Saturday, February 28, 2015

New bike/pedestrian bridge underway?

For several years, the public servants who run Garden City have been threatening to build a new bridge across the Boise River, for pedestrians and cyclists.

Part of their motivation is to mitigate the bicycle bottleneck created by their arbitrary closure of a stretch of Greenbelt through the neighborhood the mayor developed.  They call it their "nature trail," and it's closed to bicycle traffic.  After all... it's common knowledge that the fragile ecosystem and the furry and feathery woodland creatures can thrive while surrounded by pedestrians, dogs, lawn mowers and backyard barbecue parties, but would be irreparably harmed by punks on bikes.

Okay, I've vented.  (And I've vented before.)

A couple weeks ago I rode out there to get the lay of the land.  A half mile or so west of the "edge of civilization" (the last houses) on the south side of the river, I came across a sign announcing the closure of the Greenbelt.  (I've got to hand it to the Garden City Fathers... they are good at closing the Greenbelt!)

Shortly past the sign, there are stakes in the ground, which I imagine mark the trajectory of the pathway and bridge that should start taking shape any time.
In this photo, taken from the south side of the river, you can see a stake in the foreground, and on the other side there's a small clearing, pretty much straight above the stake... I imagine that's where the bridge will meet the north bank.
Here's a rendering of the bridge, taken from the Garden City website:
(If I were in charge, we'd spend a few extra bucks and make it look like a tiny replica of the Golden Gate Bridge.)

Boise River Bark Busters

Ride along the Greenbelt in these parts, and you'll notice that many of the tree trunks are wrapped with chicken wire.  When the wire is missing, its purpose quickly becomes evident.  Mysterious creatures - perhaps the same ones that make crop circles? - buzz the bark right off!

I'm no botanist, but my understanding is that the nutrients flow up a tree trunk in a thin layer between bark and wood... can these trees remain healthy?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Presidents Day = Bicycle Day?

Washington's birthday - February 22 - became a national holiday in 1885.  (Back then, Lincoln's birthday was a couple weeks earlier.  Now, by government decree, they were both born sometime in between.)

Also in 1885, the USA was going bicycle-crazy!  The "safety bicycle" was the big fad - the "smart phone" of its day.  Everybody had to have one, hundreds of companies were manufacturing them, and the competition made them very affordable, even for common folk.  Because of the bike craze, many cities starting with Boston declared "bicycle day" as well.  After all, since businesses were closed and people had free time, why not give them some bicycle events to participate in?

An article at The Atlantic explains it.  "Riders prepared for the occasion, including the many women who were taking to the new hobby. Many new gowns are already ordered and will be worn on Bicycle Day if the weather will permit... Stores competed to attract the crowds. At the Tinkham Cycle Company, for example, the Royal Hungarian Band played, bicycle bells rang, acetylene and electric lamps flashed, and visitors gawked at bikes with three, four, six, or ten seats. Every customer took home a lily bulb to plant; the owner of the handsomest and tallest flower could redeem it for a hundred-dollar bicycle come June."

Of course, that was back before global warming.  Back when bikes could be ridden in mid-February.  Nowadays there's 4 feet of snow on the ground in Boston.  HEY!  Wait a minute!  What the?!!?  (Boston would be in no shape to host a "bicycle day" this year!  I'm expecting my third grandchild, to be born in Providence RI, just down the way from Boston, and the Missus is having a heck of a time finding transportation to get there.)

Happy Bicycle Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Drivetrain of the future?

Last year as the days were getting longer and warmer, I posted a note about the Novara Gotham bicycle that I've had my eyes on for several years.  In most respects, it's a fairly conventional "urban bicycle" with relaxed geometry, medium-width tires, and upright riding position.  But what continues to capture my attention and imagination is the drivetrain.

The Gotham doesn't have a derailleur at either end.  Instead, it has a NuVinci constantly-variable hub that has a 360% range of "gear" ratios, using some balls and specialized oil.  And in place of the conventional chain, it has a belt.  (Similar to the Harley-Davidson motorcycles I've been riding for 18 years.)

Last spring, I visited the local REI store on a nice Saturday morning, and asked if I could take a test ride on their Gotham - the first one I'd ever seen in person.  (It's funny - on the day I went in, the Gotham was parked next to a "fat bike" with the super-wide tires.  The fat bike had a half-dozen young fellows surrounding and admiring it... nobody was giving the Gotham the time of day.)  I signed my life away, and rolled the bike toward the door to test ride it.  The sales guy said, "Please don't leave the parking lot."  HUH?  What kind of test ride is that?  So, I rode around in the parking lot for 10 minutes.  Big wup!  (I don't feel like I got a fair shake at the test ride, but I liked what little I could sense of the drivetrain - silent, and the constantly-variable thing was pretty cool.)

I'd probably buy the Gotham - it's one of the few "factory" bicycles with the NuVinci and belt, and at around $1400 it's not outrageously expensive.  (The hub alone costs $360 or so.)  The only thing that's holding me back is the question of long-term durability.  REI guarantees the bike for a year.  Fallbrook - the company that builds the NuVinci - guarantees their product for two years.  Frankly, I'd want my $360 hub to give me ten years of trouble-free service!  Or at least five years.

I sent email inquiries to both Fallbrook and REI, asking about the long-term reliability... what a high-mileage rider could reasonably expect.

REI, to their credit, got back to me within 24 hours... with a non-answer.  They told me to contact Fallbrook and ask them, so I could make an informed decision.  (Obviously they weren't willing to go out on a limb and vouch for the product's long-term durability.)

I haven't yet heard back from Fallbrook.  Not a good sign.

