Monday, October 9, 2017

A Little Piece of History In My Garage

It's been a long time since I've had a new project to work on. Maintaining the bikes we already have in our garage keeps me pretty busy, regardless of whether or not they're ridden often. But I've continued to keep my eye out for a good donor bike. I've been interested in maybe doing a heavy-duty resto-mod, turning an old road or mountain bike into a bomb-proof modern commuter. I just haven't been able to find the right platform for such an undertaking (I'll know it when I see it). Then earlier this week, I came across a local listing on Craigslist that I couldn't pass up: a 1983 Trek 850.

To look at it, the old Trek 850 isn't anything to write home about. The frame looks a lot like an old touring frame, complete with cantilever posts, curved fork with a steep rake, lugged frame, and high bottom bracket. The handlebars are a mile wide and it's got a really wonky V-shaped stem. The frame has a fair amount of surface rust, the whole thing is faded and dusty, and some of the componentry is non-original. The whole rig is pretty rough shape and has clearly been neglected for quite some time.

However, this particular model of bicycle is the first mountain bike produced by Trek. That's right...THE first Trek mountain bike. And once you understand the historical significance of this beat-up old specimen, it starts to look a lot more tantalizing. It begins to become less wonky (though it's still definitely wonky), and instead becomes a lot more special. It's a part of cycling history. And for mountain bike aficionados, the transition from home-built klunkers to mass-produced mountain machines like the Trek 850 was a really big deal. It's cool to get my hands on such an iconic bike.

So what comes next? One thing's for sure - there's no way I can bring myself to make major modifications to this bike. It's going to be restored back to its original glory...sort of. The machine is in rough enough condition that it'll never be quite as gleaming and blemish-free as it was in the summer of '83. Some of the patina is here to stay. But I'd say that's appropriate for a nearly 35-year-old bicycle. After all, this bike and I are the same age; and I've definitely got a few battle scars too.

It's going to be a really fun project. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

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.