Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Green Machine Cycles.

There is a new shop in Chicago.  The brainchild of my buddy, Ezra, Green Machine Cycles intends to fill a niche in Chicago catering to commuters and cargo bike enthusiasts while living up to it's name in terms of sustainability.  From their website, "...the most energy efficient form of transportation should inspire a commensurate commitment to greenness."

Years ago, perhaps when I was still working as a bike mechanic, Ezra talked about opening a "green" bike shop that considered sustainability in all aspects of it's business.  From using recycled materials to recycling packaging.  Ezra even talked about considering the processes used to manufacture materials from which products were made.

Last fall Ezra's dream became a reality when Green Machine Cycles opened at 1634 W. Montrose.  In keeping with his dedication to "greenness" Ezra built his workbenches out of reclaimed lumber.  The display cases in the shop are fabricated from old art shipping crates.  The lights in the shop were re-purposed from an old space.

Green Machine carries some really practical bikes including Kona and Soma.  For cargo capacity they are an Xtracycle and Bullitt dealer.  Bullitt Bicycles are about the coolest thing out there for cargo hauling.  Not only are Bullitt Bicycles winning cargo races all over the place, but they also put out a very stylish and comfortable ride.  Bullitt's aren't for the faint of pocketbook though as they cost upwards of 3K for a complete bike.  If I'm lucky there may be a Bullitt in my future.

Ezra likes the Soma Tradesman as an all purpose cargo bike.  He says it is hardly any bigger than a standard bike and it can haul 150+ pounds of cargo in addition to the rider.  The tradesman is available only as a frameset, but Green Machine can custom build a complete bike starting at about $1,400.

Ezra also suggests a Kona Dr. Good.  It's a basket/rack bike with internally geared hub and a front disc brake.  It is a smooth ride with a more upright position.  Those go for $899 for the complete bike.  If I were to buy one of these you can bet I'd have a full chain-guard added on.  

Green Machine carries bio-based lubricants from Re:cyclist, Yelo Velo, Pedros and Phil Wood.  Ezra likes the idea of bike lubricants being somewhat less toxic than the synthetic auto counterparts.

Green Machine is a full service shop.  They will do everything from custom fabrication to flat repairs.  Ezra is a mechanic with over 20 years of experience.  In the mechanic community he is considered an elder, and it shows in his work product.  He's one of the best mechanics I know.



Monday, May 5, 2014

The Long Honk and a Lesson in Diplomacy.

In this video we see an example of a common cyclist/driver interaction when a cyclist takes a lane.  I edited the video to show that the cyclist was riding fast, and traffic was able to negotiate around the cyclist without any problems.  The cyclist is taking a lane because the lanes are not wide enough for a bicyclist and car to safely share the lane.  There are also two lanes of travel in each direction, so if a car should care to overtake a cyclist they may simply change lanes and pass.

A driver pulls up behind the cyclist at a light.  When the light turns green the driver honks.  There are different types of honks.  A short stacatto honk may say, "be careful" or "hey I'm here."  A series of short honks might say, "Hey, I'm in a hurry and you're in my way- Please try to pay attention."  There is no mistaking the single long honk that says, "I'm a total asshole and I expect you to get out of my road right now."

Not only does this driver do the honk we are all so familiar with, he also refuses to change lanes to pass.  In fact, he rides right up close, tailgating the bicyclist.  I consider this to be an aggressive intimidation tactic utilized by a wide array of drivers from impatient soccer moms to the woefully-inadequate-male BMW driver.

He follows the bicyclist into a parking lot, and hilarity ensues.  I'd encourage people to be a bit more diplomatic than this bicyclist.  I'd also point out that the 55 year old bicyclist is about 5' 5" tall.  I don't know about you, but I know I wouldn't feel so accomplished if I found myself beating up a short old guy after he called me out for acting like a jerk in the first place.        

In a lot of ways, this is a fairly typical day in the life of a commuter.  While this doesn't happen every day, this is a familiar irritating driver story.    

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Chicago PD Right Hook

This video shows a bicyclist almost being right-hooked by a CPD vehicle.  The bicyclist approaches the CPD vehicle from behind in a protected bike lane.  The CPD vehicle makes an unsigned right turn in the path of the cyclist.

This is a fairly typical scenario we see in which a bicyclist is struck by a right turning vehicle when the bicyclist approaches from behind.  To be clear, the cyclist did nothing wrong here, in fact, the cyclist's attention and actions appear to have saved him from a collision.  Having said that, in my experience you are more likely to be right crossed when approaching a vehicle from behind.  They either aren't looking for a cyclist, or they don't see the cyclist, and they make the turn oblivious of the approaching cyclist's presence.

Be very careful when approaching intersections in protected bike lanes.  There are a number of hazards for bicyclists presented by vehicular turning movements.  Always be cognizant that vehicles may be unaware of your presence and ride defensivly.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Awesomeness of Riding in Downstate Illinois.

I grew up riding a bike in downstate Illinois.  One year I enrolled in the MS-150 or some similar incarnation when I was in the fourth or fifth grade.  The premise was that you would ride a loop- for some reason I think it was between 4 and 6 miles.  You'd ride around that loop as many times as you could up to 50 miles.  Most kids didn't make it the 50 miles.   Much to my family's amazement I went the whole 50.  I remember soaking in the tub that night.  That was my first long haul.

In 1987 I bought a Schwinn Traveler with the idea that I would really start to put in some miles.  I'll never forget the discovery of bicycling as a form of transportation during those years bicycling around my home town.

That year the Traveler was made with the shifters on the downtube.  It was a great road bike for the money.  I had a friend who rode one coast to coast twice.  I bought a 21" frame because I thought I wasn't done growing, but finally in 2006 I sold that bike to a guy who actually achieved the status of 6 foot, 2 inches tall.  It sold for exactly the same price I paid for it, $250.00.

Last week I attended the Illinois Bike Summit.  I met a lot of cool people.  One was Jonathon.  Jonathon is a Warmshowers host, and he rides a mid 80's steel touring bike (Trek 720).  He has been to my hometown.  In fact, he rode within a couple blocks of my childhood house.

Reviewing Jonathan's rides reminds me how awesome the riding is in downstate Illinois.  Illinois doesn't have much in the way of gravel roads.  We pave almost every little back road in the state.  In my view that's one of the great thing about biking in Illinois.  Other states, such as Ohio, most of the little back roads are gravel.  That sucks for riding bikes.

Take the Saluki Amatrack Line to Carbondale sometime and ride in any direction.  It's almost impossible to not hit a state park, and the roads are generally in pretty good condition.  I should spend more time down there as well.    

Land Speed Record on a DIVVY.

Anyone can use a DIVVY.  This lady is dressed nice.  She looks great, and she's off to the office.    DIVVY's are good for professionals to get around on because they have full chain guards and fenders.  The chain guard keeps grease off your pants leg, and the fenders keep street water off your clothes. You're not going to have to worry about getting your skirt caught in the spokes because of the skirt guards over the rear wheel.  Literally, you can wear a suit and overcoat and ride a DIVVY.

DIVVYs are slow.  This lady sure isn't going to break any land speed records, but it just goes to show that anyone can ride a DIVVY.  Personally, I'd hate to be caught behind her.  That's why the uphill bike lanes expand to two lanes on the Milwaukee. 

I'd also point out that this person is a perfect example of why the three-second yellow lights are deadly dangerous for cyclists.  Although it isn't a problem for this person as she times the light perfectly, if the had arrived at the intersection a few seconds later, she would have been in the intersection when the light changed.  She would have been caught in the intersection after the light changed to red.  Being caught in the intersection when cross traffic has already been given a green light could be a very dangerous situation, and I've seen a number of cases in which people were injured in just this scenario.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DIVVY Wave in Chicago Triathlon Supersprint.

I love it.

Are you a Divvy rider who's always wanted to ride, but, swim before and run after?  This years Chicago Triathlon will have a Chicago Divvy Bike Share riders wave. There are going to be some empty Chicago DIVVY Bike Share stations on August 23, 2014 around Montrose beach.  It looks like a 24 hour DIVVY pass is included to avoid overage charges when you take more than 30 minutes to complete the 10k or 6.2 miles of the bike leg.

They should place docks at the beginning and end of the bike leg.  That would make it more realistic.  Now I really do want to try a triathlon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Divvy Bikes Seven Months Later

It's now been seven months of Divvy Bike Share in Chicago.  In the seven months since Divvy was introduced in Chicago I've seen all of the problems I initially noted resolve.  In fact, I have almost no complaints about Divvy bikes at this time other than the fact that they are heavy sluggish beasts.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Divvy Bikes. In the Rough Winter.

I've found myself using Divvy bikes this winter for really short trips.  The interesting thing about a Divvy is that it's really handy when you need to make a short unanticipated trip.  If I need to get a few blocks away downtown quickly I find a Divvy bike to be the transport of choice.

Divvy closed it's operations only a few days this winter due to heavy snows.  In a winter where we have in excess of 70 inches of snow I find that acceptable.  They also paired down the on-street fleet of bikes for the winter months, but I haven't had a problem finding a Divvy when I need one.

I'm really looking forward to the weather Spring is supposed to be bringing.  Apparently it should break 40 degrees today.  Expect 50 degrees on Monday.  I may be wearing shorts.
 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Tough Winter.

It's been a rough winter for bicycling all around.  When I bump into my bicycle buddies a common question is, "How much have you been riding this winter?"  Not only has Chicago seen a respectable 73.4 inches of snowfall, but we have had more days with temperatures below zero than ever before.  My law partner, Brendan Kevenides, says he draws the line at zero.

Years ago I was commuting home one winter night and I was shocked at how cold it seemed.  I felt like I was being wimpy.  When I arrived at home I turned on the TV to discover it was 14 below zero actual temperature.  Forty five minutes later a pizza I ordered arrived.  When I was standing outside paying for the pizza a guy on a bicycle rode by.  The pizza delivery guy looked at the bicyclist, then back to me.  With a wildly  astonished look in his eye the pizza delivery guy looked at me and said, "That guy is f*@#ing crazy!"  True dat.

It seems to be easy to keep the core warm on super cold days.  Everyone knows to layer, layer, layer...  The hard part to super cold commuting is keeping the extremities warm.  Feet, hands and the exposed face are the super cold weather challenge.  As with anything, I like the use of layers to keep the extremities warm.

At this point if you haven't figured out how to dress for winter you probably don't need my advice, but I'll share my strategies for keeping my body warm in the cold weather.

Head:

I use a slightly oversized BMX style helmet during the super cold months.  All those vents that make a road helmet good in the summer are bad in the winter.  BMX helmets keep the wind off you head better than a straight road helmet.  If it's just a tad large you can comfortably fit a wool hat underneath.  I have a Louis Garneau hat I like to use under my helmet.

Face:

When it's cold I need something to keep the wind out of my eyes.Glasses are a must.  Some people like ski goggles.  I understand their appeal, but I don't use them myself.  I just go with glasses.  If I don't use anything I cry the whole way and I can't see well. 

I always recommend a beard.  This winter I shaved my beard in early February thinking we were done with the cold weather.  That was a mistake.  In my experience the bears is the best cold weather equipment on Earth.

Most women cyclists are at a disadvantage with respect to their beard growing capacity.  I've been using a scarf since I shaved.  I don't like a balaclava becuase it tends to fog up my glasses with my own breath.   

Hands:

For the hands I start with layers.  I like a Mountain Hardware glove liner with a hard core waterproof overglove of some sort.  I'm not a fan of the lobster claw gloves.  I've used them in the past and I tend to find that they are either too hot and my hands sweat (then they are cold and wet) or they are not warm enough.  The nice thing about layering is that you can make quick adjustments to layers to suit your needs if it gets hotter or colder.

