Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Safe Passing Law SB488

Our dear governor, Rick Perry, recently vetoed a bunch of bills. Some, like the one allowing the state to take kids from homes for interviews away from their parents, I was glad to see. Others, however, we not OK. I'm speaking in particular of SB488, which would have established rules to protect bikes and other non-car users of roadways. Of particular interest in this bill was a clause establishing a safe passing distance of 3ft. Making this into a law would give bikers some (currently lacking) specific legal recourse in the case of side-swipes, mirror hits, right-hook crashes, and eventually increase biker safety in the state of Texas. Governor Perry didn't want to create another class of protected citizens (classic conservative response) and vetoed it, despite overwhelming congressional and public support. I often side with the conservative political point of view, but not this time. Our laws and culture are biased toward cars on the roads and the legal system can be hostile to bicyclists.
So what can you do? You can go sign the petition at Bike Texas like I did, and make sure that the issue doesn't go away. Even if you don't commute or recreationally ride a bike, sign it anyway. It'll take less than 2 minutes, max.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Too Darn Hot!

Time to break the months of blogging silence with my second annual whine-about-the-heat session. It's been busy in the lab.
I was so proud of myself for continuing to bike through the Texas summer. I was that studly biker who never let the weather get him down, cold or hot. That was until this week. Today is our twelfth consecutive day over 100°F, and starting Wednesday it was just too darn hot to ride. I learned that by experience, riding home through the 103.5°F afternoon. I drank liters of water; I rode very slowly; I followed the shade, and when I got home, I lay down on the couch and didn't recover for over an hour. Believe it or not, I wasn't even that sweaty because I didn't exert too hard getting home, but I was just sapped. I thought I was conditioned for the heat, but some days it's just too much.Yesterday and today, I came on the bus. Yesterday, we set a daily record with a high of 107°F, and today at 2:00, it's 103°F and climbing. Yes, I'm enjoying the bus.
Courtesy of the Weather Underground, here's a record from a small weather station near our house, showing high, low, and average temps for the week.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Extreme Ice Survey

I heard about this on NPR the other day, and then I recently discovered the website for the Extreme Ice Survey. I have now spent far too much time watching time lapse video of glaciers. This is really cool stuff. You should watch at least a couple of these videos and find out a little bit about the project.
Maybe it's just my own Arctic adventure on Spitsbergen Island, memories of which were recently rekindled by a National Geographic article on the effects of global warming there,  but I've always had a fascination with the arctic, glaciers, and geology in action. Watch and enjoy, and please let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Commuter Tires

By request (I'd say popular demand, but that's a bit pretentious, and there was only one request) I'd like to say a few words about tires for commuter bikes.
I used to work for the research and development branch of Michelin North America, and now I have a  fondness for tires. I cannot help but notice them on cars (my wife used to laugh about this, now she just rolls her eyes and nods politely), and I am a firm believer in paying for quality.
If you've read this blog before, you probably know that I devote many of my posts to describing my experiences with my Dynamic drive-shaft bicycle. If you've read my reviews of that bike, you may know that I was disappointed with the quality of the tires that they supplied with it. In particular, because I have fenders and because removing the rear tire is less than convenient, the puncture resistance of those tires was unacceptable. I was having to repair a flat on at least a weekly basis.
That led me to one of the best $30 purchases I've made for my bike. I visited my LBS (Clown Dog Bikes) and requested Kevlar commuter tires, and the guy there handed me a pair of CST Selecta Kevlar tires. These tires have a steel bead, a Kevlar carcass (forgive the tire-nerd lingo, that's the weave inside the rubber that provides the strength and shape for the tire), and a reflective strip in the sidewall. There is a very light, directional tread pattern, which for a road bike doesn't serve a whole lot of purpose. The tread pattern is designed in such a way that it does not induce a vibration or noise during rolling (as a mountain bike tread would do, for instance) and may provide some help with water evacuation (although in my experience with tire design, the swoopy directional patterns tend to be more marketing hooplah than functional features).

