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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grass Cutting Bicycles???

Well its that time of year again... time to get out the lawnmower and start cutting the grass before the dandelions set in... but wait, your lawnmower is rusted and is either broken or barely works.

Want a mechanical challenge to build something unique? Try building a grass cutting "lawn-mower-cycle".

See the amusing photos below:







Friday, March 26, 2010

Perfectly Tuned Brakes

Just minutes ago I finished adjusting the brakes on my grey hybrid bicycle and took it for a quick spin. And then some amazingly quick braking. Not bad for a bicycle that in my own words "is a piece of shit".

I bought the grey hybrid 2 summers ago for almost nothing off craigslist. It was broken, I fixed it and its been running perfectly fine ever since (with the exception of having to fix the derailleurs when some prick kicked them in and fix the brakes due to similar mischief).

The end result is a sleeper bicycle that nobody would steal because it looks horrible, but when its tuned to perfection the gears glide beautifully and the brakes stop on a dime.

Because I keep the bicycle on street level I expect it to be vandalized occasionally, but its no big deal considering the lock costed more than the bicycle. Still I have taken precautions like writing my name and phone number on the bike with bicycle paint (the kind that can't be scratched off without scratching the regular paint) to prevent thieves...

The ride? It glides, but the real beauty is when you squeeze the brakes and it stops INSTANTLY. Front or back, it doesn't matter.

Having two perfectly working sets of brakes is very important. Having one set of brakes working is inherently dangerous because when those brakes fail you're heading for a crash.

How do you achieve perfectly tuned brakes?
(For the example below we will be using V-brakes.)

Step #1. Tighten up the brake levers and make sure they're in perfect working order. This includes adjusting them to a 45 degree angle, making sure they're not sliding on the handlebars and making sure they aren't squeezing the fingers by accident.

Step #2. Remove the cable attached the brakes.

Step #3. Adjust the brake pads so they are angled lengthwise across the wheel rim without rubbing the side of the tire.

Step #4. Reattach the brake cable and make sure its good and tight, but not so tight that its squeezing the brakes onto the wheel rim. Tuck the remaining cable "tail" behind the hook on the side of the V-brake or bend it so its not sticking straight out. DO NOT CUT IT OFF!

Step #5. Adjust the brake screws if the brake alignment is unbalanced (you can tell if its unbalanced if one side is touching but the other is not). The brake screws effect the tightness of springs hidden in the brake housing, ultimately allowing you to adjust the alignment of the brakes so one or both aren't squeezing the wheel rim when they're not supposed to be.

Step #6. Test it. Take it for a ride and make sure it stops on the dime. Readjust if necessary.

Now... once that you have perfectly tuned brakes you can do several things on your bike you might not otherwise do... like Power Sliding.

HOW TO POWER SLIDE ON A BICYCLE

Step #1. Find a place to practice where there isn't a lot of people, lots of space to gain speed and practice power sliding. An empty parking lot is ideal.

Step #2. You will need at least 5 MPH (or 8 kmph) of speed to do this. If u are going too slow you won't have the necessary speed to slide.

Step #3. Practice getting comfortable with leaning and braking simultaneously.

Step #4. Practice positioning your weight and putting your right or left foot out but not touching the ground while leaning and braking.

Step #5. Lean very deep and turn really hard (approx. 90 degrees) whilst using either the front brakes or both the front and back brakes and you will go into a power slide if done correctly.



With lots of practice you can power slide beside obstacles or people with little or no danger of crashing into them. (Be warned however I did this once in Chinatown and got some scared looks from people who thought they were about to be crashed into.)

Its recommended you have you brakes perfectly tuned and everything else in perfect working condition before attempting power slides. A helmet is a good idea too.

Note: Power Sliding is different from Drifting. Power Sliding is braking while sliding sideways. Drifting is moving sideways or in a circular motion while still in motion. Less knowledgable people sometimes confuse the terminology.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bicycle Parking in Japan



The video above shows how Japan is dealing with the problem of not enough space for people to park their bicycles on the street. The problem is so rampant they've come up with a robotic solution for bicycle storage.

Criticism of this method is that it seems like a waste of space, but for extremely crowded cities like Tokyo it makes perfect sense. For tourists visiting Japan and wanting to get around on bicycles the country is very bicycle friendly, as are many other Asian countries.

See Also:
Thoughts on Cycling in Hokkaido and Japan
Tokyo Cycling Club

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Folding Electric Bicycles

There is a growing number of folding electric bicycles on the market, assuming one has the cash to spend on an item that typically only has a range of 10 km and doesn't mind looking like a complete dork while riding one.

Lets take for example the YikeBike below:



Yikes! Might as well just pin a note to your back saying "I'm a Loser, Please Kick Me!"

And below is a folding bicycle/car with 4 wheels that runs on a combination of gasoline and electricity. So... really its a folding hybrid car with bicycle wheels.




Regardless of what you think of such bicycles (I think they're amusing, but really not worth the expense and the silliness factor) the problem with ALL folding electric bicycles is that they're essentially designed for lazy people who want to get noticed for their gadget. Eventually the kewlness will fade and you will get tired of all the weird looks and having to carry the damn thing to your office or home... or worse, having to deal with battery failure, empty batteries and miscalculating how much distance to go / charge you had left.

I'd argue that if you want a kewl gadget you might as well go all the way and get something like a Carver... which is technically more like a motorcycle... or is it a car? Three-wheeler? I doubt anyone would EVER bore of driving a Carver.



Bicycle purists of course will point out that the Carver runs on gasoline and it has no place on a blog dedicated to bicycles. Have an open mind however and let me point out something...

Electric bicycles get their power from the local electricity grid (unless you happen to have your own solar panel / wind turbine) and thus uses a combination of renewable energy, nuclear and the most frequently used, most hated but cheapest of energy sources... coal. That means your electric bicycle is running off a percentage of coal energy (depending where you live that percentage could be surprisingly high). Furthermore if you are charging your electric bicycle during peak hours (7 AM to 9 PM) you are using a larger percentage of coal because thats when it is needed most.

So its a case of tomato tomatoe. You're not saving the environment by using electricity.

The whole purpose of an electric bicycle is essentially laziness. Its a bit like an electric can opener. Some people can't be bothered to use a hand held can opener and do it the old fashioned way. Or elevators/escalators instead of stairs. Its a lifestyle choice, one people in Western culture frequently take for granted.

I think, and this purely my opinion, this a growing trend towards a broadening market for electric bicycles. Eventually a few major producers will gain popularity and mass production (its the chicken and the egg as to which will come first) and we could see large numbers of people riding electrics in the future... and hopefully by then we will have done away with coal power.

I don't think it will ever replace traditional bicyles however. The added factors of needed exercise, not looking like a dork and saving money (e-bikes cost about the same as a Tata Nano car) will keep this mode of transportation around indefinitely.

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