Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Relatively Nice Commute

Arizona Canal Path

Quiet, little to no traffic, in comparison to many other large cities in the world, particularly in developing nations, where the streets are jammed with honking, smoking vehicles. I dodge and dance between the cars that are here on the mainly back streets I ride, and we barely notice one another. The air is warm and dry, and many of us humans greet each other with a wave or a hello as we head home. I'm laughing at the pure good fortune of my ride because the ducks in the canal and I know this thing: this place, this date, this life, with room and sunshine and a clear path ahead, we are fortunate indeed to be in it, and should recognize and acknowledge this with understanding and perspective that many places are colder, more crowded, more polluted, and more hectic. I am grateful.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

No More Cheap Crummy Tape

Acts of desperation: twine and shellac

It turns out that if you use cheap crummy tape for finishing handlebar wraps, the results turn out looking cheap and performing crummy. Huh. I bought ten-for-a-dollar black tape at some discount store, and the results were poor. On hot days in Phoenix, the adhesive on the tape would let go, making a sticky, slowly unwrapping mess.

My first instinct was to blame the tape, not the particular cheap tape I had bought, but rather the whole concept of using electrical tape to finish handlebar wraps. The strips supplied with the handlebar wrap tape seemed too short, and the ones I tried also tended to not work great once it got really hot here. So, seeking alternatives to black electrical tape, I tried the Rivbike twine and shellac method. It solved the immediate problem of tape that peels off in the heat, definitely. I kind of like the results and will continue to use it on some bikes. It produces a quirky, distinct look, which is growing on me.

The initial alternatives I tried

But I also continued to wonder if I wasn't overlooking something in the tape space. Let's say for bike situations where I don't want the quirky, distinct look going on. Eventually, it occurred to me that decent, non-cheap, non-crummy tape might be engineered better, such that the adhesive doesn't let loose in hotter temperatures. Lo, behold, that is exactly the case.

Decent, well-designed, temperature-certified tape on the left. Crappy, going into the trash tape on the right.

As it turned out, the good stuff is made in the USA, while the crappy stuff is made in a country known for sometimes making cheap crappy stuff. Good job, American company making good stuff; bad job, overseas company selling crappy stuff. I'll buy the tape that holds on in the summer heat from now on.

I'm confident that 194°F should exceed my handlebar needs

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Unexpected Route Markers in the Night

Suddenly they appear in the night

Along a familiar road, the same old path, the tried and true route, the comfortable and familiar. The night closes in and opens up and wraps me in stillness. Some lights on houses and cars and poles are colored, true, but most things appear monochrome: the road, the lines, the stars (unless you look really close), the mind-carving sky, all are either white or grays on the way to black. As it should be at this time, on this date, with a pool of white light projecting out in front of me.

Then appearing within the pool two hexagons of bright non-monochrome blips on the line. They were not there before on this route, as far as I recall. They mark something, some way, to somewhere. Chances are, a race, or ride, or run, to somewhere, from somewhere: an event, an occasion, a group thing. They are for collective feet or wheels to be guided by eyes drawn to them as mine were. But I'm not currently in that group (as far as I know) or doing that thing (as far as I know) yet my eyes are drawn to them and pointed toward the goal (whatever it may be) of that thing, and whatever, wherever it is, I venture that it is a new place or different route than my home, which is where the route I am on takes me normally, and will take me still if I do not deviate. How peculiar if their group thing turned out to be my home. But I do not think so. I think these florescent hexagons rather point the way to another place via another route which both may be new to me.

I think I will follow that route, and look for that thing, and seek out that place. Not the particular thing or place of the people who placed these particular route-marking arrows, no, but instead the ideas of them: the thing that they seek beyond the specific present one, the place they are going to which is beyond the familiar place, the route they are following which is not the route that they would follow if the arrows were not here, but rather the one which requires new arrows to find the way. The new route, the new thing, the new place. Those ideas. Some colored hexagons showed me the general direction. The ride is turning down that way, now. Perhaps more arrows have been placed farther along, although no more are appearing in the pool of light, not  yet. Just the black road, and the grays of the night that shade eventually to points of white that fill the sky.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Philips SafeRide LED Bike Light: Excellent for Commuting and City Riding

Looking into the reflector: LEDs point down, not out, part of the engineering of a sharp top beam cutoff

A prefatory note on one of the motivations for this post: I read the review of the B&M Luxos U Dynohub-powered light in the Winter 2013 edition of "Bicycle Quarterly," and felt like writing a rebuttal to its conclusions. 

Brief rebuttal: Philips SafeRide battery-powered LED Bike Light (LBL) currently selling for $79.99 on a popular e-commerce site***. This single sentence answers the majority of anti-battery light assertions/rants in the BQ article.

Longer rebuttal: for city riding and commuting, you would be hard-pressed to find a better or more suitable light than the Philips LBL and furthermore, you don't need to spend $900+* on a dynohub lighting system around the B&M Luxos in order to achieve excellent lighting for your bicycle riding for those applications. To be clear and transparent, in contrast with the BQ article, the LBL as it comes out of the box may not be the right solution for a more demanding application like long-distance randonneuring across remote mountainous regions at night. But the distinction should be made that most city riding and commuting is a quite different application with different and in many ways less demanding requirements than long distance solo randonneuring**. If that's your sport or passion, a $900+ dynohub lighting system/wheel probably fits right into the rest of your bicycle system. Also, for both applications, beam shape does matter. Other than those two conclusions, I disagree with most of the sweeping, generalized statements made in the BQ article about bike lighting. A fair comparison between the Luxos and the LBL for city riding and commuting would reach very different conclusions, I expect. (see W.Scholten links below for superior, excellent, detailed reviews and beamshots)

My LBL being fully charged (but not running, which doesn't work) off a portable 11Ah Li-poly supply @2.4A and 5v

My Perspective on bike lights (criteria for success): A bicycle headlight should be bright enough to illuminate the road ahead and to the sides, with a beam pattern that efficiently throws light where it's needed, and not where it's useless and/or annoying, should enable drivers of oncoming as well as side-entering vehicles to see the light and to accurately gauge distance and to read "cyclist", and should have a power source and overall reliable construction which does not leave the cyclist inconveniently without a working headlight.

As if those requirements are not demanding enough, I also add on that it should be as economical as possible given current lighting (high power LED) and power source (rechargeable batteries or dynamo) technologies, and, should fit into a loosely coupled overall bike system design (more on that below). Additionally, it should either be easily mountable and removable, or alternatively, so securely mounted and/or ugly, that either way the probability of theft while parked at the bike rack in Phoenix, AZ, a city with a high level of theft of bicycles and parts, is low. The best light stolen is equivalent to the worst light mounted. Finally, the light should satisfy these requirements in the context of city riding and commuting, as those are my main applications.

Side view of the Philips LBL. It's not small, but in my opinion not overly large for its purpose

The Philips SafeRide LED Bike light nails all of these criteria for me, in a commuting application. On another hand, a $900+ dynohub+wheel+B&M Luxos leave-on-the-bike system is not for me, primarily due to cost vs. benefit for my application, and also because I do not feel secure leaving it at the bike rack in a medium to high crime big city where cable locks are cut off so frequently that using one at the bike rack makes theft within the year automatic. For a very thorough series of review and comparisons with competing lights, please go have look at W.Scholten's articles below. This reviewer is without parallel as far as I have encountered, and rates the Philips LBL very high in comparison with other current lights, specifically, a notable void in the BQ article:

W.Scholten Main lighting review page
W.Scholten: Amount of light on the road from a circular (most battery) headlights
W.Scholten: Philips LED bike light (LBL), battery powered, with cutoff
W.Scholten: Comparison with possible competitors to the LBL, including dyno lights
W.Scholten: Busch & Mueller: Luxos B & Luxos U dynamo headlamps
There's also interesting stuff on the Candlepower Forums thread about it, but the quality varies there.


Here are a few salient observations about why I like this light so much for commuting and city riding, based on two months of usage. The 4AA NiMH batteries supplied with the light are easy to charge, and in typical commuting for me, running in "eco" mode and not in bright, have me recharging about once a week. The blue lights tell me when I need to recharge, and I just plug it in when they tell me too. The light itself is bright, but with the strong top cutoff, only throws where it needs to, and not into space or into the eyes of motorists or other cyclists. In this respect, I'm a convert to the necessity of a strong top cutoff beam for bicycles. Also, when the time comes, 4AA NiMH batteries are economical to purchase, and easy for the end user to replace. On the other hand, as I mentioned in the photo caption above, they recharge nicely off a portable power pack, but the light doesn't operate while plugged in, so you can't easily run it off an external pack, as far as I (and others who have tried) can tell. That's too bad, since the 2.4A @ 5v coming out of my $40 Lipoly pack above should easily be able to power it, which would serve as a backup and reassurance for running out of juice somewhere inconvenient.

When I unpacked the light initially, I charged the 4AA batteries in my LaCrosse BC-700, which charges cells separately, at 200ma for a charge-discharge-charge cycle to try to get all the cells to a roughly equal charge. Out of the box, there was indeed one cell at a much lower charge state than the other three, which is typical in my experience. I will probably repeat this equalization process once in a while, since 4-cell AA packs always seem to get out of sync eventually when charged together as a pack. Otherwise, though, I am just plugging the light into a USB charger and so far, having good results with that.

For future consideration in a blog post, and relevant to this one: mounting height as well as the aiming of a headlight, bicycle or otherwise, has  direct and significant effects on many of its important lighting characteristics, yet very little instruction is typically provided on how best to mount or aim them. For lights designed to have a sharp cutoff on the top, it seems that the top of their beam should be aligned with the horizon to provide maximum lightning benefit while also taking advantage of the cutoff characteristics. And once you get that height and aim dialed in, does the supplied mount maintain it? This is one more possible knock against removable lights compared to permanantly mounted ones, since every mount I've used so far, including this one, moves when you put the light on or take it off, requiring re-aiming every time.

Examples of badly aimed unscientific beam shots to give some idea of eco vs. high (eco)

(High). Beam should be aimed higher than this. On a dark street, bright easily illuminates 60 yards ahead.

Another characteristic I appreciate is that the light body is constructed solidly of metal, and everything fits together firmly, with little or no rattling for me. So far the switch remains consistent and reliable. The light stays put once mounted, although the mount does move when you install or remove the light.

What did I mean by "loosely coupled bike system," above? An example of a tightly coupled bicycle system would be one with an electric assist, large battery storage, and regenerative charging from all relevant moving and stopping interfaces: brakes, pedaling while going downhill, generation while rolling downhill itself, and potentially even seatpost motion, handlebar motion, and a regenerative suspension. The point about such a system relevant to this post: one faulty, difficult to find component could easily render the whole bicycle unridable, and depending on which component fails, very expensive to repair. Tight coupling in any system yields pervasive impacts from single point failures. In addition, replacing or upgrading one component requires compatibility, along with consideration of all other tightly coupled components so that the repaired or upgraded whole will still work as intended.

This is most commonly addressed by requiring that replacements or upgrades are done strictly with proprietary, compatible replacements. An example of a tightly coupled lighting system is one in which the operation of the lighting system depends on the rotation of the wheel, and the rotation of the wheel is affected by the operation of the lighting system. An increase in resistance in one, a corroded connection in the wiring for example, will cause an increase in resistance in the other (rolling resistance with light turned on, for example). A failure in one, for example a shredded tire in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, will cause immediate or in some cases slightly delayed failure of the other. So, just to be clear, the Philips LBL and other battery-powered lights with self-contained power sources are loosely coupled, since you can put them on and take them off without affecting much if anything else on the bike, except possibly other things already mounted in the handlebar area.

I could go on about this, but I also wanted to show you a much older example of an attempt to shape the beam of a bicycle headlight: the Specialized PreView XE from a couple of decades ago. It operates on 4AA also, but requires 6v to operate and overdrive the 4.7V xenon lamp, so NiMH are hit or miss, and don't work very well with their nominal 1.2v per cell. Back when I used it, I relied on "high capacity" NiCads, which still started off with a lower voltage than 4 alkalines, but which seemed to last longer before the red indicator LED triggered.

Older, shaped beam bike light
When comparing the beams and beam shape of these two, there's really no comparison. The older light is a pale comparison of the Philips LBL. It was a nice try at the time, though, and did give me two or three years of nighttime riding along the canals in Phoenix, back then.

Unscientific ceiling beam shot of the old Specialized PreView XE incandescent light (squelched and weird and not really this white)

Unscientific (not exposure equalized) ceiling beam shot of the LBL, illustrating the artifacts others have mentioned

This is a light made for bicycles which has the advantages of engineering by an experienced automobile light company. Many users have likened it to a car or motorcycle beam, and I agree. By putting light where you need it, and not where you don't, it both uses it's available lumens to greatest advantage, making it seem as bright as much more powerful symmetric round lights, and also minimizes the dazzle into the eyes of other road users (when aimed properly). With such a sharp cutoff, I wonder if those artifacts actually serve the purpose of increasing visibility of the light by drivers. Do they look like crab legs to anyone else? Though I always carry a backup light (and tube, and tools..), this has become my primary for night and early-morning commutes. I haven't been flashed once by oncoming drivers while using it, or gotten any negative feedback from other cyclists or pedestrians, which is indeed a contrast with the kind of comments I get when using one of my bright and symmetrical, round beam battery lights. After experiencing, I have to agree that's a good thing.

*B&M Luxos U $235 + SON 28 hub $300, new wheel of similar quality as lighting system built around hub $350 and up total cost: close to $900.

I purchased this light with my own funds and received no consideration for writing this. Please see my disclaimer if you have any other questions, and for more information.

**One may consider bicycle commuting as a version of long distance solo randonneuring, which just happens to have very regular and lengthy rest stops. Rest assured there's no penalty for recharging your bike light during these rest stops while commutanneuring.

***this amazing price may representing something like the North American closeout or End of Life pricing for the first version of the light which has a blue LED charge gauge on the top. I write that as if I actually understand or know what the differences are between the versions of the light, or whether they are in some official sense to be referred to as Generation 1 or 2, or version 1 or 2, or how the ball joint mount or high power timer electronics actually figure into the naming, but in spite of dedicated searching and reading, I could find no clear listing of what's what with what version or generation or whatever. It's clear that as time passes, Philips is making changes to this light. Also, I like the one I got.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ride Place, Ride Time

This was almost the one...

On a gorgeous late-afternoon TCT (Tri-City tour, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe), I pulled out my camera to take the above shot, as I congratulated myself for just happening to be in the right place at the right time to catch the light just so. The sun was setting, the water was still, the air was warm, and it just felt like it was going to be a good shot. 

However, 1.2 seconds AFTER I pressed the shutter to take the photo above, an even more gorgeous egret sailed across the frame from right to left, right about in the middle of the water, above. The camera sometimes does some type of post shot processing which causes a message to be on the screen which says PROCESSING... so all I could do was watch as the beautiful white bird demonstrated to me that I was actually two seconds early from being in the right place at the right time.

Sure, he looked good sitting in the water, but...

Sure, he looked good enough sitting in the water, but it could have been an incredible photo if I had just been there with my shutter finger two seconds later. So I rode on.

Down in Tempe at the lake, as the sun was setting, I saw them pulling the sail boats out of the water. I thought, ooo, maybe some cool black and white boat pulling out of the water action.

Nice, but not quite...
As it happened, I arrived at the vantage point overlooking the boat ramp a few minutes after the boats had pulled all the way in. I was imaging basically the same scene as above, except with the boats still in the water, casting reflections of themselves, with the long shadows of late afternoon pulling into the ramp just ahead of them. This one turned out OK, especially the sky, but on looking at the frames I captured, I couldn't say that I felt like I managed to be in the right place at the right time. Almost.

As the sun set...
As the sun set, though, I was rethinking my whole "right place, right time" train of thought. Hadn't I had an awesome ride, feeling good, fortunate to live where the weather is warm and I was able to ride in a t-shirt and shorts in January, still able to feel fast and strong as the years pile up? What was I worrying about being in the right place at the right time, I had just spent an hour and a half in my ride place, at ride time, loving it. That's the goal, and it's easy enough to achieve: just get on and go, and I'm in it: ride place, ride time.  I think rather than fretting about the screen grab of reality I almost got, instead I will focus on loving the reality I'm with.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sproinging Things Across the Road with My Tire

All the way to the opposite side

Ridin' along on my first morning commute after break, nice warm morning, taking my time, just getting used to the idea of going back to work....SPROING!!!! WAAAAA?? I ran over something which SPROING-POPPED out from under my front tire and shot all the way across the street. My first thought was that my tire popped, but I was still going, and no flop flop flop sound or feeling, so it wasn't that. Then I realized I must have sproinged something across the street, which made me want to go back and look.

Tire weight (see photo). I must have hit it just right, because even though it's such an irregular shape, I shot that thing right across the street. Then I thought that the clip probably ripped a good hole my tire, but I couldn't find anything. I'm sure I couldn't repeat this volume and distance again if I tried. While failing, I'm sure I would rip a hole in my tire in the attempt.

While wondering what other oblong metal objects I might run across and SPROING! across the road, right away I saw this:

SPROING! part deux

Dang, that's an unusually long Allen bolt you got there. How far do you think you could SPROING it? While not flipping it upwards and putting out an eye, of course.

Reminded me for a moment of being a kid, and once in a while aiming for an acorn, when I lived where there were lots of them on the pavement in the fall, just to see how far I could sproing it. One perfect shot, I thought I hit a house in my neighborhood with a rather loud THWACK. Which caused me to cut down on my acorn sproinging at least a bit.

There must be a better name for it than "sproinging".

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Vertical Lineage Ducks 3

If you put long beards and camo on these, they would still be ducks.