Here are a few photos of a bike stand I made with hardware store materials and scrap lumber for under $70. It would have been cheaper if I used black pipe instead of galvanized, but I want this to be weather proof. Something like this could be made from scrap wood and left over plumbing pipe. I used old handlebar tape for the padding. One layer of cork tape, and then some old Benotto acrylic over that. I’m not going to give instructions because it is simple to see what I did in the photos. Its going in the garage to put project bikes on. Enjoy!

Homemade Bike Stand

Two layers of bar tape

Wood Base

Trek Markets Eco Bikes

Bike SnobNYC said it best:

“Because nothing can be toxic as long as bicycles are involved somehow.”

There seems to be this pervasive notion that because it has to do with bicycles, its good for the earth. We saw it in Bicycling Magazines letter from the editor, and we see it in the video Junkun BSNYC shared with us. I also discuss this topic with bike riding folks on a regular basis. Its nothing new, in 1994 Bridgestone had an article about it in their catalog. For some reason, some folks tend to think bicycles are inherently good for the earth. Its clear that if all you do is strap it on the roof of your car for getaway weekend rides, its actually worse for the earth than if you didn’t buy a bike in the first place. The only time it’s good for the earth is if you use it instead of your car until you’ve offset the environmental impact from the bicycles creation and ending. This notion gave the bike companies an opportunity to delay jumping on the eco-friendly bandwagon, because their products were inherently “green” just by being what they are. Something tells me the big boys like that rumor and tend to spread it. In the first few seconds of the video I’m about to share with you, a Trek representative slips in a “…bike riding itself …” when talking about Treks new Eco Bikes. It doesn’t really make sense except of course in a subliminal way. Listen carefully, its crammed in there.

Trek is stepping up to the plate with a line of Eco Bikes. The fella admits at the end of the first video that this is “just a beginning” in Trek’s commitment to saving the earth. Lets take a closer look at what they are doing. I encourage you to watch the videos on the website. The fella in a black shirt and jeans gives a good introduction.

(EDIT: I can’t get any of the direct links to the videos to work. Sorry Folks, watch them all Eco Bike)

EcoBike Intro

Trek Belleville

Trek Atwood

They’ve added two steel bikes to their lineup, made in China, that have recyclable plastic in the saddle and grips, and recycled material in tires. One is the Belleville, and the other is the Atwood. I can’t be too hard on them, because I really do believe they are making an effort, although most of the effort seems to be put into the marketing.

The man in the black shirt goes on to tell us about the method they used in designing these bikes. They used “basic principles” from “Eco-Design” which uses the OKALA method to score the design based on the products lifecycle. He does not, however, tell us the score OKALA gave to Trek for these here machines. He goes on to tell us that OKALA uses the birth, life, and death of the product to grade the eco-friendliness.

During the segment on birth, the presenter talks about how steel is the best choice for an Eco Bike and reminds us of the great riding characteristics steel has.  So, if Trek is truly committed to helping the earth, and this is a new venture for them, I suggest they replace their carbon fiber and aluminum with all glorious steel! I’m not holding my breath. They also take advantage of “close sourcing” for the components. So instead of buying all the components from somewhere in Asia, boxing them up and have them shipped to a factory somewhere somewhere in Asia to make bikes, they are…….wait a second! Nothing changed here. The guys in the finance department figured out close sourcing a long time ago. Less shipping means more profit.

The paint is powder-coat instead of regular bicycle frame paint and they don’t use chrome plating. Less waste, less toxins, longer life. I like it Trek! Moving forward in your endeavor, you can do this with all your bikes!

In the life segment, all the black shirted man says is that the bikes are useful for a really long time. This is great. So all this time Trek has been building bikes that are not useful, and don’t last that long. I believe Trek should be striving for these characteristics in all their products, and not just the “green” products. I noticed in this segment he didn’t mention that the Shimano components will last forever and never need to be replaced. Maybe that’s because its not true. In the future, Trek could start a platform initiative to change the planned obsolescence practices of Shimano. They could team up with Specialized and demand that parts have a life span more than a few seasons and be made of something other than plastic. Now THAT would be something to make a video about!

