June 18, 2013
Among our excuses for not riding bicycles is that America is too spread out. This explains why we don’t ride cross country very often, but not why we don’t ride to the grocery store. In fact, a whole lot of us live in places that are quite dense. I attempted to graph this before using 2000 Census data and “50K areas” but I was unhappy with the result, both because of my errors and because 50K area leaves out a lot (I live in a town of 25000, for example).
Happily, with new data, organized by non-overlapping zipcode, I can solve both those problems. One sixth of us (52 million people) live in places denser than 5362 per square mile; the next sixth, denser than 2786 per square mile, the next sixth, denser than 1292 per square mile (that’s the median density for our population; half of us live in zipcodes less dense than that, too). With all the zipcodes included it’s clear that many of us live in plenty-dense places.
I’ve tagged the graph with densities of towns and cities near Boston, mostly inside 128, plus all of Boston, and also plus three European cities known for their relatively high bike trip share. I added some other US cities for comparison. Read the rest of this entry »
October 29, 2012
I read, over on comments on a blog entry at the Atlantic, that New York City government employees are asked to report to work tomorrow, even though the subways are likely to be out of order, and at least one of those employees is peeved at the prospect of traveling seven miles by foot.
And I know if I say “you could ride a bike — in fact I plan to ride a bike to work tomorrow, 10 miles, because of the likely traffic jams”, that this mere statement of fact will mark me as a smug asshole, totally out of touch with the life of ordinary-salt-of-the-earth-Americans. But in fact, if you rode a bike often enough to stay in some semblance of shape, you could do this, and your mayor is even putting in all sorts of bike lanes and cycle tracks to make this somewhat easier, and would probably have installed even more by now if ordinary-salt-of-the-earth-Americans did not make such a tremendous fuss every time he installed a new one.
but if you were thinking about getting a cargo bike, the coming-soon Xtracycle EdgeRunner is a pretty nice-looking piece of work. Here’s the promo for Interbike, here’s the technical guy from Xtracycle explaining features.
I’m not sure what I could say to add to their own advertising, except to confirm that this stuff is real, meaning you really can do what you see in the video, and these guys really do know their stuff. Xtracycle’s first product (the FreeRadical) was a wonder; three attachmnt points and it’s securely on, the only mods to the bike itself are longer shift and brake cables, plus an extension to the chain. Miraculously, the derailer chain would just fit in the available space between all the structural parts. The snap deck was light, strong, and good looking, and even then the design was “open” enough that people made their own replacement decks (for example, a snapdeck skateboard).
A choice of a cargo bike involves tradeoffs, but this design made some nice ones. More torque, longer wheelbase, lower load, stiffer, and nice new accessories for carrying kids or really heavy stuff with ease. The big advantage of longtails (over the other large-bike choice, front-loading Long-Johns and bakfiets) is that they maneuver “just like a bike”; unloaded, you can walk or ride them through narrow places with relative ease (front loaders are more convenient to load, but ride less like a “normal” bike, and tend to have mandatory width, though it varies).
There’s a serious electric assist option — 910 watts; that’s almost 3 of me, meaning that I could haul a 110-pound load up a 10% grade at 12-15 mph, depending on how hard I wanted to work. That drives up the price, however.
For bonus fun, it’s a relatively open platform; the electric assist is designed to use standard connectors, not proprietary ones, and the specs for the cargo area of the frame itself are “open“.
For double bonus fun, the frame’s designed by the fastest (self-propelled) man on earth.
June 30, 2012
Most people reading this are going to think this is nuts. If you spend a while riding a bike you start to think about these things.
I ride my bike to work at least twice a week, and I get to see stuff dropped in the road, and stuff dropped on a bike (multi-use, really) path. The stuff dropped on the road is usually smashed up, unless it is indestructible. The stuff dropped on the bike path is usually picked up and pinned to a tree branch where it will be seen, or set down carefully at the edge of the path, or placed on top of a bench or a barrier. On the road, there’s always road kill. Dead squirrels, dead chipmunks, dead bunnies, dead beavers. Saw some a dead weasel, or maybe a fisher, once. On the bike path, I’ve seen one dead chipmunk in years of use. People not in cars are a lot more careful, polite, and helpful. I’m not talking about attitude — it’s easy to say that you’re polite — I’m talking about actions and results. People driving cars smash things up that are in the road, instead of setting them aside to that they can be reclaimed later. That’s not very nice.
And of course, it’s much easier for people walking, jogging, skating, or biking to spot things and dodge them or pick them up, but that’s a choice, isn’t it?
What set off this rant, today, was finding a dental mouthguard that someone had dropped in the road, that someone in a car had subsequently run over and cracked. Mouthguards cost hundreds of dollars, and this one was trashed, because someone in a car was careless. And on a bike, it was easy to see, easy to stop, and easy to pick up. So I did.
June 30, 2012
June 28, 2012
It worked much better than I had expected. Yet another thing it turns out you can do on a bicycle.
June 21, 2012
Do not buy a bike with “mountain bike” handlebars. Those are the ones that are essentially a straight piece of metal tubing, maybe with a little bend. If the bike store you are buying from attempts to tell you that these are good for anything, find another bike store.
The specific problems with these handlebars are:
- For riding in traffic, they are too wide.
- They provide only one hand position; notice all the aftermarket nonsense to help add positions?
- That one position that they provide is pessimal, especially if you are older, especially if you have had problems with your wrists (e.g., carpal tunnel) in the past.
- They don’t work well with baskets.
- When you go to replace them, either because your hands hurt or are going numb, or because you want to use a basket, you’ll discover that the one-piece brake+shifter lumps do not play well with the new handlebars, and you’ll need to replace that, too.
- Even if you don’t replace them, that one-piece brake+shifter lump will go bad; the shifter on one side or the other will start to not reach all the gears. The guys at my local bike shop said: “spray it with lots of WD-40 and work it back and forth, and it might get better, otherwise, there’s no point trying to fix it”.
Some positive advice: for retrofitting a mountain bike for civilized use, I recommend replacing the bars with Velo-Orange Left-bank or Porteur bars (22.2mm lever diameter), an appropriate shifter (Falcon thumb-shift is cost-effective, though not indexed; SRAM twist 7, Shimano 7, or Shimano 6), and Tektro brake levers. There are 8-speed options at Amazon. The Velo-Orange cork blend grips are comfortable, durable, cheap, and black (which goes with everything and does not show dirt). To install them, be sure that there is room on the bar to push them all the way on, get their insides wet, and push them on quickly. If they fit loose, a little bit of tape on the bar that runs the length of the grip area and curves around into the end will help (if it doesn’t curl around the end into the inside, it can get pulled loose and bunch up as the grip slides on). Spurcycle grip rings, when available, are another nice choice (I bought some on Kickstarter, and they work quite nicely, especially when trapped at both ends by a lever and end-cap).
June 3, 2012
Very often when returning home from work, Lowell St in Lexington is a parking lot, though it clears out towards Arlington. Last Thursday I decided to count how many cars I passed, and vice-versa. I passed 60, then 25 passed me. There was a little pass-me-pass-them-pass-me at one intersection that counted as only one pass-me. The last car to pass me, was a motorcycle that I passed at about #30, then I crossed into Arlington.
February 11, 2012
January 21, 2012
It finally snowed, and I had put on snow tires yesterday because of the weather report. I put this off as long as I can because it adds a ton of rolling resistance and messes up the handling, but it’s nice to have traction when things get messy.
Snow tires, for bicycles, are different in three ways. First, they have studs, and the better ones (the ones that last) have studs made from carbide. These dig into the ice, if you hit ice. Second, they look a lot more like offroad tires with tread and lugs for digging into the snow. This varies; snow tires for on-road commuting may not have much extra tread, because the assumption is that the roads are good except where water got on the road and froze. Third, snow tires often use a grippier rubber compound. I notice this on the Nokians; when new, they smell funny.
This time around, it seems like I finally got things figured out. The front wheel (Nokian W240) has better grip on ice (if the front slips, it’s easy to fall down). The rear wheel (Schwalbe Snow Stud) has studs that hit the ice if the bike is tilted (if it is going into a skid), but otherwise has a pretty aggressive tread, because it’s often the case that you don’t have enough traction in the rear to push the bike through heavy snow. Today, I was able to easily ride through three-inch deep snow, which is more than I recall handling happily in the past.
I have a chaincase, which keeps snow/salt/grit off the chain. This is good. Just like snow-ice builds up on the bottomside of cars, it builds up on bicycles:
The bike also has lights run from a dynamo for daytime use, because visibility is less good, and because windshields may be foggy on the inside or iced on the outside.
Actually riding in the snow does involve some extra tricks. At least today, on not very well-plowed roads, the rear end broke loose a couple of times. Just like in a car, you turn into the skid, and just keep going. Good thing about a bike is that (unless you are foolishly bombing downhill), if the snow is deep enough that you are skidding a lot, you won’t be going very fast anyhow.
Cars are a bit of a pain. Their drivers tend to overestimate their traction, so you’d like a little extra space just in case. You also want to stay clear on slushy roads because they spray slush sideways, and who wants that? It might be unacceptable to throw filthy snowballs at strangers, but if you’re in a car, it’s a-ok to spray them with gunk.
For the cold, you want good gloves. I also wear a thin sock hat under my helmet, and grew a beard for the winter cold. For shoes, nothing fancy, just winter boots (I ride a bike with “normal” pedals).
But otherwise, biking in the snow works pretty well.