Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Techie Tuesday: G.I.T Lit for Saftey

I continue to use, and refine my G.I.T Lit lighting system, and have added a much more powerful light to my helmet after a SUV looked right over the top of me, and pulled out into an intersection I was making a left-hand turn through. That's the Universe giving you a warning shot across the bow. Ignore such warnings at your own peril. You often don't get a 2nd chance on those.

At the end of the day, what makes any system a success is the way motorists react to you. I almost always get 5 ft, and many times, as much room as a small car now. What makes the addition of this Blackburn MARS 3.0 light so effective, is it's made to provide good lighting as motorists close and pass.

Taillights with very narrow beams are exactly what you want for the "G" in G.I.T - to Grab motorists attention from a long way off, and for that I just upgraded my half watt Planet Bike Superflash to a 1 watt Superflash Turbo, and it's a substantial upgrade. In fairness, the Blackburn MARS 4.0 looks comparable. The mounting bracket slots aren't compatible though, so it was easier for me to stick with PB.

As drivers close to within 100 yards, they start to fall out of the field of view of those very narrow beams, and cyclists are getting hit in spite of having bright taillights because the motorists lose sight of them as they come along side to pass. The MARS 3.0 was designed to eliminate this lighting system weakness.

I left the optic fiber ribbon on the helmet, but turned it forward so it silhouettes the helmet, thus addressing the "I" in G.I.T Lit - IDENTIFY.  With both the helmet lights flashing in synch, and with the PB Superflash Turbo flashing it's own separate and distinct pattern, and the MagicShine lighting the road and front of the bike, it's obvious from the way motorists are reacting that they understand within a second or two that they are looking at a bicycle.

This lighting system has produced a bigger change in motorists behavior than anything since wearing a helmet and Spandex shorts back in the late 1970s. When Quad-Cab diesel dualies towing backhoes are leaving 8-10 feet when passing, and watching in their mirrors before pulling back into your lane, you've got yourself one hell of a lighting system.

A jersey or jacket with reflective piping would only add to that, but at this point, it's really unnecessary. This system IDs you as a bicycle almost instantly, so motorists know what to expect from you, and how they might need to react. You can almost hear the sigh of relief as they pass. Lots of friendly waves, smiles and curiosity. They really don't want to run you over on the way home, and they seem to genuinely appreciate how easy this system makes their job.

Spongy rubber strip rolled up and wrapped in electrical tape, and a wooden dowel. No beauty awards, but very, very effective and helps keep the front of my helmet up in the bargain!
I have tried to show the details of how I mounted the Blackburn MARS 3.0 light ($17)on my helmet, but all helmets are different, so be gentle so as not to damage your helmet, and expect to use some trial-and-error to get a good mount. You may also like the MARS 4.0, but it relies on only 2 LEDs, so not sure that's the best choice.

Mount the light facing straight back. As you lower your head, down in the drops (or aerobars), you're still be looking straight ahead, so the helmet's always going to be level. Your neck makes the adjustment for you.

When you turn your head to clear a turn, or look at a driveway, a helmet light queues motorists about your intentions, and the ribbon's silhouetting really improves this feature of helmet-mounted lighting. Just remember, you can always turn your head sideways to make the helmet more visible to oncoming traffic, or cars coming out of driveways. It works like magic!

The metal pin shown here allows you to turn the light slightly towards the driver. A good idea IMHO.
Like all taillights, the light slips right out of the mount for turning on or replacing batteries, although I can turn this one on without stopping or removing just by reaching back and pressing the button twice (1st press is solid, unlike the PB, which is flash) to get it into flash 1 mode (there's also a flash-2 mode), which is in perfect synch for the PB optic fiber ribbon.

Light turned slightly towards motorists so they don't lose sight of me while passing. The Blackburn MARS 3.0 light is engineered for 180 degrees of visibility, but mounted this far back, provides at least 220 degrees, and can almost be seen from head-on.
 Do yourself a huge favor, and order some Sanyo eneloop NiMH rechargeable batteries. They don't self-discharge like regular NiMH, so if you don't use the light for a month or 6, no problem, the batteries will still work just fine for 150 (lying bastards!) 12 hours or more. It really sucks to go for a ride after a week or two of foul weather, only to discover that all of your carefully planned lighting is DEAD.

UPDATE: 3/8/2012: The claims that this, and many other taillights, will go for 50 hrs in constant, and 150 hrs in flashing mode are complete and total lies. You can easily prove this for yourself. Simply turn the light on and observe that after 12 hrs the light is so degraded it's no longer effective. Since flashing mode uses 2 additional LEDs on Planet Bike's SuperFlash, and SuperFlash Turbo, don't expect more than 24 hrs out of those in flash mode.

