Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weather to Bike ~

Today it was 95 in the afternoon, tomorrow it is supposed to be 100 (degrees Fahrenheit). As often happens at such times, people who know I commute by bike ask, "did you ride in this weather?" (Or some variant.)

On National Mall
I find the winter extremes more challenging than the summer's

For the past seven or more years, I have found it simpler to plan on riding my bike regardless of the weather except for very rare occasions. In particular, just heat (or well heat + humidity) isn't that bad except if it the first such day following a sudden swing from cooler weather and there isn't time to acclimate. I just don't push very hard.

Of course thunderstorms can be a bit tricky and require waiting out. But lately there haven't been so many, or so it seems to me.

Wintry weather, as opposed to the rather mild weather we had this past winter, can be more of a problem. I have this old mountain bike with studded snow tires, so I can ride in pretty icy conditions, but it is a lot slower and can be tiring. Heavy slushy snow on the trail can be worse than ice to try to push through. In short, some winters I have used transit a few days.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Turn Signals for Bikes; or, Bad Ideas Persist

I have a daily Google "news alert" that brings up random news items that are the equivalent of running a search in on the keyword "bicycle" for the preceding 24 hours. It doesn't generate much of interest for the most part.

I was amused to see an item about bike turn signals in a blog called, the "#1 cleantech or clean energy site in the United States." The author asks the question, "Why didn’t someone come up with this a long time ago?! Turn signals for bicyclists would be very useful and could go a long way towards reducing bicycle-vehicle collisions." He then quotes from and points to a longer piece on some other site that gives more details about a do-it-yourself solution to this perceived problem. The inventor asserts that, "unfortunately, few people know hand signals anymore, so [he] decided to make his own wearable turn signals that he could put on his arms and turn on by lifting his arm up from his side." These signals "use a mercury tilt switch and some electroluminescent (EL) panels that light up to show big bright arrows every time he lifts up the arm that corresponds with the direction he wants to move."

This CleanTechnica site lets you embed an entire page (more or less) in your blog entry. So here is the page:

Turn Signals for Bicyclists! (DIY) (via Clean Technica)

  Why didn’t someone come up with this a long time ago?! Turn signals for bicyclists would be very useful and could go a long way towards reducing bicycle-vehicle collisions. From lifehacker: Unfortunately, few people know hand signals anymore, so Instructables user CTY1995 decided to make his…

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American Cyclists (Book Review)

Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American CyclistsBike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American Cyclists by Mike Magnuson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Magnuson is a writer for Bicycling Magazine, a (fairly serious, I guess) recreational cyclist, and has written several books, including his autobiographical "getting control of my life" Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180 that I read a few years ago. Heft on Wheels was a mighty peculiar book that was somewhat entertaining but often in a "too much information/I should avert my eyes from this train wreck" sort of way. Some of his writing for Bicycling Magazine has too much Mike Magnuson injected into it too, so if nothing else this is a change for him in that he is writing about cycling but leaving himself almost entirely out of the narrative.

Apparently Magnuson likes the phrase "field guide" since this is his second book with that phrase in the title, but this book (unlike his last "field guide") bears some resemblance to a field guide. As he says in the beginning, "this is a book about people who ride bicycles" - and according to him, most of these people fall into "tribes" that Magnuson proceeds to describe alternating descriptions of different "tribes" as such with vignettes that include composite characters (as he describes them) that are meant to represent the different tribes.

There are 22 chapters and since their are full-page drawings as illustrations and a certain amount of white space when chapters end in mid-page and the book is only 200 pages long, it reads quickly and really, there isn't much too here. But then what are we talking about - the main types of cyclists. So should this be War and Peace? Hopefully not.

The last few books I have read about cycling has led me to wonder, "who did the author think this books was for?" Presumably nobody imagined that this book would have much appeal beyond the cycling community. For someone who knows much of what the author describes, his presentation is amusing - I would not agree with the blurb on the back cover that it is "hilarious." For newer cyclists there is probably enough context provided that one can learn a few things about those different cyclists one would be seeing out and about. For people who aren't familiar with any of this I would guess this is all a bit too obscure.

I was personally saddened not to see myself in any of the archetypes Magnuson created. His three "commuters" include a serious steel bike person with fenders who rides in his work clothes, a young guy who is becoming enamored of cycling even though it was forced on him by DUI convictions, and a young woman who is a student for whom it is a green thing to do and fun. I suppose I am closest to the first one . . .

