Tag Archives: bicycle

We Have the Tools to Create Meaningful Change

For the first time in my memory, which stretches back to the now fuzzy early 1980s, I feel that we have the tools to positively combat climate change available at a personal level.  No longer are we limited to advocating for municipal recycling, agitating McDonald’s to get rid of polystyrene clamshells, or hanging our undergarments out to dry in the sun.  Hey, it was the 1980s and I wanted save the whales so I spent a lot of time writing letters to McDonald’s threatening to boycott Happy Meals forever unless they got rid of those old school burger boxes.

Let me use solar power as an example of a tool that we have available down here at a personal level.  Consider the cost per watt in dollar terms from 1977 until 2015:

Price_history_of_silicon_PV_cells_since_1977.svg.png

In simple mathematical terms that is a decline in price per way of over 99.5%.  Whereas a solar photovoltaic system was probably only something that strange science teacher who drove an ancient Volvo actually had on his house is now something a lot more people can install.

Take my solar photovoltaic installation.  In a little more than two half days and for a cost of less than $11K I had 4.64 kWh of solar installed in a single array on a west facing garage roof.  After tax credits the total cost will come in somewhere around $6K.  For six thousand dollars I now produce all of my electricity needs from the sun.  Granted, it is a grid tie system so I use traditional utility power on occasion.

Yes, I use a lot less electricity than the average peer house but it’s not like I live in an off-grid yurt.  I have a typically large American refrigerator, I run the air conditioning when it is hot, I have a large screen television that gets turned on to watch football games, and so on.  Hell, I have an electric dryer and range.  The point is that you can use a lot less electricity and produce it all via the sun with a fairly minimal investment and without sacrificing the quality of life we have come to assume is natural in the United States.  This is not Ed Begley Jr. being eco-dramatic on Living with Ed.

Even better is that none of the technology used in a solar system is in its infancy, so the maturity of the design is well along which means the systems are reliable.  No one is going to be spending hours up on a roof trying to figure out why the panels are not producing any juice.  The solid state system just sits on top of the roof generating power from the sun without any moving parts or noise.  Day in and day out whenever the sun shines and even when it does not.  If that is not a powerful tool to combat carbon emissions and the resultant climate change I do not know what would qualify.

Going solar is just one of the many tools available to us to make a difference.  We all need to take a moment and examine our lives.  What are the activities that we engage in that have an outsize impact on our carbon emissions.  Tools exist and are available to us that can ameliorate almost any source of emissions if we are willing to make the effort.

Given the horrible state of national leadership on climate issues it is incumbent upon us as concerned individuals to make every effort and deploy every tool.  You might feel good about yourself when you sign a petition, but it has to go further than that if we are to have any hope of a sustainable and equitable future on this planet.

My goal over the next few months is to really examine what the tools are that can help me—a guy living a fairly normal suburban life with three other people in eastern Iowa—eliminate my carbon emissions.

Advertisements

MPG (Beer Equivalent)

The comments were lobbed across the common table at the local taproom:

How many miles per gallon do you get on your bike?

Is it really that efficient to ride a bike?

And so on and so forth.  The topic of conversation was the next step in the #myPersonalParis evolution.  In order to reduce my personal emissions of greenhouse gasses I have set the goal of riding my bike to work three days a week through the fall.  Sixty percent of my commuting trips by bike might seem a little aggressive, but I feel that doing more than half will be a sort of tipping point in my daily behaviors.  It’s a theory and I am going to test that theory in practice.

The miles per gallon question is a constant because there is always some smart ass in the room who says, “You aren’t carbon free because you are breathing.”  Sure enough, but I had to be breathing anyway so I consider that a moot point.

However, let’s spend a moment to ruminate on the relative efficiency of riding a bike to work versus commuting in my truck.

A gallon of gasoline contains 7,594 kilocalories of energy and a gallon of e85 contains 5,463 kilocalories of energy. [1]  On average my truck—a Ford F-150 equipped with a flex-fuel V-8 engine—achieves 15 miles per gallon using e85 fuel.  Simple math says that my truck uses approximately 364 kilocalories to travel one mile.