After doing my own fatigue test, my life flashed before my eyes about a dozen times as I realized that on those occasions, the reason cars crowded me is my taillights were far, far too dim to provide adequate coverage. Not a great feeling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Techie Tuesday: Drivetrain Maintenance

After a rather nasty mis-shift, I've been trying to work a gremlin out of my drive train. I started by inspecting the chainrings and cassette gears for broken or bent teeth. I couldn't find any, so next I looked at the derailleurs, shifters and cables. I then inspected the frame route for the front derailleur cable, and found a problem.

Where the front derailleur cable comes through the frame there is a hole. Pretty stupid design, as it should clearly be a mtb style rubber seal, but there it is, and it was filthy and packed with sand, dirt and sticky dried oil and Gatorade.

Here's a nice video showing how to clean that hole and the thru-frame cable guide.

You should also clean the guides for both the front and rear derailleurs that run under the bottom bracket, as being at the bottom of the frame, they get fouled by Gatorade that spills on the frame and runs downhill.
Chain on biggest rings, shifters positioned to relax cables for max slack, makes for easy cleaning of BB cable guides. Note pedal tether to prevent shifting.
This is a big problem area, and monthly cleaning and oiling will make your shifting fingers much happier. A toothbrush is a great tool for cleaning the BB routes, as is a good terrycloth hand towel on the tip of a straight-bladed screwdriver.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Techie Tuesday: Single Speed Conversion

I've been a bit at a loss at to what to do with my old friend, the Nishiki Competition I bought while attending UC Berkeley in the spring of 1980 at the Missing Link (the shop is still open btw, and being run as a Co-Op) I have so many wonderful memories attached to this bike, but without downtube braze-ons for shifters, nor water bottle bosses, bringing it up to modern bike standards is difficult, and, seems somewhat unnatural. Better to have it a vintage bike with vintage equipment.

Me & Tea & Nishiki, halfway up Monitor Pass, circa 1982
After following a single speed bike from the Aquatic Center up to Folsom, and hanging onto his wheel with considerable effort, we had a very productive conversation about what his conversion entailed. All of those missing frame bits my bike doesn't have, he had to cut off, and mine does have the all-important horizontal rear dropouts, so important for adjusting chain tension.
Nice, clean look. SunTour Supurbee brakes are an exact Campy copy circa 1985. Cleaned, treated with Naval Jelly to arrest rust, and all steel parts treated in hard parifin wax and Canola oil at ~ 400 for 20 minutes. Bontrager brake pads were the only ones that fit.
Excess Technologies California freewheel, SunTour horizontal dropouts, and donor mtb skewer with toothy surface to keep the axle planted under load
Ofmega sealed bearing hubs by Campy, circa 1985, Wipperman 3/32nds stainless chain, and perfectly straight chainline between 120mm dropouts. The latter makes replacement skewers hard to come by.
Pristine Campy 52T big ring, turned inside-out and moved to the inside postion on the Sugino SuperMighty 135 BCD, 5-bolt crank. Very rare SPD aero racing pedals.
Big ring clearance is only ~ 4mm. Tight, but makes for a wonderfully tight chainline.
Just love the clean look, and tight chainline. Still have all the original decals intact

Zip ties covered with vinyl tubing do a great job holding the bottle cage in place with the help of a strip of sticky rubber from a tail light mounting kit.
Street legal with cage and borrowed saddle bag. Just love the very clean, track bike lines on this. Handbuilt, 36 spoke wheels feature Mavic rims and Ofmega hubs. Campy BB, Omas alloy headset, and Laprade seatpost. Rear brake cable housing clamped to toptube using vinyl-coated zip ties.
 Last week it was raining, and a perfect opportunity to pull the trigger on a SS conversion, so after mulling it over for days, I got out the wrenches just after midnight, and stripped all the gearing off, sans the 6-speed Regina freewheel, which I didn't have the tool for.

The next day I went to MadCat on Marconi, and had them pull the freewheel off, check the sealed bearings on the Ofmega hubs (made by Campy in 1985), and mount an Excess Technologies California 19T freewheel. The bearings were in perfect condition, and I chose the freewheel because it felt smooth, and was chromed head-to-toe on the outside - important for a foul weather bike.

Carmichael Cycles had the special shorter crank arm bolts needed for running just 1 chainring, took the 42T inner ring off, moved the pristine 52T Campy big ring inside, and flipped the face to the inside to match the stub bolts. The crank is a Sugino SuperMighty, an exact replica of a Campy Record crank of the same vintage, and has 135 BCD rings, as expected. If the 52T hadn't been so pristine, and if Campy 135 BCD weren't so expensive, I probably would have gone with the usual 46T or 48T front ring.

