Thursday, March 26, 2009

Road-side pardons for motorists killing and injuring cyclists

When I started this blog I decided to avoid ranting about bad drivers. So far I have resisted this rich source of material, but there is a related issue that has me concerned and curious enough to speculate on an underlying cause.

There are numerous accounts of motorists escaping responsibility for their violating traffic laws which result in injuries and deaths of cyclists. Googling "police refuse cite motorist bicycle" will provide the needed examples across the U.S. After reading a few dozen accounts, the general scenario seems to be:

  1. A motorist either unknowingly or deliberately violates the law

  2. The violation results in the injury or death of a cyclist

  3. The responding police officer makes an on-scene decision to not cite the motorist

  4. Appeals for justice either fail inexplicably or due to lack of evidence.

I think it is safe to assume that not all of these sources are unbiased and accurately representing all the facts. I have first hand knowledge of police officers taking great exception to motorists' bad behavior around cyclists and their concern for cyclists' safety even when those cyclists break the rules of the road. Additionally, it can be remarkably unfair when critics use the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to question decisions made by police officers based on facts available at the time.

All that said, the number of the reports and their similarity have me speculating on what might be motivating a small number of well-trained good intentioned police officers to effectively look the other way then motorists' illegal behaviors result in the injuries and deaths of cyclists.

Could it be that some police officers are blaming cyclists for their own injuries and deaths? I just don't see an alternative explanation that makes sense to me. Their thinking might very well be that persons choosing a bicycle over a car are knowingly placing themselves in such a hazardous situation that motorist are reduced to unwitting participants in accidents involving cyclists.

So why are roads actually and/or perceived as hazardous to cyclists? There are the obvious situations like narrow two lane roads and bridges heavily traveled by cars and trucks at high speeds. However, I avoid roads that put me at high risk and I still manage to have close-calls with motorists just about every time I ride my bike. When I say "close call" its means one or a combination of the following:

  • I am forced to take evasive action to avoid being struck by a motor vehicle

  • Motor vehicles when passing me risk head-on collision with oncoming traffic

  • Motor vehicles passing well within 3 feet of me; especially large vehicles at high speed

  • Motorists using aggressive driving or other bad behaviors to force a response from me

This frequent bad behavior of motorists leads me to believe that states are licensing a number of motorists that are lacking the minimum skills, knowledge, judgment, attentiveness, and temperament to safely drive multi-ton high-speed vehicles in mixed traffic. Most concerning is this has serious ramifications for the effectiveness of new and proposed laws intended to improve the safety of cyclists sharing the roads with motor vehicles.

The state by allowing ignorant, inattentive, incompetent, and ill-tempered persons to obtain and keep their licenses sets law enforcement's low expectations of driver performance in mixed traffic. In short this is, in my opinion, the root-cause of the perception amongst some in law enforcement that holding motorist to the higher standard of behavior required to keep cyclists safe is unfair to motorists.

The new laws passed like the 3 ft rule and others being proposed to protect cyclist are overdue, but to be effective people licensed to drive must be willing and able to following them. Until then the defense of "too ignorant or too ill-tempered to drive safely amongst cyclists" will continue to be a source of road-side pardons for motorists injuring and killing cyclists.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saddle comfort - A 100 year old solution with a twist

I have bikes made of titanium, exotic aluminum alloys, carbon fiber, and stainless steel, but I have put old-school leather saddles on them. Why?

The saddle on my first serious bike (Windsor Pro Columbus Frame with Campy Nuevo Record & Cinelli components) was a used Brooks Pro. At the time I didn't know better so I didn't realize how lucky I was. I found out with my second bike (Ron Cooper Reynolds 531 Frame and most of the components from the Windsor Pro) when I bought a shiny new Brooks Pro Saddle for it. It was hell breaking the saddle in, but eventually worth it.

Over the years for the sake of weight and fashion, I gave up my Brooks saddles for plastic ones with either foam and/or gel padding covered by either plastic or leather. A few of them have been acceptable for longer rides and one qualifies as a device for slow torture.

The Terry Men's Liberator Gel was certainly one of the best in the plastic and paddling group. My opinion is that is deserves the good reviews.
An honorable mention needs to go to a very inexpensive Serfas Deep Groove Saddle that I had on a road bike for several years. It was wide enough, with a smooth cover, nice shape, narrow horn, large cut out, and probably too much foam padding.

