Bicycles – For When the Car Fails

It would be a pretty cheap shot for this blog to list all the things your average four-door sedan can’t do that a bike can, but in the event of a general emergency when fuel is short, automobiles are damaged, and there’s still the need for people and goods to get around, there will always be the bike.

I promise, my good man! The meter is off!

After the rain from Super Storm Sandy stopped, New Yorkers were hit with a fuel shortage and thus fuel rationing. Personal automobiles quickly became useless (if not from the lack of fuel, then from water damage). Public works, emergency responders, and transit were given priority for fuel and the lines to get on the running buses will go down in history.

For Pete’s sake, people! Please have the EXACT CHANGE ready when you board!

People had to get places and for most New Yorkers, the only way to get from point A to point B can be by motor. Still, there were others who not only got around without gasoline or diesel. They thrived.

Burning calories, saving money, traveling through a metropolitan wasteland — All in a day’s biking!

So just like any tech, when the most relied-upon gadget fails, people will always fall back on the most reliable gadget.

That brings me to actual preparation. While good people can always bet on good people helping out, it shouldn’t be governmental or organizational expectation that the needs of the masses will be met by those with simple good will.

I think there are maybe a dozen full-fledged, privately owned cargo bikes in the whole of Orange County as it is.

What we need is a back-up plan for when the automobile fails us. It  may be a quick unforeseen disaster (California Earthquake) or disaster that we can actually prepare for (Sandy), but either way we need to accept that our roads will become quickly useless in a mass-panic and evacuation.

Earlier in the history of this blog, I ran across an article describing the use of bicycles for EMT travel in London. That’s right, traffic is so congested  in London that it’s of genuine benefit for the community at large that some EMTs be on bikes. Here’s the official site (Click me to learn more!) I’ve loved this idea since I found it and have found many other versions under the term “Bicycle Emergency Response Team” or BERT.

Roads?… Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Fire trucks, ambulances, and service vehicles need roads. A bicyclist just needs a direction. How serious do I think it is to integrate the use of bicycles in emergency planning? Well, take a look at UC Irvine:

The campus is a set upon a set of very odd concentric shapes. That’s great in that it preserves a minimally-motorized central campus, but it also provides for multiple very-limited points of egress. If the area was struck by an 8.5 earthquake in the middle of week 6 of Winter Quarter, it’s easily imaginable that faculty, staff, and students alike would feel compelled to leave the campus to be with loved ones… especially if there  is news of injured loved ones. The bottlenecks would be Anteater Drive, Bison, and Campus drive wherever it touches the campus and Arroyo Drive would be useless when those parking lots empty.

We know this congestion as “rush hour” on a daily basis but with so many people scrambling to get out while emergency vehicles are scrambling to get in, we’re headed for gridlock. Gridlock is annoying, but it’s genuinely dangerous when people are trapped under heavy cabinets or if they’ve fallen down stairs. Response time is important and that’s why UC Irvine has the Campus Search And Rescue plan/team/training/thing.

UCI has a program similar to most major cities that trains willing students, staff, and faculty to respond to general emergencies in a hierarchical and organized manner. Resources, after all, quickly become limited and without some sort of organization, those resources can just rot when they can be used.

I completed this program recently, learned a ton, and will be taking the City of Irvine CERT training after the new year. If you would like to learn more about UCI CSAR or the City of Irvine’s CERT programs, just click on the links.

I mention all that because for at least 10% of each of the classes, I was thinking “Well, how will people be getting from one part of campus to the other with gear and in a hurry?” The obvious solution is to train people to bike with gear so that they could use that experience in daily life and emergencies, but it didn’t seem obvious to anyone else. Imagine the value of a cargo or touring cyclist in an emergency!

At the very least, I have my own top secret plan to release ~20 bikes to emergency responders on campus, but it’s of significantly lower value than people actually being prepared.

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The Evils of Deferred Maintenance

(From Early October, 2012)

Deferred Maintenance refers to the act of saving money now by not providing for one’s minimum standard of functionality and accepting the risk of failure and higher costs in the future. It is often a function of oversight or under-funding and is generally defined as a “bad idea”. After all, if you own something that requires maintenance, chances are that you don’t want it to suffer a catastrophic failure at any point during your possession of that object.

Well, a few months back, I was considering replacing my bike chain. I knew then as I know now that a bike chain can stretch in length and that stretching is bad because it would mean that the chain wouldn’t always meet up 100% with the teeth on a cog or chainring. Furthermore, I read that overstretched chains can lead to increased cog wear and vice versa. I also read the incredibly easy way to check if one’s chain is too stretched and requires replacement. What incredibly specialized tools are required to check one’s chain’s stretch? A ruler. Just a rule.

Here’s how to check the stretch on your chain:

  1. Have a ruler.
  2. Go to your bike chain.
  3. Choose a chain link on the left side of your chain.
  4. Place the start of your ruler at the center of one of the link pins (axle).
  5. Look at the 12″ mark. Is it in the middle of another pin? Then you’re good. Is pin center at the 12 1/16″ mark? Then replace the chain. Is the pin center at or past the 12 1/8″ mark? Then you’re likely going to have to replace your rear cogs and possibly your front chainrings as well.

That’s easy enough, right? And if it’s not easy enough, Park Tool has a chain wear measurer (of course).

Around April of this year, having done some further reading on the maintenance of various parts of a bicycle, I contemplated buying a new bike chain. I had read about the measuring the chain (like above) and also heard of “rules of thumb” such as replacing your chain ever 1500-2000 miles. I did some quick math and figured that I had ridden at least 1800 miles on the stock chain by that day. “It’s time to buy a new chain!,” I said to myself.

But I didn’t. I looked around and compared prices and then looked at other parts… but never got around to buying a new chain. I just put it off. After all, how bad could some chain stretch be, right?

More info on chain stretch.

Well, it turns out that a sufficiently stretched chain wears down cogs faster than a lesser-stretched chain, so right off the bat, you’re reducing the life span of some of your components when you delay buying a new chain.

What’s worse is the threat of chain skipping. When you have worn cogs and a stretched chain, your chain can actually slip from a larger cog to a smaller cog when under great stress. This could lead to the foot that’s currently in the down-pedal to move too quickly, slip off the pedal, and hit the ground. You and your bike would then quickly pivot around that planted foot and you fall.

And by “you”, I mean “me”. =\

That’s not me, that’s not how I fell, and I didn’t crash in the rain… but that’s how I felt.

That’s right folks, I made the silly, silly error of riding my bike for 1800+ miles under high weight and torque without replacing the chain. And boy did my knee regret it.

I fell crossing Michelson going northbound on Harvard. I had just started to stand up and put the torque on for maximum acceleration. My right foot was in the down-stroke and *WHAM* the right pedal spins, my foot hits the ground, my forward movement pivots around my right leg, and and I fall on my right knee.

I quickly jump up and move my bike gear out of traffic. I am angry. I don’t like falling in public. It had only *almost* happened once before. My heart is racing, my right calf is dripping a little blood, and my instinct is just to jump on the bike and get back to riding. But then I look at my bike.

The handlebars are tweaked. One of my two aluminum water bottle cages is broken. I’m not surprised, but, again, I’m annoyed. I pull off my panniers and pull out my multitool. I un-tweak my handlebars. I remove the now-jagged hazard of a water bottle cage. I flip my bike upside down and stop everything. I still feel my heart racing. With the combination of the extreme self-annoyance that came with the fall, being in the middle of the street, having to fix up my bike on the road, and what I’m noticing to be a fairly significant pain in my left knee, I acknowledge quite consciously that my blood is totally shot up with adrenaline and if I were to jump on a hastily repaired bicycle, it’s likely that my regular reactions would be exaggerated and I risk falling again.

This stuff can be a total blast… unless you need your calm wits about you.

I take solace in the dominance of my rationality. I sit on the curb, do an injury inventory, and just calm down.


  • Left knee swelling, getting hard to move in either direction.
  • 2nd toe on right foot a bit stiff. (I’m guessing that this was my pivot point)
  • Some blood on the back of my right calf. (Pedal spin and scrape.)
  • No hand injuries. (All praise to bike gloves!)
  • No head injuries. (Helmet never touched the ground.)
  • Left shoulder pain. (Likely a minor sprain.)

I get through it all, resolve that (with my knee beginning to seize up) I need to get home quickly, and get back to my bike. I adjust the front derailleur a bit. I check the rear derailleur. I check the spokes. I take a long stare at my cassette and chainrings. The wear is very evident. I’ve been voluntarily ignorant of the wearing of these parts. I have no one to blame but myself.

But everything is working within expectations (expectations being significantly lowered given my recognition of the chain slip issue). I pack everything up, re-attach my panniers, put my helmet and gloves back on, and wait at the corner for the light. I stretch my left leg a bit and it’s already stiff. The light goes green and I take what must have been the most leisurely acceleration from a stop I’ve pedaled in months.

I slowly climb over the Harvard bridge crossing the 405. I continue pedaling down the other side for fear that my knee tighten up in a relaxed state. It hurts just a bit to lift my knee to the peak of the stroke. Luckily the horribly-timed traffic lights in Irvine seem to be timed perfectly for bikes and I cruise the rest of the way home only being stopped once by a red.

I park my bike in the garage, remove my panniers, and start deciding on a path of investigation for my fall and, subsequently, the parts that will have to be replaced. My day ends with an ice-pack on an elevated, swollen knee, anger at myself for deferring maintenance that needn’t be deferred, and the fact that I will miss work the next day to rest the knee, see a doctor, and get some X-rays.

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Bicycling & The Law (Bob Mionske, JD) – Book Review

I read this book once through. It was like reading a combination of the California Vehicle Code and my undergraduate Constitutional Case Law book. And that’s a GOOD THING! This book feels heavier despite its narrowness because it is PACKED full of information. It’s my bike law bible. I read through the book once and, now, just refer to it as “What would Bob say?”.

This book covers everything from lane positioning to collisions to insurance (theft, health, and liability). Make no mistake- this is not a novel. This is not a story book. If anything, this is a textbook—a must-have textbook for any bicycle advocate in the States

The only flaw I find in this book is its use of the Uniform Vehicle Code- a nationally-recognized but 100% non-binding suggestion of state-level vehicle code that was, at one time, maintained by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances… until it disbanded. Today, the UVC has little significance except in legacy. This one flaw does not, however, reduce the value of the book. It would have been an extraordinary burden, after all, to quote every single state’s relevant bike law as necessary. The UVC is sufficient in this case and if you need exact state details for your case, you should read what Bob says and then look up the law yourself. It builds character. ;)

If you would like to borrow this book, let me know.

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Pedaling Revolution (Jeff Mapes) – Book Review

This might have been the first cultural/historical book I purchased… and it was a good choice. It’s a very modern book in that it focuses on the theories, opinions, and cities of today instead of spending too much time trying to summarize was being a penny-farthing rider was like.

At over 270 pages, this isn’t a quicky read unless you know a good deal about the bike histories of Portland, Oregon and Davis, California. There’s great insight into the actual efforts made and trials walked to make a more bike-friendly place to live.

This is a great modern history of bikes, laws, and infrastructure and has appearances from names familiar to advocates like Birk, Blumenaur, Takemoto-Weets, Forester, etc. Additionally, there is an ample bibliography of articles (academic and periodical) and books in the back to keep you reading.

I would definitely suggest this book to anyone who already bikes and is seeking to understand recent bike history, especially those working in advocacy, transportation demand management, and urban planning. As usual with my reviews, if you would like to borrow this book and don’t mind random highlighting, just let me know.

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The Cyclist Manifesto (Robert Hurst) – Book Review

I refrained from buying this book initially mainly because I’ve never like the term “manifesto”. Most casual “manifestos” come from groups or people espousing extreme ideals or reasons for immediate change. Most lack the context of human behavior. Luckily, this book is FULL of context. Unfortunately, it’s 99% context with little call to action. If I were the author, I wouldn’t call it “The Cyclist Manifesto”, but “A History of Cycling in America and Why It’s Good to Bike”.

The author, Robert Hurst, goes from one historical vignette to the next lightly describing the evolution of the automobile, modern traffic law, some shameful history of the League of American Wheelmen (now, the League of American Bicyclists), and even some attempts at the militarization of bicycles.

Critical Mass, utility biking, pop culture, movies, the American habit of wearing a cycling uniform, the fear of automobile traffic, and the concept of Vehicular Cycling all get their few paragraphs, as does childhood obesity, the “law”, bad cyclists, the oil industry (and the oil crisis of the ‘70s), environmentalism, public transit, and the double-dealing of auto companies during WWII.

Almost no topic is missed, but all covered topics are discussed shallowly.

It’s not until page 179, the last page before the acknowledgements, that the manifesto finally shows its face: “Drive less… travel more.”

If you want to borrow this book and don’t mind some random highlighting, let me know. But I wouldn’t bother spending my money on it unless you just want to collect another bike book.

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3rd Annual Bike Swap Meet – Presented by Backwards Circle, Serfas, & BlackFlys (June 23, 2012, 6am-12pm)

Presented by  and Serfas

Backward Circle, Serfas, & BlackFlys present the 3rd Annual Bike Swapmeet at The Backward Circle warehouse. Free to attend, Free to sell! Come out and get great deals on various bike products, accessories, and specials on Black Flys Sunglasses!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012
17742 Mitchel North
Irvine, CA 92612

I went to last years and there are tons of used gear for sale. Serfas had a bunch of quality floor pumps for sale (pre-used as demos or refurbed) for like $5. I got one and have loved it. Jerserys, parts, tools, etc. Stop by, eat food, etc. Get there early if you want to find decent parking… OR RIDE IN!


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Bicycle Level of Service Study

I recently stumbled across the Bicycle Level of Service “plug and play” study (links: 1, 2, 3) and thought it would be a great way to show how much engineering effort a campus or municipality has put in to facilitate bicycle transportation. I’ll probably measure out all the variables required for the BLOS study (and other competing metrics) on my campus and map out the scores on an overlay of the campus.

Here's an ugly version of what the final map may look like

However, I don’t think it discretely measures the actual level of service provided for bicyclists because there are many factors that are not facility-related that actually determine the comfort of a bicyclist on the road:

  • Bicyclist education, philosophy
  • Bicyclist confidence in said education
  • Bicyclist assertiveness
  • Bicyclist experience

The above manifest in the bicyclist’s comfort with:

  • Average automobile passing breadth
  • Automobile passing speed (maximum and average)
  • Audible volume of passing automobile (maximum and average decibels)
  • Frequency of automobile passing (maximum and average)

Has anyone run across a study/paper that has measured the above or would anyone know any researchers that are interested in the field? I think it would make a great area of study and would hold national interest. Make it a product-style research project so anyone else can implement it and you’ll be famous!

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Armored Cable’s Lock Fails, Manufacturer Succeeds!

Note: This is a “lost draft” that I wrote months and months ago, but just noticed that I had never finished.

I used two separate locks of two different types to keep my ride secure. I use a Kryptonite New York STD U-Lock (the STD is short for “standard”, I think… I hope.) to secure my rear wheel and frame and then, until recently, an OnGuard Rottweiler armored cable to secure my front wheel and frame.

Yes- “until recently…”

At last Tuesday’s Taco Tuesday Social Ride to Costa Mesa’s “Taco Mesa”, and as is standard with the ride, we did a couple mass-lock-ups. My bike was locked to 3 others with 3 different locks. I used my armored cable. After we ate and talked, we decided to get back on the road… but wait. Something was wrong. My armored cable wouldn’t unlock. The key would turn 90 degrees but no more. I fiddled with it a bit and it came free in about 4-5 minutes. I thought it was the cold.

The next morning, I road into work, locked up with my U-lock and stopped. The armored cable, again, was difficult to open. It took me about 10 minutes to get it open. I decided then that, later that night, I would WD-40 the internals, let it dry out, and then put some graphite in there for good measure.

But to do so, I would have to unlock my bike to ride home. And when 3pm rolled around and the department was told to go home early and start our Thanksgivings with a bit of a time bonus, I rushed to my bike to use those extra 2 hours as indulgently as possible… I could not. For 30 minutes, I stubbornly, yet gently, tried to unlock my armored cable to free my front wheel from my frame… and nothing.

After 10 more minutes, I gave up and called for a ride. I was emotionally defeated. The lock cost me about $35 and I had hauled its 3.6 lbs pretty much everywhere I went for the last 8 months. By averages, I must have keyed the lock at least twice a day in that span.

But I won’t give up! I went home and researched this exact lock and how it could be saved. Todson, the company that owns Topeak and OnGuard, shows in an FAQ that if your lock gets stuck, you can try turning your key 90 degrees and tapping the lock or key with something hard (presumably to shake or jar debris out of place). It did not work.

So I gave the lock internals a WD-40 bath. And then let it dry. Nothing.

So I gave the lock internals a dose of graphite. Nothing.

Well, the time eventually came where I would have to remove the lock with brute force so that I could give my bike its required regular maintenance before I ride in to work. So, I did it. I pulled back the protective vinyl layer, used a thin wrench to shimmy aside a pair of cones, and got a view of the steel cable that was keeping everything together. I got my hacksaw and I began cutting. And cutting. And cutting.

Thiefly Experience: Armored cables are annoying to break into without bolt croppers. The steel cones are tightly positioned so that access to the cable is very difficult. Sure, you can cut through he cones, but that would be another 30-40 minutes… and who would know if the hacksaw would survive that?

After about 30 minutes of cutting, repositioning, and checking the collateral sawing damage I was doing to my bike, the cable finally gave way. My bike was, once again, a bike and not a garage ornament.

But that’s not the end of the story. Prior to making the cut, I posted a QA ticket with Todson. I stated that the lock seized and I was considering just cutting it off. I offered to send the lock to Todson (at my own cost) so that they could pop it open and see what happened– a kind of product forensic report. I mean, why not? If I could spare the money for a dinner out, then I’m more than willing to throw down a couple extra bucks to help a company make better bike locks.

Imagine my surprise when the Todson rep just took me at my word, asked me to send the lock over, and then replaced it… free of charge!

Much love to Todson/OnGuard!

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High Visibility – Day and Night

So you’ve acknowledged that lights, colors, reflectivity, and lane position are incredibly important when maximizing your safety while on the road… but where do you get the stuff? Nike, Reebok, and a bunch of other athletic equipment manufacturers have a good deal of hi-vis running clothes, but they can be expensive and difficult to compare when not all stores carry highly visible clothing.

Enter: Night-Gear Inc.

Night Gear is the only place I’ve been able to find that specializes in collecting and selling hi-vis clothing and accessories online or in real life. Their gloves section alone is amazing and displays some products I’ve never seen before like GLO-GLOVES:

or these Scotchlite reflective cold-weather gloves:.

and there’s a lot more. Check them out. Their prices are pretty hard to beat.


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University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Bike Center

If you know me, then you likely know that I have nothing but the grandest dream to reclaim some of the surplus parking space for a campus-focused co-op/not-for-profit bike center. Here are some pictures from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities’s implementation of that idea. And it is GRAND!

It was finished in September 2011.

A subtle entry...


The bike cage with simple 2-bike stands and RFID card access.


And here is a BUS BIKE RACK! So you can practice loading and unloading your bike onto a bus!


A small meeting area. (I would want a larger one in which to run LAB Traffic Skills 101 classes.)


RFID-triggered shower that gives either a limited amount of water.





The storefront.


A Mechanic.

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