Friday, January 31, 2014

The basics for staying upright.

Like all things, cycling can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. Cyclists love it because it gets them high on smugness. That smugness can come from avoiding traffic jams, finding parking more easily, not paying for gasoline, etc. Among all of those benefits there lies just one major caveat. It's the fact that sometimes cycling can result in a serious injury or death. The ghost-bikes we've all seen at some point are a reminder that bad shit can happen. It's safe to say that the one thing every cyclist doesn't want is a ghost-bike made in their memory.

A sobering sight.
Most of the time even the stupidest, most unaware cyclist can ride through town and avoid the reaper. The thing is that eventually bad habits or lack of attention can catch up and that lucky streak might run out. So what should cyclists do to avoid injury besides staying home and watching Wendy Williams?

This doesn't mean you have to be OCD about it. Just pay attention to things. Does your bike squeak? Does your chain look like crap? Are your tires bald? The benefit of having a bike in good working order isn't just efficiency. A bike that won't break down in a bad neighborhood might just save from getting jumped. 

2. Carry a flat kit.

You're gonna get a flat. Maybe not today, or tomorrow but eventually you'll hear a hiss and realize you've run over a piece of glass or something. You need to have seat bag attached to your bike (carrying stuff in a backpack just means that the one day you don't bring your backpack is the one day you get a flat). Stuff the seat bag with at least 1 tube, 1 tire lever, 1 patch kit and carry a real pump. Don't be a sissy and insist that a Co2 pump is enough. You don't want to end up feeling like a dumbass because the only thing holding you back from riding home is a Co2 cartridge that you DON'T have.

3. Plan your ride.

There's this thing called Google and it has these things called maps. It's freakin' amazing! If you're starting a commute for the first time then you need to plan out where you're gonna ride. Select the view that shows you all the bike paths in your area. Use as many roads with bike paths even if it means riding a little bit out of your way. If parts of your route have no bike paths then find the streets with the lightest traffic and the widest shoulders. Sometimes that means creating detours, but a detour is better than a shattered femur. Besides lets be honest, you probably need the extra mileage. 

This might sound like common knowledge but I've met riders that never take the time to research a safe route. They're the ones you see riding in the gutter on major boulevards where cars are flying past them at 55 mph.

4. You're invisible.

It's true! You've mastered invisibility. As soon as you straddle a bike you become invisible. This is a fact because when you get hit by a car the first thing a driver will say is that they didn't see you. You can counteract this by doing things like riding with lights on, even during the day. Riding in the same direction as traffic. Avoiding situations where a car might cut you off as they make a right turn and being as predictable as possible. 

Don't be an idiot and try to save yourself from danger by riding on the sidewalk. It will only result with your face on someones windshield. You'll be riding along and a car will pull straight out of a driveway and into the sidewalk. Drivers only look out for other cars. Be where the cars are and maybe drivers will see you and mistake you for a car too. Riding on the street will give you more time to see cars as they exit driveways or merge into your path. 

5. Learn from every close-call.

If you ride long enough you'll eventually have a close call. A moment where you could have gotten injured but didn't. Life lessons usually come with a price, close calls are freebies. Don't waste them. Think about what you could have done differently and put it to use. Every town has it's own special mix of dangers, learn them.

There's probably 100 more tips for safe riding but these are the ones that I think are most important. I might add some pointers later on if more come to mind.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anger only begets rage.

There's been a lot of buzz about a particular incident that occurred on the busy streets of London in the U.K. recently.  It's the story of a motorist and a cyclist that got into a fight over the bicycle box at an intersection. The footage was captured by another cyclist. Here's the video:

There are many who side with the cyclist claiming that he didn't deserve to get punched by the driver of that Audi. I agree that punching people is wrong, but I can't side with either party because they're both jerks in their own way.

I'll admit that I'm not well-versed in British traffic law. What I know is based on common sense, my own cycling experience, and Top Gear.

First of all the cyclist is a shoaler* which discredits him from being a faultless victim. It's a reasonable assumption that the driver got stuck at that traffic light and is already pissed. I can relate because I hate getting stuck at red lights despite speeding to avoid them. This cyclist stopped right in front of the car instead of queuing up behind the other cyclists that were waiting on the far left. The driver probably planned to gun it at the green light, blow past the cyclists and hopefully catch a green light at the next junction. That plan was foiled when our guy stopped his bike in front of the Audi. He's within his right since that's what the box is for but he also could have lined up behind the cyclists on the left shoulder. Sometimes it just makes more sense to give way to cars even if you're legally not obligated to, especially when it doesn't put your safety in jeopardy. That would have given the car enough space to safely clear the cyclists. It makes sense that the Audi pulled into the bike box beside the cyclists so that he can get past them. It wasn't a legal manoeuvre but everyone pulls stunts like that, especially in a busy city.

The cyclist gets upset over the fact that the Audi drove past the limit line and into the cyclist's box. The Audi isn't supposed to do that and the cyclist was rightfully upset. Was it worth screaming at the driver? I wouldn't do so but I also wouldn't try to silence someone else voicing their displeasure. That's as far as I go in terms of being supportive for the cyclist though. What he did afterwards annoyed me.