What about the bike.  Based on over 1,110 miles of riding tracked via a Garmin vivoactive HR the kilocalories expended to travel one miles via a bicycle is approximately 65.  The range is anywhere from 60 to 75 with the high end representing some serious pedal mashing on a long distance ride.

Based purely in terms of kilocalories the bicycle is around six times more efficient just to transport myself from point A to point B.

How does that translate to miles per gallon?  I do not care because I am not fueled by gasoline.  Beer on the other hand?  The average pint of beer—not the light lager swill—contains 200 kilocalories.  A gallon therefore contains 1,600 kilocalories.  [2] Therefore, I achieve approximately 25 miles per gallon beer equivalent or MPGBE.

It’s a ridiculous comparison, but sometimes we need a little folly.

 

Beware the Drop Bar Mafia

I tried.  I really tried.

First, I tried to find a level of comfort or rather less discomfort with the compact bend drop bar that came stock on my cyclocross bike many years ago.  Ugh.  It was nothing less than an exercise in shifting my hands constantly to find a position where something did not ache.

Next, following the advice of many fellow riders in the area I went with a Salsa Cowchipper.  The flared drops and increased width seemed to do the trick along with some generous bar tape and gel padding underneath that bar tape.

I thought this was the ticket.  Riding in the drops was much more comfortable with the flare and the extra cushy bar tape/gel padding combo seemed to dull the pain of long rides on the tops.  Over time—as in thousands of miles the past couple of summers—several problems reared their ugly heads.

I was never comfortable in the drops for anything other than a moment or two.  I was never comfortable with the drops or hoods being the only place to grab a handful of lever.  This is not a big deal on wide open country roads or trails, but in town surprises are many and if you are not in the drops you might not be able to brake in time.  At least that was the problem for me.

Riding on the tops was okay, never truly comfortable but better than being in the drops.  However, with no accessible brake levers I always felt like was riding somewhere between secure and without hands.  Call it the mountain biker in me.

With a handful of scavenged parts from my garage and those of a friend I went all-in on a flat bar conversion:

IMG_1128

The Answer Protaper Expert bar is 685mm in width and has a nice brown finish.  Does anyone else remember when bars came in black or silver only?  Maybe that is just me.  The bar has an eight degree sweep to the back.  The bar ends are some cheap Titecs that would have cost an arm and a leg in the 1990s because of the carbon fiber construction.  Grips are repurposed Ergons from another mountain bike build that has been languishing in my garage for the better part of two years.

The result looks a little odd.  It is almost like the gawky half-brother of a NORBA cross country rig from the early days of mountain bike racing.

The drop bar mafia is coming for me.  I can feel it.  Around here fellow riders have already looked somewhat askew at my dirt wagon—the half-kidding nickname given to me well-loved and well-worn bike—as if it were some unwelcome chimera among the carbon fiber matchy matchy set that seems to dominate the weekend population.  The best part is that I just do not give a flying f*ck.  For the first time in at least three years I am comfortable in the saddle.  That is all that matters.

Friday Linkage 5/19/2017

At what point do we begin to point the finger for this entire Donald Trump mess at the people who enabled him.  Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe is partially to blame for giving Donald Trump a national platform for free in exchange for ratings in the early days of the campaign.  The entire Republican establishment is on notice for allowing this charlatan in orange to assume the Oval Office because they felt that it would be beneficial for their agenda.  Paul Ryan and the rest of his elected Republican cronies need to get in line and get behind the real investigation into the Trump campaign’s connection.

Furthermore, the American people need to demand that all of our elected representatives act as the Constitutionally mandated check to Trump’s deranged ambition.  I am sure of the fact that Donald Trump feels he has the ultimate authority regardless of law and will do anything to facilitate this delusion.

On to the links…

Under Trump, Inconvenient Data that was Previously Public is Being Sidelined—You don’t think that people like Scott Pruitt are loving this action.  This is an administration and a Republican party that is allergic to facts in general and almost violently reactive to anything that even hints at an opposing viewpoint.  It’s like your drunk Uncle Carl who yells about the “lamestream media” is in charge of the country.

Why Trump Will Make the Wrong Decision on Paris—I do not think this really needed a long explanation.  Donald Trump is an under informed reactionary decision maker who loathes anyone with more expertise or knowledge on a topic than himself thus he is prone to making bone headed decisions.  Furthermore, he surrounds himself with family and sycophants utterly dependent upon his wealth thus the toadies are always telling him how great he is doing.  Is it any wonder we are doomed?

Trump’s EPA Greenlights a Nasty Chemical. A Month Later, It Poisons a Bunch of Farmworkers.—Color me surprised, but I am not.  Chlorpyrifos is nasty stuff, but Trump’s corporate allies wanted it allowed so it was made so under the guise of…profits and screw everything else.  Only profits matter now.

The EPA Asked the Public which Rules to Scrap and Got Chewed Out—People like clean air and water.  People like it when toxins are not prevalent in their food.  People like health.  It must have been a real surprise to Trump’s denizens of death that people prefer to keep regulations that prevent profit seeking companies from polluting.

The Surprising Story of the Decline of Electricity use in American Households—It all comes down to LED lighting based on back of the envelope calculations.  Those are the same LEDs that talking heads like Sarah Palin derided as some liberal conspiracy.  Granted, most of those talking heads are nitwits who supported Trump.  And you thought those pictures of your high school fashion choices were embarrassing.

Three Reasons to Believe in China’s Renewable Energy Boom—China is all in on renewable energy because the leadership of that country believes it is critical to their staying in power.

By 2020, Every Chinese Coal Plant will be More Efficient than Every US Coal Plant—However, a coal plant still produces a lot more pollution than a solar panel.

Terawatts of Solar Power are Within our Reach—Solar power will soon reach a tipping point where it is like a large snowball going downhill picking up speed and gaining in size.  The victims of its destructive path will be old line fossil fuels and maybe your drunk Uncle Carl who hates hippies, Volkswagens, and solar panels.

New US Residential Solar Capacity Additions Drop 17% In First Quarter—So goes California…as California is responsible for almost 50% of residential solar installations the golden state has an outsize impact on the aggregate numbers for the U.S.  Other states saw smaller declines and it may be due to major installers pursuing more profitable installations over heady growth figures.

Coal and Natural Gas Are Foes, Not Natural Allies—This is the real inconvenient truth for Trump and his coal cronies.  Natural gas and coal compete directly with each other so any policy that favors both fuels—relaxed emissions targets, etc.—also favors the fuel that directly replaces coal.

Trump Coal Obsession Largely Irrelevant To Electric Utility CEOs—Those darned market forces just get in the way of a good campaign speech.

Stanford Study says Fossil-Fueled Cars will Vanish in 8 years as ‘Big Oil’ Collapses—I doubt it will happen in eight years, but I think there is a time in my lifetime when my truck will be a classic because of its fuel choice.

You May Live Longer if You Bike to Work—Let us count all of the ways that bicycles rule.

New American Study Confirms: Physically Separated Bike Lanes are Crucial for Safety—Add this to the list of things that seem obvious but that someone felt a study was needed to confirm.  As someone who rides both types of bike lanes I can assure you that the protected and/or separated bike lanes are the better option for a cyclist.

Denver’s Bike-Friendly Plans Seem To Be Panning Out—People actually like biking to work and play.  It’s a proven fact.

Friday Linkage 5/12/2017

Is this how it ends?  With a complicit Congress, an ineffective opposition party, and an egomaniac in the White House do we end up miles down the road to tyranny in just a few years?  Or does America pull its collective head out of its ass and do something about the ridiculous state of affairs?

Considering how well things went during the prelude to the Civil War I do not have the highest hopes for a peaceful decade.  Maybe Dwayne Johnson really will be our next president.  Or Michelle Obama.