What's to say about a bike tire? Well, in 6000km, I have had to patch my inner tube precisely two times: once because of bad rim tape, and the other time because of a nasty sharp nail that could have pierced plate armor. Note that when I ride my wife's bike (to which I retired the original tires provided by Dynamic), flats occur on about a weekly basis, more or less, over the same route. The Kevlar works.
What else? The reflective strip, after two winters' worth of riding through dirty sandy black road water, is still visible in my car's headlights (and this camera's flash). There is at present no sign of that strip separating or coming out of the sidewall.
Last of all, the tread. I see only modest signs of chunking. There is still plenty of tread depth left. The photo above is of the front tire, which spent 5000km at the more aggressive rear axle. I'm guessing these are only about halfway through their life on this bike. I ride moderately aggressively and with a heavy backpack.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From the NY Times - Dear AIG, I Quit!

May I direct your attention to this article in the NY Times? It does much to expose the hype and distraction surrounding the AIG payments, which in fact are not bonuses as the media hyperventilatingly call them.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I was reminded today one of the big reasons why I commute by bike: parking. Today I am picking up my wife from the airport and had to drive to school so I can leave straight from here. I thought that I would just suck it up and pay a few bucks for parking in the garage so that I wouldn't have to hunt for a spot. The sign at the garage stated that times greater than 2-1/2 hours cost $10, so being the cheap grad student that I am, I pulled out and went hunting. After some extended searching, I found a spot about 6 blocks away from my building and squeezed my minivan into a tight parallel parking spot.
Some of you who do this every day may be rolling your eyes at my complaining, but how can you get used to this? Call me spoiled rotten, but I love passing long lines at red lights and stop signs, and I love even more rolling right up to my building without having to hunt for a spot.
And on that note, have you ever stopped to notice how much urban space is devoted to parking? Take a few minutes and imagine yourself as an alien visiting earth for the first time and trying understand why our cities are the way they are. You might be tempted to think that growing cars is a major agricultural activity by the devoted to the Mighty Automobile.

Monday, February 9, 2009

6000 km

Today the odometer on my Crosstown 7 flipped 6000 km. My average speed over the life of the bike (342 hrs) is 17.5 km/hr, or 11 mi/hr. I'm the first to admit that I'm not the next Lance Armstrong, but remember that number includes all the time I walk the bike or go slowly accompanying a daughter on a ride up the street and back. I started riding it in August of 2007, so that's an average of 315 km/month over 19 months. Since my commute is about 20 km/day, that means I've been able to ride almost 4/5 days. (Some days are partial commutes when I pick up Ian at Tae Kwon Do and ride the bus home with him.)
Now that I'm back on the bike after the recent repairs, it's nice to be riding consistently every day. This morning was rainy and wet, but I was still able to pull my daughters to school in their bike trailer without rooster tails or chain cleanup. Fenders are a must on a commuter, and have I mentioned before that the drive shaft is nice for not requiring a lot of messy maintenance? This was the first rain in a long time, so the water on the road was really dirty and oily. Yuck! There's more on tap over the next few days, but I don't really mind. It's nice to be out in the weather, whatever it is.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Back in the Saddle

I promised to upload some photos of my restored Dynamic Crosstown 7. (Shhh, I'm using a lab camera to take and post these while our own camera goes in for warranty repair.) So here they are. Note: I saw a little video blurb called BrightBike about putting reflective tape on your bike and decided to get visible. In addition to adding to the cheese factor and increasing visibility, the white tape on the top tube covers up and inappropriate "Tempo" logo. This bike is not the Tempo model but uses the Tempo frame, apparently.

When I went to go buy the reflective tape, I brought Caroline with me, and she got into her head that she needed a new bike helmet and that I was going to get her one at the hardware store. I did some fast thinking and convinced her to accept her own $2.50 package of reflective tape instead. Of course she chose the read and white candy stripe pattern, some of which ended up as decoration on her helmet and some of which ended up adorning the drive shaft cover on my bike. (And yes, that's a spare pair of socks I keep at my desk that you see. I didn't notice it in the photo before.)

Eliza came out with me while I was working on the bike. She, my Little Helper, wanted to participate, so I set her to cleaning the spokes and hub. Everything's nice and shiny now and it looks more or less brand new.

I had mentioned previously that I was having trouble with the shifting. A new cable and sheath and a good clean-out of the rear hub fixed that problem. I had a little bit of worry when I noticed that the gears were grinding during my first commute on the new frame. That turned out to be a simple error on my part of not sufficiently tightening the right-side axle nut on the rear hub. It was allowing the bevel gears to get out of alignment and grind. It was very easily fixed.
I'm happy to be back in the saddle again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Write your senators!