He rides like hell to catch the Audi at the next junction and starts screaming at him. Yes, the driver is an asshole but catching up to him just to call him a "fucking prick" isn't going to make him apologize. So it's no surprise that he punches the cyclist. In fairness the driver shouldn't have hit the cyclist but it's also not the cyclist's place to try and give the driver a sermon either. The driver knew what he did was wrong, he just didn't care. Let the police deal with him, if he tries to start another boxing match with them he'll land in jail. Speaking of boxing, what I found most disappointing is that a motorist finally stepped out of their car to scrap with a cyclist and the cyclist didn't fight back. It's not often that motorists decide to brawl instead of just mowing bikers down with their cars. A golden opportunity, wasted. 

Another thing worth noting: if you look at London's streets on Google Street View you'll notice they're freakin' narrow. These roads would be considered alleys where I live. It's not hard to imagine why people get so agitated about sharing the road. With that much congestion, tempers flare and there's no reason for anyone to mind what a cyclist thinks. So unless you're a cop or you can land a punch like Tyson, sometimes it's best to let things go.

*Term derived from the water feature "shoal" to describe a cyclist that squeezes in front of other cyclists already waiting at a junction. I first came upon the term from

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Riding for tacos is the best kind of riding.

The other day I went for a ride to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. I took a picture as it sank, I apologize for the lens flare. Normally an attentive blogger would edit the photo a bit but I can't be bothered, so there it is.

Huntington Beach, CA. The land of sunsets...
Upon turning back to go home I realized there was a noise coming from somewhere inside my gastrointestinal tract. I determined that this must be a sign of hunger so tacos were in order. The catch is that the tacos I wanted were ironically located in Little Saigon. I had to decide whether to take the MUP in the dark through numerous homeless camps or to brave surface streets filled with distracted drivers shopping for the Chinese New Year. I figured I had a better chance with the homeless camps since homeless people only go after you if you're dragging a case of this behind your bike. I had a GoPro mounted on the seat tube taking still shots. Here are some of the keepers that were taken:

For now I think my GoPro provides a fantastic service just taking stills as I ride. Though someday I plan to use it to film myself as I destroy my collarbone for the sake of filming an attempted 60+ mph run.  

The greatest part of this video is the description tells you to "Always ride with a helmet!". It should say "Always ride with common sense!" since that's what people seem to forget at home most often. 

Anyway, I said earlier that I went to pick up some delicious tacos. I won't leave you hanging, so here's a picture of the tacos:

Kogi perfection.
My only regret with this ride was that I should have ordered more tacos. I only had 5 and when I finally got home I was a bit hungry again. I'll have to make amends on the next taco ride.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I finally made a decision on my lights! Normally I like to use lights that can easily be removed to keep the bike looking sleek-ish. This bike is, however, not sleek.  It's more like a giant monument to bike dork-dom. So big, flashy, sophisticated lights sounded like the way to go.

Behold the German-made Busch and Muller Luxos-U!  It's the top dog in dynamo-powered lights. There isn't much that's brighter and this is the only light I know of that has a built in USB charger for charging almost any electronic device smaller than a iPad.

First there's the light, because most importantly it has to work well as a light. The light is very bright but spread out very evenly. You get a beam about 15-20 feet (4.5-6 meters) wide across with usable light across the entire beam. The light at the top of the beam is the brightest which makes sense since it would be shining on the road farthest ahead of you. The light also powers a tail light which is a Busch and Muller Toplight. The rear light is equipped with its own capacitor that keeps the light on for 3 or 4 minutes when fully stopped.

What's really remarkable with this setup is Busch and Muller designed the headlight to be sensitive to the amount of current coming from the dynamo. This tells the brighter LED's to shut off when the bike slows down and directs power to the smaller LED's at the front of the light for visibility. Busch and Muller said the light should dim at around 9 mph (15 kph) yet it seems the dynamo provides a substantial amount of power; enough to keep all the LED's on down to 3 mph (4 kph). So it's only when I'm pretty much at a full stop that the light starts to dim at all. This is excellent for slow climbs or technical terrain where a lot of light is needed but there isn't a whole lot of speed to power the dynamo. The SP Dynamo has exceeded my expectations.

At the rear of the light, there's a multifunction button. You hold it to power the light on or off and tap it for the floodlight function. A second button on the USB charging port does the same thing. The floodlight basically pumps extra current from an internal battery to the light for a more powerful beam. The difference is definitely noticeable. The lights at the back indicate normal beam / floodlight / tail light status. The orange light in the picture is just saying the headlight is on.

I tested the USB charging feature on a long ride and hooked up my Samsung Galaxy S4 to the port. The USB port works exactly as you would expect with one exception. The internal battery in the light has to be topped off before any current can be spared to charge your cell phone. This means that if you stop at an intersection, the charging will be interrupted. It will start again after you've pedaled for a minute or two. This is because at each stop, the battery takes over to keep the light on since there's no current coming from the dynamo. I suppose if you turn the light off, the charging can go uninterrupted but I haven't tried doing that yet.

This is the light as a motorist would see it when the bike is stopped at a junction. The front light stays on under it's own power for quite a while before shutting off. The USB charging port can be seen just below the stem on the steerer tube.

One of the biggest trade-offs with dynamo lighting is the unsightly wires that have to be routed throughout the bike. I was able to avoid some of the ugliness by routing the leads from the dynamo to the headlight inside the fork leg. The wiring from the front light to the rear light however was a different story. Since there's a lot going on underneath the down-tube, I decided to pair it up with the rear brake cable. I might reroute it some other way in the future but for now this is the best I can do. It's not the worst wiring job ever seen... is it?

For all of those who are interested in seeing the light in action, I took a couple of photos from about 18-20 feet (5.5 - 6 meters) away from the fence in my backyard. The lighting in both photos is as close to the actual lighting as I could get. This light is BRIGHT.

I've become a fan of this light for it's features and the extremely good visibility it provides, both for the rider and for those nearby. Anyone looking for self-sustained visibility should take a look at a dynamo setup like this.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Surly Disc Trucker - Fully Operational

The Surly is in complete working order now. It took forever to get the wheels but they're finally on the bike. They look and feel like they can roll through whatever lies ahead of them and spin up really nicely on hills, although that'll change when the bike's loaded. The rims are Mavic A719 units which I chose for their box-section design and dual eyelets. I know deep-V profile wheels tend to be stiffer and stronger but kids in tight jeans and fixie bikes have ruined them for me. The shallower box-section look actually wins me over in a sexy-nerdy way, like cute girls that wear eyeglasses. Hopefully the fixie kids don't catch on to the look.

The rims are paired to their hubs by way of 36 DT Swiss double-butted spokes front and back. They were laced up and assembled by Richard of Richard's Cyclery of Garden Grove California in case you're local and want something similar. Call me hopeful, but I have a feeling these wheels will hold up just fine for a long time.

I chose a Shimano XT hub for the rear and it's as smooth as can be. The front hub is a Shutter Precision PD-8 dynamo hub from Taiwan. This hub isn't as smooth as the Shimano unit at the back wheel but it's not supposed to be. I admit it's a bit notchy, kind of like when a hub is overtightened but it's worth the trade-off of having 6 volts of power on tap. Sometimes when the bike is coasting at the right speed there's a hint of a vibration from the handlebars but it's barely noticeable and it hasn't bothered me yet. As far as friction and drag go I don't think it'll make a noticeable difference even on long, steep climbs. A small amount of drag is worth the trade-off of never needing batteries for infinite visibility, day or night.

I also appreciate the sleeker look of the PD-8 over the Shimano Alfine hubs which kind of resemble tuna cans. I haven't decided on a front light yet so the hub's power output hasn't been tested yet. The only issue I can report so far was that hard braking causes the entire front axle to shift against the dropouts. This is most likely an issue related only to the front skewer not having enough surface area to clamp the dropouts. Since the hub didn't include a front skewer I was using a Shimano skewer with an aluminum acorn nut. I switched to another skewer with a larger steel acorn. This should provide a more secure clamping area against the dropout.

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the build were installing the Nitto front and rear cargo racks. I've long drooled over pictures of Nitto's beautiful components. They take great pride in creating the best alloy bicycle products on the market. Be advised that "best" doesn't mean "lightest". A Nitto product is neither heavy nor light, it's exactly as heavy as it needs to be to last forever. The welds on the front and rear racks are immaculate and nickel plated for a pretty glow. The time and care put into designing and building each rack is striking. If you want something special, something that doesn't look like it was mass produced by simpleton clock-punchers, this is it. I initially only planned on using Nitto racks but I also caved in and got their gorgeous two-bolt Nitto S83 seatpost as a perch for my Selle San Marco Regale saddle (a personal favorite).

One of my favorite features with the Campee rack is that it mounts perfectly with the included nut assembly shown below. Nitto also includes rubberized clamps for bikes without mounting brackets. The Disc Trucker has the mounts so I didn't need to use the clamps, but it's a nice touch.

The front rack is the M1 model designed by some guy at Rivendell Bicycle Works who's coincidentally called Mark. The rack is small but should be great for holding food, a small camera, a phone, a small dog, or a carton of Virginia Slims (another personal favorite). For my application it will also be a great place to mount a dynamo powered headlight.

Putting this bike together has changed the way I feel about bicycles. I own several bikes, but this is the first bike I've pieced together entirely with parts that I spec'ed out after researching every option. For most cyclists the appeal of having the most efficient, wind-tunnel tested bike is so tempting that they end up with a $10,000 Cervelo and a beer gut accentuated by their lycra kit. Race bikes are fast, I have one and when you're in shape it makes you feel amazing when you sprint or attack a steep incline like a maniac. There's a place for carbon fiber race bikes, but there's also a place for a bike that you can ride from here to Canada. For me, the possibilities that this bike opens up for adventure riding are incredibly appealing. 

Next time this bike comes up it should have a nice dynamo-powered light mounted to the front rack. It will also be a fair bit more dirty.