On to the links…

EPA Dismisses 5 Scientists from Key Review Panel—Let me guess what the industry panel members are going to recommend…regulation bad…oil and gas good…EPA bad…emissions are good for you…money is even better…and so on.  Your government is owned by fossil fuels and Russians.

Here’s How Easy It Is to Get Trump Officials to Click on a Fake Link in Email—I imagined that it would be as easy as saying “Click here to support Bill O’Reilly against all those evil women.”

Watch Anderson Cooper Roll His Eyes at Kellyanne Conway As She Tries to Defend Trump—And the Oscar goes to Anderson Cooper:

vsnkrj6v4aewbfxa43fu.gif

A New Book Ranks the Top 100 Solutions to Climate Change. The Results are Surprising.—Maybe the solutions are within our grasp.  Drawdown is on my reading list at the library.  I just happen to be about ten people back in the queue.

Remorseless Coal Baron Gets Out Of Prison, Has Twitter Meltdown Over Mine Disaster—Do you notice a trend with Donald Trump and other narcissists like Don Blankenship?  In their mind’s eye he or she is never wrong.  Even when convicted in a court of law and sent to prison he is going back to the well that he did nothing wrong.

With a Letter a Day, West Virginian Tried to Remind Coal Executive of his Role in 29 Deaths—Don Blankenship was complicit in the conditions that directly led to the death of 29 people.  He does not care nor did he ever care about actual human beings in his employ as long as the coal kept coming out of the mountains and the profits kept flowing to bank accounts.

California’s Drought May Be Over, But Its Water Troubles Aren’t—Judging long term climatic conditions based on a single season is a bad idea.  Climate scientists, hydrologists, and anyone with half a brain has always said that but as California “exits” the recent drought it needs saying even more.

California Set an Ambitious Goal for Fighting Global Warming. Now Comes the Hard Part—The goals are ambitious.  We have to hope that California can be the model for the rest of the states because there will be no guidance from the capital.

Could Trump Dismantle the American West?—Why don’t we just come out and say that Donald Trump is bad for America?  Who stands to benefit from anything that has happened in Washington D.C. recently?  Jared Kushner maybe.

The First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Just Shut Down a Diesel Plant—It’s not a huge victory, but every dirty power generation source that we can shut down is a victory.  In the age of Trump and Pruitt I will take what I can get.

Iceland’s “Thor” Volcano Power Plant can Generate 10X More Energy than Oil or Gas Wells—Geothermal is the odd cousin who comes to your wedding who turns out to be a pretty cool guy that makes the weekend all the more fun.  This geothermal plant is the rock star cousin who owns the weekend.

Germany Breaks A Solar Record — Gets 85% Of Electricity From Renewables—These headlines are a little misleading, but generating this much renewable energy for this large an economy is a big deal.

Arrogance of Space—People ask me why I think bikes are such a great way to get around.  If I had to pick one photo to illustrate many of the reasons it would be this:

33742909153_6cbfaba4ae_z.jpg

Imagine what our infrastructure costs would look like if we were managing a world of cyclists instead of a world of single occupancy automobiles.  Believe it!

Dan Barber on the Future of Food—Dan Barber can get a little preachy, but so can Michael Pollan and Anthony Bourdain but I still listen to what they have to say about food.  Dan Barber is no different.  His thoughts on food matter because he is an influencer of chefs and what not the world over.

New Wheels for my Ride

It was not planned this way, but I ended up equipping my cyclocross bike turned gravel grinder with new wheels a little early.

An online store that shall remain nameless, so that my LBS does not shame me forever, had a major sale on wheelsets and I was able to pick up a set of Vuelta Corsa Lites for less than $150. This is a screaming deal on a good set of wheels. Sure, I could have spent a lot more on wheels but I am putting these on a bike with Shimano 105 components that is going to get beat up on some gravel roads and trails here in Eastern Iowa. Exotic is not the name of the game.