The end segment really gets me exited. They designed the bikes so they can be taken apart. Well, until this very moment, I thought most bikes could be completely dis-assembled with nothing more than a couple wrenches, some cable cutters, and a bit of alcohol for the grips. Boy was I wrong, and apparently hallucinating during my experiences of taking bikes apart.

This is a good sign though. The green movement is mainstream enough for Trek to get on board. Its only a matter of time before Specialized has a competing line. Then, they will compete to see who can make the most sustainable bicycle ever. Will they still have a new model every year?

Part of being a sustainable bicycle component is having a long life span, or at least having a long life span worked into the design. Failure analysis is an important aspect of the design process in order to gain long life span. For parts or components that undergo load, a good design process usually involves failure analysis after the testing phase. A lot of this happens in the bicycle industry. Many bicycle and component manufactures have an entire branch of their company that tests their product to a point of failure, learns from that failure, and works that knowledge into the continued design. If the company does not have a testing department, they contract the testing out to a third party such as EFBe. Another important reason that frames and components are tested is to make sure they meet certain safety standards, or performance standards. This kind of testing usually doesn’t lead to failure.

Cycling is a good place to find failures after the product has hit the shelves. The reason for this is that the weight of the final product is an important design parameter. So important that vast amounts of research go into removing mere grams off of components. Jobst Brandt said it well: “Parts which give reliable service are often considered “overbuilt” and are redesigned to save a few grams.” Unfortunately other design parameters are sacrificed to obtain desired weight. These can include ultimate strength, fatigue strength, and lifespan. Visit Jobst’s article Some Bike Failures to see more photos of failures and some more discussion as to the reason why bike parts fail.

Failures are seen on just about every part of a bicycle,  but one of the most common failures that I see on a regular basis as a mechanic is pitting of bearing races such as this one:

Pitting on a axle cone

This pitting can happen when abrasives contaminate the grease surrounding the ball bearing and race. Put simply, a ball bearing is sandwiched in between two smooth surfaces that are parallel to each other. These surfaces are called “races”. Since it is almost impossible to get the two races perfectly parallel, the ball bearing is always a little bit closer to the races at a single point in its rotation around the surfaces. The space between the ball and race is filled with grease, so when this grease is contaminated with abrasives, the abrasives get compressed against the race and the ball at the point in the rotation where the ball is closest to the race. When this squeeze happens under load, with thousands, upon thousands of rotations, it causes the pitting you see in the picture. This is a common failure and is the result of poor maintenance and poor bearing adjustment. With proper maintenance and adjustment, bearing systems of this type will last longer than their modern brethren.

Modern bearing systems are usually sealed. This means that the two races and ball bearings come in a neat adjustment-free package that just needs to be pressed and seated into a recess, like this:

You can see two metal rings. These are the races. The balls are under that blue piece of plastic. When these types of bearings get contaminated and go bad, you remove them, throw them in the recycle bin, and put in new ones. To maximize their life span they must be installed correctly (parallel and seated), and carefully wiped clean every now and then. You want to be careful as to not push contaminants beyond the plastic seal.

Once in awhile I’m blessed with an uncommon failure. Recently I was working on a Masi Gran Criterium that was upgraded in 1985 to full Campagnolo Super Record components. The rear derailer (1984 Super Record) had a small crack in its outer cage:

Cracked SR outer cage

This is a strange spot for a crack failure since this part of a bike is under minimal load. Since the crack lies at the back of the cage, then the maximum load scenario would be when the chain is in the big-big combo. This would place the tension spring at its maximum potential to compensate for the lack of slack in the chain. In other words, the derailer would look like this:

Big-Big Combo - Tension spring at maximum

When the derailer is in this position, the tension spring is counteracting the chain by trying to pull the tension pulley back to its neutral position. This puts tension on the back surface of the pulley cages. If you have trouble visualizing this, imagine the bottom surface of a beam under load. This surface is in tension while the top surface is in compression. In this scenario the back of the cage is in tension and the front of the cage is in compression.

Now, I don’t think that this is the only factor that caused the failure. In the picture of the cracked cage, you see a nut recessed into the cage where the spring cage bolt screws into. When the bolt is tight up againast that nut then there is a portion of the cage that gets compressed. The cage material is a very lightweight aluminum alloy, and when compressed with a recessed nut that has 90 degree angles for edges it will develop microscopic cracks. Points like this are called stress risers. To get a better look, I pulled the cage apart at the crack:

Notice the nut seat has a 90deg angle at the compression point.

The thin part of metal that is below the nut seat in the above picture is compressed when the derailer is in use. The angle between this section of material and the non-compressed material is around 90 degrees. At the vertex of that angle, the compressed material is being pulled away from the non-compressed material forming a high stress point which, over time, will develop microscopic cracks, especially in lightweight aluminum alloy.

Add one more factor to the mix, and it all becomes clear. Material flaw. There is a good chance that this part may have had a flaw on its back outersurface, such as impurity or void. I didn’t see any evidence of one, but I don’t have a scanning electron microscope at my disposal, so I may never know. It is, however, likely.

Design flaw, material flaw, and one too many times in the big-big combo sent this derailer cage to the graveyard. The problem is I don’t know the history of the bike, the rider, or when the crack developed (my customer just bought the bike), so I don’t know if it had a long life or not. I do know one thing. The bike it was on did not get ridden all that much. This crack may have developed in 1985 for all we know.

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

People have been using bamboo as a material for bike frames for quite some time. There were even companies selling bamboo bicycles around the turn of the century:

1897 Advertisement

These guys were on to something! Bamboo bikes are back and they’re better than ever! A lot better. These days, high-end bamboo bicycles are successfully competing against their carbon fiber brethren in races as well as in the showroom. Think of the time and money mankind has spent trying to engineer the perfect material for a bicycle when, all along, mother nature was growing it in her garden! With a little bit of inspiration, engineering prowess and strive for excellence, Nick Frey, owner of Boo Bicycles, is showing us exactly what bamboo is capable of. Like many of the great names in bicycle brands, Nick is also is a professional racer. He races for Team Jamis Sutter Home. Want more? He holds a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering! Can you guess what one of his design projects was?

To keep track of what Nick is up to you can visit him at nfrey.blogspot.com. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk The Sustainable Cyclist about bamboo and the bicycles his company is producing.


(The Sustainable Cyclist): Would you tell me a little about your background and what sparked your interest in bicycle design? What sparked you interest in bamboo?

(Nick Frey): I recently graduated from Princeton and now run Boo Bicycles and race for Jamis Sutter Home, the top professional team in the country.  I have been racing on the road for nine years and have been on some of the most successful teams in the country at all ages, raced in Europe and at the World Championships in Stuttgart in 2007, and am a multiple National Champion.

Boo Bicycles is the evolution of what began as a mechanical engineering design project at Princeton.  Three classmates and I were a part of a very successful project to build a bamboo bicycle, and we were inspired by Craig Calfee and his bamboo creations that we had seen at various trade shows.  We knew Calfee Design could produce a work of art that you could ride, but we wanted to produce a high-performance racing bicycle from bamboo and carbon fiber that would rival titanium and carbon fiber bicycles.

The project was so successful that we started a company to produce them, Sol Cycles, but we all had so many things going on between mechanical engineering courses and starting a company that we were unable to succeed due to lack of time and energy.  However, I knew we were onto something and I could do this after I graduated, so I started a new company called Boo Bicycles.  I do not make the bicycles–they are made by a team of expert craftsmen led by James Wolf in Saigon–but I design, test, market, and sell the bicycles worldwide.  We have formed a very successful relationship.  As a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he has an incredible eye but his quality and attention to detail is unparalleled.  James has over 15 years of experience working with bamboo, designing and building furniture and complete buildings and bars, so he compliments my experience in the cycling world perfectly.


(SC): People have been making bicycles out of bamboo in Asia for a hundred years or more. Why do you think this is the case? What is it about bamboo that lends itself to use in a bicycle frame when compared to other types of wood? What about compared to other types of bicycle material such as carbon fiber, aluminum and steel?

(NF): Bamboo is an incredible plant as well as building material.  Here’s this for a quick summary: it is one of the fastest growing plants known to man, it is one of the most efficient means of sequestering carbon dioxide known to man, it is one of the strongest natural materials known to man, it grows back after being cut, and it spreads like a weed.  It is truly one of the world’s most amazing living things, plant or animal.

Bamboo has been used in everything from water wheels to scaffolding for skyscrapers because it is readily available, easy to work with, and very strong and durable.  Use in a bicycle frame is just another application for which it is perfect.  One of the most interesting characteristics is the ability to dampen high frequency vibrations, meaning a stiff and light bicycle frame can also be very comfortable, a property that is unique and very desirable in a bicycle.


(SC): Many people these days understand that bamboo is a versatile sustainable resource. It is abundant, grows quickly, and can be made into bicycle frame tubing with little production because, well, it grows as a tube. Where do you see bamboo as a bicycle frame material headed as we get deeper into the 21st century?

(NF): Actually, that’s not entirely true.  Our tubes go through an extensive treatment process over the course of four months to maximize stiffness and durability, and then every tube is drilled out internally to a specific wall thickness to minimize weight and tune the ride characteristics for each frame size.  We preserve the natural finish and shape of the tube rather than using a laminate because we feel Mother Nature has perfected the material, and we only need to massage it to make it into a top-end racing frame.

I see bamboo as the next big frame material.  There was steel for decades, then titanium and aluminum promised lighter weight, higher stiffness, and an improved ride quality (for the former).  Then carbon came along and reduced weight further while maintaining or increasing stiffness, but durability and ride properties often suffered.  It is quite difficult to reduce weight, increase stiffness and durability, and preserve a smooth and lively road feel.  Bamboo is never going to be as light and stiff as carbon, but it is close–and for 99% of riders today, they are not looking for the ultra-stiff race only frame anyway.  The ride quality and handling of bamboo is unmatched, and I feel that Boo is on the forefront of this movement–we make a race-winning bamboo-carbon fiber hybrid bicycle that blends the best aspects of both materials to make a unique and superior product.


(SC): Would you like to share some of the work you’ve done (and I’m sure continue to do), on the life span of bamboo frames? From my understanding, over time bamboo will develop longitudinal cracks. Is this preventable? What are some reasonable outlooks on bamboo frame life span when ridden on a daily basis?

(NF): The cracks that bamboo experiences are purely cosmetic when paired with carbon fiber joints.  We have done much structural testing on this, and the bamboo’s strength is not affected by longitudinal splits.  They are the result of a different contraction rate from the inner, younger bamboo material to the denser, older material on the exterior of the tube, so when they are dried during the treatment process, the material naturally wants to split.  We have invested a great deal into preventing splits through tube treatment processes as well as our bamboo source.

We have a ten year warranty on our frames and believe they are far more durable than most carbon fiber frames.  A Boo Bicycle is an investment and we want our customers to be happy for many years and thousands of miles!


(SC): Boo Bicycles makes high-end, artisan bicycle frames, but that’s not the end of the road for bamboo. There are programs in Africa that teach people how to make basic bamboo bicycles from their native bamboo plants. Is Boo Bicycles involved with any organizations that provide assistance to poor communities in need of transportation that have easy access to bamboo? If not, do you see Boo bicycles participating in these sorts of activities in the future?

(NF): Boo Bicycles is working with the Bamboo Bicycle Project as a consultant and a potential future partner.  I have personally taught the BBP’s founders some things about bamboo bicycle frame construction and I think they are doing great things in Ghana and have plans to sell low-cost sustainable bamboo bicycles throughout Africa.  It’s a ways off in the future, and Boo will be focusing exclusively on the high-end market for the time being, but a low-cost model is definitely something we envision for the future.


(SC): There is a place in New York City where you can go and make your own bicycle from bamboo. There are independent folks sprouting up left and right making their very own frames from bamboo in their back yard. The Sustainable Cyclist even has a research project of its own that involves building one. In a sense, this shows how accessible building frames with bamboo is here in the United States. Soon we may see many more people out there riding homemade bamboo bikes to work, and then hopping on their Boo for that weekend group ride or race. How is the rest of the industry going to react to this, especially the powerhouses like Trek and Specialized? Will they try to come out with a bamboo product line?

(NF): Interestingly the build-your-own-bamboo-bike operation in NYC is run by the very friends of mine working on the Bamboo Bicycle Project.  I think that operations like this are a reflection of the interest in the material, just like there an incredible numbers of individual steel and titanium builders.  It gives us confidence that more and more people will come to accept bamboo as a viable building material for bicycles, and we have focused on building the very BEST bamboo frame on the market.  While it is not very difficult to source bamboo, make a jig, and miter and wrap some tubes to create a frame, it is quite difficult to make a refined product that is stiff, light, responsive, and beautifully finished.  I raced our first bamboo bicycle, a Princeton design project, in the Rutgers Season Opener, but it was not stiff at all, not very light, unimpressively finished, and unrefined.  It has been almost two years since that first bamboo bike was built and it’s been an incredible amount of testing and refinement not possible with the expertise of James Wolf and the racing experience of yours truly.  This is why Boo will be positioned to take advantage of this growing wave of bamboo bicycle design, and also why manufacturers like Trek and Specialized will likely never get into it.  There is too much investment needed to perfect the frames and too much handwork–these will always be handmade, high-end, artisan frames.


(SC): Whats next for Boo Bicycles?

(NF): We will be growing our brand at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Eurobike, and Interbike in 2010.  We will be building our dealer network to include one top bicycle shop in each major metro area, and I have a network of sales representatives riding and racing Boo around the country, spreading the word.  There will always be a focus on refining and improving our bicycles, bringing out new models, and advancing the product.  For the near future, Boo’s focus is on increasing visibility and sales while maintaining excellent customer service.


(SC): In closing, please say anything you’d like about sustainability within the bicycle industry.

(NF): The bicycle industry is fragmented.  There are racers and commuters, freeriders and BMXers.  We need to come together to promote certain causes, and green/sustainable is one.  The entire bicycle industry can benefit from this through improved sales, and while it may not seem that racers and commuters have anything in common, that is simply not true. Many of my racer friends commute to work for training, and many of my racer friends actually STARTED racing after riding more and more when commuting.  It should not be a fragmented or divisive industry because, let’s face it, just riding a bike is green and healthy!  I would like to see, at minimum, at acknowledgment that cyclists are all part of the same family, whether a top professional or a two-mile commuter.

76,000 Dead Americans

“In the last 15 years, more than 76,000 Americans have been killed while crossing or walking along a street in their community. More than 43,000 Americans – including 3,906 children under 16 – have been killed this decade alone. This is the equivalent of a jumbo jet going down roughly every month, yet it receives nothing like the kind of attention that would surely follow such a disaster.”

This is a sickening thought. As a Civil Engineer I know what goes on behind the scenes during the design of a roadway. Pedestrians and cyclists need to know the facts.

The Streets of Copenhagen

A brief look at one of the worlds most cycling friendly cities. You can find a nice article on Streetfilms.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Streets of Copenhagen“, posted with vodpod