As Sheldon Brown's site mentions, moving a full-sized big-ring to the inside position isn't always possible, because the chainring will often hit the chainstay. In my case I have about 4mm of clearance, and that is very close, but enough. It's important to keep in mind that static clearance isn't the litmus test. Go mash up some hills and make sure the frame flex isn't going to allow the chainring to rub.

You'll also need to extract, or cut the crank arm chain block pin off of the chainring, as it will be turned towards the frame once flipped around. In my case, turning it round and round with a small ViceGrips did the trick nicely, but I was a bit disappointed that the beautiful Campagnolo stamp on the face of the ring ended up turned in, and is now only visible from the "ugly" side of the bike.

With the crank all set up, and the rear wheel adorned with the new freewheel, I moved the micro-adjusters all the way back in the rear dropouts and started cutting chain. Without a derailleur you have to get the chain length almost perfect, and 19/52 is a little hard to fit to my bike's chainstay length. I cut the chain a half-dozen times, and ended up with kind of a half-link by using the Wipperman quick link to bridge between 2 male ends.

The Wipperman chain is 3/32", and once I settle on the gearing, I'm going to switch to a Wipperman Inox 1/8" chain. It's stronger, new, and the extra width should allow sand and grit to fall off the drivetrain, extending its life.

I used vinyl tubing encased zip ties to lash a waterbottle onto the downtube, and pulled the saddle bag off my Roubaix, and headed out the door for a short 15 mile ride. There are a lot of roller between me and the ARPT, some with grades of 7-8%. Coming back from WBP though, there is one short hill that is just over 9% grade. I was worried about that, and found a longer, flatter route just in case. I'd ridden the detour in 52/16 gearing, so knew I had a good out if I needed it.

The ride to the ARPT was a lot of fun. I worked a little harder, but loved the sound of the freewheel whirring away on the downhills, and got a good glute workout, standing and mashing up hills. The 57cm frame has a lot more cockpit room than my 54cm Roubaix, and that is definitely helpful when climbing out of the saddle.

Once on the bike trail I started ramping up the spin. Nothing intentional, it just happened, and soon I was spinning close to 90 rpms. Next thing I knew I was into a headwind, and down in the drops to shed some wind. Nice! The 52/19 was just perfect for the climb over the WBP bridge, and after pulling my bottle and taking a long draw of GatorAid I felt strong heading home.

Approaching the decision point, I decided to turn right and try mashing up Sara Court's 9% grade. With fresh legs under me if I couldn't do it now, I sure wouldn't be able to do it when tired. I got a little run at it and just managed to mash up to the top, impressed at how stiff the frame was. Stiffer than I remembered it being.

Coming home on California, with its badly broken and mangled surface, I was also surprised that the fork soaked up bumps so well - better than my carbon bike I think. I must be due entirely to the extra weight, as that fully-sloping crown is very stiff.

I have ordered a freewheel removal tool and a 17T freewheel, bought a new bottle cage, and need to repack and tighten the bottom bracket, but all in all, this was an easy conversion. I am looking at fenders and moving the Roubaix's pedals over, so still a few details to attend to, but this really makes the most of this bike. It's clean frame, horizontal dropouts, and low end Tange 4130 CroMo tubing just make this conversion feel so right. Riding this bike again is just pure joy. So many memories we've shared together ride with us.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Techie Tuesday: The Emergence of the Electric Bike

Looking around for after-market batteries for my new MagicShine, as a 2nd 7.4v pack seems like a good investment, I noticed that Shimano has pushed their DuraAce Di2 electronic shifters down to the Ultegra 6770 level, and the price is ~ $1,500 street.

Since I have set up a charging station now right next to my bike, so I can plug in and charge the Garmin and the MagicShine, I was immediately curious as to what voltage the LION battery was that powers Shimano's shifters.

Electraglide in Grey
The Di2 system uses the same 7.4 volt standard as the MagicShine, and most other lights high-powered too I might add. That's nice, because the rather small Shimano battery lasts for hundreds of hours, so its not very power hungry, and with the same voltage, a stub with a Y connector to the MagicShine's battery would make the Shimano one redundant, and save some weight and drag.

Why would you want electronic shifting? Because indexed front derailleurs are a PITA. For every rear chain position there is a different front chain position, and a different shifting strategy depending on where you are and where you are going. The control inputs are also just taps, and you can tap through 10 gears in back without any delay or hesitation, and the front derailleur takes care of itself. 

This still leaves me with 2 AAA cells for the Planet Bike SuperFlash taillight, which I will be upgrading to SuperFlash Turbo. (I had to offset 2ft to the side and 4ft back to keep from getting Steve's Thursday night. So much for the uber great tandem draft), and 2 AAs for the Planet Bike 1W Blaze in front. (could you PLEASE, make these all AA cells?)

Currently, the MagicShine runs on 7.4V, the Garmin on the 5.0V USB standard, and the other two lights on 3.0Vs. This is a mess. What is needed is an on-bike converter that uses clear, flat, urethane ribbon cables that have a Post-It Pads sticky glue and flat silver ribbon wire connecting everything with a pronged battery pack connector system that allows you to connect multiple packs together depending on power requirements. Obviously, this power management system should also charge everything from a single wall charger.

Looking at the emergence of the quad-bulb lights up front, and the effect of a 29.6v, 8-cell LION system in chopping the wire size to 1/4th of it's current size, I think bikes should, and probably will follow the example of aircraft, and develop higher voltage, lower current power systems.

Now if someone would just develop an on-bike generator that wasn't the size and weight of a cheap 11-36 mtb cassette....

Rest & Recovery

Co-Motion Macchiato. Built for pure speed, it omits the center bracing tube, and features a belt Captain's drive.
 After Sister Heat (love child of Father Time and Mother Nature) took most of the summer off, she made a saucy appearance last week, with temps in the high 90s, but it's been cooling off dramatically now, with highs in the 70s, and rain on the way for Tuesday if the weather guessers are to be believed.

After a smoking fast Tuesday night ride with SBH, just 2 days after a 50 miler 2 weeks ago Sunday, I found myself awash in fatigue. When it lasted more than 3 days I knew something more was going on. In part that was due to a rare flair-up of diverticulitis, but it was more than that too. When fatigue goes on for days, it's heart fatigue, and the cure for that is Co-Enzyme Q10.

It was first synthesized in Japan in the early 50s, and has been used as part of standard therapy for heart attack victims there ever since. Incredibly effective for tired muscles, and no muscle works harder than the heart, thus any deficit in the body's naturally synthesized Co-Q10 is felt first in the heart. Burning the candle at both ends writing software for Wall St took a lot out of me, and a real toll on my heart, but 400-600mg of Co-Q10 restores vitality in days, and 1-200mg per day maintains it. I'd stopped taking it altogether about a year ago, and won't do that again.

I was hoping after a week I could do the Tuesday night ride again, but wasn't feeling chipper at all. By the time Thurs rolled around though, I had been taking 400-600mg of Co-Q10 for 5 days, and was raring to go. The Thurs night rides are usually pretty leisurely, and only 20-30 miles, but since I rode to the start, this one was 42 miles and change.

As it was, Steve had his Co-Motion tandem out, and after getting passed by a fast peleton, he decided to push the pace, with me right on his wheel. They didn't stay ahead of us long, as we bridged up within a half mile, and eventually, passed them pushing into a 10mph headwind. Advantage tandem!
Co-Motion Supremo

That set the tone for the whole ride though. The Garmin reported 20.25 mph for 27 miles at 147.5 BPM (89% max HR) for 1:25:11, so basically an hour and 25 minute TT at ~ 90% of max cranking out 280 watts. About 12 miles of that was done before dark at an average speed of 21.6. The rest of the ride possible because of the myriad of lights we had on the bikes allowing me to ride 2 hrs after full darkness.

I might remount my MagicShine to the right side of the handlebars though, swapping its position with the Planet Bike 1W Blaze, as I had to offset 2 ft and back 4ft to keep my light on the trail surface, and not all the reflective stuff on Steve's tandem. This gave Steve a solid fix on the trail so he could freelance his helmet light to see around corners or into deer saturated grasses.  His taillight was also blinding me when directly behind, so after dark, I wasn't able to draft effectively.

I felt fantastic once home, and really great the next day, a little tired the 2nd day, but still enough energy to stay up late reading Joe Friel's Paleo Diet for Athletes, which I highly recommend. It's much better than I expected, as he spends more time on the science than he has in any other of his books. I'm still wanting to do my favorite 65mi ride to the Rescue Fire Station, and was hoping to do that today, but I was up babysitting a pot roast until 2:00 AM last night - something I haven't made in 20 yrs at least,  but good Paleo nutrition.

I was going to do the Rescue ride today, but with rain on the way I need to fix my car windows instead. Plastic gears on electric windows get old and brittle, and are kind of a bitch to fix (unless you like your arms cut up by sharp sheet metal edges) but not all that hard either. 

It's also becoming clear to me that when you CAN ride all year around in an accommodating climate, it's important to take some planned time off from time to time. Since I'm not training for events, there are no built-in rest periods, so I am learning to make some to allow me to recover. Living and learning.

I think I'll head up to Beals later and do something I've never done before - take pictures of the sun setting on the lake an hour from home. Really like my new MagicShine light.