Feet:

Feet are, in my opinion, the hardest extremity to keep warm in winter.  I find that the key to keeping feet warm is not only insulating them enough, but ensuring that you keep your feet as dry as possible.  That's tough too, becuase feet sweat a lot.  My strategy is to keep the waterproof layer on the outside- as far from the skin as possible.  I do not like waterproof socks for exactly this reason.  I like all layers inside to be as breathable as possible to keep moisture away from the foot.  

Feet are especially difficult to keep warm if you are intent on using a clipless pedal.  As with all things winter, layers are key.  I like a wool sock or a light liner under a wool sock in a Lake Winter Boot.  If it's wet outside I like to use an outer layer of bags on feet.

If you are willing to use a platform pedal things get a lot easier.  I bought a pair of hunting boots at Bass Pro Shop that I've been using this winter.  Any high quality insulated boot will probably do the trick.  If you'd like to wear a more professional shoe or be able to wear something more appropriate around the office, you can wear a Neos Overshoe over your regular shoe.  They are super warm and impressively waterproof.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chicago Bike Share; The Busiest Bike Share in The World Last Weekend.

Apparently Chicago's bike share recorded over 50,000 trips since the bike share was launched one month ago.  According to the Chicago Department of Transportation on Sunday based on the percentage of available bikes in use, the program was more heavily used than other bike-share programs in New York, Taipei and Rio de Janeiro.

See the complete article here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Chicago Bike Share - Divvy Bikes; One Month Later It is... Awesome.

Over the past month I've been trying to use Chicago Bike Share Divvy Bikes to get around as much as possible.  Divvy bikes aren't perfect, and they are not going to replace your commuter.  It's cool though, because there are a ton of good aspects of Divvy Bikes.   

I'm a big fan of their front cargo rack.  Personally, I would have added a rear rack as well, but the front rack is surprisingly adequate.  It's intuitive to use and versatile.  I have a 36" bungee cord that stays in my backpack in case I need to bungee down a bigger load than the existing bungee would otherwise allow.


I could stand to commute about three miles on a Divvy Bike.  Anything longer and I think a Divvy Bike starts to lose it's appeal.  The handlebar height is not adjustable, so I tend to find myself kind of hunched over, which is tolerable for short distances.

Chicago Bike Share Divvy Bikes are slow chunky bikes.  One of the comments to my previous post suggested that Chicago Bike Share bikes are geared too low, and I agree.  I think the hull speed on these bikes is limited.  The two times I did the whole 5 mile commute on a Divvy bike it was unpleasant enough that I resolved to commute on my regular bike in the future.

Chicago Bike Share Divvy Bikes are an awesome compliment to other forms of transportation.  This is where they really shine.  If you can get in the neighborhood of where you'd like to go using your car or the train or bus, you can finish off the trip with a Divvy.  I sometimes park my van west of downtown on the street for free, and then I ride a Divvy bike between the office and my car.  I also like to use Divvy Bikes for short trips around the loop.

 


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chciago Divvy Bike Share- Week 1

The end of the day marks one week of bike share in Chicago.  The initial problems reported last Friday seem to have resolved.  I have used Divvy bikes several times this week and found the bikes and the stations to be functioning flawlessly.

Yesterday on a Divvy ride a cabbie buzzed me while honking and screaming to get out of the way.  I was lawfully riding as close as practicable ans safe to the curb.  I wasn't blocking traffic, and he was able to pull in front of me and cut me off executing his turn without any problems.  It would seem that he just doesn't want to share space with me.  I had visions of dragging him out of his cab and kicking the living shit out of him, but he fled the scene.  That's probably best for both of us.

Last night I was caught in a downpour on a Divvy bike.  The full fenders worked wonderfully.  I was only waterlogged by the rain coming out of the sky.  So far as I could tell I didn't get a drop of street water on my clothes.

The one issue I have noticed is that there seems to be a shortage of bikes in the loop around 5pm.  I assume this is because there are a lot of people just like me who have the idea of incorporating bike share into their commute home.  Unless Divvy gets better about redistibuting the bikes you're going to have to leave a little early if you want to get a bike at 5pm.  Last night I left at 4:30 and there were no bikes at First National Plaza.  I walked two blocks south to Federal Plaza and was able to check out the last bike at that station just as the rain started.

If you haven't tried it, the Chicago Bike Share app works pretty good.  When you open the app it gives you a map of your location with bike share dock locations listed.  They are color coded so you can tell immediately if a station has available bikes or not.  If you click on a station it will give you information on how many available bikes the station has and how many docks are open at the station.  I give the app two thumbs up for intuitive design and ease of operation.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Chicago's Divvy Bike Share Review- Three Days Later.

Yesterday I used the bike share twice with much better results.  I basically tried the same trips from Friday.  I took the Madison bus into the loop and picked up a Divvy bike at Daley Plaza.  I rode two blocks south and docked the bike at First National Plaza.  When I docked the bike the yellow light illuminated followed by an audible buzzing, but no green light.  Regardless, the bike was locked into the dock.  A Divvy employee approached and we discussed what happened, but the Divvy employee assured me that the bike had successfully docked.

After work I headed over to Federal Plaza and checked out a bike to ride over to my west loop gym.  I rolled up to the docking station at Morgan and Lake and shoved the bike into a vacant dock.  The green light confirmed acceptance of my bike, and the second use was absolutely flawless. 

Helmet use may prove to be more spotty with bike share.  I was caught yesterday morning without a helmet, and I don't have one with me now.  I typically won't ride around the block without a helmet, so I'll need to be more vigilant about taking a helmet with me and keeping one at the office. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

DIVVY Bikes- An Initial Review of Chicago's Bike Share

Yesterday Chicago launched it's widely anticipated bike share program, Divvy Bikes.  I've been anticipating a bike share program in Chicago for years now, as evidenced by the many blog posts I authored over the years on various bike shares (Chicago's proposed bike share; Paris' bike share 1, 2, and 3; Montreal's Bike share, and my favorite bike share program of all time in Pensacola, Florida).  To be honest, I wasn't sure this day would ever come, but as of last night, Chicago's bike share is officially on-line.

