Friday, October 17, 2014

Frank Versus The Yukon

When he turned 50 6' 6" Frank Ostertag declared: "Live your dream now before it's too late!"

Frank's "dream" turned out to be flying from Hamburg, Germany to Toronto, Canada with a custom made steel touring bike, then battling north across The Shield though thousands of miles of fierce crosswinds. ("I saw the dark side there. I'm never going back.")  In The Yukon when his rim gave way he asked directions to the nearest bike shop. A local said "Do you realize that for the next 250 Km there is NOTHING?"

So Frank rode south on his broken rim with 20+ kg of luggage and a collection of Canadian license plates that he picked up off the road. All the way back across The Shield. Many, many, many miles later he pulled into my driveway just ahead of the rain, our first Warm Showers guest. Canadian customs had confiscated his license plates but Frank was still smiling.


"Other bike tourists have done much more than me," Frank insisted, "the difference is: I'm willing to suffer."


Step 1: load bike. Step 2 North across The Shield, then South across the Shield. 
Adventure or masochism? 

We served up hot showers, warm meals and two days of rest. Frank makes an interesting house guest who doesn't hesitate to speak his mind. After The Shield, you don't waste time beating around the bush. He's exceedingly polite and will try to appraise the value of everything in sight.


The morning of departure,  I rode south with Frank as far as Eureka. 


What new adventures lie ahead for Frank? Ride with him on crosscanada2014 which will soon extend to San Francisco and LA! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mark Goes Electric

McKinleyville Mark lives just a half a block from The Hammond Trail, Humboldt County's premiere bike destination. Work is 20 miles away on a construction site in Arcata and as Mark puts it, "I just don't have the calories to build all day and bike."

Since he's a resourceful guy he looked around on Ebay and found the components to convert his Cannondale Bad Boy to an electric bike. Mark selected a lithium battery, which weighs much less than lead and last a lot longer. He saved hundreds over a factory built E-bike conversion. In fact the whole conversion cost Mark about $1,000. According to Consumer Reports, a median priced new car COSTS MORE THAN $9,000 A YEAR TO OWN

What could you do with $9,000 a year? 

Charging an E-Bike costs pennies and can be done at normal AC outlets. If Mark visits you, he'll probably recharge.


The bike did get heavier--and since Mark cruises at 20mph on rough roads-- he modified  the seat to smooth out the ride.


Brooks seat plus serious suspension system. 


The electric motor spins the rear wheel, when needed. Pedaling while it's on extends your range.


The lithium battery. Not beautiful but it works! 




This handlebar mounted control is all you need. Push the up arrow to go faster, down to slow down. 


Mark in motion. His E-bike is easy to ride and exhilarating. In Europe, where gas costs $10 a gallon, E-bikes are everywhere

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"The bikes, they completely explode"

For years Rivendell and a few other steel bike manufacturers have been sounding
a lonely alarm on the potential dangers of making critical bike parts out of carbon fiber. Generally, they were dismissed as hopeless reactionaries. Sure maybe a few very early carbon fiber bike frames failed now and then and an occasional fork collapsed without warning, but that was decades back in the "developmental" period. Not only were today's Carbon fiber frame sand forks completely safe, they were "stronger than steel" and weighed a fraction as much! Carbon fiber bikes finished ahead of steel every time.

The Lance wannabes rushed forward, credit cards in hand. Carbon Fiber spread from forks, to frames to wheels. It became difficult to find a serious bike that wasn't built from carbon fiber.

Turns out Rivendell was right all along. And it doesn't take a crash like the one below to provide evidence. " Mark Greve, a sports medicine physician who studied 3,500 accidents found that virtually every part of a carbon fiber bike is dangerously unstable.

 “Anyone in a team who’s being honest with you will tell you how frequently their bikes are breaking; everybody knows." 


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kyle Jensen, Bike Tourist

Walking down Old Arcata Road yesterday evening I ran into Kyle Jensen, who had just started thinking about a camping spot. He started his trip in Bodega Bay, California a few days back and was heading north--against the wind--to Portland. Dusk was gathering and the nearest campground would have sent Kyle backwards on the road he had just biked. Kyle looked tired and he had good vibes. So he spent the night at my place.


Here's Kyle on The Hammond Trail taking off for Redwood National Park and points north this morning. Bon Voyage! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ride in the shade all day: Da Brim

Cyclists must fend off an ever-increasing flood of "essential accessories" all of which demand space on our handlebars, frame or in our pockets. Here's one you shouldn't ride without.

