Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Poor Man's Pannier

One of the keys to surviving hot weather on a bike is to get as much wind on your skin as possible. Because I carry a laptop in my pack-pack to and from school, so getting my bag off my back is an important part of managing the heat. I like the idea of mounting a pannier that I could stick my bag into, but they can be kind of pricey. Decent ones typically run $50-$100. I may have mentioned the cash-flow situation with graduate school before, but especially in my case, minimizing expenses is a high priority. 
That's not to say I want to go cheap, but I definitely don't want to spend unnecessarily, so I thought about other solutions. As a matter of fact, on first returning to school, I purchased a cheap back-pack from eBay that looked like it would be a good deal, but it fell apart half-way through my first semester. I replaced it with a very well-built and only slightly more expensive ($50) Super Deluxe Book Pack from L. L. Bean. It turns out this pack has a very strong handle on the top that turns out to be very useful for attaching it to my bike.I rummaged around and found that the rack that holds my bicycle baby-carrier was removable, and I had a few bungee straps. I installed the bike rack, and then, using the two S-hooks from a rubber bungee-strap, I secured the pack handle to the top of the bike rack, as shown in the photo. Then I used two more bungee straps: one to sling under the bottom of the bag to help take some of the strain off the handle. 
You can see it as the brown/yellow cord in the following photos. The other bungee strap wraps around the outside of the pack to hold it against the side of the rack so it doesn't move around while I'm riding. In order to make sure the shoulder straps don't get caught in the spokes, I cinch them tight and tie the loose ends around the padded part of the straps. This arrangement has worked really well for me this summer so far. The cost was zero, the improvement in comfort was substantial.Last of all, let me make one more plug for L. L. Bean. Their products are really focused on the end-user, and I don't get the feeling that any corners were cut in design or production. And you just have to love the sign they post in their stores and on the web:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fly Like an Eagle...

A long-repressed but still smoldering ambition of mine is to become a glider pilot. I've built and flown an R/C glider and long been a fan of computer flight simulation, but there's nothing like the real deal.
So today, I saw this article in the Austin American-Statesman about Gary Osoba's recent world record setting glider flight. The flame has been fanned a little bit. This is not really a practical dream until after graduation and a new job have improved the cash-flow situation, but consider the dream to be alive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spotted: Crazy Naked Cyclist!!! (PG-Rated)

Here's commuting in a style unique to Austin, methinks. Dena, secretary for our research area, spotted this guy on her way home from work and had the presence of mind to snap a photo. Apparently, she's seen him before, "dressed" in a white thong...
Can you believe one of my lab mates thought it was me at first because of the bike trailer!!!??

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sanity in the Debate Over Food and Agriculture

I was deeply affected by reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals recently. In it, I discovered that there is a myth of the pastoral farm that is in stark contrast with the reality of the modern food production system (see the Meatrix), and that much of what we call food is entirely synthetic. Profits from food manufacture go up with the amount of processing that the manufacturer provides, leading us to a tremendously processed food supply. Reading this was a good way to get inspired to pay attention to the source of our food and start to visit the local farmers' markets.
One thing nagged at me, and Pollan only paid passing reference to it in his book. That is the question of how can you scale this up to serve the whole country, or more to the point, the whole world? It is impossible to read the book and not fall in love with Polyface Farms, but the fact of the matter is that we do not have the land or the resources to feed everybody from farms like Polyface.
I was pleased to see a little piece in the Austin American Statesman on this today called "Microgreens for the Masses". In it, the author outlines some practical recommendations for change with a very sensible realpolitik tone. If you're interested in this kind of thing, click on over. Then write your senator...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Death of the Mosquito Killers - Attack of the Killer Mosquitos?

Does anyone else feel like the mosquitos have been especially vicious this year? It's probably due to the milder winter and stagnant pools in the creeks hereabout, but it's also a possible foretaste of things to come if bat populations take a dive.
My sister sent me this article from NaturalNews.com describing a massive bat die-off along the east coast due to something scientists are calling White-Nose Syndrome. Bats are found dead on the floors of their cave with a white fungus on their nose or pneumonia in their lungs. Leading the list of suspects are the pesticides used to control mosquitos in the wake of West Nile Virus hysteria. (How many people actually died from West Nile Virus? About 120/year nationwide in the last few years. See here.)
I'm not sure what the status of Austin's beloved colony of Mexican
 Free-Tailed Bats is, but I sincerely hope that they hold strong in the face of the epidemic. This is one more reason Divine Intervention may not be necessary for the Apocalypse. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Little Update on the Bike

I recently received a comment from Jeff on my review of the Dynamic Crosstown 7 bicycle. (Amazingly, SiteMeter tells me that page is consistently my best draw, followed by my visit to Mellow Johnny's. Go figure...) Jeff was influenced in part by my review to take the plunge on a shaft driven bike, and he has outclassed me entirely by setting up a whole website to detail his experiences. His complete honesty has shamed me somewhat and caused me to realize that I'm a little guilty of something we might call "wishing away buyer's regret." That is, having plunked down a fair chunk of change for the bike, I'm determined to like it, facts supporting or no. Jeff has been undeterred by the size of his investment and freely given vent to both frustration and praise for his bike. Why would I not learn a little from him and share the good, the bad, and the ugly? Besides, I'm approaching 4000km (2400 mi) on the bike, and it's been almost a year since I bought it, and that's far enough for a pretty good assessment of long-term issues. 
First of all, the drive-line. Now that I have the gear greasing figured out, it's pretty much transparent. I just don't notice it. I can ride 500-600 km between shots of grease, and this is not an issue for me. In fact, it's a big advantage. I really don't miss chain maintenance. At all. (If you read Jeff's site, you'll find he's greasing every 75 mi or so, which to me seems way too often.)
My main drive-line complaint comes intermittently on hot days when I get a "tunk" sound once per pedal revolution when my left crank is straight up and down. Faster cadences make it louder than slow. Light pressure and very hard pressure make it go away, and if the temperature is below 90°F, I don't hear it.  It's always over 90°F in the summer in Austin, and I only get about half the time. Although it's only a minor annoyance, I wish I knew what it was.
Build quality. It's a little late for me to talk about build quality since I already mentioned the state of the wheels on receipt, but I did purchase a Park TM-1 spoke tension meter and tuned up the wheels. This is a necessary item of maintenance anyway, and I probably should have done it 2000km ago, but it feels like a new ride now, and I'll make this a regular date with the bike in the future. Regarding build quality, everything else is holding up well, and no other defects have come to light.
One last unspoken complaint relates to getting the driveline. This may seem a little obscure to all but the few Dynamic-owner readers that I have here, so feel free to skip on by if you want. Early in my setup, I was having trouble with grinding gears that turned out to be a problem of sorting out the proper kind of grease to use. During the process, though, I found I could make a big improvement to the feel of the drive line by adjusting the number of spacers on the rear axle. These are thin shim-stock washers that go between the hub and the drop-out to properly align the bevel gear with the drive shaft. The bike came with three fitted, and I improved the feel of the drive line noticeably by removing two of them. Later, the teflon-based grease solved the rest of the grinding problem, but I recently put them back in, just for kicks, to see what would happen, and I had to pull over and take them back off because the drive train became rough and the friction increased. I'm guessing that my gear set has probably worn in to its current arrangement and that putting them back in a long time ago wouldn't have had the same effect. Again, this is minor, and probably only of note to anyone else searching the net for information on shaft drives.
So I set out to try to complain a little bit about my bike, but I've ended up dismissing all of my complaints as minor. The fact remains, I like the bike, and I don't (honestly now) regret choosing it over a more conventional one, even after 4000km through Texas heat.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Day Parade

Our neighborhood does its own Independence Day parade, complete with speeches from our local politicians, free ice-cream from Amy's Ice Creams, Lemonade from Jim-Jim's Water Ice, and plenty of small-town flair right in the heart of Austin. First of all in order to get into the spirit of the day, and second to avoid bringing home big bags of candy, we decided to decorate our bikes and ride in the parade. Actually, I had very little to do with the decoration. Hannah bought the supplies and made us pipe-cleaner Mohawks, and the kids shooed me away while they decorated my bike in secret.
The parade was led by a contingent of Revolutionary War garbed actors. Then there was a section with fancy cars followed by the bikes, trikes, and strollers. Those who wanted could enter the contest for best decorations, and the results were announced at the end, after the political speeches. All in all this was a fun way to get out on the bike (my son's scowl notwithstanding) and wave the Grand Ole Flag.