Because Magnuson himself used cycling as the centerpiece of a weight loss program, he talks about cycling as a way to lose weight a fair bit. Apparently he would disagree with Grant Petersen, who claims in his recent book that cycling is not a weight loss system. It's an interesting question. I don't regard cycling as a weight loss system but as a way to keep extra weight off. Mostly.

I gave this three stars in large part because of the slightly failed expectations - it was only slightly amusing. Usually short books like this I zip through but this didn't grab me much I guess because I had to remind myself to finish it.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Lamps On All Vehicles" (1896 Newspaper Article)

Lamps Headline (1896)
1896 article about lighting for bicycles and other vehicles

The article text is as follows:

The District division of the League of American Wheelmen is still working for the interests of the bicycle rider.

In answer to a request from the Commissioners, Chief Consul Robertson yesterday mailed to them his reasons for thinking that all vehicles should carry lamps [at] night. The letter reads:

"August 29. 1896.
"Hon. Commissioners, District of Columbia.

"Gentlemen: In reply to your request that I should submit facts showing the necessity for all kinds of vehicles carrying lamps, I would respectfully submit the following reasons:

"Bicycles have been adjudged by the courts all ever the country as vehicles with equal rights on the streets and roads.

"Bicycles are required to carry lights. Private and business vehicles are not so restricted. According to this discrimination a bicycle for hire (which is a public vehicle) should be required to carry a light, but not the machine used as a private conveyance.

Bicycle Electric Lamp (1896)
An electric bicycle light, shown in the article

"A number of business houses require their drivers to carry a light within or about their vehicles, more for their own safely than for that of others. This can also be said of some of the owners of private carriages. At times it is very difficult to determine the direction in which a vehicle is traveling, or on which side ot the street it happens to lie, by the noise occasioned by the horses' feet. A light would show just what part of the street it occupies. One might advance the argument that if it were approaching it would be on the left hand side of the street, and on the right hand side if going in the same direction. This would be so if everyone obeyed the rules of the road, but unfortunately, this is not so, and more wagons are on the incorrect than on the correct side, else there would be less necessity for lamps on horse-propelled vehicles.

"A carriage or wagon is often collided with by both bicycles and other vehicles. This is especially the case when drawn up alongside of a curb awaiting the owner. In this instance the horse, not being in motion, no noise is made. A vehicle in this connection occupies the same relation to the street as a pile of mortar or bricks, and should be provided with a light. It is it temporary obstruction, and one is more liable to danger than if it were known to be there, like mortar or bricks.

"A cycler generally leaves his lamp lighted when stopping before a house, because he knows his machine is in danger
of collision if he does not take this precaution.

"Therefore, I would respectfully request that all vehicle, be required to carry lamps.

"Very respectfully,
"Chief Consul D. C. Div. L. A. W [League of American Wheelmen]

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fanciful Bicycle Propulsion - Sails (1896)

Article from the 1896 Washington Times describes a growing (at the time) popularity for sails fixed to bicycles.
Possible to Equip the Wheel Like a Ship - WINGS OF WHITE SILK
Connected to Bamboo Poles, the Sails Are Ran Up and Down as the Wind May Turn - They Make Wheel the Ideal Locomotion for a Sultry Day.

There is activity at the sailmakers, though this is the season when all sails should be finished and floating the blue horizon.

This unwanted activity is caused by the sudden appearance of the bicycle sail, out of which has sprung a demand for sails, unprecedented even in cup years. The bicycle sail is a little affair. It is made of duck or sailcloth, and its dimensions are a little more than a yard square.
Bike With Sales (1896)
Somewhat fanciful illustration that accompanies the article
The cost of white sails for a bicycle comes to something like $3, if you are contented with a good quality and a fairly white sail. If you want the silk finish and the dazzling white, you must pay for it fully twice as much.
This is not a perfect propulsion system, however.

In rigging up a bicycle's sails there is a great deal of care necessary. A person not an expert, starting off swiftly upon a wheel rigged with sails of his own making, would undoubtedly get a fall of the most sensational description. His sails being raised too high would carry him along at a top-heavy pace and he would be unable to keep back his machine by back-pedalling, or any of the arts known to the wheelman. More than that, it would throw him forward upon his wrists in a frantic effort to keep his seat. And the result would be awkward, even if he escaped calamity.
Another trend from the 1890s that met with some success in the press, but not in reality.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

NYTimes "Innovations" for Bicycle Commuting

I am a little late with this - the New York Times Sunday magazine this past weekend had an article describing three innovations to contribute to better commuting for bicycles. They are:

* Anti-theft handlebars
* No more greasy chain
* One-piece plastic and carbon fiber frames

These ideas came from someone at Seven Cycles, as the most compelling aspects of "his dream commuter bike."

I guess I'm a little disappointed - these certainly aren't the top three features that I would want for a commuter-style bike. (Which I have to come up with imaging what I would want if I wanted such a bike, which I don't. But still.) Of course, Seven Cycles is a custom bicycle builder mostly known for its frames made of titanium, so asking someone at Seven about commuting bikes is a bit like asking someone at Ferrari about econobox car features . . .

So, let's look at these a little bit.

Anti-theft handlebars - the theory is that locking handlebars that make it impossible to ride (other than in the direction the handlebars are pointed) make the bicycle undesirable to steal - it's a theory, yes. But I think in most places it isn't very realistic. I think generally it makes more sense to carry your bike locking system with you and vary it according the circumstances.

No more greasy chain - the suggested replacement would be a shaft-drive system, presumably connected to a internal hub shifting system (rather than derailer). This is not a very new notion - there were shaft-drive bikes and actually, even before that.

Shaft Drive patent, 1894
The shaft drive, patented in 1894 - not a very new idea

Apparently (according to Mr. Seven) shaft drive bikes are getting to be more popular in China nowadays - this could be true, but that hardly means it is likely it will catch on widely here.

One-piece plastic and carbon fiber frames - this is presumably a mistake and what was meant was simply "one-piece plastic frames" (since the discussion says nothing about carbon fiber). Wikipedia has an article about the history of plastic bicycles - there doesn't seem to be much going on in this area currently (that is described in the article, at any rate).

I can sort of get the idea of a plastic bicycle for riding short distances in a city, but not for more than that, but then I'm assuming that a truly plastic bicycle frame would have a noticeable amount of flex to it that seems fairly undesirable.

I think the biggest change I am seeing and will be seeing in commuter bikes is the increase in electric powered bikes. Another bike change, although not really answering the same question, is that I see people around here are using Capital Bikeshare as part of a regular commuting pattern.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Russian Diplomats as Cyclists in 1895

Article in the Washington Times from 1895 describes the spread of cycling among foreign diplomats assigned to Washington, including the Russian minister.
Diplomats Proficient Upon the Shining Wheel

Russian and Austrian Ministers Are Expert Riders, and the Chinese Attaches, in Gay Costumes, Are Bicycle Devotees.

The bicycling craze has taken a strong hold on Washington society, and has extended into the diplomatic corps.

The foreigners have become greatly interested in the fad of the hour, and many of them are already proficient riders of the shining wheel.

The first to lend in this respect was the Russian minister, Prince Cantacuzene, who no sooner was able to keep his equilibrium upon the "bike" than he induced his daughter to become accomplished in the same manner. Every afternoon during last autumn, and almost every late afternoon during the winter, the Prince and Princess Cantacuzene might have been seen spinning over the miles of smooth asphalt in the city on their bicycles.

At first, of course, when the bicycles were brought out and placed in front of the legation they created no end of excitement in the neighborhood, and the dwellers along that particular square made a brave showing on the front porticos and at the windows to watch the mount and triumphal start.

Gradually, however, as tho novelty wore off, the prince and his young daughter, who were debarred from taking any active part in the season's gayeties on account of the fact that the Russian legation was in mourning for the death of the Czar, were allowed to depart upon their afternoon bicycling trip without this attendant notoriety.
Later in the article it is noted that at this time there was some modesty among cyclists ~
As a matter or fact, the favorite place with the members of the diplomatic corps, and society generally who ride the bicycle, is the great open space back of the President's mansion, "Executive driveway," as it is sometimes called now, since the old name of "White Lot" has been abandoned by the fashionables.

There the bicyclers congregate in large numbers all during the spring and autumn evenings directly after dark, for as yet the majority of society has no fancy for being stared at in daylight when bicycle riding.
The Czar who died in 1895 was Alexander III, the father of Nicholas II, who was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917. I hadn't realized, but his heir for a time was his brother, who was killed in a bicycle accident in 1899: "The death of Grand Duke George, Czarevitch of Russia . . . the hemorrhage which caused the death of the Czarevitch was the result of a fall from his bicycle which be sustained while on an excursion in the hilly country near Abbas Tuman. The paper adds that he died near the scene of the accident." (From another newspaper article.)

It does seem Czar Nicholas II did ride bikes, as shown here and here

The most well known photo of a cyclist in Russia from today is shown below, taken by a writer for the New Yorker who lives in Moscow: