Sunday, September 16, 2012
Let me say it one more time, for the record: Cyclists, every single traffic law that applies to cars also applies to you!
But I'm afraid I'm in the minority. The other day I was walking across a cross walk and was nearly taken out by a kid on a bicycle who blew through the four-way intersection without stopping for the sign. This is typical. Later that day I posted on Facebook, “Am I the only cyclist who respects traffic laws?”. One of my long time riding buddies responded succinctly: “Yes.”
Obviously, peer pressure isn't working. It hurts my libertarian soul to say what I am about to say, but I think the only answer is increased enforcement. Anyone on a bike who fails to stop at a stop sign or give proper turn signals, needs to be ticketed and pay a big fine. They are a public safety hazard and they give us few law-abiding cycle commuters a bad name. Anyone who can't obey traffic laws doesn't belong on a public road.
If you feel the way I do, feel free to write a letter to your local police department asking them to enforce traffic laws for cyclist the same way they do for cars. If possible, send a paper letter. E-mail is too easy to delete; paper usually stays on file for a while.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
For most of the past two years I have primarily been a walker. I had been living in a loft above a downtown commercial building and had abundant retail opportunities within a few blocks of me, so there was hardly a reason to ride a bike, much less drive. In fact, I gave away my bikes to people who could use them because I hated to see them gathering dust.
A few months ago, however, I moved to Riverside, CA, to go to grad school. Riverside is quite a bicycle friendly town (by California standards). It has well marked bike lanes in most major streets and bicycle buttons on many intersections. In general, I have found that motorists here hate cyclists much less than those in Los Angeles (who deliberately tried to kill me a couple of times). Too, most of the stores were much further from my new apartment than they had been from my old one. The supermarket is about a five mile round trip. I have no problem walking five miles to buy groceries, but it gets 110ºF (43ºC) here in the summer, and it was impossible to buy frozen food without it melting before I got home. I decided it was time to buy another bike.
After a long search, I settled on the Union Flyer from Gran Royal. I have now been riding it for nearly two weeks, and feel ready to write a review.
When I chose the bike, I knew I needed something simple and basic. After commuting for years on an 18 speed road bike, I knew I didn't want to mess around with any more derailers or skinny high-pressure tires. Also I didn't want anything too fancy because it would be locked on campus at all hours and was likely to get stolen or vandalized. The Union Flyer seemed to fit the bill and, at $140 (on sale at Nashbar) the price was right.
The bike has classic lines, reminiscent of English Raleigh and Hercules bikes from the mid-20th century. Gran Royal calls it a “single-speed comfort bike" but most of the world would probably think of it as just an ordinary. It uses an American style one-piece bottom bracket--not surprising, since Gran Royal is owned by a BMX company. All the other components, from the 700x32 wheels to the threadless headset, are modern and metric. The only brake is a Shimano coaster hub.
- The design is simple, and should need very little maintenance beyond repacking the hubs every couple thousand miles. This is a bike that will probably last longer than I will.
- The price, as mentioned above, was quite affordable.
- The frame is heavy, but the welding is clean and the alignment is good. Steel is real!
- The bike has full fenders and a chain guard so I can wear nice pants without them getting trashed. The overall look of the bike is quite classy and gets noticed by people around the bike rack.
All in all, I am delighted.
- The paint is pretty but seems overly delicate. Already I have several small paint chips. I can see myself repainting the whole bike in a year or two, or even getting it powder coated.
- The hand grips get a little slippery when my hands are sweaty (see above about the hot summers here). I am thinking about trying a different brand.
- I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the coaster brake. I like the simplicity of it, but I am having to revise my whole riding style. For example, when stopped in traffic at an intersection it is impossible to track-stand. Also, to get going, I need to change feet. I have accidentally locked the back wheel a couple of times when I was bunny-hopping potholes and brought my feet back too far. I think that most of these problems have more to do with changing my technique than with any problem with the bike itself, however.
- The bike comes standard with a 44T chainwheel and an 18T cog. This works out to be about a 5.5 gain ratio (using Sheldon Brown's calculator) which is probably fine for a bike path, but is a little too high a gear to climb a hill with a load of groceries. I installed a 20T cog (5.0 ratio) and realized an immediate gain in rideability (total cost less than $10, including shipping).
Changes I Would Like To See
- Rod Brakes – Which are almost impossible to find in this country, but this bike would be a perfect application. They would be as durable as the coaster, but much more effective.
- Lower Gearing – As described above. 44X18 seems perfect.
Of course the rod brakes are a fantasy and the gearing is cheap to change in the field. I am really rather happy with this bike as it is.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I realized last night that I hadn't logged into this blog in over two years. I'd like to say a big "sorry" to all the poor people whose comments have been in blog-limbo all this time, waiting for me to mod them!
It's hard to say why I haven't been posting. Certainly, I am still really pissed off at the way our transportation system works here in North America. If even one person who reads this blog is inspired to get rid of their car, or grows up to be a decision maker and enact pedestrian friendly policy, then I have made a difference. And it helps me to have an outlet for when I'm angry at the system and slightly buzzed.
As I relaunch the blog, I thought it would be useful to summarize my transportation platform. Basically, I believe there are way to many automobiles in use in the world. All of the following planks are designed to make it harder to use a car and easier to walk or use a bicycle:
- It should be hard to get a drivers license--hard enough that anyone who doesn't need one or shouldn't have one won't get one. As a start, we could make the exam more difficult, require yearly medical checks, and require people to hold a learners permit for three or four years before the apply for a full license.
- Roads and buildings should be designed for people and bicycles, not cars. Cars can use the space that is left over after the sidewalks and bike racks go in. Parking for cars should be extremely limited.
- No housing tract or apartment building should ever be built more than half a mile from a grocery store. Ideally, retail and residential occupancies should be well intermixed so people can easily walk to shop.
- It should be much more expensive to register large vehicles than small vehicles. This could be implemented by a tax schedule that goes up in relation to weight, height, or engine horsepower.
- It isn't feasible to outlaw all cars. Contractors and house movers, for instance, need to be able to buy trucks (but should be made to jump through many hoops to get them). Disabled people or people with small children might need to drive golf carts. I don't really have a problem with golf carts, as long as they are small and can't go any faster than a bicycle. A golf cart license should be like a concealed weapons permit: they only give it to you if you take a class and come up with a plausible reason why you need it.
- No one should ever be allowed to design another intersection with a pressure plate. Every time an engineer puts in a pressure plate, it's like saying “screw you” to bicycles. Actually, 95% of existing intersections could be redesigned to be more bicycle friendly while constricting automotive traffic.
- Bicycle education should go back into elementary schools. No one should get past fifth grade without being trained in basic bicycle safety, riding technique, and maintenance.
- All traffic laws should be enforced at least as severely for cyclists as for motorists. Bicycles will never be accepted as a mature mainstream mode of transportation while most cyclists keep acting like children: running red lights and ignoring hand signals.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
The other day I was given a folding bicycle. I have wanted one for some time, because it seemed like it might be a good way to take a bike on buses and light rail trains. When I put my bicycle on the rack at the front of the bus, I always worry that the driver will drive off before I can get it off. OCTA even has a 1-800 number for claiming lost bicycles. On the subway, of course, you walk your bike right onto the train. At rush-hour, though, you get a lot of glares from people who want to stand where your bike is.
Now that I have the folder, I am a little dubious that the bus drivers will let me carry it on. Even folded, it is still sort of a bulky package. For the train, though, I can see that (even unfolded) a 16” wheel bike is going to take up a lot less real estate than my 700cc road bike.
My folder is a vintage Dahon, which was bought new by a pilot acquaintance of mine. (Plane+folding bike, how's that for a car free mode?). It has a steel frame and weighs about half again what my road bike does, so it will probably be no fun to hump up the stairs on the subway.
After I cleaned it up, I rode it for about 4 miles on the Whittier Greenway. The short cranks are going to take some getting used to, and the brakes are certainly not as strong as I am used to. That being said, I was surprised how fast I could cover ground.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
I chose a 150cc scooter because it is big enough to go 60 mph on arterial streets, but small enough to be fuel efficient and easy to park. There are hundreds of models of 150cc scooters on the market. I chose a Kymco because they have a reputation as a reputable company, with offices in the US and a 2 year warranty. Kymco makes a lot of the fact that they use ISO 9001 quality control. I thought that a Kymco would be reliable "out of the box".
If I had it to do over, I would still buy a 150cc scooter, but probably not a Kymco.
First, the good:
The scooter handles great. It points well, and the front-back balance is as good as any motor bike I've owned. The wheels are big (16"), which helps a lot on the crappy blacktop we have here in Los Angeles. Kymco seems to use a better grade of hoses and lines than most of the mainland scooters. The carburetor and other parts are made by vendors whose names I actually recognized.
The luggage rack, which looks like it would be small and useless, is surprisingly handy. I do wish, though, that they had made it out of metal. The paint is already wearing off of the plastic. Then again, I haul a lot more cargo with my scooter than most American's, because I do not own a car.
Now the bad:
From the beginning, the scooter has had an annoying and dangerous habit of stalling unexpectantly in traffic. Initially, I tried to get it fixed under warranty. The clueless dealer called Kymco and was told that I, the owner, had probably over-filled the gas tank and swamped the evaporative emissions canister. Kymco send out a new canister, which did not fix the problem. the mechanic mentioned that KymcoUSA is "sort of hard to deal with".
Apparently many California-model Kymcos have fuel system issues because of the after-thought nature of the emissions system. It occurs to me that if the gas-tank vent line were to vibrate off the check valve, then the problem would go away with no noticeable decrease in performance... Get it? Got it? Good.
My own problem had nothing to do with the fuel system, however. Once I gave up on the dealership and the warranty process, I eventually tracked it to a defective CDI module that was overheating. So much for ISO 9001 quality control. I put on a $25 generic module that seems to have fixed the problem. All in all, my new scooter was unreliable and dangerous for about four months while I spent hours working on it.
Next time, I will just get one of the cheap no-name scooters. I'll probably still need to spend a few weeks fixing the bugs, but it will cost about 1/3 the price. I paid a lot of extra money for a scooter that I thought I would not have trouble with, and that money was wasted.
That being said, the scooter is working out for me now. I'll probably keep it for at least a couple of years before I trade it off.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Even after realizing that I needed some sort of motorized transportation, I spent several months researching various forms of powered bicycles. Electric bikes are cheap to recharge and low maintenance. Unfortunately, the good ones are expensive. Also, the batteries wear out after a couple of years. During this period, I wrote a rather chilling research paper about the environmental problems of recycling batteries. Too, few e-bikes can much faster than 30 mph--fine for downtown, but too slow to keep up with traffic in OC and the South Bay.
Next, I looked at gas powered bicycle conversions. They are much cheaper than e-bikes. I could have gotten everything I needed to convert a beach cruiser for about $250. If I was willing to cheat a little on engine displacement, I could probably build a 50 mph motorized bicycle. The only problem was, I have already owned one. I remember it as a noisy vehicle with poor handling at speed, with inadequate brakes and tires that wore out as fast as I could change them.
From an environmental point of view, motorized bicycles have engines about the same size as motorscooters. Because they have no transmission, however, they are inherently less efficient. Thus, they tend to burn more gas to travel the same distance. They also have more lenient smog requirements, so they tend to pollute more.
I was already considering some kind of scooter when I went to Thailand on vacation. In Thailand nearly everyone rides scooters. They use them to carry passengers and cargo in all kinds of weather conditions, everywhere from the freeways of Bangkok to remote country roads. Needless to say, I resolved to buy an Asian-style scooter as soon as I got home.
The most popular scooter in Thailand is the Honda Dream, which has large wheels and uses Honda's famous 125cc GY6 engine. Unfortunately, Honda no longer sells Dreams in the US. Luckily, Kymco (who used to build scooters for Honda) makes several GY6 based bikes which are quite similar. I settled on their People 150. I decided that, since I am a bit larger than the average Thai, it was reasonable to choose the next larger GY6.
So far, I have been fairly happy with the Kymco. It does a splendid job of the mission for which I purchased it. I can load it up with ten bags of groceries, and still keep up with traffic. It does not take up much more parking space than a bicycle. The only problems I have had so far have been mechanical. It stalls inexplicably when running. Vapor lock, perhaps? I have had it apart three times now, but I am sure I will find the problem soon.
The real question, of course, is weather it is morally acceptable to buy a combustion vehicle. I have wrestled with this one, and concluded that it is a necessary compromise. A small scooter still has far less environmental impact than a car. Having the scooter allows me to borrow cars less often. Sure, I would like to live in a city where it was practical to get everywhere by bicycle and train. Los Angeles, however, is a city that was designed for driving. As long as I am stuck here, I think I will need to keep the scooter.
Monday, September 7, 2009
The other thing that has not changed, is that I am still horrible at posting regularly to this blog. The problem is not a lack of material. Believe me, I have not problem coming up with a rant about transportation. The problem is that they usually occur to me when I am in the middle of traffic on Sunset Boulevard at 5:30 on a Friday night--not the best writing conditions. By the time I get home, I am so tired and glad to be alive that I forget to blog.
Luckily, all of this should change soon. I just went back to school. Given that I will be in front of my laptop for over 20 hours a week, doing anything to avoid typing my assigned essays, I can confidently say that more blog posts will be forthcoming.