Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reelights Review

I've recently started carrying and using the Reelight 120 battery free lights and have had enough experience with them to offer a review.

I should preface all of the below by saying that my bar for lighting is very high. I've had the benefit of testing many, many lights and have had very good experiences while using powerful lights (no accidents, no near misses, no cars pulling out right in front of me). My track record with "adequate" lights is not as good.

The Reelight products are powered by magnets which attach to the spokes of the bicycle. The lights are attached to the axle or quick release skewer of the bicycle and are powered when the spoke mounted magnets pass by the light heads, which have a magnet of their own. The 120 series operates in flashing mode and stays flashing for up to two minutes after the bicycle is stopped.

These are not exceptionally bright lights. They are suitable for urban environments and other roads where traffic is not very fast. They are also good no-hassle backup lights.

Battery lights are a pain, and though they continually get more powerful, lighter, and smaller the battery that lasts forever won't soon be invented. For those of us who use a bicycle as a vehicle, the most logical solution is to have a lighting system that doesn't rely on batteries but is instead powered by the rider.

Generator powered lights outperform the Reelights by some margin, especially in the headlight department but are much more expensive. Even an inexpensive sidewall dynamo driven lighting system will cost more than twice as much as a Reelight set. An inexpensive dynohub system (front wheel with hub, headlight and tail-light will cost about five times as much as a Reelight set.

The lights aren't exceptional performers in the category of light output, but I'm very happy to have them for my city bike, which doesn't leave downtown except during the day and never hits big roads with fast traffic.

Impressive price, mediocre light output, and ready anytime you hop on the bike. Taken as whole I'd call the Reelight a good value as a backup system or primary lighting for bikes that don't mix it up in fast traffic.

Feedin' the family content: I sell Reelight 120's sets (front and rear light) for $55.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How the Brain Works and Bicycle Visibility

Last week I read an interesting essay which made me think about visibility out on the road. Some excerpts for those who don't want to read the whole article (interesting article but long).
A new scientific understanding of perception has emerged in the past few decades, and it has overturned classical, centuries-long beliefs about how our brains work—though it has apparently not penetrated the medical world yet. The old understanding of perception is what neuroscientists call “the na├»ve view,” and it is the view that most people, in or out of medicine, still have. We’re inclined to think that people normally perceive things in the world directly . .

Our assumption had been that the sensory data we receive from our eyes, ears, nose, fingers, and so on contain all the information that we need for perception, and that perception must work something like a radio. It’s hard to conceive that a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is in a radio wave. But it is. So you might think that it’s the same with the signals we receive—that if you hooked up someone’s nerves to a monitor you could watch what the person is experiencing as if it were a television show. . .

The images in our mind are extraordinarily rich. We can tell if something is liquid or solid, heavy or light, dead or alive. But the information we work from is poor—a distorted, two-dimensional transmission with entire spots missing. So the mind fills in most of the picture. You can get a sense of this from brain-anatomy studies. If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. . .

The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. . .

All of this made me think what many of us have probably intuited--drivers literally don't see us because they don't expect us to be there. They've been conditioned to look for cars and only cars, so that's what they see. And it also suggests why they get ticked off when they see you later rather than sooner. Their own perception has been indicted found faulty. Every driver knows they shouldn't overlook somebody on the road, but people like to blame others rather than themselves, so "How did I not see that cyclist? I should pay more attention." becomes "That damn cyclist, what are they doing on the road!"

This new understanding of perception also goes a long way to explain the safety in numbers effect. Scientists who first studied serious injury among cyclists went into the research thinking that where more people biked, injuries would rise because cyclists would feel more secure and thus be less careful. They found the opposite was true, the more cyclists that were in a given area, the less likely they were to be injured.

It also suggests that for people who live in an area without a lot of cyclists on the road visibility should be thought as shocking the perceptions of drivers. Being visible to someone who is looking isn't enough, because the "brain's best guess" is that you aren't there. I'm not a big fan of bike specific clothing, but the hi-vis green and orange shirts that highway workers wear seem like a real good idea. I presently wear red or (regular) green when I ride anywhere outside of downtown where the traffic is going over 30mph, but I'd like to get some cotton hi-vis shirts.

Here are several pictures of the setup I run when I leave the cozy confines of my neighborhood (traffic downtown is pretty good since their are lots of cyclists and pedestrians).

The light on the left is a Planet Bike Superflash, which is very bright, familiar to a lot of people, and the only light I use I night downtown. The light on the right is a Dinotte Taillight (I sell both). The triangle is a reflective hi-vis green triangle with a hi-vis orange center. My family has dubbed the Dinotte the "shock and awe" light. It has a very arresting BAM-BAM-BAM-pause-BAM-BAM-BAM flashing pattern and you literally cannot look directly at it without intensely hurting your eyes. It is visible even in broad daylight. Cars pass at very noticeably slower speeds and greater distances with this light. I could be wrong, but I'm convinced that the car that hit me from behind in Dallas wouldn't have hit me had I had this ridiculously bright light (I was using two Planet Bike BRT-7's at night. Driver wasn't drunk, he just "spaced out." He was about as scared as I was and actually raced me to the hospital himself.)

"Daylight" shot--hi vis triangle doesn't show up as well in the photograph under florescent lights

Low-light Shot without rear illumination

Low-light Short with rear illumination

Shot from the front to give some perspective of just how much light the Dinotte puts out. There it still light coming into the shop from the front window (it was dusk outside) or the light would show even more contrast

Payin' the bills content: Planet Bike Superflash lights are $24. Dinotte Taillights are $170 for the AA version and $230 for the Lithium Ion. Both include batteries, charger, and seatpost mount adapters. (I can tell you how to mount it in other spots if the seatpost isn't a good location for you--mine is attached to a seatstay rack boss. Shipping is free the Dinotte lights and all small part orders over $150 (no wheels, rims, bikes, or frames). I'm not much for "If it saves you one trip for the hospital its worth it" pitches. My take is these expensive lights are worth it for the stress they save you while riding. They buy you more room out there, which makes riding a lot more pleasurable. They're American made and have a two-year warranty. I offer a thirty day trial period for these lights. If you're not satisfied, just return the light--no matter how much you've used it--within thirty days and you'll get a full refund. No one has ever taken me up on that one.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Day, Rough Day

The summer weather in Wilmington was nice yesterday, which means it was humid and only moderately hot. Silas and I rode to pick up some groceries about noon, and found a good route to a store we hadn't taken our bikes to before. Later in the day I rode to my sister-in-law's while the rest of the family followed in the car. It isn't a bicycle friendly route and about half of it is on a multi-lane road with 45ish mph traffic, but with what I have termed my "shock and awe" visibility set up (bright colored shirt, reflective hi-vis triangle, PlanetBike Superflash and Dinotte Taillight--both taillights, esp. the Dinotte are bright enough to be visible in the day) I felt comfortable and everyone gave me plenty of room. We all went to a park near my sister-in-law's and I rode some more before riding home. I was nice and tired by the end of the day, and the night air was cool on the return ride home.

Silas went to bed early than we expected and was a little feverish, which we first thought was due to another molar coming in, but in the middle of the night he woke up in obvious pain and vomited. Lucy examined him and found what looked like spider bite on his back near his left armpit. Because the center looked necrotic and there was a large infected aura around the bite we suspected it could have been a brown recluse bite and took him to the emergency room (it was 3am). The doctor there also thought it a spider bite. Only after doing some research at home did I find out the brown recluse bites are often misdiagnosed with the nastiest alternative being MRSA, which the doctor did mention in passing. I was frustrated with this, though the doctor and nurse were pleasant to deal with, the possibility of MRSA wasn't made very explicit. In retrospect the immediate antibiotic injection administered and the strength and type of the antibiotic prescribed indicate the doctor was covering the bases if the culprit was MRSA. I understand the doctor may have not wanted to freak us out, and that ER staff have to deal with a lot of dense people, but I'd rather have the straight dope and get as much information as possible from the staff. The antibiotics have helped, but Silas is still feverish and the necrotic wound will get worse in the next two or three days before it gets better. Not fun stuff for anybody involved.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Low Trail 650B Conversion Forks Have Arrived

I received a shipment of these today from Kogswell. The forks have a 1" unthreaded steerer, which can be threaded upon request. The intention is for these forks to be used on road bike conversions to allow 1) low-trail steering geometry 2) wider tires and fenders than stock forks on conversions would likely allow and 3) good fender and rack mounts. The finish is raw. Fork rake is 64mm, which--assuming a 650B-ish wheel diameter of 660mm, yields the following trail measurements.

40mm with a 72 degree headtube angle
37mm with a 72.5 degree headtube angle
34mm with a 73 degree headtube angle
31mm with a 73.5 degree headtube angle
28mm with a 74 degree headtube angle

If you've converted an old road bike to fatter 650B tires but still have high trail steering geometry you're only getting half the joie. With fat tires, a front load, and a low-trail front end you can see what all the Frenchy fuss is about.

For those unfamiliar with the P/R forks, I've included some pictures below. They have double eyelets on the dropouts, mid-fork braze ons for low rider racks, and threaded fender mount underneath the fork crown (very handy), and braze ons on the top of the fork crown for rack Kogswell is developing specifically for the fork. The fork crown affords room for a 50mm fender. I've put both Gran Bois Hetres and Panaracer Fatty Rumpkins under a 50mm fender of this fork. Both fit, the Rumpkin was a little tighter than the Hetre.

Forks are $65. Shipping is $10 to the continental United States. I can have the forks threaded for $40, but I need to know the exact length of the headtube (plus any spacers you plan on using) for the bike the fork is destined for. I also can ship the fork directly to a good powdercoater or painter if you don't have one in your area.

Keep in mind 1" threadless headsets and stems are readily available, so don't dismiss the idea of changing your setup to threadless. The steerer tube on these forks is huge (400mm), so you won't have any problem putting your handlebars wherever you'd like should you decide to go threadless.

For those that can't wait for the Kogswell front racks I haven Nitto M-12's for $60.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Frank ist Fat, and We Like Him That Way

I was mistaken when I deemed my child carrying bike perfected. The Bobike Mini is indeed the best child seat you'll find for sub 33 lb children, but I squeezed in some Schwalbe Fat Frank tires the other day and well . . . I'll just have to gush below.

In "Historic" downtown Wilmington half the steets are brick and the other half are terrible. Okay, I exaggerate. About a third of the streets are brick. Seven twelfths are terrible, one twelfth is smooth. Does that add up to one? Downtown Wilmington is built along the Cape Fear River. Water, Front, 2nd, 3rd, etc. run parallel to the river. Water is mostly brick. The streets which run perpendicular to the river are mostly brick. 3rd street is smooth. 2nd is smooth for six block. Everything else isn't brick but is very bumpy.

I'm not complaining. My gut feeling is that really bad roads act as traffic calming devices.

Back to the tires. In rough terrain these excel, but even on the smooth streets of mid-town the tires are fast and unbelievably comfortable.

The tires float over brick and cobblestone. Improvised unpaved lines become as smooth as chipseal. They aren't just huge tires. They are very nice huge tires. Thin, supple sidewalls. Just enough tread.

Me and my son equal a 200 lb rider. I've been using 25 psi in the back and 20 in the front. The bike rides like a dream. You have to try them to understand. I have e-mailed Schwalbe begging for a 650B or 650A version. It won't happen. Like the Gran Bois Hetre and Cypres, these are tires worth of designing an entire bike around. In fact, Frank Patitz, the tires' namesake, did just that.

Schwalbe Fat Frank tires are (unfortunately) only available in 26" (559-60 ISO) diameter. They are available in black and cream. $40 each. The Big Apple, which is similar to the Fat Frank, is available in a wider variety of sizes. Black only. $40 for 26" and 700C versions, less for smaller wheel diameters.

Three Speed Internal Hub Gearing: A Proposal

When I built the child haulin' bike below I used a three speed internal hub because of a couple of circumstances. 1) It was affordable, 2) came with a coaster brake, and 3) (related to #2) I didn't have the time to repair my MB-1 frame to use a cantilever or v-brake (one of the rear canti-posts needed to be reattached after a car collision). Since I had the chance to choose my own gearing I put some thought into it. Stock three speed IG setups seem me to have a decently low first gear, but have a third gear that is too high, and a second gear that seems too low. The "correct" cruising gear seems to hover between second and third, but you can't get to it. Correct cruising gear may be a matter of opinion, but I submit it isn't too far away from the low to mid 70 gear inches (5.6ish gain ratio if you use that method) that works for fixed gear or road singlespeed bikes. That gearing will get you moving at 20mph with 90rpm pedal cadence. In my book that's plenty fast, so I worked on the assumption that the I'd set my highest gear at this level. Using Sheldon's Invaluable Internal Gear Calculator, I found that with my tire size I could achieve this gearing with a 46x22 setup.

One coincidence of this experiment is that I'm now smitten with the Nexus 3-speed hub. It works very well, and I prefer it to its SRAM counterpart--easier setup, easier shifter action, better shifting. If that weren't enough, Nexus cogs are readily available in 16-22 tooth. This was important for me because I was installing a IG hub on a bike with nearly vertical dropouts. The wide range of cogs available allowed me to calculate (again with some internet assistance) the chainring/cog combo that would give me the gearing I wanted and get the needed chain tension without horizontal dropouts.

Back to gearing. I'm now adamant that this is the way to gear a three speed hub--especially on a city bike that doesn't exactly excel in the out of the saddle pedaling department. You don't need a larger gear, if you're going downhill you simply coast. Second gear is used for starting up on flat terrain, first gear is for going uphill or starting on an incline. Second is also used for cruising on slight inclines into strong headwinds. Third is your ideal cruising gear. 20mph is plenty fast for most riding. You can spin faster if you'd like, but you rarely need to. The lower first and second gear were essential for this bike, because with Silas in the Bobike Mini getting out of the saddle is very dodgy. But even without the child seat (I use take the seat off and use the same bike for all my errands around town) the gearing works very well. Low gear is 40 inches for the curious.

If you're thinking about building up a bike with an internal hub, try it out.

Commercial content--Nexus Inter-3 hubs with shifter are $80 (36H only). Complete wheels built by me start at $162 and include the shifter. 19T cogs are standard and included in the price. Nexus cogs 16-22T are available for $10.