What I don’t like about bicycles

We got home from our “Winter” holidays (at my parents in law with loads of food, yumm) and I dug my bike out of the shed for the first time today. And it has not taken the winter well.

I am aware that this was just my own stupidity. I should probably have cleaned the bike before going on holidays, but alas.. time was short and it was -10°C, so warm soapy water didn’t really work.

My chain looks like this nowadays:

Rustychain1

 

The bike isn’t quite as pink, but the rest is about right. Still works relatively problem free, and it only jumped madly a few times while riding the first kilometer or so. But this is obviously not ideal.

Upside to the whole thing: The chain and cassette were shot anyway and needed replacing “soon”. Guess this will just have to work a little bit longer.

And then I’ll need some better cleaning facilities (i.e. a dedicated sponge and some room – possibly a brush. Using my toothbrush might not be ideal – at least not for mix and match operation on teeth and chains).

So … how does this tie in with the title?

Well … the amount of preventive maintenance for a bicycle is turning out to be quite large. I mentioned in a previous post that my shifters are misaligned after about 1000km every time. My chain needs replacing after only 3000km. The tyres and tubes that originally came with the bike had lots of flats for no discernible reason (two tubes split at the seam). My brakes need adjusting every 1500km.

Which might be okay for a bicycle only ridden for 300km a year (I mentioned that this was the German average?), but it’s bloody annoying for a commuter bike.

And it’s approximately equivalent to cars in the middle 20th century. Sometime soon after the first roads started appearing, cars were built that didn’t need the driver to actually be able to perform maintenance themselves. This is likely wrong, as my parents still talk about disassembling their cars in the 70s. Nowadays, though, I can sort of expect to do an oilchange every 10k kilometers and have someone do a checkup every year (which might be a lot more than 10k kilometers). My tyres are expected to last 5 to 6 years (and I’ve never had a flat on a car).

I want my bike to require less work!

Oh and … if the above just compared to bicycle to a 1950s car, other things still need maintenance every 1000km. Like fighter-jets and helicopters and tanks. So arguably a bicycle is as technologically advanced as one of those.

I got honked at!

Okay okay.. It’s probably something everyone has had before. Yet I still get confused when someone uses their cars horn for no good reason. This is also due to the Germany – unlike traffic in Italy and China, we do not reflexively use our horns every 15 seconds to announce our presence (which is probably stereotyping, and yet that’s how it appears to me when I go visit).

So … erm … on the road that I take to work, two people felt the need to gesture towards the footpath and honk their horns. One of them even lowered his window and shouted “get on the bikepath” – which probably indicates good intentions, but sadly the person in question was misinformed. There is no bikepath, just a footpath with “cyclists allowed” – which in semi-legal terms means that cyclists are allowed on there, but pedestrians have every right of way and cyclists are limited to pedestrian speeds (around 6km/h over here – not sure how fast people on foot are elsewhere).

Every time I grumbled the rest of the way (once to work, once home) and kept wondering what was wrong with people. And so on. And so forth.

I assume more people have written about this – more humorously – than I can, so I’ll stop here.

However – and this might be new – I got data. As I had written an email to the city council about a “hidden” exit from a hotel (framed by concrete walls roughly 1.5m high on both sides) endangering cyclists and pedestrians alike, I know the official traffic numbers for that stretch of road. A-ha!

20.000 cars are counted on that road in each direction over 24 hours. Which is quite a lot, I suppose. Not motorway traffic, obviously, but still quite busy.

I travel that road every day twice (to and fro and all that) and the trip is 3.4km in length (one way). At an average speed of 24km/h (let’s be generous for a moment) I thus spend 8.5 minutes on the road each way. So roughly 17 minutes a day.

At 230 work days that equals 3910 minutes or 65 hours or almost three days (let’s be generous again).

Sooo… during the course of a year, I apparently share that little strip of road with roughly 60.000 motorists (and this number is wrong*).

And out of those, there were two silly buggers. 1 in 30.000. That’s not too bad, actually. It’s still massively better than the number of silly buggers on the interwebs. Like here: The ratio of silly buggers to normal people is 271 to 30.000.

 

(*) Why the number of motorists is wrong: the 20k cars/lorries per day are averaged over 24 hours, while I travel during morning and evening rush hours. It’s when I work, it can’t be changed. As there is almost no traffic during the night and noticeably lower during the day, I assume the actual number of cars is higher by a factor of at least two, possibly more. More exact data was not available (unless I count – and who’d be willing to do that .. pffft).

Is cycling cost effective?

This was part of what drew me to cycling (not very much, I admit, I was mainly after the weight loss) – the dream of actually saving money by not using the car.

Several people come to the conclusion that bicycle commutes are cost effective:

The only critical voice I’ve found so far is The Simple Dollar, which says you might save a bit of money, but you’ll be generally more fit.

I’m with that fit thing, but I think the saving money part is wrong. Disclaimer: In my case, at least, and I’ll point out why.

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Distance travelled 14km one way.
  • Time spent on the bike: 36 minutes one way (this is averaged from 32 in the morning and 40 in the evening).
  • Time spent in the car: 40 minutes one way (this is also averaged from 30 in the morning and 45 to 60 in the evening).
  • Amount of money my employer would pay per kilometer traveled if I were using it for a business trip: 0,3€/km. This easily covers petrol, but is also allegedly enough to pay for my oil, services, tyre wear etc. etc.

Soo …

A trip in the car will take 80 minutes per day and cost 8,40€.

A trip on the bike doesn’t cost anything and take 72 minutes.

At 230 workdays this would mean I save 1932€ a year and 1840 minutes (30 hours, 40 minutes).

However …

My car is payed for and sits in my garage even if I don’t use it. I still do the oil-change and put snow tyres on in the winter. I still use it occasionally (when getting the big load of shopping or when taking the little one to his swimming classes at -10°C to make sure his hair doesn’t freeze into a spiky hedgehog shape).

My bike is also payed for, yet the model I currently use does not have the robustness and reliability I would wish for. Partially, this is self-inflicted. When I bought the bike I was expecting around 300km/year and the people selling it me chose well for that amount (which incidently is the German average use per year – I heard, so no quote).

I have spent quite a lot of money on new tubes, two new tyres (Schwalbe Marathon), two new snow tyres (Continental Nordic Spike 240), new brake shoes, two sets of panniers (one bad, one good), gloves, cycling shorts, long cycling pants, wicking shirts, a jersey, a softshell jacket, and shoes.

I’ve also had to visit my bike dealer shop about every 1000km (roughly every two months), as my shifter was not “doing what it was supposed to do” (this is the short version – and I’m not technically minded enough to figure out everything that went wrong). This is likely in part caused by the relatively cheap components, my excess amount of fat and a rather steep hill near the end of my morning trip. I’ll be headed out there again today, as my rear wheel is no longer true.

I’d say my total amount spent every month was about 100€ – possibly more in some months. This comes out approximately equivalent to the petrol cost per month. And the rest of the cost of the car I’ll be paying anyway.

Added problem: I now eat more. My breakfast has increased from a cup of coffee and a muffin to a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. This drives cost up. The same is true for afternoon break: cup of coffee turned into a cup of coffee, a sandwich and some fruit. In total, the cost of food has gone up.

I’ve still failed (completely) to do a proper calculation of the _real_ cost of cycling. However, the fitness and weight goals are coming along nicely.

As of today, I lost 13.5 kg (from 102kg to 88.5kg over seven months) – only 8 or so kilos to go (roughly 56.000 kcal – or 56Mcal – or twice Paris-Brest-Paris with some snacks).

While I was browsing for other “fitness” blogs …

I came upon a few linked pages that are … interesting.

Specifically, I was talking about this:

And suddenly I wonder again if there isn’t money to be made in spouting pretty much anything you like, as long as it contains the parts “fat”, “lifestyle”, “energy” and “cardio”.

Unlike Zombieland I’m not convinced those fitness people actually know what they are talking about. And far be it from me to bash people without a good reason. Let me quote two:

Example Number the One:

Dennis Grounds of Training Grounds for Life: “… you get rid of any stagnant energy and get your heart rate up, therefore bringing more oxygen into your lungs and increasing your energy for the day.”

Stagnant energy? Really? Energy is the ability to do work. This can’t go stagnant. If that were even remotely possible, physics would be a much more interesting course of study. “Hey rock, levitating in midair, if it’s not too much of a bother, could you please fall down here?”.

Example Number the Two:

Riva Rahl, M.D., from Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas: “regular exercise […] helps you to better utilize oxygen”.

Again, far be it from me to bash people without reason (and the rest of the sentence actually made more sense), but “better utilize oxygen”? Maybe I am too bound in chemistry to take that seriously. I tend to assume molecular reactions to be pretty much a “work/don’t work” operation. If there is oxygen, it’ll be used. It’ll not be used and suddenly generate an extra 100kJ/mol, because you remembered to do your pushups in the morning.

*sigh*

And somehow, this article drags (squealing and kicking) the posts into the limelight, that try to tell me that “carbohydrates are bad”, “fruit sugars are the worst you can eat while dieting” and “you need 13 pineapples a day to stave off ozone from the photocopier next door!”

How do I cycle?

Well this is a question I had to think about after reading a rather interesting post here. The question on just how badly I abuse traffic laws is not, however, the only part of this question. There also is a much simpler part to it.

Let me start at the beginning. My path to work on the bike started out the same as my path to work in a car. I would like to say “obviously”, because that’s the one I knew, but I’m not sure everyone is that silly. After reading a few commuting posts the words “Pick your path as if you were riding a bike, not driving a car” show up practically everywhere. Humm.

Anyway. My original path (in May 2012) took me through a calm residential area (possibly a Germany special: Speed limit of 30km/h with the right of way at intersections determined by “whoever appears on the right has the right of way”), then along one of the main commuting routes into town (speed limit 50km/h, right of way for the whole trip, occasional traffic lights), along an inner ring road around the historic (and walled) city, across a 6 lane roundabout and out one of the main commuting routes into town.

After writing that out – oh my. It didn’t appear that bad at the time (honest!), mostly because there are bike lanes on the whole distance of the trip. My main gripe was that the traffic lights are switched to accommodate fluid traffic at around 50km/h. I couldn’t quite keep up with that (and let’s be honest: I still can’t). This lead to a lot of stops at red lights, never quite catching up with the flow.

Obviously, the initial bit through a residential area (with no lights and very little traffic) was the fastest (and probably safest, too). I adjusted the course slightly over the first month, finding a bit along the river instead of the first main car route. Yay. In the morning rush hour this part was basically populated by commuting cyclists, joggers and the very occasional dog. In the evening, it was unfortunately populated by everyone, their grandma and their bloody hamster. People should really be confined to the indoors when I’m cycling.

There is a catch to the second part of the trip that made me stick to my “main car route” for far too long. It’s the shortest distance. In the early days I didn’t appreciate that driving a slightly longer distance can be worth it, as there will be less interruptions. There were a few options for making it more pleasant – a park and some fields near the road (and I have not the foggiest idea how a serious cabbage field – as in “large enough to sell, not meant for the family” – survived in the middle of town) – but the whole trip didn’t get much more pleasant and didn’t get faster. On the contrary: even though there were less stops in the park, there were plenty of 90° turns. The constant braking actually made the result about as slow as sticking to the road.

With a bit of training (probably after about 4 weeks – say June 2012) my average speed got better. One of those fancy cycle-computers showed me progress. With the new and improved speed I didn’t have to stop at every traffic light. Which makes sense: The lights are green for a while, so starting at the first green second on the first light would mean I’d arrive in the middle of the green phase on the second and near the end on the third or so. However, there were still stops. Five of them, if I stuck to the law.

Which brings me back to the original link. Some laws are a bloody nuisance. Here’s one situation on my original path that made me gnash my teeth in frustration. About halfway down the second stretch of main-car-route into town there is a traffic light. It’s at a T-junction, with the main road going straight through and a second path turning off to the left. A bike lane exists on the main road. When the light turns red (which it always does for anyone approaching at up to 29km/h average speed) and a cyclist stops, they will in turn also have to stop on each and every one of the following four traffic lights (assuming the same average speed – just below 30km/h).

On a day with a failed traffic light I managed to sneak past that troublesome spot – and then found out all the following traffic lights were sparkely and green, the sun was shining, birds were singing in the trees and so on and so forth. Or in other words: That one traffic light is bloody annoying for cyclists.

Interestingly, the fines for running a red light as a cyclist are half those of what would happen to someone in a car. And not that I encourage running a red light (which in most cases is stupidly dangerous), there are some that are clearly unneccessary and silly. And I don’t just mean those that are red at 21.30h at night in a residential area with no traffic for hours on end.

Fines for cyclists and fines for people in cars.

The fines linked here are in Euro (if that is not posted on the two pages) and apparently apply to Germany. I hope. I’m not certain, though, as that was not mentioned – but the amounts appear to be right, from what I hear on the telly.

Obviously, being German, I’ve been taught to respect signs and adhere to the laws (yes, this is a stereotype. It’s also quite thoroughly true. You might be able to stop German tourists from putting a towel down on a deckchair by putting up a note saying “Keine Handtücher im Poolbereich”. Honest!).

And it still bothers me when things are stupid. Possibly worse are pedestrian.crossing traffic lights that someone triggered and then walked away. I appreciate that it’s a red light, but there is no one crossing! Why do I need to stop?

*huffs, puffs*

Okay, I’ve calmed down a bit. I think.

There is a way to make everything better, though. Better pathfinding. Or in this case – another detour. My new trip takes me further along the river. Much further. Through town all the way, following a perfectly sensible (and well maintained) bike path, sharing with the occasional pedestrian. The route is longer now (14km, instead of 12km), but the lack of traffic lights, through traffic at a constant speed and better air in the park along the river make it all worth it. There is a rather steep hill from the river back to town, but I suppose I’ll just have to call that my “interval training”.

I’ve noticed one annoyance now (late November) – on the way back home from work this area is dark. There are no lights and the path is a strip of black in the middle of trees and meadows. My headlights sort of work – although I wish they were brighter, but joggers with dogs in black clothes with no lights have started to piss me off annoy me unduly. Another nice addition would be a reflective white stripe along the sides of the path – to prevent cyclists me from leaving the path and ending up in the shrubbery. Haven’t seen anything happening yet, but it would still be nice.

Shall I attempt a summary of the random rambling?

Why not.

1) Find the best bike path to wherever you want to go. This might be slightly longer, but as long as there is less car traffic, it’s probably worth it.

2) Avoid paths that often change direction. A bike path along a road might still be faster than the bike path along a river, if you’re criss-crossing over bridges all the time and have to slow down.

3) Traffic laws can be a total nuisance.

4) Joggers and dogs should be illuminated by law. This makes totally more sense than the traffic laws in 3), and should be enforced by police snipers (possibly with infra-red and low-light scopes, obviously. Anyone they can’t see – they shoot. This makes perfect sense, honest!).

What stuff do I use?

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Just in case anyone is curious: The bicycle I use is called a “Hercules Cabrero Light ND”. It would appear that this specific model is no longer available from the manufacturer. I did manage to find a picture that is close enough, though.

Not quite right, but close enough.

The real deal has black text on the frame and a lot more mud splattered everywhere. And when I say “mud”, I obviously mean road-dirt, not real dirt that came from a country place with animals and plants and things.

Interestingly enough, it seems to have won a recommendation in March 2008 (just found that while looking for pictures). Which would roughly fit the time of purchase. I had no idea I owned an award-winning bike. Huzzah!

I didn’t add anything to the bike at the beginning. I cycled in my jeans and t-shirt to work, strapping a little bag on for my keys and phone.

This has changed rather a lot. Rapidly, I would add. My cycling speed plays a rather important role there. I don’t like going slow. I obviously don’t rush the whole distance at my maximum speed (wish I could, to be honest), but I do get rather sweaty (sorry, TMI?). Work is not horrible to cyclists, though, as there is a shower and a place to get changed. So one of the first additions was panniers.

 

Something like this – although looking a bit more solid. I was worried I’d drop the hobby and picked up some for roughly 25€. They came in water-resistant cloth with plastic inserts to make them roughly box-shaped. And the added bag-space was great. I could bring an additional set of clothes and a towel and some shower-gel. Luxuries in the morning – almost as valuable as coffee.

I’ve since replaced them with something better. The disadvantages were not horrible: They were strapped to the sides of the rack with velcro, so every time I wanted to remove them I had to fiddle near the rear spokes (read: black fingers). The “water-resistant cloth” was okay, but unfortunately the lid did not properly close. When I first cycled through a heavy rain I had water seep in slowly – and they filled up halfway when parked outside at work.

New ones are these:

 

They are made from something like lorry-covering-PVC and are rolled over a few times to close. I’ve never seen water in there yet. A bit more expensive (~100€) but well worth it now for the autumn and winter riding.

I’ve also since added a cycle-computer. Another cheapy thing. There are apparently versions out there that can track my cadence, heart rate and altitude. Mine does speed, average speed, maximum speed, distance travelled and temperature. Those will do.

I still don’t have an on-board water supply. As my current work-run is limited to around 14km and I intend to bring my panniers for anything longer, I didn’t see the need to add a bottle holder yet. Sure, it’s more convenient while cycling – but honestly: If I’m thirsty I can just as well stop every so often, take a bottle from my bags and have a drink. This is not the desert. Or a race. Or anything.

 

I got started again – what happened?

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I think the picture at the top describes me rather well. I once liked sports, but it’s gone downhill from the teen-age years. Without providing too much information about myself: It’s safe to say those teen-age years are a bit in the past.

And yet, this year (being 2012) in late April I decided to use the bike to go to work again. I’m sure there are deep psychological reasons that can only be uncovered by loads and loads of therapy, and yet two things stick out in my memory.

1) A colleague of mine is an avid cyclist. He’s one of those people who cycle to work every single day of their lifes (and I found out later that was a lie: he used the car at least twice so far, both times after having cycled more than 1000km in one weekend). We (and that is everyone in the (small) group) kept commenting on how amazing it was that he managed the distance, how rain and snow didn’t seem to faze him, and how jealous we were that he got to eat two servings on lunch-break and still was slimmer than all of us. Okay, so the last comment was mainly mine.

2) I reached 100kg. That’s scarier in metric than in weirdo imperial units (my personal favourite being the “stone”) for obvious reasons (comeon, admit it: passing 15.747 stone is not nearly as bad as the third digit).

So … on my “new” bike (by then four years old and rarely used), I tried the work run. Mainly with the goal of “I need to loose some weight – cycling will fix it all”.

First Post!

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Should I add a huzzah? No? Okay then.

An introduction instead. I used to own a bike when I was a kid. It was green (I think) and went superfast – with go-faster stripes on the sides and an old playing card held in the back spokes with a clothes pin. The sound was excellent (I thought) and sounded like a motor-bike. 

Motor-bikes were what cycling as a little one was all about for me – and then later I never actually bothered to get a real one. Too scary, really. 

I had a new bike when I was about 14. Afforded it from the money I got for my confirmation. It was new fangled and rather spectactular, combining a 3-speed internal gear hub with 7 derailleur gears. Served me well until I started my first job – although I have to admit I didn’t go very far on it. To school occasionally, to university never. I did break it out again to go to work now and then. On sunny days only really. And then found the rear wheel had suffered a rather nasty bump and wasn’t straight any more – and the gears didn’t shift and the purple and light blue colour scheme wasn’t right any more.

So I got a new bike. Obviously. And we’ll start from there.