Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Record Bike Commuting Numbers

Last time I reported on my bike commuting was in December as the Fall semester was wrapping up. At that time I had a bike-to-work average of 75%, the best I'd ever had at the mid-way point in the year. Now that another school year is wrapping up for the Summer, it's time to take another look back.
The bulletin board in my classroom has a running
tally of the days I've ridden to work. Some of my
kids have really gotten enthusiastic as the numbers
have climbed.

When the year began, I had a goal of riding 50% for the year, or about 90 days. Actually, that's been my goal every year since I started doing this on a regular basis, but I fell short of the goal for the past two years. In fact, last year (2014-2015) with its horrible and seemingly endless Winter, I didn't even come close. Up to now, 90 days was my all-time record for bike commuting in one school year.

With the tremendous Fall we had here in NE Ohio, I had an excellent start to the year, but my average always drops during the Winter months, and this past year was no exception. Still, I was able to ride more this Winter than any year previous. I averaged roughly one day per week in January, two days per week in February, and about three days per week in March. All good, but not enough to keep that 75% average from falling.

Still, by the end of February, I was already up to 75 days, and it became a near-certainty that I'd hit my 90 days early, so I decided to raise my goal for the year to 110. That meant I would need to average at least three days per week for the rest of the school year. A cold, wet Spring (we even had snow in April!) made things a little uncertain at times, but this week, the last week of May and the last week of school, I pulled up to work under a golden sunrise with 110 days in the saddle. That works out to an average of 62% for the year.

Arriving at work on my 110th day riding. The sunrise was golden.
Here are some figures for the year:

Days ridden: 110 (62% avg.)
Miles per day: 28.5
Commuting miles for the year: 3135
Fuel saved this year: estimated 111 gallons (based on my car's avg. 28 mpg.)
Best single month: October (17 days, 85%) I only drove my car three times the whole month!
Worst single month: January (5 days, 27%)

Figures for the past four years combined:

Days ridden: 337 (47% avg.)
Total miles: 9604 miles
Fuel saved: est. 343 gallons

If I could just forget that the awful 2014-15 year ever happened (I only managed to ride 61 days that year, or 35%), my overall multi-year average would be about 51%.

At current gasoline prices (about $2.40 per gal), that 343 gallons would work out to more than $820 in savings, but it's actually more than that, since gas prices were typically between $3 - $4 per gallon until this past year.

Some photos from the past couple of months:
Snow in April.
Is it springtime yet?
A foggy morning sunrise in May
My riding companion on a brilliant May morning.
With 110 days riding to work, I may have just set myself a new record that I won't be able to beat for a long time to come.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Portable Pumps

I recently had a request from a reader to write about portable pumps for the retro-grouchy. I don't have the funds to do a full and thorough comparison, and companies aren't exactly falling over themselves to send me products to review. But I do have a few portable pumps that I've used, and I recently picked up a new one to try, having heard some good things about it.

The pumps I've got include two frame-fit models -- a vintage Silca Impero, and a venerable classic Zefal HP-X, as well as two mini-pumps, a Serfas MP-3, and a Topeak RaceRocket HPX. The Serfas is one I'd bought a couple years ago, but the model is still available today, and the Topeak was the new pump I picked up to try out.

From top: Zefal HP-X, Silca Impero, Topeak Race Rocket HP-X, and Serfas MP-3.
I mostly ride on the road, and these days I tend to prefer tires with a little more width and volume - anywhere between 28 and 35 mm. That almost seems to split the difference between needing a pump to handle high pressure vs. high volume. In comparing the pumps, I tried them out one after the next on my 700 x 33.3 Rivendell Jack Brown tires and counted how many strokes it took to get the tire from "nothing" to "suitable for riding" pressure to simulate the conditions one would have after repairing a flat out on the road. So what exactly is "suitable for riding" pressure? That can depend on what tires a person  is riding, and their own personal preference. On my Rivendell with the Jack Browns, I usually run those at about 70 psi, according to my floor pump. Only one of the portable pumps I compared has a built-in pressure gauge, though, so in most cases one needs to rely on the "thumb-forefinger-squeeze" pressure gauge. I pumped the tire up until the squeeze test said the pressure was about right. Want a more exact test? Read Bicycling.

The Silca Impero: Lightweight, effective, and re-buildable, the Silca is the classic choice for road bikes -- especially vintage style racers. The old Silca has been out of production for a number of years now, but it is still fairly easy to find new old stock examples, or barely-used ones on eBay. I've encountered a few bike shops over the years that had boxes of them stashed away in the back room or basement. If it's a used example, the main parts that need to be replaced are the rubber chuck seal and the leather plunger washer -- and the leather washer usually just needs some fresh grease on it, rather than needing to be replaced. The standard Silca pump head, oval-shaped and made of plastic, works OK, but the chromed steel head by Campagnolo is a nice upgrade. Prices on vintage Silca Imperos vary a lot. A recent look at eBay showed examples ranging anywhere from $25 - $100. Campagnolo heads range from about $25 - $50.