The Specialized Avatar Gel Saddle (155mm width) is hands-down the absolutely worst saddle I have every experienced. I know they put good science into the design and the saddle has received good reviews, but, after riding it for just a few hours, it would create silver dollar size sore spots where my sit bones contacted the saddle. I am not talking about a little bit of discomfort, but bad enough to keep me off my bike the next day. Ironically the less expensive model, the Specialized BG2 Sport Saddle (150mm width), I found more comfortable which also provided a clue as to why the Avatar was just so bad for me.


Third on my most comfortable saddles list is a stock Brooks Pro (160mm width) now on my hardtail mountain bike. It was tough breaking it in, but with frequent applications of Brooks Proofide Leather Saddle Conditioner and lots of miles it is now a pleasure to ride. The more upright riding position I believe keeps the pressure off things that shouldn't have pressure on them, so no cut out or slot is not a problem.

Taking second place on my all time most comfortable saddles list is the MCM Selle An-Atomica Titanico LD . It is similar to a Brooks saddle, but with a slot or cut out in the leather that is nothing short of a brilliant bit of elegant design. This enhancement allows the leather to more easily flex with the rider's movements which signficantly improves comfort. However the saddle gets a few points off because the rails are not as robust as I would like and the craftsmanship is not up to par with Brooks. I also found the saddle tended to flare out and rub my thighs until I drilled and laced it. This actually worked out since the saddle with the addition of the old-school lacing looks great on my fixie. One other thing I have to mention is that MCM Selle An-Atomica has great customer service! Their innovation in leather saddle design and its benefits are described in their white paper titled Bicycle Saddle Design Fundamentals, Research & Development 2002 – 2006

Number one on my list of most comfortable saddles is my Brook Pro modified by MCM Selle An-Atomica with the addition of their LD slot cut-out. This saddle was a pleasure to ride right out of the box and it has only got better with use. Only a few months after purchase I rode this saddle on the 2007 Bicycle Tour of Colorado and I honestly didn't even think about saddle discomfort the whole trip!

So what makes a saddle good or bad? Well my experience is that most saddles that fit the width of your sit bones are comfortable for short rides. However one needs to put a few hundred miles on a saddle over a few days before he or she can appreciate other aspects of a saddle's design that affect comfort.

My experience with rides extending of 50 to 100 miles is the amount of comfort the saddle itself contributes to the experience (This is assuming its height, pitch, and set-back are set properly!) depends on the following 5 characteristics roughly ranked by descending order of importance:

  1. Width - The back of the saddle needs to be just wide enough to accommodate the spacing of your "sit bones" for your given riding position. Both the taper or shape of the saddle and its horn need to be narrow enough to not interfere with leg movement. I am a Clydesdale that needs a minimum 155mm width, but smaller framed people may need something a lot narrower especially with an aggressive riding position.

  2. Low friction - The saddle's surface needs to be relatively smooth and slippery. The friction between your shorts and the saddle should be considerably less than the friction between your shorts and skin. Simply put, your shorts should stick to you not the saddle.

  3. Weight distribution- The saddle should deform a bit around the area the supports the sit bones in order to better distribute the load.

  4. Flex - The saddle needs to give a bit in response to shifts in position and body weight during pedaling.

  5. No pressure points - The saddle is designed so that it does not put any pressure on nerves or blood vessels that may lead to numbness or worse.

So what makes the Specialized Avatar Gel Saddle so uncomfortable for me to ride? It is wide enough. It has gel padding to distribute the load and fair amount of flex in the plastic body. It has a generous slot down middle to avoid pressure points. Well, what makes it miserable for me to ride is that it fails my criteria number #2. The back of the saddle has a suede patch stitched to either side right were my sit bones go. These patches held my bike shorts in place while I moved within them basically rubbing off skin immediately under my sit bones as I rode. The Specialized BG2 avoids this flaw by using a smooth cover, but this saddle is a little narrow for me at 150mm and I thought it might have a little too much flex.

Where Specialized's Avatar design fails
, MCM Selle An-Atomica's and Brooks' designs succeed by using a single piece of polished leather. This characteristic is so important to my comfort, I keep my leather saddles shiny by polishing them with Brooks Proofhide and a soft cloth as part of normal cleaning and maintenance.

