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By Liza Coviello

Liza Coviello is an art administrator and ceramic artist who lives in Philadelphia, PA.  She loves biking, among other outdoor activities, and is always looking to “green up” her lifestyle.

I love my bike helmet.  It is the second one of the exact same make/model that I have owned.  The first may actually have saved my life, but definitely saved me from head trauma and I can’t thank it enough for this.  My only issue, and it is unfortunately a very big one, is my helmet’s environmental impact and its lack of sustainability.  Biking itself is an extremely sustainable method of transportation.  Its only requirement for energy is man-power, and its further popularity will be a benefit to the environment by reducing the amount of cars on the road.  For example, reports have shown that air pollution from cars causes 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis in children, 15,000 hospital admissions for heart disease, and 162,000 asthma attacks in children – all in one year.  Plus, we must take into account the fact that car traffic causes noise pollution, requires much more space for driving and parking, and requires the production of vehicles (another environmentally damaging industry), roads, parking lots and garages, and a laundry list of materials and activities to maintain them.  So, the question that has been plaguing me lately is whether the pollution created by the production and existence of this helmet outweighs the positive effects of using the helmet while riding my bike.

Let’s review what I know:  I’ll start by describing the various materials used in the production – First, polycarbonate, the material used for the exterior shell and all fastening agents, is the least polluting and harmful of the materials, so I feel that it is a good place to start.  Technically, this plastic can be recycled – at which time, during combustion, toxic chemicals are not released.  For recycling, however, the major issue with this plastic and indeed, one that you will find with the other helmet materials, is that it is produced in a number of ‘types’.  The recycling number system that you can find on the bottom of plastic containers was developed in 1988 by the Society of Plastics Industry.  According to their website, “Plastic is not any one material. Rather, it is a family of related materials with varying properties… The success of a product often is dependent on matching the right plastic – with the right properties… The same is true when the material in question is a recycled plastic. The more uniform the post-use plastics going in, the more predictable the properties of the recycled plastic coming out. Coding enables individuals to perform quality control (i.e., sorting) before recycling, ensuring that the recycled plastic is as homogenous as possible to meet the needs of the end markets.”  Essentially, those numbers that you see on the bottom of your plastic food container and are surrounded by the recycling logo specify what type of plastic it is and with a little research, can help you to find a place to recycle it.

Even after we address the issue of whether or not this polycarbonate shell CAN be recycled, we are left with the problem of its extraction from the other materials.   Unfortunately, removing the shell from the foam core is a laborious task and often, not possible by the user.  If the wearer is able to separate the parts, the shell could be recycled.  This is great news!  Now, if only I was unable to locate any centers or helmet vendors who were able to accept old helmets in order to dismantle and recycle them for me!  I found only one location in the country (in Boulder, Colorado) which may be able to take helmets and dismantle them for recycling – the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials.

Let’s continue.  The core of the Slant is made from EPS – expanded polystyrene.  This material is non-biodegradable and is made from a non-renewable, non-sustaining, and quickly disappearing commodity, namely petroleum.  Although it can be recycled, the rate at which it is currently being recycled in the United States is less than 10%.  Since it is such a versatile and cheap material, its uses are many and it is therefore highly present in our landfills.  Polystyrene comes in a several different varieties.   The foam used in this helmet is different from Styrofoam food containers, only in how it is created. Other polystyrene types include extruded polystyrene (the type of plastic used for CD jewel cases) and Styrofoam™, trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company.

In addition to the negatives that I have already elicited, polystyrene, when heated, can leach styrene into surrounding materials.  Stryene is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin.  It is for this very reason that people are warned never to microwave foam food containers.  “Styrene has been listed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) since 1987 as “http://www.inchem.org/documents/iarc/vol82/82-07.html” group 2B, “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” IARC reaffirmed that decision in further reviews in 1994 and 2002.”  Although it is unlikely that a user would ever put food in their helmet, heat it up, and eat out of it, I feel it important to point out the potential dangers from the materials it is made from, regardless of the likelihood of their causing problems.

The last major material that makes up this helmet is nylon.  Nylon is used for the interior padding, as well as the straps which hold the helmet to wearer’s head.  The manufacture of nylon creates nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas that is 310 times as potent as carbon dioxide.  The creation of this material contributes heavily to global warming, making it one of the most environmentally damaging textiles to manufacture.  Because of its superior durability, it was an obvious choice for items such as seatbelts, leashes, harnesses, and of course, straps to secure a bicycle helmet.

Although nylon can be recycled, recent estimates say that less than one percent of all nylon actually gets recycled.  Since it is a thermoplastic, it is relatively easy to be melted down into pellets and then reprocessed.  Much of the reason that it is not recycled, however, is due to the fact that nylon is produced into such a large variety of fibers and fabrics.  Unfortunately, not all nylon materials can be recycled together and must be separated out by their type.  A good example is the fact that the padding and straps on the Bell Slant are not of the same nylon type and could therefore, not be recycled together.  This is not the only problem for nylon recycling, though.  Often, a type of nylon is locked into a combination material that is produced in mass quantities.  Carpet is the best example of how this occurs.  Most carpet is made from a blend of nylon and other materials.  According to an article I found, each year in the United States, carpets containing about 500,000 metric tons of nylon end up at the dump.  Scientists are currently trying to find a way to “unlock” the nylon in order to recycle it.  In this research I also found that there are companies that do recycle the material, but will not accept all types of it. There are, however, places where you can post listings to buy and sell nylon scrap by their type to be reused and recycled.

It is important to keep in mind that helmets cannot be “reused”.  Their ability to perform in the event of a crash is voided after only one impact.  It is for this reason that riders are instructed to discard their helmets if it has been involved in any type of impact.  The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute states, “The foam part of a helmet is made for one-time use, and after crushing once it is no longer as protective as it was, even if it still looks intact.”  Often, helmet-selling companies are willing to check the foam core on a helmet, in order to ensure that there are no cracks and it is still viable.  Sadly, a single crack in the core can make it possible to fly off on impact.

Due to the fact that there are so many barriers to the recyclability and reusability of a bicycle helmet, many riders have found creative ways to deal with these discarded items.  I came across several internet forums seeking suggestions on alternate uses for an old bike helmet. Recycle This, a blog that is dedicated to finding alternate uses for items which cannot be recycled, allows users to post queries and seek suggestions.  Often the suggestions tend towards attempting to remove the foam and then recycle it, or use it for packaging material.  Other posts suggest that the owner use the helmet as a planter, or container of some type.  Although I feel it a very positive thing that riders are concerned enough about the sustainability issues of a bicycle helmet to seek solutions on the internet, I found little to suggest that much effort is being made to try and reduce the number of these items being produced and discarded, without the possibility of reusing or recycling them.

I am happy to report that there are some efforts being made to create more eco-friendly helmet options.  These options are still very few and from what I have found, not very easy to obtain.  The first helmet that I encountered was one made from all natural materials, the exterior of which is bamboo.  This helmet, produced by a French company named Roof, is a very limited edition and very expensive (roughly $350).  Other points to mention: this helmet is only available in Europe and is designed to be a motorcycle helmet, so it does not have the type of ventilation associated with a bicycle helmet.

In addition, a concept helmet has been designed by Lacoste® which is comprised of sustainable materials.  The exterior of this helmet is covered in organic wool, the shell is a thermoformed bio-plastic, and the core is a low-density cork and soy-based foam. The cork core is capable of absorbing the same amount of energy as the polystyrene used in traditional helmets.  Soy-based foam’s popularity has been increasing in the furniture industry over the past few years.  Companies such as Martha Stewart Living and Ford Motor Company have been using this foam in an effort to get away from the petro-chemical polystyrene foam to something that is a renewable resource.  As for the bioplastic used for the shell, it is derived from renewable sources such as vegetable oil.  Bioplastics also create less greenhouse gases than regular plastics and create significantly less hazardous waste during production.

An industrial designer has also taken on the challenge of finding a more eco-friendly helmet option by designing a recyclable helmet made from polypropylene.  This helmet is not yet in production for sales, but the sheer fact that it has been designed should help to jumpstart research and design in this arena. Julian Bergignat’s intention was create something lightweight, low-cost and recyclable. His helmet design, Tattoo, is extremely unique, but has yet to be tested for safety and impact resistance.  My own personal opinion of the helmet is that it does not look like it is capable of protecting a rider in an accident, but I will wait for the testing to pass judgment.

While searching for eco-friendly alternatives to the traditional bike helmet, I have stumbled onto some unique concepts, but none more unique than a helmet which is designed to recharge batteries.  A proposal for the Wind Helmet was drawn up by a Malaysian designer, Wai Hoong Leng.  All of this helmet’s materials would still fall within the realm of non-sustainable resources, but the upside is that you would be able to use man-power to charge your various electrical items like cell phones and mp3 players, instead of plugging them in or using disposable batteries.  This concept is definitely a far shot from what I was looking for in terms of a helmet whose production was less damaging to the environment, but I thought it important to elicit other designs which are seeking to make themselves more worthy of the damage they are causing.

Most recently, I have found a very elegant design for a helmet that was based on an old French army helmet. French designer Kévin Goupil used cork, a sustainable material, for the exterior and for the impact-bearing property of the helmet.  Since this is such a new design, I was unable to glean more information about the remainder of its properties or whether it is intended for bicycle riders, but based on pictures, it appears to have the typical nylon straps and little to no ventilation.

Armed with all of this information, what does an avid cyclist do?  I honestly haven’t been able to answer this question for myself yet.  As any good recycler and semi-environmentalist would, I worry about purchasing another helmet thereby encouraging this harmful production and waste cycle.  On the other hand, I know it to be an ignorant thing to go without a helmet, or to ride with something that will offer me less protection.  And since I just noticed the first crack in my foam liner, I will soon be making a decision whether to buy another or keep searching in hopes of a much more green solution.  For now, though, I am in helmet limbo.

References:

See Biking Helps Environment, Health,  HYPERLINK “http://dukechronicle.com/article/biking-helps-environment-health” http://dukechronicle.com/article/biking-helps-environment-health.

See European Polycarbonate Sheet Extruders,  HYPERLINK “http://www.epse.org/faq8″ http://www.epse.org/faq8 , Questions for Professionsal, What is the environmental impact of polycarbonate?

See SPI – About Plastics – SPI Resin Identification Code,  HYPERLINK “http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=823&navItemNumber=1125” http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=823&navItemNumber=1125.

See the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials,  HYPERLINK “http://www.ecocycle.org/charm/index.cfm” www.ecocycle.org/charm/index.cfm.

See Assessing the Impact of Expanded Polystyrene on the Environment. Converanet.  HYPERLINK “http://www.converanet.com/chemicals-plastics-rubber/assessing-impact-expanded-polystyrene-environment” http://www.converanet.com/chemicals-plastics-rubber/assessing-impact-expanded-polystyrene-environment.

See Polystyrene,  HYPERLINK “http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polystyrene” www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polystyrene.

See Polystyrene Fast Facts,  HYPERLINK “http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf” http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf.

See The Facts About Styrene, Cancer and Bike Helmets,  HYPERLINK “http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/the-facts-about-styrene-cancer-bike-helmets.php?dcitc=th_rss_science” http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/the-facts-about-styrene-cancer-bike-helmets.php?dcitc=th_rss_science.

See Polystyrene Fast Facts,  HYPERLINK “http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf” http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf.

See Polymer Breakdown: reaction offers possible way to breakdown nylon,  HYPERLINK “http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_1_172/ai_n19377481/” http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_1_172/ai_n19377481/.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.recycle.net/Plastic/nylon/index.html” http://www.recycle.net/Plastic/nylon/index.html for a list of various nylons accepted at various recycling marketplaces.

See BHSI, When to Replace My Helmet,  HYPERLINK “http://www.bhsi.org” www.bhsi.org.

See BHSI, When to Replace My Helmet,  HYPERLINK “http://www.bhsi.org” www.bhsi.org.

See Recycle This,  HYPERLINK “http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/about” http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/about.

See Turn A Helmet Into A Planter,  HYPERLINK “http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/cool-reuses-bicycle-helmet.html” http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/cool-reuses-bicycle-helmet.html.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.roof.fr/products/product.php?id=5” http://www.roof.fr/products/product.php?id=5, Roof, Au dela de l’appearance.

Lacoste helmet – See  HYPERLINK “http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/lacoste-helmet.php” http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/lacoste-helmet.php.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.sustainableisgood.com/blog/2007/07/ford-using-new-.html” http://www.sustainableisgood.com/blog/2007/07/ford-using-new-.html, From Sustainable is Good, article on soy-based foam. .

See  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic.

See  HYPERLINK “http://definitivetouch.com/news/julien-bergignat-tattoo-bicycle-helmet/” http://definitivetouch.com/news/julien-bergignat-tattoo-bicycle-helmet/ from Definitive Touch, regarding Julien Bergignat’s Tattoo bicycle helmet.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.dsgnwrld.com/wind-helmet-by-wai-hoong-leng-693/” http://www.dsgnwrld.com/wind-helmet-by-wai-hoong-leng-693/, from DSGN WRLD, regarding Wai Hoong Leng’s “Wind Helmet”.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.stilsucht.de/07/2010/cork-to-be-alive/” http://www.stilsucht.de/07/2010/cork-to-be-alive/  from STILLSUCHT regarding Kevin Goupil’s concept cork helmet.

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The Sea Otter Classic was this past weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway here in Monterey, CA. Since we live here, my wife and I had the oppurtunity to ride seven miles up the road to visit, watch some racing, and check out arsenals of products, services, and organizations all related to cycling in one way or another. A day pass was $10. We thought about riding in the Gran Fondo, but we figured we ride around here all the time, and $95 can come in useful in so many other ways. I still want to do it next year. Maybe I can work with Riders One to get some riders into other races as well. These guys are just getting going and I like the direction they’re moving. More on them later.

The raceway itself is a 40 foot wide strip of smooth pavement about 2.2 miles in length that forms a loop among the steep foothills of the Santa Lucia Range. In the middle of the loop are hills perfect for mountain bike racing, and flat areas for exhibits and festival activities. Surrounding the raceway on all sides are eight campgrounds, perfect for indulging in four days of nothing but bicycles, beer, and more bicycles.

I kept my eyes out for signs of sustainability, but didn’t find much. The Sea Otter Classic itself however is apparently dedicated to “sustainable development” as read in their mission statement:

“The mission of the Sea Otter Classic is to make people’s lives better through participation in sport and recreation and through celebration of an active outdoor lifestyle. We will accomplish this mission without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the benefits of a sustainable environment.
We have been committed to sustainable development of the Sea Otter Classic for 20 years. This concept encompasses ideas, aspirations, and values that will inspire all of us to become better stewards of the environment and that promote positive economic growth and social objectives. We understand that environmental protection does not preclude economic development and that economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.”

I’m not sure I buy it. I’m sure there are some good intentions, but when it comes down to it, there is nothing very sustainable about the event besides getting more people on bicycles and promoting bicycles in general. Encouraging riders to actually ride to the event would have been a good first step. They could’ve offered a discount or something. I understand folks came from all over the world, so cars are expected, but how about a sign at the entrance that tally’s the weight of carbon all those cars used to climb the three mile long hill to get up to the raceway from the highway. We did see at least a few companies who are serious about either reusing materials, or using sustainable materials like bamboo. Cyclelogical was selling shirts made from recycled materials, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company ran their coolers with solar panels, and Calfee had bamboo bicycles on display. Pedro’s, a company that takes pride in its biodegradable products had a bike washing station and Clif bar is reusing wrappers to make bags. These are clearly moves in the right direction, but there is a lot more to be done. OK, enough with the babble, here are some photos. The whole album is at the bottom with some race photos and shots of the site.

I also get up close to another bamboo bicycle, this time made from bamboo laminate. Besides bamboo, Renovo also builds bicycle frames with other types of woods such as Padauk, Black Walnut, Port Orford Cedar, and Curly maple. They claim to use only sustainable sources of wood, originating mostly in Oregon, and their claims about wood taking the prize as the best material for making a bike frame are well argued. They are also beautiful. Here are some nice shots:

The fella in the backround is the Renovo artist. He’s been making bikes like this for about a decade. CNC maching is used to carve out the frame halves. Notice the butting in the seat tube! They are a small operation with just a few folks churning these beauties out. Here are some more photos. The laminated bamboo bike is the Panda and is the “economical” Renovo at just under $2k.

For one of their Panda bikes they used a belt drive instead of a chain. This drive system does not require lubrication and is being used more and more. The major drawback, of course, is that it is a belt and the bike has to accommodate the installation by allowing the opening of the right rear triangle. Not a problem on Renovo since all their chainstay to dropout connections are bolted together. I’m not sure what I think about this yet, but time will tell its story.

We also some some bags made of old tires and tubes from Totally Tubular Design in Santa Cruz, CA. Creative!

You’ll find more photos including some from the races we watched and of the site in this Picassa album:

Sea Otter 2010

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A reader posted a comment on my rant about Bicycle Magazine’s transparent attempt at greenwashing that included a link to an article written by Chris Lesser at Bike Magazine. Maybe he saw what Bicycle had to say on the subject and got as angry as I did. Chris focuses his article on the most popular bicycle material, aluminum. He goes into detail about the manufacturing process and the effects it has on the environment. There are some great pictures as well. He also highlights some of the companies that are doing their part, and others that clearly are not. I hope Bicycling Magazine sees this and decides to try again. Articles like this are an important step into getting cyclists everywhere to consider the environment when purchasing bicycles and bicycle products. Way to go Chris! Keep up the good work!

shades_of_green by Chris Lesser

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After researching and writing the article on alternative materials, I knew I needed to write an article dedicated to bamboo.  According to the Book of Bamboo by David Farelly people have been making bicycles from bamboo since at least the late 19th century. Its a natural material for a bicycles since it grows in strong tubes that are relatively straight. It also happens to be lightweight, very strong, and in abundance in many parts of the world. Bamboo takes as little as 3 years to mature for use, and can grow almost anywhere. To make bicycle tubing from raw bamboo you don’t need to do that much. Harvest, cure, and cut to size. All other bicycle tubing material requires some kind of production that involves many more steps than what bamboo requires. The point I’m trying to make is that bamboo could be the most sustainable material to make a bicycle from. There is no mining involved to obtain the raw material, almost no energy is used to produce the tubing, and when grown responsibly bamboo is a source that just keeps on giving!

I’d like to show you some examples of bamboo bicycles that are currently being made. I’ll start off with Craig Calfee. Take a look what Calfee has done with Bamboo. The properties of bamboo make it a competitive material for making high end racing bikes of this very style.

I took it upon myself to do a few simple calculations comparing steel to bamboo. For comparison I used a 4130 steel cross section having an outer diameter of 28.6mm and a wall thickness of 0.6mm. This is a common size for seat tubes and down tubes on road bikes. Using the yield strength of 4130 steel I determined the maximum load this section could bear before yielding in compression or tension. I then took that load and determined what area of bamboo would be strong enough to support it without breaking. 4130 steel has a Yield strength of 63,100 psi, and bamboo has a Ultimate strength of 8,700psi (Janssenn, 1991). The reason I used the yield strength of steel and the ultimate strength of bamboo is because failure is considered when steel yields and when bamboo cracks.

I then took the resulting section of bamboo and tested it against the steel section in bending. I imparted a maximum moment on a simple beam end to obtain the maximum deflection. The maximum moment was determined by the sections geometry, and strength. The maximum deflection was determined from the sections geometry, strength and modulus of elasticity (E). The E of 4130 steel is 30×10^6psi and the E of bamboo is 2.7×10^6psi (Janssenn, 1991).

From that simple structural analysis I determined that a bamboo tube with a length of 24″ having a diameter of 1.5″ (38.1mm) and a wall thickness of 0.15″ (3.8mm) will have the same strength in compression and tension as a 4130 steel tube of the same length and diameter of 28.6mm (1.12″) and wall thickness of o.6mm (0.02″). These two tubes also deflect the same amount when a maximum moment is put on one of the tube ends (see the bending diagram below).

Bending Diagram

Bending Diagram: Simple beam, End Moment

Now, having two tubes of similar axial strength and rigidness, I calculated the weight of each tube. For the density of 4130 steel I used 0.283 lb/cubic inch and for bamboo I used 0.014 lb/cubic inch (Jansenn, 1991). The weight of the steel tube comes out to be 0.56 punds while the weight of the bamboo comes out to be 0.21 pounds. This of course does not include the internodes of the bamboo. The steel tube is over twice the weight! No wonder folks build bikes from this stuff! The next set of calculations I’ll do is to compare how these tubes act in torsion as well as repetitive stress. If you want copies of the calculations I’ve done, just ask. I didn’t want to post them so as not to bore people. Now, how to connect these tubes to get a lightweight, stiff bicycle?

Calfee uses carbon fiber with resin to secure the joints of the bamboo. For the high end bamboo bicycle makers out there, this seems to be the method of choice. Here is a photo from Brano Meres Engineering:

Brano Meres Engineering

There are also folks out there constructing these bikes using natural fiber and resin at the joints such as Bamboo Bike Studio and Evolve Bicycles:

Bamboo Bicycle Studio

The other type of joint I’ve seen out there is by the newest builders to the bamboo scene, Panda Bicycles. The are making bamboo bikes from external steel lugs. Similar to how older steel road bikes (and many new ones too!) are made.

Panda Bicycles

The tubing on the Panda bike is smaller than on the others, and clearly the joints are different. They hope to be a more economical bike than those other fancy ones. Right off the bat, Panda’s tubing is looking slightly thin to me, and I’d worry about stress spots forming along the edges of those lugs, but I think they are on to something. I think there on to making bamboo bikes for everyday people here in America and not just the high end market. Lets get a sustainable material in the mass market for new frames! Bamboo Bike Studio in New York is also on to this idea, except they offer a class for one weekend where you walk away with bicycle in hand for about $1000. Evolve Bicycles also has the right idea offering their pre-built bikes for $800.

Since bamboo grows everywhere, bamboo bikes can be made anywhere. There are organizations like Bamboo Bike Project who have dedicated their cause to showing certain groups in Africa how to make bicycles from their native grass, and now there are groups sprouting up in America showing Americans how they too can make bicycles from bamboo. What an exiting time!

I’ve started my own project revolving around bamboo. Looking at the joining methods currently used, I’m not completely satisfied. I don’t believe the joint needs to be as bulky as the fiber wrapped joints, and I think having steel external lugs on bamboo tubes may present problems in the long run. I’ll try building a frame with another method I’ve devised to see if it is viable. You’ll be able to keep track of the project here at The Sustainable Cyclist.

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If you ride at night, you need lights. For an energy source, your options once were limited to batteries, dynamo, or Dynohub. Now we can include the Sun! Dynamo’s and dynohubs are great because your light is human powered, just like your bike. This is fantastic! The only problem is that in order to retrofit a bike with a Dynohub you either have to have it laced to your front rim, or buy a whole new wheel.

Dynamo for a bicycle

Dynamo for a bicycle

A typical Dynohub

A typical Dynohub

If you want to go the dynamo route, you have to take on some friction while you ride.  Also If you just need lights on your road bike for an evening ride dynamos are not very practical. When you go for that fast ride on the weekends do you want the extra weight of a dynohub or the extra friction of a dynamo? Most riders choose the battery powered lights when decision time comes.
Batteries can be grouped into the groups “rechargeable” and “not rechargeable“. The rechargeable ones suck energy from your wall (unless you have one of these) and the “not rechargeable” batteries go right to the recycle bin (or trash!) so you can go buy new ones.

Now there is another option. Cateye has come out with a light that is solar powered! Just in case, it has a backup battery, but from reading the description you can get 6 hours of light time (flashing) on a fully charged solar battery! The only issue I see with this is that in order to charge it, one must ride with it during the day, or leave it out in the sun during the day. That’s a small price to pay in order to light your way using the power of the sun.

You can go to Cateye’s site to read more about it. They say it is available in October, so you should be able to get one now. They are $60, which I believe to be very reasonable.

If you happen to get your hands on one and want to write a review, please let me know!

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Here in Monterey California the cycling is fantastic! Scenic ocean roads, curvy rolling hills, steep climbs, long descents, you name it, we’ve got it. We’ve only been here a month, but have put quite a few miles in. Today my wife Syrah and I decided to venture down famous route 1 to Big Sur and back. bigsurroute1We had heard that route 1 was somewhat bicycle friendly, that it is part of the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, as well as a part of many organized rides.

Before I go on, you must know that the Big Sur highway is a tourist destination, and this is the middle of tourist season! Cars, vans, SUVs, buses, motorcycles, and lots of RVs full of tourists cruise along enjoying the views from the comfort of their home on wheels. Some RV’s are the size of trucks. I’m talking gigantic!

I’d driven down the road a couple times and it seemed like it was safe enough. I noticed the narrow shoulders but bicycles and motor vehicles seemed to be sharing the road fairly well.

fall-rv-trip We weren’t that concerned, seeing that I thought I remembered seeing some “Share the Road” signs, and coupled with the fact that RV drivers know they have to take it easy on a popular cycling road. You know, so they don’t accidentally kill someone.

Once we got onto route 1 south of Carmel, things seemed OK. The shoulder was large, lots of folks were out on the sides of the road walking to the beach or Point Lobos, and the cars seemed to be traveling at safe speeds. We passed a sign that said “Pacific Coast Bicycle Route.” All was well.

A couple miles south of this pleasant experience, things changed. The shoulder disappeared, the cars got faster and the folks on the side of the road vanished except for a pull off every now and then. The Volkswagens, Priuss’ and the like waited to pass us at a safe time, making an arc around us. The pickup trucks with over-sized wheels and the sports cars flew by without a glance in our direction. Typical. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were annoyed that we were on the road, preventing them from getting the most out of their Route 1 experience. The RV’s fell under two categories. The respectful, careful RV’s and the I-rule-the-road RV’s. The careful ones are not a problem. They waited to pass at a safe time, and drove at an appropriate speed. The I-rule-the-road RV’s blasted by like the careless sports car did. Oh yeah, not a single “Share the Road” sign was seen.

We had it in our legs to make it all the way to Big Sur and back (64 miles), but we decided we did not want to deal with this road any longer. We turned around at a beach near Granite Creek, 15 miles shy of Big Sur. On the way back there are a few descents. They don’t have shoulders, so you kind of have to ride a foot or two off the edge of pavement, which puts you in the right of way. One particular decent also involves some fantastic corners. While on this fantastic descent, with my wheels hovering a couple feet off the white line, I hear a shockingly loud horn. The kind an 18-wheeler makes when the driver needs you out of his way. I glanced back quickly, and a gigantic RV was on my tail! I’m talking 10 or 15 feet behind me. WAY too close for comfort. It looked like the driver was trying to pass me, but it was a terrible spot to do so. I swiftly did the only thing I could think of. There was no shoulder to pull off onto, and I was probably going 30mph, so I veered into the middle of the right of way. Thankfully this worked, as the Giant RV stopped trying to pass me and slowed down a bit. Half a mile later, there was a paved pull off. I veered in, and let the behemoth pass with an accelerating roar! Syrah rolled into the pullout a minute later and told me how she thought she was going to die when that jerk passed her. He (or she, but probably he) came so close to her, that she felt like she was getting “sucked in” to the vehicle! Thankfully, she held on and survived the pass.

She wasn’t really getting sucked in, but I do believe that’s what it felt like to her. Here’s why. As we all remember from science class, the pressure of air changes when you change its speed. This is why airplanes can fly. The faster air below the wing has a higher pressure than the air above the wing. AIRFOILIf you have air with higher pressure touching air with lower pressure, then the air with the higher pressure moves into the air with the lower pressure until they equalize. This is also the concept behind many of the earths weather patterns. Back to the giant RV pass. What Syrah felt was the higher pressure air around the RV pushing on her. She compensated for the push by turning towards the RV. Then, as quick as it came, the RV passed and the pressure was gone. Syrah is human, and human reaction takes time, and this all happened quicker than her reaction time leaving her with a wheel turned to the left. This gave her the sensation of being sucked into the RV.

Truck drivers are aware of this phenomenon, and so are many giant RV drivers, but there are clearly some out there who do not understand this. Anyone who has driven on Interstate 80 through the mid west knows this concept as well especially if your going 50, and the 18-wheelers pass you going 75. You react to the higher pressure, and then its gone. Sometimes it can even shake the car a bit! If it can shake a car, it can put down a cyclist.

We ride bicycles as a favor to our bodies, the environment, and society. It also happens to be very fun. Our bodies delight in the exercise. The environment is grateful for one less car. Society improves with safer roads and tight nit communities that aren’t designed around cars. Human powered vehicles are noble and beautiful, and if you choose one over any other type of vehicle, you’ll have a deeper understanding of that beauty. Its hard for someone who doesn’t ride a bike on the busy roads of our country to understand what it feels like when a giant RV or speeding car pummels by while your pedaling along on a bicycle. On your right, inches from your wheels, the road drops off into a channel full of shrubs. On your left, traffic is whizzing by occasionally getting so close you can feel it. In front of you more pavement awaits your next pedal stroke keeping your steed on a line as straight as you can get it. Your eyes are scanning the road in front of you while your ears scan the road behind you. Your thighs and calves are burning from the lactic acid building up in your muscle cells. To stay alert is to stay on course, and stay alive. When a careless driver gets too close or passes too fast, alertness can be shaken for a mere moment. This moment is all it takes for tragedy. We don’t have safety belts, airbags, or 2,000 pounds of steel and plastic to protect us from the coarse, unyielding pavement or blow from another vehicle. Please keep this in mind when you see us out there.

Giant RV vs Cyclist Safety Suggestions for the RV driver

1) Do not pass a cyclist unless it is safe to do so, and you can clear the cyclist by 5 or 6 feet. Remember, cyclists have a right to use the road just as much as you do. When you do pass, SLOW DOWN.

2) Do not honk your horn at a cyclist. They know you are there and want to pass. Every motor vehicle wants to pass a cyclist. Your horn can startle the cyclist, causing a crash.

3) On a decent, do not pass the cyclist until the decent is over. It is much too dangerous to try to squeeze your giant vehicle between a cyclist traveling 30mph (that is fast for a bike) and the oncoming lane of traffic. During a decent, the cyclist may be a bit more unstable than at other times. Once the decent is over, wait for the cyclist to pull closer to the shoulder, and slowly pass when safe to do so.

4) Follow all the other safety guidelines that apply to motor vehicles of ALL size.

Giant RV vs Cyclist Safety Suggestions for the Cyclist

1) On busy roads with no shoulders stay as far right as possible.

2) If a large vehicle is passing, hold your handlebar securely and maintain your course. Be prepared for a bit of pressure change around you.

3) If your on a fast decent, and there is a large vehicle behind you honking and wanting to pass, maintain your course and speed. Do not get spooked into going faster, or pulling too far over to the right. At an appropriate time, pull to the right and allow the vehicle to pass. You have a right to be on the road as much as the large vehicle.

4) When in doubt, play it safe!

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The topic of clothing comes up a lot in cycling. I’ve run across this topic quite a bit lately, and I want to share my thoughts. First, just a quick list of my encounters with this topic. There are the Bridgestone catalogs I’ve recently been purusing that have great articles on wool, and why its the best material for cycling. Then, of course, there is my addiction to this little comic strip called Yahuda Moon & the Kickstand Cyclery, where the topic of cycling clothing is brought up quite a bit. There is the conversation I had with my sister-in-law about jerseys and why I don’t tend to wear them when I go out for leisurely rides. There is the researching I did on Smartwool. There is the comic strip by F Minus that features an “alien” roadie with all his performance cycling gear on. The Tour De France contributed with the colorful jerseys they award to riders, and the fancy team sponsorship clothing all the cyclists wear. There is the article on the Rivendell Bicycles website that I read a few days ago. Most recently, I was introduced to a clothing line called Pedaler Clothing. I need to vent a little.

Bicycle racers do a very specific thing. They go as fast as they can while using the least amount of energy possible. This is most evident when they are in a time trial. Anyone who has seen a professional time trial race in the last decade knows exactly what I’m talking about. Everything on the cyclist from the helmet down to the booties (shoe covers) is as aerodynamic as technology and the regulations allow.

Tom Zirbel

Tom Zirbel

The clothing on the cyclist is most likely synthetic. Fabrics that are literally engineered to be aerodynamic, comfortable, and suitable for the outdoor conditions the cyclist will face. All this to get the racer going as fast as possible while expending the smallest amount of energy possible.

During a regular road race, the goal is the same, but now wind resistance is less of a concern, since the riders are taking turns in the brunt of the wind, or riding in the peloton, or some combination. Their clothing is still aerodynamic in the sense that its not flopping all over the place, and it’s still made out of synthetic, engineered fabrics that are designed specifically for racing. Some of these fabrics include spandex (Lycra), polyester, nylon, etc. There are many different combination’s that include organic fabrics as well. The end result are these tight fitting, colorful outfits you see out on the roads.

Spanish Team Euskaltel Euskadi

Spanish Team Euskaltel Euskadi

The amateur racer emulates professional racers, and wants to win racers, so as expected, you see amateur racers in similar clothing hoping that it gives them an advantage over their less prepared peers.

The weekend group rider, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story. The amateur racers, and sometimes even the professionals, show up for weekend group rides wearing their training clothes and riding their training bikes. Their training clothes look a lot like their racing clothes. The non-racers of the group emulate the racers, and end up wearing similar clothes. Now, if you show up for a group ride wearing wool, you just don’t fit in. There is of course a bit of marketing worked in here, but for the most part, folks just want to fit in with the social group they are a part of. In the weekend roadie warrior world, this means spandex shorts, spandex (or some other synthetic fiber) jersey with a nifty picture or slogan on it, a carbon fiber steed, smooth bottomed, stiff soled shoes, brifters, a drivetrain that is in one of the top two groups of the only three companies out there and a helmet that is so light, if there wasn’t a strap it would float off your head. Sure there is that old guy who wears wool, has a steel bike with downtube shifters, no helmet, and maybe even a leather chamois under those shorts, but he’s cool because he’s vintage.

I admit to having spandex in my cycling wardrobe, but that’s mainly due to the fact that my revelation that the cycling industry is far from sustainable, and that I wanted to live my life as sustainably as possible came after I bought it. In respect to full disclosure, when I go out for a long, hilly road ride I currently ride a used, 2000 Lemond Buenos Aires (Reynolds 853 steel), built from the frame up with a Shimano 105 drivetrain including 105 Brifters, Tange steel fork, and used FSA wheels. I usually wear a pair of spandex cycling shorts with an awesome chamois, and then whatever suits me for the weather on my top. This could be a T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, coat, windbreaker, whatever. If I’m going for a ride where I want to go fast and long, I wear a jersey. My shoes are Specialized Tahoe’s, and my pedal system is Time ATAC XE. The Tahoe’s let me use the same shoes for my two favorite bikes, and walk around in comfort when I’m off my bike. This is also because I have Time cleats, which are little and fit in the cavity on the Tahoe’s perfectly. You see, 90% of my riding is just around the city, whether commuting, running errands, whatever.  I stick out in my own way, which is the way I like it.

Synthetic fabrics are made from production chemicals. Spandex in particular is made from polyurethane and a few other things. The process is long and involves all different kinds of chemicals produced by all different kinds of companies, including Dow. Reading about it is making my head spin! For Example, the major ingredient in spandex is polyurethane, and polyurethane is made from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI) among other chemicals dependent upon the use of the polyurethane. These two chemicals, MDI and TDI, have to be produced and then transported via tanker to the facility that makes the polyurethane. The polyurethane is then produced for spandex production and then trucked to a facility to make spandex. This is just ONE line of production and transport. There are dozens of others associated with spandex alone! This one line of transport already involves multiple factories with multiple truck trips in between. In reality there are dozens of production lines in order to get the final stretchy product. There are catalysts for the different reactions and additives to the polyurethane in order to make it the right type for spandex. These catalysts and additives are made in different factories and need to be trucked to the next factory to continue the spandex making process. Trucks use lots of gas, factories use lots of energy and chemicals tend to spill every now and then. There is also industrial waste along the way in just about every step of the process. Not to mention the stretchy textile is shipped to Asia where it is sewn into colorful clothing by discount labor. If you add this all up you get one mega footprint for that pretty jersey. Do you really need to fit in that badly?

I’m not anti-polyurethane, since this fine product is used for spray insulation for buildings which greatly improves heating efficiency. In other words, I’m not picking a fight with polyurethane, but the cyclists who choose to wear synthetic materials, when there is a perfectly suitable organic material to be used instead. Polyurethane itself is inert once it is formed, and MDI and TDI are also inert once they are allowed to react with water. Weekend group riders, commuters, and the daily riders out there every day do not need the performance enhancement of synthetic materials, and could help the earth a little bit by choosing organic. The next time your in the market for a new jersey, or a new new pair of cycling shorts, check out these companies:

Pedaler Clothing

SmartWool

Tweek’d

Zoic

On my quest to become more sustainable, any future cycling clothing I’ll buy will be organic fabrics and made as close to me as posible. Wool is that organic fabric that has been around since man discovered sheep. Bamboo is another one that is rapidly gaining momentum in the sustainable world. both of these fabrics come in unlimited supply and should be embraced by us everyday cyclists.

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