Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Gentleman's Hack

I've been commuting by bicycle ever since I was allowed to ride my Sears Spyder (Sting Ray knock-off) to school in the 3rd grade. This is my current working ride, adapted to my needs and preferences.

This started out as a Bianchi Avenue hybrid bike I bought via Craigs List for about $150. The Planet Bike fenders were the first addition, as the rack was part of the original deal. The Topeak front basket has been a mixed experience. It secures to the handlebars with a cable that's a little non-trivial to figure out, and I've broken 3 of them so far. Topeak customer services has been good about sending me new ones. I DO like the convenience of a front basket, and the ability to use it as a shopping basket. But next time, maybe a Wald paperboy's basket.

I like generator lights as readers of this blog are well aware. I'm partial to the Lumotec stuff Peter White out of Massachusetts peddles, but I felt like going cheap this time, and had Bay Area Bikes put on a cheap Asian import set, with a rear generator mount. I added a ground wire - don't leave home without it.

When I bought the bike it had typical flat-ish MTB bars on it, and a cheap and cushy vinyl MTB saddle. I came to realize I really wanted a more upright position, that my hands were not in the right place, and the saddle finally fell apart. So, I had Bay Area Bikes remodel it.

The bars are Nitto "Priest" (Albatross) Bars in aluminum, the saddle is a Brooks B67. Note the stem extender. I also dropped the gearing substantially, as I never got out of the low ring on the old gears, by fitting a new crankset. The BB was shot, so it got replaced, and the new bars require new shifters. I like the shifters more than I expected to; they are MUCH more ergonomic and easier on my middle aged wrists than the twist grips that were on the bike before.

The new crankset didn't come with a chain guard to keep my work pants out of the teeth, so I made a new one out of scrap plexiglass. I initially slathered hot melt on to hold it in place; the orange bits are cardboard shims to space the plexi away from the chain links. When I knocked it off, drilled holes in the plexi and threaded some tiny ty-raps, the bailing wire of our times.

The auxiliary saddle is for the days when I have to take my 11 year old with me to/from the BART station when he's with his mom on the the other end of the journey - we're a "remodeled" family. It's only about 4 blocks, and he wears his helmet when he's en pillion.

I didn't like the way the saddle was spreading, and becoming sort of sway-backed. So, since this picture was taken, I punched a series of hole just below the Brooks logo, and laced some scrap shoe lace, tying it to the opposite rails, and pulled the saddle back into it's original shape. While aesthetically it's an improvement, it's LESS comfortable now than before. I may change out this saddle for a nylon shell/padded saddle.

The panniers are "Oyster Buckets", my favorite utilitarian panniers. Almost totally recycled materials, sturdy, waterproof. The panniers come off when the kid rides 2-up.

The brass air hose coupler arouses a great deal of interest. It's the hitch for a trailer I found abandoned in front of a rental house on my street. I stole the idea from an Instructable, but found later that it's used on Bike Fridays.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cheap Generator Bike Lights Are The Bomb

6V SET GENERATOR LIGHT by Bravo Sports/Bike Access - More Bicycle Accessories at

I continue my allegiance to this type of light. The Union sets may be nicer and the Schmidt and Dymotec systems CERTAINLY are, but the Chinese made unit I installed over 2 years ago is still going strong.

Last night's ride from Girlfriend's apartment in Berkeley to my house in El Cerrito reminded me again of how much I love riding at night. The streets, even the main drags like San Pablo avenue, are quiet. I can smell the night blooming shrubberies. I can tell what kind of wood is burning in the cozy fireplaces of the early 20th century bungalows that line the streets of the North Berkeley and Albany flats. No raccoons last night, but I often see families of the "little water bears" trolling from one garbage can or backyard fruit tree to the next.

Every bike, if it is to be used for transportation, needs a light. And for me ("disposable" commuter bike, don't ride in the rain much), a cheap "bottle" generator works best.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bicycle Generator Lights Redux

You may recall my enthusiasm for generator lights. After my last commuter bike, equipped with the Good Stuff (which was really the low end of the Good Stuff, the Dymotec 6 and a standard Lumotec; you can spend a LOT more than I did) was stolen, I said the hell with it, and went back to a clunker approach. I had my current favorite bike shop put Planet Bike Freddie Fenders and a low end generator set on the bike I got off Craig's List, and let it go at that. I was happy. Then the headlight died.

Lesson one: The Good Stuff really IS better. The beam pattern on this cheap set sucks, and it's much harder, and impossible without tools, to change the headlight bulb.

Lesson Two: Always, always, rig a ground wire. In theory, you can do without one, using your frame as the ground, but in practice, it's never worked for long for me. It may take a little inventiveness on the cheap sets to figure out HOW to attach the ground wire to the generator bracket, but do it. Some crimp on connectors, and a few minutes of head scratching should see you through.

Problem solved.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Picking up some loose ends

I found a peanut free hazelnut spread at Trader Joe's that the Bairn will tolerate.

The bike with the nice generator setup on it got stolen, so I tried to put a similar setup on my teeny front wheel Bike-E, which worked for a little while, then failed, for reasons unknown. I still like generator lights, and my NEW commuting bike has a Union setup.

I'm still with the Girlfriend I'm Not Supposed To Blog About.

I don't blog very often, it's true. I'm not sure why. I post comments pretty frequently on the blog of an acquaintance, and I still love to read, think, ponder, etc. But putting my thoughts down seems rather a chore.

The airplane project is sitting un-touched for the last 7 months or so, since I moved it to my backyard shop from it's tomb-like former home in an Oakland warehouse.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Riding Bikes at Night - Continued

One of the most beautiful rides I've ever been on was a night ride from the Ferry Terminal in Marin, around to Tiburon and back. It was during the time of the Hale-Bopp comet, which was clearly visible against the eastern sky on this cold and clear night. I forget what bike I had at the time, and what lighting system, but I was riding in a group that included Zach Kaplan, a local recumbent bike maven, and Marty What's-His-Name, the Bike Electric newsgroup leader, so that when my light shit the bed on the back (DARK!) side of Tiburon, I had a pretty good pool of light to ride in, so long as I could keep up in the dark, riding a curvy road, at a steady 20 MPH. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I had a total blast, riding 3 abreast through the slightly damp, slightly chilly air, round those bends, dips, and flats.


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Riding Bikes at Night

Dymotec Generator Lights

I've had several really enjoyable night bicycle rides lately. The weather has been clear and cold for Northern California, lots of stars in spite of city lights.

To ride safely at night, you need a light. In 30 odd years of riding mostly for transportation, I've run through a lot of lights. The systems available via this link are my absolute favorite. A "bottle" generator like this is always available, and makes a very clean installation, as long a you make sure and get the very clever Dynashoe bracket that as near as I know, only Peter sells in the US.

The complete system - dynamo, light (and I would recommend the "standlight" with the capacitor to keep the light glowing when stopped), and the bracket runs over $100, but in my experience is well worth it, and I prefer it over any rechargable system I've used. It is NOT bright enough for serious off-road use, but for the type of riding I do, it's the Bomb. I do NOT use a tail light - it keeps the installation cleaner, and with adequate reflectors, I don't feel I miss it.

Girlfriend rides a lot for transportation, more than I do actually, and she relies on Cateyes, usually two of them, currently an EL-400, and an old Micro, plus a flashing tail light.