Thursday, August 3, 2017

Adding to the Ranks of Bike Commuters

Ever since we removed his training wheels, our son has renounced riding his bike. For the past two years, he's eschewed getting on his bicycle at all. We've managed to occasionally use leverage to coerce him into riding up and down the street. But even then, we would only manage a few laps before he would refuse to continue. It's been a bummer that Ginger and I, both die-hard bicycling advocates, haven't been able to convince our son of the joys of cycling.

All that changed last weekend. Ginger talked our son into riding with her to his school, which is a trip of a little over a mile. When they left, the boy was looking a bit apprehensive, but he gathered his courage and set off with his mom. When they returned from their ride a short while later, he was absolutely elated. It went so well, we easily talked him into riding again the next day. So we loaded up his sister into the baby carrier and the whole family made the same trip. Again, he had a blast and was clearly becoming more confident handling his bike. That evening, he asked if he could ride his bike to summer day camp the next morning. And just like that - he was a bicycle commuter.

So far this week my son has ridden his bike to day camp at the YMCA every day. He wakes up stoked to ride...even wears his helmet around the house after he gets home. Ginger and I can't believe how quickly he turned around, from hating riding his bike to loving it. We hope it sticks and becomes a life-long love of cycling. But in the meantime, we're just ecstatic that our 7-year-old is now a bike commuter.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Evolution of Bike Share Technology

When it comes to your standard, tech-forward, membership-based bike share system, there are generally two primary models for the way the bicycles interface with the stations. The difference between these two models mostly comes down to where the computer systems are located that allow a user to checkout a bike. Around the virtual halls of Springfield Bike Share, we call these two types of systems 'Smart Dock/Dumb Bike' and 'Smart Bike/Dumb Dock.'

The Smart Dock/Dumb Bike model of bike share represents the more traditional type of system. You have a fleet of bikes that have integrated technology like GPS and hub power generation (usually for front and rear lights), but otherwise the bikes themselves are nothing more than fancy-looking step-through cruisers. The stations, on the other hand, are packed with technology. The station is often powered via a built-in solar panel or an underground electrical line and is connected to the internet via a hard line or wireless technology like 4G. The station consists of a computer, often with a touch screen, that acts as an on-site kiosk for users to check out bicycles. And the kiosk is connected with the individual bicycle docks, creating an integrated network of sensors, actuators, communications, and other technology working in concert to manage the checkout and return of bike share bicycles.

The Smart Bike/Dumb Dock model of bike share technology is the opposite of this more traditional approach. In this model, the station is nothing more than a brightly colored bike rack. And sometimes not even that. There is often no integrated technology in the rack itself. In fact, some bike share equipment providers allow any location to be considered a 'station' using the location of the bicycle, allowing municipal bike racks and other points of interest to be transformed into ad hoc bike share stations. Since there's no technology integrated into the station, all of the hardware is instead built into the bicycle itself. Normally this includes a small computer console on the back of the bike, which allows members to check out the bike. Once checked out, the bike essentially 'unlocks itself' from the dock. Power is provided by an on-board solar panel with an accompanying battery pack and the bicycle is networked via wireless technology - again, like 4G. Other than the small computer on the rear of the bike, the bicycle looks much the same as any other bike share bike, often with a GPS system and a hub generator to power the lights.

Years ago when bike share was in its infancy, a Smart Bike system would've been unthinkable. The cost to outfit each and every bike with a user interface and, even worse, to network each bicycle using cellular technology would've been unbelievably expensive. But as the cost of wireless connections continues to drop and powerful computers are made to fit into our pockets, integrating this technology onto tens, hundreds, or even thousands of bicycles is not only achievable, but quickly becoming the norm for bike share programs across the US. Just think of the flexibility a Smart Bike system provides over traditional systems. If you need to move a Smart Dock station, you have to disconnect it from the power line and/or network, remove it, then painstakingly transport it to the new location and reconnect it to power and the network. On the other hand, a Smart Bike station can simply be unbolted, trucked to the new location, and bolted down. And as I mentioned before, nearly any location can be transformed into a station to checkout or return a bicycle simply using that location's GPS coordinates in tandem with the integrated GPS system on the bike. While such a system may be cost-prohibitive for a bike share system with many hundreds or thousands of bicycles, for smaller communities it represents a very attractive and affordable option to implement a functional bike share program.

We're still many months from a launching bike share in Springfield, but I can say with confidence that our system will be a Smart Bike system. When it comes to flexibility, functionality, and cost, the Smart Bike model is hard to beat for a small community like ours.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Great Article on Bikes vs Cars

A quick update before I continue neglecting my blog: I was alerted to this article in Wired via Ozarks Greenways. I was particularly intrigued by item #6 in this listicle. I've not heard the argument that our current auto-oriented design of roadways is essentially a Ponzi scheme, in which the decreased population density outside of urban environments - the outcome of personal automobile use - results in costs for maintaining roadways that outpace all tax revenues dedicated for roadway infrastructure. Certainly I'm familiar with the idea that gas taxes do not cover all roadway infrastructure costs. This means that as a tax payer (income, sales, and personal property taxes, including taxes for an automobile), I'm likely paying more than my fair share of the costs of maintaining the roads that I'm biking on (and thereby causing less damage to). But it's an interesting idea that in certain suburban environments, essentially no one is paying their fair share and roadway maintenance is being subsidized by other revenues. This is definitely something to keep in mind for those, like me, who are involved in bicycle advocacy in their own communities.

Monday, March 6, 2017

My New Commuting Pannier is the Best Pannier

A few months ago, I began to feel like my twin Axiom panniers were just not quite what I needed for my daily commute. One pannier was always nearly empty. And the other, filled with my U-lock, cable, gloves, saddle cover, and other small accessories, often required a fair amount of digging to find what I needed. They were also not terribly convenient for on-the-go removal when my bike was locked up in an exposed public space; I didn't have any interest in removing both panniers and then carrying them around in the store or restaurant or wherever I happened to be.

I needed something with some organizing capacity, rather than a big, open well. I also needed something that could be easily removed from the bike and carried. And of course I needed a pannier that looked good on my vintage Peugeot. That's when I discovered the Blackburn Central Rear Pannier. Basically, it's a messenger bag - complete with shoulder strap, organizing pockets, and a laptop sleeve - that clips onto a bike rack. It has a built-in rain cover, which is outstanding, and the shoulder strap has magnetic clasps so that it stays tight against the body of the pannier when riding. Best of all, it's terribly handsome, made of a sort of gray cotton twill fabric. Plus it holds all the same stuff that my dual Axioms held.

Now that I've put a few miles on the Blackburn Central pannier, I can't say enough about it. Admittedly, it doesn't quite cut it when I have to carry an unexpectedly voluminous load, but I've been shocked at its carrying capacity. In fact, last weekend I hauled a 64oz growler and a 750ml bomber, in addition to all the other stuff I normally carry, which included a mini-pump, a well-stocked tool roll, and my jacket. It unlocks from my rear rack with ease and the magnetic shoulder strap is a particularly ingenious feature, so it transitions to shoulder bag duty seamlessly when I'm on foot. And it's a great looking accessory, regardless of whether I'm wearing a suit for work or jeans and a t-shirt for a trip to the pub. However, I should note that the rack hooks can be pretty uncomfortable when walking around with the bag for extended periods of time. They're not exactly low profile, and they tend to dig into my ribs and catch on my clothing, which is definitely an annoyance. But between the outstanding functionality of this pannier and its above-par aesthetics, I've been beyond pleased. This one's a winner for sure.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Spring Tune-up Came Early

The 1980 Peugeot Course received a much-needed facelift and tune-up over the weekend. The bike was covered in gray/black grime from being ridden in wet conditions. This was particularly bad - as it usually is - on the chain stays. There was also a thick coat of brake pad compound around the fork crown and the seat stays. While these may have been the worst spots, the whole frame was in an overall state of nasty and was badly in need of a thorough cleaning and polishing.

In regards to functionality, my shifting and braking had become mushy from the old neglected cables and housing. The bar tape that I put on the bike specifically for RAGBRAI 2015 was, at this point, pretty much disintegrating. And I recently decided to get rid of my Cardiff leather saddle after it had developed a pronounced ridge down its center line that was causing uncomfortable perineal pressure, so I swapped it out with the frighteningly ugly and rock-hard synthetic saddle that had come with Ginger's Motobecane Super Mirage. That too needed to be remedied.

I picked up an old, beat up Brooks B17 at a good price on eBay and snagged some RikeRibbon bar tape in a gaudy carbon gold color. What can I say? It beckoned to me. While at my LBS, I picked up cables and accessories. I also brought my intern/son along, and we had need to fortify ourselves after procuring our bounty. So that's what we did.

Once I had everything I needed, I got to work disassembling and cleaning the bike. I left the headset and cockpit where they were, as I find that the headset only needs to be overhauled rarely. And once you've got the cockpit set up just the way you want it, it's a huge pain in the ass to ruin everything by unnecessarily taking it all apart.

All the components were degreased as needed and cleaned up with a bit of soap and water. Once the frame was dry, I used a cleaning/polishing wax to give it a bit of luster and some protection from the elements and the general abuse of daily commuting. After I applied the wax, I had to wait for it to dry before buffing it off, and I enjoyed the down time with loud music, a delicious beverage, and thoughts of political resistance.

Reassembling the bike was mostly quick and painless. The components went back on the bike with ease and running cables and housing and getting everything dialed in on this machine is something I can practically do in my sleep. The old Brooks took a bit more work, as I noticed that the leather was very soft and pliable and sagging slightly, which caused the sides to splay. I thoroughly conditioned the old saddle to make sure the leather wasn't brittle, then drilled a couple holes along the bottom of each side and laced them together with a boot lace. The result is nearly perfect: a soft supple saddle that gives slightly under my weight without sagging.

The old Peugeot is definitely showing its age, but then again it hasn't exactly been coddled in the 5 years that I've had it. I ride it nearly every day and it continues to be a dependable, low maintenance machine for daily commuting, bar hopping, and around-town jaunts. Exactly what you'd want in a bicycle.