Down to an 8-Speed

So, I finally made the move that I had been contemplating for a while, now I’m riding an 8-speed.

Frankly, gear shifts have bothered me for a while. Unless they’ve just been serviced (I have never learned to do much servicing myself), they are noisy, cause friction, don’t actually quite work (slipping on hills, chain rubbing against chain guide, etc.), and why I would need the 24 gears that my bike came with is completely beyond me, even when I do ride up the 8th ave bike route some times.

So, when my smallest sprocket lost one of its bolt a year ago or so, I was happy to ditch it, going from the original 24-speed to a 16-speed set-up.

When my bike was in with West Point Cycles some months ago they warned me that the teeth on my sprockets was wearing out and that I’d need a renewal sooner rather than later. Well, about three weeks ago, my front derailleur got so gunked up by the 16th Ave grit that it would no longer move. I took this as the perfect opportunity to leave the chain on the middle sprocket (smaller of the two remaining) to test my plan to go down to one sprocket. Seemed to work just fine.

Then, last week, the chain started slipping. Of course, this usually happens on a climb so that your leg goes flying and painfully connects with the handlebars. Obviously a sign to take action.

The folks at West Point Cycles didn’t think my plan strange at all, so I picked up my bike today and it rode like new. Of course, much of that is the tune-up that it enjoyed with nicely tightened brake cables, new break pads, the new chain and all.

What configuration am I riding now? Well, single sprocket in the front with the derailleur functioning as a stationary chain guide for a 46-teeth sprocket. New cassette in the back ranging from 11-28 teeth. The next days will tell.

My first impression is that gear 1 is too small, and gear 8 not quite big enough, suggesting a further adjustment. That would mean a 50-teeth set-up in front and 11-32 teeth (I think) in the back up. I’ll try to go up and down some hills in the coming days and test things out.

In the meantime, only the bell remains on the left half of my handlebars making me think that I should install something there. Compass? Hands-free-BB10 set-up? Third light?


Some Years with Axiom Stormfront Gloves

Thankfully, my wife found a box of winter items in our basement that I had been looking for ever since we moved in summer 2011. Among other items, this box contained my Axiom Stormfront gloves that I bought some years ago. This model has been updated significantly.

When compared to the Gore gloves I used last year and the Giro Pivot that I was using this winter, my gloves seem a bit last-generation. The cuff is a traditional stretch cuff that neither tightens nor provides any kind of transition/seal with the sleeve of the jacket. In the current version of this glove, the cuff thus looks quite different.

There are some things I really like about these gloves:

  • the insulation is right for Vancouver winter and the gloves keep my hands almost always dry which is really good enough
  • cushioning of the palm 
  • the big soft area on the back and side of the thumb that I use to wipe my nose (an all to frequent task in winter riding).

The most annoying thing about the gloves is that the liner in the fingers pulls out when you take the gloves off so that putting them back on is always a bit of a puzzle.

Given that my experience with Gore and Giro has not been that great, I am re-activating these gloves for drier winter use and will certainly wear them until they give out. I might also have to take a second look at Axiom gear generally again, though it’s not clear to me why the gloves only appear in the “archive” page of the Axiom website.

First Impressions Craft Winter Hat

I do wear a thin hat under the helmet almost every day in the Fall/Winter. I find that a hat absorves enough of the rain that I don’t need a helmet cover and soaks up sweat nicely as well. I’ve had my current hat for some years, I don’t even quite remember where I bought it or what brand it is.

It’s functional with a bit lighter fabric on the sides of my head, presumably for breathability. It does cover my ears, though I have to tug on it occasionally to make sure that it stays put. It’s not particularly warm or wind-proof, though gets the job done.

I thought I could use a step up from that in warmness and opted for the Craft Winter Hat. When the hat arrived in the mail, I was surprised that it was not as substantial or fleecy as I had expected given the name. The section that would cover the forehead is a different fabric which makes a lot of sense to me given that that is exactly where the most wind and rain is likely to “arrive”.

However, the forehead section was a bit loose in this L sizing. When I tucked the hat under my helmet and road around the block, this looseness was immediately palatable in some wind sneaking in under the bottom edge. The earflaps were also creeping upwards because the edge on the neck comes down to low, so with my head leaning back as I’m looking up, that edge pushes up.

I’m not sure whether these are issues that would be different in a size down, but I’m returning the hat for now, perhaps another item that’s better bought in person rather than on-line.

Visit to Mission Workshop Mothership

On a holiday trip to visit in-laws in California, I had a chance to go by the Mission Work-Shop in the Mission in San Francisco. Very appropriate location, i.e. continues-to-be-funky neighbourhood, side-alley, warehouse.

I do have to say that only price tags and some internal wrestling kept me from leaving a major amount of cash here.

The backpacks with their Arkiv rail system are very clever and surprisingly light. When I picked up one of the acccessories, it seemed quite heavy because it has two metal strips that meet the rails on the pack, but the pack itself was surprisingly light. The Rambler hiking pack was also very attractive. However, I wasn’t terribly tempted by either since I’m really much happier carrying stuff on the bike in panniers given the reduction of back-sweatiness without a pack, and I would probably turn to Arc’teryx for a new hiking backpack.

Speaking of Arc’teryx, some of the Mission Workshop jackets are produced in the same facility that Arc’teryx used in the past in Vancouver. As I tried on some of the jackets, the most attractive one was the Trigger, a new softshell they have. Fancy Schöller fabric – of course -, snug fit, thumb loops, a nice collar. This is a very nice softshell bike jacket.

It’s biggest drawback – that I also discussed in regards to the Orion rain jacket – is the lack of visibility. Black isn’t my colour at all and even less so on the bike. At least the Trigger has some reflective piping on the sleeve and on its bottom seam, but black really doesn’t make sense. I mentioned this to the folks I met at Mission, so if you feel the same way, please do mention it to them as well, maybe they’ll put some more visible colouring in their offerings in the future.

I saw a reference to a limited edition light blue version of this on a website, but this seemed to be just a rumour… As soon as the Trigger comes out in a more visible colour, I will certainly be taking a very serious look at it.

All the Mission Workshop products have a feel of quality and substance to them that justify high prices in my mind. I would be very surprised if these are all not products that are truly built-to-last and will also prove their worth in terms of design and material details.

Certainly a fun excursion, and I learned that the main people behind Mission Workshop used to run Chrome which is where I was off to next.

Some Weeks with the Gotham Defender Bike Light

I received my light in mid-October and have been riding with it for some weeks now.

My impressions from first installing the light have been confirmed by regular use, though the brightness turns out to be more useful than I had initially thought. I have not been able to ask anyone that I have biked towards in the dark about visibility, but the beam is bright enough to ride by on the short stretch of my commute that doesn’t have street lights.

When I tweeted about my initial review, the folks at Gotham replied:

@JulianDierkes, very thoughtful review! Thank you. Indeed almost 1/2 the weight comes from 3xAA batteries for long life.

It seems to me like there’s still some potential in thinking about the weight. Yes, the three AAs will last, but even going to 2 AAs would knock the weight down. On the other hand, I had the light on every weekday for about 30 min in the morning and evening and the batteries lasted about 2 months which seems about right. Presumably, going to a 2 AA set-up would bring this down to 5 weeks or so which would suggest three battery changes or so per dark season…

Or what about a USB-rechargeable option? And if the batteries are half the weight, then there’s some potential in making the casing thinner, I imagine.

The other issue I raised in my initial impressions was the lack of visibility from the side.

To stay with the gun theme, what about adding a translucent sight with an LED to the top of the light. This would not be very large or bright, but it would give a little 360° or at least 150° or so visibility, wouldn’t it? Might be a design feature, too.

The other thing I’m thinking about is that the back of the casing (the rounded-off section facing the rider) is begging for something to be placed there. A compass isn’t really useful enough, but what else could go there?

Imperial Drive

The most dangerous road conditions on my Mackenzie Heights to UBC bike commute are on Imperial Drive. I use Imperial Drive as the continuation of the 29th Ave bike route to reach 16th where I head West to UBC. It is a very attractive part of the ride because it crosses through Pacific Spirit Park and the curves in the road mean that cars are not racing through here as they are on 16th, for example.

However, the road surface is becoming worse and worse. As is often the case, it is wearing out from the outside, i.e. exactly where I would be riding my bike. Cracks, developing holes and – especially hazardous, I find – chunks of asphalt breaking off at the edge.

These road conditions are especially treacherous coming home in the afternoon/evening as there is no street lighting on this stretch of road. Given the condition of the roadway, I feel compelled to ride in the centre of the lane which obviously works well when there is no car traffic behind me. Should a car come, however, I move over to the side where the road conditions are scary and I’ve already pitched off the roadway onto the soft should once. The lack of light is exacerbated by on-coming traffic that doesn’t alway recognize a bike light as a signal to switch to low-beams. My Gotham Defender bike light does give me some light on the road at the speed I’m going, but this is no use (no fault of the light) in on-coming high-beams.

First Impressions Craft Neoprene Bootie

The first impression of the Craft Neoprene Bootie is mixed. I bought these in a size 43-45 for my size 45 feet in part because my trusty MEC shoe covers (XXL) have always been a bit too large, but the size down doesn’t fit. It looks like I might be caught in the same size limbo with Craft.

I do like the reflective print on the bootie.

I’m not sure I like that the heel is closed with an Achilles zipper. Seems like it’s a set-up that’s hard to get on. I only tried with a pair of sneakers so far as my bike shoes were wet from the ride home, but it looks like tomorrow’s weather will give me an opportunity to first, try them on, then if they do fit, try them out.

Trying them on with my Shimano bike shoes sealed the deal, I’m returning the booties. I don’t think I’ll exchange them for a size up either because then I’ll be at the bottom of that size range again which is the same problem as I have with my MEC shoe covers, i.e. they’re bulky and the velcro closures overlap.

This might be an item I’ll have to hunt for with shoes on and try on various other options. Sure would be nice to find something very bright (after all, I’m only wearing shoe covers when visibility is low), that’s easy to put on/take off and is relatively snug in the fit.

Happy 2013

I wish all Vancouver bike commuters and others interested in this lifestyle (!) a very happy, safe 2013 with many enjoyable hours spent in the saddle or talking about bike things.

My sense is that 2012 was a bit of a take-off year for bike culture not just locally but throughout Europe and North America, and even Japan. 2013 only likely to bring more of that, perhaps along with a real take-off for (craft) beer culture in Vancouver.

I only started blogging last Fall, but hope to continue with somewhat regular posts (2-3/week) until I run out of things to say.