Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Trek Belleville: This Is Not A Review

I work at a great little bike shop here in Issaquah called the Bicycle Center. Bicycle Center is a Trek bicycle dealer, so I get to build up, test ride, and work on a whole lot of Trek bikes. We also work on other bikes and over the years I've worked in a range of shops where I've worked on and sold a wide variety of bikes. But I'm certainly not an unbiased reviewer and this is not an unbiased review. Got it? Good!

The Trek Belleville is not a bike for racing around, it's a bike for getting around. The Belleville is a product of Trek's Eco Design effort and I've seen enough behind-the-scenes stuff to know that this isn't just some token corporate green-washing PR thing. For example, when the Bellevilles or any of the other Eco series bikes come into the shop, they are packed not with the industry-standard foam & zip-ties but with string and reusable bags to protect the parts and lots of recycled cardboard. And that's the stuff the customer pretty much never sees. Which, I guess, is why I'm telling you this now. It's a cool facet of these bikes.

By the way, if you need a box to ship a bike somewhere, check your local bike shop. Any shop that deals in new bikes will probably have boxes and packing material they'll be happy to give away. And if your local shop is a Trek dealer, try to get an Eco series box & packing stuff. It's really nice.

The Belleville comes with fenders, racks, chain guard, a kickstand and generator lights. This is not the norm for bikes in the US market, where light weight tends to be a major selling point, shops make money selling accessories and a lot of customers enjoy making choices of what accessories they get. The Belleville is what it is. And what it is, with all that stuff on it and a steel frame, is heavy. Not insanely heavy, but it's sure no Madone!

While the go fast crowd won't have any interest in the Belleville, I also know that the retro & utility bike purists will find nits to pick about this bike. Some will bemoan the lack of a lugged frame, some will wish for a different rake on the front fork, some will complain that the 3-speed hub has too few gears. My main complaints with the bike involve the lack of adjust-ability in the handlebars, the kind-of-weird-looking recycling-friendly seat and the unusual curve of the top-tube on the men's model. But no one bike is perfect for everyone and I think it's wonderful that Trek makes a bike like the Belleville.

With an MSRP of $659.99, I think the Belleville is a very good value for somebody looking for a complete city bike. Here are links to a couple of real reviews of the bike:

Car Free Philly: Original Review & Update

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Better to Light a Single Candle

The old proverb advises that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. That's the spirit behind programs like Get Lit and while I've been involved in various organized versions of Get Lit, I also like doing my bit as an individual, one on one. I'm a sucker for a deal on a batch of lights cheap enough that even a poor bike mechanic can afford to give away. Forty lights shipped to my house for about what I'd pay for a single light is a good deal in my book. Yeah, they're cheap and one of them was DOA and I'm not quite sure what I'll do with the blue and green ones (turn signals on my fingers maybe?) but they are light and I'll pack some in my bags to give away to unlit riders and walkers.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Riding in the Ice & Snow

It snowed last night in the Puget Sound area and everybody freaked out. If you don't have any place you need to go, the smart thing to do when the weather turns bad is to hunker down and stay put. Even if you have perfect control, perfect traction and perfect reflexes, there are a lot of folks out there piloting big metal boxes of momentum down slippery streets and things get real messy, real fast. We closed up the bike shop early and I walked the four blocks to home like I always do.

This morning, however, it's like a holiday. The schools and a bunch of businesses are closed, a lot of folks are out on foot most of those driving seem to be driving quite cautiously. The sky is blue, the sun is bright and the air is cold. Snow is everywhere.

My bike is the one I've built up for days like this, a low-ratio fixed gear with big platform pedals and carbide-studded tires. The tires crunch wonderfully through the snow and the studs grab solidly on the ice. At the bridge over the creek I see a pair of ducks with their down puffed up against the cold.

I puff up my own warm layer, pause to take another picture and see my breath crystallize in the in the blue light of the morning. I roll on toward the grocery store, to the other errands, to the rest of the day.

It's a good day to ride.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Broken Rim Mystery

It was a dark and stormy night...

Really, it was. It was a Monday evening in November. The wind was whipping the orange and yellow leaves off the trees and the wind was howling up the valley. The lights in the shop had flickered ominously several times, but it so far the power was still holding and the phones were still working. It was the kind of night where I'm glad that my current commute is only four blocks long.

