Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gas Electric Hybrid Cars

I just read an article on the slow sales of gas-electric hybrid cars as compared to the already slow sales of cars in general. I almost passed on reading the article as I have felt for quite some time that a simple, lightweight car will be cheaper, handle better (making it safer and more fun to drive) and potentially get equal (or close) gas mileage to a hybrid car. However, my curiousity drew me in. I was pleased to see that the calculations for "years to break even", where the additional cost of the hybrid drivetrain is offset by gas savings, had already been done. This, however, ignores lost investment potential of the money spent (not that anyone's investments are making money these days), financing cost, and additional maintenance and repair cost that the hybrid drive will add over time (a simple mechanism will always be cheaper- it won't break if it isn't in there). Anyway, using the simplified model of purchase price vs. gas savings the best of the vehicles shown was the Toyota Prius, which at 12,000 miles per year would take 4.3 years to break even (if gas were at its peak of $4.11/gallon from last summer) or 9.9 years (with gas at its unusually low price of $1.79 from a few days ago). The worst break-even period
shown at 12,000 miles per year was the hybrid Camry which would take 6.8 years to break even (at $4.11) and 15.7 years (at $1.79). I wonder how many people actually keep a car that long. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for saving gas, but I think it makes a lot more sense to do it by driving less (and riding more) and by driving smaller, lighter cars. In a market full of already heavy, bloated cars it doesn't make sense to use less gas by making the cars heavier and more bloated- unless, of course, you're trying to make the business of building cars more profitable. Then it makes perfect sense.

Too Long

I haven't been biking in too long a time. This morning as I sat drinking my coffee, Bucky the cat jumped up onto my lap to sit. To my dismay, he started kneading my lap with his front paws. You know, like when a kitten kneads his mother's soft belly to stimulate milk production, or like an adult does when finding a soft cozy place to bed down. These are not things that a bike rider likes to have associated with his formerly strong, muscular quads. That's all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Great Quote

I saw a quote at Austin Bike Blog that I thought was too good not to share. Like to hear it? Here it go.

Today is Black Friday, the day retailers are supposed to be in the black for the first time all year. The way things have been going the last few months, I doubt very few retailers are coming close to being in black. Indeed, there are signs that American's 60 years of rampant consumer consumption may be coming to an end. Still, that has not prevented the "Opening at 5 AM" hysteria that comes each year on this day including stories of the loss of life and limb over buying loads of crap. All this to celebrate the birth of a man who said "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21)

Well said.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is it Any Wonder More Americans Don't Ride Bikes?

While flipping through the paper today on my way to the comics, I ran across a "gift guide" for the holidays. It was a silly little full-page spread of various items which some of the staff writers apparently thought would make good gifts, or maybe which were included in the special section as a paid endorsement. Whatever the reason, it caught my eye because one of the gifts was a tandem bike. A sub-$300 department store tandem, but then any kind of bike gets my attention.

Here's the accompanying text:
The family that bikes together on this cycle has no choice but to stay together. The 21-speed (nondescript bike name) tandem bicycle is a great option for cruisers, with a low frame in the back for shorter riders. Something else to consider: Tandem bicycling has been shown to reduce tremors for patients with Parkinson's disease, and taking the rear seat is a great way to exercise for those suffering from vision loss. (some dumb, old discount department store) $279.
OK, so it forces you to spend time with your family members and if you are going blind or have a neurological disorder it may be good for you. Hmm.

I read a little more and found another gift with this description:
Here's a treadmill with all the bells and whistles you'd find at a premier fitness center: The (Huge fitness equipment company machine) includes a flat screen TV with digital tuner, an iPod-compatible music port and a great sound system. No excuses for not exercising! (Big store at the mall), $1699.
Now, how is it that they can make an exercise machine sound exciting (it even gets an exclamation point), when in reality it's a solitary mind-numbingly boring piece of exercise equipment that is only made tolerable by stuffing it with electronic entertainment gadgets so that you forget that you're in a stuffy corner of the basement walking, but going nowhere so that you can avoid driving to a gym where you'll pay a gym membership then wait in line for a machine so that you can walk, but go nowhere on a solitary mind-numbingly boring piece of exercise equipment while listening to your iPod so that you don't have to talk to the people around you? Then on the same page they make a tandem bike- a vehicle for getting out, getting fresh air and exploring while talking to and spending time with your significant other and getting exercise (perhaps even better exercise than the treadmill) without really minding it because you're having fun- sound like a mundane physical therapy device, suitable only for those with health problems. If nothing else, the bike would make a much cheaper and more effective towel drying rack than the treadmill.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election 2008

I suppose I should comment on yesterday's election.


It's good that the soon-to-be leader of our country can pronounce the word "nuclear". It's true. I heard him. Maybe the rest of the world will stop making fun of us now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Y'know, a few weeks ago I thought my neighborhood was in for a major annoyance. I got home from work and fed the cats as usual. As I was policing the cats and making sure that each stuck to his or her own bowl I heard a loud "DOOP!" from somewhere outside. Then again.

My first thought was that the neighbor's adult teenage son (a thirty-something who lives upstairs with Ma and Pa so that he has more money for Lexuses with twenty-something inch chrome rims and stereo equipment that can be heard two blocks away) was home in said Lexus. Maybe he had a new CD. But it wasn't. It was hardly rhythmic at all.

Then it went on. "doop-a-thock.. Doop-thock.. doop-a-thock.. Doop-thock.." It continued for ten or fifteen seconds with the broken rhythm of an infant taking his first steps. Then it stopped. A minute or two later it started again. Then it stopped just as quickly. This continued for a while as I discovered which house the arhythmic thumping was coming from, but I decided not to let it annoy or upset me. After all, every musician has to start from the beginning. Still, I had visions of late night jam sessions- the neighborhood
tossing and turning. Then it stopped. Nice and early.

A week or two later, the evening thumping commenced. To my surprise, the previously choppy and awkward beats were now replaced by more fluid and sustained beats. But not only that.. There was also a bass guitar. They played what might even have passed for music. They enjoyed themselves for a while. Then they stopped. Nice and early.

Last night the garage band started up once again. The duo had apparently become a trio with the addition of a guitar. The beats coming through the closed windows were complex and driving. Someone had been practicing.

Out of curiousity, I stepped out to the patio and pulled up a chair, and quickly found myself grooving to the music. These guys weren't half bad. I heard a dash of Neal Peart here and there along with a smidge of Les Claypool now and again to keep things interesting. Between the shrubs colored lights flashed off and on. After several minutes, the song ended to howls of glee. A "Yee-haw" came from another direction. An apparently sarcastic mocking gesture. Suddenly I felt self conscious. I was not the only one listening. Worse, I was not just a bystander, I was a nosy eavesdropper. Would the musicians look out and are me sitting alone on my patio and take me for the mocking listener? I sat quietly and they went right on with what they were doing. Well maybe listening to a garage band rehearse two doors down with their amps set to eleven can't be considered eavesdropping. It still felt like a guilty pleasure. Then it stopped. Nice and early.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I always enjoy taking my bike to the bike shop. I guess it's bitter- sweet, of course because the fact that I'm taking my bike there in the first place is because there's a problem with it that I just don't feel comfortable tackling on my own. But I digress. The reason I like taking it in is that it always gets a reaction from the mechanics. It's not that it's an expensive or high end bike. A gray teen-aged mid level steel bike may be fun to ride through the woods, but you wouldn't put it up in the shop window.

What gets the attention? Very simply, the brakes on my bike are a bit odd and they're bright red against a gray frame. These days, in the world of mountain bikes, if you want simple, you go with direct-pulls. If you want power, you go with discs. If you want even more power and nice feel, you go with hydraulic discs. If you told most people these days that they can also have hydraulic RIM brakes, the reaction would probably be "why".

Well, because the clamp down like a putbull. A good set of direct pulls with boosters could likely do as well, though. They have a positive feel and they're virtually maintenance free, but even that isn't all of it. In addition to working well, they're out of the ordinary. The make a bike which isn't much to look at (at least not for most) into something wild and exotic. One of the mechanics mentioned that he had only seen hydraulic rim brakes once before, but there's a chance he's only remembering the other time it was in the shop. That's what I like to think. Real bike geeks appreciate stuff like that. Those brakes are my bike jewelry.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Re-Thinking the Mountain Bike

I found myself commuting to work last week on my mountain bike with somewhat narrow (38mm-ish) slicks installed, as the freehub on my road bike has lately been threatening to "go fixie" on me. What I'm finding is that with the exception of the lack of an aero position for the stiff headwinds and higher speeds, and a really good high gear for the occasional sprint up to motor vehicle speeds, the bike really makes a nice all-around ride. It's set up fairly stretched out with flat bars, a long stem, and full bar-ends. Although I would probably wish for more hand postitons on a longer ride, it's a treat having that "roll over anything" feeling when it comes to shortcuts through parks, trips up and down stairs and traveling the heavily pot holed New Jersey roads that often cause pinch flats when I'm not paying close enough attention on my road bike. I love the bike, its versatility and its durability, but I've just learned to live with the flat bars as a fact of life for mountain bikers, using the bar-ends whenever possible.

Going back to the road bike for a second- when I bought it, I intended to take the drop bars off and replace them with something more familiar, most likely a flat bar with some old MTB brake levers. Looking back, I really can't say why this was, but after riding it as-is (as-was at this point) for a while I realized that drop bars, in addition to bring efficient and practical for how I ride, are actually pretty comfortable. My wrists much prefer the palms-inward position to the palms-downward position for longer distances.

Over the summer, most of my time was spent on the road bike and very little time on trails on the mountain bike. When I finally did get out with the mountain bike, I found that in the miles spent on the hoods and drops of the road bike I had picked up some habits that did not really work well with my mountain bike setup. Specifically, I wanted to ride on the bar ends practically the whole time. This was fine climbing and while cruising along on smooth, level terrain. The problem arose, however, when I approached a big obstacle, such as a pile of logs, and took a good grip on the bar ends out of habit. That position really feels strong and stable. Going up and over still worked well, however, on the downward side things tended to get a little tricky as I attempted to shift my hands back to the flat bar (where the brake levers are) halfway through a technical section. Bad idea. That could be ugly.

Anyway, back to the recent past, the good people at Salsa have presented the Fargo to us, which seems to strike a chord for those of us who want something fairly speedy (after all, it is a 29er) yet still able to roll over anything. I really hope that Salsa does well with this one. While it's designed for a very specific activity, long distance off road touring, it seems like the demanding nature of that activity makes it a very good fit for practically all non-racing conditions that I would encounter.

P.S. I should add that I am aware of some of the bikes sporting drop bars from the early days of mountain biking and hope to build up my own rig in that image. Anybody know where I can find a set of hydraulic road brake levers for my HS33's?