Always Riding

I usually much prefer to buy bike gear and clothes locally, in part because I enjoy the experience of seeking out products and discussing products with knowledgeable sales people. I’m also old-fashioned in that I’d rather hold something in my hand before I buy it.

BUT, sometimes I get curious about brands or products that aren’t available. The most recent examples were Muxu and Vulpine.

While I ordered Muxu directly from them through their website, I gave Always Riding a try for my Vulpine t-shirt. Why this site? Well, they carry Vulpine, have a nicely organized website and there are a number of other interesting brands and products. They’re based in the UK. Ordering was simple and convenient. Shipping was free (above a certain threshold) and the shipment arrived very promptly.

When a minor flaw showed up in one of the ordered items, the customer service response was very personal, helpful, and quick. Certainly consider this a reliable source for ordering things that I can’t find locally.

Revolights

Yes, these Revolights are certainly the coolest thing I’ve seen on Kickstarter: LED lights around the rim of your tire that light up the front half of the front tire/back half of the rear tire in white and red, respectively.

The look is totally Tron, 80s or 10s, and very cool. I saw one of these riding around Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and was instantly jealous.

Cleverly, the LEDs project forward/backward while also being very visibly for the side with the clear indication which direction you’re going.

The USB-rechargeable batteries sit on the hub and the website offers hints at a future development of dynamo-power.

So, with all my griping about lack of visibility in hipster, even moderately attractive, bike attire, why haven’t I bought these? Two main reasons: cost (US$250 for front/rear set) and lack of trust that they batter/cable set-up will survice the very wet and somewhat gritty Vancouver winter. But, I’m definitely going to keep an eye on further development of these lights to see whether my reasons for hesitating might not be addressed.

With this post, I’m off for Christmas break and will start posting again in January 2013.

Some Years with Gore Ultra Pants

I’ve had Gore Ultra rain bike pants for a couple of years now (can’t actually recall what year I bought them in).

The material certainly has been lasting well and it continues to be rainproof. Sweating is not so much of a concern with rain pants (at least not for me), so they are plenty breathable as well.

Even though the pants are thus quite functional as everyday rain gear, I don’t love them.

Why? Black is just not a great colour for being invisible. Also, reflective detail very small on these, so they just don’t offer a lot of visibility even though I generally and by definition wear them in low-visibility conditions.

Also, the ankle cuff is overly complicated with two vertical velcro strips to cover the zipper, then two horizontal velcro strips to tighten around the calf and ankle. Effective? Yes! As they do tighten things up to be rainproof especially if the ankle cuff is worn over the rain booties. BUT, complicated and the velcro doesn’t really cinch down the flaps enough to ever have full confidence in the set-up.

There is a mesh pocket on the inside of the pants that would sit on the small of your back as you’re riding. I have never put anything in that pocket and am a little unsure on the circumstances when I would use such a pocket.

The pants are set up with a drawstring around the waist, but I’ve also never used that as a feature since the cut is pretty tight and I don’t need the draw string.

Given the snug and athletic cut of the Oxygen jacket, I imagine that a current generation of these pants would also be cut in a more athletic fashion, though my model is not baggy. I would probably opt for a tighter fit in a newer model, though.

First Impressions Vulpine Long Sleeve Merino T-Shirt

I forget now where I came across Vulpine as a brand, I think it was on a bike blog that I follow. The website and the products had an immediate appeal even within the crowding market for functional merino clothing for bicyclists and other sporty types.

I have been wearing Patagonia zip neck wool baselayers, one thinner, one thicker in the winter and thought that an additional long sleeve would be nice.

I ordered the long-sleeve merino t-shirt in navy large.

The colour is beautiful actually and the logo and pocket on the back offer a very nice accent. Straight out of the alwaysriding envelope, I thought this looked very nice. The fit is also quite good for me, snug, but not tight. The longer back is appreciated as it will be nice when I wear the shirt on its own, but is short/thin enough to push into shorts/rainpants when I’m wearing the t-shirt under a jacket.

I had to wear the shirt the next day, of course, and it performed as well as expected under my rain jacket. No bunching anywhere, nice on the skin.

I would not that the L sleeves are not long, i.e. they don’t cover the wrists. Under a rain jacket there are two obvious options for a baselayer in my mind, long enough to cover the wrist, ideally with a thumb loop at that point, or short enough that the shirt doesn’t get in the way of the cuff/glove nexus. This t-shirt is clearly of the latter variety. I also probably prefer the longer sleeves, especially with a thumb loop, but this slightly shorter sleeve will probably be nice when wearing the shirt on its own.

All in all, first impressions are very positive. Note however, that the button on the pocket on the back fell off in the first wash which is a little disappointing. I will review how the shirt holds up over the coming weeks/months of wearing it in a coming post.

P.S. (later in December 2012): My wife was kind enough to sew the button back on and both alwaysriding and Vupline reacted very promptly to my note about the button. Great service!

BYOBL: Bring Your Own Bike Lane

Okay, so this is clearly a fabulous idea for people who ride in congested downtown conditions a lot (though perhaps so in Vancouver with the establishment of a good downtown bike lane network):

A bike light that projects a bike lane on the pavement behind the cyclist. Yes, a tad gimmicky, but also very cool!

There appears to be a very similar project that projects a bike lane symbol ahead of the bike. I’m a little less convinced by that as the projected symbol ahead of the rider is not going to be terribly visible to drivers around you.

Maybe a combination that projects the lane and the bike symbol behind the bike?

Swrve Deck Jacket

I do like getting email from Swrve about new products even when their delivery of actual products is somewhat frustrating.

Their newest item: the “deck jacket“. Can’t quite tell why the boating reference or is this a reference to a deck of cards?

Looks pretty stylish in the pictures, however, and has a number of bike features like a cut that’s high in front, low in back. The specs say that there are reflective details, but these are pretty hard to find in the photos. It appears that there’s a couple of vertical reflective stripes under the arms, but they only appear from the right side view, not otherwise.

The collar looks like it’s a nice solution to be able to button up if it’s a bit cooler and I do appreciate the pit zippers.

The fabric is “water and wind resistant 3-layer softshell, but can’t quite tell what this will feel like or the utility. Nice to see that there’s a choice of four colours, though they all (black, dark grey, navy, olive) are rather muted and don’t exactly promote visibility.

Hopefully, this will show up at on the Rivet eventually so that I can check it out for real.

Ditch Front Derailleur?

I bought my Rocky Mountain RC-30 about 7-8 years ago. It was a pretty standard mid-range configuration that I have not altered significantly except for upgrading to a disc brake in the rear a couple of years ago which was definitely worth the expense!

Now, I’m nearing the end of life for my front sprockets. The kind folks at West Point Cycles have pointed out that the set-up is unlikely to last through the winter. A year ago or so the smallest sprocket already died, but I didn’t replace it, but simply got rid of it and had the gears adjusted so that I only have two settings in the front. So, I went from 3*8 gears to 2*8 options. Now I’m thinking whether I should not go fixed in front.

Advantages?

  • lower maintenance, particularly since I don’t myself maintain derailleurs. They have always bugged me as they rarely keep their setting/configuration despite the best initial set-up by qualified mechanics. Derailleurs get bumped, cables stretch, the whole thing is a nuisance.
  • less clutter on the handle bars by getting rid of one shifter
  • some weigh reduction by dropping another sprocket and shifter, cables, etc.
  • workout benefits as I would go with a large sprocket in front
  • better use of gears as the lowest and highest gears are not really usable on front sprocket because this sets the chain off in an angle that means friction at the derailleur

Disadvantages

  • obviously, fewer gears. If I go with a large sprocket in front, the 8th Ave bike route will be a challenge for example.
  • maybe a fixed large sprocket works for me, but what when I finally buy a new bike and hope to pass this one on to one of the kids?

Bike Hazards on UBC Campus

Our campus has clearly become more bike-friendly and specifically more bike-commuter friendly over the past 4 years that I’ve been commuting by bike daily. The most concrete (literally in some cases) markers of this are the secure bike lock-up facilities and the great number of bike stands on campus.

Yet in striving to set an example for other employers and commuting-destinations, there are further improvements that could be made, mostly to do with roadways to/across campus.

1. The traffic circle at Wesbrook and 16th is a biking disaster even though it is of recent provenance and has presumably benefitted from careful planning given the decision for a traffic circle over traffic light.

Why a disaster? Markings on the road indicate that bike riders should go up on the sidewalk (presumably dismount) to cross roads. That is significantly worse than having to wait at a traffic light.

However, HUB discussions have suggested to me that the road signage here only refers to the option of walking across roads, not an injunction or even expectation. So, I ride through the traffic circle in the appropriate lane as any other vehicle would. I’m sure many drivers see the road markings and think to themselves, “What’s the bike doing in my lane, he’s supposed to be over there.”

Solution? Get rid of on-the-road markings, add signs “Share the Road”.

2. Passenger drop-off on campus roads. I usually enter campus on Main Mall, turn down on Thunderbird Blvd to head North on West Mall. The section of West Mall between University Blvd and Crescent Rd seems to be a particular favourite for parents, partners to drop off their loved ones. However, since this is a one-lane (in one direction) road, a car pulling over inevitably represents a hazard, particularly when slow-moving drivers (dropping off) seem especially prone to cell phone use.

The solution? Enforce “no stopping” gently and either mark entrances to campus with “no pedestrian drop-off on campus” or clearly mark locations that move a vehicle dropping off out of traffic, for example one spot in the Memorial Rd parking lot.

3. Tour bus traffic on campus. I see no reason whatsoever why tour buses should drive on campus roads. Yes, VERY occasionally a group of students may be getting picked up, but for the most part these seem to be tourist operations. Again, this is particularly common on the Northern end of West Mall, close to the Museum of Anthropology.

Solution? Outreach to tour operators that campus is not a place to be driving, nor stopping.

4. Main mall. This has turned into a real attractive feature in part because car traffic is gone (see 2. and 3.). However, tiling the road way has also meant that while bikes are meant to be allowed to use Main Mall, pedestrians are not paying much attention to bike riders, creating a real hazard.

Solution? Tough one. Even as a bike rider, I’d probably have to say, “Ban bikes on Main Mall”. This would be palatable if parallel routes were expressly dedicated to bike traffic. How about the Northern end of East Mall? There’s no through traffic there now anyway and the roadway still offers the opportunity to mark this as a space where pedestrians need to pay attention. This could also address 2. and 3. above as it would concentrate North-South bike traffic.

5. Bus loop on University Blvd in front of War Memorial Gym. This has been quite a saga from the original bus loop to the hard-to-fathom underground bus station plan, back to a bus loop. Clearly it’s all looking much more attractive now (along with improvements to Main Mall, these visual appearances do matter on campus, I’m convinced), but the arrangement with busses by the curb and the bike lane next to them, then another lane for rolling bus traffic (presumably) seems less than ideal. This is compounded by the anarchic pedestrian patterns and large numbers around here.

Solution? Again, this seems like it’s an area where a clear separation of different modes of transport might have been better. Maybe a centre bike lane demarcated by a curb of sorts? At least application of the bright green bike lane colour used in the city?