Ice, Ice, Baby

23 02 2011

Last week, as I stopped to take a picture of the ice encrusted bike path I ride every day, an old man carrying bags of empties stopped his slow shuffle, gingerly balanced on the junction of the snow bank and the ice sheet and offered me some free advice.

“Turn back! It’s like this all the way.” (FTR, I had already ridden most of the full length of this trail and was on the final block.)

“It’s OK, I’ve got studded tires.” (I find people who try to tell me what’s best for me never want to hear about my studded tires.)

“You can’t ride on that!” (he motions to the ice) “You’ll break an arm!”

“I’ll be OK.”

“No! You can’t ride there! You’re going to break a leg!”

“I’ll be fine.” (I wasn’t in the  mood to again point out my tire studs and explain about angular momentum and torque and how, unlike my (or his) footwear, my studded tires have the traction of a mountain goat.)

“No! I’ve already fallen twice today! It’s too dangerous to bike! You’re going to break an arm and a leg.”

I was getting impatient by this point. “Okay, I’ll turn back after I take this picture.” This response seemed to satisfy and quiet him and he continued down the icy trail. I wonder if he noticed that I didn’t turn back, and just kept on riding down the middle of the skating rink.

There's a bike path under that ice.

The path is straight, flat, there’s no cars, and I’ve got two studded tires, so I’m not bothered by the iciness of it anymore. If you changed any one of those factors, it would be a different story, but I’ve ridden stuff like this enough times and I know this path well enough that I can just relax and roll with the flow. Every winter at some point, I reach a state of winter cycling zen where I stop thinking of all the techniques and technicalities and can just trust my body to do what it does. It’s sorta like remembering how to ride a bike.

There’s been some snow since I took this picture, so at least now I have a layer of packed snow between my tires and the Ice Capades. I love packed snow. When it’s cold out (current temperature -20C, wind chill -32C) I prefer packed snow over asphalt to ride on. The sound of snow creaking is so much nicer than studs grinding away on the pavement. Here’s hoping that it stays for a long time, and when the snow finally melts, it doesn’t refreeze until next fall.

Retroreflective Goodness

15 02 2011

Cyclists constantly hear complaints from drivers about how difficult we are to see (or more accurately, how easy it is not to see us). In response, some cyclists will feed an endless supply of batteries to a Xmas tree’s worth of blinkies while others repurpose dayglo highway worker vests into everyday riding garb. And that’s fine, it’s just not the way I roll.

My hoodie with a retroreflective owl in a tree and stars, plus a floral design on my calf. Being seen doesn't mean having to wear stripes. Photo by Chris Chan.

Geneva put a little bird on her hoodie.

The retroreflective silver returns the flash right back to the camera.

When I ride, I hope to encourage other folks to ride, too, and I think that presenting bicycle commuting as something you need an ugly uniform to do safely is contrary to that goal. “Cycling clothes” need not be discernible from street clothes, they’re just street clothes that happen to be suitable for cycling (which includes  everything but the trench coat).

Haydn put some subtle stripes on his parka.

Under headlights, though, not so subtle.

Still, some of the technology being developed for safety and athletic applications, such as retroreflective treatments are pretty cool, and I am very interested in applying it to apparel without it reading as safety wear.

As well as a pennyfarthing motif on his sleeve...

... Ian also created a turn signal effect on his gloves.

Perhaps I should begin with what retroreflective is, besides a cumbersome word that spell check won’t recognize. A retroreflective surface reflects light back to the source, no matter what angle the light hits the material. This is important for cyclists because at night it reflects the light from car headlights back to the driver, often allowing them to see a cyclist earlier than without a retroreflective sumtin sumtin. It’s no substitute for a good set of lights, but every little bit can help. In the photos throughout this post, the camera flash simulates the effect of headlights.

Orange is good color for daytime visibility.

With the addition of some retroreflective motifs, it's a good choice for night riding, too.

Over the last year or two, I’ve facilitated several workshops for folks to add retroreflective accents to their own clothes. The material we use is scrap from industrial production, the process is pretty simple, and the imagination is the only limit. All the pictures you see in this blog post taken in the red room (the upstairs lounge at EBC) are of folks who spent an evening with me brightening their wardrobes with this silver film.

Brendan's strategy for choosing his motif was one of my favorite.

"Eyes" like a moth to activate the "flight" response in the most primitive parts of the human brain.

This week I’m holding another workshop (Thursday, 7pm at EBC – register by emailing courses (at) edmontonbikes (dot) ca ) for anyone who’d like to increase their visibility without increasing their geekiness (unless you want to up the geek factor, and I’d be glad to help you if that’s your steez).

As well as using the retroreflective silver film for clothing, this workshop will have another exciting aspect (hey, I get excited by stuff like this). Inspired by a really cool tutorial on Giver’s Log, I’ve got my paws on some raw, traffic grade, tiny retroreflective glass spheres – think of it as high visibility glitter.

The retroreflective glass beads I added to this orchid for my bike look like a layer of sugar.

Outside, in the dark, this lovely orchid sends more light back to its source than the red rear reflector.

Having access to the raw material means we can now retroreflectivize a greater variety of stuff (specifically, anything that can be painted with acrylic craft paint) in almost any color.

These bracelets don't look like safety wear.

But in headlights no one will miss a turn signal when you're wearing safety bling.

I’ve barely begun exploring the possibilities of this stuff, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the workshop participants will create on Thursday. If you’re in E-town this week, come check it out! The workshop will be fun, it’s cheap and there’s still space left for last minute registrants.

Heart Shaped Lugs

13 02 2011

A couple of weeks ago, a woman named Effie came into BikeWorks dragging a lovely magenta 1980’s Miele road bike with bright yellow bar tape. Previously owned by her mother, the bike was in pieces, and (huge props to her) she had brought it on the bus so she could fix it up for her sister.

I rarely fawn over road bikes, but I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a few details of a classic Canadian steel frame.

I'm not the sort to get fixated on lugs, but how could anyone not adore this?

There's a lotta love in this frame.

We spent the afternoon tuning up the bike and making it rideable again, including adding a blue tire that was the only one in the shop that fit.

Miele means "honey." So sweet. Also, yellow floor at EBC plus point & shoot camera makes for color variation in pics. This one best represents the actual frame color.

I sure hope Effie’s sister uses this bike and appreciates all the work & love her sister put into it. Not only is it a looker, it’s a quality bike, the kind that can last a lifetime. It’s also the kind of bike that can inspire songwriters (check it at 0:20, and the biggest difference between his bike and this one is the bar tape).

Here’s hoping everyone feels some bike love this week!

A Brief Meltdown

6 02 2011

Whenever we get a brief reprieve from winter, people around here get all happy, pretending it’s spring, enjoying the outdoors, wearing shorts when it’s just a few degrees above zero, and so on, and the entire city lets off a collective sigh of relief.

Puddle vision with dark clouds approaching.

The clouds in these photos are the cold front moving in, marking the end of the warm spell. As much as I enjoyed it, I would prefer if it hadn’t heated up enough for the snow to melt, as now all the puddles have frozen into miniature skating rinks. Even with two studded tires, mini skating rinks make me very nervous.

Sunset on the last sweater-as-outerwear day for a while. After the sun sets this far north, before darkness sets in, there is a long blue dusk.

Hopefully there’s only a couple more months of winter left. Because I grew up here, groundhog day never made sense to me because, c’mon, six more weeks of winter IS an early spring. But I can see the light (four minutes more per day, to be precise)! And it may be close to -20 again, but it won’t last forever.

You can tell it was really cold when I took this picture because the furnaces of every building downtown are working at full blast.

In the meantime, ride on!


1 02 2011

In the late 70’s, Shimano introduced its first mass market attempt at indexed derailleur shifting, Positron. There were several versions of it, starting with a dual cable version, and none of them stuck around for very long. The consensus of most of the research I’ve done on it is “good riddance.”

As I’ve been fixing up more bikes to add to the ECOS bike library, I came across one with this evolutionary dead end of a gearing system (version II to be exact). It was a cute little cruiser with a quirky shifter, and in the rush to get it stripped down and painted green, I initially didn’t realize how much of an oddball I had on my hands.

The Positron shifter. Chunky but still pretty cute, eh?

The more I examined it, the stranger it got. My second clue that I wasn’t dealing with anything like I’d ever repaired before came when I saw the “cable,” which technically isn’t a cable but a thick wire. On the derailleur, there is only one limit screw, and no springs. In the shifter, there’s neither friction nor a clicking mechanism to keep it in place. I also found that the freewheel was quite stiff, so I ran a whole bunch of oil through it and let it work through while I hit the books (er, interweb)  to try to figure out how to make it all function.

The Positron II derailleur. Notice the single limit screw and the solid wire instead of cable.

Positron is different than modern derailleurs that use a spring to return the derailleur to “normal” (high gear, except on low-normal derailleurs) when tension is relaxed on the cable. There is no tension on the Positron wire, instead it works by directly pushing and pulling the derailleur back and forth. There are five notches in the derailleur, which hold it in gear instead of springing back into high when the tension is released.

The Positron derailleur from the back. Note the saw toothed indexing mechanism that clicks each gear into place. In modern systems, the indexing action is in the shifter.

And the freewheel? It’s supposed to be stiff (though this bike may now have the loosest one around). If you’ve ever had a stiff freewheel, you know how annoying it can be as it either shifts itself into higher gears as you’re slowing down or just throws off the chain. But this doesn’t seem to be an issue with the Positron because of the lack of derailleur spring.

This springlessness also changes the strategy for adjusting the gears. After making sure the frame and derailleur were properly aligned (and bending both back into shape), I set the wire “tension” by moving the derailleur into the lowest gear and pulling the shifter down as low as it would go and tightening the pinch bolt. Then, I set the limit screw, which corresponds to the highest gear. Once I quit trying to set it up like conventional gearing, the shifter worked beautifully.

ECOS bike #38, ready to roll.

When I first met this bike, it was a sad little rusty brown Venture with a misaligned frame. Now, after a whole lot of elbow grease, it has been reborn as ECOS bike #38, ready to be loaned out and ridden again by a U of A student this spring. I took her for a little test ride in the basement corridors of SUB, and it made me glow inside when two different people randomly came up to me and said “nice bike,” (I wish I had a “before” picture). And it’s such a sweet ride – both peppy and comfortably upright, it reminded me of Marjory.

I’ll worry about it, though. The chances of finding a replacement Positron part, should I ever need one, are slim to none, and it would be easier to replace the shifter, cable, derailleur and freewheel with something more common (an old SunTour friction setup would be nice) in that situation. None of the sources on the net I looked at had any love for Positron, and even though it’s working well now, it will still need to stand up to the (often surprising) rigors of an existence in a bike share program. In the meantime, I hope many people will have the chance to enjoy this authentic 70’s ride, and I hope that Positron won’t live up to its reputation.