Tag Archives: bicycle

It’s Time for New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition in America like no other.  When the year turns over we spend a lot of time agonizing over the things we want to improve about ourselves.  Quit smoking.  Lose weight.  Be a better human.

By March most of those resolutions are forgotten as we fall into old habits.  Now, I am lucky that I do not smoke, I am not about to quick drinking, and I do not really worry about my weight so most of the traditional resolutions are off the table come January 1st.

However, there are things that I want to get done every year.  These are less resolutions in the traditional sense and more goals for the coming year.  Here we go:

  • No more Amazon—Amazon has become the default online store for millions of people. It is, however, a company that engages in horrible labor practices, utilizes its platform to screw over small businesses, and is generally just a shit operator like so many other big companies.  I used to be a subscriber to Amazon Prime, but I killed that extravagant luxury more than a year ago.  Plus, shipping several items in single boxes is just a ridiculous waste of resources.
  • No more Walmart—Seems pretty self-explanatory, but it is difficult to avoid the Bentonville beast during the course of a year. Here’s a hearty toast to trying in 2019.
  • Decarbonize transportation—Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are now the largest source of gasses that are wreaking havoc with our climate. My goal for the year is to supplant my current driving with a used Nissan Leaf powered by solar panels on top of my garage.
  • Declutter my home—Clutter messes with your mind. Don’t believe me?  Believe the New York Times.  Apparently consumption, which is the driving force behind clutter, is also causing us to be less creative.  Get rid of the extra stuff people!
  • Drink local—Everyone is familiar with eating local, but drinking local is equally important. It’s not just about beer.  It’s about forsaking bottled water for tap water.  It’s about finding the local coffee shop instead of mindlessly trudging to the green mermaid.
  • Read twenty five books—Why twenty five? The number is a nice figure that the brain can wrap its head around like historians love to use decades as lines of demarcation despite events running over the imaginary date line.  It also corresponds to about two per month, which seems doable given life’s way of getting in the way of just sitting down to read.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—There is a two part rationale for this goal. First, saving water is something we should all be trying to do given the realities of climate change.  Second, the toilets in my home do not work very well and become clogged frequently.  Having to flush multiple times and use a plunger is not an efficient use of resources.
  • Plant at least five trees—In my suburban neighborhood I am the “tree guy.” Most people have the builder plant a single tree in the front yard as required by city code and leave it at that.  Not me.  Going into the spring my yard has thirteen trees representing six different cultivars across both deciduous and coniferous trees.  I have had plans to add trees to some specimen plantings in order to create more “mass” in my landscaping.  This is the year that I get cracking.
  • Reduce lawn coverage—This goal goes hand in hand with planting trees, but it is so much more. It’s about reducing the monoculture of turf grass and planting native shrubs that require little or no maintenance while providing much needed habitat for animals.
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—Last year I totaled a little more than 2,250 miles on the trails and gravel roads of Iowa and Nebraska. I am looking to eclipse that total in 2019 with a concerted effort to execute some big day rides.

In the coming weeks and months I will expand on these goals and provide updates on my progress.  Or, my lack of progress as the case often tends to be when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.  Welcome to 2018 everyone!

Advertisements

Stuff I Like: Wolf Tooth Components B-RAD 2 and Morse Cage

If there is one development in the world of cycling that has been a positive it has to be the evolution of the sport away from the duality of road cyclist versus mountain biker.  In the halcyon days of the 1990s this was the only distinction that mattered.

Fast forward to whatever we call these years and there is a proliferation of cycling “genres.”  Sure, the traditional roadie still exists but that rider shares space with the bikepacker, gravel cyclist, fat biker, fondo enthusiast, and so on.  These new or rediscovered styles of riding suit a lot more people and a lot more fun than spending your afternoons in a group ride staring at someone’s lycra clad rear end.

My preferred riding style falls into the big day ride camp.  I do not bike camp—yet—but I may spend an entire day in the saddle over mixed terrain pretty far from home.  As such, there is a decent amount of stuff I want to carry with me including enough water to complete the ride or at least make it between widely spaced trusted sources.

The problem that I have discovered is that my new bike’s frame triangle was quite small.  There were two bottle locations in the main triangle, but the one mounted on the seat tube did not allow for the insertion of a Zefal 164 water bottle.  These bottles are a favorite of long distance riders here in eastern Iowa because each one holds 33 ounces of water.  Two of these give you more than a half-gallon of water for any given ride.

Enter Wolf Tooth Components.  Probably best known as one of the original aftermarket specialists making narrow wide chainrings.  The geniuses at this Minnesota company have branched out into all sorts of solutions for those of us looking to tweak our rides into some semblance of personal perfection.  In my case it was the combination of a B-RAD 2 and Morse Cage.

The B-RAD “system” is a series of mounts and accessories to maximize your on bike storage.  What the B-RAD 2 allowed me to do was shift the mounting holes for my seat tube bottle cage down a few inches.

