BikeCommuters.com

Author Archive: Noah

Get those lights ready!

Sunset

Just a friendly reminder for those that live in Daylight Saving Time areas (that’s most of you in the United States). With the time change, it’s possible that your evening commute just got plunged into darkness or twilight. Remember to be seen!

Autumn awaits

September 23rd marks the beginning of fall this year. Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah for many cyclists in the US. Here in the Kansas City area, all the big charity rides are over with, and all the big bicycle club rides happened back in August. For many, this is the transition to “indoor training” season. Chains are cleaned. Tires are deflated just a bit. Those hooks screwed into the basement rafters or that out-of-the-way corner of the apartment becomes an increasingly frequent home for the bike.

Perhaps it’s because I started bike commuting in September 2006, but I have a certain fondness for bicycling through autumn. After a summer of blistering heat indexes and humidity that’s thick enough to swim through, I welcome the crisp, cool mornings and the mild evenings with the sun at my back.

Some tips:

Now is the perfect time to get started with layering your clothes. You might find that a pair of knee warmers, a headband, some light gloves and a windbreaker are the perfect solution to chilly mornings. Leave them packed away for the warmer evening trips. If you get good at layering, riding in below-freezing weather becomes easy.

Days are getting shorter, so be sure to keep your lights charged or carry a backup. Be seen with high-visibility clothing.

Mind the location of the sun. If you find yourself riding directly into the rising or setting sun, you’ll be very hard to spot in the lane as squinting motorists try to deal with the blinding glare. Try riding earlier or later, or pick another route with more shade, a slightly different heading or less traffic.

Brr!

It’s that time of year again. Folks at the office have started questioning my sanity even more than usual. The questions are rolling in. Isn’t it cold? What do you do when it gets below freezing? What do you do when it starts snowing? Do you even have a car?

Yes, I have a car, and there may be a few days this winter I use it since I don’t have the option of public transportation like I did at my last job. It takes more than just cold air to make me ditch the bike.

I’m also having discussions with my fellow winter cyclists, some of which are giving this a shot for the first time.

Some people have pointed to Civia Cycles’ guide to all-weather clothing but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. For a 40ºF (4ºC) bike ride, I’ve seen Californians wearing stuff that would make me spontaneously combust unless it was well below zero. Doug‘s usual winter wear is lighter than most people I know. For this reason, I suggest finding out what works best for you. Keep a log of weather conditions and temperatures as the winter wears on. Note what you wore and if there’s anything you’d change about your choices. This especially helps you get into the cold-weather groove next winter.

Here are a few more tips I’ve picked up along the way these past few winters:

  • When normal skiing gloves fail to keep your hands warm, you can try expensive lobster-claw gloves, but if you can safely operate your brakes and shifters with plain old mittens on, they will keep your fingers all together, nice and warm. They’re also really cheap at pretty much any discount store.
  • Warren taught me this trick. Use parts of plastic grocery sacks on your feet (inside the shoe or between layers of socks) to block the wind and trap heat into your feet. I only do this in the coldest part of the season, or my feet get soaked in sweat. It works that well!
  • Dress in layers, but always make sure the layer closest to you will wick moisture away. This could be wool or a high-tech synthetic base layer.
  • Balaclava-style ski masks provide whole-head warmth, but you may have better luck with a scarf or neck gaiter and a headband to keep your neck and ears warm if you find your head sweating too much.
  • Don’t over-dress, and slow down if you’re getting too hot. If you sweat too much or you have to stop while you’re overheating, you can quickly succumb to hypothermia.

Post your cold-weather tricks in the comments. Let’s hear ’em!

(Properly) Lock your bike.

