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How To Buy A Bicycle

2013/09/02 Leave a comment

“Hey Nick! I hear you know a few things about bikes, and I’d like to get my own and start riding. Where do I even begin?”

Garrett checking out some bikes

I get this question a lot, and even spent a Startup Weekend working on an app to help people with it. It turns out, quite a few people rode a bike as a kid, and 10 or 20 years later, want to ride a bike again. But unlike buying a car, for which we have endless auto company commercials to educate us and sites like AutoTrader to help us sort through the thousands of listings, the process of buying a bicycle is not well-understood by most adults. Someday, we might get to finishing that project, but in the meantime, here are a few steps to get you started:

1. Envision yourself riding your future bike.

Where will you be riding? Who will you be with? What will you be wearing (ie work clothes or workout clothes)? How long will your rides be? Why will you be riding (commuting to work, recreation, racing, etc)? For bonus points, find stock photos or videos of other people doing the type of cycling you’d like to do.

2. Go to a local bike shop to look around and go for some test rides

I’m personally a fan of Pedal Power in Lexington. They’ll likely ask you to describe your answer to question #1. Bike shop people are super-knowledgeable about bikes (sometimes too knowledgeable), but they’re good at helping people find a quality ride. They don’t make most of their margins off bike sales, so turn off your salesperson aversion and just trust their advice. Please don’t showroom them. Their goal is to get you on a bike that’s a great fit for you, which helps build a relationship with you so you’ll come back for maintenance, accessories, etc. And yes, you will need to go back for those things.

3. Realize that a good, new starter bike will cost you $400-$800.

The things for sale at Walmart (and even Dick’s Sporting Goods) are “bicycle-shaped objects”. They cost less (up front) because they’re of a significantly lower quality, but will require maintenance sooner, and that maintenance will be more expensive in the long run. Another plus with a quality bike-store bike is that it will hold its value longer if you decide to sell it later.

4. Used bikes are great!

If you can’t find a new bike you like in your price range, high-quality used bikes are a solid choice. There are some hit-or-miss options on Craigslist, but Lexington (like many other communities) has The Broke Spoke community bike shop. They sell used bikes for usually less than $200, and the volunteer staff is super-helpful. The money earned from selling used bikes aides the shop in its mission to serve bicyclists who couldn’t otherwise afford bikes, parts, repairs, or training.

5. Accessorize.

Helmet is the only thing here that is a must, while all the others can be helpful depending on your answer to question 1. I usually budget an extra $100-200 for an assortment of the following:

  • helmet ($40)
  • bike lock ($30)
  • front and rear lights ($30)
  • water bottles ($10)
  • cycling shorts & jersey ($70)
  • fenders ($40)
  • cargo rack ($30) – to carry stuff on your bike
  • bike rack ($50) – to carry your bike on your car
  • “clipless” shoes and pedals ($120)

*Alternative option: BikesDirect – This is a good option for some people, but I only recommend it to people who know exactly what they’re looking for and have a restricted budget. Prices are low because the bikes are “off-brand”, factory-direct, and not well-adjusted to you, the rider. From my experience, most of the components (mechanical parts) on the bikes are of decent quality, and are much more maintainable than the aforementioned “bicycle-shaped objects”. Most bike purists won’t be happy that I included this, but for the sake of completeness, I don’t think I can leave it out.

I hope that helps, and if you have any other questions, just let me know!

-Nick

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The Myth of Bike Lanes

2012/04/08 7 comments
bike lane

Bike Lane in downtown Lexington

Bike lanes are not for cyclists. Bike lanes are for motorists.*

I realized this following a discussion about shared-use roadways (ie the majority of non-Interstate highways and roads in America). I have quite a few friends who don’t understand my choice to ride a bike on the road, partly because the see it as a choice. Where I live, it’s often not a choice, it’s the law. With the exception of bicycle police, cyclists are not allowed to ride on sidewalks. That’s why they’re called sideWALKs, they’re meant for pedestrians. Thus, when I ride my bike on the road, I’m riding it where I’m supposed to be riding it. And, by law, I have the same privilege (yes, “privilege”, not “right”) to operate my human-powered vehicle on the road as those who choose to operate motorized vehicles.

When I’m riding my bike, I view myself as a person who happens to be on a bike. When I’m driving my car, I view myself as a person, who happens to be in a car. Between those two states, I view my life, my sense of urgency, and the importance of my travel to be equal. And I view the lives, deadlines, and importance of everyone around me, in cars, on busses, on bikes, and on foot to be equal.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the currently prevailing viewpoint.

When talking with friends who are motorists, but not cyclists, they consider their trips in cars to be more important than the simultaneous trips taken by cyclists. One argument is that cycling is multi-functional: while some cyclists are in the act of commuting, others are on their bikes for the purpose of exercise. And in this argument, commuting is considered to be more important than exercising.** While I disagree with that particular assertion, a more relevant disagreement is that the associated assumption that all trips in cars are for the singly important purpose of getting to work. Do these motorists hold the same disdain for fellow motorists transporting themselves in search of entertainment? Likely, yes. It wouldn’t surprise me if they also became upset when their potentially fluid rides are stalled by farm implements, and then show up to the ever-important work and eat a few corn chips, never making the connection.

I would assert that there are 3 reasons for which the journey of a particular vehicle on the road would be more important that that of other vehicles. First, emergency vehicles. There’s a reason they get flashing lights, and permission to blow through stop signs: they are operating in potentially life-or-death situations. Second, commercial vehicles (particularly, tractor-trailers). Think of something that you use in your daily life. Vacuum cleaner. iPhone. Banana. Socks. To quote a friend, “Almost everything you use in a day was on a truck at some point.” Often, those trucks are not just carrying Timmy’s stuff, or Susie’s stuff, but hundreds of people’s stuff. That’s important. Finally, buses. Sorry dude-in-a-Porshe, those 20 people on the city bus may not seem as stylish as you, but I’d like for you to convince me that their twenty lives have less collective influence on their world than your one. As you may have noticed, the importance I assigned here was not due not to some personified needs of the vehicle, but to the needs of the people that the vehicle was serving.

But maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe their frustration is misdirected at non-conforming cyclists, when in fact the true source of their frustration is an incorrect assumption about the predictability of our transportation system. I am guilty of this as well. When I am trying to drive from my house to a destination that is 30 miles away (separated mostly by rural highways), I mistakenly expect that this journey will take me only 30 minutes. But I am wrong. There are all sorts of factors, like stoplights, detours, accidents, and…traffic that can make my trip unpredictable. In fact, this unpredictability is the norm, although I tend to fool myself into thinking that it is the exception.

Which brings me to traffic. Traffic moves according to what I like to call the slowest common denominator (SCD). In my definition, this means that the slowest vehicles in a traffic flow determine the average speed of the traffic flow. This defies the assumption that aggressive, fast drivers are in control of the road. I have yet to see one of these vehicles successfully push traffic forward, bulldozer-style. Yet, I’ve been caught behind many an meandering, elderly motorist who has taken complete control of the rate of traffic on a two-lane road.

And this is where Bike Lanes come in. Bike Lanes are not for the benefit of cyclists. Bike Lanes are for the benefit of motorists. If sharing the road with cars were not a factor, a cyclist presented with the choice of riding in the normal lane or in the bike lane would be unlikely to choose the inferior, shoulder-esque mini-pathway. They would choose the main lane! The reason that bike lanes matter is because of cars. Bike lanes make it so that automotive traffic can continue with minimal impediment from cyclists. That’s right, bike lanes are a means of making it more fair for motorists, who wish to travel at a rate faster than the SCD of a bicycle. So, from someone who, whether I’m hypermiling or riding a bike, is often the SCD, you’re welcome 😉

* To avoid any unnecessary personal banter, I’d like to clarify that I distinguish the difference between a cyclist and motorist as the present (thus, temporary) selection of mode of transportation. Personally, there are different occasions on which I choose to be a cyclist, motorist, pedestrian, and transit rider. Regardless of this choice, I retain my own unique identity, not one assigned to me by my mode of transport. Sure, there are differentiating personality characteristics that people choose to associate with their preferred form of transportation, but we’re all just a flat tire away from being united as pedestrians 🙂

** I understand the economically-minded intent of the argument that commuting (to work) is more valuable to society than exercising. Yet, with the disproportionately high costs of healthcare, especially the reactive medicine needed to compensate for generally sedentary lives in America, I think I could make a case that the economically logical choice is that we all exercise for 30 minutes in the morning, and show up late for work.

The Bike vs Car Debate continues

2010/09/01 Leave a comment

While I had heard about the debate that erupted in the comments of this article was rather heated, I am somewhat impressed at the generally logical discourse between those who favor motoring or cycling. There has definitely been some bantering back and forth, but there was a high frequency of open-minded comments that blamed neither (or both) the driver and cyclist involved in Monday’s collision.

