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Thursday
Nov282013

Giving Thanks

If you will indulge me on this Thanksgiving Day, I would like to give reasons I have to be thankful.

For my good health, that enables me to still ride a bike and enjoy it probably more than I have ever done.

The reason? There is no pressure. I do not have to train for anything, just stay at a level of fitness that I can ride in a manner that gives me pleasure. I have nothing to prove, to myself or anyone else.

For my creative abilities that have got me this far in life and continue to give me the feeling that my best work is yet to come.

The driving force behind any creative person or artist is a desire to affect the lives of others in a positive way; without it, there would be no artists. No actors and movies, no songwriters and music, no authors and books to read.

To explain; a person works at a minimum wage job, or maybe even two minimum wage jobs, and still lives on the poverty line. In addition to being poor, their lives are not always happy because although the work they do is an essential part of our society, no one thanks them or gives them validation.

Another person, like me for example, decided to build bicycle frames, and for many years I worked long hours for maybe less than minimum wage, but the difference was there were a few people willing to pay money for my frames and were extremely happy with what they bought. I had affected their lives in a positive way, and my work was validated.

Eventually I had enough customers that I could make a decent living. Some artists become celebrities and make a lot of money, but that is not the driving force. The money is only a validation of that persons work.

Unfortunately, corporations are taking over the work of individual craftsmen. They give us cellular phones, SUVs, and flat screen TVs. Things that can improve the quality of our lives, but sometimes lead to a path of wanting more and more, and being satisfied less and less.

Corporations are now in the bicycle business, producing carbon fiber wonders that cost a lot of money; but do they bring any more satisfaction? I give thanks that there are still individual craftsmen who can make a hand built product. I just hope there will always be enough people who can validate their work by buying what they make.

I am blessed with a following of people who own bikes that I built, many are original owners and will not part with them They don’t care that they are riding something that some would consider outdated; at least it was made by a real person.

Although I will never make another penny from any bike I sold in the 1980s or one someone else sells on eBay; I still have the extreme satisfaction that my creation is still affecting someone’s life in a positive way.

I have been blessed with a gift that keeps on giving and like the Master Card ad is "Priceless," and for that, I give thanks.

 

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Wednesday
Nov202013

More about shimmy

Hold a bicycle wheel at arm’s length in front of you, hold the hub spindle with your left and right fingers. Now move your hands in the motion of pedaling a miniature bike. The wheel may be spinning or not for the purpose of this demonstration.

This is the motion of the bicycle or motor cycle’s front wheel during a speed wobble of shimmy. It is not simply a fluttering back and forth in the horizontal plane, about the bike’s steering, but it is fluttering, or wobbling in a two dimensional fashion in both the horizontal and vertical planes, violently shaking the whole bike and the rider.

I used to think this was a design flaw, but now I am inclined to think it is a natural occurrence that happens because it can. On a two wheel vehicle the front wheel is able to move in both planes, whereas on a four wheel vehicle the front wheel can only move left and right about its steering axis.

However, when the steering bearings wear out on an older car, the wheel can then move in both planes, and wheel flutter will occur. This will happen at a definite speed. (It might be 60mph.) Drive beyond that speed and the fluttering stops, only to return again as the car slows, and the speed reaches that certain critical level, then will subside again at a lower speed.  

Most bicycles seem to shimmy coasting downhill at around 45mph. A loose pannier, or saddle bag will often cause a bike to shimmy at a lower speed. Therein lays a clue. It seems if there is something flapping around loose, it amplifies the shaking. The tighter the rider grips the handlebars, he then becomes this fluid extension of the bike.

This is especially true of motorcycles where riders have been tossed around like a rag doll. Some have even broken arms. Expert motorcycle riders have demonstrated that one can ride “No Hands,” induce a shimmy by tapping the end of the handlebars, then stop it by simply leaning forward.

Tall riders riding bicycles with large frames seem more prone to shimmy. Why? The seat tube slopes backwards usually at an angle of 73 degrees. The taller the frame the more the rider’s weight is directly over the center of the rear wheel. This provides a near vertical pivot between the rider’s weight on the saddle, and the rear wheel contacting the road. The front end of the bike can now shake about this pivot. (See above.)

If the rider is sitting fairly upright, the pressure of wind on his chest is forcing even more weight onto the rear of the bike. If the rider were to lift his weight from the saddle, that weight is now on the pedals. Lower and further forward. Get down into a low tuck position, and the weight is now towards the front of the bike. Pressing a knee or leg against the top tube will often stop a shimmy. This dampens the shaking without being actually attached to the frame thereby increasing the problem.

Go to this YouTube video for a montage of motorcycle shimmy’s where the riders quickly get out of it. In most cases it does not even seem to faze them. It is the same with bicycles, the bikes that are shimmying are the same ones that the pros use in the Grand Tours. The pros do not seem to have a problem descending mountains, reaching speeds as high as 55 -60 mph.

Finally the Fuso frames I built did not shimmy. (As a general rule, there have been rare occasions.) So what did I do different? The frames all had the stiffer Columbus SP chainstays. This gave the frames more lateral stiffness.

If a bike and its frame are anchored at the rear by the rider’s weight, and the front wheel starts to wobble, (As it seems it will at a certain critical speed.) it will only do so if it can. In order for the whole bike to shake, either the frame or the wheels are flexing. Add lateral stiffness to the frame and/or wheels and the front wheel can’t shake.

Move the rider’s weight forward and you are effectively holding the front wheel so it cannot wobble. It is okay that the wheel can move left and right about its steering axis, in order to wobble the wheel has to move in both the vertical and horizontal planes.

I was prompted to write about this subject again because I read this article. Written by a mathematician, it was a little beyond my understanding, so this is an attempt to look at the problem in simple terms. When I built frames I never had this issue, so I never addressed it. It is only in recent years I have started to study this and my views are still evolving.

I’m sure if the motorcycle manufacturers had all the answers they would fix the problem shown in the video link, but it is a complex matter. Feel free to add your views and ideas.

 

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Thursday
Nov142013

Hiccups, and mind altering drugs

Nine days ago on November 5th, I got the hiccups. I tried the usual cures like holding my breath, drinking water, then went online and found a bunch more cures like, breathing into a paper bag, pulling on my tongue. I found I could stop the hiccups but, they were back again within minutes.

After three days I went to the doctor, who prescribed some muscle relaxant. Didn’t help. I did go for a 50 mile bike ride on Sunday, and if nothing else, the hiccups seemed less noticeable when riding my bike.

On Monday, I went back to the doctor, who sent me to the local ER for a more thorough check up. They had me lay on a bed for several hours, with about a dozen electrodes attached to every part of my upper body, this in turn was hooked up to a machine to monitor all my vital functions.

My resting heart rate is 38 bpm, and just about every doctor or nurse that came into the room, remarked, “My God, is your heart rate usually that low?” And I would have to explain that it was because of all the miles ridden on my bike over the years. For most of my life it was 36 bpm but due to my age it has gone up slightly.

My heartbeat pattern was steady as a rock, and blood pressure was normal. They took a chest x-ray and my lungs looked normal. In other words they could find nothing wrong, except that I had hiccups. The doctor prescribed some medication called, Chlorpromazine.

After a trip to the pharmacy I was close to a hundred dollars poorer. On arriving home I went online to see what this drug was. I am reluctant to put anything in my body without knowing what it will do to me. Are the side effects worse than the symptom?

I found that yes it was prescribed for hiccups, but was mainly used to treat schizophrenics. No real dangerous side effects that I could see, so I took it. I soon realized why they give this stuff to schizophrenics, it has the effect of a pharmaceutical lobotomy.

It stops people thinking crazy thoughts, because it stops all thought. I sat in front of the computer screen, reading stuff, and not understanding a word of what I was reading. Writing was totally out of the question, I struggled to answer a simple email.

I had a strong memory of what this felt like from many years ago as a teenager in England during the 1950s. I was forced to go into a mental hospital as a voluntary patient. “Forced to go as a voluntary patient,” may seem like a contradiction, but I was told if I didn’t go voluntarily, all it would take was a judge and a doctor to commit me, and it would then be almost impossible to get released.

They did that shit back in the 1950s to young kids who didn’t conform to what was considered normal behavior. They did it in Britain, and also in the US. I was given Electro Convulsive Therapy. (ECT) This consists on an electrode placed on both temples, and an electric current sent through your head for a few seconds. It sends the patient into a convulsion. Hence its name. (See "One flew over the cookoos nest.")

The after effect on the patient, is one of not being able to have a single creative thought. So you don’t have crazy thoughts because you have very few thoughts at all, and you walk around like a fucking zombie. A frontal lobotomy is a more drastic and permanent step to achieve much the same ends.

This morning when I woke I didn’t take the Chlorpromazine. My hiccups still come and go, no better, but no worse either. My thoughts were, “I need to get some writing done.”  This is the first step. I will keep you posted.

 

Update 11/18/13: Friday evening the 15th November, after 10 days of almost continuous hiccups, the symptoms got so severe I could not eat, and at times had a hard time breathing. Then right before I went to bed, the hiccups quite suddenly stopped, and I felt normal. I got a really good night’s sleep and have not had hiccups since. Thank you for all the remedies, some gave me brief relief. I’m sure they will also be of help to others who come across this piece in a search.

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Tuesday
Nov052013

It is news when cyclists die, news when they don’t

In a country with a population of three hundred and fifty million people, less than two cyclists die on roads in the US each day. A pretty miniscule number, so rare these deaths are always reported by local media, to be picked up elsewhere and the stories re-run across the nation.

On any given day some 12 pedestrians will die, and around 90 people driving cars will be killed somewhere across America. For the most part these fatalities will go unreported. This lop-sided reporting of cycling deaths, gives an erroneous impression that cycling is far more dangerous than it really is.

So it pissed me off, irked me somewhat this morning to read an article in the New York Times with the headline, “No riders killed in the first 5 months of the bike share program.”

When Citi Bike was introduced earlier this year it was widely speculated that that this bike share program would be a “Blood Bath,” putting inexperienced cyclists among New York’s crazy drivers.

Now people are surprised it didn’t turn out that way, even though similar bike share programs introduced in other large cities around the world, didn’t see huge increases in cycling fatalities either.

John Pucher, a professor of urban planning and public policy at Rutgers University and a so called cycling advocate, said last year that he expected, “At least a doubling and possibly even a tripling in injuries and fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians during the first year of the bike share program.” What a prick, strange thing for a cycling advocate to say.

I have written about John Purcher before. He uses fear tactics to push his own crazy fucking ideas, agenda for urban planning. This includes separating motor vehicles from cyclists and pedestrians. A utopian notion that will never happen in large cities like New York, the cost would be prohibitive. And to what end? Just so motorists can drive like fucking lunatics, as fast as they wish, and continue to slaughter each other.

The real story in this NY Times article, and one that should have made the headline, is almost lost three quarters of the way in. It states that traffic fatalities are down 30% since 2001. This is a huge amount of lives saved across the board, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

This bears out a truth that dick-wads like Purcher don’t get, real cycling advocates understand. The more cyclists added to a city’s traffic mix, the safer it becomes for everyone. For a start, every bicycle represents one less car, so less conjestion.

The closer you get to there being as many bikes on the streets as cars, everyone is forced to drive slower, and more important, pay attention. So even adding inexperienced riders on Citi Bikes to the mix is a good thing. It makes it safer for everyone.

Finally, New York City Comptroller, John C. Liu, has been pushing to add bike helmets to Citi Bikes. Making helmets mandatory would probably be the kiss of death for any bike share program. It makes a simple program very complicated.

No one wants to wear a sweaty rental helmet that someone else has just worn, and it is unlikely most people are going to walk around with their own helmet on the off chance they might rent a Citi Bike. Although that is an option. (Left.)

As it stands a person in NYC, has the choice of walking from A to B, or renting a bike and getting there a lot easier and quicker. Of course there is also the option of taxi or subway.

But let’s say the person decides to get from A to B under their own steam. If he/she decides to walk, they could just as likely be hit by a car while crossing the street. However, no one suggests pedestrians should wear helmets.

Helmets are designed to offer protection should the cyclist fall from the bike and strike their head. Mr. Liu states at the end of this article, that Citi Bike users ride slow, very slow, and ultra-slow. So falling from one of the very heavy bicycles is a remote possibility.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pucher is covering his ass, hedging his bets when he said in an interview last week that while he regretted predicting a doubling or tripling in bike deaths, he would be “really surprised” if future data did not reveal at least a modest increase in injuries.

I will be expecting a follow up story in the New York Times at some time or other, when it will be reported that a whole bunch of cyclists have either been killed, or possibly not.

 

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Thursday
Oct312013

Why do bikes cost so much?

I was sent the link to the above video. It drags on for 37 minutes, and it could have said the same thing in a third of that time. However, it does raise some interesting points. The main one being, why do the top end bikes cost so much?

It is pointed out that a Trek carbon fiber bike can cost $13,500 and a Kawasaki motorcycle $4,000. Maybe there are more motorcycles sold worldwide than carbon fiber bikes, but when you take into account the number of parts in a motorcycle compared to a bicycle, and what the labor costs must be to just to assemble a motorcycle, how and why should the bicycle cost almost three times as much?

The video also compares the $13,500 Trek to a $650 Motobecane. We all know the Trek has a better frame, better wheels, better group of components, but is it 20 times better? Is it really worth almost $13,000 more?

I’m not sure how much flexibility a bike dealer will give a customer, but the video points out that when a cyclist reaches the level that he wants a high end bike, he wants certain gear ratios, crank length, handlebars, saddle, etc. etc.

Back in the 1980s when I had my business, I built frames only. I sold them to bike dealers and they built them into bikes. The customer got to choose every part that went on the bike.

There were Motobecanes back the then, along with Nishikis, Centurians, and other production bikes. When a customer test rode one of these bikes and compared it to a Fuso that I had built, there was no comparison in the way it performed and handled. One was a production bike, the other had a hand built frame.

But pricewise the Fuso was not 20 times more than the production bike. In fact if the dealer put lower price components on the Fuso, like Sugino, and Sun Tour, the Fuso would come out at about the same price as the Nishiki or Centurian. However, the Fuso would outperform the production bike even with cheap components.

There is a culture within the cycling community now that almost wants to pay these high prices. I guess that is okay, it is up to any individual how they spend money. And there are plenty of lower priced bikes for those who can’t or don’t want to pay these prices.

You can go to the National Hand Built Bike Show and there are hundreds of craftsmen framebuilders who will build you something really nice for probably less than the $13,500 Trek.

A lot of the money companies like Trek make go into marketing and sponsoring professional teams that ride in the Tour de France and other events, which in turn creates the demand for more $13,500 bicycles. I am just grateful I am no longer part of this crazy business.

 

Footnote: For some reason the video starts 15 minutes in. If you have that problem drag the red bar back to the start.

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