The Campagnolo steel head. This one still has the original blue rubber "feet" but it isn't unusual for those to crack or tear and fall off. Need replacements? They sometimes come up on eBay, but if you aren't a stickler for "authenticity" you can get workable replacements at many hardware stores, but getting them in the right color might be a challenge. Another possibility is to use a product like Plasti Dip, or Loctite Color Guard, either of which come in a variety of colors and are used for coating tool handles.
A potential weak link in the classic Silca. Though it's very easy to disassemble the pump to grease the piston shaft and the leather washer, that fine threading in the thin-walled plastic barrel can give out, ruining the pump for good. Or if the end of the barrel cracks, it will definitely let loose under pressure -- possibly shooting the piston out like a ballistic weapon if one isn't holding on tightly. This one's still holding up fine.

In using the Silca, it's good to wrap a hand around the tire and
hold the head in place. It takes a bit of finesse, but it's effective.
Using the Silca takes a little bit of finesse, but I've always found it to be a decent enough pump anyhow. Because the chuck simply presses onto the valve, it can move around or even slip off while pumping, so a good technique has always been to wrap one hand around the tire and rim, with the fingers wrapped around the pump head to hold it steady. Then pump away. In my little impromptu comparison, I pumped up the 33.3 mm Jack Brown tire to acceptable riding pressure in about 70 strokes. The effort increased some as the pressure increased, but it wasn't unbearable. I wouldn't want to try to take the tire up beyond 100 psi, though. There are frame pumps that have more features and are easier to use, but the Silca does what it's intended to do, and that's good enough for me.

The Silca frame fit pump has a couple of well-known unconventional uses.

Dog Defense Mode: Being chased by a big dog that you can't outrun? Frame-fit pumps excel for dog defense. The Silca has both good and bad going for it in dog defense mode. On one hand, the plastic barrel won't dent, so it's likely to shrug off a good thwack on a pursuing dog's head. On the other hand, if you're overly vigorous with the strike, you can crack the barrel, rendering the pump useless for tire-filling operations, so it's best to strike with the metal sleeve at the chuck end. Multiple strikes on particularly hard-skulled breeds can increase the likelihood of cracking the pump, so it's best to use the Silca as a last resort.

Cheating Italian Mode: Who can forget that heartbreaking scene from Breaking Away when the Colnago-riding Italians of Team Cinzano ditch Dave at the side of the road with a Silca pump jammed in the front wheel? Please don't use your Silca (or any other frame pump) for this purpose. It will probably render the pump useless, and going back to re-claim the pump afterwards could be awkward.

Zefal HP-X: Back in the day, cyclists-in-the-know were typically "Silca guys," or "Zefal guys." Zefal makes (and has made) a number of classic pumps over the years, but the HP-X has long been a good choice -- going back at least to the early '80s (the earlier version, known as just the "HP" goes back to the '70s). And it's still available -- expect to pay about $30. Supposedly one can still get it with the vintage-style silver body with black handles, but the all-black is a lot more common today. The Zefal has an aluminum body which will last a long time - but don't abuse it, as it can dent. It will still work with minor dents in it, but how well I couldn't say.

The Zefal isn't quite as light as the Silca, but it's easier to use and really built to last. It has a locking chuck which gives a good hold on the valve, meaning that one can use the beefy textured grip on the body instead of trying to hold the chuck in place on the valve stem. As I understand it, one can get replacement parts for the Zefal -- another good thing.

One of the unique features of the Zefal HPX is the 2-position spring switch. When set on the "X" setting, the spring can be compressed which allows the pump to fit snugly in the bike frame - either along the seat-tube, or the top-tube if one has a pump peg in place. When it's time to pump, you switch the pump to "HP" mode, which locks out the spring, making the pumping a bit easier. And it is easy. Like the Silca, I got the 33.3 mm tire up to riding pressure in about 70 strokes. However, as the pressure increased, the effort remained easier than on the Silca. If you were insistent on getting a tire up to 100 psi or more, this would definitely be your pump of choice. Am I kidding? Zefal claims it's good for over 170 psi!

Dog Defense Mode: The Zefal is the more durable choice for warding off dogs. Try to strike with the steel chuck-end of the pump, which also has the rubber grip, because a strike on a particularly thick-skulled dog with the aluminum shaft could leave a pretty sizable dent (in the pump, not the dog). As I mentioned, it might still work after that in tire-inflation mode, but will it still be as efficient? I don't know.