A few great points were made:

  1. Riding bikes on sidewalks is generally a bad idea. See Ken’s thoughts.
  2. In a collision between bike and cyclist, no matter who is at fault, the cyclist will lose. #Physics
  3. Cyclists: your bike is a vehicle. Operating it demands the same responsibilities as for a car.
  4. Motorists: bicycles are vehicles. Treat them as such.

Still, my favorite comment is the one that follows:

dklane wrote on 08/30/2010 04:23:16 PM:

“As a person who has used cars, tractors, and bicycles on Lexington roads, I find it odd that people wait patiently when I drive a tractor at 12mph but act like race car drivers when I ride a bicycle on the same road at 24mph.”

When I look out at a street, my mind strips away all the vehicles, and all I see are people. Some strutting along the sidewalk. Some on two-wheelers with wind in their hair. Others enjoying a few minutes of steering-wheel karaoke. Yet we all have two things in common: a soul, and a layer of rubber insulating us from the omniscient road. Maybe if we removed the layers of insulation that divide us into vehicular factions, then we might see more clearly that we are all people. People with a destination worthy of the journey.

Categories: Bicycles, Transportation

Midnight MTB

2010/08/22 Leave a comment


It has been a few years since I’ve tried night mountain biking. According SnowBikers, I am on step 3 of the night riding process. To GTFM for this post, I cheaped out by building a DIY light instead of spending $100 for a decent one, and paid for it with a really poor ability to see in the dark. My battery (brand new, undercharged) was dead within 30 minutes, and the faint yellow glow that it emitted was easily drowned out by the Waxing Gibbous perched in the clear sky. Fortunately, those 30 minutes on Skullbuster were a lot of fun.

Following my headlamp failure, I did what any good engineer would do: came home, trickle charged the battery to about 14V, and then started a discharge test. Here are the results:

My discharge curve looks very typical for a NiMH-based battery pack. Steep initial voltage drop, voltage plateau across most of the discharge capacity, then another steep drop at the end. There’s a pretty good writeup on NiMH on Wikipedia. From this test, it appears that I had not quite reached a full charge before I began discharging. At 12V, a 10W lamp should be drawing about 0.83A. From a 2000mAh (or 2Ah) battery, I should get ~2 hours of discharge. However, I hit the second voltage drop on the discharge curve before 1.5 hours. Some thoughts on this: I’m charging at 0.5A (about C/4 for a 2.0Ah battery), so I’m likely out of the range for the most appropriate manual charge. Additionally, I have now discharged the battery past the lower discharge inflection point twice, so that might be lowering the actual capacity. This most likely explanation is that I have not yet fully charged the battery. At a 66% charging efficiency, the 0.5A charge should take about 6 hours. I’ll try to be a little more patient before my next discharge test 😉

For you spec-hungry readers, here is what I’m working with:

MR16 Lamp: 12V, 10W, narrow flood pattern (from Harrington Lights – $2.60)

12V NiMH battery pack: n=10 cells, AA-size, 2000 mAh (from Batteries Plus – but comparable prices at Battery Space on NiMH and LiFePO4)

Tamiya connectors (for 9.6V RC Car battery): $4

And for you historians, here’s my 5-year-old description of this same project.

Overall conclusion from this experience: I wasted a bunch of time building this project and still don’t have a really good light. Next time, just buy a MagicShine from GeoManGear.

Categories: Bicycles, Engineering

Why I Hate Cars #2: Wasted time

2010/06/21 2 comments

Automobiles in a traffic jam on a highway

Life is not static, it is in motion. That is why I chose to become a mechanical engineer. I really like stuff that moves. I am going to ride my mechanical bicycle home shortly. While doing so, my lungs will exchange oxygen with the atmosphere and my heart will move blood throughout my body through pressure differentials. My great mission in life is to improve the way people move about the world. Just like horses, carriages, and steam engines, cars have seen their time come, and now it is quickly departing. With the advent of ‘internet everywhere‘, my commute is no longer about getting to where I am going so that I can start work. I can start work on the way. Heck, for must stuff I don’t even need to be in a communal, or even static, location. The downfall of the reliance on personal automobiles in suburban America, however, is that I cannot safely and legally do my work (or have my fun, for that matter) while transporting myself. My time in the car is lost time, and soon others will realize that their commutes are nothing but a frustrating waste of their most valuable resource.

