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More Amazing Utility Bikes

A couple weeks ago, I posted a set of YouTube videos that showcased some of my favorite wacky “utility bikes”.

That posting caught the eye of one of our astute readers, who forwarded us a link to an amazing article on the Designboom blog. The article is a showcase recently held in St. Etienne, France — consisting of sustainable human- and solar-powered utility bikes, from electric-assist tricycles to a solar-powered DJ booth to my favorite, the rolling human-powered bike shop:

bike shop
(photo from the Designboom article)

Spin on over to read the full article and to gaze upon some of these wondrous creations.

Mission Product Skincare: Review

Back in September, I received a set of skincare products from Mission Product. I’ve had a chance to test every one of the products pretty extensively, and I wanted to share my thoughts about them.

The blurb from the Mission Product website states:

Teaming up with scientists and skincare industry veterans, we’ve established an entirely new category — high-performance, athlete-engineered skincare™. Engineered in MISSION Labs, the entire MISSION Product line is designed, and has been proven, to meet the specific needs of athletes and sports enthusiasts across all sports.

A couple of the great features of this product line is that all of their products are preservative and paraben-free and that the products are either unscented or have a very mild fragrance. I really like that — I’m not a huge fan of introducing weird chemicals to my skin and I don’t like smelling like a perfume factory. So far, so good…so how does this stuff work?

Anti-Friction Cream
anti-friction

Of all the samples Mission Product sent to test, I’ve probably used this the most. On my days off, I like to go for long bike rides, and some type of “chamois creme” is crucial for long-distance comfort. I’ve used a lot of products, from the expensive Assos chamois creme, Chamois Butt’r and even the classic Bag Balm (no snickering, folks!). The Mission Anti-Friction Cream stands at the head of the class — every bit as good as more established competitors. This stuff WORKS…no friction to speak of, and the cream is long-lasting. The cream doesn’t dissipate or absorb into my skin like some of the other products I’ve tried; in fact, this stuff can be pretty tenacious — it takes a bit of extra scrubbing to get it off while showering.

The cream has a very mild fragrance and goes on smoothly. A little bit goes a long way to providing real comfort for long bike rides. Commuters may or may not need this product (depending on your ride distance and the kinds of clothing you wear), but if you are a fan of chamois creams, this one’s worth a try.

Besides, there are few finer things in life than buttering up your crotch and heading out for a therapeutic bike ride!

junk

Revive Gel
revive gel

The Mission Revive Gel is intended to soothe wind- and sun-burned skin after exercise. I’ve used it as a moisturizer, but I find it especially nice after shaving my legs (yes, I DO shave my legs…say whatever you want but know that it makes my wife very happy). The Revive Gel cools my razor-irritated skin and it really locks in moisture.

smoothy

This gel really lasts, too — the moisture-sealing properties are evident hours after application. The gel’s magic ingredient is aloe vera, which has long been touted as the perfect remedy for burned skin. Like other aloe-based products, it leaves behind (in my opinion) a vaguely unpleasant stickiness. This isn’t a deal-breaker, of course, because this gel does what it is supposed to do with aplomb.

Foot Synergy Gel
foot synergy

Mission’s Foot Synergy Gel is intended for use on the feet before or after exercise — reviving and moisturizing your dry, tired feet after a grueling workout or event. Many such products on the market have a minty scent and a tingly effect after application, but the Mission gel is scent-free. I’ve used this on my feet but I’ve found that it is quite effective on my knees, which get achy after a long day on my bike.

I was expecting an “Icy Hot” sensation with this product — many such products for soothing feet and joints are on the market. The Revive Gel doesn’t tingle or heat up…but it seemed to do what it was intended to do just fine without that sensation. I wonder how much better it would be with a little added “tingle” — a soothing sensation I’ve come to enjoy after exercise — in the gel?

Lip Protector
lip protector

Now that the cold weather is here (even in Florida), lips can get chapped pretty quickly in the chilly, dry air. I work in a heavily-conditioned building, as well — humidity and heat are the enemies of a library’s collection. So, my lips get an environmental “beatdown” on a daily basis.

Mission’s Lip Protector to the rescue! The Lip Protector is packed with antioxidants, moisturizers and sun protection, and the stuff works great. My lips are as smooth and slippery as if I’ve just eaten a plate of ribs at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in the ATL, and that’s a good thing!

The only thing I didn’t really like about this product is that it has a cloying, grapefruit flavor…not one of my favorites. I got a little bit on my tongue and the taste is pretty overwhelming to this grapefruit-hater. I noticed that Mission Product has a new line of flavored lip balms in more “Jack-friendly” flavors like mint and sweet vanilla…I’d sure love to try some of those, too.

Daily Offense Stick
daily offense

You want some sun? Florida’s got it in spades, and with our longitude, the sun’s angle of attack on our area is vicious for most of the year. It’s entirely possible to get a wicked sunburn deep into November here. If you value your skin, sunscreen is critical for protection.

All that being said, I’m not as careful as I should be. Sure, I’ll slather some on before going to the beach or if I know I’m going to be out in the sun all day. One gripe I have with a lot of sunscreens on the market is that they tend to clog pores and remain greasy on the skin. Not so with this Daily Offense SPF stick. Boasting of a sun protection factor of 30 and a host of skin-friendly features, the Daily Offense stick does quite nicely. I tend to use it on my face and ears, the areas that are exposed to the sun no matter what I’m doing. This product goes on and STAYS on without feeling greasy or migrating into my eyes, and it keeps the damaging rays of the sun away. Why, this stuff saved me from a wicked sunburn at this year’s Bicycle Bash! Despite our ample (and shady) tent, I spent most of the day out in the blinding sun, and the Daily Offense stick helped me survive out there. No irritation or clogged pores afterward, either! Thumbs up in my book…

If you value your skin and spend a lot of time in the outdoors, you owe it to yourself to try some of these products. They live up to the claims presented by the company, are wonderfully skin-friendly and are filled with many natural ingredients. Check out Mission Product’s website for even more information, and happy riding!

OSO Bike: First Impressions

Several weeks ago, Shane Stock from Osobike sent us a bicycle to test. I’ve had a chance to ride this bike almost 100 miles, including lots of commutes to and from work and in many weather conditions. With this “first impressions” article, I wanted to address some of the questions our readers had when we first posted about this bike. I also want to talk about some of my initial likes and dislikes. A more formal review will be coming in another couple of weeks…

oso

Several readers had comments and questions about the braking ability of this coaster-brake-based singlespeed. During the course of my riding, I had no problems whatsoever with braking — I’m a longtime fan of the simplicity of coaster brakes and I’ve never experienced any fading or failure of coaster brake systems, no matter how extreme the conditions. But, since I only weigh somewhere around 130 lbs. soaking wet, I decided to recruit two strapping friends of mine from the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club to help me test the bike’s braking performance. Meet Ken Sturrock, dapper gentleman and fan of all types of bikes:

ken

A little background on our “test”: a major bicycle manufacturer was considering the release of their own coaster-braked singlespeed, but they were concerned about stopping distances under a heavy rider. I don’t remember the exact stopping distance they were concerned with, but it was somewhere around 100 feet. There was also concern about meeting the requirements of the California Vehicle Code (which is somewhat vaguely worded as to braking performance of a bicycle). So, after hauling the Oso over to the Bikecommuters.com closed-circuit/skidpad testing facility on my “bicycle tow truck”…

towtruck

…we paced off a 130 foot “stopping area” (white painted lines in the above photo are 10 feet apart). Getting up to a speed of 17-19 MPH, our 200 lb. tester was able to stop without skidding or using the front brake in less than 60 feet. With skidding, the stopping distance was even less. At no time did we feel that we wouldn’t be able to stop in time when needed. My other “guest tester”, Steve Swiger (200+ lbs. of all-American man) also reported no gripes with the braking performance of the Oso.

Another question/concern of some of our readers was about the possibility of mounting fenders to the Oso and whether there was enough frame/fork clearance to mount cushier tires. As many of your noticed, the fork of this bike is equipped with fender eyelets…and that is a real mystery to me, as there is NO WAY to mount even a narrow fender between the legs of this fork (well, actually, there IS one way, but it requires a “River City Reacharound” and cutting a fender into two pieces…not an elegant solution). Here is a photo that illustrates the clearance around the front brake caliper and the fork crown:

clearance

Not much room around there, is there? I’m going to chalk up the fender eyelets to “unsolved mystery” status — I’m having a hard time figuring out why the Taiwanese frame manufacturer even makes a fork model like this!

How do larger tires fit? 23 mm tires aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I wanted to mount some cushier rubber just to see if such a thing was possible. I happened to have a pair of 28 mm road tires on hand, so on they went:

28s

There’s a few millimeters of room to spare on either side of the tire. I’m guessing that a tire up to 32 mm wide would probably fit, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t go bigger than 30 mm. The same applies to the rear of the bike — there’s a bit of room to spare, but not much. No knobby cyclocross tires or plush “fatties” on this bike:

more 28s

The wheels on the Oso are made by Alex. These aren’t run of the mill Alex wheels, though — they’re drilled and laced under a patent by Rolf Wheels. The wheels themselves aren’t particularly light — they are 36-spoked models and the hubs are nothing to write home about — but they have performed quite well on Tampa’s notoriously rough streets. After the wheels “settled in” (the initial creaking and popping of most machine-built wheels), they have withstood many trips down brick-paved streets and even a few stairways without coming untrue. Nice!

Ok…now for an aesthetic concern and two serious performance concerns. I really like the clean lines of the bike and its dazzling white color scheme with subtle silver decals. I especially like that Shane has specified a silver stem and seatpost for the bike (when was the last time you saw anything but black components on budget bikes?). That being said, this silver component scheme should have and could have been carried throughout the bike — especially the crankset:

crankset

This crankset looks out of place on such a sleek bike…and guess what? It IS out of place! This crankset is a modified mountain triple (the mounts for the innermost chainring have been somewhat crudely ground off) — far better suited for a freeride or all-mountain bike than a singlespeed road machine. And, with a mountain bike-standard bolt circle diameter of 104 mm, finding big chainrings to replace the existing one or to modify the gear ratio isn’t an easy feat. Despite extensive Web searching, the biggest I’ve found is a 48t, same as the original chainring. Want to go bigger? Good luck, and happy searching. Smaller chainrings are readily available, though, so adjusting the gear ratio won’t be too daunting for folks who like to tinker.

That brings me to the first of my performance concerns: specifying the crankset used on this bike may contribute greatly to the poor chainline this bike suffers from. As many of you surely know, chainline is crucial on a singlespeed bike. A straight chain is a smooth one, and a straight chainline prevents undue wear from chewing up the cog and chainring and also minimizes the possibility of throwing a chain while pedaling. Using Sheldon Brown’s chainline calculation methods, I determined that the rear chainline measurement is 41.5 mm and the front chainline measurement is a hair over 50 mm. 2 or 3 millmeters of difference is ok; nearly 10 mm is NOT. While I haven’t thrown a chain, I can hear and feel some pretty serious grinding going on, even after a liberal application of chain lube. The bottom bracket spindle needs to be replaced with a shorter model.

The other concern was pointed out by one of our commenters on the original article…the chain is too tight, and there’s no adjustment available to give it some slack. The rear wheel axles are all the way to the front of the forkends. This chain desperately needs an additional full link…and while I could have added a link and swapped out the BB for a shorter spindle, I refuse to do those sorts of things while testing a bike. If a bike comes like this from the manufacturer, that’s how it’s going to be tested!

In the review, I will discuss how the bike rides…but until then, I leave you with a couple thoughts — the Oso is fun, it’s simple and it is pretty sleek. Oh, and it can be VERY fast. None of my gripes are difficult to surmount…a little tweaking here and there can eliminate most of my concerns.

Steve and Ken, guest testers

Commuter Self-Defense…For Real This Time

A few weeks ago, I posted a humorous YouTube video as a “self-defense” tutorial for bicycle commuters.

Mere days later, a close friend of mine (coworker and occasional commuting partner) was “bike jacked” on the streets of Tampa. Details are a little hazy — my friend lost his bike and was forced to run for his life, and in the mad scramble to survive, many of the subtle details were lost. Basically, two assailants saw him coming, hiding behind a van parked on the street until he passed them. One assailant jumped out and tried to tackle him off his bike. My friend wobbled and recovered, but by then the second assailant arrived, pulling the victim off his bike and punching him in the face and neck. My friend remembered that initially he was fighting to get his bike back…or at least keeping it between him and the thugs. When he heard voices approaching (More assailants? Curious onlookers? Good Samaritans? Who knows?), he decided to cut his losses and run away. He figured that losing a $75.00 bike was better than getting beat up (or worse).

My friend managed to get away, and he was picked up by the Tampa City Police a few blocks away. The bike-jacking occured in a not-particularly-bad neighborhood and it happened just after nightfall…well before incidents like this generally take place.

All of this brings me back to the topic at hand — with night coming early now that Daylight Saving Time is over, how can we defend ourselves against scofflaws? I mean, we already have to deal with dangerous motorists, road debris, obstructions and myriad other safety concerns.

On other sites, when this topic comes up, folks often respond, “oh, just carry a gun!” This isn’t an ideal solution for many of us, though. While concealed carry permits are definitely a valid self-defense option, some folks don’t want a firearm with them and others fear an escalation if things come to a head. Fellow bicycle commuter and gun-rights advocate Xavier (Nurse With a Gun) has written extensively on this subject. For me, this isn’t an option — although I am a firearm owner and CCW permit holder, I work in a government building where firearms are strictly forbidden…what am I supposed to do, stash my pistol in the bushes outside until I get out of work? I don’t think so…

So, the question is: what are some of the other options do bike commuters have to defend themselves? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Obviously, there are some common-sense approaches to minimize risks, like choosing commuting routes carefully, being hyper-aware of the world around you, avoiding incidents altogether and being prepared to sprint like hell when the chips are down. Your concerns, defense techniques and any other tidbits will be greatly appreciated.

Upcoming Web Event on Bicycletouringpro.com

Darren Alff of Bicycletouringpro.com wrote to let our readers know about an upcoming Web-based event going on at their site. Here’s a little bit about it from the site:

The event, titled, “Bicycle Travel As A Modern Lifestyle Choice,? will take place on the weekend of November 22nd and 23rd and will feature a jam-packed schedule of articles, interviews, videos, and live Q&A sessions having to do with bicycle travel, commuting, and lifestyle design. The event is aimed at anyone interested in learning how to use a bicycle to change the way they live, work and travel.

Event participants include:
– The Adventure Cycling Association
– Author, Joe Kurmaskie (The Metal Cowboy)
– BikeCommuters.com
– Bike Friday
– Canadian Best Selling Author, Ted Schredd (The Cycling Adventures of Coconut Head)
– CrazyGuyOnABike.com
– CycleAware
– Entrepreneur, Yaro Starak
– Gene Bisbee
– Momentum Magazine
– Road ID
– WarmShowers.org
– Writer and World traveler, Chris Guillebeau

The goal of the event is to introduce people to bicycle travel (whether it be short trips around their home… or long distance tours across the country). The information will be totally free and open to anyone… anywhere! All that’s needed to participate is an Internet connection.

As a bonus, cycling products donated by the Adventure Cycling Association, BicycleTouringPro.com, CycleAware, and Yakkay will be also be raffled off to event participants.

As you can see, it will be a star-studded event. The crew from Bikecommuters.com put together a quick and dirty “crash course” in bicycle commuting (aimed at first-time and novice commuters) for this event…nice to rub shoulders with Internet bicycling “big guns”! Check it out, and if you register with your email address, you’ll be eligible for some great prizes.