Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fixed-Gear 101

The only thing weird is that it's sponsored by Puma. Fixed-gear 101 makes great bathroom reading. Download the pdf version.

The killer pothole… avoided

The normal problem with New York City roads is all the minor bumps and divots. But there are the occasional killer potholes. The kind that must be avoided because it will simply will eat up your bike.

I was biking back home tonight just after midnight, cruising on 56th Street on a mild downhill at around 18-20 miles per hour. That might not sound fast if you’re not a biker, but if you’re not a biker you’re probably not reading this. It’s pretty fast, when you’re zipping along on two wheels.

I see in my front headlight a killer pothole. The worst pothole when you’re biking is about 5 inches or deeper and 18 or so inches long. Shallower than that you can just take it. Shorter than that and you can cruise over it. Longer than that and you hit bottom and then can pop over the far end ). Eighteen inches or so is just long enough to let your front wheel drop too far and then hit the far edge of the hole head-on. At best, it’s an easy way to bend a rim. At worst, well I don’t like to think of it.

So I see this hole. It was only about 18 inches wide (strangely square, this hole was), but I was too close to swerve. I had just enough time to react and jump right over it. I cleared it completely, both my front and rear wheel, and continued smoothly right on. It will certainly make the highlight reels!

It’s also a good reason to wear bike shoes. With flat peddles, you can always jump your front wheel, but you can’t control the height of your rear wheel. Jumping your front wheel is better than nothing. The rear wheel hits bumps smoother, for some reason. Maybe because the rear wheel is being dragged and there’s less weight on it if you lean forward. But the front wheel hits these holes full on. With bike shoes, you can hop the hole bike over an obstacle, at least if you’re going fast enough. Of course, I could always bike slower, but… well, yeah right.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More on the Croissant

P. Lynn Miller writes:

The "croissant" is a work bike, I just added a picture to the web-page showing a picture of my work rig.

As a work bike it does not get the care and attention it deserves, so little things like over-long cables do not get attended to. But I do love my front rack with a set of panniers, it just lets me haul things without a backpack or a bumbag. Yes, it can affect handling, but in the case of this bike, the weight seems to improve it handling, making it less twitchy.

After riding the 650B for about a week, I am very impressed. I thought at first that it slowed me down (increased rolling resistance from the fatter tire), but it is not true. It feels like you are going slower because you fell less road noise because of the softer tires. I do not ride with a speedometer, but since I have regular routes that I run, I know how long it takes me to get from A to B. And my times have stay the same or dropped on all routes. So the myth that a 650B is slower is not true.

The biggest thing I like about the 650B is the comfort. I was running a 35mm tire (Schwalbe 590x35) before but unless I kept the tire aired to at least 80psi, I would bottom out on bumps. But with the new wheels and tires (Panaracer CdlV 584x38), I have yet to bottom out and I am only running 50psi. This alone is enough to convince me of the superiority of 650B. Alex Wetmore has taken me to task on this statement and believes this increase in performance is a function of the tire not the 3mm decrease in rim radius. Since the Panaracer CdlV is available in various wheels sizes, I am going to run a direct comparison and see what part the tires and the rim size plays in the 650B phenomenon by running the identical tire on different rim sizes.

I have found that a regular 26x1.90 MTB tube works fine with the 650B, so finding suitable tubes is none issue. There is a lot noise at the moment about the new 650B tire that Jan Heine is bring in from Japan, the Grand Bois "Cypr├Ęs" 650B x 32 mm, not a 23mm tire but it is a bit thinner than the standard 650 issue.

Is the 650B a miracle wheel size? No I am sure I will find a few warts as I gain more experience with it, but I do believe it offers viable and real benefits to a cyclist who is looking for high performance and comfort.

P. Lynn Miller
Sydney, Australia

Nice picture!

There's also something (I don't remember high-school physics well enough) about the smaller wheels putting out more force keeping the bike upright. Because this force is related to the speed of spinning, not the size of the wheel (and smaller wheel spins faster). I think this is something related to "twitchy" issue as well. But I haven't really thought this through or figured it out. But of course there's some miny-max situation as the wheels get really small. But 650 may be more optimal than 700.

I keep my tires at around 100 psi. It does make a harder ride, but I like the (fake feel of?) speed and feel it keeps me nimble. But God knows the streets of New York make me think I should get a bike with suspesion.

And I did ride my one speed recently with very low pressure and rode around like a fool with big grin because of how wonderful and different it felt (it's always good to ride a bike with a big shit-eating grin every now and then). But I did feel like peddling took more work.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chocolate Croissant fan club

Wow! She’s beauty. The critic in me says (constructively, of course): 1) the cables housing need an inch or so trimmed--both front and rear for the rear brake, and the rear shifter too; 2) I personally don’t like front racks--I feel it affects the handling negatively; and 3) too bad there’s not a chain guard.

But that’s only the grumpy man in me. First of all: 1) my main bikes don’t have chain guards (shame on me), 2) I’ve heard that front racks are fine as long as things are tied down securely, and 3) it’s not like my cable lengths are perfect (thought they’re pretty tight, if I do say so myself). Overall it looks like a great bike!

Things I like: 1) the name, 2) a kickstand, 3) full fenders, 4) the old-school front brakes and down-tube shifters, and 5) of course, you built a hell of a bike!

I rode Zora’s Bluebird the other day because she’s out of town and I was hoping to get a new kickstand for it (I didn’t). The seat is a little low for me. I might have to put a quick release in there just so it’s easier to adjust the seat and better for me to ride.

Man, the Bluebird is a great bike. I wrote Zora, “Did I mention how nice your bike is? Not just because I built it. But riding it today, I couldn’t help but think, ‘damn, this bike is nice!’ It rides great. I want one.”

Maybe it really is the 650B. I was also thinking what a pain it is that if we go out together, my tube isn’t good for her bike. But then there are other problems with taking off her rear wheel (with shifting and internal brake cables). Or maybe I should just put 650B wheels on my bianchi (now there’s an idea...).

Despite spending all this time thinking about 650B wheels and building a bike with these wheels (and writing this blog), I still find it hard to believe my own hype. Is it really a better bike? Why don’t I just put them on my other bikes? Maybe I should. Part of the reason is that I do really like narrow tires. And whatever tires I put on the Bluebird is as narrow as I could could get for 650Bs. But I like my 23mm-wide tires. But then again, maybe I should practice what I preach and convert my bikes to 650B. Maybe it really is a better bike...

p.s. Zora loves Chocolate Croissants

650 Wheels (or) "Good day from Down Under"

[What's a 650 tire? Much less a 650A and a 650B? Well, don't forget, as you may have, that this blog was started because of 650 wheels. For a refresher course, see Sheldon Brown's discussion.]


Good day from Down Under.

Just thought I would drop you a line and let you know that I finally have a 650B in the stable. My wife calls this bike the "chocolate croissant" since it is so small and chocolate colored. I guess it is a bit a scene, I am 5'10" and weigh well into the 200lb zone, and I ride this little 48cm tourer!! I bought it at a local auction for $65AUD, so I am not complaining. It is a Fuji Olympic, lugged Cro-Mo frame, the only major changes are a new set of very wide(450mm) Nitto bars, the long Nitto stem, Campag seatpost with a Brooks saddle perched on top. When I saw this bike at the auction outfitted with full coverage fenders, I knew I would take it home. I have seriously abused this bike, as I use it to pull a trailer loaded with 100lbs+ of tools on a regular basis.

While it is a small ride, I have this bike to thank for learning about the 650 series wheels. I had never heard of a 650A or B until I had to replace the tires on this bike. I fell in love with the 650A which is a 590x35, but was anxious to learn about the 650B, which promised to be everything the 'A was and more'.

Well, to make a long story short, I finally got my shipment of Panaracer Col De La Vie Randonnee 650B tires in from Japan last Thursday (13 Oct) after a 4 month shipping fiasco. So I grabbed a set of 36H rims from my Velocity stock, laced them the hi-flange Sansui hubs that came with the bike with Sapim Laser spokes. While I was at it, I polished the hubs and serviced the bearings. So last night I finally got the wheels back on the bike and re-adjusted the canti's for the 3mm difference in the brake track. I was ready to take the next step.... ride a 650B!!

I grabbed the bike early this morning and headed to the beach. It was unbelievable, the change was dramatic, like the bike was riding on a cushion, weightless and flying!! OK, OK, I will be real, there is a definite improvement in the ride. The tires soak a huge amount of road noise and irregularities. I thought there was a big improvement going from a 700x28 to a 590x35, well the improvement from the 650A to the 650B was even greater. I believe I can tell slight increase in rolling resistance, very slight, maybe I was just a bit tired this morning. At any rate, I am sold, I am a 650B convert. I like this wheel size so well, that I am putting the wheels in motion today to have a full custom 650B built for me, with all the trimmings.

Here is the "Chocolate Croissant" -

So here you have it, the 650B club, "Members Only - New Members Welcome"

Bluebird's sister is next to get a new set of 650B wheels. She is very excited.

Thank you,

P. Lynn Miller
Sydney, Australia

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Castle Island, Boston

I was up in Boston this past weekend to watch the Red Sox games in good company. I wouldn’t want to move back there, but that city was very very good to me. And though few people will admit it, Boston is a great biking city. First the downside:

There’s always the risk of getting yelled at by a townie in Charleston or South Boston. One of the few good things about gentrification is that yuppies are less likely to yell and throw shit at bicyclists. My favorite line (not at the time) was, “get a car, you fag!” And this happened right outside my front door in fag-friendly Cambridge. I couldn’t help but think of the line from some WWII movie where a goy gets put on the train to a concentration camp and says to a Jewish fellow passenger, “for you it’s a tragedy. For me it’s a mistake!”

I should also point out that there is much more conspicuous drunk driving in Boston than I’ve noticed anywhere else. I don’t know if it’s because all the bars close at the same time, there are fewer normal drivers on the road at 2AM, or people just drive drunk more. But I've seen a lot a cars swerve in Boston and not elsewhere. I would try to avoid biking when the bars closed. I don’t really think about that in New York.

So yes, you have to be willing to be an urban biker and fight a bit with traffic and yell at the odd car or two. But where don’t you have to do that? Biking is great in Boston!

Boston is small enough that you can bike everywhere. And public transportation stops after midnight and cabs are expensive so there’s really no alternative. And because Boston closes at night, if you’re biking late, you get the streets all to yourself! And you can also bike out of Boston in about a half hour and feel like you're in the country (really it’s just rich suburbs, but you feel like you’re out of the city). You can't do that in New York. And Cambridge has put in a lot of bike lanes.

And there are a lot of bikers in Boston. Probably because a full 72% of the city are college students. Even in their shitty winter there are more bikes in Boston than there are in non-hipster neighborhoods of New York.

And I’m partial to biking in Boston because that’s where I really came into my own as a biker. What I learned in Amsterdam, I developed in Boston. I can bike at all times, in all conditions, and all weather.

So I’m back in Boston. I got a great bike to ride. One of my friends is a 130-pound women (I’m a 200-pound man) with a nice road bike. When I put up the seat all the way, it was only about an inch too short for me. And the bike was great!

So I’m with my other friend (husband of my 130-pound friend) and I propose biking to Castle Island. John and I used to bike to Castle Island regularly after work (and drinking and smoking) at 2AM when we worked together at Salamander. And I continued biking there as long as I lived in Boston. Castle Island is the tip of South Boston. From Cambridge/Somerville, it’s about 13 miles round trip.
This view is looking West to South Boston. Pleasure Bay is in the center. Fort Independence is on the bottom. And there’s a great causeway (going off to the left) that encloses Pleasure Bay.

It’s a great bike ride for many reasons. It’s never boring because you pass through about a dozen different neighborhoods or zones (Inman Square Somerville, Inman Square Cambridge, East Cambridge, Longfellow Bridge, Back Bay, South End, residential Southie, parky-Castle Island, causeway-Castle Island, industrial Southie, "new" Southie/convention center/Fort Point area, Downtown Crossing, and Beacon Hill. Wow!). And once you get to Fort Independence, you can smell the salt air. Then on the causeway, which has no lights, there are only two sluices for water to go in or out of Pleasure Bay. So there’s always a raging current going one way or the other and the nice sound of rushing water.

This picture is from one of the sluices looking North toward Castle Island (and my apologies to whomever I stole this pictures from on the web).

Another highlight is the downhill on Bowdoin Street from the Statehouse to Cambridge Street. There's a great high-speed left onto Cambridge St (watch out for the 3 manhole covers). Best to stay on top for a while to time the light. But then it’s downhill all the way to the Longfellow Bridge. The next time you have to pedal you’re at the top of the hill and in Cambridge. To make that left turn onto Cambridge Street without breaking taught me how to lean and trust my bike. Cambridge Street in Boston is now bumpy as hell. But it was freshly paved and smooth when I lived there. (Cambridge Street in Cambridge, however, was bumpy as hell when I lived there, and is now smooth and even has a bike lane!)

My friend surprised me by how fast he went. He doesn’t bike that much. He pointed out that he weighs 40 pounds less than me (and he’s much taller). That’s just about like I’ve got a five-gallon bottle of water of extra weight as baggage. Yikes.

I've always liked it, but coming from New York, biking in Boston is a treat!

By the way, there’s some sublime bike porn at Click on the Japanese girl on the right.