Thursday, October 30, 2014

This is Why I Can't Have Nice Derailleurs

Commute-ending chain suck. Scary. Cell phone pickup requested. Master link right there under the derailleur.

The final ride of the Biopace 48 chain ring set occurred on 10/30/2014. At approximately 7:50 am, under heavy pedaling force while being shifted with a dirty chain, it gave up the ghost. Born: 1989. Died: 2014, aged 25. RIP. 

Full and excellent chain suck study linkage: states that the chances of chain suck occuring with a new chain ring and new chain are nil. Done.

Biopace 48: it lives! Rise obsolete chain ring, rise from the dead! May you live 25 more!!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Light Up the Signs!

Around dusk, being seen on my bicycle is tricky. When my light lights up the signs, though, I can be seen

I started to title this post "The Proper Angle for Aiming a Bicycle Light for Achieving the Optimal Balance Between Seeing and Being Seen While Minimizing Dazzle," but aside from just being too long, that's the sort of thing that causes undue search engine attention sometimes, usually unexpectedly. Like the time I mentioned NOT having a map of a certain trail while mentioning the trail by name along with a photo of a sign along the trail, thus causing a spike in traffic from others also unable to find that trail map (although that had a nice ending).

Similarly, I couldn't find much precise information about aiming bicycle headlights. There's plenty of conjecture, but very few examples with a procedure involving measurement and aiming of the light. In contrast, there are plenty of online instructions for aiming car and motorcycle headlights. Primarily, they appear to involve using a wall along with some simple measurements which ensure the center of the beam up and down is at or below horizontal, and that the brighter concentration is more right than left so that it doesn't point into the eyes of oncoming drivers. That all makes sense, and seems simple enough that I will give it a try with my bike headlight soon.

In the meantime, I noticed that aiming the light so that there's enough side scatter to at least light up the signs on the right side of the road a bit makes me much more visible to drivers entering from the right. This turned out to be a very small vertical adjustment of the light which had a big difference in visibility. I realize now in the photo that due to the crop along with the auto-exposure during dusk lighting, the photo doesn't show the street illumination by the headlight. But it is accurate in the sense that the sun was still throwing enough light around to make my headlight less visible than when it's totally dark out. That's the time when I think that adjusting the light until there's some reflection coming back from the signs from the headlight beam's spill seems to make it easier to see me.

The question is, if I follow the headlight aiming procedures, 1" below the horizontal at 25 feet or whatever, will I still light up the signs? Will side-entering vehicles see me at dusk? 

I've also plonked on the BRIGHT setting lately if a side-entering vehicle seems not to see me. That seems to help. 

I know a lot of this depends on the characteristics of each specific light. One is likely to be different from another. Which is why, in the end, I wonder why light manufacturers don't include specific instructions for optimal aiming of their lights. Perhaps I will try contact a few of them to see what they have to say about that.

Four more signs lit up slightly by my light

Trying to Fix That Which is Broken

Extracted Presta valve core caked with sealant

On the third tube with a Presta valve that wouldn't hold air for the length of one ride, I had to find out. These things are supposed to be air-tight when lightly tightened, but these would leak even when cranked down. Those nuts are not meant to be cranked down, either, which I demonstrated by breaking one off. This was about curiosity more than anything else, perhaps also a desire to stop throwing money at tubes that don't hold air out of the box. So what was the deal?

First thought was that the Internet forums that said that sealant tubes don't work well on higher pressure, 700c tires for several reasons. Same posts also mentioned clogging of the valves being an issue. Since these came with removable cores, I had a look.

Indeed, there was a bunch of congealed sealant around the valve that looked suspicious. But on cleaning that off, I found the base problem.

Not going to seal no matter how tightly it's closed with the nut

Correctly made Presta valves often seal just under the pressure of the inflated tire because the valve body is allowed to move freely upward and press the rubber against the valve face. In this particular core, though, the valve face is so uneven that the rubber can't make an effective seal. This valve let air leak through contstantly, which the sealant tried to seal and perhaps even did at times, but that's not desirable since sealant works both ways, making it more difficult to get air back in, too.

Of all the ways to spend my time...

Or so I diagnosed. Introspectively, I wondered, who really cares? I mean, there are other broken and unbroken things which I could spend my time on, why this? A pro would probably just throw this core away and use a new one, or just not even bother and use a new tube, or, even more likely, not buy a sealant tube in the first place. Why did this grab my attention?

Just because I wanted to try to understand what had caused three tubes to not hold air. Was the uneven valve seat really the root cause, or was it something else? To test this idea, I filed off the rough spot, cleaned up the valve core, and put it back in.

Result: the tube now holds air for a few days. Better, and probably the uneven valve seat was the cause. Looking at the valve interface, it would probably be best if the meeting edge were beveled, but I'm not going to go that far. The nut would have to come off first, and it's got a stop at the top of the screw meant to inhibit that, and I don't want to spend more time on it. There are other broken and interesting things that I should go and fix. But I think I'm convinced about high pressure tires and sealant tubes. Lower pressure mountain bike tubes seem to be more tolerant of sloppy valve quality control. 700c 100 psi requires better engineering. It seems. In any case, I prefer tubes that hold air out of the box.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Urban Beans Coffeeneuring #4: Living Local

Urban Beans building being eaten by cats claw vine (desert-loving green and alive)***

In the Tim Burton movie "Dark Shadows," Barnabas Collins (played by Johnny Depp) is released from his locked up coffin, rapidly dispatches and exsanguinates the construction guys who set him free from 196 years of hungry confinement, then gazes upon the first of many modern sights which provide fodder for the clanky, campy jokes that make this movie so bad: face illuminated in the darkness by a bright and garish light, he sees a McDonald's golden arches sign, and says, "Mephistopheles."

This is hell envisioned as emerging from a locked metal box after a long journey, famished, to consume and devour whatever is put before you as quickly as possible, with little savor or enjoyment, and then to repeat the same over, and over, forever, as one of billions of insatiable cogs in a giant factory machine which profits the few at the expense (economic, spiritual, intellectual) of everyone else. From the available evidence of where we shop, where we eat, how we commute, what we listen to (check out the documentary film The Destruction of Sound), the technology we constantly buy and throw away, and how we live in general, this is not science fiction, or social satire, or dire warning, but rather history, biography, documentary.

It's down to choice, the zillions of small ones people make constantly, every day: where do people choose to shop, what do they eat, how do they commute, what smashed down dead-sounding MP3 are they downloading to their device that they're going to discard to the gadget bin soon as the newest model comes out and listening to with overpriced junk headphones with some flash in the pan mogul's name on them, what generic hell do they choose to take a selfie in each vanilla moment? To illustrate:

Urban Beans on the right, massive global OK chain coffee outlet on the left: with neighbors like these...

I'm no locovore purist, but I try to do my part. The bike I rode over here, for example, was made in China with parts from other Asian countries, while I could have conceivably chosen to buy and ride something like a Coconino Cycles bike over here. I guess I could have ridden one of my three mostly Made in America bikes, but they still wouldn't qualify as local. Dinner last night, though, consisted of squash from Crooked Sky Farms, with a salad that included kale and beets from Duncan Family Farms. Those were our choices. 

Given the street scene above, though, this question boggles my mind: why in the world would someone choose the coffee outlet on the left when they could go to Urban Beans instead? I don't actually know for sure. I mean, I understand it has to do with marketing, familiarity, habit, comfort, brand identification, and whatnot, but I don't actually know. At some point, the decision really ought to include a product comparison, and in this respect, I do know, I can be crystal clear with unboggled mind: Urban Beans is better.

Urban Beans coffee: Better

The mass chain is OK. They have to be. If they somehow devolved to be Not OK*, if they suddenly experienced widespread health code violations or massive product recalls or sudden catastrophic drops in consistent product quality, business would suffer. But what a hellacious job that would be, making sure every day that quality is still OK at tens of thousands of outlets around the globe, ensuring that the modest level of quality and consistency required to retain repeat customers and to ensnare new ones at rates which result in healthy quarterly reports is nurtured. 

Most importantly, though, they have to motivate the masses to make the choice, or better yet to develop the habit of becoming regular customers, so that they descend like locusts upon their outlets during each hour of operation. "How was your uber choco moca latte?" "It was OK!" High praise indeed, music to the ears of a franchisee.**

Sometimes when I want easy, convenient, familiar, OK, I'll stop at a mass outlet. But I do not make it a habit. In fact, I conscientiously avoid developing it as a habit. I've made certain local outlets habitual lunch stops in the past--Los Compadres on 7th Ave, Original Burrito Company in Ahwatukee, Tudo Vietnamese (I miss you!) on 19th Ave are three examples where I ate more or less the same thing at lunch for months on end, and loved it--but I, along with my family who feels the same, avoid making a habit of the mass outlets. We hunger for more than OK/ same/ familiar/ cheap and easy.

Why? Lots of reasons, but to sum up: I prefer transactions between neighbors who know each other, with the proceeds staying local, than those between number-like economic units with the proceeds going elsewhere. It feels better to me, it seems more soulful and whole, if I can say that. And nine times out of ten, it tastes better, too.

Urban Beans ambiance shot

Bike parking: one M rack

A one bridge coffeeneuring ride

11.5 miles ridden to coffeeneur local. The main point here is not about purity of shopping, since we live in a global economy, it's about mindful choice over mindless habit leading to superior products plus stronger local living. I know that it's possible and often permissible to live out of a motorhome that parks in big box parking lots each night with pantries stocked efficiently with affordable OK products, but that's not for me. 

I prefer biting into a local, in-season apple, sitting in the shade of a mesquite bosque, in the middle of a long bike ride. That's not for everyone, and that's the point: it's what nurtures me. It's what sets my soul free. It's what takes my thoughts to new places, and sometimes makes me uniquely me. If that makes me a round peg that has trouble fitting through the square doors of mass franchise outlets, I'm OK with that.  

*In the early 2000s, among parents who wanted to discipline their children while not sounding overly judgmental or cruel, the acceptable and oft-used admonition was "That is NOT OK." A child reared during those years grew to mildly worry occasionally that something they did or said would not be OK. Mass outlets of consumer products still live in fear that somehow something they do, sell, or say will render them NOT OK. Yikes.

**I understand that with the right code words during this season of the year, one might obtain a BOGO PSL at the chain. Sometimes, the universe does smile upon us.

***The shop and the neighborhood have changed. I posted about Urban Beans three years ago, and some of the changes are obvious in comparison.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hit Me Not In the Darkening Dusk

Do you see the bicycle in this photo? Distance just over 100 feet, at dusk, Philips LED Bike light on econ setting

As it became clear to me that the ultimate questions related to not being hit while commuting by bike at dusk are binary--do drivers see me yes/no? do I avoid being hit by drivers yes/no?--so too the complexity of the inputs to those questions became apparent. After experiencing not one but two near-NO answers to the second question on Friday's commute, I wanted to mull over those inputs more, to support a reasoned and effective approach for the darkening commutes ahead while still striking a sensible, achievable, and acceptable balance.

The questions that began to pile up and which require at least working hypotheses to support that reasoned and effective approach (in no particular order):

  • Do drivers see me?
  • Do drivers react in time?
  • Do I avoid being hit by drivers?
  • How do ambient lighting conditions factor in? Including sunlight brightness and angle, street lights, other lights, background, rain/fog/dust conditions, background and foreground conditions?
  • Does my lighting dazzle or irritate other road users in an impolite or hazardous manner?
  • How do the angles of incidence factor in, particularly for side-entering vehicles?
  • How do you catch the attention of drivers in time to facilitate the not-getting-hit result?
  • How does perceived brightness factor in?
  • How do beam shape and beam cutoff factor in?
  • Doesn't the usage by other road users of very bright and dazzling lights establish a standard of reasonable use? (search for H7, HIR2, H9, H11 bulbs for details)
  • Flashing or steady? What flash pattern? Single or multiple lights? What configuration?
  • How does light height and aim factor in?
  • How much variability is there in the driver-centric factors? 
  • Oh and is the solution, practical, affordable, secure, and reliable?

Several of these are non-linear functions of multiple variables, which makes the assessment more difficult. In addition, most or all of them are at their roots somewhat controversial or undecided questions of human psychology, perception, physics, engineering, optics, and so on. In short, there's even more uncertainty behind the uncertainty. Where to begin?

Let's dive in with what may be the more complex factors. The perceived brightness of lights, catching the attention of drivers, probably even the perceived level of politeness of any given act, are not simple, linear functions, but seem to be most accurately modeled by the Stevens' Power Law. That says that the results are not a straight one-for-one with the inputs, but instead have a relationship that involves a constant and an exponent: a one unit increase in the output of a light does not result in a one unit increase in the perceived brightness, but rather less. Similarly, catching the attention of a driver who doesn't see you may require a lot more input energy on your part than you may think, since a one unit increase on your part does not accomplish a one unit increase of attention on their part, but rather less. Lastly, while it may seem on your part that you are being twice as polite on the manners scale, they may perceive you as only being one unit more polite.

On top of that, it's not only a specific reaction in a driver's brain that we are shooting for here, but more importantly an action on their part, fast enough, as a result of that specific brain reaction: don't hit the cyclist! Human decision and action also is the result of complex and non-linear functions which are beyond the current knowledge level of the OSG Institute of Behavior Studies, perhaps at a detailed level beyond the present understanding of science. 

However, observationally, and as I mentioned in the beginning, at possibly a level of understanding which supports an effective decision even if all the details are not yet understood, I find the activation energy model of human decision and behavior useful. This is actually behind the tagline of this blog from the beginning: get up, go ride. There's something like inertia which hinders human decision and action, and this inertia requires more input energy to overcome, for less result, than our intuition tells us. How hard is it really to just get up off the couch? How difficult really is it to just get on the bicycle and ride? Answer: more than just the simple sum of the efforts of standing up plus riding the bike. In practice, the effort required feels more like the graph of chemical activation energy:

Activation energy path graph, CC-licensed image source: Wikimedia

What I'm trying to represent with this graph is that it requires more input energy to cause action that we might think: something has to push you over the hump to cause action and get you to the bike riding level of energy, whether it's a significant input in energy, or lowering the hump itself with a catalyst. If the input energy is the perceived brightness of a bicycle light, which is itself a Stevens' Power Law function, even the basic question about how bright a light is needed to trigger the desired action in a driver can be seen as complex. 

Perception[a Stevens' Power Law function] --triggers--> action[reaction path function of human motivation]

Add in that the result is also subject to driver reaction time, driver decision process, and driver physical abilities. I've written about a simplified version of these factors before, that I called "dirty space": at 45mph, the common speed of vehicles on several of the streets on my commute, the space in front of a vehicle which is required by the combination of all these factors to be avoided in order to give the driver enough time and space to react, act, and avoid, is somewhere between 100 and 200 feet, and could be more depending on other factors (fog, rain, dirty windshield, impairment, distraction, etc).

For the question of avoiding being hit in the darkening dusk, this dirty space means that the requirements on any proposed solution have the additional (related, velocity-dependent) challenges of distance and time: it needs to be effective at at least one hundred and better two hundred feet, and it needs to work in the time frame of one to three seconds. Shorter than that in distance, or slower than that in time, and you might as well not have any lights at all.

Also related, and going to come out one way or another depending on the solution, are the question of politeness, dazzling, beam cutoff, and safety. 

From a similar post three years ago, the very bright Tri-Newt approach

Trying to work out all these factors is daunting. Yet, a light must be chosen and used. Considered together in combination, we may have so many variables and unknowns that the most effective practical solution is the engineer's: run your calculations, recognize that there are many unknowns, dependent variables, and some wide error bars, and err on the side of safety. 

Three years ago, after a seemingly neverending series of near SMIDSY almost-hit-mes at dusk or evening, I starting using my Niterider Trinewt all the time. That's the "normal" setting in the photo. On the plus side, everyone saw me. No more near hit-mes, ever. On the downside, drivers all the way across the road flashed their brights at me several times, and one or two yelled at me.

I'll go ahead and say, based on those observations, that the Trinewt probably exceeded the ideal brightness and/or lacked a sufficiently cutoff beam shape to avoid pissing off drivers. If I could have anything I wanted, it would be an automatically activated Trinewt that flashed on high setting whenever a side-entering driver was detected in an about-to-hit-me situation.*

So, let's say I choose a main light that is more polite than that, both in brightness, and in having a cutoff beam shape that is supposed to be more driver-friendly. Would that work? That's what I've got in the first photo at the top of this post: my Philips Saferide LED bike light, set on economy (or normal) mode. Maybe I need to try running it on the bright setting--the beam cutoff should still help, right? Or, maybe I need to augment it with something like this on my helmet:

Knog "hipster cyst" flasher attached to front of helmet experimentally

When you get down to it, this is a question of balance: is it even possible to balance visibility with politeness? The Knog attached to the helmet in an always-on always-flashing state has potential to push it back over to the impolite dazzling light side. This configuration has the benefit of flashing where I look, which does alert side-entering drivers very effectively. Way back in the beginning of my bicycle commuting odyssey, I went a little bit nuts with 3M dual-lock tape and both Inova microlights as well as Photon Micro-light 3s, sticking them everywhere particularly on my helmet in a flash-where-I-look configuration. They seemed to work for the intended purpose, did not seem impolitely bright, and were affordable and reliable. If anything, they fell down a bit on the fiddle factor scale: micro-lights dual-locked to your helmet does not even have the sound of a finely engineered solution to it.**

So, in conclusion, what about this Fall, what am I going with? Running the Philips with it's shaped beam and sharp cutoff on bright (particularly during the darkening dusk) is going to run down the batteries faster, but they are rechargeable, and I carry backup lights. I'm going to give that a try. Also, I'm charging up the Trinewt. Just in case. Because I'm not sure, given all the variables and unknowns, that it actually is possible to strike or find the ideal balance between safety and civility: don't get hit, don't make anyone mad with a light that's too bright. If I have to edge into the second in order to achieve the first, I think that's OK. My intentions are good. In the binary reality of seen/not seen, not-hit/hit, I'll do what's necessary to support the not-hit result to the best of my understanding of a complex situation and like an engineer, err on the side of safety. 

*On a side note, I acknowledge the sick sense of humor that gave the Trinewt a fast strobe setting which lacks any appropriate usage but is freaking awesome. Its switch, though, in its out-of-the-box state, does not appear to be easily modifiable to something like a handlebar-mounted panic switch. Once more into the hacking box, dear friends.

** I still carry a Fenix P1D powered by a rechargeable RCR123 with dual-lock strip affixed just in case. A solution which involves attaching anything to a bike helmet, though, lacks elegance, and possibly compromises safety.   

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Safe, It's Warm, and the Food Comes to You

The food flies in non-stop, and the predators can't get in. Why leave?

The only difficulty I can see is that he might get so fat that he can't get out. Assuming another gecko found her way in there, they could start their own little fat colony of light and happiness in there. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Light the Lights, Know the Waters

The lights are on at Copper Falls in Scottsdale

Part 3 of 3
Part 1 We are Strangers When We Fall
Part 2 So Soon a Patina Dulls the Light

The lights component of this new public art in Scottsdale were recently activated. In the early evening, they are bright enough to catch the passing eye on Scottsdale Road nearby, and, for the fortunate one stopped at the light in just the right position, broadcast tranquility of falling, splashing water toward the rushing crowd and roaring wheels.

We light lights. This idiom passes without a second glance. But do we water waters? In this instance we do, by diverting them, channeling them, regulating them downwards through carefully sized and positioned rectangles so that they drop just so in front of the lights onto copper bowls, and from there to rejoin the flowing canal below. 

First add copper, then falling water, then point-shards of light

I'm telling you: a cold, clear winter night bike ride when all is quiet will be ideal for viewing and listening here

A group of pals fresh from happy hour carouse past me without a second glance at me or Copper Falls. Their slurred, tough, jostling words momentarily cover up the sound of falling water; their swerving steps distract my gaze from the shimmering white point-shards. Soon as they are gone, though, I can hear the falling water again, and watch it as the nearest bowl vibrates beneath the drops ever so slightly. 

The copper bowls, the sounds, the falling droplets in the light, waters I want to know you. The oceanic feeling far from any ocean that validates itself. I entertain the notion that if I sit her long enough, and if it's quiet enough, and if I calm my thoughts sufficiently, and center my attention effectively enough, I might actually come to know these waters. Hello, waters. The grace of the falling water, its even, relentless, peaceful consistency, I would melt these with my riding, I would make an amalgam from the stuff of point-shard lit droplets cascading on copper with the round circular pedaling of my steel bicycle. Tonight I make myself of that, and disappear.