Category: Advanced Commuter Tips

Megan sent in the following question:

“My husband has started riding his bike to work. I am wondering if there is a set of tools that he should have at the ready for any necessary roadside repairs. Any suggestions?”

Great question! While there are plenty of seasoned bike commuters who carry extensive toolkits, it is really only necessary to have a small selection of tools to conquer the most common breakdowns.

My “bare minimum” essential kit consists of the following: one spare tube, one minipump (or CO2 inflator), one packet of glueless “speed patches”, one 1$ bill, two tire levers and a multitool, plus a seatbag or similar to carry this kit in.

the basic setup

If your bike has nutted axles rather than quick release skewers, it is necessary to include a wrench of some type to loosen and tighten those nuts. Surly makes a great tool for 15mm axle nuts, as does Paragon Machine Works.

I have an old Sugino 15mm crankbolt socket wrench that I keep on my singlespeed/fixed gear bike in case I have to replace a tube:

Sugino wrench

For multitools, there are a variety of types on the market, from elaborate fold-out systems with every conceivable tool to very minimalist types that only include the essentials. I lean toward the minimalist variety…especially my very favorite, the Park MT-1 multitool:

MT-1

I like this tool so much that I have three of them…one in my backpack, one in my seatbag and one that I occasionally wear around my neck as jewelry! I know, I know…I’m a bike geek; what can I say?

What makes the Park tool so special is that it has all the basics rolled into one tool — no moving parts, no “fluff” — 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8mm hex keys (all the common sizes used on bikes), 8, 9 and 10mm sockets (for brake and derailleur cable pinch bolts and a lot of other applications) and a flat-bladed screwdriver for derailleur and brake screw adjusting. Pure genius!

Here’s an example of another common type of multitool — one of the fold-out varieties:

multitool

This tool was provided by our team sponsor PricePoint. I haven’t used it yet, though, as it lacks the most important hex key size…a 5mm. Perhaps this was an assembly oversight?

In any case, these are the only tools a commuter really needs to tackle the most common roadside repairs — flat tires, loose assemblies, shifter and brake adjustments and the like. You could carry more, but you don’t have to!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Bernard sent in the following question:

“I have a steel touring bike from 1984. I love the bike because of the all-day comfort these old frames offer, but the 6-speed freewheel/Suntour XC “elliptical” chainrings and prototype index/friction downtube shifters combination don’t work that well, as it tends to want to slip out of gear. Is it a practical alternative to swap in a modern indexed shifting system?”

The bike in question — on tour in France:

Bernard's tourer in France

Good news, Bernard…this is an entirely feasible process. Luckily, just about anything is possible in converting an old bike into something more modern — there are quite a few companies out there who make specialized adapters and such to resurrect an old friend and to teach him new tricks!

To set up modern indexing shift systems on an older bike, there are a couple things to consider: dropout spacing and how many speeds you want in the finished bike (deciding now can really simplify the conversion process, as we will see).

After speaking with Bernard, I learned that he is willing to do the full upgrade — shifters, new rear wheel, derailleurs and new chainrings. The chainring part is easy. Merely swap the old Suntour OvalTech chainrings for modern 8- or 9-speed specific rings…no crank replacement required!

Dropout spacing is really the only tricky consideration. On one- through 5-speed bikes, the rear dropout spacing was typically 120mm. With six speed systems and early “ultra 7” systems, the dropout spacing jumped up to 126mm. Modern 9- and 10-speed drivetrains have 130mm spacing. Since Bernard indicated that he currently has a 6-speed freewheel, the frame’s spacing need to be pushed out an additional 4mm. I’ve covered doing this in another article, but if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, any competent bike shop should be able to help. Again, luck is on Bernard’s side, as the frame in question is steel. Don’t try this on an aluminum or carbon frame!

The only specialized equipment needed to modernize the shifting system on this bike (aside from the new components themselves) are downtube-mounted cable stops such as these:

downtube cable stops

These cable stops simply bolt to the downtube shifter bosses and provide the anchor (and adjustment) for the shifter cables. If you don’t have brazed-on shifter bosses, there are band-on models available as well.

I won’t go step-by-step into the conversion itself, but after the rear dropouts are spaced correctly, simply bolt on the new components, slip the new wheel in, string your shifter cables and adjust everything so it shifts cleanly.

Here’s a handy trick if you’re strapped for cash or don’t want to do the full-tilt conversion…and the reason I suggested deciding on the number of gears needed before you run headlong into this conversion project: if you have a seven-speed freewheel (Shimano still makes Hyperglide-compatible 6 and 7 speed freewheels in limited quantities!), you can make it work as a modern indexed system with 8-speed indexed shifters (readily available on the secondhand market, such as Ebay). No new rear wheel or rear derailleur required! You’ll just have an extra “ghost click” on the shifter. The only kink is that sometimes there’s not quite enough clearance between chainstay and smallest cog, but that is easily rectified by slipping a couple spacers under the drive-side hub locknut (2 or 3mm is all it takes). Sometimes simple is best…

Finally, the last consideration is not to mix brands. There are adapters to make Shimano components play nice with Campagnolo or SRAM, but it’s better to “keep things in the family” for precision’s sake.

It is really fun and rewarding to breathe new life into an old friend — you CAN teach an old dog new tricks with a little tinkering. Bernard, be sure to tell us how it all works out, and happy riding!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

A reader sent in the following question:

If you ride at night, what would you consider to be most important:

1. To be lit on the front
2. To be lit on the back
3. To be lit on the sides?

My gut feeling tells me that if I only had one light to choose from (let’s say a freak occurence disabled all other lighting choices or drained all but a couple batteries), I’d pick the light in the back as most important. My reasoning is that to a certain degree, we have more control over events that happen to the front and sides of us as we ride at night — we can see cars coming from the other direction and can (hopefully) watch out for vehicles turning, road hazards and other perils. That’s really not the case with cars coming up from behind us; a cyclist never knows just how close an overtaking car is until it’s pretty much right alongside!

It turns out, though, that crash statistics don’t bolster my “gut feeling”…overtaking collisions between motorists and bicyclists happen a lot less frequently than you might think (between 4% and 10%, depending on the study).

A couple of studies have suggested that the overwhelming majority of car/bicycle collisions (nearly 80%!!!) come when crossing or turning events occur. Here’s a diagram of two of the most common collisions in question:

bicyclesafe.com

I spoke to Julie Bond of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida about this. Julie looks at crash statistics (among other things) for a living, so I thought I’d get her input on this question. Her response was:

“You probably know that in Florida [as in most other states], it is the law that you must have a front light and back light between sunset and sunrise. I wouldn’t want
to use crash statistics to try to justify one light over the other.

In my opinion, if you ride between sunset and sunrise both lights are
mandatory for safety and to abide by the law. I turn my lights on during
the day also. I think it makes me more visible on my ride to work.”

Good points, Julie…but where does that leave us? And how do we defend against turning or crossing collisions? We’ve got lights that point to the front and to the back…but there’s not a whole lot of choice or emphasis on side lighting, right?

There’s hope on the horizon! In addition to Hokey Spokes and RL’s favorite, the LED Spoke Light, Moe sent me a package of Nikko Starlights, an ingenious and inexpensive wheel light from Japan:

Nikko Starlight

The Starlight attaches to the spokes of your wheels and serves as both reflector and motion-activated light. Inside the plastic case is a tiny screw floating inside a magnet…as you roll down the street or bounce over rough spots, this tiny screw makes an electrical connection and fires up the light. I’ll try to shoot a video of it soon.

The light is surprisingly bright, and at cruising speed it creates a red “hoop” effect that’s pretty darn visible. This might just be the neatest solution to side lighting that I’ve seen in a while!

starlight mounted

So, in order to be prepared riding at night, I always preach redundancy: multiple lights both front and rear, spare batteries in your bag or repair kit, reflective tape or other reflectors everywhere you can squeeze some in…and now side lighting to help protect yourself against those turning or crossing collisions. You CANNOT be “too visible” out there!

We’d sure love to hear if any of our readers have other side lighting solutions or additional considerations for nighttime safety. Just leave your comments below!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Warm weather is just around the corner, and soon it will be time to dust off those bicycles. Here are some tips for safe riding:

Bicycle-Safety Tips

* Always use hand signals when turning at intersections. There’s nothing motorists pay more attention to than hand signals from bicyclists.
* Leaving your bike out in the ice and cold all winter may cause serious damage. But it makes a nice subject for the cover illustration of a short-fiction quarterly.
* Always wear a helmet. If this makes you uncomfortable, think of the helmet as a crown and yourself as King Dorko.
* Placing your feet firmly on the pedals of the bike will help reduce the “Wheee” sound emitted from your mouth while going downhill.
* Insist on a bicycle made of solid matter. Liquid and vapor bikes are a passing fancy; argon frames are particularly shoddy.
* Taking your bike in for a professional tune-up is a great way to waste $25.
* Be sure to wear your seatbelt, even if just biking down to the corner store.
* Fat-bottomed girls may be riding today, so look out for those beauties, oh, yeah.
* Visibility is crucial when biking. Ride with a lit highway flare in each hand.
* Every three to four weeks, lightly oil the chain. Then dip it in flour and fry it for a real taste treat.
* As soon as you buy a bike, talk to your friends about how great Shimano crank sets and STX hubs are.
* Does your city have adequate bike paths? If not, consider bitching about it to your local government for the next 40 years.
* If rich, spoiled Francis Buxton steals your bike, go on a hilarious and heartwarming journey through the American Southwest to get it back.
* Bike safety can never be stressed enough. If you doubt this, try stressing it as much as you possibly can. It won’t be enough–guaranteed.

Courtesy of The Onion

Here’s Greg’s Bio…

Greg Raisman lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Beth and dog, Dot. He’s been bicycling for transportation for more than a decade. He had an advocacy background in poverty, homelessness, and environmental issues when tragedy led him to become a bike advocate. Read about it HERE.

Greg currently works for the Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership at the Portland Office of Transportation where he specializes in bicycle safety, school traffic safety, drunk driving, red light cameras, and crash data mapping and analysis. Greg also assists with “green streets”, pedestrian safety, and traffic calming.

The most effective cycling advocacy I’ve seen has been a mixture of fun and a bunch of other wonky stuff. The more fun you have, the better advocate you’ll be. As much as possible, the core elements of advocacy are building networks of people, gaining knowledge on policy and the “toolbox”, and creating a framework to convince others that your ideas make sense.

Sometimes fun advocacy can be pretty simple. You can have fun and advocate just by riding your bike. I think there’s a strong case that can be made that as more people ride, even more people start to ride. When it becomes very realistic that the person you just passed on a bicycle could have been your neighbor, friend, or family member, the whole equation starts to change. The perspective changes both from a “I should be more careful around that person” and a “Should I ride my bicycle?” viewpoint.

Photos by Brad Reber

The more you ride your bicycle, the more likely it is that your friends will ride. Suddenly, the trip to the restaurant may grow by 5 minutes in length, but you’re having fun with your friends and getting some exercise along the way. It’s as if your groups are being passive advocates (and also ambassadors – so watch those stop signs and red lights).

Also, the more you ride your bicycle, and as more people join you, the less likely it is that crashes will occur. Safety is consistently the top reason people don’t ride. Safety in numbers has been playing out in every city in the world that has seen explosive growth in bike riding (safety for everyone, not just cyclists). Check out this excellent article for more background: HERE.

You can notch the fun up by recruiting total strangers. In Portland, there is a monthly event called Breakfast on the Bridges. This simple event can happen anywhere. You meet new friends, build a network of advocates, create a predictable reason to ride your bike to work on a Friday, and drink coffee. Here’s a great short video about BonB.

It’s interesting, Fridays look to be the day that fewest people ride. A scientist at a local hospital was tracking bicycle use on his hospital campus. He eventually came up with a regression analysis that quite accurately predicts into the future how many people will ride to the hospital. Here’s how it looks *dork alert* Total bikes on campus = 5.675 + .309(temperature) + -.295(wind speed) + -.307(cloud cover) + -1.673(Friday). Cloud cover is a 1-10 scale (0 = very clear, 10 = very cloudy). The model is significant at the p<.001 level. Thankfully the 5.675 has to keep increasing as the number of cyclists grows each year. The basic message: CREATE REASONS FOR PEOPLE TO RIDE ON FRIDAYS.

If you really get into things, you can start having all sort of bike fun events. In Portland, we supposedly have upwards of 2,000 bike related events a year. Some are wacky, some dorky, some pretty wholesome. Who wouldn’t want to take their family on this ride?

“1:00pm
Ramona Quimby is one of Portland’s most beloved literary characters. Most folks know she lived on NE Klickitat, but where else did she go? We’ll go for an easy ride around the neighborhood, visiting some of Ramona, Beezus, and Henry’s favorite spots and learning a little history, too. Everyone that comes gets a free Ramona related goody!”

So task one: Have fun and get people out riding.

The rest of the tasks are not as much fun (unless you’re a dork like me). You need to learn your stuff. Become knowledgeable about your rights and responsibilities under state law and local ordinance. Learn what the rules of the game are for managing the streets, for building new roads, for building new developments, for tenant improvements, for bike parking, for whatever your particular interest is. No one can master them all, but there should be elements in the movement that can give real input when the opportunity arises. A lot of this stuff is about incremental change.

You’re going to try to tell someone that things can be better than what’s in their current comfort zone. Remember that the people you’re going to try to convince are not your enemy. They likely haven’t thought about bicycles as much as you have. In a lot of ways, it’s about finding mutual interest so that they don’t see you as the enemy either.

Here’s one approach that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance offers to share the idea of Bicycle Boulevards with people. This video is not geared towards “cyclists”. It tries to express why bike boulevards are good for those not in the choir. Check it out. Use it. Or, if you don’t think it will work in your neighborhood, modify its message – then use that message. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyfiCUPV9PI

For even more background on bike boulevards, including a toolbox overview, check out www.bikeblvd.com.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you make a difference. If you’re advocating in Long Beach, you have a jump start on a lot of places. Bike Station is a world-class model for an “end of trip facility”. Parking, repairs, security, services. It’s a gold standard that creates a place to organize from. If you’re not in Long Beach, find out if your community has a similarly amazing jumping off point.

Do you have a bicycle advisory committee? Join it. Volunteer for Bike Station or another local advocacy group. Run for your neighborhood association board. Start your own effort. Support local and state funding efforts that provide the necessary resources. Attend every street project meeting you can. Remember that as we increase safety for the most vulnerable roadway users, we increase safety for everyone.

Thanks for making the world a better place by riding your bike.

Greg Raisman
Portland, Oregon