So Brook's craftsmanship and MCM Selle An-Atomica's brilliant LD slot design combine to yield a near ideal solution for me.




Sunday, March 15, 2009

Truing a Bicycle Wheel using a Spoke Tensiometer

I have a set of Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels with about 700 miles on them and they needed truing. Admittedly, they are a little light for my clydesdale size, but they are great wheels when I want something zippy to ride. Because of the stress I put on the wheels I need to ensure the truing solution includes careful attention to spoke tensions so the wheel will be both stable and durable.

Normally I go right to truing a wheel and only when trued do I use a spoke tensiometer (Park Tool TC-1) to identify any issues and resolve them. This time I decide it would be fun to see what would happen if I combined the spoke tension measurements with the results from the truing stand over several iterations to true the wheel.

The first thing I needed was a means to record measurements from the tensionmeter read and truing stand. To do this I decided on a simple worksheet (click on any of the worksheets below to enlarge) that could be duplicated for each iteration. Each spreadsheet is divided into 3 areas. The top left is for entry of the spoke tensions and other values. The top right is for displaying the spoke tension in a more handy format that better shows their interaction. This area is also used to record truing stand measurements and adjustment strategy. The bottom left area provides some general numbers like average, minimum, and maximum spoke tensions.

Step 1 - (Click on Chart 1) Base line the wheel's measurements using the spoke tensiometer and truing stand. Develop a strategy to improve overall spoke tension.

The wheel has a fare amount of wobble in it both deviating left and right from true. The spread in spoke tension is high and the tension is exceeding recommended 145 max kgf.

Step 2a - (Click on Chart 2) Make the identified changes in spoke tension and re-measure the wheel. Identify deviations from true and using current spoke tensions in the affected area identify new spoke tensions.

Well, in a perfect world the wheel would be true at this point, but in the real world it is much closer now to being true and stable.

Step 2b - (Click on Chart 3) Make the identified changes in spoke tension, tighten up the truing stand calipers, and re-measure the wheel. Identify deviations from true and using current spoke tensions in the affected area identify new spoke tensions.

The wheel is getting a bit more true.

Step 2c
-(Click on Chart 4) Make the identified changes in spoke tension, tighten up the truing stand calipers, and re-measure the wheel. Identify deviations from true and using current spoke tensions in the affected area identify new spoke tensions.

Closer still

Step 2d - (Click on Chart 5) Make the identified changes in spoke tension, tighten up the truing stand calipers, and re-measure the wheel. Identify deviations from true and using current spoke tensions in the affected area identify new spoke tensions.

Only small deviations from true remain.

Step 3 - (Click on Chart 6) - Make the identified changes in spoke tension, tighten up the truing stand calipers, and re-measure the wheel. Identify any changes in the current spoke tensions that can resolve imbalances at this point.

Two adjacent spokes could be tweaked to distribute the work a bit.

Step 4
- (Click on Chart 7) Make the identified changes in spoke tension, measure radial trueness and re-measure spoke tension. Identify deviations from round and using current spoke tensions in the affected area identify new spoke tensions.

The wheel has a bit of a hop in not quite opposite the valve stem hole. It is unlikely it can be removed completely because it would create too much local spoke tension, but it can be minimized.

Step 5 - (Click on Chart 8) Make the identified changes in spoke tension and tighten up the truing stand calipers. Using the truing stand carefully make minor tweaks spoke tensions to bring the wheel into complete true. Re-valuate spoke tension to determine if they are within spec. If not correct then identify the amount to loosen or tighten all spokes.

The wheel would have been finished at this point, but for the excessive tension on several of the drive side spokes.

Step 6
-(Click on Chart 9) Make the identified changes in spoke tension. Using the truing stand carefully make the minor tweaks in spoke tension to bring the wheel into complete true. Re-measure and re-evaluate spoke tensions to verify they are within spec.

The wheel is true, stable, and hopefully able to last for some time to come!







Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Workshop

Some years ago I discovered I really enjoy doing my own bicycle maintenance and found I could do a good job as long as I didn't hurry. Today I do all my bike maintenance, bike assembly, and much of my own wheel building. Someday when I have more time I may even get into frame building, but not right now.

Until recently I worked out of a large roll away and a few odd toolboxes. This was acceptable when I had just two bikes, but with the addition of 3 others using varied types and makes of components it was time to setup a proper workshop. Additionally some friends and co-workers have started seeking me out to work on their rides, so all the more the need for a well equipped workshop.

The tools were the first thing I decided to upgrade. Choosing Park for the specialized tools and Craftsman for the general purpose tools seemed to me like the no-brainer approach to ending up with a quality tool collection. Luckily I had a budget to match and could afford all but a few of the really big ticket specialized tools.

With the additional tools and goal to improve ease of access to them I considered upgrading to a much larger roll away tool chest, but decided on simple pegboard because it offers the most cost-effective solution.

Mallets have always been part of the bicycle mechanics toolbox and they will continue to be in the foreseeable future. Sometimes things just need a bit of gentle persuasion. I decided on a small mallet with one head being rubber and the other a somewhat harder plastic. These are ideal for giving things a little tap without leaving a mark.

In contrast, something relatively new to the toolbox and absolutely necessary is the torque wrench. Actually you may need two; one for light torque and one for those things that require a bit more. Why is this tool so important? Over-tightening of fasteners like bolts and nuts on super light weight components can ruin them or even result in their catastrophic failure during a ride!

Cable cutters from Park also do a fantastic job of cutting cable housing without crushing the ends.
Note the various large wrenches for bottom brackets, headsets, and pedals. A spoke tension meter is necessary when building or truing a wheel, especially one with a low spoke count. You might notice that I cheaped-out with the cone wrenches and bought a set of store-brand ones.


Nut drivers, screw drivers, open/box end wrenches, and allen wrenches are the basic general-purpose hand tools. Putty knives are handy for scraping off built-up gunk on clogs. They can also be wrapped in a shop towel clean between cogs and chain wheels. Not very visible at the botton of the picture is a couple of small single-hand trigger clamps I use as third hands when adjusting brakes. The scratch awl is great for opening up cable ends after being cut to length

The T-handle allen wrenches look pretty cool and if you need to put some serious torque on something they work pretty good. However, I will probably be replacing them with ones that have small "L" shaped handles, because the T-handles don't fit into tight places well.
A small grease gun that can be operated with a single hand is just about as handy as you can imagine. The correct amount of grease in the correct place is much better than too little or too much all over the place. The lube gets put where it needs to be and everything else stays grease-free. The bubble-level is for setting up bars and seats, but mostly seats. I like my seats flat and the level makes it easy. The tape measure is also for bike setup. Just visible at the bottom of the picture is a Park dishing tool. Don't dish a wheel without it!






Here's my truing stand. I don't have it permanently mounted, but instead I clamp it into my bench vise when needed. This allows me to maximize the use of my small workbench. I have a magnetic parts tray attached to the back of the wise to hold nipples and other small parts. On either side of the truing stand I have adjustable lamps to illuminate the rim and gauges. This makes truing a bit easier and also allows me to inspect the rim for damage from impact or fatigue. Inspecting for damage is especially important when working with high zoot low spoke count wheels!







A bike stand is a must for holding the bike while being worked on. I am currently using a portable stand because I can move it out of the way when not in use. However, I am considering switching to a stationary stand. This is because the portable stand is just too easy to tip over. This can be minimized by putting a couple of sandbags on the legs, but they tend to get in the way. A small air compressor is needed to blow the gunk out of bearings and components. It is also handy for doing a light dust off of the bike. I don't use the compressor for inflating tires, but instead I do this by hand which provides more control.


For my floor pump I decided to go old-school and get one from Silca. They have upgraded this basic pump over the years, but it still sports a retro wooden handle and it is still built to last. If the gauge were at the top of the pump it would be perfect!













Lastly, I setup a series of hooks to store my wheels and tires. That bright glow is from a Schwalbe Marathon Plus tire that has a super-reflective side wall. It is a great tire for commuters, especially when you are riding at night.

Q: How many bikes do you need?

After purchasing my latest bike, my spouse asked "How many bikes do you need?".

This is a very good question and one I was ready to answer with great precision.

Number of Bikes I need = N + 1, where N represents the current number of bikes I own.