Friday, November 14, 2008


Halloween critical mass was fun, although I lost the main bunch after waiting for a tail-ender who then decided to call it a day. Then I worked a station for the improvised alleycat, but got there after the lead riders. Oops.

And you might have noticed the little 'glasshouse' in the background. We've been surprised how effective a simple plastic enclosure has been for growing seedlings in. Heather's hard work has been rewarded with a much better hit rate then previous years.

In other news, the city council is scrapping almost all cycle, walking, and public transport spending. They are almost halving the largest roading project, which encourages me, but the Harbour Bridge project seems about to recede another 10-15 years into the future. Grump.

Going somewhere even more different, I often think that we eat quite a lot of salt and wonder how it doesn't affect my blood pressure. Having a few slices of pizza at work today makes we wonder if we don't avoid more salt by simple, healthy eating than we add back in for flavour. I've been pouring in water all afternoon to compensate.

Returning to the positive (which is, of course, about bikes) I've taught a colleague how to shorten his chain for a simple conversion to single-speed riding and then we popped up to check out the new T White's Bikes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Putting my money where my mouth is

Today I joined the Green Party - partly something I've been procrastinating, and partly a response to the recent elections. I cycle past their nearest office quite regularly, so today I just stopped in and got on with it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

We don't know how propitious are the circumstances, Frederick!

Last Saturday I met a new neighbour, recently escaped from Wellington, who enthused about how flat it is up here, and how great for cycling. That'd be news to my any-excuse-to-stop-him-talking-about-riding-my-bike-to-work friends!

Another propitious aspect of this delightful City of Cars is steady recent growth of a cycle culture, and the Labour Day long weekend freed me up to join the AK Fixed crew for some bike polo. Somebody was taking photos, so I obligingly fell over right in front of him and collected an opponent on the way. (Hopefully I can track down a copy.) Somehow I was in the losing team for each of three short games, but had a blast and came home to be told I had a big smile all over my face. Must figure out how to fit in more of that.

Off to bed now, so that I wake in time to work on my costume for Friday night's Critical Mass. Managed to waste about five hours on a dead end this afternoon, so it'll be a tight thing. Yet more reason to remember - we don't know how lucky we are!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Automatic control for a nuVinci?

Hints from Interbike suggest that a controller will soon be available for the nuVinci hub to keep it at a constant cadence. This would be great on the wheelchair bike, as the posture is all wrong and freeing a hand to change gear on the steep dip on our street is very hard. I wonder if it would keep up with the rapid pace of change? I've considered building a simple controller myself, probably based on detecting the chain links interrupting an IR signal, but haven't done anything in that area and lack the time. So one you could buy would be great...

A much needed break

You haven't seen anything for months on this blog because life got crazy busy -- basically work intensified, and I didn't cope with it too well. Things are backing off, and I've hopefully picked up a few tricks about handling things better, but it was great to take a weekend away in mid September.

Continuing my campaign to exploit public transport, I put my bike on the Friday night train to Helensville and cycled four kms over to the Parakai campgrounds. The train service extended this far out about four months back, with a pilot program of one train each way per weekday. I was concerned that this one train on Friday night would be full and they'd prevent me taking a bike (let alone the big old Yuba), but got there several minutes early and nobody quibbled.

The campsite was pretty rundown, complete with sign in shower that it took two to five minutes to get hot water. I took a lukewarm shower after waiting 15, but the next day there was plenty of hot. Somewhat ironic since Parakai is known for its hot springs - as it happens I didn't visit them either as there were too many kids causing mayhem and I was out for a quiet weekend. I found a nice pair of trees for my hammock, and discovered that my friendly neighbour had lived there since 1982! Another neighbour had been a market gardener and his caravan-and-shed were a study in efficient use of land.

Saturday I cycled back to Helensville in the hope of finding a farmer's market mentioned on the internet, but none was to be seen. I enjoyed a morning free to wander the craft shops (looking for somebody's birthday present) with no real deadlines. Not that it took that long to exhaust my options in that booming metropolis. On returning to the campsite I had great plans to fix the rip in my tent netting, or maybe my bag liner, but ended up reading two novels I found in the kitchen. I can recommend Vernon God Little, but not anything by Clive Cussler. [I actually did need to fix the netting, so ended up sewing it as the sun set around 8pm!]

After I had planned this weekend around train trips out and back, the call went up for supporters at a Sunday afternoon rally advocating cycle and pedestrian access to the harbour bridge. Attending the rally met cycling in to town, which was only 50kms but much more than I'd tried with the Yuba. After some equivocation, and much studying of the unreliable elevation data on bikely and similar sites, I decided to give it a go--after all, I would still be very close to home and could easily organise a rescue if I got stuck.

As it turned out, the ride in was great. The weather was terrific (my first sunburn for the year) and none of the hills too steep. I did take 3:50 for just over 50 klicks, including about an hour of resting and lunch, but the bike steadily ate up the miles with all my luggage on it. (A duffel bag fits nicely on the back sidebars, btw.) I don't think that I could take the Yuba over the steeps on the way to Awhitu, but getting home via W. Auckland wasn't a problem. That was a great encouragement to me. Here's a view of the harbour over the motorway.