A quick call to action regarding the upcoming stimulus bill. Apparently, there is all kinds of finagling for new road building projects at the expense of mass transit and rail projects. I read a recent article in Time that pointed out that our investments should be in repairs and maintenance rather than new roads and highways. You can see the reasoning below.
May I suggest a letter something like this:

Dear Senator,
I am writing to urge you please to make sensible decisions regarding transportation in the upcoming stimulus package. Mass transit and high-speed rail project fund must not be raided for further road building. In addition, highway dollars should be channeled toward repair and maintenance. This will increase safety, provide jobs, reduce the growth of sprwal, and reduce future expenses in maintenance and repair. By contrast, new road project, while they do allow for ribbon-cutting and pork boasting, only increase future maintenance burden and encourage sprawl and therefore petroleum dependence. Please resist the political expedience of new highway projects and emphasize our existing infrastructure.

You can find your representative here and your senators here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


The frame arrived this evening. Unfortunately (arghhhh!) my camera has a "lens error" and won't focus now. We have lost more cameras to lens errors. Bummer, because I wanted to document the rebuild with photos. Oh well... Maybe I'll just nab a stock photo:

I'm surprised by how light the frame is. Total shipping weight including the box and packaging was 6 lbs. It's nice and shiny and new and looks just like the old one with two small exceptions. First is a "Tempo" decal which tells me that the frame is common with the Tempo model. OK. The second is another small lug of some sort on the seat stay just above where the brake mounts are.
Dynamic, per my request, sent the frame with the steer-tube bearings pressed into place already, so the only other tricky thing I have to do is press out the left-side bottom bracket fitting. I'm looking forward to getting going on it tomorrow when I get home. It will be nice to be back on my regular commuter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Magic Which Lies Outside

I've started reading a book called Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. The author, John Stilgoe, gives voice to something I've never been able to articulate but which speaks to me love of being outdoors. Let me quote for you:
Get out now, Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our centruy. G outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run. Forget about blood pressure and arthritis, cardiovascular rejuvenation and weight reduction. Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Ride a bike, and coast along a lot. Explore.
With long explanations about how bicycles and shoes are the perfect exploration vehicles and how cars insulate and disconnect us from our environment, he goes through and describes how to explore the built landscape. This is not a but about nature, but about the history of human impact on nature which is hidden in plain sight all around us. I am about half way through the second chapter, and we're discussing the rights of way associated with railroads and electric lines.
It's amazing how you can see the impact all around once you have the right mindset and know what to look for. For instance, I have noticed things about the power lines in the neighborhoods that I drive through. In my neighborhood Allandale, all of the power lines run between the back fences of the houses, and the blocks are long and thin. As a consequence, the trees along the street (all placed 15 ft back from the road, so neatly you can sight along them) do not have to be trimmed. South of Allandale Rd in the Rosedale neighborhood, however, it's more patchwork, and in many places, power lines are strung along the fronts of houses, thus producing all sorts of grotesque shapes in the trees where the utilities have come in to hack them back. Although I'm sure Austin Energy prefers the easy access of street-accessible lines, it sure makes for ugly trees.
There are chapters to come on mail, strip malls, highways, main streets, dead ends, and more. I'm looking forward to developing some skill at exploring the magic which lies outside. Maybe some days I'll take some more time on my ride to or from work and explore a little. I look forward to sharing with you and inspiring a little exploration of your own.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Driveshaft Disassembly

Today I finished stripping my Crosstown 7 in order to replace the broken frame. That involved removing the driveshaft assembly, cleaning it out, and re-greasing it. The bottom bracket came out by loosening the three screws on the left-hand side. Here's what the inside looks like. Somehow, dirt managed to get in there, but I don't think that had any consequence on performance, since the whole front crank case is sealed.

Here's what the front crank-case assembly looks like fresh from the bottom bracket.

Loosening the three screws on the other side allowed me to open the case and remove the gears for cleaning. Initially, the inside of the crank-case was full of grease, which I removed with clean rags.