If your helmet provides imperfect crash protection, it offers virtually nothing at all in the way of sun protection. I live in coastal California where I can ride on just about on any day of the year. I draw the line at heavy rain; a few determined riders simply dress for it. But even when it does rain, balmy summery weather is rarely more than a week away. And then I really need sun protection well beyond the ribbon of shade that's provided by a clip-on helmet visor.

When it comes to skin protection, Physicians repeat a familiar mantra which cyclists should take seriously: sun exposure damage is cumulative and every little bit counts against you. Before you leave on a bike ride cover all exposed skin--including the scalp and especially the tops of the ears--with an SPF 30 or higher sun screen. Reapply every two hours.

The clip on visors that some helmets include are little more than cosmetic enhancements. A two inch ribbon of shade may cut a bit of glare if the sun angle is right, but don't count on a visor for skin protection, shade or significant glare reduction. For all that you need Da Brim.





This photo was taken on my Northwest tour last summer. As you can see the sun was directly overhead and there was no shade to be had anywhere except on my face, exactly where I wanted it. Thanks to Da Brim my whole face, ears and neck stayed out of the sun. This is the larger "Classic" model with a wide brim that provides 360 degree shade. The optional front stabilizer fastener is particularly useful for recumbent riders since it helps keep the larger unit in place on fast descents. I particularly appreciated the significant glare reduction that lasted all day long.


The smaller clip on version does a nice job shading your face. Steve Sipma (above) toured Washington and Oregon on his ultra light Bachetta wearing a Rezzo Helmet Visor


Noreeen Sipma managed to shade her whole face at midday with a Rezzo. Note the rider behind her had to put up with full sun on the face. And it was HOT!

Now I never ride without Da Brim. If it did nothing more than reduce glare, it would be worth your consideration. But it also provides useful protection from the sun--and looks cool too.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Is Your Bike Destroying Your Health?

Richard Wolf M.D. (retired) has completed 15 century rides and many long tours. He rides both upright and recumbent bikes and has done so for decades. Cycling is one of the great pleasures in life.; we all know the health benefits. Richard knows the risks too, has seen the consequences of ignoring those risks and can tell you how much the surgeries cost.

Hopefully you have already considered the safety basics. But stuff, as they say, happens. Perhaps the numbness you've noticed in your hands, across your neck and shoulders and throughout your crotch is, as you've been telling yourself, only temporary.  If it isn't, Dr. Wolf has some advice for you.


HANDS AND WRISTS

The human wrist structure is not designed to support half the weight of the body under constant vibration for hours at a time. Something can--and will--give way if you ignore this inconvenient anatomical fact of life and try to "ride through the pain."

Carpal tunnel surgery runs about $5--10,000. But if the tiny and quite vulnerable Hamate bone is stressed to the point of fracture, you're faced with a more complex and expensive surgical repair.



Then it's back into the drop position on the new Trek, right? Yes, your bike is faster if you bend forward. But after Carpal Tunnel surgery that speed boost comes at some cost. With luck you might be able to repeat the surgery once; with lots of luck twice. After that your wrists and hands stop functioning.


Consider the drop position minus a bike. To gain speed and efficiency you sit well above the handlebars, bend over double concentrating half your body weight on your wrists. The ergonomics--adapting yourself to the needs of a machine for the sake of speed and efficiency--couldn't be worse.


Can you imagine assuming this posture without a bike for a four hour exercise session?




Recommendation: Set up your handlebars level with your seat with the bar ends pointing toward you. To reduce stress on the neck with drop bars raise them 3 inches. Vary your hand position frequently during a ride, especially when riding with drop bars. 

YOUR SKIN

The SPF ratings on skin protection creams levels off at SPF 30 (30X more protection than no cream). You can certainly pay more for "higher" SPF  ratings but you won't gain any significant protection. Protect your skin by reapplying skin cream every two hours, something few cyclists bother to do. Don't stop with the body parts you see in a mirror. The top of the scalp and ears are particularly important.


If you notice scaly deposits on your face, scalp or the tops of your ears take it as a warning and see a dermatologist. You may be able to intercept a pre-cancerous condition. Costs for removal are about $500.

Recommendation: Use a broad spectrum  sunscreen--SPF 30 or more--with protection against UVA and UVB. Don't stop with your face. Cover the back of the hands, back of the neck, ears and scalp. Use a helmet liner or cap to cover your scalp. Reapply every two hours. 


YOUR EYES


Riding fast or into headwinds greatly increases the risk to your eyes.  There are nasty bugs out there and you will get in their way on a bike.

Only you can protect your eyes from insects

Recommendation: Wear wraparound eye protection. 


FOOD SUPPLEMENTS

Food supplements are not food, may not be safe and are not regulated. To put it bluntly, when you take an unregulated supplement, you have no way of knowing what you are putting into your body. Don't waste your money and take needless health risks by consuming weird substances that make wild promises. Pills, "supplements" and snake oil "remedies" don't belong in a "health food" store. 


Skip the vitamins especially if the prefix "mega" or the words "beta carotene" appear anywhere on the label.


Recommendation: Eat real food. 

YOUR PELVIS 

Your ultra light, extremely narrow, super firm racing seat is pressing hard against some of the most delicate tissue in the body. At no time in evolutionary history have any of our ancestors managed to stress the perineum for hours at a time so it remains soft, exposed and packed with surface blood vessels.  Neither male nor female cyclists should tolerate pelvic numbness while riding a bike. Set up your handlebars and seat to relieve perineal pressure--even if doing so slows you down.


Recommendation: Cyclists who ride in the drop position should consider a split saddle to relieve pressure on the perineum.  Make sure your knees are not fully extended while riding. A well adjusted saddle reduces chafing and side-to-side hip rocking, both of which can cause saddle sores. Wear a clean, seamless chamois to minimize chafing. 


BACK PAIN

If your seat is too high, your pelvis will rock, likely leading to back pain. It can get really bad fast.


Recommendation: Have your local bike shop show you how to set your seat height. A small change can make a big difference. Proper seat height is essential if you have back issues.


YOUR KNEES

Recommendation: If you use clip-in pedals choose a set with some lateral play or "cleat float." Avoid clip ins with no cleat float because they have been linked to knee injuries. 


YOUR HEAD

Let's say you live in Copenhagen or Amsterdam and have at your disposal the world's best cycling infrastructure. Everyone you know rides a bike, to work, to the market and to the park. Helmets? Do we wear helmets for a walk in the park? If you were seen wearing a helmet you'd be ridiculed by all your friends. Even worse, you could be mistaken for an American tourist!


But before you blithely ride off to the office bare headed consider this: if you fall just once during a bike ride it's decidedly not like tripping in the park. Your helmet offers imperfect but essential protection: it will prevent life threatening fractures, not concussions. But you do have to wear it correctly if you expect to be protected.



No rear retention system. The helmet shifted back under impact.

The head is a heavy object and will usually land first in a bike accident. It makes little difference whether you fall in Los Angeles traffic or on a protected bike path in Copenhagen; the the most likely place you will land is on your head. The question is: can you afford to slam your head into pavement even once? If you survive such a fall--many do not--reconstructive face and head surgeries run $50-100,000 or more.

A few sobering statistics: The Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance reports that "When worn properly, bike helmets can reduce the risk of brain injury by 88 percent. Only 8% of Minnesotans wear a bike helmet consistently....Each year, about 567,000 people go to hospital emergency departments with bicycle-related injuries; about 350,000 of those injured are children under 15. Of those children, about 130,000 sustain brain injuries...The average bicycle injury in Minnesota costs $49,000, including hospitalization, loss of productivity, and pain and suffering."

Recommendation: Wear a helmet with an easy-to-adjust rear retention system. Read this or let your bike shop show you how to adjust your helmet straps. Stay well away from trucks, taking extra care to avoid riding in their back drafts. 


A COMMON MEDICAL MISCONCEPTION

Wounds heal faster when exposed to the air. This is false. Keeping a wound dry slows the growth of new tissue. Any open wound is more likely to become infected. And open wounds provide a tempting place for flies to lay eggs. (That actually does happen)

Recommendation: Pack a few bandages (small to large) on your ride. If you fall and sustain "road rash" washing it out asap to get rid of cinders and road debris will minimize future infections. 


WARNINGS YOU SHOULD NOT IGNORE: DON'T WAIT TO GET HELP


  • Unexpected persistent chest pain
  • Unexpected, rapid or irregular heart beat
  • An allergic reaction after a bee sting. The symptoms can accelerate rapidly. 
  • If you are diabetic: marked thirst and increased urination may indicate not only dehydration but low blood sugar. Hunger and mental confusion may also be a sign of low blood sugar.
GO IMMEDIATELY TO THE NEAREST HOSPITAL IF YOU HAVE: 

  • deep knee lacerations (if a cut penetrates to the knee bursa it will get infected) 
  • a broken bone 
  • a collar bone fracture
  • lost and regained consciousness
  • unexpected persistent chest pain
  • fallen hard on your head even if you were wearing a helmet 

SEE A DR. IF...

You feel different and can't explain why. Something has changed. Find out what it is. 

Pack on every ride: your name and address, a list of your significant medical conditions and medications,  the name and phone number of a reliable contact person. 


Addendum: I'm getting flak on Dr. Wolf's helmet recommendations from the European anti-helmet brigades. A word about the science involved and the sad statistics on childhood bicycle-induced head injuries: first, when it comes to bike injuries, the most vulnerable individuals are small children, many of whom are still learning to ride. Secondly, the science on bicycle related head injury is all too real. If you really believe the studies are faked by unscrupulous helmet manufacturers in the hopes of forcing cyclists to buy a useless product, you’re either terribly gullible or delusional. You've bought into a conspiracy theory. 

a tip of the helmet to Dick Van Hoose for this chart

Again, if you fall off your bike you will very likely land on your head. I've fallen three times in the past 30 years. Each time I landed on my head and was able to ride home afterwards only because I had been wearing a helmet. President Obama (above) is not wearing a helmet because he is on the payroll of the bike helmet lobby. It simply makes good sense to protect your head when riding a bike.  Go ahead, if you must, and ride bareheaded through the English countryside, through downtown London and across Copenhagen but have the decency not to make yourself into a role model. You’re putting little kids at risk and a lot of adults as well. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Science Fiction or Bike Now?

Here in Humboldt County our politicians are in the 23rd consecutive year of discussing a five mile bike path to connect the cities of Eureka and Arcata. It would run along Arcata Bay, the most beautiful waterway in California. It would get bikes off five miles of Route 101, the only Freeway in our county. It would become an instant tourist attraction, thus stimulating the economy and helping to pay for itself. And it would give thousands of Arcata commuters and Humboldt State University students a way to live car-free in nearby--and more economical--Eureka.

A daily ten mile bike ride wouldn't hurt anyone's health around here. My recent commuter flight from SFO was delayed due to "weight issues:" a passenger who wasn't able to fit in a single seat.

About ten years ago the city hired expert consultants from Sacramento who set up a community meeting at Arcata City Hall. Local cyclists drew ideas and "input" on a large white board. We discussed options, we planned routes, we estimated costs. All this would be incorporated into a study, a necessary "final step," we were assured. To cap off the evening we admired photos of a new bike path in Sedona, Arizona. Then the consultants went back to Sacramento and billed the city a million bucks.

Recently, we had a breakthrough in the discussions: everyone agrees that we are going to have a bike path and more discussions will be scheduled soon.

Meanwhile, in Eindhoven, Holland, where I began my adult biking back in the early 80's, this:




What's it like for bicycle commuters where you live?

A tip of the helmet to Roland Wostl for this incredible video. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: The 2013 HP Velotechnik Scorpion fs 26



BY STEVE FOX

I am a 200 lb. septuagenarian who has been riding recumbents (long wheelbase, short wheelbase, trikes) since 2002. Here are some of my bike tours and travels.  

A few years ago I purchased a Terra Trike Tour 1 (a Wheel Wiz product), which, like the Scorpion, has the ‘tadpole’ configuration (two front wheels and one rear). It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the name derived from the frog’s larval stage.



The Tour was a fun ride but ill-suited to rough local roads. It had no suspension and the brake handling was dangerous, particularly on freeway down hills where I found myself trapped between guardrails and nasty rumble strips (more on trike braking below). The latter combination led one morning to my being flipped upside down into the slow traffic lane of our freeway. So, after a couple of years, I traded the Tour for a long wheelbase Easy Racer, my second. I assumed my trike days were a thing of the past.

Then the trike bug hit me again; it’s such a fun ride! I turned to the Hostel Shoppe catalog to see how trikes had evolved in ways that might be more suitable locally, and to discover what was available. I settled on one—I thought, but a friend suggested that due to my earlier complaint about the Tour, I might want to shell out a bit more money and go for suspension. The result: my excellent (for the most part) new Scorpion! Although this trike has a long name, it boils down to this: ‘fs’ (folding and suspension), and ‘26’ (rear wheel size). All you need to know about HP Velotechnik is that it’s a German company (English option on page 1 of their site). HPVelotechnik has a dealers all over the world

SHIFTERS AND CHAIN RING

1.     I opted for grip twist rather than bar end shifters. The right-hand shifter (rear derailleur): Your hand is in a slightly different position because the shifter is vertical. Shifting is easy and natural, however, if you remember that turning the shift knob counter-clockwise moves you into a lower gear (bigger cog), and turning the knob clockwise results in a higher gear (smaller cog).



2) Left-hand shifter: The Scorpion fs 26 comes standard (from the Hostel Shoppe) with a 3-speed hub (SRAM DualDrive), so no front derailleur. You can opt for chain rings, but I have found the hub arrangement very satisfactory, although I do wonder about maintenance.Twisting the knob counter-clockwise moves you to a lower gear. If you imagine having 3 chain rings instead of the hub, the same counter-clockwise motion would move your chain to the left onto a lower (smaller) ring. Turning the knob clockwise results in a higher gear, or larger ring, if you prefer thinking of it that way. 

To me, the big advantage is that any hub selection (1, 2, or 3) gives you the full range of the rear cluster in each setting. You never need worry about an awkward chain angle, front to rear, which can throw your chain if you are not paying attention. You will also find that shifting the hub is much smoother than shifting rings. (Notethe hub configuration prevents use of a trailer that attaches to the right side of the rear axle.)



BRAKES

As I had so much difficulty with braking on the Tour, I opted for a single lever on the right shifter for my Scorpion, which makes shifting significantly safer and less compacted  On the Tour, with a lever on each shifter the rider is required to squeeze them equally lest the bike swerve dangerously. This is especially problematic when instant, hard braking is necessary, such as on a hill with traffic on the left, assuming you have a shoulder, or in a bike lane. I recommend the single lever, but I also recommend you have it installed on the left shifter so that your right hand is completely free for shifting. Although the Hostel Shoppe can give you a free brake setup adjustment, you may have to fiddle with the mechanical discs until the braking lever pulls evenly on both wheels.

SUSPENSION


The full suspension of the Scorpion fs 26 is perhaps its most outstanding feature. Fully adjustable, the front and rear wheel suspension smooths all but the worst potholes you’ll encounter. They add immeasurably to stability and make riding this trike a pleasurable experience. 

Believe me, our local roads are as tough as they come, but the Scorpion provides as close to an air ride as you are likely to get on two or three wheels.


FOLDING




I haven’t tried folding the bike yet, but the instruction manual provides a step-by-step guide.

REAR WHEEL REMOVAL

Again, I have yet to remove the rear wheel (knock on wood), but here is the explanation provided by a Hostel Shoppe mechanic: Shift into the lowest hub gear (it’s labeled ‘1’); press ‘in’ the button on top of the gizmo that receives the shifting cable from the shift lever (pictured above); remove the gizmo and unthread the axle caps with the proper size wrench. There is no quick release, which strikes me as a distinct but correctable design flaw.


OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT


Ergomesh wide seat (Hostel Shoppe technician recommends this seat).



Wide mirrors (2) attach to kingpins. Essential on both sides for rider safety!



Rear Rack with a built-in flag holder (note: with 26 in. rear wheel you can’t mount a flat surface to the top of this rack because the top of the wheel exceeds the height of the rack). A flag makes a trike much more visible in traffic. 

Planet Bike Protégé 9 computer.


CHAIN LENGTH ADAPTER (‘front boom-quickadjust’) 


The boom quickadjust is additional equipment for HP Velotechnik recumbents that feature a telescopic front boom for leg length adjustment. It replaces the standard bolts of the of the front boom clamping by quick release levers. Two pulleys provide chain length compensation while moving the front boom.

FENDERS

I don’t have fenders yet, but the Hostel Shoppe recommends them.

ERGONOMICS


HP prides itself on ergonomics, and judging by their Velotechnik fs 26, they have succeeded. The controls are easy to operate. The bike’s ergomesh wide seat fits my body well, and it’s easy to get in and out of the seat. There is no need to adjust your position as you ride. I have experienced no aches and pains during or following an outing. This is a vastly superior ride when compared to the Terra Trike Tour I owned. Credit for this belongs to the engineers at HP who have given us full suspension, a 26 in. rear wheel for increased smoothness and speed, and single lever braking. 

PROS: 
Suspension; folding; stability; overall comfort.

CONS:
Turn radius; no quick release; bottle cage attachment requires "hot punching" the ergomesh seat.





SUMMARY


The HP Velotechnik fs 26 is a terrific ride (lots of fun!) and well worth its price tag. The pros so outweigh the cons that I am a bit embarrassed to mention any. If possible, you should go to a trike dealer and try several brands and models. Then get yourself a Scorpion! The contrast will amaze you.






South Side of Arcata Marsh on Arcata Bay




Mary Bradley, Steve Sipma and Steve Fox. Washington and Oregon Tour




If you had a trike, you could eat like this. 





Trike fans: Steve Fox will be happy to respond to your questions or comments below.





Monday, December 2, 2013

Scenic Drive, December 1


The view from my bike.


If you are touring the Pacific coast, make time for Scenic Drive. It runs parallel to Route 101 and gets you off the Freeway. These photos were taken about 2 miles south of Trinidad, California.


 I rode my Rans Stratus XXP


Ten miles to the south skeletons of old barns dot the Arcata Bottoms. Fog country.