My friend and roommate Phillip realizes how valuable his time is. But he is stuck in a rut when it comes to finding a good alternative to his commute. In July, Phillip will marry his high-school sweetheart and move to Louisville, where his fiancée has a nice job as an actuary. The problem, however, is that Phildo is just starting the second year of his PhD program in Materials Science and Engineering…in Lexington. Each day, he will give up three hours of his productive time in order to move his body from Louisville to Lexington and back. While PhD’s are sometimes mocked for viewing their bodies solely as transport mechanisms for their brains, these intellectuals are a vital part of our society. Without people like Phillip who push the boundaries of modern science and technology, America would not be the country that it is today. This is why I am so bothered that Phillip’s only viable option to commute between Kentucky’s two largest cities is to drive his personal automobile. How will America reclaim its title as the world’s economic superpower when our brightest citizens must trade several hours each day of productive life for a monotonous stint behind a steering wheel?

This is a the problem I want to solve in my lifetime.

I Bike KY and Hope you will, too.

2010/05/08 Leave a comment

In celebration of National Bike Month and local Bike Lexington events, I decided to finally make the t-shirt that I’ve been itching to wear, and found a good cause for it to support.

Inspired by a similar shirt I found in NYC, I’ve wanted a good way to proclaim to the world that I love riding my bike in KY. What’s not to love about forests full of cross-country MTB trails and an abundance of rolling hills navigable by horse farm-lined roads? While our state’s marketers often proclaim the merits of Kentucky’s equine heritage, Bourbon, and Bluegrass music, cycling may be our best-kept secret. Well, time to let the cat out of the bag:

The shirts go on sale Friday, May 14th for $15. Let me know if you want one!

While I’m excited to wear these shirts, and see them on other cyclists in KY, what really moves me is the opportunity to use this to benefit less fortunate cyclists in the area. While many commuter cyclists (like myself) choose their mode of transport based on preference, for others, it is the only viable option. The latter group is well-represented by men at Lexington’s Hope Center. Walking into the building on Loudon Ave, the dozens of bikes overflowing from racks make it obvious that residents rely on two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicles. Unfortunately, many of the bikes are in disrepair, inhibiting residents from effectively transporting themselves around Lexington.

While at a BPAC meeting on May 7th, I learned about an initiative to help the residents of the Hope Center overcome this challenge. By providing bicycle repair equipment and lessons, residents will be able to maintain their own bicycles to ensure a reliable, sustainable transportation option. Think teach-a-man-to-fish (we just need a few fishing poles). With help from a few of the local bike shops, all that’s needed to make this a reality is $300. That’s where you come in. By helping me sell 60 t-shirts, we can raise enough money to accomplish this first goal. Then, phase 2: lighting systems for all the Hope Center’s commuter cyclists!

Here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Order t-shirts (contact me if you’re local, or purchase via eBay)
  2. Encourage your friends to order t-shirts
  3. Donate money/tools/time

MTB in Lex?

2010/04/28 10 comments
Rest break MTB at Capitol View

My friend Ryan likes MTB, too.

During Now What Lexington, Scott Clark and I discussed the mountain bike situation in Lexington. There is currently only one recognized trail in the city, at Veterans Park. Our friends at OutrageGIS have compiled a very nice map of the park, displaying the nearly 2.5 miles of singletrack. While I am proud that there is at least one trail in our city, it is rather limited in both distance and degree of difficulty. When I lived in Louisville, I was blessed with the ability to ride from my home to the Briar Hill trail (very technical, beautiful area), or take a short drive from work to trails at Cherokee or Seneca parks. Besides Veterans, the next closest trail to Lexington is in Frankfort’s Capitol View park. It is a great trail, but hardly a convenient after-work jaunt.

In our discussion, Scott told me about the great variety of trails he experienced while living in Northern California. After a long day of work, they were a very inviting reason to get out and exercise while enjoying nature. I have heard similar testimonials from friends in Seattle and Boulder, who love where they live because of the ease to go from office to wild trail in under 30 minutes. The only thing that seems to be standing between Lexington and the enjoyment of local MTB trails is our willingness to build. So, I wrote a letter…

Hello Parks and Rec!

