BikeCommuters.com

Author Archive: Jack "Ghost Rider" Sweeney

Bicycle commuter since 1989, bicycle enthusiast for 30+ years. I am a Bookmobile/Books By Mail librarian at a large library system and the proud father of two wonderful boys.

Book reviews: Last-minute gift ideas for the bicycling reader in your life

I’ve got a backlog of book reviews waiting to be published, so I thought I would combine them into a longer “roundup” — as you well know, books can be a great holiday gift for the two-wheeler in your life. Or, you could always treat yourself to one of these titles. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Bike Porn, Volume 1

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Chris Naylor is the author of Bike Porn, Volume 1 (West Sussex, UK: Summersdale Publishers, Ltd., 2013). In this book, Chris has compiled dozens of high-quality photos of some really spectacular bikes. These photos are juxataposed with cycling-friendly quotes, from notables such as H.G. Wells, Grant Peterson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bob Weir, and many more. It’s a celebration of the craftsmanship and technology of the modern bicycle.

Lots of custom bikes from today’s hot builders are featured, as are components like wheels. The photographs are from many contributors, and all of them display crisp resolution, focusing on subtle details as well as the entire bike. The book is printed on matte-finished, high-quality paper, and serves as a mini “coffee table” book. The tech geek in me wished for more information about some of the bicycles displayed within Bike Porn’s pages, but that’s beyond the scope of the book. This is a good addition to a collection of bicycle design titles, generating inspiration and interest in some really fantastic two-wheeled machines.

The Road Less Taken

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Kathryn Bertine’s The Road Less Taken: Lessons from a Life Spent Cycling (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2014) is a humorous peek into the world of professional women’s bike racing. Kathryn is an accomplished writer, penning features for publications like ESPN, espnW. In addition to her professional racing career with the Wiggle-Honda team, she has also found the time to create documentary films and to write two other cycling memoirs. Most importantly, she is one of the founders of Le Tour Entier, an organization that helped launch La Course, the women’s Tour de France that premiered in the 2014 season.

Kathryn details what it’s like to be a professional cyclist among women’s ranks — the financial struggles, homestays, mechanical issues, and so much else. She approaches her narrative with a large dose of self-deprecating humor, giving a funny and insightful overview of the fairly deplorable state of professional women’s bike racing. Kathryn’s ability to convey her passion for the sport despite the many struggles is refreshing, and she gives a great look into what motivates riders, how they stay focused, and how she was able to overcome adversity during her years as a racer. She finishes off the book with some articles she wrote for other publications, highlighting women’s sports issues and showcasing other female athletes. The book, on the whole, is a bit scattershot — Kathryn tends to jump around a bit in almost a stream-of-consciousness writing style. It works here, though, and I found it to be a very enjoyable read.

The Monuments

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Since I began following bike racing in the mid 1980s, I always had a soft spot for the spring and fall classics, particularly the five races known as “The Monuments”. In Peter Cossin’s book The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), I found a treasure trove of information. Let me just put this out here right now: this is overwhelmingly the best book I’ve read this year, and I read a LOT of books (60-80 a year). I simply could not put this tome down…it is filled with historical accounts, little-known facts, and the origins of the greatest races on the pro calendar.

What are The Monuments, you ask? Well, in order of their placement on the racing calendar, we’ve got Milan-Sanremo (known as “La Primavera” in Italian, their phrase for “spring”). Next up is de Ronde van Vlaanderen, known to English speakers as the Tour of Flanders, referred to by fans as “Vlaanderens mooiste” (Flander’s most beautiful). A week later comes Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North. This one is considered the Queen of the Classics, and legends are born on the cobbles. Next up is La Doyenne (the old lady), cycling’s oldest Monument that most people know as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Rounding out the calendar is the Giro di Lombardia, colloquially known as “The Race of the Falling Leaves”. This last used to mark the end of the pro season, and was a last chance for many cyclists to get a prestigious win for the year.

Peter Cossins addresses each race with incredible detail, from accounts of the first runnings of each race through to modern times. These accounts are amazing in their detail — it is almost as if the author was there, roadside, catching all the breathtaking action of true cycling legends giving their all in these events. Even as a seasoned follower of these races, I learned many details. For example, most fans think Paris-Roubaix is called “Hell of the North” due to the mud, the inclement weather, and the torturous cobbled secteurs. In fact, it was given that nickname just after World War I, when the race traversed areas utterly devastated by the fighting in that brutal conflict.

The Monuments deserves a place in every racing fan’s bookshelf — I simply cannot convey how much I enjoyed reading this title. I even skipped meals in order to finish this thing; it is that compelling.

Faster

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Written by Michael Hutchinson, a professional cyclist with over 50 national titles, Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) gives a detailed examination into the art and science of professional bike racers. Hutchinson presents the information in a way that breaks down complex ideas about physiology, nutrition, and technology into concepts that are easily digested, even for a layperson. In other words, I didn’t have to ask my wife to explain some of the physiological details to me (she’s a medical professional working on her doctorate).

Hutchinson talks about some of the extremes pros go to to eke out those crucial seconds that stand between them and a win (high-altitude simulation tents, anyone?). He delves deeply into laboratory testing, the psychology of successful riders, and many other facets of the sacrifices, black magic, and hard science of the professional athlete’s training regimen. Throughout the book, Hutchinson is not afraid to poke fun at himself or at a lot of the mysteries surrounding extreme athletic preparation. His writing style blends humor with a rich examination of the sport, and it’s been very pleasant to read (so far…I’m not quite finished with the book yet). For the cyclist who also likes to pin on a race number from time to time, this is a valuable addition to a book collection. There are no “secret formulas” on offer here, but much of the information can be used to formulate training game plans all the same.

These four books are available online or at most well-stocked book retailers. Each of them makes a fantastic gift for the bike fan in your life.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Review: ArroWhere reflective cycling jacket

Back at Interbike in September, RL ran across the ArroWhere company. Their product line “caught our eye”, as they say — with bright colors and loads of reflective accents for nighttime safety.

We reached out the the ArroWhere company and they sent us a pre-production sample of their Solid Arrow Reflective Jacket to try out. Remember, this is a pre-production sample, so minor details have changed from the actual version for sale. We’ll get into those changes in a bit.

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First, a bit about the jacket directly from the manufacturer’s website:

-Waterproof and breathable polyester fabric
-Top quality 3M reflective material
-Patent pending ArroWhere arrow design visible at night at least 1/4 mile away
-Lower tail
-Reflective panels and striping
-Fleece lined collar and pockets
-Waterproof zippers
-Zippered armpit vents

The ArroWhere jacket has an extended tail to help fight off splashes. The arms are extra long to provide coverage when stretched out on the bike — a perfect length for me. The jacket has a fine mesh lining to help it breathe. I got a size medium to test, and while it feels a little bit large when I’m standing around, it conforms nicely to me when I’m actually on the bike. There is room for underlayers, too.

The jacket has a fleece-lined collar with a protective zipper garage that prevents throat gouges when it’s zipped up all the way. The handwarmer pockets are lined in the same luxurious fleece, too — great for when your hands need a quick warmup. All the zippers are waterproof and easy to manipulate on or off the bike, including the generously long pit zips for venting excess heat:

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The cuffs have a hook-and-loop adjustment system that snugs them up nicely to prevent wind intrusion:

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This jacket is LOADED with reflective accents. The large arrow on the back gives other road users a good visual indication of what to do when approaching, and the arrow is available pointing right for users in the UK and other areas where driving on the left is the norm. The rest of the reflective trim catches the light nicely. I would have liked reflective cuffs here, though, to help make my arm-motion directional signals more visible out on the roads.

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Now, about the changes in the final jacket: I spoke to Khyle Pinkman, the founder of the company. He said that the production jacket fabric demonstrates better waterproofing than the sample we tested, and also is nicer in terms of overall fabric quality. I did not get to try this out in the wet (yet), so I can’t make any claims about the fabric on this sample.

In addition to safety yellow, the jacket is available in high-visibility orange and in navy blue. It is available in sizes from S to XXL, and female riders rejoice, because there is a wide range of women’s sizes, too! The jacket retails for $129.95, which is right at the price point many similar jackets with fewer features live at. That makes it a good value in my book.

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For my purposes, the jacket is nearly perfect as-is. It helps keep me warm, there’s room for clothing underneath, and the reflective accents are effective at night. Add in the details like the fleece linings and trim and we’ve got a winner here. As I mentioned, if there was more reflective at the cuffs, I’d call it PERFECT.

Check out the full range of ArroWhere jackets by visiting their website. They make reflective vests and backpack covers with the same quality and patent-pending reflective design for additional nighttime safety and visibility on dark streets.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

The story behind Veloloop

Sometimes, as bike commuters, we meet the most interesting people at stoplights. Maybe it’s because we’re not ensconced in metal-and-glass shells, so we seem more accessible. I’ve met my share of folks at stoplights; just ask my friend Gordon R, who sometimes posts here as “The Other GR”. We met at a stoplight in Tampa and became fast friends.

A few weeks ago, I was out riding at an unusual hour (for me), trying to get some night shots of a dynamo light I am testing. At a stoplight, another cyclist rolled up behind me and asked me about the light. We got to talking, and he mentioned that he is the inventor of the technology behind Veloloop.

Have you seen this thing? Veloloop uses radio signals to communicate with the induction loops that control stoplights, and triggers them in a way that bicycles sometimes cannot on their own. Turns out the inventor lives a block away from me, and holds a variety of patents. He wishes to remain anonymous for the time being, but was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Bikecommuters.com. Veloloop has already received favorable press in a number of news outlets, including Outside Magazine and Bike Radar.

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A couple of weekends ago, my neighbor and I met and he demonstrated how Veloloop works. I hung back to watch so as not to inadvertently trigger any stoplights. I can say that the device really works — my friend would roll over the induction loop, the light on the Veloloop device would blink for a bit and then go steady, and the crosswalk countdown timer would start ticking away. Seconds later, we had a green light to proceed!

BC: How did you come up with the idea?

Many years ago a co-worker asked if it would be possible to do something like this. There are other approaches in the patent literature, but I found them to all be a little less than elegant. I’ve done a fair amount of radio design, and I had studied how to make radios that transmitted while they received, and eventually I realized how to apply that knowledge to this problem.

How long have you been working on Veloloop?

I spent a significant amount of time over the 1999-2008 timeframe learning how traffic sensors work and exploring various ways to electronically activate them. Then about two years ago Nat Collins approached me because he wanted to do something similar and had seen my patents. So, we cooperated and developed a practical version.

How does Veloloop work?

First, you have to understand how the loop sensors work. They are really just big metal detectors. They transmit a high frequency signal into a loop of wire beneath the road surface. That loop has an electrical property called “inductance”. Inductance is a measure of how much magnetic field is creted by a current. When a car drives over the loop, the inductance changes. It actually goes down. This is because the metal in the car intercepts some of that magnetic field. The sensor detects this sudden change in inductance.

There are several ways to do this, but usually the sensor’s own frequency depends on the inductance, so it can notice a sudden change in frequency to indicate vehicle presence. The key thing here is that it’s a high frequency signal, and the inductance changes when a vehicle is present.

The Veloloop has a transmitter. Once it figures out what frequency the loop is using, it sends back a signal at *almost* the same frequency. In fact, the signal it sends back deliberately varies its frequency, a little high, then a
little low, etc., just to be sure all bases are covered. It is able to keep listening while it transmits to make sure it is still over a sensor and near the right frequency. This transmitted signal gets picked up by the loop in the ground and looks to the detector like a sudden change in inductance. Voila, the bicycle gets detected.

How prevalent are inductive loop traffic sensors in the U.S.? Are there other technologies to detect cars and bicycles at intersections?

They appear to be going away in some areas, and are being replaced by vision systems. Vision systems are often unable to detect bicycles and have trouble with accumulation of dirt. Inductive sensors are still common in many places and there are several well-established companies making them and coming out with new models. I expect them to be around for a long time.

What is some of the backlash you’ve seen regarding press coverage of the Veloloop in news sources? Any persistent myths that bicyclists repeat?

Much of the backlash comes from the fact that often proper placement of the bicycle over the sensitive part of the sensor is adequate to generate detections. So, there is a perceived lack of need for an active device. There is also the stupid idea that if you don’t get detected, it may be permissible to run the light.

In reality, there are many detectors that are just unable to detect bicycles regardless of placement, and many situations where it would just be a whole lot safer, faster, and more convenient to get detected. This is where the Veloloop can help. It also takes a burden off of traffic departments who often have trouble fiddling with sensitivity.

Oh, and then there’s the “magnet myth”. This is the urban legend that says that putting magnets on your shoes will somehow trigger the sensors (Editor’s note: I was guilty of believing in this myth — had a hard-drive magnet glued to the bottom of my cycling shoes back in Florida). As I pointed out, the sensors use a high frequency signal while a magnet produces a static field. They are not the same. This old idea is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of electromagnetics and has been disproven many times. What probably happens is that someone glues a magnet to their shoe or frame, and then proceeds to place their bike over the sensitive part of a cooperative loop, and gets a detection. They think it was due to the magnet, but in reality it was the placement (or the car that came by in the opposite direction). Enough people have done the scientific test with just a magnet without a bicycle at a deserted intersection, to debunk this one.

Anything else we should know? Any improvements in the works, or other details to share?

We’ve looked at eliminating the loop and using the bicycle frame as an antenna. That would involve some big up-front costs to make a special transformer, so we didn’t start there. We are also looking into the motorcycle market. We’ve have a lot of inquiries there. Neither of us (the Veloloop developers) are motorcycle owners, so we don’t have first-hand knowledge of the requirements.

Recently, the VP of engineering at a major induction loop manufacturer contacted us to test one of the Veloloop devices. He can tell us just what effect the unit is having on their sensors (trigger, error condition, etc.).

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Editor’s note: The Veloloop’s Kickstarter campaign is struggling a bit — so there’s still time to contribute if you’re interested. We’d like to thank the developer for taking time to demonstrate the device and for answering our questions. We’ll have a followup once the induction loop manufacturer submits his report, too.

A doctoral student needs our help!

A doctoral student at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health in Brooklyn, New York named Mark Hoglund reached out to us a while back to gauge our interest in an online survey. The survey aims to collect bicycle commuter data — here, let me have Mark explain it better:

A RESEARCH STUDY ABOUT BICYCLING AND SAFETY

DEAR FELLOW BICYCLE RIDERS,

IF YOU ARE 18 OR OLDER, please take part in an anonymous survey for a research study about bicycling practices and bicycling accidents. The survey will take only about 15-20 minutes to fill out.

IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER OR NOT YOU HAVE HAD AN ACCIDENT RIDING YOUR BICYCLE. Your answers will help researchers find out how to make bicycling safer. YOU WILL NOT BE ASKED FOR YOUR NAME.

No one will find out how you answered the questions.

TO GO TO THE SURVEY, please use this link: http://survey.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_eXRDaDI9sn3TrrT

THANK YOU! If you have any questions, please feel free to call me. (I won’t ask you to tell me your name.)
Mark W. Hoglund
Doctoral Student
School of Public Health
SUNY Downstate Medical Center
450 Clarkson Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11203

Again, you can access the survey online by clicking here. Please fill it out and share it as much as you can with other bicyclists — the more responses, the better the data! Thanks from all of us here at Bikecommuters.com.