A while ago, our own staff writer Elizabeth shared this video on Facebook. It’s a good primer for learning how to lock your bike up, and Hal has a great personality. He’s really looking for just a few things: Your wheels and saddle should be well-secured, and the frame itself should be securely held to a large stationary object with a heavy-duty U-lock or chain. He has some other tips, too. Watch this:

I do risk analysis and other security-type stuff for a living. In the suburbs, some of this stuff can be a bit overkill. San Francisco, LA, Detroit, Chicago and NYC have some pretty mean streets where the traditional axiom is that it’s not a question of if you will have a bike or parts stolen, it’s when it’ll happen. Bicycles are a commodity on the street. Pretty much any working bike can be traded for $25-$50 worth of… *ahem* “goods” and “services” on the black market. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bike-shaped-object from the department store or a high-quality cyclocross bike with fenders, racks and lights. That being said, knowledgeable thieves are willing to put a lot more effort, risk and planning into really nice bicycles that can be parted out or sold to a fence for a bigger payday.

Hal’s comment on quiet streets generally holds merit. Thieves prefer to hide in plain sight, and chaos is king. They can thrive on predictable activity as well if they’re sure they have plenty of time to work on your bike without being noticed. Make sure your parking spot isn’t too far out of the way.

Cable locks are okay for holding your wheels or saddle together, or for quick in-and-out errands, but totally useless if you will be leaving your bike unattended for more than a few minutes at a time. Hal said that you can’t steal a bike when the owner’s right there watching it, so being able to wheel your bike right into your office is the best policy, but a lot of us don’t have that luxury. I bought a length of heavy-duty towing chain that required a 36″ bolt cutter at the hardware store to chop it from the spool, then passed it through an old mountain bike inner tube so it doesn’t scratch up my frame. It’s probably 10 pounds worth of chain, so I leave it at work, and I lock it with a quality lock that has a shrouded, shim-proof hasp. It’s long enough to pass through both wheels, the frame, and a bike rack.

Security is hard, though, and thieves’ motives are hard to predict. It’s true that security devices only buy you time. I’ve experimented with almost every kind of bicycle lock imaginable, and all of them can be broken in just a few minutes by someone who has been casing your bike. Usually, thieves are looking for something easy to steal so they can sell it or trade it quickly to get what they really want. If your bike is more secure than the bikes around it, you’re probably safe. If someone really wants your bike specifically, it’s pretty hard to keep it safe. Maybe it’s the only bike around. Maybe it’s the nicest one on the block. Maybe they want the challenge, or maybe they’re your evil twin whose mission in life is to foil your bicycle commuting adventures.

Regardless, if you ever thought that no one would want your bicycle, or that you could leave it unlocked and unattended for just a bit, you’re probably wrong.

Editor’s note: we have a couple of other security strategy articles that may be of interest to you. The first covers lock considerations — the real gold is in the comments area. Take a look at it by clicking here. Also, thanks go out to dedicated reader/curmudgeon Raiyn for reminding me of this article in the comments area below.

The other article covers wheel security and retention strategies…wheels can be incredibly easy to steal and the loss of just one wheel will, of course, leave you stranded. Check out that article here.

Review: Light & Motion Vis 360°

The past few weeks have been absolutely crazy for me. Lots of really early-morning commutes, some late days at the office.

Combined with the shorter days, I’ve had some of the best testing conditions imaginable for a helmet-mounted lighting system that was purpose-built for bike commuters!

Let’s take a look at the gear. The rear part houses the battery, two amber side-facing LEDs, three bright red rear LEDs with a combined output that matches some of the most popular rear blinkies on the market, and a generous-sized swath of engineering-grade prismatic reflective material, all inside a water-resistant case. A rubber flap covers the Micro-USB charging port.
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There’s also a small window on the under-side of the unit that displays a multi-color LED which functions as a battery gauge and charging indicator. I was able to fully charge the Vis 360º in about 5 hours, meaning that a full recharge at home or in the office is easily achievable.

The rear part of the Vis 360º snaps onto a plastic base that attaches to the helmet with velcro. I found that getting this part mounted securely was somewhat difficult on all of my helmets. This was the most frustrating part of getting the Vis 360º installed. I eventually found a position that worked well enough with a little bit of tinkering. The headlight snaps into a plastic base that attaches to the helmet with a notched rubber strap. This part was easy to mount on several different helmets. The ability to remove the lighting hardware from the helmet while leaving the mounting hardware attached is a nice touch.

The headlight itself features one bright white LED and two amber pieces to scatter light to the side with a rubber-covered power button on the top, all packed into a small, light and attractive metal shell. The light has three modes: Full power, half power and flashing. The front LED flashes quite rapidly. The rear LEDs always flash twice per second (250ms on, 250ms off) regardless which mode the front light is in. You must hold the power switch for two seconds to shut the unit off.
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The whole package looks a bit bulky on the helmet, but it’s surprisingly light at 130 grams. I notice the extra weight on my helmet, but it’s not unwieldy or uncomfortable.
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The proving grounds:
A very dark section of walking trail around the community pond where I live. All photos were taken using the exact same exposure settings on my digital camera.
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The competition:
Bell Orion. This 3 LED helmet-mounted lamp is powered by two CR2032 batteries. It’s on par with any cheap department store bicycle headlight I’ve ever seen. When blinking, it might draw some attention to you, but it won’t help you see much on a dark road even at a very low speed. What this light (seriously) lacks in output, it gains in run-time. It will go dozens of hours on a pair of CR2032 batteries. Good thing, too, because CR2032s aren’t rechargeable, and they’re not usually cost-effective to replace. MSRP: About $15
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Blackburn Flea. This rechargeable light is a decent headlight to use if you want to be seen on a budget. If you keep it slow, the high output setting (used in this photo) is bright enough to alert you to potholes or obvious road hazards in a pinch and run for about 3 hours. Really, though, they’re best suited for riders who ride near dusk or dawn, or spend time riding under streetlights. MSRP: About $25
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NiteRider Evolution Halogen (Upgraded to 15W). This was my first serious commuting light, and it features a bulky NiMH battery pack that can be strapped to the bike’s frame. The OEM bulb was 10 Watts, and when it burned out, my LBS only had the 5W and 15W bulbs in stock. With the 15W bulb shown here, this system runs for about an hour. As you can see, it provides a very high intensity spot without much side visibility. This model isn’t made anymore, but you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 for a quality halogen system.
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Vis 360º lights up the path more evenly and plenty bright. I have to admit, when I saw 115 lumens listed for the specification, I was concerned that this might not light the way far ahead enough for some of the faster sections of my commute. I usually average about 15 MPH, and never had any problems seeing the road surface far enough ahead for my own comfort. On the high setting, I was getting a little more than 2 hours of total use before the low battery indicator kicked in, but it was still on regulated battery power, with no obvious fade in brightness. Advertised run time on high is 2:30. MSRP: $169
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On normal mornings when I leave as the sun is peeking over the horizon, I used the Vis 360º in flashing mode. A whole week of commuting (about 6 hours on the road) without a recharge didn’t even put a dent in the battery with flashing mode. It still registered as “fully charged” this evening when I got home.

Is this unit worth the price? I’d say it is. The system is competently designed and can fulfill all the basic lighting needs of a bicycle commuter with the additional bonus that you don’t need to leave any hardware on your bike while it sits vulnerable and unattended throughout the work day. It has ample run-time for even the most die-hard long-distance commuters and shines far enough ahead that most average cyclists shouldn’t need to seek supplemental light.

I’m giving this one two thumbs up.

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

First Look: Light & Motion Vis 360º

At Interbike last month, Light & Motion introduced the Vis 180º and Vis 360º commuter lights. They were kind enough to send us a Vis 360 to review. I’ll save the all-lit-up photos and beam shots for the final review. The Vis 360 comes as a headlight and combination battery pack, reflector and tail light held together with a coiled wire. It’s designed to be helmet-mounted and comes with all the hardware you’d need to mount it to pretty much any helmet. The light is charged via USB, and it charges fully in about five hours.
L&M Vis 360

L&M Vis 360

The days are getting shorter, so I’ll be putting this light through its paces in the coming weeks. The headlight is rated at 115 Lumens, which is very bright for a “to be seen” light but probably not bright enough for high speed road riding after dark. We’ll be back in a few weeks with the final results.

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

Rainy Day Biking reflective fender mudflaps

Last month, we got a pair of reflective mudflaps from Rainy Day Biking. They come in red or white.

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They’re not just reflective, though. They use engineering-grade prismatic reflective material. It’s the same stuff used on emergency vehicles and high-quality road signs!

A front mudflap keeps road grime away from your feet and downtube. The closer to the ground it reaches, the better it works. On the rear wheel, a mudflap dramatically decreases the “rooster tail” effect. This is mostly a courtesy to those who may happen to be riding behind you, but with these mudflaps, you’re also giving a highly visible clue to your place on the road. These mudflaps shine like daylight.

I mounted them to the Planet Bike Cascadia fenders on my daily commuter. Admittedly, these fenders already have integrated mudflaps, but I’ve had several other pairs of flapless fenders. I bolted the front mudflap to the outside of the stock one, because the stock one is so long it would almost completely obscure the reflective material. I found that mounting it this way allows the reflective mudflap to move around a bit. During my testing, I drilled a second hole and added another bolt to hold it sturdily into place.

I mounted the rear mudflap in the recommended way, inside the fender (and inside the rear mudflap, on my bike) which resulted in a much sturdier mounting due to the way the internal curvature of the fender grips the new mudflap.

To test, I even whipped out my cheap camera phone, which features a tiny, dim LED as a “flash”. This dim light was more than enough to completely wash out the photo. To the right, you can also see the reflective piping of my seat wedge.

I also leaned my bike up against a sign in my parking lot and hit it with my car’s low-beams from about 100 yards. They light up just as bright as my PlanetBike SuperFlash tail light, but cover much more area. Reflective material shouldn’t be used in place of proper lighting, but every bit helps. These, combined with my reflective vest, SuperFlash and FlashBak safety light makes for a bike that’s really difficult to ignore.

Final Review: 2010 Wabi Cycles Special

I’ve been flogging the Wabi Special for just a little over a month now. This sleek, light fixed-gear bike is designed right here in the US. Fixed gear bikes are quite popular among urban commuters due to their utilitarian form, efficiency and reliability. Here’s another look at the Wabi Special right after I took my first ride on it in early July:

Note that I had mounted some cheap resin platform pedals to it. They were the only loose pedals I had laying around at the time. I rode it like this for about a week. This was my first time riding fixed gear. Says the late, awesome and infinitely wise Sheldon Brown of this:

Sometimes, novice fixed-gear riders will try to use plain pedals with no form of retention system. I strongly advise against this. Riding fixed with plain pedals is an advanced fixed gear skill, only recommended for experienced fixed-gear riders.

Frankly, this never really gave me any problems. Still, after a while, I swapped my SPD pedals over from my road bike. I was able to maintain a much higher cadence and keep better control of the bike’s speed down hills. I thought that uphills would be slow going or that fixed gear would otherwise slow me down quite a bit, but the truth is that fixed gear offers a different riding experience. You really have to try it to know what I’m talking about. I highly recommend it. This isn’t about riding fixed gear, though. It’s a review about the 2010 Wabi Special.

Visually, the Wabi Special’s frame is stunning in its simplicity. It has gorgeous crafted lugs and svelte tubing. The Burnt Red color has a brilliant metallic finish. Of all the builds and colors Wabi Offers, this has to be my favorite.
The Lab-O-Ratory

The Lab-O-Ratory

Wabi Special offers a parts combination that at first glance is somewhat run-of-the-mill. FSA Headset. Visually Unremarkable rims, cranks, and brakes. Inexpensive Kenda Tires. In a way, the build really keeps the focus on the frame, but complements it well and brings a complete bicycle (sans pedals) that’s very simple and elegant.

Functionally, this build is very solid and never misses a beat. With pedals, my review bike weighed in at just a smidge over 19 pounds. While that’s not an ultra-light bike, it’s the lightest bike I’ve ever ridden. I’m used to riding aluminum road bikes, and the Wabi’s thin-walled Reynolds 725 steel tubing brought a very mellow road feel that I quickly came to enjoy. Once it gets moving, it feels like a cannonball barreling down the road. The geometry is great for a commuter bike. It’s not at all aggressive, but it’s still easy and comfortable to get into the drops and hammer away. I found the brake levers a bit of a stretch for my smaller hands, but I managed to find a hand position over the hoods that worked just fine for braking.

I thought that the 23mm tires would be a bit of a problem on my route, which is through a blighted industrial area that runs along the railroad with 6 different crossings on each direction of my commute. The only problem I had was during the rain, when railroad crossings are treacherous for everyone on two wheels. Even then, I was able to keep the shiny side up. It’s easier to keep traction on a fixed gear bike. The tires held up to all kinds of abuse, and the steel frame made the torn-up pavement quite tolerable.
Santa Fe Trail Drive

The OEM Saddle was a bit uncomfortable for me, especially since I was sporting some extra weight in a backpack. Saddles are definitely a personal preference kind of thing, though. Half-way through my review, I swapped the saddle from my commuter bike over, and it was a world of difference. My clydesdale butt doesn’t seem to do too well with narrower ass-hatchets, but it wasn’t any fault of the bike. Many people change saddles when they get a bike.

I can’t get over how smooth and silent the Wabi Special is. There was not a single noise from the drive train at all. One day, I averaged 18.6 MPH for my homeward trip, which is pretty good when I’m my road bike. Under my normal cycling effort, my average commute time didn’t drop at all with fixed gear, and it was a genuine pleasure to ride. I don’t know that I would choose to commute on a fixed gear every day, but I can say I certainly “get it” now more than ever. What a blast!

I already discussed Wabi Cycles’ competitive pricing and different models back in July. After spending a month with this beauty, I can truly say it’s a quality ride if you’re in the market for a new fixie. Alas, I’ve packed her back up and she’s headed back home to Los Angeles. She’ll be missed, for certain!

Spec and order your own Wabi Special | Other Wabi Cycles | Wabi Cycles Home

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

P.S. No-Hands Danger Panda!
Renner Blvd & W 116th St

Gutter Bunnies

Gutter Bunnies are cyclists who ride on or outside the fog line, on the shoulder, or on the narrow concrete road gutter. There are certain times that it’s beneficial to use this paved real-estate, but those of us who ride regularly might want to think twice about using the gutter all the time. Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. The gutter is unkempt: It’s usually riddled with road debris, pot-holes, storm drains, and other bad stuff. The cyclist either has to risk damaging the bike and possibly losing control, or has to be prepared to dart out into the lane to avoid these perils. Neither option is safe.
  2. Motorists aren’t expecting anything on the shoulder or in the gutter. The guy 2 cars behind you probably can’t even see you until he’s right on top of you, thanks to the car between you and him obstructing the view. If that motorist is driving too far to the right, you get clipped or at least have a close call.
  3. The Right Hook: A right-turning motorist is likely to underestimate your speed and make a right turn directly into your path.

Most states have laws similar to Kansas which pertain to bicycles on the road (gathered from KansasCyclist.com):

8-1587. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles.
Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this act, except as otherwise provided in K.S.A. 8-1586 to 8-1592, inclusive, and except as to those provisions of this act which by their nature can have no application.
8-1590. Riding on bicycles or mopeds; riding on roadways and bicycle paths.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except under any of the following situations when: (1) Overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; (2) preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or (3) reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving bicycles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or narrow width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand edge of the roadway.

That is to say that in many places in the US, if you’re going slower than traffic, you aren’t required by law to be a Gutter Bunny, but you usually have to stay to the right as far as you can within safety and reason. That, to me, precludes things like storm drains, twigs and glass bottles and other things in my path.

When there’s room, I usually stay near the area where most cars’ right wheel goes.  On multi-lane roads where there’s a wide outer lane, there’s usually ample room for your bike in a safe lane position, 3-4 feet of buffer, and another car without it having to cross the line.  On multi-lane roads without a wide outer lane, this lane position makes it much more likely that passing motorists will simply change lanes to get around you.  It’s also a more assertive position that makes your place in traffic quite clear.  Turning motorists will almost always hang back.

When the roads are narrower and full of no-passing-zones, the road dynamic changes quite a bit. Most motorists have learned that they can cross the double line to get around slow moving vehicles quickly and safely, within the spirit (although not the letter) of the law. Dave Moulton wrote a great ranty piece about this phenomenon.

There are a number of debates about bike lanes, sidewalks, paths, using the road, and all that. I really don’t mind using bike-specific infrastructure, but it’s far from a requirement for getting around.