I also paired this with the most excellent Morse Cage.  Made by Durango, Colorado based King Cage for Wolf Tooth the Morse Cage features holes and slots for the perfect positioning of a water bottle cage.  Witness:

MorseCageShift_400_large.gif

Made of bent hollow stainless steel tubing—titanium is available for you crazies out there—these cages are a thing of beauty.  Okay, I geek out a little about small things like cages.  Just wait until you hear me opine about the cable housing that I have eyed up.  Bike bling is a real thing.

The end result is a main triangle that looks like this:

IMG_20181112_165412083_PORTRAIT.jpg

This setup give me two bottles within arm’s reach when in the saddle.  It also puts the spigots up higher than if I used the underside of the downtube.  I cannot imagine how much limestone dust would be caked on the spigot after ten miles off of pavement.  It all seems like small ball stuff until you realize that after spending hours in the saddle on a ride the last thing you want to be dealing with is a water bottle that is strangely out of your reach.

Note: I bought both the B-RAD 2 and Morse Cages with my own funds.  I receive no compensation from Wolf Tooth Components for my endorsement of their products.  I just happen to really like the stuff these guys make.

What Impact Does a Single Aluminum Can Make?

About once a week, sometimes more, I pick up a discarded aluminum can on the side of the road in the last few miles of my usual thirty mile out and back.  Cyclists are not the source of these cans, I believe, since most of them are on a stretch of road well-travelled by garbage trucks, work vehicles, and jackasses who litter.

Aluminum, as we all learned in elementary school when Earth Day was new and shiny, is easily recyclable.  The problem is that less than half of the estimated 100 billion aluminum cans per year are recycled.  Now, a 50% recovery rate is pretty good compared to plastic or paper but considering the ecological impact of turning bauxite into aluminum it is unacceptable.

It takes a lot of raw bauxite ore and energy to make aluminum.  Recycling the aluminum flips that equation on its head.  The old saw that we learned as kids was that the energy saved from recycling one can could save enough energy to run your television for three hours.  When you are concerned about the environment and love watching Thundercats on Saturday morning this is a big deal.  Now?  Not so much.  Here’s the deal.  It takes twenty times the energy to produce an aluminum can from raw ore versus recycling said can.  Put in kilowatt hour terms it takes ~4.2 kWh to make an aluminum can from scratch. So, every can you pull from the waste stream and put into the recycling stream saves about 4 kWh of electricity and, by extension, about 4 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

That is for a single can.  If I pick up a single can across the 25 or so weeks of “prime” riding season here in eastern Iowa the end result is a savings of about 100 kWh of electricity or 4 to 5 days of solar photovoltaic production from my rooftop array.  Start multiplying that over all of the people taking a ride and it adds up to some real electricity savings.  Think about getting closer to 100% recovery of the 100 billion aluminum cans manufactured in the U.S. every year.  Those are big numbers.

How big?  For every one billion cans or four billion pounds of carbon dioxide not emitted that is like doing any one of the following:

  • Over 388,000 of the average car driven for a year or
  • Almost 196,000 homes energy use for one year or
  • About 460 wind turbines production for a year
  • And a whole lot more…play with the numbers, it’s fun.

This is why it is important, in my mind, to pick up the cans I see littering the road and trail when I am on my bike.  A few seconds every ride is all it takes.  Heck, in Iowa we have a freaking deposit law so every can also nets you a nickel.  Do it for the nickels!

In Praise of the Sick Ride

I have come to praise the sick ride.  No, not the kind of “sick” ride where you need to make sure to capture some footy for the boys.  This is about the ride you take after a sick day.

It is that time of year when the kids go back to school, so after a summer of days out in the open everyone is crammed back together in a single building.  Inevitably this begins the cycle of germ transmission that makes these places the equivalent of a low level biohazard zone.  I only half kid.

This is about the ride you take the day after you spend a day consuming Sudafed and Mucinex while wiping your nose with the equivalent of the boreal forest of Kleenex.  After a night of Nyquil induced sleep you wake up to a beautiful near fall day of full sunshine, no discernible wind, and temps hovering in the low 60s.

The leaves are starting to turn on the edges of that one tree in the neighborhood that always blazes red earlier than any other tree.  It is the harbinger of fall and the dreaded day when you hang up your bicycle until spring.  You cannot pass up days like this just because you spend the last thirty six hours binging on Netflix, mainlining herbal tea, and slipping off into fitful sleep.

So, you clip in and head for a ride.  The weather may be perfect and your bike is finally dialed in after an entire season of riding, but you are a mess.  Your cadence is jacked.  The hills you normally whiz up become grinds.  At the turn your legs are somehow managing to feel like Jello and be tight at the same time.  Your sinuses are torched and your skin has an oddly prickly feel to it.

Heading home you have gulped more than twice as much water as normal and your clothes are soaked.  The backs of your gloves are covered in an odd combination of grime, sweat, and snot.  Your teeth itch.

You unclip and slump onto the steps in your garage.  Your water bottle is empty, but you try and coax the last few drops out of the cap.  There is more liquid inside, just a few steps away, yet you remain glued to the second step.

A hot shower is a miraculous thing.  A few minutes with hot water and a bar of lemon scented soap makes a new person emerge from the other side.  All of the grinding of the past couple hours is forgotten.  The sickness of the past few days is forgotten.  Something magical happened over the course of thirty miles that no day on the couch could ever replicate.

You went on the sick ride.  Praise the sick ride!

Going 1x a Little Sooner than Expected

Well, this happened on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail today:

IMG_1490.JPG

I do not know how to describe my front derailleur being bent ninety degrees the wrong way, the chain being pinned against the large chainring, and the large chainring being bent about half an inch out of true.  Oh, look at what the front derailleur did when pinned against my bottle cage:

IMG_1493

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but you can see just how out of true the large chainring is as a result:

IMG_1495

No bending back a few teeth with a pair of pliers for this repair.

I have some of the components for the switch to a 1x drivetrain like I did on the dirtwagon a couple of seasons back, but most of the stuff is going to have to be acquired in the near term.  And to think that I was trying to make it the whole riding season before deciding what path to take with the drivetrain.

It’s Ok to Wear Cotton

Cotton kills.

If you spend any time performing an activity outdoors someone has said that to you in the past year.  It might have even been you, which in that case you are “that guy.”

Here’s the thing.  Cotton is actually pretty damn comfortable, it doesn’t end up with those funky synthetic fabric odors, and I do not look like Dwayne Johnson when I am riding the three miles to work on my bicycle.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  Heck, I even prefer cotton t-shirts to performance wicking t-shirts on any bike ride save my long days in the saddle when the mileage creeps up around the fifty mark.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  We all do not need to be kitted up like pseudo-Tour de France racers for a quick pedal around town with the kids.  Sure, your jersey, shorts, socks, and handlebar tape are all color coordinated but you still look like a tool when you are following behind tottering children struggling to finish the ride.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  When we step off the bike and stop in for a beer no one wants to look like a pack of MAMILs (Middle Aged Man In Lycra).  It’s a thing and it is not pretty.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  We all probably have several cotton t-shirts sitting in a dresser drawer waiting to be worn.  There is no need to head out to the shop and buy a special shirt just to ride a bike.  Dig into the dark recesses of your forgotten cloths, pull out that t-shirt from vacation a few years ago, and wear it with non-ironic pride on your next ride into work.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  If we want cycling to be anything other than a niche activity pursued by enthusiasts we need to stop telling people that it is wrong to wear a simple t-shirt. We want people out of their cars and on bikes.  People are healthier, the air is cleaner, and our communities are more resilient when people drop the keys and start pedaling.  Too often the people who should be helping get others onto saddles are the same ones who are scaring people away with their mantras about cotton.

Join me this summer in putting away the wicking fabric for just a moment and taking a ride in a simple cotton t-shirt.  You might actually feel like a human being again.

First Order Effects are Only the Beginning

Do you want to spot someone who has zero understanding of an issue?  Ask them about second order effects.

What are second order effects?  These are the impacts of an action that occur because of the aforementioned action but are not the direct intent of the aforementioned action.

What is a good example of a second order effect?  Suppose for a minute that you decide to commute to work via bicycle several days a week.  The first order effect is that you have replaced a certain amount of miles driven with a similar amount of miles ridden.  Attendant to this first order effect is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, less income directed toward fueling an automobile, increase in physical activity, and just a general sense of doing good.

A second order effect, if the number of people replacing car trips with bicycle trips reaches a critical mass, is the reduced need for infrastructure maintenance, repair, or construction.  Another second order effect, again dependent upon the number of people making the switch, is a reduced need for outlets dispensing gasoline so perhaps the number of gas stations decline.  A further second order effect is that workplaces and housing would not need to devote so much space to the transient storage of automobiles.  This would open up a more diverse array of development opportunities since less space would be covered in striped concrete. And so on down the line…

The thing with moving beyond first order effects is that it widens the potential impact of any decision.

Take organic produce as an example.  Most arguments about organic produce fall into a cost benefit analysis vis a vis its potentially greater health benefits, whether from reduced pesticide exposure on the part of the consumer or increased nutrition.  However, there are a myriad of second order effects that may impact the decision to choose organic produce.  By buying organic produce you reduce the potential for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to pollute the ground, water, and air.  By buying organic produce you reduce the chance that farmworkers are exposed to the same synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  All of a sudden the argument that organic produce is “just not worth it” takes on a whole new dimension.

There is an element of nuance to this approach and nuance is somewhat out of favor in a world dominated by people like Donald Trump and Fox News.  It falls into the same category as externalities, which are economic costs borne by society at large as opposed to the entity that is directly responsible for them.  Think about carbon pollution.  Coal fired power plants do not pay anything for the cost of carbon pollution yet we all bear the costs.  It’s another concept that makes most dotards heads explode.

We need to move the discussion of most issues past just the first order effects.  If we capable of enumerating all of the ways a choice can be beneficial down the line through even the most minor of second order effects the impact might be transformative.

So, the next time your Uncle Carl has one too many wine coolers at Thanksgiving dinner and wants to debate the merits of bicycle commuting, organic food, solar panels, or whatever is on his Fox News hit list spend a minute to explain first and second order effects.