The wheelset sat in my garage for a few weeks because I was planning on doing a complete rebuild of my current bike to make some major changes based on my riding this summer—don’t worry details on the major changes to come later. However, circumstances changed on a ride last week when something—probably a strip of flashing metal or something similar—ripped a hole through the tread section of my well-worn Kenda Kwicks. How well-worn? The front tire—switched from the rear about halfway through the season—was bald and ready to die. The piece of metal just hastened its burial.

Tire choice was probably the biggest decision. If you look up “good tire for gravel” on the Internet be prepared for a lot of opinions and no definitive answers. One theme that seemed to be constant was the love for Clement’s X’PLOR series of tires. These are the USH and MSO, named for the airport codes for Ushuaia, Argentina and Missoula, Montana respectively. The USH comes in 35mm width and the MSO comes in 32mm or 40mm width.

Trying to decide between the tires came down to the center ridge. The USH has a more solid center ridge that seems like it would offer a smoother ride on the pavement sections of my usual rides:

IMG_0434

If the county ends up paving more of the Cedar Valley Nature trail than I will be riding on even more pavement. Plus, the 35mm width seemed to strike a balance between the 32mm and 40mm width of the MSO. I went with the 60 TPI version versus the high zoot 120 TPI version because I could not justify the difference in cost for a tire I did not know if I would enjoy. BTW, I changed out my old Tektro Oryx cantilevers for Tektro CR720 cantilevers. Big improvement, huge!

How do things look:

IMG_0436

All up—including skewer and cassette—the wheelset weighed in at 3380 grams. This is compared to my prior no-name stock wheelset weight of 3925 grams. The stock wheelset included tires that were 5mm thinner and lacking a lot of tread after almost 3000 miles. Doing the whole conversion math thing—thanks Google—the difference of 545 grams works out to approximately 1.2 pounds of weight saved. For those of you who slept through physics, this weight is even more important than cutting frame weight because it is rotational. It’s not the two or three to one delta that cyclists have used for years to justify spending a lot of money on wheels but it matters.

The true measure of a new set of wheels is not how much they weigh, necessarily, but how well they ride. The Corsa Lites and Clement USH tires are light years better than the prior wheelset. The ride is noticeably smoother because of the tires, especially when the pavement ends and the gravel begins. Also, out of the saddle sprints seem a lot more fun which I am going to attribute to the lighter weight and “springiness” of the new wheelset. The bike just seems to pop when I start mashing.

The other big improvement was the aforementioned brake swap. The Tektro CR720s are a big jump in stopping power versus the stock Tektro Oryx brakes. For about $20 per set there are few better bargains for improvement in performance. Plus, the new brakes look “old school” cyclocross. Sometimes it is about how something looks when all else is equal.

In terms of “big changes” or transformations coming to my bike I am considering ditching the front derailleur and small chainring in favor of a single chainring setup. I rarely use the small chainring and I do not use the smallest cogs in my cassette, so I feel that a smaller big chainring with my existing cassette would meet all of my local riding needs. The Wolftooth “narrow-wide” chainrings look like a sweet option. Anyone have any experience?

Witness the Horror

Approaching mile 16 of my ride, which was supposed to be a nearly 19 mile ride out before turning back, the rear tire of my trusty steel steed went pillowy soft. Not flat, mind you, but so soft that it was all squirrely.

Nothing that five minutes with some tire levers and a mini pump could not fix. That is when I was witness to the horror.

Inside my bag was not a replacement 700x30C tube, but a 26×1.25 tube. I tried pumping up the tire thinking that the presta valve might have come loose and leaked out some air. It would not hold any more than approximately 25-30 PSI of pressure.

There is nothing quite so nerve racking as babying a rear tire with almost no pressure across almost six miles of fresh gravel and ten miles of pavement. Turns were a real treat as my rear tire would wander and squirm at the slightest provocation.

The moral of the story is check your repair supplies more than once a season. I obviously had not changed over my tubes from my commuting rig to my cyclocross ride. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

6e42b1dee670edda8aa5e4f9a8437838