I was one of two hundred people invited to a very rainy pre-view of the Divvy bikes on Thursday evening at Daley Plaza.  That evening I rode a Divvy bike from downtown to the station just south of the "Bucktangle" (North, Milwaukee and Damen).

The bike functioned flawlessly.  Divvy bikes are equipped with a three speed internally geared hub and drum brakes.  For some reason I sort of expected these bikes would have a rear coaster brake, so I had to acclimate myself to the freewheel.  I'm a big fan of the front and rear LED lights which I assume are generator powered.  The saddle height is easily adjusted, and the seat posts are marked with numbered lines so one can quickly make uniform adjustments when checking out a new Divvy bike.  I found my ideal seat height to be in the neighborhood of 7.  Divvy bikes are equipped with an odd front shelf-type rack and bungee.  While you can't carry a bag of groceries on one of these racks, it held my backpack and Big Jambox just fine.  In fact, I was happier with the position of the Jambox on the Divvy rack than any of my own bikes as I was able to achieve the ideal sound direction for good quality country music listening on my trip up Milwaukee Avenue.  The full fenders kept me dry despite the wet streets, and the skirt guard kept my dress from getting tangled in the rear wheel.

When it came to negotiating the dock I found that a little instruction might have been helpful.  In order to engage the bike in the dock you don't want to be dainty, rather a good forceful shove seems to be the way to effectively engage the bike into the dock.  A yellow light will illuminate on the dock hopefully followed shortly by a green light confirming that your bike has been returned and locked into the dock.

Friday wasn't nearly as painless.  Friday was intended to be the official launch of the Divvy program.  On my way downtown Friday morning I rode the Madison bus downtown with the specific intention of testing the bike share.  The Madison bus dropped me off at Washington and Dearborn, so I ran across the street just in time to be the first person to check a bike out of the almost operational docking station at Daley Plaza.

There were Divvy employees present who walked me through the process of checking out a bike.  As it turns out, each dock has a little slot for your Divvy key.  When you insert the key the green light illuminates indicating that the bike is unlocked and may be removed.  Removing a Divvy bike from a dock isn't intuitive.  One would think the bike would unlock and just pull out, but apparently it is helpful to lift the bike up by the rear of the saddle while pulling the bike out from the dock.

I rode the bike two blocks south to First National Plaza.  I had no luck getting the bike to dock at that station, so I proceeded another block south to the Federal Plaza.  That station was up and running, but it would not accept my bike despite trying to dock the bike at all of the available docks.  Divvy personnel were on site and refused to take the bike or allow me to leave the bike, but they suggested I take the bike to State and VanBuren.  At this point I had to get to work, so I elected to take the bike to the only station I suspected was functional and I returned the bike successfully to the Daley Plaza station from which it came.     

After work I checked a bike out from Federal Plaza and rode west across the expressway.  I attempted to dock the bike at the green line stop at Morgan and Lake, the closest station to my gym.  Again Divvy personnel were on site.  Once again the dock refused to accept my bike.  Once again Divvy personnel refused to accept the bike and advised me to try another station.  According to the Divvy kiosk, the closest station was a few blocks away on Washington and Willard, but when I arrived there was no station to be found.  I headed down the street to Madison and Aberdeen, but again, the station would not accept my bike.

At this point I knew my 30 minutes was going to expire and I would be charged for the bike, so I called Divvy to address the problem.  The customer service representative gave me an extra two hours to find a docking station to accept the bike, which was good because the delays had already made me late to my gym, so I no longer had time to go hunting for a functioning docking station.  After my workout I elected to head down to the station outside of the Target at Jackson and Aberdeen, and I was finally able to successfully dock my bike.  After another call to Divvy to tell them I had returned the bike, they indicated that their system confirmed that the bike was returned and that the late charges would be reversed within a few days.

Anyone reading this might think this all sounds like a real pain in the ass, and they would be right, but keep in mind that this was Divvy's first day in operation and the stations are literally being installed as I'm riding around on the bike.  I'm going to give the program the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they need a few days to get all the kinks worked out of the system.   


To me the most interesting realization I came away with was Divvy's perspective on what it means for someone to check out a Divvy bike.  Problems with the bike being lost after you check it out aren't Divvy's problem. I think a lot of people might take the position that if a docking station isn't working the problem isn't theirs, it is Divvy's problem and they might leave the bike.  It was made clear to me that if the bike wasn't properly docked and the bike was subsequently stolen after being incompletely docked, I would be charged for the bike.  Divvy bikes cost $1,200 if you don't return one, so it's very important that you confirm the bike is properly docked when you return a bike.  If you don't see the green light, or if the bike isn't locked, it's probably not docked.

I am going to give Divvy more tries in the coming days.  I also intend to take a better look at the contract to determine exactly under what circumstances fees can be charged to my account not only for bike rental. but for damage or loss of a Divvy bike.

Don't take this as a bad review.  We are on the cutting edge of bike share right now, and it's going to take a little time to get things right.  I'll keep my readers apprised of functional progress made with Chicago's bike share.

This is a very exciting time in Chicago.  For years the Chicago Department of Transportation moved slowly at best to integrate the bicycle as a legitimate for of transportation in Chicago.  Those days are gone.  CDOT is launching headfirst into the future of urban transportation, and I'm stoked about all the changes we've seen over the last three years.  Bike share is one part of a bigger plan of what may very well make Chicago one of the best places in the world to ride a bike.   


Friday, April 5, 2013

That time of year...



I'll be totally honest...  I haven't ridden my road bike since October of 2011.  The seatpost broke toward the end of my last ride, and the bike was in need of a tune.

In anticipation of some night rides, I spent the morning fixing up my road bike.  I had to re-wrap the handlebar tape, replace the seatpost, and outfit it with lights just to make it functional.  The bike was also in need of a "$50 tune."  That means I adjusted the derailleurs, lubed all the cables, trued the wheels and adjusted the brakes.  To be honest, it could probably use overhauls of the hubs and bottom brackets, but not today.

My road bike is the Fuji Team Issue you see here.  Also note the broken American Classic Seatpost.  I replaced this with a Velo Orange.  As equipped it weighs in at 19 lbs.  I also ditched the cycle computer along with all it's pain-in-the-ass wires and sensors (good riddance if you ask me).     