Cheating Italian Mode: Again, don't be an @$$hole - but if there were any pump that could be jammed into a bike's spokes and still work afterwards, it's probably the Zefal. But any frame pump is likely to be destroyed under such demanding conditions, so don't count on it.

If you find this one in the shop today, it's likely to be
silver, not black.
Serfas MP-3: This one is typical of a lot of mini pumps, being small enough to fit into some seat-packs, or possibly carried in a jersey pocket. I never carry pumps in a jersey pocket. I got this one a couple of years ago to use with my Bike Friday, at least in part because a true frame-fit pump won't work with that bike's unconventional frame design. The Serfas had a couple things going for it -- mostly aluminum construction, a built-in pressure gauge, and a switch to change it from "High Volume" to "High Pressure" mode. On the 20" wheels of the Bike Friday, the Serfas works just fine. On 700c road wheels, well, let's just say it works.

The pump has a head that accommodates both presta and schraeder valves (there are two holes - one for each), and there is a locking switch to hold it on the valve. With the switch on HV (high volume) mode, the little pump does seem to push a decent amount of air for such a small package. But as the pressure climbs, the effort climbs to the point of being an arm-breaking workout. I got about 70 strokes out of it and gave up when my biceps started throbbing, and the tire was still well below my preferred pressure according to the pinch test. What about the built-in pressure gauge? Well, it's very difficult to read when pumping, so it wasn't as useful as I'd have liked. But I think I got up to about 20 - 30 psi.

On HP (high pressure) mode, the effort didn't rise to arm-busting levels, but I got up to about 200 strokes and I still wasn't up to the desired pressure. Panting from the workout, I gave up with the tire still a bit squishy in the pinch test. The best way to use this stubby mini-pump is to start on HV mode, get as much air into the tire as you can muscle in (60 - 70 strokes for me) then flip the switch to HP and try to get the pressure up to an acceptable level. In my little test, that still took another 100 strokes, and the pressure gauge on the pump still wasn't rising above 30 psi (though I don't know how accurate it is) but the pinch test told me it was enough to ride home on.

Overall, I think the pump works better for lower pressures - so for the Bike Friday, or maybe even for mountain bike tires, it might be a decent choice. Expect to pay about $30.

Dog Defense Mode: No mini pump is going to work as well as a frame pump in dog defense mode, but the Serfas is pretty solid and chunky. I suppose you could throw it at a dog if you're confident in your aim.

Cheating Italian Mode: I wouldn't bother trying. By the time you got close enough to the spokes with this stubby little thing, you'd run as much risk of getting your hand in the wheel as the pump. So I'd say No Go.

Topeak RaceRocket HPX: This was the pump I recently acquired after hearing some good things about it. At about 10-inches, and rated for up to 160 psi, the HPX is supposed to be optimized for road bike tires. It may be slightly long for pocket-carrying -- one could carry it that way, but it will stick out pretty far in most jersey pockets. (And I don't carry any more than I need to in my jersey pockets) or it will fit into most larger saddlebags (like most Carradice bags) or handlebar bags. It also has a clip that lets it mount right next to a water bottle cage. All aluminum with a nice rubber grip on the handle, it's a decent looking pump. Carried on the frame, it is small enough and nice enough that it wouldn't be an eyesore, even on a classic steel frame (though an all-silver version might be a nice touch). It also seems to be well made. By the way, there is another version of the RaceRocket (non HPX) that is slightly smaller, at about 7-inches, rated for 120 psi, but otherwise pretty similar in style and apparently available in more colors.  Expect to pay about $40 for the HPX, or $25 for the smaller non-HPX version.

One of the interesting features of the Topeak is that it has a retractable hose, kind of like the old-fashioned frame pumps one used to find on old Raleigh roadsters. On a mini-pump like this, that hose feature makes the pump easier to handle without putting stress on the valve stem. Unlike some of the other mini pumps with hoses, this one slides inside the handle but does not detach, so it won't get lost. The hose is useable with either Schraeder or Presta valves with its unique 2-position extending chuck.
In my test, the little Topeak took about 150 strokes to get my 33.3 mm tire up to riding pressure -- roughly double the number of strokes compared to the Zefal frame pump, but the effort was pretty consistent from start to finish, and the action of the pump was very smooth. Also, it didn't seem to get hot as the pressure increased, as mini pumps can sometimes do. Overall, I was impressed by the way the little pump worked. Having the hose attachment meant that I could get a good grip on the two ends of the pump, and didn't have to worry about the valve getting damaged from excess movement. Is it as efficient as a full-size frame pump? Of course not, but the smooth action and ease of use, combined with the small stow-able size make it a decent trade-off.

Dog Defense Mode: I don't think it has one. Pedal really really fast.

Cheating Italian Mode: Fully extended, maybe -- but with this pump, one might just have to win honestly.

Of the four pumps I tried, the Zefal is probably the best choice for a fully-functional frame-fit pump. +1 if you can find it in the more traditional silver finish. It's solid, efficient, and built to last. The vintage Silca is still a decent traditional choice if someone wants a no-frills frame fit pump and doesn't mind its quirks -- especially if the pump will be used on a vintage race bike. Although it isn't exactly a "retro-grouchy" choice, the Topeak is a good little pump that can be carried inconspicuously inside a saddlebag, making it suitable no matter what kind of bike you're on. Mounted on the frame, it also looks decent enough that it wouldn't spoil the looks of a classic ride, anyhow, as long as you weren't riding something like Eroica.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

More Affordable Silca Pump

Back in 2014, the new American-based Silca company introduced cyclists to the Ultimate Inflation Tool. At $450, the Super Pista Ultimate was way too exclusive to be called a "pump." While it has been easy to have a bit of fun joking about the price, by all accounts the Ultimate Inflation Tool really does live up to its billing. Anyone I've talked to who has tried it has said it is the smoothest, most solid pump they've ever used - and built to last forever.

This week, Silca announced the release of a new inflation tool that is supposed to keep some of the best functional attributes of the Super Pista Ultimate, but with a more down-to-earth attitude -- more stealth, less bling -- a little less "Ultimate." In fact, the name is exactly that: The Super Pista. Period. Price is listed at $235.

The regular Super Pista tones down some of the more "boutique" features of the Ultimate, but keeps a lot of the attributes that make the more exclusive sibling work so well. The shaft, piston, bearings, and plunger are either the same or very similar to the Ultimate. It's all metal, no plastic, made to work smoothly and last darn near forever.

There are several features that help keep the price somewhat below the stratosphere.

Instead of the beautiful rosewood handle with stainless steel center and end sections, the regular Super Pista uses a one-piece carved beechwood handle, lacquered in matte black. No steel accents. The size and shape is still similar to the Ultimate.

The wide, stable base has a similar size and overall shape to the Ultimate, but the pressure gauge is built into the base, rather than "floating" above it. Also, instead of the magnetic dock for the chuck, there is a cradle to clip it in place.
The "regular" Super Pista uses a 3" high accuracy gauge (claimed to be accurate to within 2%), but there is no "low pressure" option for high-volume tires as there is with the more expensive version. 
The new press-on chuck has a pressure relief button to fine-tune air pressure.

The Super Pista is decked out in matte black with anodized red accents for a subdued but cool look. The company's portable mini and frame-fit pumps have a similar aesthetic. Notice that, like the Ultimate, the regular pump also uses an extra long hose, but instead of braided stainless steel (claimed to be automotive brake line!), it is wrapped in ballistic nylon.
It's still pretty expensive, but at roughly half the cost of the Ultimate, the regular Super Pista brings a lot of the amazing quality and precision of the Ultimate Inflation Tool to a more earth-bound class.

I'll still be holding on to my Columbus-tubed classic for a while (teacher's salary, remember), but a new Silca replacement doesn't seem quite so out of reach anymore.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Riding the Roundabout

A lot of communities in the U.S. are now adopting the "Traffic Roundabout" for some of their intersections. I know very few people who actually like them, many more who are consternated by them, and many cyclists I know are just flat out terrified of them (probably with good reason - keep reading).

Modern roundabouts differ from most of the older style traffic circles some of us have encountered in that, in most cases, there are no stop signs or traffic lights to restrict traffic flow. Instead, the typical design is that traffic entering the roundabout is supposed to yield to traffic already in the roundabout, travel around the circle, then exit by right turn at their desired road.

A traffic roundabout in Akron, Ohio - once known as the rubber city,
and still the home of Goodyear Tire and Rubber.
In my area, the county engineers have been installing these roundabouts at some of the more deadly intersections because the design is supposed to be safer than traditional intersections. After using these newer designs for the past few years, I've found myself questioning whether the roundabouts actually reduce accidents, considering that I see so many drivers who are clueless about how to properly navigate the things. I routinely see drivers in the circle stopping for traffic entering it, while I see lots of cars entering the circles without slowing at all because they expect everyone else to wait for them. Talking to a traffic engineer, I've learned that the roundabouts don't necessarily reduce the number of collisions as much as they reduce the deadliness of them. Accidents that might otherwise have been high-speed head-on crashes become fender-benders.

That's great for cars, but what does that mean for cyclists? A collision that constitutes a "fender bender" in a car can still mean broken bones or even death for a cyclist. And I've read several studies that show a high rate of injuries for cyclists in roundabouts, even as the rates for drivers have fallen.

I don't know if I'm necessarily the absolute best authority on how to navigate traffic roundabouts, but I do have pretty regular experience with them and can give some tips for other cyclists.

One of the first things to remember is something I've already mentioned -- most drivers are CLUELESS about how to handle the roundabout - and clueless drivers are a major threat to themselves and other road users, but especially to cyclists. That means that YOU as the cyclist have to be the adult in the situation. Expect drivers to fail to yield. Expect them to not see you. Expect them to ignore your rights. Expect them to ignore your very existence. Ride accordingly. Once you come to grips with all of that, you are ready to approach the roundabout.

Next, it's helpful to understand some of the more common types of collisions between drivers and cyclists that occur in roundabouts. All three of these scenarios can be scary -- but the threat can be reduced considerably by doing these things: Be Assertive. Take the Lane. Signal your intent.

One of the more common collisions is what in a "normal" intersection would be called a "right-hook" scenario. The driver passes the cyclist either in the approach to the roundabout, or perhaps in the roundabout itself -- then they exit the roundabout, either turning right into, or directly in front of the cyclist. Remember that to most drivers, once they pass a cyclist and he is no longer in their forward view, that cyclist ceases to exist, even if he is still directly outside the driver's passenger side (or worse, in the so-called blind spot).

Staying to the right side of the road is not a good position when approaching a roundabout. My policy is to take the lane, even on the approach. About 20 - 30 yards before the roundabout, I look back over my shoulder for cars approaching from behind, and if it's clear, I signal and move into the middle of the lane. Are you a rear-view-mirror user? You should still look over your shoulder and make eye contact with drivers behind you. The very act of looking back gives the drivers a clue to your intent. And don't worry that you are impeding traffic -- they are supposed to be slowing for the roundabout anyhow. Taking the lane discourages drivers from attempting to pass, and passing can be deadly for the cyclist for the reasons already mentioned. Hold your middle-of-the-lane position through the roundabout. Only after you exit the circle should you move back to the right side of the lane.
If a driver does come up on your left, and it seems that they are starting to turn into you or into your path, the evasive maneuver is the same as in other right-hook situations -- brake and try to make the turn with the car if at all possible. And yell - loudly.

Another common collision stems from drivers who simply fail to yield when entering the roundabout, hitting a cyclist who is already traveling in the circle. Often, the driver is looking past the cyclist, looking for cars that might be approaching from their left side.

Again, taking the lane is important, as it keeps you more in the line of sight of the driver entering the roundabout. I like to be in the middle of the lane, or even slightly left, as it keeps me more visible, but also gives me slightly more reaction time if the driver fails to yield. (If necessary, one could possibly make an evasive maneuver into the apron around the center of the circle). Try to make eye contact with the driver approaching the roundabout. Call out loudly if you have any doubts that they see you. I've even found that pointing right at them sometimes helps catch their attention. If you are able to signal that you are exiting the circle, it's courteous to the driver at the next entrance, but not absolutely necessary, so do it only if it doesn't put you at risk.

Yet another collision can happen on the approach to the roundabout, just prior to entering the circle. A cyclist slows or stops to yield to a vehicle in the circle, then gets hit from behind by another car trying to enter the roundabout. Typically, the driver is looking to their left for approaching traffic, and fails to see the cyclist slowing or stopping in front of them. The previous two situations are more common though.

A more timid cyclist might think that staying to the right and letting the car in back go past would be safer, but as already mentioned, letting drivers pass in this situation presents other risks that are actually more common. My policy is to deal with the car in back first. Look back, make sure they see you, signal, and move into the lane. Next, get a good look at cars that are in the circle and evaluate whether or not you'll need to yield to them. Signal that you are slowing (hand down, palm back). Another look back will help you determine if the car in back is also slowing or stopping. The good news is that you've already taken steps to make yourself conspicuous, so they're probably following your lead.

What if the car in back isn't stopping? You've done a lot to minimize that likelihood, but if it happens, that's a real tricky spot since you are basically between them and the car approaching from the left in the circle. Leave yourself an out. You might be able to make a quick dive to right, on the edge of the circle, and try to stay to the shoulder. Chances are that the car in the circle is probably not hugging the right shoulder, especially if they see another car making a move into their path. 
Be prepared to exit the circle prematurely if necessary. It's not ideal but exit strategies can be necessary in almost any type of traffic situation.
By the way - while all my pictures depict the "single-lane" type of roundabout, one may also find a "multi-lane" roundabout, with separate lanes for those traveling around the circle and for those who are exiting it. One also has to position themselves properly in the correct lane, and that can mean planning ahead, or possibly doing some lane changes within the circle. That can add some extra stress, but for the most part, the same basic principles apply -- take the lane, make yourself visible, and signal your intentions.

Going right, straight, or continuing around the circle for a left turn can mean choosing the correct lane. The same basic principles apply, but if at all possible it's generally best to be in the proper lane before entering the roundabout. If a multi-lane roundabout is really dodgy, with a lot of traffic moving too fast for comfort, one does usually have the option to dismount and cross on foot at the crosswalks. As a cyclist that can feel humiliating, but one needs to do what they're most comfortable with. (graphics from wsdot)

In those various scenarios, I mention having some evasive maneuvers or escape plans -- again, when riding with traffic, it's often necessary to be prepared like that, but I don't think it's any more likely in roundabouts than in other types of intersections. I wouldn't want to leave readers with the impression that it's any more dangerous in the roundabout. And keep in mind that I encounter a couple of these types of intersections every day on my commute to work, and I've never had to take drastic evasive steps. The good news is that in most cases, if you are assertive, take the lane, and signal your intent, you can minimize a lot of the potential dangers to the point that roundabouts might actually live up to the promises of improved safety -- for cyclists as well as drivers.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting

I saw this article on CyclingWeekly the other day: "Six Reasons Why Electronic Groupsets Are Better Than Mechanical."

If you are, like I am, an unrepentant retrogrouch, you probably don't care one whit for electronic shifting. But if you have even a shred of morbid curiosity on the subject, here are the six reasons:

1. The shifting is better.

"The top of the range mechanical groupsets have gone through years of evolution to get to their current level of performance, but in just a few years electronic groupsets have taken things to the next level."

Think about the logic of this for a moment . . . Electronic groupsets are better than mechanical - because the shifting is better. "The next level," apparently, whatever that can be.

Funny thing - after owning nothing but manual transmission cars for nearly 20 years, my current car has an automatic transmission. It works great, but there are many, many times that I still miss the manual shifting. I find that I really liked the feel of that clutch, and feel of the gears snicking into place. I liked that mechanical connection I had to the workings of my car, and I like that mechanical shifting on a bicycle has that similar type of connection between brain, body, and machine. Electronics sever that connection.

2. You can shift through multiple gears.

After admitting that many Campagnolo mechanical groupsets have long been able to do this, the article says, "While you’re not going to be going straight from the 28 to the 11 all that often, it is still a really nice feeling to be able to skip through two or three gears when opening up an attack or when cresting the brow of a hill, while the extra power of the rear derailleur means you can do this under load too."

If Shimano's and SRAM's current mechanical shifters don't allow multiple shifts, then that doesn't mean that electronic is better. It means that Shimano and SRAM's regular shifting systems suck.

You know what else allows multiple-gear shifting? Friction levers.

Skipping through "two or three gears when cresting the brow of a hill"? Here's something that anybody with more than a few hundred miles worth of experience on friction levers can do when cresting that hill: One hand wrapped around both downtube shift levers -  shift from small to large chainring with thumb, while simultaneously shifting from largest to smallest cog in back with one or two fingers.

3. You can put shifters everywhere.

Apparently, Shimano's Di2 allows a person to install up to 3 sets of shift levers (or buttons?) pretty much anywhere they want.

Then again, I've never found myself riding along wishing I had more levers, buttons, or switches on my handlebars, so while the concept might be mind-blowing - it's not exactly life-changing.

4. They're great for time trials.

You know, because you can put those remote shifters all over the place, that means you can have one set by the brake levers, with another out at the end of the aero bars.

If you don't time trial, this makes no difference to you.

Also, I don't think this warrants being listed as another reason. I think it would more accurately be listed as reason "3-b."

5. They're less susceptible to the elements.

"Ok, in their early days, electronic groupsets didn’t cope too well in wet conditions . . . However since then things have got a lot better. That’s because all the cables are sealed (or in the case of SRAM Red eTap, they’re not there at all), while the cables of mechanical gears are left open to the elements, meaning that they can wear out over time."

People make a big deal about cable systems wearing out or going bad over time, but the reality is that in this age of smooth stainless steel cables and lined compressionless housing, a mechanical shifting system will work well for years with only minimal maintenance. But a cable shifting system can also take a lot of abuse and neglect, and the worst thing a person will have to do to get it working right again is add a little lube or replace the cables. Will an electronic system hold up to neglect?

6. You can connect them to your Garmin.

"If you’re going to have gadgets galore on your bike, then you might as well have them all talking to each other."

I don't have a Garmin. I don't want a bunch of electronic gadgets on my bike. I get on my bike to get away from video screens and touchpads.

There you go - Six (really 5½) reasons why electronic shifting is better.

So now I present Seven Retrogrouchy Reasons Why Traditional Shifting is Better Than Electronic.

1. No Batteries. With a fully-mechanical bicycle, you are completely self-sufficient -- living "off the grid" as they say. You will never find yourself on a long ride, miles from home, with a useless hunk of derailleur-shaped aluminum and/or carbon fiber -- rendered as such because you forgot to recharge it before you left home.

2. Mechanical systems can be repaired by anyone. Really. Anyone who has a screwdriver, a couple of allen wrenches, and understands the significance of the words "Lefty-Loosie-Righty-Tightie" can fix an ill-shifting cable-op derailleur. Electronic systems reportedly work amazingly well - but what happens when they don't?

3. Traditional systems withstand abuse and neglect. +1 if it's a friction shifting system. Find an old piece-of-junk bike discarded on the curb on trash day. Just for grins, move a shift lever and see if the rear derailleur moves accordingly. Chances are good that it works. If it doesn't, a new shift cable (under $10) will probably fix it.

4. Inherently simple. A traditional shifting system is a marvel of simplicity -- especially with friction levers. There's very little that can go wrong with it. As a kid, first getting into bikes, I learned a lot by studying the mechanical parts of my bike and working on them myself. As I got older, I was able to apply a lot of the same principals to maintaining and repairing my motorcycles and cars. I don't believe that younger people today will have the same understanding of their bikes and how they work (or their motorcycles, or cars) as people who "cut their teeth" on traditional bikes.

5. Friction shifting systems are multi-compatible. For the most part, friction shifting systems don't care about brand, nationality, or number of cogs. Many people think of them as "obsolete" but in reality, they are practically immune to obsolescence. As long as a derailleur has enough range of movement to span an entire set of cogs, it will probably work.

6. Mechanical systems foster REAL connectivity to your bike. The concept of "Connectivity" gets thrown around a lot these days in a world filled with WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS, smartphones, computers, power meters, and now electronic shifting -- but to my mind, all those things actually Disconnect us from the best part of riding our bikes.

As I touched on already, I like being able to feel a shift happening -- feeling that connection between my hand or my fingers, through the cables, to the movement of my derailleurs, and feeling that chain move across the cogs. All the electronics separate us from those very real functions of our bikes, and the various gadgets, screens, and touchpads end up distracting us from our surroundings.

7. Did I mention "No Batteries"? Hey, if a major publication with numerous writers, editors, and who-knows-how-many interns can say that "multiple shift levers/buttons" counts as two reasons, then I can count "No Batteries" twice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

TwiCycle - 2 Wheel Drive Bicycle

You know what's wrong with bicycling? It isn't a full-body workout - and that just annoys the crap out of some inventors, which is why there are so many people out there trying to turn some variation of THIS:
(There's probably a reason that every garage sale in America has one of these.)
Into something like THIS:

The TwiCycle is the latest iteration of something that the inventors seem to think has never been done before. From the TwiCycle website: "TwiCycle was invented out of desire to achieve full body workout while cycling outdoors and out of frustration that no such affordable product exist on the market today." The site continues: "TwiCycle incorporates several exercises into a single workout by utilizing different muscle groups simultaneously."

"TwiCycle is currently one of the very few sports which allow FULL body exercise. There is no muscle on your body that you can’t put to use."

Remember, the brain is not a muscle.

The makers claim "It went from an idea to proof of concept to a working prototype in a matter of a few months."

Whoa - just a few months? How long would it have taken to find out about these?

The Raxibo
The 4 Strike Bike
The Varibike
And there's the RowBike, which has its origins going back over a decade:

The RowBike.
And that doesn't even touch on the numerous contraptions that never got beyond the prototype phase or out of the home-tinkerers' garages.

They would probably point out that all these other variations on the hand-drive concept only drive the rear wheel, whereas the TwiCycle is a 2-wheel drive concept.

Then again, so was THIS thing:
A prototype of The Full Body Bike, also from about a decade ago. The hand crank powers the front wheel.
An extra couple of minutes of searching turned up another that looks like it's from the '50s:

From the Cyclorama site. "This idea gets rolled out every twenty years or so as each new generation of inventive geniuses discovers bikes and decides to improve them. Bicycles so equipped didn't go any faster a hundred years ago. They still don't."
And of course there are all manner of hand-cranked tricycles and wheelchairs out there, too.

Originality notwithstanding, let's get back to the TwiCycle:

If you're looking at that big chainring perched right there by the stem and feeling a little intimidated, don't worry - the makers of TwiCycle have got you covered:

Yes, they offer a big chest pad that they assure potential buyers will keep them from tearing their faces off in a head-on collision. Well, that's a relief.

And in their FAQ page, they address lots of concerns about their hand-cranked, front-drive system. I'm not certain if the answers would make me feel better or not:

Question (not actually a question, by the way): "A chainring/sprocket right underneath your chin . . . that's asking for some serious injuries in an accident!"

Answer: "If you’re falling of the bike at speed, the chainring will be the least of your worries!"


"An optional standard chain guard can also be fitted (like on old school bikes), but this would be completely unnecessary as no part of the body can reach it due to the already installed pad." They go on to add "unless of course you’re actually a giraffe in which case you shouldn’t be cycling in the first place." 

If you are a giraffe who enjoys cycling, don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't. Nobody should tolerate that kind of discrimination.

Question: "A moving chain near your fingers/face? Severed fingers?" (anyone . . . anyone? Severed fingers, going once, going twice . . .)

Answer: "It’s not any more dangerous than normal handlebars with all the accessories…and it’s a bike chain, NOT a chain saw."

They aren't familiar with the late, great Sheldon Brown's site, apparently.
Question (Again, NOT actually a question): "Watch when that chain gets caught in the front wheel!"

Answer: "Watch when the back chain gets caught too!"

That seems a little defensive. They continue:

"The front wheel drive mechanism is no different to a normal rear wheel mechanism and this has been tried and tested for a 100 years. The risks are the same as for any other standard bicycle."

No difference? Actually, BIG difference. Chains can (and do) get caught or jammed into a wheel badly enough to stop the wheel from turning (it probably isn't all that frequent - but it does happen). When that happens on the back wheel, the bike will skid. If that were to happen on the front . . . well . . . 

Understand that I'm not necessarily suggesting that these face-gouging/finger-severing/face-planting scenarios are particularly likely - but I wouldn't be too quick to completely dismiss them as possibilities, either.

Good idea or bad idea, either way, the TwiCycle inventors are probably feeling pretty good about their new full-body-workout-bike. The website includes an "About the Team" page, with a brief profile of each member.

Meet "The Team":

Boyan Rista - Inventor and founder of TwiCycle, seasoned musician, songwriter, music producer and entrepreneur who loves outdoor adventures and traveling.

Goran Rista - Marketing and media for TwiCycle, professional musician, music and video producer, audio engineer and entrepreneur who enjoys anything that involves creativity.

Snezana Rista - Web and print media design for TwiCycle, the youngest of the Rista trio with the sharp eye for detail to turn anything into a beautiful peace of art. (Yes, that says "peace of art." No, I don't know if that was an example of artistic license)

Notice that none of their profiles mentions "cyclist."

Why is it that the people who are always re-inventing the bicycle are never actually bicyclists?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Coming Unhinged: Trocadero Twisting Frame Bike

Every now and then, an idea comes along that makes any rational person think "Why?".

Often, the answer is simply, "Why not?".

I suppose that's the only way to explain this new bike from a trio of French cyclists and inventors including professional rider Johan Le Bon (of the FDJ team): The Trocadero Fixie.

Truly bizarre.
The unique feature of the Trocadero Fixie (which is not actually a fixed-gear bike, but rather a single-speed, from what I can tell) is that it has a pivot in the downtube which lets the frame become "unhinged" so that the front and rear wheels can move in different planes to one another.

In this still-frame from the video, you can get a pretty good look
at the frame -- notice that it has very little triangulation behind
the head-tube -- which means it would probably give a fair bit
of flex even when it's NOT intentional.
There is a video on the company's website where one can see the bike zipping around the city. The articulation of the frame does appear to give the riders a very small turning radius, as they can use their hips to turn from the back as well as the front. The bike's inventors claim that it takes about 10 minutes to master. Also, the pivot can be "locked out" so that the bike can be ridden as a conventional bike. I've read that the company has made about 30 of the crazy machines.

Purely for the sake of unintentional (and juvenile) humor, I suggest visiting the Trocadero website, which is only available in French, then have it translated to English using Google Translate. Some highlights:

"The bike seems almost to dismember before our eyes." (Ewww!) "In question ? its frame is not fixed. Both sides of the vehicle can then rotate integrally in one way or another."

"An unusual and entertaining bike launched by three young Britons who has the gift to challenge! Its uniqueness, it detonates! Thrills guaranteed!"

It detonates? Somebody call the bomb squad. But it would definitely be thrilling.
Bitchin' Bellbottoms,

"An approach that recalls the invention of the ATV. Initially, it was only tinkering and a lighted sports. Today it has become an Olympic sport, where the French excellent."


OK - so is the Trocadero "Fixie" a truly original idea? Maybe not exactly. Anybody out there remember the Swing Bike from the '70s? It was kind of like a Schwinn Sting-Ray type of bike, but the rear wheel (and drivetrain) of the bike could pivot on a fork much like the front. Little Jimmy Osmond used to appear in their ads. If one could master the technique, it was supposed to be very maneuverable, and capable of some pretty cool tricks - or the pivot could be locked out, and it would ride like any normal banana seat "muscle bike" of the era.

You can watch the Trocadero Fixie video right here: