Aug 11 2017

A Kickstand Support Keeps Your Bike Upstanding and It’s Absolutely Free! by Tamia Nelson

Road shoulders aren’t always wide and paved. More often than not, the verge is adrift with sand, loose gravel, or unconsolidated soil. This doesn’t bode well for cyclists who use a kickstand to keep their bike upright when they pull off the travel lane to get off the bike. Why? Because you may walk away from your parked bike only to hear it topple over before you’re more than a few steps away. Luckily, there’s an easy way to prevent the slow subsidence that sometimes topples our bikes: the kickstand support. Tamia tells you how.

Are you tired of having your bike’s kickstand sink into sand or slide sideways in gravel? Here’s an easy solution to this common problem, one that weighs very little and costs absolutely nothing — a stout metal jar lid. Almost any lid will do, though a wide lid works better than a narrow one.

The principle is simple. The lid spreads out the load, providing a stable base of support for the kickstand leg and reducing the likelihood that it will punch down into soft sand or slip on loose gravel. Just put the lid on the ground with the threaded flange uppermost. Then maneuver the kickstand’s leg into place. That’s it. Mission accomplished.

My kickstand support is a lid from an empty jar of salsa, if you’re interested, but just about any metal jar lid will do. It’s a good idea to check that the lid doesn’t shift when you release your grip on the bike — and that the kickstand leg doesn’t skate across the metal surface. Sometimes you have to move the lid a bit to find a more stable lie. But that’s about all. Once your bike is standing pretty, you can walk away, confident that it will remain upright.

Outstanding!

After many months of use, however, your support may begin to show its age. When it starts to look like it’s been hit with birdshot, it’s probably time to consign it to the recycling bin and get a new lid. But you’ve really no cause for complaint. The price is right.

Will this work with a two-legged kickstand like the Pletscher? I haven’t tried it, but I can’t think of why it wouldn’t. You’ll need two lids, though —and it will probably be a bit fussier to get the legs where they have to go. Anyway, even if you need two supports, they shouldn’t weigh your down, and it’s not hard to keep it stowed but handy. I slip my lid into the map slot of my handlebar bag:

It's Not Heavy

But if you don’t use a bar bag your can probably find room in the seat pack that holds your spare tube and tools. (You do carry a tube and tools, don’t you?) Or just tuck your lid into your jersey or jacket pocket.

However you decide to haul your support around, you can now leave your bike on its kickstand without a qualm, knowing that you’ll find it upright and undamaged on your return. That’s a happy state of affairs, isn’t it?

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Jul 22 2017

In It for the Long Haul: Building Up the Ultimate Surly by Tamia Nelson

Tamia’s Surly Long Haul Trucker is a heavy beast. Too heavy. It’s time she did something about that.

OK. I’ll come clean. My Surly LHT is a heavy beast. Too heavy. That’s not just my opinion, by the way. Almost any advertising copywriter you ask will tell you so. So I’m putting my Surly on a diet. I’ll begin by stripping off all the stock components and then building the bike up with totally new stuff. No, not just new stuff. The newest stuff, some of it so new that the ad copywriters haven’t seen it yet. Obviously, being so new, it’s also the lightest stuff. And the most expensive. But who’s counting the cost? Not me. I just sold my next novel to HarperCollins. So price is no object.

Will it be worth it? Sure. Once my state-of-the-art bike is ready for the road, I figure I’ll be riding triple centuries with no more effort than it took me to do doubles on my “old” bike. Honest. And I bet you’d like to do the same. Which is why I’m going to outline my rebuild plan, beginning with…

The Frame  I’m keeping the LHT frame. Surprised? Don’t be. It fits me perfectly. That’s point one. Plus steel is real. Point two. But it is heavy. Luckily, I’ve got a secret weapon: I’ll be stripping off the grotty old powdercoat and doing a respray job. And I won’t be using any old paint. I’ve got a premarket trial batch of NanoLite’s UltraLift clearcoat. Trust me. This stuff is incredible. It’s the first weight-negative bike finish. I kid you not. I have to put a thirty-pound dumbbell on the paint can to keep it from floating out the window. Once I’ve resprayed my LHT, the steel frame will weigh less than nothing. You heard me right. From seven pounds plus for fork and frame down to something like minus two pounds.

Incredible! How does NanoLite do it? I don’t know. Like I said, the ad copywriters haven’t even seen this stuff yet. But it has something to do with nanospherules of hydrogen gas. UltraLift is full of ’em. And hydrogen is what they put in dirigibles, right? So you know the stuff’s got to be good. Just one thing: You don’t want to smoke while you’re riding. That’s not a problem for me, though.

Here’s the bottom line: Carbon fiber is so yesterday. The future belongs to hydrogen. And steel. Get used to it. Now let’s do the…

Drivetrain  Another winner here. In exchange for a rave review, I just got my hands on A-to-Zed’s latest 4×15-speed Integrated UltraCompact OmMerdium gruppo. You’ve probably never heard of OmMerdium, of course, let alone A-to-Zed, but that’s how A-to-Zed’s owners, Abby Grimes and Zoe Zelinsky, like it. They’re the team behind the phenomenally successful Earth Goddess Organic Vegetable and Free-range Chicken franchise. But fame and fortune bored them  — how many pink Learjets can two girls use, anyway? — and they decided to take on a new challenge. So they committed to spending five years in a walk-up, cold-water yurt in Inner Mongolia while mastering the art of shamanic forging under the tutelage of Anna Dablam, the sole surviving Sister of the Temüjin Kahn Artists Cooperative. Only members of this secretive Sisterhood know the location of the fabled Merdium mines, the world’s sole source for this incredibly light, impossibly strong rare-earth element.

It’s no secret that I’m privileged to own one of Abby and Zoe’s 32 gram OmMerdium drivetrains, however. And if you’re in the market, I have no hesitation in saying it’s a steal at just USD100K (plus shipping and sales tax). But unless Abby and Zoe decide to call you, you’re out of luck. They don’t do retail, and they don’t respond to customer enquiries. I’ll be happy to take your number and pass it on, but that’s all I can do. The rest is up to the Sisters.

Luckily, Abby and Zoe also agreed to forge the hubs for my new…

Wheels  The rims are spun from extra-virgin KrakenSilk, a natural fiber harvested in Innermost Inner Mongolia and fabricated into wheels by the Kahn Artists Cooperative, using an adhesive prepared from the saliva of blue-tongued mango voles, a threatened species surviving only in the dark corners of the Kahn Artist’s Grand Yurt. (Abby and Zoe assure me that no mango voles are harmed in the extraction process, though some of them do get mad enough to spit nails. Not to worry, though: The Sisters have hired a certified post-expectoration stress disorder consultant to help the afflicted voles work through their conflicts.) The resulting KrakenSilk-Mango composite has unequaled strength and resilience, combined with phenomenally light weight: 15 grams a wheel, including hubs and spokes. (KrakenSilk spokes weigh only 0.01 grams each, and their extraordinary tensile strength means that only three are required for each wheel.)

Of course, wheels are useless without…

Tires  And here, too, I’ve been lucky. The reclusive firm of Odomane et Fils are best known for their fine perfumes, but they also do a line of racing slicks by appointment to several of the royal families of Europe. Rumor has it that plans had been drawn up for bride-to-be Kate Middleton to be wheeled to the Abbey on a tandem Bike Thursday, studded with hundreds of gold acorns donated by Lloyd’s Banking Group and sporting Odomane tires. Both firms, however, have so far refused to reply to enquiries as to why this didn’t happen. In any case, Odomane slicks are fabricated from a proprietary formula utilizing KrakenSilk and ambigris. The resulting tire is completely puncture-proof, yet has negligible rolling resistance. The only drawback? A pronounced, though not necessarily unpleasant, fishy smell — a very small price to pay for such incredible performance. And speaking of price, I suppose you might be wondering what Odomane slicks go for. Well, if you have to ask… Need I say more?

Anyway, even if money is no object — if, for example, you’ve just sold a blockbuster novel to HarperCollins and have a movie rights deal with Jaz Milvane pending — the uncertain supply of ambergris means that availability of Odomane slicks is extremely limited. In fact, it appears likely that the Duchess of Cambridge and I have absorbed the entire production run. Still, market conditions are always evolving, so if — now that you’ve got a sniff of Odomane slicks — you’ve decided that you just have to get a pair of your own, don’t lose hope. You never nose know what will turn up.

What’s left? Not much. We’re getting to the end of my LHT refit. Of course, I’ll need someplace to put my feet, and that means…

Pedals  And here A-to-Zed come through again. Their prototype HotFoot Shoeless Joe pedals make all earlier designs obsolete. Exploiting another of the many unique properties of Merdium, HotFoot pedals invoke the principal of TarsalTantric attraction, eliminating the need to clip in or out. Just put your foot on the pedal and go. And I meant “foot.” There’s no need to wear shoes with HotFoot pedals. All necessary support is supplied by the Integrated Merdium Footbed. Best news of all? A pair of HotFoot Shoeless Joe pedals weighs only 10 grams. But remember. You can’t buy them in your local bike shop. You just have to wait for Abby and Zoe to call.

The same thing is true of my new…

Handlebars  The old Nitto Noodles were OK, but I wanted more. And that meant less. Now, thanks to A-to-Zed — whose generosity to compliant hacks knows no bounds — I’ve got KrakenSilk-Mango composite bars. They’re improbably strong and impossibly light, and they come with a matching seatpost. Plus they cost a fortune. If you’re lucky enough to be given the chance to buy them, that is. Who could ask for more?

Whoops! I could. I still need a…

Saddle  And this time A-to-Zed couldn’t help me. Abby and Zoe’s prototype seatless saddle (tentatively named the Edward II) needs a few tweaks before it’s ready for the marketplace. (This is a rather sore point with the Sisters, but I don’t imagine they’ll mind me mentioning it.) So I turned to KiZiF (pronounced KISS-OFF), instead. And KiZiF did me proud, letting me have one of their Cloud line at a price that couldn’t be beat. If you’re not familiar with KiZiF’s saddles, they make use of the recently discovered O’Nolan effect, involving the interchange of atoms at all contact points between rider and saddle. The fitting process is somewhat prolonged, of course, but the result is a saddle that becomes an integral part of the cyclist’s nether anatomy. The downside? (No pun intended!) This makes walking somewhat awkward. But the Cloud offers unequaled comfort and efficiency when on the bike. In short, I’ve never owned a better saddle, and it will take some doing to get me off of my Cloud. (I’m having my home remodeled to eliminate any need to dismount. Piece of cake!)

The only things left to touch on are…

Brakes and Shifters  I’ve gone with Room101 Systems here. Room101 have refined electronic thought-control systems to the point were it is now possible to dispense with the weight and inconvenience of both levers and cables. You’ll never again have to shift (or brake) for yourself. Just form an image of the desired result. Thinking about it will make it so. Are you worried about the possibility of systems failure? Don’t be. All Room101 brakes incorporate integral Scuff-n-Stop manual backups for use in emergencies. And you can still shift for yourself, can’t you? if you have to, I mean. Of course you can.

That’s all there is to it. As soon as I’ve finished my rebuild I’ll have an LHT that weighs less than a filled water bottle. Then there’ll be nothing to stop me.

ON THE OTHER HAND…

…I suppose I could just pull the LHT down from its rack, wipe off the dust, lube the chain and go for a ride. As nifty as A-to-Zed’s state-of-the-art components are, maybe they aren’t really necessary. And the same thing goes for KiZiF’s Cloud and Room101’s shiftless controls. Maybe I should just pack the lot up and ship them back — with my thanks, of course.

In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do. My (almost) stock LHT may not be the lightest thing on the road, but so what? It’s light enough. A famous man once counseled would-be racers to postpone buying upgrades. He suggested riding up grades, instead, and the steeper the grade, the better. The heart of any bicycle is the engine, after all, and you can’t buy an upgrade for that, can you? Then again, you don’t have to. You just need to sweat a bit. And that doesn’t cost a penny.

Fly My Pretty, Fly

This article was originally published in a slightly different form on October 22, 2013.

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Jul 06 2017

The Performance Transformer Jacket Transformed by Tamia Nelson

The Performance Transformer jacket is a lightweight wind shell. It’s got a lot going for it: It’s reasonably priced and the hi-viz color stands out to alert drivers you’re there. Moreover, the polyester fabric not only blunts the edge of cutting winds, it sheds light drizzle, too. Best of all, the jacket can morph into a vest by unzipping the sleeves. But there were two complications Tamia had to overcome before it went from good to best.

Some eight or nine years ago I bought the Performance Transformer jacket on sale from online retailer Performance Bike. (Amazingly, an updated version of the Transformer — the Elite Transformer — is still carried by Performance, though with a critical alteration as well as a much higher price.) Though not available in a women’s version, the Transformer appealed for several reasons. It’s a lightweight wind shell made of polyester, which blunts the edge of cutting winds and blunts a light drizzle. It’s predominantly hi-viz yellow, though unfortunately with black sleeves, shoulders, and chest pocket. The black swatches reduce the Transformer’s overall brightness, though as the photo panel below indicates, the hi-viz is very bright, bright enough to throw off my camera’s sensor.

Performance Transformer Jacket Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

The jacket folds up into a tidy packet for carrying in my handlebar bag or small pannier. But best of all, the Transformer lives up to its name — the jacket can morph into a vest by unzipping the sleeves. The mesh upper back help reduces condensation even when the sleeves and cape are in place, as a scoop vent at the cape’s lower seam allow ventilation. And if a bright jersey is worn beneath the vest, its color will show through the vest’s mesh. Did I say the Transformer is light?

Performance Transformer Jacket-Turned-Vest Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

So far, so good. I planned to wear the Transformer when the weather was too warm for my heavy-duty foul weather Canari Barrier Commuter jacket, but still too chilly for just a long-sleeved jersey. And I looked forward to being able to zip off the sleeves when I warmed up. But, there were…

TWO COMPLICATIONS TO OVERCOME

The first annoyance? Zippers that join the cape and sleeves to the vest jam very easily. Secondly, the Transformer is cut for a man’s body, and a slim man’s body, at that.

I’ve come to terms with the zippers. (I no longer try to unzip on the move.) The tapered fit defied easy accommodation, however. Most women’s bodies are hourglasses, not inverted pyramids, and mine is no exception. When I pulled my Transformer down over my hips I felt as if I was riding in a badly fitted straitjacket. Which, in a way, I was.

After wearing the jacket for a few months, I concluded that it didn’t live up to its promise. But I’m loathe to give up on anything. Especially when I can’t find a suitable substitute at price I’m willing to pay. Convertible jackets are rare beasts. So instead of leaving my Transformer to gather dust in the closet, I decided to tackle the fit problem head on. And that meant…

TRANSFORMING THE TRANSFORMER TO FIT A WOMAN’S BODY

This meant sewing. Now I’m not one of nature’s eager seamstresses, but my mother was a genius with a sewing machine, making many of her own and her kids’ clothes from scratch, as well as remodeling ready-made garments to fit her (and us) better. I figured I’d see if I could live up to her example. After all, what did I have to lose? As it was, I had a jacket which was so uncomfortable that I rarely wore it. If my alterations failed, I’d be no worse off. But if they succeeded, I’d be ahead of the game. So I grabbed a sheet of paper and sketched out a plan:

Sketchy Business Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

My Transformer had black triangular gussets separating the hi-viz front and back panels. I began by slitting these gussets (step 1 in the sketch) from the hem to a point just below the arm hole and opening them up by some four inches (2) on each side. Next, I split the seams of a hi-viz nylon stuff sack I found on the verge of the highway. This gave me a large rectangle with a preformed drawcord hem, from which it was child’s play to cut two additional triangles of fabric (3). (I used a laundry maker to trace the outlines before cutting.) Then I heat-sealed all the cut edges — and almost set fire to the jacket. Polyester is tricky stuff!

Turning the jacket over so that the inside was facing up on my work table, I matched the cut edges of one green nylon insert with the cut edges of the corresponding black gusset, being careful to align the tunnel hems (4). Then I pinned the insert to the jacket to hold everything together and stitched it in place (5), doubling the lines of stitching before going on to tackle the second gusset. In just a few short minutes it was time to try my newly tailored jacket on for size. And the result? Perfect. No more straitjacket! It was just loose enough to accommodate a long-sleeved jersey under a light fleece top. Here’s what one side of finished garment looks like:

The Finished Product (c) Tamia Nelson

You can see the black lines left by my laundry marker. I should have placed them on the inside where they wouldn’t be seen, but I can live with it. The green color also clashes with the hi-viz yellow, but I can live with that, too. Someone with more skill and patience than I would have done a far neater job, I’m sure, but I’m pleased with my transformed Transformer. It’s now the versatile garment I wanted when I bought it. and has been keeping me warm and dry for many years.

 
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Jun 29 2017

Questions Cyclists Are Asked: What’s With Those Tight, Bright Shirts You Wear? by Tamia Nelson

Why do some cyclists wear garishly colored, close-fitting shirts? And why are there pockets in the back?” Tamia used to ask these questions when she saw lycra- and Coolmax-clad cyclists whizzing by on the roads. Now she knows the answers.

From time to time after cycling to the HyperMart for the groceries, I’ll catch someone staring at me. Some folks even edge away. I can almost hear their thoughts: “Why are you wearing that weird shirt? That yucky color! And those funny pockets! Why are they in the back? You must be nuts! I would never dress like that!”

No, I’m not nuts, but I’m not exactly surprised by my fellow shopper’s reaction, either. Back in the day, I used to ask myself the same questions whenever I saw lycra- and Coolmax-clad cyclists. The difference between then and now? Now I know the answers to…

WHY CYCLISTS WEAR BRIGHT SNUG JERSEYS

Cyclists call their specialized shirts jerseys, and the cycling jersey is a garment where function is the predominate factor, with fashion taking second place. Originally knitted from wool, today most (but not all) jerseys are made of…

Synthetic Materials  Materials engineered to wick moisture away from the skin while drying quickly benefits cyclists who work up a sweat. And make no mistake. Cycling at anything but a pedestrian speed will work up a sweat, even in cold weather. The slippery fabric also slides over the body to prevent binding that can make cycling uncomfortable. Many cyclists also believe that the slippery synthetics will help reduce the severity of road rash (skin abrasions) if they crash.

Can wool jerseys still be had? Sure. How much do you want to spend? If you can afford the price of a high-quality merino wool jersey, you’ll enjoy belonging to an elite club. But for most cyclists, synthetic jerseys are the more affordable option, though recent evidence of freshwater and ocean contamination with non-biodegradable microfibers make this a tough choice for eco-conscious cyclists. (In an encouraging development, a Vermont inventor has a possible solution for this worrisome problem. You can read about it online at the Vermont newspaper, Seven Days.)

Snug Fit  This helps maintain an aerodynamic profile, which helps limit the amount of energy required to push the body and bike through the air. A loose upper garment acts like a drag chute, flapping and slapping vigorously at higher speeds. This isn’t of much concern for cycling gently, but if you’re piling miles on a bike tour, or if you enjoy riding like a racer, than the energy required to overcome that lack of aerodynamics takes a toll.

Functional Design Features  A flat raised collar keeps the sun off the neck’s nape. The front zip from Adam’s apple to xiphoid process allows the wearer to admit just as much cooling breeze as is needed to prevent sweat build-up and to maintain a comfortable body temperature, which reduces dangerous overheating. Those elasticized, rear-facing pockets that puzzle non-cyclists are ideal for securing snacks, small tools, phone and wallet when the cyclist leans low over the handlebars.

Jersey Pockets

Bright Colors  But what about those garish colors? Well, not every jersey is brightly colored. All mine are, though. I want to be seen by tired or distracted motorists in plenty of time for them to avoid adding me to the roadkill butcher’s bill. On another practical note, a few manufacturers make summer-weight, long-sleeved jerseys in brilliant white, designed to keep you from burning to a crisp under the blazing sun. Can’t argue with that, can you? And then there are cyclists who choose garish jerseys for the same reason that other fashionistas select their wardrobe: they like the look. Or because they want to show support for their role models on professional racing teams. And who can argue with someone else’s taste?

Bright Jerseys

THE BOTTOM LINE

Do you have to wear a special jersey when riding a bike? Nope. Wear cotton t-shirts if you prefer. Or even a tweed jacket. But despite having ridden in tees for years, I now find that I prefer jerseys, even on the shortest rides. And I haven’t had to pay a fortune for the privilege. While many fashion-oriented jerseys sell for as much as a Wal-Mart bike, and wool jerseys are now luxury items, I’ve stocked up on inexpensive generic jerseys (solid colors, no team logo, no grabby graphics) during end-of-season sales. But while my jerseys may be cheap, they do the job—and they last. I’m still wearing jerseys I’ve had for almost ten years. That makes them cheaper than many of my cotton tees.

What it comes down to is this: Jerseys make it easier for you to cycle in your comfort zone. They’re textbook examples of the design dictum that form should follow function. And if you go the garish color route, they just might save your life someday. That’s worth a few stares at the local HyperMart, isn’t it? I think so.

 

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