The concept is ingenious - totally!  The mechanism is complex, compared to a derailleur.  But it's super-simple compared to one of those 8- or 11-speed internal hubs!  (It's called the NuVinci as homage to Leonardo DaVinci - the renaissance artist/inventor/genius - who produced some conceptual drawings that inspired the design of the hub.)  But a fantastic design is only that, if the real-world product isn't durable for real-world use.

I have no such hesitation about the belt drive.  Harley's been using it for 30 years, and it's a winner - lasts longer than a chain, and essentially zero maintenance.  (One comment about the belt - since it is a continuous piece, the bicycle frame needs a void.  The Gotham bicycle has a small section that unbolts from the right side seat stay.)

I'd sure like somebody to step forward and declare that he/she has been using a NuVinci hub for 50,000 worry-free miles.  (I've got nothing against the derailleurs I've been using for 50+ years... but I'd not grumble if I didn't have to clean and lube and replace chains and cogs.)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A month 'til spring fever

You can feel it in the air.  Here it is early February, and the forecast of rain was way off!  We had sunshine and temperatures in the 60s - on a Saturday!  Woo-hoo!  I took advantage of the nice conditions and did a mid-winter drivetrain overhaul on the #1 bike.

My son told me his bike was making a "crunching" sound and the chain wouldn't stay on... I but told him to bring it over for a diagnosis (expecting perhaps bottom-bracket destruction).  His chain was totally rusted up!  He parks it underneath a balcony, but apparently it isn't adequate to stop the precipitation.  I did my best to loosen up his chain... gave it the WD-40 treatment, and a good lube afterwards... improved things immeasurably.  (But I also advised him he probably ought to replace that chain... and put a tarp over his bike, if it has to be outdoors.)

Then this afternoon I grabbed my granddaughter for a little riding on the Greenbelt.  She'll be 2 later this month and has just about outgrown the baby seat... maybe we can still squeeze her in for some summer riding.  Our rides are observations of wildlife, and singing.  (She always has the "great stone face" for the camera, but believe me... she's happier than she looks here!)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bicycling as social statement

Steve Henning is a textiles-industry executive.  He was working in Australia, and bicycle commuted almost exclusively.  His associates admired him for it.

Then he was relocated to China, where he assumed he could continue riding... after all, bicycle is a very common mode of transportation in that heavily-populated country.  But then he made an unfortunate discovery.  "My team was humiliated that their boss rode a bike to work like a common person. While Chinese bike to work infinitely more than Australians, among the wealthier Chinese, bikes are not an option. There are plenty of bikes on the road, but biking is for the lower classes only. So my team felt it was an embarrassment that their boss rode a bike to the office. They felt it suggested to the entire company that their boss was unimportant, and that by association, they were unimportant, too."  (Story HERE.)


Can you imagine being socially-pressured on account of your bicycle riding?

But as I think about it... what kind of social pressures do we have, here in the U.S.A., regarding our transportation?

There is no doubt that in many eyes and minds, choice of vehicle is a very significant "statement."  If you don't believe me, spend an evening watching network TV, and observe the car and truck commercials.  If they are to be believed, your wheels are everything!  If you don't drive their vehicle, you might as well tattoo LOSER on your forehead!

Ride the bus?  Are you kidding?  Do you eat at the rescue mission, too?!?

Ride a bike?  A grownup riding a bike?  Pitiful!  Lost your driver's license, huh?  What are you, some kind of tree-hugging liberal?

Of course, there are exceptions.  Among the "hipsters" where image is EVERYTHING, it's very stylish to ride a vintage single-speed... and particularly if you're wearing the proper hipster clothing style (which seems to change somewhat regularly - ya gotta pay attention to these things).  Perhaps as they graduate to full adulthood, bicycle-as-transportation will continue to evolve into respectability?

And of course there's a subculture of "equipment fethishists" in the world of bicycling as everywhere else... people who derive satisfaction from having the very top-level gear.  Surely part of the appeal of titanium carbon fiber / Dura-Ace / Campy Record is other like-minded riders making note of your awesome steed.

If I'm making a "social statement" by my bicycling, it's at the subconscious level.  (In my mind, transportation by bicycle is superior in pretty much every way.  I'm saving a boatload of dough.  I'm not contributing to the inversion.  I could do what every motorist is doing... but relatively few of them could do what I'm doing.  But I don't care whether they recognize any of that or not.)

Excuse me, while I wax nostalgic for a moment...

When I was a kid, most families only had one car... or at least that's my memory.  (More moms stayed home back then.)  But still, it was a very unusual sight to see a grownup riding a bike, other than for recreation.

Wesley Goodson was well-known in my neighborhood - for bicycling.  He rode an ancient "cruiser" style bike that was festooned with baskets, several headlights, horns, and literally hundreds of reflectors.  He was an adult - but not a normal adult.  I'm sure he was mentally impaired to some degree... he mowed lawns for pocket money and constantly smoked a pipe as he rode.  He'd ride his bike to Roosevelt Market, right across the street from my elementary school, where we would admire it while he leaned against the wall and sipped beer from a quart bottle.  (Thinking back... Wesley was a pretty cool character!  Although he was hardly a role model, he certainly didn't feel any pressure to "fit in."  He was his own guy.  And - he probably was role model in the sense of his transportation... for me.  Here was a guy who didn't have much in the way of prosperity, but he got around the neighborhood in style, and on the cheap!)

There was another fellow - I don't know his name, but I knew of him from the same Roosevelt Market connection.  He'd park his "English three speed" out front, while he ran in for provisions... on his way to work downtown.  He worked at the music store.  (When I was a bit older, I'd hang out there, admiring electric guitars and horns and pianos and such.)  He bicycled to work regularly... you could say it was his daily transportation.

And my dad rode a bike to work sometimes, but only maybe once a week and when the weather was nice.  I always thought it was pretty cool when his bicycle was cabled up in his office parking spot.