Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Steal this post

Seems like I can't go two hours without hearing about another stolen bike. My velo is my main transpo, but I'm getting to the point where I don't want to leave it parked anywhere. What can I do?

—Gone on 62nd (and Hawthorne)

You could take a tip from all those Madone-riding, strong-living Lance-alikes: Don't park your bike anywhere except high atop your SUV.

Seriously, though: I suspect the ratio of thefts to available bikes has remained constant as Portland bike culture has grown; but now we hear about them more (which could lead to more recoveries).

The sum total of all bike-retention wisdom can be expressed thus: Ride a crappy (looking) bike and lock it well.

Most (but by no means all) bikes that get stolen are highly conspicuous. They are shiny and new, or they have trendy new color-coordinated wheels, etc. Thieves likely perceive shiny new bikes as easier and more profitable to fence. So save your shiny new bike for pleasure rides, and build yourself a beater for getting around.

That's one good reason to buy used from Craigslist or the community/co-op/non-profit shops: They can be great places to find a quality bike with that authentic beat-to-hell camouflage that only a decade or two of use can provide.

Don't clean your bike. Lube it, of course, and wipe down the rims and brake pads. Knock the crud off the chain and rear cogs and derailleur pulleys. But don't wash it or shine it up unless you're trying to sell it. Road grit makes great camouflage.

Many bikes that get stolen aren't locked at all. Others are tethered with only one type of lock. So:
  • Lock even if you're just ducking into the Plaid Pantry for a second.
  • Lock even in your garage, or your building's parking cage, or your living room.
  • Use more than one type of lock. That way the thief would have to lug more than one big tool—for example, a jack to break your U-lock, and bolt cutters to snip your thick cable or chain.
Finally, try some psy-ops tricks to keep the thief moving along: Take the chain off the chainrings and let it hang slack, or let the air out of at least one tire, or (on road bikes) rig your brake quick-release so that the closed position locks the pads tight against the rim.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

:02 down; 14:58 to go

Your freindly neighborhood WOBG got a couple seconds of fame Sunday night when KOIN 6 filmed us volunteers building bikes for Katrina victims at North Portland Bikeworks. What a great laid-back staff there, and impeccable taste in music as well. I hope I can get back for the next session.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Beyond color: choosing a good used ride

I'm looking for a used bike to ride to work—from Woodstock to downtown—and just as general transportation. I want a bike that's fun to ride, and since it will eventually pay for itself in saved gas, I'm looking to spend up to $300. I want to get something I really like, but I don't have much technical knowledge. Please briefly describe some of the criteria for judging the quality of a used bike, other than the color of the paint.

—A newer commuter

Newer, you wound me! Experts agree that paint color is of foremost importance. As my wife says, "Red is fast." What more do you need to know?

Oh, all right. Here are what I think of as "benefits" of a good used commuter bike that's fun to ride, and from there maybe I can backtrack to "features":

  • Easy to carry onto bus racks and MAX
  • Brakes work well even when wet
  • Your feet stay on the pedals even when wet
  • Lots of room to mount wider-than-racing tires and full fenders (for the wet)
  • Has enough of a gear range for the places you're likely to go

That leads to these features:

• A sturdy but light frame made of a high grade of steel known generically as 4130 chromoly (manganese-moly is good too), with brands such as Reynolds, Columbus, Tange, Ishiwata, True Temper, etc.

Most better bikes will have a sticker somewhere on the frame that describes the frame material. If the sticker doesn't list the aforementioned brands or generic type, the frame likely is a lower grade of steel—still sturdy but not so light. Of course there are frames of aluminum, carbon fiber, etc., but most used ones will be wannabe racing bikes that can't fit wider tires or full fenders--so they're not so useful when rainy season hits.

• Wheels with rims made of aluminum alloy—because steel rims lose most of their braking ability when wet. Better yet (but rare), disc or drum brakes that aren't affected at all by the wet.

• Pedals that have foot retention such as toe clips and straps and/or grabby metal teeth or pegs and/or a receptacle for the cleats that adorn cycling-specific shoes (with the cleat and receptacle acting kind of like a ski boot and binding)

• An appropriate drivetrain. For your commute, with that short but steep wall at about 39th Street, you could get by with "average" road-bike gearing—but the extra low gears derived from a third chainring (as with 18, 21, 24, or 27-speed bikes) would be welcome.

Unfortunately, some bikes matching this description could be 20 years old or more. You should watch for the following predictable funkiness:

• The spokes—particularly those of the rear wheel—may be near the end of their life span, so you may get a broken spoke every other week or so. When a spoke breaks, the wheel gets wobbly and rubs on the brakes, which is a pain. Consider having the rear wheel re-spoked or replaced as a preventative measure, if it hasn't been done already.

• The chain and the smallest two or three of the cogs it meshes with may well be worn and in need of replacement. Such wear can lead to the chain skipping and causing you to stumble at the worst times—like in the middle of an intersection. Again, consider replacing them it hasn't already been done.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

One bike to rule them all

My precious 15-year-old commuter mountain bike is ready for the pasture. I don't have a lot of storage space, and I'm longing for one bike that will do it all: commutes along with moderate road rides and off-road use (no jumping).

If I take a nice, light aluminum touring frame that's built for 26" wheels—a Dutch/Asian Koga-Miyata or something cheaper if I can find it)—put MTB parts and flat bars (built up to easily switch out with drop bars) and lockable front suspension on it, will it be strong and agile enough? Or will it be limited to mild fireroads? I'm 180 and somewhat hard on bikes—I've pringled/cracked a few good rims on moderate rides.

—Haul 'em like Gollum

I too have dreams of an elegant omnivore for trekking not only to Powell Butte or Forest Park, but through them as well. There's a lot to be said for staying SUV-free and riding from your front door and back—even when dirt is your destination.

I think what you have in mind would work, but I have reservations. The Koga-Miyata seems to have a long back end (typical in touring/trekking bikes), which might make it hard to find the right weight distribution for traction on steep climbs. Also it doesn't appear to be suspension-corrected; with a shock fork the front end will be jacked up higher, which will decrease the head-tube angle and make the steering seem sluggish. It might handle like primordial mountain bikes even older than your retired commuter: fine downhill, limited otherwise.

Intead, might I suggest as a base the Surly Karate Monkey? It's a bit heavier than what you had in mind, and it's in short supply right now—but it has supreme versatility. It's intended to be built around 700C wheels (the standard size for higher-quality road bikes)—either as a 29er mountain bike or as a cyclocross-style bike—but keep in mind that if you use disc brakes, you could swap easily between 26-inch and 700C as conditions dictate. Besides, you can get some pretty stout 700C rims these days.

One other note: While dabbling in adventure racing over the previous two summers, I found I could use a drop bar very effectively on single-track, as long as it was extra-wide and extra-high. I have a freak-of-nature, discontinued 50 cm anatomic bar, but other options exist.

If we ever get these bikes built, we should go for a ride. Any other all-rounders out there?