Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

08 October 2015

London: Life In The Bike Lane

Cities in the Western world have seen phenomenal increases in the number of cyclists on their streets during the past few years.  One of the cities in which the increase has been most noted is London.  According to one study, during the peak morning hours (7-10 pm), on some streets, as much as 64 percent of the traffic consists of bicycles.

In other words, at such times on those streets, there are almost two bicycles for every motorized vehicle or pedestrian!

The study also reveals--perhaps not surprisingly--a dramatic increase in the number of accidents, injuries and deaths among cyclists   Most interestingly, it notes that most accidents and casualties occur during daylight hours.

But it also shows increase spending on cycling infrastructure (which include plans for a bicycle "Skyway")--which, with greater public awareness, could reduce, or at least slow the increase in, the numbers.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking statistic of all, though, is this:  If just fourteen percent of all trips in Central London were on bicycles, emissions of nitrogen oxides--the most prominent vehicle pollutant--would fall by nearly a third.  

That is to say, when people ride bikes rather than drive in the central city, it has double the effect in reducing at least one major type of pollution:  no small matter in a city noted for its congestion and fog.

From Fiona Outdoors

07 October 2015

Is It High Time For Ti Again?

It's soo '90's!

And if it's soo '90's, it must be reeealy...'70s!

What am I talking about?  It has nothing to do with food, clothing or hairstyles.  It's not a musical genre, either.

Since you're reading this blog, you surely realize that it has something to do with cycling.  Indeed it does.

So what is it from the '70's that became all the rage--or, at least, seemed poised to become all the rage--in the '90's?

Why, titanium frames, of course.

About two decades ago, the Great Titanium Debate, at least in road bikes, was Litespeed vs. Merlin.  It seemed that all of the titanium bikes that weren't being made by custom builders were made by one of those two companies--including many that bore the labels of leading mass-producers (like Bianchi) of the time.  Oh, there were builders like Dean and Moots, who made their bikes one-at-a-time, by hand, in smaller volumes than Litespeed or Merlin.  And a few custom builders, such as Serotta, made frames of the material.  But the vast majority of titanium bikes that rolled out of bike shops (at least in the US) during the '90s came from Litespeed or Merlin.

At that time, "Ti" seemed poised to become the material of choice for the most demanding or well-heeled cyclists.  It seemed to have everything going for  it:  light weight, resistance to the elements and a silky yet swift ride.  The world's pelotons--and cyclists who wanted to emulate them--were not sold on carbon fiber.  And, aluminum and steel seemed to reach plateaus in their development.

So what happened?  In a word:  cost.  Titanium is an expensive material; so is manganese-molybdenum (Reynolds 531) or chrome-molybdenum steel tubing.  More important, their production techniques are more labor-intensive than those of carbon fiber or aluminum. 

Also, welding titanium properly is more difficult because the process attracts the very elements--nitrogen and hydrogen--that contaminate titanium and render it weaker.  That is one reason why some of the titanium frames made during the 1970s--and a few in the early '90's--failed:  The welders didn't seem to realize that the weld area has to be shielded by argon, not only during the process of welding, but until the weld has cooled.

In fact, in the 1970s, little besides its light weight was actually understood about titanium.  That is the reason why most titanium components of that time--even the ones made by Campagnolo--didn't stand up to the rigors of hard use.

Speedwell Titanium Bike (UK) with Campagnolo Record equipment, circa 1975

On the other hand, carbon and aluminum aren't as expensive to fabricate as frames, at least with current production methods.  As titanium's popularity peaked just before the turn of the millennium, and carbon was in ascendancy, most of the world's bicycle production--even of high-end models--was moving from the West and Japan to Taiwan and China.  For bike and parts makers that had committed themselves to carbon, the choice between retooling old factories (or building new ones) in the high-wage, high-cost countries of Europe and North America (and Japan), or building new facilities with modern production methods in low-wage China and southeast Asian countries was a no-brainer.  Thus, nearly every carbon frame available (and, to be fair, the vast majority of those not made by custom or specialty builders) comes from that part of the world.

Is it possible to shift Titanium--and high-end steel--production to those areas?  Possibly.  Does that mean that Titanium will once again become "the frame material of the future".  Well, it was in the '70's and '90's.  Every other decade...hmm...could it be time for another Ti renaissance?

06 October 2015

Can You Steer Someone Away From Stealing Your Bike?

The first person I ever knew who rode a fixed-gear bike outside a velodrome was a librarian at Rutgers, the college I was attending.  

Like many campuses, Rutgers suffered more than its share of bike thefts.  So did the surrounding city of New Brunswick, which was going post-industrial before anybody started using that term.  The problem was, nobody figured out what would replace those industries that were leaving the city.  (Rutgers?  What an idea!  Why didn't I think of that?!)

Still, this librarian--who looked like a Zen monk, though I couldn't have told you that because, at that time, I had no idea of what a Zen monk looked like!--never locked his Schwinn Paramount track bike whenever he went into a store, another Rutgers building or even when he went to see a film.  He wasn't worried, he explained, because bike thieves "don't know how to ride one of these bikes."  Someone who "borrowed" his steed, he said, "would break his legs" the moment he tried to coast or stop.

In those days, that was probably true.  Most thieves would have gone for a ten-speed bike from one of the popular makers of the time, such as Schwinn, Peugeot, Fuji, Motobecane or Raleigh.  Of course, a desperate person or a thief who didn't yet know any better would probably steal anything, but the common wisdom of the time said that thieves were thinking about quick turnaround and high resale value.  Back then, most thieves' potential customers would have turned up their noses at a bike with "only one" gear, probably conflating it with kids' bikes that came with coaster brakes.

In all the time I knew and rode with that librarian, he never had his bike stolen.  I wonder if he ever lost it later, when fixed-gear bikes became more popular.  For that matter, I wonder whether he's still riding or even alive, as he wasn't a young guy (though he rode like one) in those days!

I got to thinking about him and his bike when I saw this:

On Cool Things

Apparently, the lock in the cap keeps the bike from being steered.  So, if a thief makes off with your wheels, he can only ride in a straight line--even if a truck is directly in front of him.  Or someone crosses in the middle of the block.  Or someone with a leash longer than the Verrazano Bridge lets her dog run into your path.  

The librarian/rider said a thief would probably break his legs before he got anywhere with the bike. If someone takes a bike with the cap-lock, he or she will break--just about everything else, on his or her body, and the bike.

Or, someone could just pick up an unsteerable bike and load it into a truck or van.  If a human makes a lock, another human can find a way to break--or get around--it.

Hmm...Maybe there is no better deterrent to theft than a bike nobody else knows how to ride!