When night riding, lights are key.  I took a risk with the new Blackburn Flea headlight.  This replaces the Planet Bike Spot headlight I typically run on this bike.  The spot isn't my favorite headlight, but it's better than nothing, and it's small.  The spot uses a "n" sized battery which is not uncommon, but not as common as "aa" or "aaa."  The Flea also throws off a good amount of light, boasting and it is USB rechargeable.  For the rear light I chose the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo.  This light is one full watt of disorienting LED illumination when pulsing.  If they miss you with one of those they weren't looking very hard.

While I got a break on the labor, I paid full price for the parts.  Between the lights, seat post, handlebar tape and a Blackburn Mini Morph pump, I dropped about $190.

I'd also like to point out that this bike has reflective tape all over the place, but you don't notice it.  I took the two pictures below with and without the flash so you can see all the different colors of reflective tape on the bike.  I can't stress the importance of being conspicuous when riding at night.  Generally if drivers can see you they will avoid you, and my experience is that drivers give you more space if you are conspicuous.  Reflective tape doesn't weigh anything, it doesn't add wind drag, and it doesn't have to look stupid.  In this picture there is white and red reflective tape.  Note the white reflective tape on the crank, derailleurs, dropouts and fork.  Red on the rim and seat stays.  This isn't the only reflective tape on this bike, but the view gives a good example of how reflective tape can be "hidden" so to speak.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Bike Share is Coming to Chicago.

Years ago I started posting blogs about bike shares around the world in hopes that Chicago would someday join the ranks of civilized cities with a true bike share program.  While Chicago has screwed around with a pilot program or two, they have yet to institute a real bike share program.  Apparently, now they're really going to do it, and you can have a voice.

On October 16, 2012, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced five public meetings to introduce Chicago residents and businesses to the city’s proposed bike share program, and has launched a website for Chicagoans to suggest locations for bike share stations.  www.chicagobikes.org/bikeshare

According to CDOT's press release, Chicago’s bike share system will provide a convenient, easy-to-use transit option available 24/7. It is envisioned for point-to-point short trips, or as alternative option for a multi-mode commute.  The specially designed bikes will be comfortable for all users.  Features include a one-size fits all design, upright handlebars, wide seats, hand brakes, and a chain guard to protect clothing.

The docking stations are going to be solar powered.  They will be placed approximately a quarter-mile apart and located in high-density areas, including near transit stations. CDOT says they will work with their bike share contractor and the public to determine station locations. Stations are modular and mobile; they can be expanded in reaction to demand, or moved based on need or construction. Initial funding for the program is from federal grants for projects that reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Chicago Bike Share Meetings:

Monday, October 29
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S. Michigan Avenue

3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Pop-up meeting at Union Station

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S. Michigan Avenue

Tuesday, October 30
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Lincoln Belmont Public Library
1659 W. Melrose Street

Wednesday, November 7
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Charles Hayes Center
4859 S. Wabash Avenue




Friday, October 26, 2012

JC Lind Bike Company- and the Vanmoof

A few years ago John Lind started JC Lind Bike Company in what appearaed to be the shell of a storefront on Wells Street in the Heart of Old Town.  Today he has a polished shop with a full service mechanics and a inventory of some of the most unique bikes you'll find in Chicago.

JC Lind carries a number of bikes, but of most interest is their wide selection of cargo bikes.  From frontloader trikes to the classic dutch bike, JC Lind specializes in carrying bikes for the utilitarian urban commuter.

Historically, I've been a big fan of cargo bikes, so I really dig JC Lind's impressive selection of cargo bikes.  I could spend all day test riding their array of cargo bikes and could spend a blog on each.  Maybe someday I'll get the chance.

When I was there earlier this week I took the Vanmoof M-2 city bike for a ride.  Initially I liked this bike becuase of it's simple lines and integrated lights.  Vanmoof has taken great care to design a bicycle that is visibly uncluttered, yet packed with internal features.

I absolutely love the frame integrated LED headlight and taillight powered by a generator hub.  Just push a button on the top tube and you're lit and legal for night cycling.  The headlight had a "standlicht" capacitor that keeps it lit when you stop at traffic lights or for stop signs. 

Braking is provided by drum brakes.  I like drum brakes for their ease of use and the fact that they are relatively impervious to the elements, however, in my experience they tend to be a little light on braking power, but for this commuter bike application they're a good choice becuase they are low maintenance and they don't have a lot of visible or exposed parts.

In keeping with the simple appearance, Vanmoof equipped this bike with an internally geared rear hub.  Again, the exterior parts are minimized, and the simple lines of the M-2 are preserved.  Use of the internally geared hub also allows Vanmoof to provide a chain guard, so you don't even need to roll up your trousers before you ride this bike. Top it all off with a full set of black fenders and gumwall tires and you've got a bike with some real feng shui appeal.

The Vanmoof proved to have a relatively upright ride with it's gradually swept back handlebars.  I'm 5' 10", and I felt like it accommodated my very average size well.  It's no racer, and it won't turn on a dime, but it succeeds with it's design for relative comfort and ease of use.  The only thing that concerned me about the Vanmoof was that it has basically no built in cargo capacity, and I was a little concerned that the addition of a rack might mess with the simple appearance or obscure the tail light.  

I think this a bike best suited for an individual who doesn't do his own maintenance and wants a bike for the simple purpose of getting around in the city.  Internal gears and brakes are functional, but maintenance requires an experienced mechanic and is probably too much for the average home mechanic.  Even something as simple as changing a flat on this bike is going to be way more difficult than a bike with external gears and brakes.  This seems to have been a realization contemplated by Vanmoof evidenced in their choice of high quality tires.  Flat tires are part of life, but good tires go a long way to minimizing flats. 

4/21/14 Update; I saw a Vanmoof parked outside of Boilerroom with one of the crazy Vanmoof 3 locks.  It was pretty cool.



Monday, October 22, 2012

Bike Rap Video I Like.