One service we don't offer at our bike shop is on the road pick up, but when the call came in the fellow on the other end of the line sounded so soaked, stranded and stuck I told him I'd see what we could do. As luck would have it Chris, one of our off-duty mechanics, lives not far from where this guy was broken down and Chris happened to be home, happened to answer the phone when I called him and happened to have a truck big enough to bring man and bike back into Issaquah on this particular dark and stormy night.

What stranded man and bike wasn't a routine puncture, it was a rim blowout. I've written previously about rim blowouts, but they are usually caused by the rim being thinned by braking. In this case, the rim failed at the rim wear indicator but this bike uses disk rather than rim brakes, so the rim should not be subject to any wear at the rim. The bike's owner tells me that this is the second rim failure he's had on this bike in the year or so that he's owned it. Rather than having his recumbent shop replace the rim again with the same thing, he's opting to have us rebuild the wheel with what we all hope will be a stronger rim. The new rim has no wear indicator, and stronger construction. Since the new rim has a different E.R.D., we're replacing all the spokes as well.

The mystery of why this bike is blowing out rims is still a mystery. I have theory, but I'm posting this story and a couple of photos here in the hopes that folks might say "oh, I've seen this before" or "I bet this is what's going on."

The bike is a Rans Cruz semi-recumbent and it has a Bionix electric rear wheel. The design of the bike puts a lot of weight on the back of the bike. The wheel weighs about 16 lbs and the battery (which the customer took with him and I didn't get a chance to weigh) rides on a rack right above the rear wheel. Most of the rider's weight is carried by the rear wheel and the electric motor puts out a lot of torque.

My best working theory (which is really just a wild-ass guess) is that the combined weight and torque is placing a greater stresses on the rim than what an unassisted rider would generate on a conventional bike. Unsprung weight over the rear wheel means that every bump transfers more pressure via the tire bead to the rim. The wear indicator on the existing rim not only serves no positive function on a bike with disk brakes, the groove of the wear indicator actually creates a stress riser in the rim. Over time, the combined stresses lead to a blowout.

So like a Stephen King mystery that I bothered me a lot when I read it but I still sticks in my head, I have a problem and a theory but no certain solution. We've got a rim and spokes on order and we'll lace 'em up, advise running a bit lower pressure in the tire and hope for the best. I guess that's how life goes. We never get all the answers but we get interesting questions.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, November 14, 2010

As if you live in the early days of a better nation

When I was a kid, I biked to school. These days, lots of people will tell you that kids don't bike to school because it's too dangerous. While it is true that these are dangerous days, giving in to fear doesn't make things safer. Parents driving their kids to school instead of letting them walk, bike or take the bus puts even more cars on the road. It may be that the greatest risk to a child is being struck by the vehicle of well-intentioned parent dropping their child off at school.

I have to add that "may be" qualifier to this post because I've been unable to find hard data to back up an oft-used quote (I've used it myself) that "Fifty percent of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by vehicles driven by parents of other students." Here is a link to a 2004 article containing that quote, but while it's a good sound-bite, there is no link to data. The people at PolitiFact are are better at digging than I am and they came up empty. The 50% stat may in fact be true or the real number could be higher or lower, but I'm going to stop using that line when I talk to people about safety and cycling. I'll still champion the position that we're safer with fewer cars around schools but I'll manage to work towards that goal without a nifty quote that I can't back up.

While we like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, choosing the wisest course of action based on logic and data, we have big blind spots in our thought processes. The phenomena of illusory superiority (sometimes called the Lake Wobegon Effect) causes us to discount the dangers we add to a situation and amplify the perceived dangers that we think of as "out of our control". A child on a bus is much safer than a child in their parents car (OK, I've got a link for this one!) but because we have this tendency to think of ourselves as above average, we're certainly not adding to the problem by driving to school or work or whatever.

But we are. I read the comments that come into this blog and I try to think about them. I sure don't have all the answers and when somebody disagrees with me, I try to look at their point. Sometimes I wind up changing my view. Sometimes I wind up changing my approach. Sometimes I wind up restating my position or asking for a clarification. Recently, in a comment to a post of mine titled "Life'll Kill Ya" a commenter who owns a company that makes bikes in Portland Oregon "a Platinum-level bike friendly community" concluded his thought-filled comment with the words "if I had my way, I would force my employees to drive cars for their own safety and my peace of mind."

I disagree with that commenter, but I understand his viewpoint. I certainly disagree with his idea of "forcing" people to behave in accordance with his view of risk. I also have to wonder if he "had his way" would that in any way make the streets of Portland safer or better for his employees? I certainly believe his concern is genuine, but I also believe that our actions build our world.

It's natural and good to be concerned for others, our friends, our employees, our kids, but with we can easily over-fear and often we fear the wrong things. I'm not certain of enough my own assessments of risk and reward to compel anyone to do anything my way. But I ride my bike and I'll continue to suggest that riding bikes is a good way to make the world a better place in which to live.

My favorite Glasgow pedestrian, Alasdair Gray, is fond of saying, "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." The kids in Oak Cliff are doing just that with bicycles and root beer floats. I think that's something worth doing.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Barb Chamberlain: Bikes Will Save the World

The format of an Ignite presentation is short and simple. Participants are given five minutes to speak on a subject accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced. In the presentation above, Spokane's Barb Chamberlain fills her five minutes with humor and positive energy to show why she knows that bikes can save the world (or at least make it a better place).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rumble Strips Can Be Done Right!

Rumble strips are those milled lines at the edge of the road designed to alert a drowsy or inattentive driver that they are drifting off the road. It's a safety mechanism designed to save lives. Unfortunately, in many locations when rumble strips are placed on the road they effectively make it impossible to safely cycle along the shoulder of the road. In my tour of Washington State a few years ago I'd often see rumble strips that looked like this:

I've seen worse examples, where the rumble strip covers every inch of the width of the shoulder. But things don't have to be this way.

Rumble strips can be built into a road in a way that lets them serve their warning function and keeps the almost the entire width of the shoulder usable for cyclists. Here is a photo from a section of SR-507, also in Washington State:

The rumble strips on SR-507 are built into the fog and center lines, effectively leaving the full width of the shoulder available to the cyclist. In addition, every dozen feet or so there are gaps in the rumble strips enabling cyclists to move from the shoulder to the traffic lane. Much of the time on a country road like this, the shoulder is the best place to ride, but a cyclist might have to merge into the traffic lane to get ready to make a left turn or to avoid some debris and it's good to see a road design that recognizes the legitimate needs of non-motorized road users.

Rumble strips can be done right. A page at www.rumblestrips.com (yes darn near everything has a page on the internet!) has some good information and documents describing how to implement rumble strips in such a way as to enhance the safety of all road users.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bicycle Advocacy: Allies Are More Exasperating Than Enemies.

Last night I left work early and rode into Seattle to hear Mia Birk talk about her wonderful and inspiring book, Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet. I could tell you that Mia is a wonderful speaker (she is) or that her book is a lovely collection of inspiring stories and you should rush out an buy it (it is and you should) or that riding at night in the city is peaceful and liberating and one of the great joys in this world (it is). Since I've just told you those things very briefly, I'll speak now at greater length of controversy, energy, passion and hatred. I'm speaking, of course, of the world of Bicycle Advocacy.

Last night's event was hosted by the Cascade Bicycle Club. Cascade is the largest bike club in the U.S. Cascade members host rides every day and the club does a wide range of things to promote cycling in the Puget Sound area. They work on making trails and streets safer for cyclists, bring great speakers like Mia to our city, lobby for cyclist rights and do a host of other things to make our area a better place to ride.

At the moment a lot of people are very worked up about what the club is doing, what the club should be doing, what certain people are or are not doing and so on. The club Board of Directors and the club's long serving Executive Director, Chuck Ayers, had a dramatic parting a few weeks back which generated a lot of heated discussion, actions and counter-action. I tried to find an unbiased accounting of events to give you some background as to what this is all about, but it's kind of like flipping between FOX News and MSNBC in hopes of finding something "fair and balanced."

This article at Crosscut: Culture clash divides the Cascade Bicycle Club, sums things up pretty well, while my friend Eric over at Tubulocity goes right for the sensational headline with his: Leadership of largest bicycle club in America overthrown in bloodless coup. The Seattle Times take on events is presented in an article titled: Politics, friction reshape influential Cascade Bicycle Club. If you're at all interested in such things I encourage you to follow the links I've posted above and I'm sure if you Google around you'll find some other stories on this topic. And you'll probably shake your head like I did and say "wow, what a mess."

I'm mentioning Cascade's woes because I think they illustrate a truth, something I've discovered in my years of working as a bike advocate in various roles and in various organizations. The truth of the matter is that when you work to promote something you will find that a huge percentage of your energy and time goes not into arguing against your foes, but in discussing technique and focus with your allies. I could list dozens of examples and perhaps if I was getting paid by the word here I would, but I assume that both your attention and my time is finite so I'll stop at a few stories to illustrate my point.

Last night before Mia's talk I saw my friend Brad walking through the bike department of REI. Brad was fired up and he's firmly in the "the board went too far and they are out of touch with the membership and should be recalled" camp. Brad's got a petition and I think if he can get enough signatures he'll show that he's got a point. I also think he's got a right to rabble-rouse. A few minutes later I meet another of my friends, Gary, and Gary clearly stated his view that "your friend Brad is dead effing wrong on this board thing." Gary goes on to express that starting a new board from zero would be a huge effort and you know how hard it is to recruit board members and, well, Gary makes some good points. And that's my point, it's complicated, it's work and it's effort and it's not really making it easier for another cyclist to get to work or making Stone Way any safer. And it's a microcosm of what happens in advocacy groups every day.

When I worked at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington there were countless conversations of the form "I can't believe you are working on X and not Y!" The Alliance had a board member resign when the Alliance backed the county-wide mandatory cycling helmet law. I use a helmet but don't favor helmet laws but that wasn't a personal deal-breaker for my working for and with the Alliance. But friction points abound in the cycling world. Many "vehicular cyclists" argue loudly against bike lanes and paths. People debate the efficacy and value of groups like Critical Mass. Here's an example from the U.K. of one cyclist blasting another's attempt to promote cycling.

In any effort involving more than one person there will be conflicts. It's not at all amazing that a 13,000 member group like Cascade will, it would be astounding if it didn't. What is remarkable is that despite the intensity of views on all sides of this issue, the club still functions. Every day volunteers are out there leading rides. Staff members are still going to work, making things better bit by bit for cyclists in Seattle. Cascade brought Mia Birk here to Seattle to tell us that if we keep at it, bit by bit, things will get better. Even while we put up with the efforts of our friends, who we are sure are misguided. Those friends are just as sure that we're the mistaken ones.

Last year Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (the Puget Sound's big mountain bike club) went through its own drama and still managed to open up Duthie Hill, get a ton of trail work done on Grand Ridge and countless other things. We cannot, should not, put aside our passions, for our passions and our beliefs are what drive us. We'll drive our friends crazy when they realize we don't think exactly like them. And they'll drive us crazy in return. But somehow, we'll muddle through. Maybe someone changes someone else's mind or maybe we just disagree. Maybe we'll go for a bike ride or maybe we'll take a break. I don't have the answers. But I do know that very often my allies are more exasperating than my enemies.

Something unites us, a brother-and-sister-hood of the wheel. We balance and wobble and yell at each other but we love something with many spokes. Wheels hold their shape through tension. We do our best to do the same.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lighten Up!

In most of the U.S. we set the clocks back an hour last night. I've never been a fan of this biannual assault on circadian rhythms but I figure I'll use the extra pseudo hour I've been given (by the same chrono-criminals who stole it from me last spring!) to once more urge, suggest, cajole and recommend that those of you reading this who have occasion to be out on darkened streets could take a few moments to reflect (pun intended!) on how visible you are to the other creatures of the night.

My wife will tell you that I'm somewhat obsessed with lighting. Over the years, I've collected lots of various lights, some that run on batteries, some that generate light via the rotation of the wheel. I'm not going to get into a discussion of Light A vs Light B, Generators vs Batteries or Reflectors vs Lights here. I am going to say that lights serve two main purposes, allowing you to see and allowing you to be seen. That second purpose allowing you to be seen is extremely important and while reflectors don't do a damn thing in terms of lighting your way they can (sometimes) aid in making others see you.

Bike lights and blinkies keep getting better. LED efficiencies go up every year and today's $10 blinkie is brighter and lasts longer than the blinkie you bought two years ago. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris in 1999, most of us had lighting systems we home-brewed with big battery packs and spare batteries we sent ahead in drop bags. Today I have a brighter, better light that can run all night on 2 AA batteries. A blinkie like the Planet Bike Super Flash or the PDW RadBot is visible even in daylight and sips power from a pair of AAA cells. Rechargeable batteries are a lot better these days, and I recharge my light batteries with little solar chargers.