I noticed that the gear ratio was 11:27. Because 27 and 11 are both prime, each tooth on the shaft eventually interacts with each tooth on the bevel gear, and no wear pattern develops. After cleaning everything up, I closed it up again and shot it full of fresh Teflon grease.

Here's what the rear end of the drive shaft looks like. This is where the 7-speed internal hub connects. The hub is similar to the chain driven version except for the bevel gear in place of the chain cog.
The next step is to receive the new frame and reassemble. I'm expecting the frame on Wednesday, so I'll post photos of the reassembly process then.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stripping the Frame

As I said I would, I started to take apart my Crosstown 7 in preparation for replacing my broken frame. So far, this job has been about what I expected, with no surprises. I started by removing the bike rack, seat post clamp, and rear fender, which all came apart as an assembly. Then I removed the brakes.

Then I removed the front brakes and unhooked the shifter cable, which allowed me to remove the handlebar, with everything still attached. At this point, my neighbor Emily saw me over the fence and offered me the use of her husband Jeff's work stand. I accepted, and boy what a difference that made. That enabled me to remove the kickstand and take off the cranks. Fortunately, I had a crank extraction tool from a previous project. Without a crank extractor, that task is near impossible and guaranteed to mess up your bike.

One interesting thing to note here is that when you add grease to the crank, it eventually comes out through the bearing on the right side near the crank arm seal, which makes it kind of messy since this spot is tough to clean with a rag with the crank arm still installed. In the photo below you see a year and a half worth of grease accumulation. The color of this grease when clean is light brown, almost white. A couple of times I had added shots of the green marine grease that I use for my water-brake dynamometer at school. I plan to open this up and clean it out thoroughly and re-grease with the white teflon grease supplied by Dynamic.

In a way I'm glad for the opportunity to get inside my bike and see how it all goes together, although this process is time consuming and no so convenient. I'll take the challenge to learn a little about bike repair rather than complain. Here's how I left things when it got too cold and dark to keep going tonight. (My workspace is the back patio. I miss my garage workshop.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Frame Update

Micro-post here: as promised, Dynamic shipped my frame yesterday. This morning I got the shipping notification from UPS. It should arrive next Wednesday. I hope to start posting disassembly photos this weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Video: US Airways Flight 1549 Lands in the Hudson

The story of the landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River has been really powerful for me. The pilot of that flight, Chesley Sullenberger,  is my kind of hero. I'm thankful that neither a single death nor any major injuries occurred as a result of the landing, and the passengers tell a consistent tale of a calm, collected, women-and-children-first evacuation. That happened as a direct result of his cool head, his quick thinking, and a little bit of divine intervention. It could so easily have been otherwise.
At the time of the rescue, there were helicopters with video cameras all over the scene, and the rescue was pretty well documented. So why am I blogging about it now? Well, I knew it would only be a matter of time before a video of the landing surfaced, and I wanted to have something constructive to offer to my readers instead of another rehash of the events.
Here it is, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, unedited, and no sound track. The splashdown occurs at 2:02, and if you stick around for a couple of minutes, you can see people emerge, fall off the wing, get pulled back up onto the wing by other passengers, and eventually get picked up by the ferries.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Commuter Tires

Yesterday, I dusted off my wife's Raleigh hybrid bike to ride it in to work since my regular commuter has a broken frame. I enjoyed the change of feel and posture on the ride in and was starting to think this might not be so bad after all. Then on the ride home that all changed. After picking up Ian at his Tae Kwon Do class and attaching the tagalong trailer, we started our 3-mile ride home. Not far into the ride, we got a flat.
Of course, I had not switched my seat bag and tool kit over to the Raleigh, so we were stuck (literally) out in the cold. Fortunately, our route lies close to the bus route, so we walked a block over to the bus stop. Fortunately, the bus is on a 20-min frequency, and was supposed to have been made more frequent by the addition of several evening buses. Unfortunately, that is just a wild dream, and we waited for more than 45 minutes with no bus until my dear sweet wife finally came and picked us up. At least we got to have some father-son heart to heart time.
Three things went wrong. (1) I switched to a bike that did not have Kevlar tires. My regular bike has Kevlar tires, and in a year and a half of riding with them, I have gotten exactly one flat. On the first day with these other cheap tires, I'm dead on the roadside. (2) I did not pack the tool kit, which would have allowed me to make a roadside repair. I've gotten out of the mindset of needing it because I almost never do. (3) I had faith in the public transportation system. In principle, I'm a big believer in public transit, but Austin's Capital Metro has just not got it together with the P.M. buses. Nearly every time I've tried to take one in the afternoon or evening, I end up with a long (40-45 minute) wait.
Moral of the story. Be prepared!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The downside of aluminum frames

It's time for an update on my Crosstown 7 (see all the articles here). This is a shaft-driven bike from Dynamic Bicycles, most similar to the currently available Crossroad 8. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the bottom bracket was starting to move side to side more than usual, and I thought that was probably not a good sign and that it would suffer a fatigue failure. Well, today, as I was riding home, I noticed the frame get loose and start to creak. When I stopped to look it over, I noticed a nice big ugly crack where the seat tube meets the bottom bracket. That's not supposed to happen. Unfortunately it's an inevitable consequence of aluminum butt-welded frames, and I think that the design of the bottom bracket on this shaft driven bike may have amplified the stress or strain in that area. Since purchasing the bike in August 2007, I have put 5900 km (3670 miles) on the bike. It's the 22" frame, and I'm a heavy guy (~215 lbs) and carry a heavy (~15 lb) back pack on the book rack, and I tend to have more of a stoking rather than a spinning pedal style, so it's safe to say that I'm a heavy user, but not unusually so.
When I got home today, the first thing I did was to locate my warranty and confirm that there is a lifetime guarantee on the frame. I called up Dynamic and told them what happened, and I was very pleased to hear and immediate "Man, I'm so sorry that happened to you. We'll get a new frame shipped out to you right away." We went over the details of what I need, including agreeing to how much I would need to put together, and was I able to do the things, and did I have the right tools, etc. The attitude I got was 'what can we do to make this right for you as quickly as possible?' and I have to say that I appreciated that. I've had some very poor customer service experiences before, but not with Dynamic. Others have complained about them, but it's just not been my experience, I've always found them to be friendly and helpful.
I'll post again when the new frame arrives, and maybe I'll document the repairs that are necessary.
In the mean time, keep on biking, and click on over to support my friend Margo in her New Year's resolution to start biking to work again. Leave supportive comments, and ask her to blog about the very funny story of when we rode home together one time...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How is a Man Like a Peach Tree?

I recently read about peach trees that they need a certain amount of cooling in order to be productive. That is, if they don't spend a minimum number of days below a certain temperature, then their fruiting is limited. I wonder whether there could be a hormonal or other chemical basis for a similar response in humans...
This morning, for example, I awoke to a dreary drizzly day, with temps in the 40's F. I experienced a brief struggle between the desire to ride in on my bike and to ride to the bus stop and enjoy reading a book on a nice warm dry ride. I was starting to express this to my wife and had got as far as saying that I was thinking of riding to the bus stop when she interrupted (innocently, I'm sure) to say what a great idea that was. I had, after all, mentioned more than one how drizzly and cold it was outside.
Then the oddest thing happened, at the top of my street, where I turn left for the bus stop and right to ride all the way in, the whole struggle came back to life and the desire to ride through the invigorating weather bubbled up inside, and before I knew any better, I was accelerating down Daugherty, to the right. I arrived at school slightly damp, but quite recharged. It's as if I need to be cold in the winter. If I don't get chilled down enough days, then the endless heat of summer becomes oppressive and unbearable.
Does that make any sense? Am I completely crazy? Is there possibly any physiological basis for this?

And just in case anyone's paying attention, I've put about 5700km on the Dynamic Crosstown 7 now. It's still doing well with no major problems. The shifter has lost a little precision, and I have a little trouble downshifting into 1st. I don't know whether the indexes in the shifter are wearing out a little or maybe the shifter cable is dirty. I just can't get it quite right with the adjuster barrel. At some point it will become irritating enough for me to take it all apart and clean it out, but for now it's not that big a deal.
Also, I think it's always done this, but the other day I noticed that the bottom bracket does deflect quite a bit to the left on a right-side down stroke. Not so with the left-side. Hmmm. No problems yet, but I wonder whether this will turn into a fatigue failure at some point.