...Middle of the street is where you're gonna find me
Shitload of traffic backed up behind me...

...Running red lights in an intersection
Cut-out seat to protect my erection...

http://motherfuckingbike.com/





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Minotaur.

This week I was able to spend a little time putting the finishing touches on my girlfriend's bike.  I found this old steel Stumpjumper frame abandoned with a chain rusted solid.  The handlebars and rear wheel had been stolen, so it looked like an OK time to cut her free and make her a contributing asset to society.

I like a steel mountain bike frame for an urban commuter.  This one had an old shock fork that we scrapped and replaced with a rigid fork.  Shock forks may have their attributes, but I find their maintenance and torque sucking qualities to greatly outweigh their benefits on Chicago's pristine asphalt streets.

The little lady has a history of back problems, so we took some measures to ensure as comfortable a riding position as possible.  The mountain bike already has a "touring" sort of geometry, but I added a shortened stem and riser bars to provide a more upright riding position.

The drivetrain is more or less unremarkable save for the old school Deore thumb shifters, which I've begun to horde.  These are among the best shifters of all time in my opinion.  History buffs may tell you that they were a distant ancestor of the modern day trigger shifters, but in my opinion they are highly superior for their durability and ease of use. 
These shifters were designed to be seven speed shifters, but they have the "phantom eighth" position, so they worked nicely for the eight speed drivetrain I set up.

In the further interest of comfort I donated my old Terry Gelissima saddle to the cause.  Although it was designed to be a women's saddle, I found it so comfortable that I rode it from Chicago to Montreal a few years back.  It's probably got about 10K or more of miles on it, and it just won't wear out.  Just as comfortable today as it was six years ago.  The little lady likes this saddle because it accommodates her wider sit bones and doesn't put so much pressure on her sensitive areas.

I'm a big fan of rim brakes over disc brakes.  My own ride is equipped with a set of Magura Hydraulic Rim Brakes, but for cable actuated brakes I like linear pull brakes.  We found a set of Tektro brakes that had been pulled off a donated bike.  They aren't anything fancy, but they are solidly built with all metal parts.  They function flawlessly and provide ample stopping power.

Left to my own devices, I would have installed a set or Oury grips, but the Little Lady has an affinity for the feel and appeal of cork grips.  These were abandoned in the grip bins at West Town Bikes, probably becuase the former owner couldn't get them from slipping around on the handlebars.  I solved this problem with the judicious use of some electrical tape as a shim around the handlebar, but I'm still not overjoyed with how the grips are fixed.  Having said all that, my opinion only carries so much weight, so the cork grips were accommodated as best as possible.  I have to admit the result is aesthetically appealing to say the least.

I topped it all off with a set of polished steel Berthoud fenders and a matte finish stainless steel IRD rack.  Note the spacer near the bottom bracket bridge made from a wine bottle cork.  This is a touch oft missed by novice mechanics that results in an uneven fender installation.  These fenders have a nice uniform curve all the way around the tires, an effect that wouldn't have been achieved without the cork spacer.

 As all my friends know, I'd never let anyone I care about ride without proper lights and reflectors, and my thought is- you can never have too much.  For lights I equipped the Little Lady with a Planet Bike 1 watt Blaze, and a Superflash.  If you look closely you'll see that her bike has strategically placed reflective tape- a lot of it.  I like reflective tape becuase it weighs basically nothing, it causes no wind resistance, and it doesn't break off every time you bump something with your bike.

The Little Lady is very happy with the result.  She named it "Minotaur" which is a half man half bull thing.  She seems to think I have a little bull in me for some reason, so she found the name appropriate.

I'd like to send a special thanks out to Alex Wilson at West Town Bikes/Ciclo Urbano for his wise counsel and help during this build.  The build was accomplished in one very late night that came to be affectionately referred to as the "Meeting of the Recovering Mormons."  Anyone who is interested can avail themselves of Alex's counsel, tools, and repair stand space during any West Town Bikes open shop hours (Check the WTB schedule here). 


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chicago's First Protected Bike Lane.

According to Chicago Breaking News, Chicago is in the process if installing it's first "protected" bike lane. The new lane is expected to be completed by June, 17, 2011, and will be installed on Kinzie Street between Milwaukee and Wells. No details are available regarding the construction of the new "cycle track," but it is intended to separate bicycles from moving traffic on the street.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Michigan Amtrack to Have Roll-On Service

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, Amtrak is implementing roll-on bike service on all three of it's operating lines by next spring. Roll-on service is a huge perk over typical luggage service in which a bicycle must be partially disassembled and boxed.

While this is good news for the would be bicycle tourists, I suggest you confirm all services offered before you show up. My experience is that Amtrak employees are not familiar with roll-on service, and I have found myself explaining that I should be allowed to simply take my bike on the train without boxing it. Know your rights and Amtrak's policies. Do not depend on the conductor or ticketing personnel to know how to accommodate your bike.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pockets Trailer


Apparently Pockets uses a bicycle trailer for some of their larger deliveries. I noticed this rig behind the office today.

Yet another sign that the velorution is under way...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Judgment- Enough to Go Around.

I'm not ashamed to admit it... I have a friend who drives a Hummer. He's a great guy, and a guy I look up to in many ways despite his Hummer. I remember hearing that he bought a Hummer almost eight years ago, and I was so disappointed. I never said a word about it. Recently for the first time, I had an opportunity to talk to him in earnest about his Hummer.

He told me that people constantly harass him when he drives around. People yell at him and spit on his car. One time a passing bicyclist threw a drink on him through his open window. He says the cyclists are the most vocal of his harassers.

Through all that, he understands the objections. He understands that people see his Hummer as an excess. He also understands that it's not an efficient car. "I get it," he says of his objectors as if he's exhausted. In fact, because of all the trouble it's caused him he has come to hate and resent his Hummer. Why does he drive it? Money. It's paid for, and has been for a few years. I believe him when he tells me that he'd trade it for a Prius straight up, but who would make that trade?