While reflectors themselves are not enough, reflective tape on your bike or clothing is an inexpensive way to increase your odds of being seen. Reflective bits on your ankles, pedals and wheels are especially eye-catching because motion increases the odds that they'll intersect and reflect a light source. A reflective sash (see photo above) adds a broad stripe of visibility to any outfit.

Even if you think you are well-lit, please take a moment to revisit your visibility. It gets dark every night and if you have a friend with a car, have them point their headlights at you some night as you ride. What do they see? If no lights are shining on you as you ride through the night, what do people see? Ask yourself these questions now and then. The life you save may be your own.

If you have old lights that you're not using, pass them on to someone who can use them. Every bit can help. If your local community doesn't have a program like Get Lit, you can start one, even if it's just you giving away one light. The dark times are the best times to let your light shine.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Friday, November 05, 2010

What We Do When We Do Our Best

Five years ago today, I wrote these words:
"OK, let's see how this blogging thing goes."
At the time, I had only a vague notion of what I might write next and no idea of what twists and turns might lie on the path ahead. Today, I have only a vague notion of what I might write next and no idea of what twists and turns might lie on the path ahead. But I don't need to know the whole path, heck I don't want to know the whole path. I've got what I need to get going, the reason to turn the pedal over at least one more time. Stick around and I might get around to telling you about it. Maybe. As I said, I'm not really sure where this is going.

I have two very neat machines here. One is simple and amazing. A couple of wheels, some pedals. A bit of chain. A part you sit on and a part you hang on to. Here's the weird thing, though: It only works when it's going. You've got to put some faith into it, roll past a bit of fear and a lot of uncertainty. You give it a little push of your motion, catch your breath when you are sure you are about to fall but still follow it into that fall. And the bike rolls under the very spot you were about to fall into and you learn something magical, something called balance. And your world will never be as small as it was before. You've grown wheels that feel just like wings.

The other machine is complex and amazing. Wires and electrons and keyboards and all the glowing screens in all the coffee shops in all the world. Servers in cold rooms and satellites in space and light running through fibers. An encyclopedia written by everybody with a keyboard, a place where damn near anybody can publish and damn near everybody does. We've built the world's biggest and best copy machine and we mostly use it to forward bad jokes and send pictures of cats doing dumb things. We are the most stupid, cute, wonderful, amazing creatures on earth. If cats invented the internet, they'd be forwarding a billion pictures of us doing dumb things.

I use the internet to do a very little thing, a tiny thing, a trivial thing. I call it Kent's Bike Blog. Note the lack of global scope. I don't write about the entire world, I just write about bike stuff that interests me. I try to keep it to bikes, but I don't always succeed. If I was just writing it for me, I'd write it in a notebook and lock it away, but I write it on the internet so I reckon I must be thinking I have something to say to folks. I try to be somewhat interesting or useful in some way.

I've been quieter here lately for several reasons. One is Twitter, which provides a 140 character outlet for the "hey look at that" pointers that previously might expand to fill blog post. Another reason for silence is that given by David Byrne, "Say something once, why say it again?" I've written a lot of words over the past five years and on some subjects I figure I've said enough. But the final reason is that sometimes you have to be quiet to figure something out. I've been trying to figure out if I've said all I need to say or if maybe the words should go in a book or a tweet or some other venue.

I've written previously about a formative experience I had in the open spaces of Wyoming that showed me that we do indeed get what we need. I was blessed enough to get a reminder a few hours ago from an internet friend, a woman who wrote not just of her fear, but her desire to ride past that fear. She wrote not only to ask for help, but she wrote to help. And Hollie, this may surprise you, but your post really, really, helped me. Thank you.

Hollie reminded me that we pedal forward, not because we know what lies ahead or because we do not fear, we pedal because we love to pedal and we suspect there is something down the trail we need to find.

I've found beauty in quiet places and friends I know only through pixels. I've crashed into gates I didn't see, walked when I couldn't pedal and retreated for home when I know deep down I could have lost two days and kept going. But sometimes you have to stop, be quiet, go home, regroup and refill. And then you get an answer. Not the whole answer, but enough. Just a bit. The thing that brings you back to the only path you can possibly travel.

When we do our best, we seldom have that clean, clear certainty that we are doing our best. We are only doing what we can. I think I have a few more things to say here, things about riding and living and rolling around this beautiful world on two wheels.

For now I'll just say thanks, thanks to Hollie and all the rest of you who read Kent's Bike Blog and help me keep 'em rolling.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA