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A handy guide to bicycle infrastructure

Do you sometimes get confused by all the lingo thrown around by bicycle advocates? Don’t know the difference between a “bicycle boulevard” and a “bike trail”? And what IS a sharrow, anyway? Leave it to the Community Education Manager at Bike Easy in New Orleans, Anneke Olsen, to spell it all out for you:

When many of us hear the word “bicyclist” or “cyclist,” we think of a spandex-clad racer on a road bike, or a diehard urban messenger weaving in and out of traffic on downtown streets.

But there is a much larger and more inclusive definition of “bicyclists” – anyone who rides a bike, whether it is a kid riding on a neighborhood street; a service industry worker biking home from the CBD after a long shift; grandparents and grandkids riding together at City Park; or someone hopping on a bike to get back in shape.

Similarly, there are several different types of bicycle infrastructure – sharrows, bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, shared use trails, etc. – and each serves a different purpose to the end of creating a connected network of streets that are safe and comfortable for bicyclists.

sharrow

Take a minute to swing on over and read the full article by visiting the NolaVie page. In no time, you’ll be an expert on bicycle infrastructure!

Book Review: Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History fills in the gaps on how the awesomeness that is the bicycle came to be.

Up-front confession: this book was not featured (so far as we know) at Interbike!

However, it DOES chronicle pretty much all the innovations throughout bicycling history, so rest assured that the predecessors to many of the “new” things there are mentioned in it!

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History is by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing, and in the authors’ words seeks to fill the neglected gap addressing the technical aspects of the history of the bicycle. It starts out with… well, actually it starts out with ice skating and wheelbarrows… but it quickly moves on to velocipedes and draisines, the predecessors of the bicycle.

Another confession: I haven’t read the whole thing. I did read all the bits about velocipedes and high-wheel bikes and wire wheels and the development of the safety bicycle (aka a bike having 2 wheels of the same size), but after that concluded that this wasn’t really meant to be read straight through – and yeah, it took me a bit longer to figure that out than it might take most people, but what can I say… I’m a bit of a bike nerd!

 

Apparently we should call these draisines!

So after some deliberation, I’d consider this more of a reference book: the next time you wonder, “when WAS the first bamboo frame made?” rest assured that this is the place you can find that answer! (page 178: 1890’s, patented in 1896. Calfee wasn’t exactly the first!).

The first 5 chapters of the book detail the history up to the invention of the diamond-frame steel bicycle. After that point, it diverges into chapters on different aspects of bikes, such as transmission, braking, and lighting. It also – at the end – includes specific sections on “racing” bicycles and mountain bikes, folding bikes, and military bikes (an interesting chapter!).

Overall this is a very informative book, and I say kudos should go to the authors for assembling all of the information in a scholarly fashion, complete with TONS of references at the back (if anyone out there needs to write a term paper on anything about bicycles, this should be your starting point!).

My one minor (major?) complaint about it is that it reminds me of several of my history classes in high school. How so? No, not because I fell asleep… I like history, and this book is written pretty well, so I didn’t do that during either high school or while reading this! It’s because in high school I had several years of history classes where we spent a ton of time on something early in the semester… and then gradually less and less time per topic, until by the end we rushed through the 1960’s on in only a couple weeks (I don’t think I had a history class that ever made it to the decade we were in!). Bicycle Design reminds me of this: it spends a lot of time on early development, but we get to the end and there are a scant 10 pages on mountain bikes. Two paragraphs on disc brakes. Two pages on suspension. Etc. etc. Yes, these are relatively recent in the scheme of things – but they’re BIG things right now, they involve some pretty neat increases in bicycle capabilities, and they deserve to be included… not lumped together in a hash that includes everything from the 1970’s til now in a handful of paragraphs.

Gripes regarding recent history aside, this is something every serious bicyclist should at least flip through sooner or later. I highly doubt many people (apart from the authors) have a good grip on all of the developments mentioned in its pages, so you’re guaranteed to learn something (and probably something interesting!). At $20-something on Amazon (for a nice hardcover), it’s definitely worth picking up for the coffee table, or for the bike-themed coffee shop, or for the bike shop, or for a stocking stuffer, if Santa’s real nice and someone you know has a stocking that can accommodate a 564-page volume.

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

 

High-tech bike theft prevention

Over the past few years, we’ve posted articles about bike theft prevention, from locking your bike, to web series about catching thieves, to Kickstarter-funded bike trackers, among many others.

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was a great article about the efforts of the San Francisco Police Department in combating bike theft using a variety of high-tech tools and techniques:

SAN FRANCISCO — Officer Matt Friedman fights crime with modern tools: Twitter, which he uses to publicize pictures of suspects and convicted criminals, and a GPS device, which he uses to track down stolen property.

In both cases, his lure is stolen bicycles — including the “bait bikes” that have recently been seeded throughout the city to tempt potential thieves. Equipped with GPS technology, the bicycles, which exist to be stolen, can be tracked down in real time and the thieves can be arrested.

Take a look at the complete article by visiting the NYT page here.

These aren’t run-of-the-mill “bait bikes”, either. SFPD doesn’t play around; they use expensive rigs equipped with GPS trackers to guarantee that when they catch up with offenders, they can charge them with a felony, not a slap on the wrist. Bike thieves, beware!!!

Book review: “The Bike Deconstructed” by Richard Hallett

Over the past couple months, I’ve had the pleasure to read a copy of The Bike Deconstructed: A Grand Tour of the Modern Bicycle by Richard Hallett (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).

bike_deconstructed

The book gives a detailed look into the inner workings of all aspects of the bicycle by showing exploded diagrams, close-up photos, and line illustrations of the frames, the components, and the hidden areas like bearings and internal gear systems. Along with the lavish and detailed artwork, Hallett explains the function and the history of the various components showcased, talking about materials, variants, and other details that will keep the jaded cycling techie reading along. There is a LOT to enjoy here. Discussion of how the parts work together, how the components developed from early prototypes, and the manufacturing methods involved with some of the parts really gives bike novices and seasoned experts alike a lot of information to delve through.

The bike is organized into the major sections of the bicycle itself: the frameset, the wheels, the drivetrain, the accessories, and so on. Each section covers the history and development of what we know as modern bicycle gear. There are a couple of points where the author mentions a piece of technology or a variation of a component that evolved along the way, but doesn’t offer a photo or illustration of it. This is a minor gripe, of course — there’s not room in the book for every possible permutation, but I would have liked to be able to picture a couple of the tech details he mentioned.

bike_deconstructed_inner

The book, as you can see from the example above, is a visual feast — the photographs and illustrations within are crisp and richly detailed. Complex structures are broken down and labeled to facilitate understanding, and Hallett’s expertise in presenting all this information is apparent. While the subject matter is highly technical, the author doesn’t get bogged down in overly complex technical jargon, making this book very accessible to cyclists of all experience levels.

The Bike Deconstructed is another great addition to your cycling bookshelf — I was happy to have it during my recent move to the nation’s capital, where the book kept me company in a variety of anonymous hotels and empty houses until my relocation was complete. The book is available directly from the publisher, or can be purchased from a variety of online booksellers. It retails for $29.95.

Final Review: 2014 Jamis Hudson with Slidepad Brakes

We’ve had the Jamis Hudson with Slidepad on test for a few months now, and despite a lot of frigid days, and days that look like this (or snowier), I’ve managed to get enough rides in to get a good impression.

 

Average reviewing conditions. March 17th snow in Virginia!

 

 

You’ll remember (or not) that I did an initial review here. Overall, I can’t say that my impressions have changed very much – I still think the general setup is pretty good for the intended audience, and after a decent number of hours/miles (many at slow speed with a 5-year old out in front) I didn’t have any issues crop up. The bike is overall comfortable (though after one 2-hour ride I was getting not-so-happy with the super-cushy saddle!).

There is one significant difference between that initial review and now, concerning the brake setup. After reading my initial impressions, Ian at Slidepad was concerned there might be something wrong with my brake setup. He gave me a call, and we determined that the sliding-pad bit of the brake system had gotten (to use a technical phrase) hung up on something internally – so it wasn’t kicking in full-force. After wrestling with it a bit, I managed to pop it back into place without damaging anything, and voila! I had improved braking performance.

So – that bit of my initial review can be revised. Braking works pretty effectively,the rear wheel does not lock up as much as it was before, and the front-wheel braking kicks in reasonably quickly.

While I was talking with him, Ian also explained that their “improved braking efficiency” claim was made against a bike with rear-brake only (like a lot of the coaster-brake cruisers out there). I’d agree that this definitely beats that setup. However, I think a fairer comparison is against something like the Electra Townie 7D, which is extremely comparable in price (within $20), as well as components (with the exception of the brakes) and general intent. In that case, I don’t think that there’s going to be a big difference unless the rider of the Electra isn’t using their front brake well/at all.

The Hudson in drier (and warmer) times

This brings me to the whole “one brake lever is easier” thing. Yes, it works. Yes, it’s a valid option and frankly I can see it working out for some people (and hey, you have your left arm free to signal turns!). But in general – I still don’t quite buy it. When using Slidepad, it does take a bit of trial and error to adjust to the point where the front brakes kick in, as you go from a light “back only” to a significantly stronger “back and front combined.” When riding at speed, I did sometimes find myself unintentionally slowing much more than I meant to when that front brake kicked in. So in my mind, learning to deal with this isn’t really much less difficult than learning to deal with two brakes. Finally, I really think the whole risk of doing an endo/losing control by means of front brake, on a bike like this, is pretty minimal – the weight balance is so far back that it really takes a lot of effort to get the back wheel to pick up much at all.

In terms of the “simpler” idea on the brakes: my experience with the whole setup having a malfunction didn’t leave me more confident. I was happy it was fixable, but it definitely took more effort than getting a regular set of V brakes set up. Additionally, it’s a lot more obvious what’s wrong with a set of V brakes. I’m sure Jamis dealers will get their mechanics all set up on how this system works – but if an owner of this type of brake system walks into a shop that hasn’t seen it before, I have no idea what their results would be. If all is working fine, it’s not going to be an issue, but I can’t say how often issues might come up.

In the end, this really all comes down to personal preferences (as it so often does!). In this case, I’d prefer independent brake levers for the greater degree of control. However, if a prospective buyer is purchasing from a Jamis dealer, intends to continue to use that shop for service, and likes the whole “one hand two brakes” concept, I’d say go for it.