People make transportation choices for a number of reasons. My brother drives a big SUV- a Ford Explorer. It was originally rationalized as a practical vehicle that could accommodate his big family. In the years that followed that purchase he paid the car off, gas prices went through the roof, and his wages were cut. My brother also would be willing to trade his SUV for an efficient car, but now he can't afford to have another car payment. No one wants an Explorer these days. It's trade in value is nominal at best. Through his own practical reasons he still appreciates certain mistakes in judgement that led to the initial purchase decision, but he sees himself as stuck. We can argue about my brother's options, but I don't think he should be harassed for making poor decisions that, in many ways, are a cultural norm.

Through and through, I'm an advocate of rational civility. I have a dream of a future where cyclists and drivers can share our transportation infrastructure. An important step toward that dream is to show the world that the bicycle is a civilized form of transportation. That goal is not accomplished through judging and harassing others for nothing more than their choice of conveyance.

Cyclists are diverse, and as such are not subject to judgement based solely on their decision to ride a bicycle. Some people ride bicycles becuase they have no other practical choices. Other people have a world of transportation resources, but they choose to cycle based on "principles." My assertion is that the end goal is not served by judging or harassing others for their transportation choices, just as we would like to not be judged ourselves.

Personally, I don't think I ever really got into bicycles becuase of some principle. I enjoy the athletic output and the mechanical puzzles presented by the bicycle. I'm competitive. I want to be fastest. I want to haul the most. I also want to tinker, and the bicycle presents endless opportunities to experiment with mechanics. Ask any bicycle mechanic- they'll tell you that every day at the shop presents new and novel mechanical problems to be solved. While I came to appreciate the other benefits of cycling over the years, my original motivation was only to satisfy my own needs. Am I entitled to veneration by my cycling peers despite my egocentric motivations to ride a bicycle?

As a bicyclist, I know that some drivers judge me for nothing more than my choice of conveyance. I can't tell you how many times I've been the victim of aggression on the streets of Chicago. Any urban cyclist has experienced drivers passing too close, cutting them off, pulling out in front (even though they see you), or any other innumerable acts with a clear intention- to intimidate or harass. Why do they want to harass me? They do so because of nothing more than their judgement based on my choice of conveyance.

When you spit on a car... When you throw a drink... When you hurl obscenities... ...you reduce yourself to their level, and in so doing you compromise yourself and everyone in your "community." You become the barbarian, and everyone who witnesses your barbarism judges not only you, but everyone associated with you. They judge bicyclists as a whole.

We can't afford to let that happen. We must set an example to which drivers should aspire. Everyone knows that it's fun to ride bikes. We did it as children, and you can do it as an adult. If a person sees bicycles as a viable and fun form of transportation it will further our cause, but if that person associates bicycles with lawless barbarians we'll have one more person against us.

Don't judge people for their choice of conveyance. Don't harass people just becuase they don't ride a bike. Share the road as you expect it to be shared. Be considerate of others and show respect. If we want to be respected and taken seriously, we will have to convince the public at large that we are worthy of respect and consideration. That isn't a cause that is furthered by throwing drinks, spitting or hurling obscenities. We must lead by example.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Securing Your Handlebars and Fork.

So you're locking your bike to the hilt... You've got a u-lock through the rear triangle and a cable through the front wheel, or better yet, you've hobbled your bike... but did you ever stop to think about how easy it would be for a thief to simply loosen your thread-less headset and take off with the whole front end of your bike? In one quick action, the thief would run off with your front fork, brake, handlebars and levers.

This happens more often than you'd think. It's actually a common occurrence in Chicago. Especially for a commuter who parks his/her bike in the same spot every day for hours a day.

To confound this anticipated method of thievery I like the application of quick setting plastic epoxy in the headset top cap bolt hole. The epoxy makes removing the bolt all but impossible since the would-be thief can't get a wrench into the hole. If they can't remove the top cap, they can't take your front end apart. CAUTION: If you do use plastic epoxy make sure you grease the hole, next push a 5mm wrench into the hole to squeeze out any excess grease. Finally, you can drop in some epoxy and let it set. If you do this right you'll be able to come back later and pop out the epoxy "plug" in one piece. If you do it wrong you'll spend a good long while chipping out plastic epoxy chunks stuck to the little corners of your stem bolt hole. I have heard of people using a BB and beeswax, but I don't personally consider this to be a high enough security method.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cargo Bikes... Xtracycle Type Cargo Bikes.


The most recent Bicycling Magazine has a review of their favorite cargo bikes. If you're thinking about buying a cargo bike it might be worth a read, but by no means should it be considered authoritative.

One of their favorites is the long tail cargo bike, Yuba Mundo. When I was at Blue City Cycles last fall they had one of these in their front window. Since I'm a big cargo bike weenie, I was intrigued. The Yuba Mundo is a version of the Xtracycle cargo bikes that have become popular over the last few years. Surly has the Big Dummy... Madsen kg271... Even Trek has come to the table with their offer, the Transport.

My paralegal, Bob, has been using a Xtracycle Free Radical for years. He loves it too. He likes that it is basically a regular bike. Having the added few inches doesn't significantly change the handling of the bike (...although the bike weenies at Bicycle Quarterly would beg to differ. The most recent issue of Bicycle Quarterly has a review of the Big Dummy. They don't like carrying cargo over the rear wheel, and they claim it has detrimental effects on handling. They much prefer the handling of a front loader long bike. I appreciate the super wisdom of the guys at Bicycle Quarterly, but sometimes they split hairs.) Longtails are versatile in the type of cargo one can haul, and it even comfortably seats a person in a pinch.

If you're looking for a good all around cargo bike that isn't going to break your pocketbook a longtail might not be a bad choice. The Yuba Mundo is available in Chicago from Blue City Cycles.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Proper Use of a U-lock

First off- If you think you're going to get away with using a cable lock in Chicago you might as well just leave your bike unlocked. Don't take my word for it- check out the Stolen Bike Registry and see how many people lose their bikes to cable locks. I can't believe the bike industry gets away with selling that crap as a primary means of security. If you're going to use a cable lock as your primary form of security your bike will be stolen.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the lock is only effective if you lock the bike properly, and you lock it to something secure. Street signs are not necessarily secure- you must check them to be sure they can't be removed- most have a bolt in the bottom- if that bolt is gone perhaps it is best to find something else to lock to. Of course the best thing to lock to is a bike rack, but that's not always possible so just be sure if you lock to something that it is secure.

