- minus the yappy little dog in the basket, of course. Just as I am also thinking that it ought to be close to lunchtime, Kent asks if I want a burger, and we stop at Small Fryes in Fall City. Their sign, which says “We Specialize in Grease, Salt, Sugar, and Caffeine,” clues me in that this is a not-a-nutritional-role-model kind of place. We park the bikes and enjoy the day's special -- cheeseburger, fries, and pop (orange soda for Kent, root beer for me) -- at a picnic table outside. I dig out my trail mix and we eat M&Ms for dessert. In the interest of full disclosure, there are also walnuts and cranberries in the mix, which are supposed to be good for you. I'm not much of a nutritional role model either, but I did a good job of keeping up appearances during all those years of being responsible for feeding two kids.

Fortified by lunch, we continue on to the Snoqualmie Valley trail, which is shady and flat, the best riding of the entire trip. There are signs announcing recent bear sightings. I note that Kent does not have his bear bell and ask if we should sing (his back-up method for keeping bears away). He doesn't think so, and I'm not sure whether to be anxious or relieved. But the ride is very pleasant and bear-free, and we come off the trail and double back a short way along the road to the campground, walking our bikes in over the bridge to our campsite. Kent goes to register and comes back with the news that our lovely wooded, secluded site is known as “Mosquitoville.” It is living up to its name and I now realize what I have forgotten – insect repellent! We set up the tent, eager to have a bug-free zone.

The tent is a Big Agnes Seedhouse 2. We wanted an ultralight tent that would be easy to set up, and that is what we got. The tent is 6.5 x 16 in. packed and weighs just 3 lbs. 6 oz. Its aluminum 3-pole system makes for a very quick and easy set-up, and little plastic clips attach the frame to the body. The woven nylon mesh construction ventilates well and we can see outside, above and around on all four sides. It comes with a rain fly but the weather is clear and we don't bother to attach it. With interior measuring 84x52, 38 inches high in the center, the tent would probably be too cramped for anyone very tall or very large, but we were very comfortable, and we both agree that this is a great tent.

We stretch out our sleeping bags. Kent dozes off for a nap, and I am glad just to rest, looking up at the trees. I can see and hear the mosquitoes, but they can't get us. Eventually, though, we have to emerge from the tent and fire up the Kelly Kettle to make supper. The wood smoke helps ward off the bugs, but even as we are feasting on macaroni and cheese, delicious little tins of smoked trout from Trader Joe's, chocolate, and hot beverages, the mosquitoes are feasting on us. Pants and socks do not deter these nasty little bugs in the least. My Salomon Whisper Midlayer Jacket, which was absolutely perfect on the trail and is still warm and cozy, does a better job of discouraging them but offers no protection for hands or face. Finally we bag up our remaining food and tie it up in a tree, less concerned about bears than raccoons. I see raccoons a lot at home and enjoy watching them, but I will not be amused if they eat our breakfast. We settle into the tent for the night, and soon it's dark except for the occasional glow of Kent's Peek Pronto telling him he has email, which he, being a smart man, chooses to ignore.

I wake up in the morning to the sound of loud cawing and squawking, sleepily wondering if someone has sent the Flying Monkeys after us. But it's just some crows poking around our campsite, probably looking for food. A bag in a tree is not going to be a problem for them and if they find it they will probably pull it apart and make a mess. We get up and get to our food before they do, firing up the Kelly Kettle again for cocoa and coffee, and breaking out bagels, granola bars, Spam, and more chocolate. We take down the tent, pack up, and are on our way around 10:30.

At this point, you need to understand that even though I am married to the Mountain Turtle, I am really not much of a bike rider, and certainly not a “mountain biker.” I walk just about everywhere I go, working, shopping, running errands, taking yoga classes, exploring trails on Tiger Mountain, meeting up with friends, going to church, and so forth all within a 2-mile radius of our home in downtown Issaquah. The last time I rode any distance at all was on Kent and Christine's Excellent Yurt Adventure back in October of 2008. And now, back on the trail, I am realizing that riding over 20 miles yesterday, much of it bouncing around off-road, after being off my bike for over a year, is probably not the smartest thing I have ever done. I am also convinced that the saddle on my bike definitely needs adjusting and probably needs replacing. Yesterday's minor discomfort has morphed into painful soreness today, and I end up taking ibuprofen and walking several short sections of the trail. Kent moves the saddle forward a bit for me, which is marginally less uncomfortable for sitting but leaves me feeling scrunched and puts more weight on my hands. My left hand is tingling and two fingers are numb by the time we make it back into Fall City and once again stop for lunch.

As we head out again, the road back to the trail has a lot more traffic on it than I would like. A giant truck comes up behind me just as I approach a big bunch of blackberry bushes sticking out into the shoulder. I can't stop, and opt to ride into the thorny bushes rather than into the path of the truck -- a good choice all in all, but the hand that was not tingling is now scratched and bleeding. As we pass bus stops along the road I fantasize about throwing my bike on the MT 209 back to Issaquah. But I really don't want to end our trip that way, so I keep on going, and eventually I am once again walking, this time on the steep climb up to the Preston-Snoqualmie trail. Kent and the Octocog are walking along behind me. It feels wonderful to be back on the trail, in the shade and quiet of the forest, away from all the cars and trucks roaring past. I clean off my hand, relegate physical issues to the “problems to be solved in the future” category, and enjoy the beauty of sunlight filtering through the green of moss-covered trees as we settle into the gentle climb back up to Preston.

We decide to ride along the shoulder of I-90 from Preston to High Point rather than deal with the traffic on the Frontage road. As we catch glimpses of the traffic backed up on the road, Kent proclaims himself a genius for thinking of this. It is noisy on the freeway but there is plenty of room to ride, and we're soon back on the trail down to Issaquah, under the trees. Kent spots a garter snake on the trail and we stop to admire it and watch it slither off into the woods.

We're soon home again, where I rest and drink lots of ice water, and reflect on something I have known for a long time, which is that I definitely married well. Although this distance is nothing for Kent, he never gets impatient with me for being slow or struggling, or leaves me in the dust just because he could. He shows me beautiful places and wonderful creatures and feeds me cheeseburgers and plans adjustments for my bike and enjoys taking way too many pictures of me and tells me I'm doing great even when my pace would make even the slowest of turtles look downright speedy. The best part of a great trip was getting to go on it with my best friend, and if “There's no place like home” it's because it's our home and we get to share it every single day. Home for me is wherever we are, and I'm looking forward to more adventures.