I participated in a QOL focus group with Jerry Hancock yesterday, and didn’t get to speak with him before I left. Jerry mentioned the desire to modernize Lexington’s park system, and I was curious if this includes plans to add new Mountain Bike trails?

During the Creative Cities Summit and Now What Lexington, Scott Clark brought to my attention that Lexington has only one MTB trail (Veterans Park), and a short, entry level one at that. I noticed that it is not even designated on your trails list.

While I am excited about the quality of life benefits brought on by the pavement-type Legacy and Town Branch trails, I think that our city would be further enhanced by the addition of at least one new off-road MTB trail. Mountain biking is very popular among the creative class, the type of people our city is seeking to attract. Similar to hikers, mountain bikers crave an intimate experience with nature, and are inclined to preserve and maintain the environments in which they ride. As Central Kentucky seeks new ways to connect citizens and visitors to our region’s natural beauty, I think we would be remiss to move forward without plans for a new MTB trail in Fayette County.

How can I help make this a reality?

-Nick

I am excited for a response from Parks and Rec as to how citizens can help add a new trail and improve the quality of life in Lexington. I think this project will be a good complement to improved nightlife options in downtown, a more appropriate variety of housing near the city’s core, better public transportation, and stronger ties between the city and its three institutions of higher education, especially from the point of view of the creative class.

So, here’s what needs to happen:

  1. Get feedback from Parks and Rec (history of MTB in Lex, market demographics, regulations)
  2. Select a site (preferably close enough to ride from downtown to trailhead, yet with beautiful and challenging terrain)
  3. Learn how to build a trail (any experts here in Lex?)
  4. Invite all our friends to ride

I am neither an expert on trail building nor the most avid mountain biker in Lexington. I’m just a guy who loves every minute I spend on two wheels, and wants to share that joy with others. Will you help me?

==update 5/7/10==

The digging was worth it! Got some excellent news back from LFUCG and Pedal Power. In addition to upgrades to Veterans Park, construction is underway on a new trail in Scott County. Details from LFUCG:

Nick,

Thank you for your interest in mountain biking in Fayette County and Veterans Park.

The MB trails at Veterans developed unofficially over the years and are not designed to recognized safety and sustainability standards. Therefore, we didn’t feel it was prudent to “sanction” their use officially.

However, we currently have a contract with CDP Engineering to re-design the trail(s) and expand them to include 4 levels of difficulty as per national mb standards. We’ve had 2 public meetings which were heavily attended by members of the local chapter of the National Mountain Bike Association.

Using input from the association members and that of general public novice riders who also attended the meetings, we developed the attached plan. We are in the final stages of revision to a couple sections and working toward advertising bids for construction very soon.

We anticipate that current available funds will only cover the initial construction of the trail surface (and we won’t be sure how much until bids come in). We have talked to many local mountain bikers about organizing volunteer work groups to build many of the “events” along the more difficult trails once the trails are in place.

Joining KYMBA would provide a means for you to be updated about all mountain biking activities in the surrounding area. Here is a link to their website http://www.kymba.org

You can also watch this website for information about all types of local biking events, planning, advocacy and volunteer opportunities: http://www.bikelexington.com

I hope this information is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have questions.

Michelle Kosieniak, RLA
Supt. of Planning & Design
LFUCG Division of Parks and Recreation
469 Parkway Dr., Lexington, KY 40504
…a nationally accredited Parks & Recreation agency
(859) 288-2982 office
(859) 489-9759 cell
(859) 288-2999 fax
michello@lexingtonky.gov

Veterans Park MTB upgrade plan

Veterans Park MTB upgrade plan

And from Pedal Power about MTB Trail Building in Scott County:

Nick, thanks for your interest! The regional chapter of the KY Mountain Bike Association is in the process of buiding an 8-10 mile mtb trail in Scott County outside of Stamping Ground. Different groups are taking responsibility for ensuring different sections get built and Pedal Power has committed to building 2.3 miles of the total trail network with the help of our customers and other volunteers from the community. We will be out working on the trail every Sunday in May (weather permitting) from 10am-2pm. The best bet for keeping up to date is to check our shop’s page on Facebook. There is also a Google group for volunteers with some good information on it that I am sending you an invitation to join if you’d like. It’d be great to see you out one Sunday! Let me know if I missed anything or you have any further questions! -John

Check out Skull Buster trail volunteers, and their work building a new set of MTB trails in Scott County, near Stamping Ground.

Scott Co Skull Buster trail map

Scott Co Skull Buster trail map