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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cycling Gloves and other Cycling Gear

I find it very difficult to find gloves I can use while cycling that look "manly". No offense to those people who prefer spandex gloves (and spandex outfits) for cycling, but it just isn't me.

To me how I look on a bicycle is equally important as the bicycle itself. If I have to look like a spandex-wearing superhero (basically Spiderman with a cheesy helmet!) while cycling then, well, sorry, I will stick with my jeans and t-shirt.

But there are some bits of cycling gear I do endorse...

#1. Leg straps for protecting your clothes from being snagged on gears and ripped. I personally favour the small velcro ones, the larger "leg shields" to me are just unnecessary weight.

#2. A helmet you actually LIKE and are comfortable wearing, not just physically but also fashion wise. Again I prefer to go with a helmet that looks "manly" and not ridiculous. The pink helmet below is obviously not on my wish list and an example of what I would NOT buy.

#3. And last but not least... cycling gloves!

The gloves I am currently using (and have been for years) are my Atlas Weightlifting Gloves. They're not even meant for cycling. I got them for using at the gym because the weights were hurting my hands.

However I can't find that exact brand in stores any more, but I have found other brands which basically the exact same gloves. One company is Copper Canyon Cycling (sadly I can't find an example online) and other company is Saranac (shown below).

What I like about these gloves are they are black, totally badass fashion wise, knitted for comfort and let your skin breathe, and the leather is faux leather so it isn't going to offend any vegans or the veggie-curious.

In somewhat related commentary I think cyclists wearing too much spandex take themselves a little too seriously... and I also think it is hilarious when I cycle PAST them and show them that wearing all that spandex doesn't make you faster.



Monday, June 25, 2012

Converting a Boys Bicycle into a Girls Bicycle

Hello Charles,

Wondering if you can help - I want to outfit my son's old bike for may daughter by painting it and maybe changing the saddle & handlebar grips but I can't see, to find anywhere that sells these accessories in little girl colours like pink or purple or light blue. Would you know of any bike shops in the GTA Toronto that does?

Appreciate the help, hoping to make my little girl smile when she sees the bike.
Thanks for your time




I recall seeing some pink things in Cycle Solutions on Parliament when I was in there last week browsing wraps for handlebars, but I don't think they would have everything you are looking for. Best to call and make certain. My recommendation would be to phone various bike shops and ask if they do have a variety of pink, purple, etc bits you are looking for.

I have a simpler solution for you however!

#1. Sell your son's bicycle on Craigslist.

#2. Take the proceeds, plus whatever you were planning to spend on the saddle, grips, pedals and pink spray paint (I estimate that would be at least $35) and then buy either a new bicycle or one that is slightly used that is in the desired colour and size.

This way you save yourself time and effort, you don't run the risk of having a botched paint job (kids can be picky and embarrassed to ride something that looks bad), and you get your daughter something you know will look good.

Charles Moffat
The Bicycle Mechanic

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ergonomic Grips for your Bicycle

By Smokey Dymny from the Quadra Bike School

For a long time handlebar grips were just tape on a tube, then there
were sleeves of rubber compound on a tube.

This all seemed good because we all figure we can grip a rubber covered
bar in comfort. At least for a while.

The longer you ride though the more the lack of variety for your hands will cause your hands to start to hurt.

Roadies can shift positions from the tops of their bar to the hoods and to
the drops. But flat bar riders, that is mostly mountain bike bikers, have only
one way to hold their handlebar.

Riding a long time in that solitary position causes the weight to stress
the wrist. Your hand starts to bend at the wrist more and more as you
ride longer or bounce harder.

Then along came some inventive Germans with an ergonomic grip which has an extra pad of rubber sticking out toward the rider near the end of the grip. It fits exactly under the heel of your hand and supports the weight normally stressing your wrist. You set this pad at a 45 degree angle downward and it gives the heel of your hand something to rest on.

The original German patent must have been copied or broken because now, instead of $90 a pair, you can find these in many different brand names for $20 or less. And they work. Whether you use the plain one with just the support pad or the trickier one with a bar-end grip built in they work. They work so well that a friend of mine had a pair stolen off her bike in Victoria B.C. when the bike was locked to her car rack.

Try them BEFORE your wrists develop sore spots. You’ll like 'em!

How to Find a Bicycle that Fits You

By Smokey Dymny from the Quadra Bike School

Too many beginners jump on a bike without knowing exactly how to set it up for
comfort. The worst examples are the riders who are on a bike that is way too small
or large. Too small shows up as a rider who has their legs very bent. Not being able to extend their legs straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke means they never get to develop optimum power. At the other extreme is the rider whose saddle is pushed all the way down to the frame so they can reach the pedals but they are bent too far forward in order to reach the handlebars. In between are many lesser fitting mistakes.


Bicycles come in different frame sizes to accommodate different sizes of riders. We simply need to know how to pick the right one. One method is not very difficult and works for most folks unless you want extreme precision because you are going to ride competitively. In that case go to a pro fitting bike shop or measure your self with the free fitting service at and click on the Fit System tab. The rest is explained there.

For the simple method try this:

First measure your inseam, that is your leg length, with your riding shoes on. You might need a friend’s help. Pull the measuring tape up tight under your crotch while your friend tells you the measurement at the floor with your feet about a pedal width apart.

Next you need to decide which type of bike you are trying to fit.

For a road bike subtract 10 ½ inches.
For a cruiser or hybrid subtract 12 ½ inches.
For a mountain bike subtract 14 ½.

For a 32 inch inseam this would mean we would fit a 21 ½ inch road bike; a 19 ½ inch hybrid or an 17 ½ inch mountain bike.

In actual practice we would look for a 22inch road bike (or 56cm as road bikes
are often listed in metric sizes) because bicycle frames are generally sold in 2 inch increments. Most companies use even numbers but some companies use odd number
frame sizes.


Now what is the frame size of your current bicycle you may ask?

Since it’s not always marked on the bike here’s how to tell. Measure from the middle of the crank to the top of the frame under the seat. That’s called the seat tube. Don’t measure the seat post itself. That’s the most common way to tell the frame size.

The difference between your frame size and your leg extension is made up by
adjusting the seat post upwards until your leg is fully extended at the bottom of your pedal stroke but with just the slightest bend in your knee. You NEVER want to be so high as to let you knees lock on each pedal stroke – this will cause knee damage. But you want it to be high enough to get the full power of your leg muscles.


Once your seat height is set, check the seat position itself. Set the saddle angle so it’s more or less level. Then sit on the bike while holding onto something. Place your cranks horizontally with the widest part of your shoe directly over the pedal axle.

Make a plumb bob with a nut or a bolt on a string or thread. Have your friend drop
the string from the back of your knee bone (patella) on your forward leg and down to the side of your foot. If the string bisects the pedal axle you are well positioned. If not, the saddle has rails which can slide (after loosening the bolt) forward or backward until this is achieved.

If you can’t get this position properly go back and check the frame size again. Also check the saddle mounting clamp. On the old ones, which are NOT integrated into the seat post, this could be mounted backwards which makes this adjustment difficult to achieve. There is some leeway according to preference here. You can ride a while and decide your preference is to shift a bit fore or aft. But DO NOT adjust the saddle to change your reach to the handlebar. This is done next.


On a road bike the handlebar needs to be purchased in the right width. Your hands
need to reach out to meet the bar in parallel. You can get your friend to measure the distance between your shoulder bones across your back . This will be your optimal handlebar width. Some people seem to pick narrower bars in the city but this tends to hamper good breathing. In rough mountain bike territory bars are extra wide for better control over the bumps, potholes, etc.

If your hands are too widely spaced on a mountain bike you can cut the bars
down. These bars all come very wide from the manufacturer. Your bike shop was
supposed to tell you they could be shortened. Many people are too lazy to do this. Just place your hands on the bar where you think you would like them (never closer together than parallel, remember your breathing) and then measure how much you’ll cut off.

It’s generally not more that 1 ½ inches at each end. Remove the grips, they come off easily if you squirt water under the rubber while holding it up with a screwdriver. Then wiggle them off.

Don’t cut the bars with a hacksaw, it makes a ragged mess. Get a pipe cutter used for cutting 1 inch copper pipe. Place it on your mark and rotate until it cuts through. Use the cut off piece to measure the same length to be cut off the other end of the bar. Before you slide the grips back on you may have to move the brakes and shifters inboard by the length of bar you cut before the grips fit back on. For smaller folks the space left may now be limited. This is normal. Cut some length off the grips to make them fit.

I often cut my grips shorter just to get the brakes into a more ergonomic position vis à vis my hands.


Now adjust your brakes' angle on a flat bar so they are at approximately 45 degrees below level. A more precise setting would be to adjust them so that the back of your hand is in line with your forearm when squeezing the brakes. If the shifters are separate align them close to the brakes but check for easy thumb reach too. On a road bike the handlebar is tilted so that the slope of the top part (just above the brake) is equal to the slope of the drops (the part below the brake). Then the brakes are adjusted up or down this curve until the bottom tip of the brake is just about even ( + or – ½”) with a straight edge extending forward from the flat part of the drops.

On cruiser bikes adjust the brakes so they are in line with the back of the hand and forearm rule.


The stem is the gooseneck piece between the steerer tube and handlebar.

Stems are where you can change your reach to the handlebar and the tilt of your
torso. Stems come in very many lengths. They also come in so many different heights
and upward angles that you can accommodate just about any riding preference. I
can’t describe all the permutations here. Just go to a shop. Show them where you
want your hands to be when you’re riding and they should be able to get you the
right stem.

Be prepared. If you are changing the riding position on a bike to be radically more
upright than it was you may also have to change the brake and shifter cables because they will have to be longer.

Now GO have a comfortable ride!

Monday, June 18, 2012

When NOT to Repair a Bicycle

By Smokey Dymny from the Quadra Bike School

Some home-based bicycle mechanics like to “repair” an used bicycle for resale. Before you start down this path make sure you are able to assess an used bicycle’s potential.


The wheels must be able to be trued and YOU have to be able to do it. It costs too much to pay for this repair. Check if the spoke nipples will turn with the proper size of spoke wrench (you need to have the red and black spoke wrenches at least). A spoke gauge would be handy too.

It’s best to UNWIND the nipples rather than tighten them, so you don’t get blamed for wrecking the wheel if a spoke should break from tightening. If most of the spokes will turn, then you can oil all the spoke nipples and maybe true up the wheel at home. I say MAYBE because you also need to check the wheel rims for dents, which may prevent you from making the wheels workable.

Also spin the axles with your fingers to assess how badly worn or pitted the hubs are – you need to have the hubs turn smoothly for proper truing and for riding. Finally, if the rims are alloy, place a small straight edge across the sidewall (braking surface) to see if the brakes have worn the sidewalls down. If there is a 1mm gap between your straight edge and the rim there is too little metal left in the rims for the wheels to last. Braking will soon wear right through the rim and the tube will burst through the weak sidewall.

If all these things check out then you need access to a community bike shop to use their truing stand to straighten and tighten the wheels properly.

(It also possible to purchase a truing stand, but its a tad out of reach unless you have the funds to do so and plan to be truing wheels regularly.)


If the wheels pass inspection check the brakes and shifters to see if they will operate from the controls. If they do – good. If they don’t, disconnect the brake and shifter cables and see if the brakes and shifters move well on their own. The problem could just be rusted cables and housings, which you can replace.


You need a chain checker to assess if the chain is worn. Most mechanics call this chain “stretch”. Of course if the chain’s rusted, you should just toss it anyway - a rusty drivetrain is a major loss of efficiency on a bicycle.


Check the tires for cracks and wear. If they look like they have tread, let out the air and pinch them till you see into any cracks. If the tire casing (white cloth) is visible at the bottom of a crack, the tire is crap. Also check for wear and cracks on sidewalls. Maladjusted brakes may have destroyed those too.


Finally check the headset (steering) and crank rotation for looseness or rust and corrosion, these symptoms will indicate you have to replace the ball bearings inside it.


Check if the front fork has been crashed. A straight-edge held along the steerer tube should continue in a straight line down the fork till it begins to bend forward. You can eyeball the frame for straightness front–to-back or, better yet, tie a string to one rear drop-out, run it around front steerer tube and back to the other rear drop-out. Then check that the distance from this string to the seat tube is the same on each side. This only sounds tricky till you try it in practice.


If you can fix all the problems you have analyzed, then buy the used bike but point out all its problems to the owner to bring down the price. If the bike has ALL the above problems, even getting it for free may not be worth it, unless the frame is really, really good.

Don't waste your time on a bicycle with a crappy frame if it has lots of problems with its parts that need repairing or replacing.


Estimate how much you can sell the bicycle for after its been fixed. Your selling price should cover your new parts and a reasonable charge for your labour.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Teach your Child to Ride

By Smokey Dymny from the Quadra Bike School

It’s often funny to see how parents repeat the same mistakes when teaching a
child to ride a bike. Here’s what happens: a mom or dad bent far over holding the
saddle of the child’s bike to help them balance while trying to pedal forward.
If the parents give up on this tactic, they then bolt on a set of training wheels and sit back while their little one wobbles left and right between the training wheels and everyone wonders why they can’t find the sweet spot of balance in the

Neither of these techniques works very well, although I think the training wheels
method is the worst of the two.

Look at history and you find the way out of this dilemma.
Before bikes there were swiftwalkers.

Dudes rode on a two-wheeled contraption while their feet ran along the ground.
No one had invented the pedals and chain and freewheel yet.

When the speed got high enough, they lifted their legs a bit and coasted.

Well now these little bikes have made a comeback in a children’s version. Two wheels, a wooden frame and a handlebar.

Here’s the beauty of the swiftwalker: the child learns how to balance and coast
along WITHOUT having to master pedaling at the same time. Trying to pedal
while still not having learned how to balance is a big challenge. As you push
down on each pedal in turn you have to counterbalance slightly to make up for
the downward push first on one side and then the other.

But if we duplicate the swiftwalker and the kid learns the balance first.
Learning to pedal next is much easier.

My problem here is that I see the bicycle industry has responded by making
themselves a niche market for these bikes without pedals. They are made like a
bike in all other respects except there’s no hole down below for the crank. Your
problem as a parent is that as soon as your junior cyclist masters the balancing
act, you get stuck buying a bike with pedals next because the original unit had no
bottom bracket or freewheel you could connect up with a chain.

Solution? Don’t buy one of these bikes without pedals.

Get your child the right size of small bike and remove the cranks and chain at
home, till they get the balancing part figured out. Then reassemble everything
and they’ll have a normal bike for part two of the lessons.


Or you could get them a tricycle and do it more gradually... but maybe not an antique tricycle like the one below.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cycle Paths and Time

And the other is a psychopath. :)

195 Years of the Bicycle

The bicycle was invented in 1817 and later patented in 1818 by Karl von Drais. Known as the Draisine it had two wheels and no pedals, chain or gears... It was instead propelled by your feet pushing off the ground (a bit like a skateboard).

Of course in 195 years the bicycle has gone through numerous changes... from wooden frames, to steel frames, to aluminum, to alloys, to carbon-fibre bicycles that are currently used by racers.

And then there was the steering and the drive train.

Henry Lawson invented a rear-chain-drive bicycle in 1879 with a huge front wheel and a small rear wheel but it failed to be a seller. It wasn't until John Kemp Starley created his "safety bicycle" aka "The Rover" in 1885 that sales took off and it became widely copied. The Rover featured a steerable front wheel, two wheels of the same and a chain drive to the rear wheel.

In 1888 John Dunlop reinvented and popularized the pneumatic bicycle tire, which is still used today.

Braking systems have varied wildly, but typically most bikes now come with two sets of brakes (front and back). I recall a few years ago fixing a bicycle which had 3 (front, back and coaster/pedal brakes).

What doesn't seem to have changed with time is the inability of some motorists to share the road with cyclists, especially in metropolitan cities where cycling is a common practice for getting to and from work.

You would think that after 195 years of the bicycle people would get used to cyclists, but apparently impatient motorists stuck in traffic will complain about anything.

NOTE: We would have a lot less complainers if city councils put bicycle lanes on ALL the major streets instead of just lip service.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Do It Yourself Bicycle Generator

According to it can be pretty expensive to make your own bicycle generator. Take a look at the list of components you would need to buy below.

1 $149 - 600 Watt Duracell Battery Powerpack
2 $199 - 300 Watt DC Generator
3 $79 - Adjustable V-belt
4 $159 - 12V Charge Controller
5 $129 - Aluminum Adapter Plate
6 $79 - Bike Trainer Exercise Stand
7 $89 - Blocking Diode
8 $49 - Terminal Blocks + Wiring Kit for charge controller

TOTAL $932

+ $223 - OPTIONAL - WattsVIEW Power Monitor for windows (TOTAL $1155)

Price does not include taxes. May cost you extra to buy specific tools and replacement parts.

HOWEVER once you have your bicycle generator, what can you do with it? Well the average person can produce 40 watts per second on a bicycle. Enough to light an energy efficient 40 watt lightbulb.

A small laptop uses 45 watts per second.
The average fridge uses 110 watts per second.
A desktop computer uses between 150 to 340 watts per second depending on the size of the monitor.
A 50" LCD television uses between 210 to 320 watts per second.
A tiny air conditioner in the window uses 500 watts per second.
An electric oven set at 350 F uses 2000 watts per second.

Even a measly clock radio uses 4 watts per second.

So lets pretend you get on your bicycle generator and cycle for 1 hour, averaging 40 watts per second. That is enough to power your clock radio for 10 hours.

NOTE: For $599 you could get yourself a Blue Planet 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, which would produce a lot more electricity between sunrise and sundown. Or you could get a Blue Planet 600 Watt Wind Generator for $799 and generate electricity 24/7. You will also need to buy batteries and a battery control system, but basically it works out to more bang for your buck than a bicycle generator.

So I am sorry for debunking any hopes and dreams you had of running your home on bicycle power. Its just not feasible. An hour on a bicycle producing 40 watts per second is only enough to power a coffee maker (900 watts per second) for 160 seconds. You could cycle 10 hours per day and would still not be producing enough power for the electricity needs of a normal household.

While typing this on my desktop computer, with the AC on full blast, a 60 watt lightbulb, a freezer and a fridge running I conservatively estimate I was using about 980 watts per second. If I turned the AC, computer, the lightbulb all off I would still be using maybe 220 watts per second just to keep my food cold. And this doesn't include any electricity I use if I use water from the tap.

It really makes you realize just how dependent we are on solar, wind, hydro and nuclear energy now that Canada is phasing out coal energy.

NOTE: Canada has no geothermal power plants, even though geothermal produces as much electricity as a coal plant and is significantly cheaper than nuclear power.


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About the Author

Charles Moffat is equal parts bicycle mechanic, cyclist, painter, sculptor, fantasy writer, poet, website designer and pun maker. For more details see



Do you own a bike shop and are looking to hire a bicycle mechanic in North America? Just email me with the job posting details and I will post it for you. (Also, please let me know when the job has been filled so I can update the posting.)


If your bicycle is basically junk and you don't know what to do with it then SELL IT TO ME. I will use it for parts. I will give you a fair price ($20 to $30) for your old clunker just so I can rip it apart for parts.

If you need repairs check out my Bicycle Mechanic Services in Banbury-Don Mills.