Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Allant: Trek's Best Bicycle?

I work at the Bicycle Center here in Issaquah and we sell Trek bicycles. Trek makes a wide range of bikes, from carbon Madones that go really fast when some guy named Lance is riding them to the laid back Pure cruisers with wides seats and cushy tires. And Trek makes mountain bikes, kids bikes, sport-fitness bikes, the classic 520 touring bike, commuter bikes and well, we've got a pretty good sized shop and we don't even come close to having enough space to stock every bike that Trek makes. We can order anything Trek has in their warehouses and have it in a shop in a week, but like any business we have to pick and choose what we have in stock and on display.

We have one spot in our shop that is the prime spot -- the front window display. And there is one bike that owns that spot -- the olive green women's Allant. Trek did something very, very right with this bike. It's a women's bike that's not pink or purple. The bike is pretty but not overly girly. The Allant is a practical city bike with a light aluminum frame and a good range of gears so it works well in our hilly part of the world. The tires are a good width for city streets or a gravel bike path. It comes with real metal fenders, a front rack and and kickstand. It is both comfortable and fun to ride. And pretty much as fast as I can build them up, they roll out the door. At less than $600, it's a good bike at a great price. And yes, I'm biased. I sell Allants. I sell a lot of them.

I've seen women drag their husbands into our shop, point them at the Allant and say "this is what I want." When we don't have the Allant in the window, we have women coming into the shop asking "where did that bike go?" I even had one woman say "where did my bike go?" She'd been saving up and was thrilled when I told her I was building up another Allant.

We tend to stock the 15" framed Allant, which works well for women from 5 feet to 5 foot six or so. We order in bigger models for taller women, but it is so nice to have a bike in stock that works for a small adult. Iruru, who is pictured at the top of this post, is five foot nothing. See the smile on her face? I see a similar smile on the face of almost every woman who tries the Allant.

The men's Allant is similar but it's black and comes with a rack on the rear instead of a front. The men's version is a very good bike and it sells well, but the men's Allants don't fly out the door the way the women's bike does.

I'm thrilled that bikes like the Allants exist. For too long it seemed like the entire bike industry had plenty to sell you if you wanted to race on the road or thrash bomb down a mountain but nothing if you wanted to ride to the store, ride with your kid or go to the coffee shop. Trek makes a bike that's great for the kind of biking that a lot of people do every day. It's called the Allant.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wireless Cycle Computers and Interference

Today a customer came into the shop complaining that his cycle computer was giving wild readings whenever he turned his LED headlight on in flash mode. "Yep," I said, "it's RF interference. I've seen wireless computers freak out under power lines and by the anti-theft scanners at store doorways as well. The internet knows about it." The customer had tried his own search plugging in the names of his cycle computer and light together with the word "interference" and had come up empty but a quick "RF interference cycle computer" brought up pages of results showing a variety of lights and computers exhibiting the problem.

The customer was less than thrilled with my initial idea of making a little foil shield but Mike managed to make the computer behave by moving it to a location on the handlebars further from the light. Poking through a few of the pages revealed by the internet search revealed a few interesting tidbits.
  • Wired computers pretty much don't have this problem.
  • The newer, fancier cycle computers using the ANT+ digital protocol don't seem to have this problem.
  • There are still idiots on the internet and a lot of wrong info.
The final bullet point is illustrated by the page at:

The question asked is:

Is it true that wireless bike computers don't work if you have LED lights?

and the group wisdom is:

No it doesn't happen and the logic seems to be: I've never seen it, therefore it doesn't happen. My favorite is the guy who adds "Source(s): 6 years as professional bicycle mechanic."

We could apply this "logic" elsewhere. For example, I've traveled for 30 years and never been to Portugal, therefore Portugal does not exist. Or, I've ridden a thousand miles and never had a flat tire, therefore flat tires don't exist.

So, doing my bit to add a bit of signal to the noise that is our beloved internet, I'm posting these words:

Some LED lights when flashing do interfere with some wireless cycle computers. I've seen it. If it happens to you, try increasing the distance between your computer and your light or maybe work up a shield or switch to a different cycle computer.

And remember, no matter where you are or what time it is, someone is wrong on the internet.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Plural of Anecdote...

My blog pal Vik posted some interesting thoughts on safety over at his blog and I strongly suggest you read through his post. Now you may or may not agree with what Vik has to say but he's a thoughtful guy and he's very open to the possibility that not everyone will agree with him 100% of the time on 100% of what he says.

I actually agree with Vik a very large percentage of the time and I certainly agree with the bulk of his latest post but I'm going to pick at a nit that I don't think is a nit. I think this nit is actually key to explaining why certain subjects like helmet use and helmet laws or segregated cycle paths and vehicular cycling seem to generate vast amounts of conversation and passion, yet very few people ever actually seem to change their minds on these matter based on these conversations.

I think the problem is in the understanding of the anecdote. Vik describes people who "quote a statistically invalid anecdote to support their un-logic" and then, like the good engineer that he is, he trots out his better data. And he may toss in some anecdotes of his own, like the story of his cousin's wife who died on her first attempt at sky-diving. But he's using that as an example of a personal, invalid data-point he's tossed out, because he's logical and logic is better.

And that, I think is the crux of the problem. Because the data that's out there, the data that matters, is not the data on the efficacy of helmets or probabilities of a cyclist being struck from behind. The data that matters is what has been learned about how human beings assess risk, react when startled, and most importantly, make decisions. We do not, in general, use data to make rational decisions. We use data to rationalize what we have already decided. This may not be logical, but it is very human.

The phrase often used to dismiss anecdotes is the infamous line "the plural of anecdote is not data." The interesting back story to that quote reveals that the original line actually was the opposite "the plural of anecdote is data" but I'd argue that the plural of anecdote is narrative. Narrative is how we structure our lives. Our brains do not retain data, our brains retain stories.

Every human society has a story-telling tradition going back thousands of years and while I certainly will not dismiss the accomplishments of logic and engineering, I think that those who dismiss the anecdotal, dismiss too much. Engineers may dismiss anecdotes, but people remember anecdotes every day, retell them and propagate them. Data sits in tables and appendices to reports. Anecdotes roam and rule the world.

I think Vik is certainly right about fear and the culture of fear. Too many scary stories are being retold every day. For data to effectively counter the fear, data is not enough. We need to tell a story, a compelling story that will be remembered, saved and propagated. Data should support this compelling story, but data alone is not enough.

I have no cease-fire for the helmet wars and I'm not going to tell you what color jacket to buy. And I've got a little library of data and reports that I dig into now and then. When asked about safety I still tend to point people the very handy website How Not To Get Hit By Cars. And when someone tells me of their fear or tells me some scary story, I try, I really try, to listen. And then, most often, I tell them some story. It usually involves someone being happy on a bike.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jackfruit by David E.X.N. Nghiem: A Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of Jackfruit by the author at no charge.

Why we do what we do is one of the core questions in the heart of each of us. In the case of David Nghiem, he finds himself drawn to Latin America with his bicycle on a journey that he chronicles in his book Jackfruit. An engineer by training, Nghiem has experiences and finds evidence that contradict the common views of history and technology. His attempts to find meaning in symbols, to visit ancient sites and to learn how the people of today live in this part of the world, form a narrative of highs and lows and some questions that remain unanswered. While this book may be too mystical for some, I have no doubt that it is a sincere representation of the author's experience.

Nghiem describes the terrain, the hardships, the artifacts and the people, but the bulk of the story is carried on in conversations. In Peru, for example:
"Why did you come here David?"

I looked at him. Ernesto now had a strange, searching, expression that I hadn't seen before on his face.

"You know, that's the same question my father asked me before I went. I told him - I told him that I didn't know. I just had to go."

Ernesto smiled. "It is always that way. The legend of Paititi is that only those who are selected may see the city. Otherwise, it appears and disappears at will, confusing those who are not worthy. It is for those who come here beyond their own will."

Beyond their own will? What the hell... I started to get a strange buzz up my back. It's the kind of feeling I would get whenever something major was up.

"David, do you think you are the "Escogido'?"


"The name the old Quechua woman called you was Acclhaska. Do you know what it means?"

"It means searcher, right?"

"No... it means 'Chosen One'."

At times Jackfruit certainly reads like an episode of the X-files, with unexplained lights and electrical storms whipping in from nowhere the instant a magical talisman is accidentally destroyed. But, to extend the X-files comparison, Nghiem is more a skeptical Scully than a willing Mulder who wants to believe.

While Nghiem goes to interesting places and has some interesting conversations, in too many places his writing is awkward. Nghiem has a knack for including too much detail in some places and not nearly enough in others. I know, for example, how many times he had to run to the bathroom one night, but I have no idea of the contents of his panniers. In trying to convey an idea of the size of the 200 ton stones of the temple ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Nghiem writes the following:
To present a relationship, the US aircraft carrier Nimitz weighs about 97,000 tons, the battleship New Jersey is 15,000 tons, a typical destroyer class ship is 5-7000 tons, and a 4 story nuclear reactor can be 670 tons.
Despite the mind-numbing level of detail in that sentence, I reached the end of it with no real idea of the size of those stones. Perhaps a good old-fashioned comparison such as "big as a house" would've been better in this instance.

While some paragraphs are smothered in detail, in other places the book reads as if vital bits of information have been left out. One night, after encountering "Dead, hacked opened, mutilated and gutted bodies of dogs, at least eight or nine of them laid on the road, and their guts were all over the place", Nghiem makes it to a hostel. That night "the woman's warning, and the memory of the dead dogs haunted me." While a few paragraphs earlier I'd gotten a flashback of Nghiem's parent's experiences in Vietnam, I vainly flipped back through pages looking for the woman's warning. I never found it.

I have no reason to doubt Nghiem's veracity when recounting the local people's distaste for various vile practices of the World Bank and the U.S. government, but perhaps too many of the books 400 odd pages are spent in diatribes against imperialist corporations. What hostility there is towards gringos is never expressed towards Nghiem, however. He makes friends and works very hard to learn Spanish after an amusing and awkward experience with a young woman in Peru. At the beginning of the book, he knew only about 80 words of Spanish, but by the end, he is fluent.

The best parts of Jackfruit are the people. Nghiem is befriended by the man who designed Thor Heyerdahl's boat, the national bicycle champion of Honduras, Peace Corp workers and a remarkable boy with Down's Syndrome. The true friendships Nghiem forms shine through in the pages of Jackfruit.

Jackfruit is not a how-to manual that will tell you how to tour Latin America and there are far more questions asked than answered within it's pages. It is by no means a perfect book, Nghiem is still more an engineer than a writer and despite some strong scenes and moving passages, the book feels unfinished. But all our journeys ultimately only take us a bit further along the road and we are not here to be perfect, but to be human. At it's core, Jackfruit is a very human story.

You can read more reviews of Jackfruit on Amazon and you can read more about Jackfruit and David Nghiem's latest adventures at:

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cateye Loop & Orbit Bike Lights

I often say that bike lights serve two important functions: helping you see where you are going and helping others see you. While on a dark, lonely trail or road a good headlight (I use and like the Planet Bike Blaze) is needed to light your way and reveal what might be lurking in the darkness, on a city street or a foggy path a lights main function is to make sure that you are not the one lurking in the darkness. That is where small, simple lights like the Cateye Loop and Orbit are handy.

These Cateye lights are what I call "be seen" lights. They are bright, cast a wide beam and they are eye-catching. Last Saturday was damp and grey and drizzly (hey, it's March in Seattle, what do you expect). I didn't need lights to see by, but I did turn on my Cateye loop lights, so my bike and I would be more visible in the gloom.

Like pretty much every Cateye product I've ever used, these lights seem quite well made. Both the Loop and the Orbit lights have so far held up well in the wet and they mount solidly. The Loops feature a small elastic band so they can be wrapped around any round tube. By adding a couple of zip-ties, I secured the red loop to the massive rear fender of my loaner Urbana.

The Orbit lights attach to the spokes of your wheels and the rotation makes them very visible. Since the Orbits shine out sideways, they greatly increase your visibility to crossing traffic.

Both the Loop and Orbit lights are small & light. They use CR2032 batteries with a claimed life of 30 hours in solid mode and 50 hours when set to flash. I haven't verified this yet (I haven't had them long enough to change the batteries) but those numbers seem reasonable for the little lithium batteries. By the way, buying single CR2032 batteries can get pretty expensive, but since I have various devices (like my Cateye Enduro bike computer as well as these lights) I bought a pack of 50 CR2032 batteries for less than twelve bucks.

Your local bike shop probably carries Cateye lights or they'd be happy to order them for you. If you can't find them locally, you can order them from Amazon. As always, if you do order anything from Amazon using a link from my blog, a small percentage of the purchase price goes to me, since I'm an Amazon Affiliate. And I don't think it biased me, but you should know that the Cateye guy gave me this set of Loop lights because I chatted him up at a bike event. Anyhow, I use and like the lights.

One final note: The Cateye lights ship in a "Try Me" mode where they shut off after a minute. Deactivate this mode (by pressing and holding the light until it flashes quickly and shuts off) and then the light will behave normally (where a single press toggles the light between solid, flashing and off).

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Instead of driving...I won a pack!

A backpack is something I use every day. While my Ergon pack performed wonderfully on the Tour Divide, I don't need all the complex suspension and hydration systems when I'm going to the store or the coffee shop. For trips like this, I'm more likely to grab one of my smaller packs, something like my Osprey Daylite which is pictured above.

The Osprey is a great little pack, but when I cram it full of six books, there isn't a whole lot of room for snacks and spare clothes, so I decided to look for something a bit bigger. My lovely wife is completely happy with her somewhat larger Osprey Helix so I figured I'd check out what else Osprey had for sale. I wanted something maybe a bit different that the Helix, so off I went to the Osprey website to find the pack of my dreams, the baby bear's porridge of packs, something neither too big nor to small, the pack that would be just right.

While I found a plethora of packs there, I also found the Osprey blog and a contest. The contest was to complete this thought: "Instead of driving I..." The top ten winners would get to select from a range of very cool Osprey packs.

"Ah Ha!" I said in my best "the old man from a Christmas Story" voice, "Powers of the mind!" I set to work crafting my entry. I suppose if I'd been sly I wouldn't have blabbed to folks on Twitter and email about how they too could have a chance to win a pack, but I'm more chatty than sly. I told Christine, I told my kids, I told my biking and Twitter buddies.

I wrote my entry, hit submit and than waited out the days for the contest to end.

And I gave away the end to this story in the title of the post.

Yes, I won. I won! I won! I won! I danced around our apartment when I got the email, explaining to my long suffering wife that it's not just a pack, it's a major award. I think she's very grateful that it's just a pack and not a lamp in the shape of a leg.

You can read all the winning entries on the Osprey Blog.

This was my entry:

“Instead of driving I walk, bike, bus or take the train where I need to go. I’ve learned that what I need I can carry and what I can’t carry I don’t need. I have a small bike that carries me and when I get to the bus or train I can fold up the bike and carry it aboard. I have a pack that’s big enough to carry what I need for a day and life really only happens one day at a time. I have enough time to get where I’m going and what I need to enjoy the trip. Why would I want to be in a box, looking out at the world when I can be out in the world instead?” — Kent Peterson

This winning entry also caught my eye:

“Instead of driving, I step out my door to be greeted by a thermometer reading -40. Celsius, Fahrenheit, doesn’t really matter at this point. Hopping on my bike I cruise by a moose and her calf hanging out by the side of the road and get greeted by the sun rising over the Alaska range as I pedal into work appreciating that I live in a pretty cool place and discovering it is possible to break a sweat even at 40 below.” — Peter

That's Peter Peterson, my bike riding scientist son.

Those powers of the mind, I guess they run in the family!

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tarik Saleh Bike Club

I'm not much of a joiner, but when Mr. Jalopy proposed the Tarik Saleh Bike Club, I knew I wanted in. Tarik is one of those awesomely cool dudes who rides bikes around particle accelerators, races when he hasn't trained, trains when he isn't going to race, does fun, goofy stuff 'cause it's fun and goofy, and is the kind of guy who will drive across an entire sun-baked state just to pluck some very dirty, sunburned bum on a bike from the Mexican border and then drive back across the state to plop said bum & his bike on a plane back to Seattle but not before he's stuffed the bum full of very good food. And Tarik also owns a Bridgestone Picnica. Guys with folding bikes are cool. Trust me on that one.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the Tarik Saleh Bike Club. Not only am I in, I'm cashing in. You can join up and join in by getting your own button from my Cafe Press Store. The white buttons are in the store. The nifty silver one pictured above comes from Mr. Saleh himself. I'm hoping he'll chime in or post on his blog as to how folks can get one of those.

The white buttons you can get from the Cafe Press Store. Proceeds go to me, but I'll spend the dough on Tarik the next time I see him. But only get a button if you can abide by the rules of the club. They are good rules. There are only two of them. Tarik made the rules and he's a good guy (see first paragraph).

Here are the Tarik Saleh Bike Club rules:



Words to live by. If you live by those rules, I think you may be already in the club even if you don't have a button.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Proud Member of the Tarik Saleh Bike Club" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Urbana Bike: First Impressions

Yesterday I picked up an Urbana bike in Seattle. Christine and I will spend a month reviewing this bike in depth, using it to get groceries, run errands and for general fun riding. This first post is not in any way meant to be a review, it is more a collection of my first impressions. We are getting no compensation for reviewing the, but we do get free use of the bike for a month.

My very first impression of the Urbana came from the Urbana website, which has a clever page under the Pick Your Hood tab where you select your bike based on terrain, climate, use and your color preference. All Urbana bikes have a single frame size and style, but the other options decide what the bike will have in terms of gearing, brakes, fenders and luggage. When Haniya at Urbana initially emailed me to see if I'd be interested in reviewing one of their bikes, I went to their site and selected a bike for utility riding suitable for the rainy, mountainous Pacific Northwest. I told Haniya I didn't care about the color.

I took the bus into Seattle to pick up the bike and merged the trip with a lunch meeting with a friend to discuss books and a coffee meeting with another friend to solve the problems of the world. In my various comings and goings I put about 25 miles on the bike in weather that ranged from sun, to wind, to hail, to good-old northwest rain. It's only one day of riding, but it was fairly diverse riding and I felt like I'm getting a sense of what the Urbana is all about.

The Urbana is a tough bike. Although the frame is a step-thru design, the Urbana doesn't strike me as being a particularly masculine or feminine bike, it is more industrial. The black paint job almost makes the bike look like a big U-lock and the fat tubes and solid re-enforcing plates going down to the bottom bracket say this is a bike built to take on some very mean streets.

The Urbana has clearance to fit big SKS P65 fenders and massive 26*2.60 (68-559) Niddepoule tires. Since the rims are a standard 26" (559) mountain bike size you could go with any number of standard mountain bike tires, but the Niddepoule tires are probably my favorite thing about the Urbana so far. While I've pointed out previously that there is no one perfect wheel or tire size, these puffy tires (which are rated to take anywhere from 20 to 40 PSI) just soak up bumps. Together with a slack headtube angle and a steel fork, the Urbana rides like it has suspension. It's plush and the bike just ignores potholes.

The tires are big enough that I couldn't fit my mini U-lock around them, so I wound up looping a cable through the wheels and my U-lock through a frame and a fence when I secured the Urbana. I was also wondering if the 2.6 wide tires would fit on racks used by the Seattle area bus system. Thanks to the practice rack at the downtown Seattle Bike Port, I verified that the Urbana fits fine on the bus rack.

The Urbana is by no means a racing bike but it's a good bike in traffic. The 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub shifts flawlessly except the twist action is the opposite of the 3-speed twist shifter on my 3-speed Sturmey-Archer equipped Dahon. So aside from the fact that I had to keep re-calibrating my brain, the shifting was flawless. And despite the 40+ pound weight of the Urbana, I was able to scoot up all the Seattle hills and ride the 20 miles back to Issaquah. In fact, I had a funny experience with the Urbana on the ride home.

Stopped at the light at the base of what I call "Honda Hill" in Factoria, I chat with a fellow bike commuter who is also stopped at the light. "What's going on with that back wheel?" the fellow asks pointing to the rear hub. I explain that the big hub contains an eight-speed transmission and that the big, finned aluminum disk is a dissipates heat from the rear hub brake. He comments on the bike and it's tires, "It looks like you're hauling some serious weight in those wheels." "Yep," I reply, "they're like riding big, puffy marshmallows." And the light turns green.

Now I'm always pretty quick from a stop and I'd downshifted at the red light (a nice feature of hub gears is that can shift them when stopped). So I'm in a better gear than the other guy is and I zip through the intersection and start climbing the hill. And of course, when I go to shift I shift it the wrong way because I'm used to my Dahon. So I hit a harder gear instead of an easier one but I figure I'll try to tough it out and hold my lead as long as I can up the hill. I held through the next light. And the next one. By the time I hit the intersection at 150th, I was really hoping the guy would catch me so maybe he'd ask the "so, does that thing have a motor?" question and I could do the "yeah, you're talking to it!" smart-ass response but alas, he was too far behind. So, unlike some designed-in-flat-country-and-can't-climb-worth-a-damn urban bikes, I have to say that I've found that the Urbana can climb. The frame is stiff but the tires make the ride plush. Punch the pedals and it goes. It's a good combo.

That said, this isn't a bike for distance riding. The riding position is upright and you can't really crouch down to fight the wind and engage your glutes the way you can on a racier bike. I'd only adjusted the seat height when I got the bike and I probably will do a bit of tweaking of the cockpit length by playing with the angle of the BMX-style bars and the position of the saddle rails in the seat clamp, but this is an upright, cruise around bike.

And it's a lot of fun to cruise around on. Over the next few weeks Christine and I will put the bike through it's paces by using it to do exciting things like get groceries, ride to the park and the coffee shop. I'll intend to take it on some logging roads and dirt trails it will probably go on at least one camping trip.

Stay tuned and keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA