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Archive for May, 2009

A while back I ran across an article on the web about the sustainability of the bicycle by Edwin Datschefski of Surrey, England.  I browsed around his site BioThinking and realized that this man is an expert in sustainable products, and quite passionate about what he does.  His company, Truecology, offers consulting services to increase the sustainability of your product, whatever it may be.  There are many products within the cycling industry that could benefit from Edwin’s services.  The Sustainable Cyclist had the wonderful opportunity to ask Edwin a few questions.

The Sustainable Cyclist (SC): Hi Edwin, Thanks for taking the time to talk to The Sustainable Cyclist.  Could you tell me about the history of truecology and your interest in sustainable products?

Edwin Datschefski: I’ve only just started Truecology in May 2009 as an attempt to fight against the dumbing down and dilution of sustainability that seems to be happening at the moment. I’ve been a sustainable design consultant for 16 years now though I think it all started when I read Victor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World which must have been in 1976 or so …

SC: How important do you think sustainable products are today and into the future?

Edwin: Every product in the world — all 100 million or so — has to be redesigned to be entirely compatible with nature — that’s 100% sustainable, not just with a little bit of greenwash or a bit of recycled plastic here and there.

SC: Tell me your thoughts on the sustainability of the bicycle industry, how it can improve, and what The Sustainable Cyclist can do to help.

Edwin: It’s always baffled me what a great thing bikes are but how the entire cycling industry seems to be blissfully unaware and continues to manufacture bicycles and components with seemingly no regard at all for the environment. Aluminium, carbon fibre, PVC, lots of energy- and pollution-intense materials in use there, lots of Asian manufacture where pollution standards are low, and so on.

SC: Have you seen any cycling or outdoor related products recently that your impressed with?

Edwin: No — Pedro’s are the only products I have found that are remotely green — recycled plastic tyre bars and recycled tube saddle bags. That’s a rare drop in a huge ocean of indifference.

SC: Do you ride a bike?  If so, could you tell us about it?

Edwin: In the late 80s used to have a Mark I Moulton that I loved and I went to the Moulton Festival in Bradford upon Avon and met Sir Alex, I loved that bike and used to think nothing of cycling from Bristol to Oxford for lunch (though I didn’t come back the same day and was a pretty sweaty lunch guest!).

SC: Finally, please say a few words about how you’d like to see the bicycle industry change, and where the most important change must happen.

Edwin: The next step is quite simple and I’d like to have a go if someone want to chip in with a few facts about current bicycles as I’m a bit rusty (pardon the pun) in the latest trends. I would simply want to do a very rough life cycle analysis of typical bicycles available for sale today and compare their environmental impacts from extraction of raw materials to eventual disposal. I’d look at a steel bike, an alu and a carbon I think, whatever the biggest selling style is at the moment.

Then we could compare the different materials and see which ones (if any) was best.

We’d also have a good idea of the emobdied impact and embodied energy of a bicycle — how long it takes in terms of saving transportation fuel before you have ‘paid’ ecologically for your new bicycle. It may be unexpectdely high or it may be groovily low. It’s unknown at this time as no-one seems to have done this basic assessment which would be routine in most industries like packaging, automotive etc.

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Buying a used a bike instead of a new one is a very sustainable approach to cycling.  There are a tremendous amount of used bicycles out there that are just sitting in basements, storage units, etc. waiting for a new owner.  Seth Stattmiller, owner of Re-Cycle in Minneapolis Minnesota, is a true Sustainable Cyclist, and is doing his part in providing riders with quality, refurbished bicycles.  I’d like to thank Seth for talking to The Sustainable Cyclist.

The Sustainable Cyclist: Hi Seth.  To begin, could you tell me about the history of Re-Cycle?

Seth: Re-Cycle was born in the late summer of 2005. I was dating an eBay junkie. At a yard sale, she made the suggestion that I buy a pair of vintage bikes and try to sell them on CraigsList.  I made some easy money and got hooked. I knew almost nothing about bicycles. Within a year I got dumped, rented an apartment, filled it up with bikes, bought Re-Cycle.com, and started paying my bills with refurbished bicycles. In 2007 I rented a warehouse and took the business to the next level. After a year, the business was ready for the next step. We moved to our current location on Hennepin Ave S at 24th (Minneapolis) and Re-Cycle became a regular “bike shop.”
SC: Could you tell me about Re-Cycle today?  What is Re-Cycles mission?

Seth: Our mission is to provide Minneapolis residents safe, reliable transportation at a reasonable price (our bikes are guaranteed for 30 days). In our nearly four years of operation, we have reduced Minnesota’s carbon footprint by almost 1 million pounds of Carbon Dioxide (see Re-Cycle.com/carbon.aspx). Sustainability is key to what we do, but we are a bike shop first and environmentalists second. It is critical for our customers to ride out the door on a product they can count on. The CO2 bit would not follow if we weren’t providing bikes that people can actually ride.

Most of our customers are getting their first bike after the one their parents bought them in Junior High. We spend a lot of time educating our customers on what style they might like and how to properly size a bike. Our prices usually fall between Wal-Mart and Erik the Bike Man, but we almost always have something in the $30 to $75 range and occasionally we stumble on something we price at more than $1000. In the end $250 will get you something very nice at Re-Cycle. We are a full service shop with experience working on more than 100 years of technology.

None of the bikes we touch were land-filled and only bent frames ever get scrapped. We support several non-profits with bikes that don’t sell. Lately we’ve even been working with a group that ships bikes to Africa.

SC: Do you foresee an increasing demand for used, refurbished bicycles over the next decade or so?  Why or why not?

Seth: The used, refurbished bicycle market is following two other forces: the greater bicycle industry and the CraigsList trend of buying used. The green revolution is happening, but it’s a warm breeze, not a raging hurricane. Money comes first. 2008’s $4.00 gas prices put a lot of people on bikes. With gas prices at nearly half that, the urgency is gone. In four years we have doubled our bicycle sales every year. That’s not going to happen this year. Now, a shop that is less than five years old is not indicative of the rest of the industry, but it gives you some picture of where people’s motivations stem from. In my opinion, the used bicycle shop follows almost the same trends as the new bicycle shop with only one significant exception. People’s impressions of new bike shops are already formed. Used bicycle shops, on the whole, are still catching on and it’s not necessarily the first thing people think of when shopping for a bicycle. But as shops like Re-Cycle gain a foothold in a community and a reputation for quality products, growth in the used market is likely to be stronger than growth in the established “new” market. People have to get comfortable with something they are less familiar with. But they are becoming comfortable.

Used is something that everyone is coming to understand thanks, in no small part, to CraigsList. Craig Newmark has done for the world of used goods what Al Gore did for global warming. Used has gone mainstream and used retailers are starting to show up on the radar of companies who have been turning over their own market with new products every few years. Americans especially have varied and changing tastes. It’s not always a desire to have something better that makes us toss out the old and find something new. Sometimes we just want to see if the grass really is greener. We want a change. But one person’s change is another man’s dollar. CraigsList is teaching Americans that the biggest difference between new and used might simply be the price.

The next decade of bicycle sales is going to depend on a lot of variables. Conditions within the greater economy seem to be the biggest factor, but gas taxes and vehicle fuel efficiency regulation can easily simulate those conditions for the bicycle industry. Certainly the world is coming around to the realities of climate change and that increasing urgency can only help fuel both the bicycle industry as a whole and the used market along side it, but I’m not counting on the greenies to pay for my yacht (though I’d be happy to accept contributions to the yacht fund). I suspect that used bicycle sales will have a slight edge over new bicycle sales, but the two are still in the same boat.

SC: Do you think buying a used, refurbished bicycle is better for the earth than buying a new bicycle?  Why or why not?

Seth: Manufacturing and transporting a new bicycle emits something on the order of 350 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air (see our estimates at http://www.Re-Cycle.com/carbon.aspx). I probably pump out 100 pounds of CO2 every week retrieving truck loads of bicycles from around Minneapolis. We order new tires, tubes, locks, and other accessories and those have to be produced and shipped. We have to light, heat, and cool our space, and not all of the lubes and sprays can be perfectly green, but all of our bikes are used and only two other Re-Cycle employees even own a car. So, if we sell one bike in a week, our carbon footprint is neutral if that purchase replaces a new bike purchase. There is no contest. A refurbished bicycle has nearly the same lifespan as a brand new bike, but almost zero environmental impact. And since our bikes are less expensive than new bikes, we can put more of them on the road with fewer resources.

SC: Do you see bicycle related products becoming more sustainable in the future compared to today?  How about the way everyday business is performed?

Seth: Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) is one of the major wholesale suppliers in the bicycle industry (headquartered in a Minneapolis suburb: Boo-Yah!). Take a ride out to their processing center (6400 W. 105th Street, Bloomington, MN). The first things you will notice are tall reeds and cattails growing in the parking lot. They built a run-off neutral facility within the last couple of years. QBP accepts used bicycle tires and tubes free of charge to be recycled into children’s playgrounds and track and field tracks. They have employee incentive programs for reducing carbon output at work and beyond. There are showers for people who ride to work instead of drive. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, I think QBP is the exception rather than the rule, but I also think QBP is setting standards that the rest of the industry will increasingly be pressured to meet. I also happen to think that the rest of the industry is missing the boat (or yacht if you prefer). When I walk into other bike shops I see few hints of sustainable initiatives. There is still a lot more spandex than green. Meanwhile, the market is moving. Your average customer is still motivated most strongly by price and quality, but when choosing between similarly priced and performing products, the average cyclist is going to pick the green option every time.

The companies that can survive completely on green customers are still serving only small niches, but these small markets are growing. There are messenger bags made from recycled plastic bags, belts made from reused bicycle tires, wallets manufactured from old tubes. Twin Cities Green is a shop across the street from our shop. They sell furniture produced entirely from old bike parts. Cool stuff.

SC: In closing, please say anything you’d like to say about sustainability throughout the bicycle industry.

Seth: New York City is the one town I’ve visited where you can get by without a car or a bicycle. Los Angeles is the one town I’ve visited where you’d be hard pressed to get by without a car. For the average urban citizen, a bicycle can do 90% or more of what a car does for them. A bike, mass transit, and good friends (in that order) will take you to 99.9% of your desired destinations with a nominal increase in effort and planning. The bicycle is an essential part of living a sustainable life style (in some circles it is part of this complete breakfast.). The bicycle industry is coming along, but it is (and should be) dragged by the market.

SC: Thanks for talking to us Seth!  We hope you have continued success in what your doing. Bye for now!

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For my first official review for The Sustainable Cyclist, I thought I would do some socks.  Actually, I needed more socks, and we had a REI coupon, so I smelled review!  TMBRGSmartWool_iconSmartWool is well known in the hiking and skiing community for its incredible performance.  These guys took wool to a whole new level by ridding it of its itchy, shrinking reputation, and bringing it above and beyond its synthetic competition.  The company makes all kinds of clothing from base layers to outerwear including hats, gloves, scarves, babies clothing, kids clothing, and on and on.  If its a type of clothing, chances are they make it out of their wool.

The Wool: All the wool that SmartWool uses comes from Marino sheep that live in New Zealand.  They are free range, and live in “pristine, earth-friendly environments.”  It doesn’t smell, its soft, its not itchy, and it doesn’t shrink.

The Sustainability: As long as the animal is treated well, then your supply of wool is endless.  If your sheep has children, then you get more wool!  The manufacturing process I’m sure involves energy, but hey, you gotta make the socks!  I wouldn’t be surprised if this company used sustainable power for their production.  They seem really committed to the health of the Earth and humanity.  Check out these links from their website to learn more about what they do to provide a sustainable product and keep Earth healthy.

SmartWool Philosophy, Partners, Sustainability, Social, Employee, and Industry.

The Sock: I needed another pair of performance, lightweight socks for summer that would keep my feet dry, not bunch up on me, and give me just enough cushion to keep my skin from feeling the irregularities inside my shoe.  I went with the PhD Ultra Light Cushion Mini Crew (15.95 at REI).  Take a close peek herepTBL-5578693dtIts a long name, but take a peak at the selection of sizes, cushion, and type of sock.  Its really impressive!  The sock is composed of 67% wool, 30% nylon and 3% elastic.  The packaging boasts the following technology’s used by the PhD socks:

Wool on Wool (WOW) – This is higher density wool in crucial areas like the heal and ball for durability.

4 degree fit system – compression bands at the ankle, arch, upper instep, lower instep, and contour flex zone.

Ultra light cushion – for protection against shock and abrasion.

Mesh MVT zones – A type of knit pattern to maximize ventilation

Flat-knit toe seam – for comfort and durability.

I used the sock today for a ride that was about 20 miles long, and at a medium intensity.  Some rolling hills, and a couple hard climbs.  The weather was in the low 70’s and nothing more than a slight breeze for wind.  I was paying close attention on how the sock performed in regards to ventilation, and to see if bunched up at all.  I was very impressed with how the sock stayed right where I put it and didn’t move the entire ride.  I was very impressed with the fit of the toe area because there was no excess material, and just the right amount of cushion.  My feet did not get hot the entire ride, but when I increased the intensity towards the end of the ride, the sweat really started to pour out.  Any sock in this situation is going to get wet with sweat, but some can handle it better than others.  This particular sock seemed to get a bit soggy and weighted down.  I could sort of feel the wetness squishing in the heel area.  This is a negative, but I only really noticed it after I got off my bike.  Overall, I think the good outweighs the bad.  An incredibly sustainable sock, from a great company that holds to the foot, keeps you cool, has just the right amount of cushion, but is slightly too absorbent.  I like this company and plan on trying some of their other cycling specific products.

Another plus is that the packaging is made from recycled paper and printed using soy based inks

Go get yourself some SmartWool!

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This was originally posted on my personal blog Its All One Big Adventure, but decided to post it here as well (with a couple edits) due to the fact that converting old bikes to singe speeds is an excellent way to reuse an old ten speed for a city commuter.

I tend to look at bicycles whenever they’re in range of my view.  I’ve noticed something that people have done to there multi-speed road bike more often lately that doesn’t make a lot of sense unless your in a emergency situation.  I’ve seen a lot of this here in New Orleans, but used to see it every now and then while living in Cambridge, MA.

Mountain bikers are familiar with what I’m talking about.  When they crash out in the woods and destroy their rear derailleur, a quick fix to get home is to remove the derailleur, and shorten the chain while keeping it tight on a rear cog of their choosing.  With this set up they are able to carefully ride their bike home.   I’ll get to the carefully part in a minute.

There is a strong trend these days towards simplicity in bicycles.   Single speeds are flying off the shelfs, and many people are converting their old steel road bikes to fixed gear.   I am proponent of this and ride my fixed gear daily.  Its simple, fun, and easy to maintain.   A perfect city bike.

I have a feeling that people are taking a dangerous shortcut to obtaining that desired single speed bicycle and not removing the multi-cog freewheel, but just pulling off the derailleurs and shortening the chain around a cog of their choosing.  Take this post in <a title=”Poor Mans Single Speed” href=”http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?t=460399&#8243; target=”_blank”>Bike Forums</a> for example.  I’m Tradtimbo in Bike Forums.  My responses in that discussion expand upon what I’m talking about here.

Taken from instructables.com

Taken from instructables.com

This is dangerous.  Multi-speed freewheel/cassette cogs are designed to be able to disengage the chain so the derailleur can push it onto another cog.  The newer the freewheel (or more recently cassette) the easier it is to “push” the chain onto another cog.  The cogs are also designed to engage the chain onto its teeth when the chain is getting pushed onto it from an adjacent cog.  Different things have been used over the years to aid in this transfer from one cog to another.  I have a bicycle from 1979 that has grooves in the top of the cog teeth in order (I’m guessing) to “grab” the chain when getting pushed from an adjacent cog.  These days, cassettes have ramps and unique tooth profiles to aid in shifting from one cog to the next.  The rear derailleur has the job of keeping the tension in the chain, isolating chain swing, and switching the chain from one cog to another.  Keeping the chain in tension serves two functions.  The more obvious one is removing slack from the chain during and after shifting from one cog to another.  The less obvious one is removing slack in the chain when the top portion of the drive train is fully engaged.  In order to explain this last part more imagine yourself in a standing sprint.  The top portion of the chain between the chain-ring and rear cog will be under tension and the bike will slightly flex in the direction the chain is pulling on the rear cog.  Every bike flexes differently, but the rear derailleur keeps the chain tension relatively constant on the lower portion of the chain.  The rear portion of the chain may also swing during a standing sprint, but the rear derailleur isolates that swinging to between the lower pulley and the chain-ring.  Also, since the lower portion of chain is in relatively constant tension, the swinging is minimal.

Now, remove the rear derailleur and imagine standing up and sprinting through an intersection.  The drive-train becomes fully engaged and the bike flexes slightly.  The bottom portion of the chain becomes slack and begins to swing.   The presents a very real possibility of one of the adjacent cogs “grabbing” the chain if the swing is large enough.  If the adjacent larger cog grabs the chain, then we have a terrible situation.  The chain is not long enough to accept the additional teeth of the larger cog, and the distance between the center of the freewheel/cassette and the center of the bottom bracket will want to get smaller.  The chain will either break due to tension overload, the wheel pulled out of the drop outs or, the bike will buckle and fold itself in order to get the distance between the previously mentioned centers smaller.

To avoid this very real scenario in pursuit of a single speed, the multi-cog freewheel should be removed and a single speed freewheel added, or in the case of a cassette, all the undesired cogs should be removed and spacers added to keep the chain line correct.  Also, there are a number of off-the-shelf single speed kits for cassettes out there.  The last point I have is that the multi-speed freewheel on old bicycles is one of the heaviest components.  One of the goals of a single speed rider is to reduce weight.  Well, with this setup, they’re not reducing much, and making a more dangerous bicycle.

Enjoy the Ride!

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F Minus

Unrelated to Sustainability, but a good laugh!

FMinus

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I heard back from Cane Creek, and updated the Anodizing post!

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If you live in Minneapolis, and are in need of a used bike, here is a good option! The Hub is having its USED BIKE EXTRAVAGANZA!!!.  The Hub is featured on RideLocal.org fortheir support for the environment and sustainability.

UsedBikeExtravaganzaAd2009

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