Monday, November 30, 2009

Hood-mounted airbag!

Could airbags mounted on the front of cars protect cyclists and pedestrians from careless motorists?

Europeans seem to think so.

A Swedish company has built and tested such a device, "that is designed to inflate outside the car upon front-end impact. It covers most of the hood and windshield, the most likely points of impact in a vehicle-pedestrian collision."

The Dutch Federation of Cyclists is calling for it to be installed on all vehicles, with a claim that it could prevent half the fatal injuries incurred by cyclists and pedestrians. (In 2006, 106 cyclists died in the Netherlands ... a country that is among the most bike-friendly.)

I'm a little skeptical.

For one thing, the researchers reported that in their crash-test dummy trials, a Fiat Stilo going 40 Km/H (25mph) and hitting a pedestrian would cause life-threatening injuries 18% of the time. That seems extremely low to me. (I sure wouldn't want to be hit by a car going 25mph!)

For another thing... with in-the-car airbags, the initial impact deploys the airbag while the driver/passenger's head is still flying toward the obstacle/impact. If the airbag deployed as the head is bouncing off the steering wheel or dashboard, or as the pedestrian/cyclist is bouncing off the car bumper or windshield... wouldn't the damage already be done? The airbag would just catapult the meat farther away from the point of impact.

How about just driving so you can avoid hitting pedestrians and cyclists?

Read more HERE.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"We have met the enemy..."

"... and it is us."

Cyclists resent motorists because a few of them drive in such hazardous, inattentive fashion.

And motorists resent cyclists because a few of them ride in such hazardous, reckless fashion.

HERE is a story from Seattle: "A bicyclist is accused of plowing into a 6-year old boy who was crossing the street with his father."

The poor kid was in a crosswalk, and doing everything properly.

The cyclist was blasting down the road, ironically right in front of the Pike Place Market, on his "fixed gear bike that has no brakes." He ran a red light and collided with the kid. After the accident, the cyclist, Rafael Aranetal, tried to flee the scene, but witnesses detained him. He was charged with vehicular assault and felony hit and run.

The little boy's jaw was broken in three places, and is now wired shut. The doctors hope they can save his lower teeth. But they say he was lucky; if the impact had been in his temple instead of his jaw, he'd probably be dead now.

If you ride a "fixie" with no brakes on public roads... you are a moron, and no friend to the cycling community.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crosswalk Countdown!

The Highway District has started installing a bunch of new "countdown" signs for pedestrians. They display how many seconds remain before cross traffic gets the green light.

(Which brings up a question. If a slow pedestrian enters a crosswalk, does he have the right-of-way until he gets to the other side, regardless of whether the cars have a green light? I would hope a pedestrian has legal right of way until he's safely on the other side. However... pedestrians must beware! More pedestrians get killed than cyclists. It can be dangerous to share the infrastructure with those talking/texting missile pilots!)

I really like the countdown signals, from a cyclist standpoint. If I'm approaching such an intersection, it tells me exactly how much time I have to make it through, and whether I should sprint or take a breather.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fat Epidemic?

If current trends continue, according to a newly-released study, 43% of U.S. adults will be obese by 2018. And "obesity spending" will quadruple to $344 billion per year.

My first thought is... does "obesity spending" include the money spent for Twinkies, Chee-tos, Moon Pies, Super Size combo meals, etc? (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)

My second thought is... as the government takes over more and more of the healthcare industry, is there any reason not to expect "penalty taxes" on high-calorie food, fast food, etc? Or to take it a step further, perhaps we'll enjoy home visits from "health and safety inspectors," like in the UK, to make sure we're in compliance.

My third thought is... have you ever seen a "dangerously obese" person riding a bicycle? You sure see plenty of 'em wedged into cars!

Most Americans not only have to drive everywhere - they need to do it in a car with power steering, power brakes, power window-winders and power door opener-closers!

Is obesity a problem in this country? YES!

Is the problem getting worse? HECK YES!

I've said it before... when high-calorie food is cheap and plentiful and oh-so-tasty... and when there's a national obsession to avoid ANY form of physical exertion at all costs... the combination is often unwanted weight gain. It ain't rocket science: burn more calories than you intake - lose weight, intake more calories than you burn - gain weight.

More about the obesity study can be read HERE.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a specimen of zero-body-fat fitness! Look to a Lance or Kristin Armstrong for that. But despite the fact that I tend to be on the high end of the weight table, regular aerobic exercise has had a very positive impact on my health, as well as significantly increasing my reasonable food intake. If I gave up bike riding, and instead spent that time playing video games or watching TV, I'd have to make a radical change to my diet, or I'd have problems.

A bit about Saddles

Several years ago, I went on a nice long ride with a couple buddies.

About halfway into our ride, Mike's seatpost broke off. I've never seen that happen before or since; seatposts don't normally fail. So, instead of a seat, Mike had a jagged piece of steel tubing sticking up (plus a saddle to carry). Bum-mer!!

None of us was equipped with a spare seatpost. Or even with the proper allen wrench to loosen and remove the old one, for that matter.

We discussed the options. He could wait for a rescue vehicle to return for him, or he could soldier on, standing on his pedals the whole way. He decided on the latter, despite the obvious very real hazard, which was also a strong incentive to not relax or slip.

Mike was a regular Indiana Jones! Imagine being perched directly over that jagged impalement device, depending entirely on your leg strength to survive! He made it quite a few miles - we made it halfway back or so, before he could go no further. Mike waited; Jim and I rode on home, and a rescue vehicle was dispatched.

Yep - a saddle does a critical job, and no bike is complete without one.

But saddles are frequently misunderstood, particularly by non-riders.

When my new bicycle arrived (12 days ago!), friends admired it. But they'd immediately focus on the saddle.

"Do you like that?" they would ask, pointing at the very unusual-looking seat. And then they would ask me why such a nice bike didn't come equipped with a great big, cushiony padded saddle. And frankly, it's not easy to explain to somebody why wide and squishy isn't superior.

I've never given saddles the thought they obviously deserve. Although I know enough to understand that: 1) wide and squishy are not desirable traits in a saddle, except for maybe the most casual and infrequent recreational riding, and 2) you can't expect to be comfortable sitting on any saddle for 20 or 30 or more miles, unless you do it somewhat regularly.

For many years, I've been riding perched on a Selle San Marco (brand) saddle. They have been "comfortable enough," and since they have had the same general shape, they've all fit OK. The critical measurement is the distance between "sit bones" at the base of the pelvis. Since "all pelvises (pelvii?) are not created equal," you'd think that saddles would come in S, M, L, and XL. But instead, the rider is stuck with the subjective task of trial-and-error. And good saddles don't come cheap!

In fact, since I'm "frugal," I'm sure a major reason I've been satisfied with my seat is, I didn't want to buy a replacement!

Ideally, we each oughtta get an x-ray and have an exact sit-bone measurement in millimeters. Then the saddlemakers could provide a saddle width to compare it to.

The new Touring 1 bike has a "Selle An-Atomica Clydesdale" saddle on it, standard equipment. And at the 200-mile mark, I'm quite optimistic that it will be the most comfortable saddle I've ever perched upon. The An-Atomica website is HERE.

Like the more-familiar Brooks saddle, the An-Atomica is made of thick leather which is suspended over a steel frame. Also like the Brooks, but unlike most saddles, there is no rigid, pre-formed base, so the saddle can conform to the rider's anatomy, rather than either matching up or not. The An-Atomica has a "slot" down the middle for pressure relief, and also to allow the sides of the saddle to move more independently. The tension of the leather part can be tightened or loosened for personal preference, and the steel frame acts like a "suspension," absorbing some of the bump-shock, etc. The feeling is almost like you're sitting on a tiny hammock. Very ingenious, and also very logical, if it's well-executed.

The "Clydesdale" refers to being built for >180-lb. riders. The saddle is made in Wisconsin, USA. (After a lifetime of producing wonderful cheese, those Wisconsin cows are given the honor of serving as comfortable saddles.)

That's my "200 mile report" on the new seat. I'll try to follow up after getting more experience with it. But I'm very optimistic. And my derriƩre thanks me every day! (-;

For more info... the late Sheldon Brown provides some great insight on saddles, and how to choose and adjust a saddle HERE.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Off-season cycling is UP!

As the days get shorter and colder, the vast majority of bike riders hang up the velocipede in the garage, and abandon it 'til they are beckoned by longer days and warm springtime weather. That has always been the case with bike riders at my workplace. (I confess a certain bit of unrighteous pride on the days when my bike is alone at the rack on a cold wintery day.)

This year is turning out different, at least so far. (Of course, the harshest winter weather is yet to come.)

Here we are approaching mid-November, and there are still 15 or so bikes regularly showing up.

What could cause it?

Might it be that my employer started offering a $20/month "perk" for bike-related expenses, for transportation cyclists?

I bet that might have something to do with it.

(That new benefit is a result of the federal "Bicycle Commuter Act." I've written about it before, including HERE.)

Might it be that we have a sweet new bike-parking facility, providing protection from both precipitation and lowlifes?

I bet that might have something to do with it, too!

(When a new multi-story parking garage opened in May, it included a room specifically for parking bikes. It's not heated, but it's totally out of the precipitation. It's free. Users need to sign up, and are provided with a "card key" that grants access, so only people who are authorized to park their bikes can get in.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The new pump works

I was kinda wondering how long I'd go before getting a flat on my sweet new ride. I don't have to wonder any longer.

Day 4 - 77 miles. Goathead in the rear tire.

It's just by chance that I was prepared - this morning I thought I'd been pretty foolish to be riding without patch kit, tire levers, etc. (Waiting for a new seat bag to arrive.) This morning I put the necessary goods in my pocket... and had 'em with me at the fateful moment.

The new bike has Schwalbe tires - a couple of my correspondents swear by them. BUT... I'm not sure it has the really puncture-resistant models. They're called "Marathon Racing," and I don't even see them listed with the aftermarket Schwalbe tires. And... the thorn was right at the edge of the tread surface, where there's typically less puncture protection.

This has been a good year for flats, for me. This was only #10, in 5000+ miles of riding. I expect my good fortune to continue; in fact, I'd be happy if I ended the year with the 10-count.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ahhhhh... New Bike Smell!!

It's been 8 years since I experienced the heady pleasure that comes with taking possession of a shiny new bike. I've got to admit, I'd forgotten how satisfying it could be.

The Missus called in the early afternoon and confirmed she had taken delivery on the box. Of course, the rest of the afternoon was interminable, until go-home time.

I unpacked it. It was generally pre-assembled as promised, but there was enough nickel-and-dime fine-tuning and accessory installation to help me begin forming a bond. (There is a minor gouge of the paint on the fork, but pragmatically I'm sure others will follow. I'll see if the insurance company can rustle me up a tube of touch-up paint.)

Unlike that new car, there's really not much of a smell associated with a new bike. But today ("the day after"), I've been grinning inwardly at how quiet and precise everything is! I put 25 miles on it, including 10 miles with Mackie in tow. It's gonna be all right.

(In case you're wondering, it's a shiny new 2010 Cannondale T1 touring model, size XL. I went with the yellow Planet Bike fenders. "Popcorn" colors!)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Safety-Wear Update

It's been 2 months since I started regularly wearing a hi-viz mesh safety vest on essentially all my rides.

In retrospect, the cost-to-benefit ratio is huge!!

It's a subjective thing, trying to determine how much of a difference it makes in actual safety. Up 'til yesterday, however, I'd only had one incident where I got the impression that a driver didn't see me. That was at a downtown intersection where I was on a thru street and the offender on a side street with a stop sign. She started out, then slammed on her brakes when she saw me at the last second. (Probably a combination of my looming, hi-viz presence and loud hollerin'. The driver was a little blue-hair lady in a big pearly-white Cadillac; she was probably too old to safely drive 10 years ago!)

I take comfort in looking down when I'm riding, and observing how VISIBLE that vest is! Even in the worst conditions... dawn and dusk... that bright color really stands out!

Yesterday, I was riding up Roosevelt Street - another "collector" with stop-sign side streets. Some airhead gal - late 20s or early 30s I'd guess, in a Subaru wagon with phone plastered to ear - pulled out from a stop sign, then jammed on her brakes mid-intersection when she saw (and heard) me. The vest is NOT a force field. But I am convinced that very few drivers will deliberately run into a cyclist. Anything I can do to avoid 'em telling the investigator, "I didn't see him!" is a good thing. I'm a believer! (Thanks, Bob T!)

An effective safety vest can be had for less than 10 bucks. What's that? 2 Starbucks? Just search for "hi-viz mesh vest" and shop away. (Or better yet, support a local merchant. I got mine at D&B; my friend at Boise Rigging Supply says they sell 'em, too.)

Oh - one other thing. A guy at the office is a big Oregon Ducks fan. One day he saw the vest and said, "Hey! You're wearing my school colors!" (Of course, pretty much EVERY color is an Oregon color...)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Power Lunch

Yesterday I rode to lunch with two colleagues from the office.

I was on my 25-year-old "Clunker," and Bob was on a 20-plus year old road bike. He has a stable full of bikes, but he says the old Trek fits him better than any of the others. So of the three riders, two had friction shifters... who woulda thunk?

Our ride took us southeast, mostly along the course of the Boise River, to the Crow Inn. Probably an 8-mile ride from downtown Boise. It was such a lovely day that we sat outside on the patio, where we ate generous portions of bad-for-you-but-so-tasty fried food.

Tom mentioned that he enjoys the change back to Standard Time, because sometimes the commute gets so boring, and the change provides a new view on the scenery. He told of how he'd ridden home in the dark the night before, and happened across a herd of raccoons, with their reflector-eyes.

Perhaps the bike commute gets somewhat routine... but consider the alternative. There are plenty of pathetic schmoes out there whose only hope for relief is if they see an interesting bumper sticker on the car in front of 'em. I'll take the bike ride, thanks.

When we started back, my front tire was low. %#*@% goatheads! I'm woefully unprepared on my clunker... no pump, no patch kit. But the tires hold so much more air, they take hours to leak out. (Bob had a pump, but we didn't get it out.) The day was so lovely, and the scenery and company so good, that even a goathead-induced flat tire couldn't spoil the good cheer I felt.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The "Noisy Cricket" of flashlights

If you saw the movie, "Men in Black," you will likely recall when the Will Smith character was issued his alien-fighting gun. It was diminutive in size, and Smith was scornful... until he pulled the trigger and blasted a big hole in a truck a couple blocks away.

Looks are sometimes deceiving.

At the recommendation of Bob T, who has NEVER steered me wrong, I ordered an LED flashlight from DealExtreme. The wait was somewhat agonizing [more about that later] but it ended Friday.

I opted for the AKOray K-106 model. (SKU #28546) $13.99, including shipping. (Bargain!)

When I opened the padded envelope and saw it, I wasn't overwhelmed. It's dark gray and machined out of aluminum, I believe. It's about 3.75 inches long and .75 inches in diameter. It has a chintzy-looking pocket clip, and a green control button on the tail cap. The lens is supposedly made of glass... a good thing, IMO, because it's less likely to get scratched up.

Since I'm something of a flashlight fetishist, I've got several small flashlights, including 3 LED models that use one AA battery (as does this AKOray). It seems like every AA-LED flashlight I've gotten has been meaningfully brighter than the previous, as the technology has improved.

I put a battery in the AKOray and pushed the button.


This is a bright flashlight!

Light output is supposed to be up to 230 lumens. It totally drowns out a Gerber "Firecracker" LED light that I got a couple months back at REI. (And it seemed "bright enough" before the AKOray arrived.)

It is advertised to have 60 minutes of life from a battery, on the high setting. (When the power is on, you can half-depress the power button to switch modes, which include bright, medium, dim, "SOS," and strobe flasher.) I'm sure batteries last longer when a lower power, or strobe-mode, is selected.

On the bright setting, this light is far brighter than any other LED light in my collection. It rivals a big D-cell "cop flashlight" I have. Definitely more than adequate for headlight duty. I anticipate using it mostly for headlight ("seeing") or strobe light ("being seen"), depending on the situation. Oh... and it should make a fine flashlight for camping and such, too.

I immediately ordered two more of these.

Of course, for bicycle duty, you need to mount it to the bike.

Bob T suggested the "universal nylon mount" (SKU 12000, $2.21). I also ordered a plastic "universal bicycle mount" (SKU 08274, $1.54).

The 12000 is the ultimate in simplicity... a piece of rubber with two grooves for flashlight and handlebar stem (or gun barrel, or whatever), with 2 velcro staps to hold everything in place. It is designed for the light to be mounted in parallel to the tube it's being hooked to... like a handlebar stem.

The 08274 snaps into place on the handlebar, and the flashlight holder screws down for tight installation. (Although the snap-over is a little loose for my handlebars... but still functional.) It is designed for right-angle mounting - like on handlebars.

I'm going to try to rig the universal (velcro strap) mount on my brain bucket, so I can have the option of a helmet-mounted light.

Time will tell:
1) real-life battery drainage,
2) long-term durability.
I will report my findings.

A little about DealExtreme... they are based in Hong Kong. Air shipping is included in all prices. The stuff I ordered arrived in 2 shipments; the mounts maybe 10 days after I ordered and the flashlight took a couple weeks longer, because they were on back order. If you need something now, DealExtreme probably won't work for you. Check out the website... they've got a little of everything. Actually a LOT of everything. (I happened across a combination prophylactic/electric-shocker gizmo... that might surprise somebody, huh? I didn't order it.)