For the last 20 years or so the bike industry has had a flaming love affair with quick release skewers. Quick release skewers are a good thing if you're in a race and you need to swap a tire quickly, but for most urban cyclists the utility is lost. Stealing a wheel with a quick release is a crime of opportunity in Chicago.

Some people think the rear wheel is harder to steal, so they lock the frame and front wheel. It is true that the front wheel is somewhat easier to remove because you don't have to negotiate the chain, but let's be honest- the whole idea of the quick release is to make removing the wheel as easy as possible. Just last week I witnessed a thief stealing a back wheel off a bike parked at 900 N. Michigan. I called him a thief and he fled. It is easy to remove a rear wheel- you just have to hold the chain out of the way.

Also keep in mind that your rear wheel is usually more expensive than the front. Front wheels are typically cheaper than rear wheels, but if your rear wheel is stolen off your bike you lose your freewheel/cassette too, and you might end up with a bent derailleur hanger. A 9 speed cassette runs about 65 bucks, and a six speed freewheel is about 25 bucks.

People also think you have to lock the frame and rear wheel to secure both the frame and wheel- this is not so. If you lock the rear wheel inside of the rear triangle of the bike you effectively secure the wheel and the frame. You don't get that effect if you lock the rear wheel outside of the rear triangle- in that instance you just lock the wheel and someone can run off with your frame. If the wheel is locked to something secure inside of the rear triangle the would be thief will have to either cut the lock or cut away the wheel to steal the frame.

The proper way to lock your bike using only a u-lock is to "hobble" the bike by removing the front wheel and locking the front wheel and rear wheel inside the rear triangle (or if your lock is big enough you can lock the front wheel, frame and rear wheel) to a secure object. Hobbling can create problems though. Hobbling takes a little time, and over time it will cause damage to your fork ends.

Locking skewers are a good idea, and they obviate the necessity to hobble your bicycle. My favorite locking skewers are "Pitlocks." In my opinion these are the best on the market and multiple pairs can be ordered to the same key. On Guard or Pinhead locking skewers are adequate too, but they can be defeated easier than Pitlocks. The key is also much bigger than Pitlock's, and multiple pairs can't be keyed to the same key, so if you have more than one bike you'd like to outfit On-Guard and Pinheads are less than ideal.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Facebook for Bicyclists?



The Chain Link is almost 5,000 members strong as of the date of this post, and the Chainlink is local. That's a lot of members for a Chicagoland bicycle specific social networking website. I remember sponsoring their 1,000 member party just a couple years ago. It's come a long way in the past few years.

The Chainlink is like Facebook for bikers. It provides a forum where Chicago bicyclists can interact and network on all topics bicycle related. Members organize bike rides, promote bike-centric events, or discuss any number of bike related topics. The Chainlink is a powerful educational tool for local cyclists as well. Do you want to find a job as a bike mechanic? Want to know what businesses habitually block bike lanes? It's all covered in the forum.

If you're new on the scene I'd suggest opening an account. There's a ton of useful information on the Chainlink, and the networking potential is endless.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stolen Bicycles in Chicago.

So your bicycle was stolen in Chicago and you're trying to figure out what to do...

My experience is that dealing with CPD is a little frustrating. The fact is, they have real problems to deal with, so taking resources away to look for a bike isn't realistic. They just don't have a lot of success recovering stolen bikes.

It is also my experience that most people don't have a record of their bicycle serial number. Sometimes the police won't even take a report if you don't have the serial number, and forget trying to collect your bicycle from the police if you don't have some proof of ownership.

It also helps to have other ways to prove ownership. Mr. Bike suggests putting a card with your name and phone number in a baggie and sticking it in the seat post or handlebars. I tend to carve my initials in the bottom bracket or on the shop sticker, but it is always best to have a record of the serial number and a receipt of purchase.

The easiest way to keep your bike from being stolen is to properly lock it, but if you're reading this post you've probably already been the victim...

There are several things you can do in attempt to recover a stolen bicycle:

1) Craigslist. Check Craigslist for your bicycle. If you find your bicycle on Craigslist expect that the person selling your bicycle will be suspicious becuase they are selling a stolen bicycle. You'll have to make your own decision about how to handle the situation, but I have heard of more than a couple instances of people tipping off a would-be-thief-salesman, never to see their bicycles again. If you can, set up a meeting in a public area, and call to invite the police. Sometimes they are interested in busting a bike thief red handed.

2) Flea Markets. I have also heard of more than a couple people recovering their stolen bicycles at flea markets. A popular destination for stolen bikes these days is the Ashland Swap-O-Rama or the Maxwell Street market.

3) Stolen Bike Registry. Admittedly I haven't heard a lot of success stories about bicycles being recovered through the stolen bike registry, but it can't hurt to list it, and it doesn't take long.

4) The Chain Link is also a good spot to let others know. If someone spots your ride they can tip you off to it's location.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pedal to the People.


Allow me to introduce Chicago's premier human powered mobile bicycle repair shop. Need a tune up, but don't want to go to the shop? Don't have a local bike shop you're in love with yet? Give Pedal to the People a call, and Adam will make ride his bicycle with mechanic trailer over to your house and fix up your bike.

His rates are very reasonable too. A lot of the cost wrapped up in owning a bike shop is in the overhead. Adam has very little, so as you might anticipate, he's able to give good rates along with his "house call" service.

Adam has experience working for Yojimbo's Garage and Rapid Transit Cycleshop. He is also one of the few United Bicycle Institute (UBI) certified mechanics in the city. More interesting than that is the fact that Adam has quite a bit of experience building and repairing frames. You think his bike trailer is cool? He built that from scratch.

If you're interested check out Adam's rates and services here.



Story link: MyFoxCHICAGO.com