The rally itself was boring, and only about 400 showed up. Still, I'm glad that I went. A few disobedient types rode over the bridge, ensuring great coverage in the papers. Wish I'd been there. :-) It seems hard to know which way the various government authorities will go on supporting the cycleway, sadly. After the rally I ended up cruising off to a pub with some of the crew, who I'd been keen to meet. Like this guy's tattoo?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weekend Away

This weekend was one of my quarterly respites, and my friend Anna organised a group to go cycling together. She booked a couple of nights at a Presbyterian church campsite, and offered to cook for all comers.

The main route in/out was about 65kms, excluding the commuter train ride down to Papakura, with 40 flat kms and 25 a lot steeper. Anna's friend John was the only one game to ride out with me, and the poor chap generously waited as I struggled over the hills on the fixie. It was a bad choice for the trip - the dingle cog allowed me to switch to a lower ratio as we reached the concentrated hills, but I was always slow on the downhills and just didn't have the stamina to cope. I only had to walk once (when using the higher ratio), but since I was always working hard and found it hard to take drinks or snacks I was completely bushed when we reached the end. John was very supportive.

Next day, Saturday, we had a lazy morning as the three guys joining us didn't arrive until noon. In the end two of them rode with us for about 2 hours, and we did a nice loop over ludicrously steep rodes. I took the bike left spare by the one guy not riding, which happened to be one of mine anyhow. It worked well for me, so I decided to ride it back on the Sunday. Check out this hill on Boiler Gully Road - we had to walk the first of two consecutive steeps like this, but had the hang of it better the second time.

Sunday morning we set off a bit late, at 8:30. John needed to catch the 12:10 train, so we had to make better time than on the way in. We managed to avoid the unscheduled detour to Clark's Beach which made for a nice morning tea location on day one, but I did get two punctures on the old tyres the backup bike had. Having gears made a huge difference, and it probably helped that we did the worst hills at the start not the end. We may even have had a tail wind through the flatter section, although I mostly noticed it when it flung sleet into my face on the heights. We made the trip in 3:30, arriving just in time to catch the
train and spread our wet, smelly selves across an empty carriage.

Going in was hard, but coming back was fun (in spite of the wet). All up, this was a good respite and restful. So different from Taupo last year. That old bike from my Uncle did me real well, although I'm glad I swapped seats before the ride out. No more taking the fixie on long trips unless I do heaps of real buildup first (which I won't).

ps - Can't resist showing you how I got the bike over to the guys who wanted to borrow it, along with the rack for carrying the bikes on the back of their car. :-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Heather stunned me yesterday with an audacious birthday present:

Guessed yet?

That's a 'Heavenly Flame' solar cooker, which she started hand-making when I was camping a month ago. Apparently half the neighbourhood lent her a hand with this material or that, or even taking her to the doctor, so thanks to any of you reading this.

Heather had been testing the oven all week: getting it out, setting it up, and hiding it behind the sofa every day. Despite all the exhausting effort, she didn't know if her initial daring would prove a success. Her agitation was visible even to my unsuspecting self. Until she had actually cooked in it, Heather didn't quite believe it would work. Come the big day, however, the sun was out and she baked a tasty pavlova.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Food Footprint - Almost Sustainable!

Heather finished our food footprint calculations last week, and only our fish use is unsustainable. We are very excited by this result, as we consider our diet to be ample, interesting, varied, and low-maintenance -- that is, something other kiwis could take up relatively easily. (The big sticking point is always the low meat consumption, but there seems to be a steady social change there.)

I hypothesise that our food footprint is more sustainable than our emissions footprint because property rights have centred around land since time immemorial but clean air is still anybody's to pollute. A limited and less tangible property system applies to fishing, and we are correspondingly less sustainable there. I wouldn't know how to substantiate these thoughts with solid data, sadly.

Feel free to click through for details, however the underlying calculations are still being reformatted for publication.

  1. Heather eats a lot of fish as a simple source of protein in her highly calorie-constrained diet, and this raises us to 140% of the estimated sustainable average wild fish catch. That average is itself about 40% of the current global take, so we're between the two numbers at present. As noted above, you simply can't plant 250% of suitable land surface. (Although we might be harvesting non-sustainably due to cheap oil or short-term practises. Even hundreds of years is short term for land, after all.)
  2. The land percentages are based on current farmed land area. This represents roughly 1/3 of land area, another 1/3 being forest and the remaining 1/3 put to other uses.
  3. Most of our land-sourced protein is plant based. We love beans, although haven't yet fitted them into my favoured Thai cuisine. A pressure cooker is your friend if you eat lots of beans and your cook isn't home most of the day - even if somebody is home, you'll save on energy.
  4. What meat we do eat has been entered as the sum of the the area on which the animals graze and the area required to grow supplemental feed. We have assumed free range animals (increasing the numbers), although we've only just switched for chicken pieces. (We haven't found a nearby source of free range pork, so have recently restricted ourselves to pork tongues.) Sheep and cattle are traditionally grass fed in NZ, but with the recent intensification of dairying the use of supplemental feed is rising.
  5. Goats have been entered as zero footprint, as (in NZ) they are used as scrub control and their meat is a side benefit. We decided against entering a negative value. Goat has not been a typical meat in NZ, but is favoured by various immigrant groups and we live near the only supermarket I know which sells it. The goat also happens to be cheaper than beef, and halal (useful for certain guests).
  6. Honey has also been entered as a zero footprint product, as pollination of commercial agriculture requires so many bees.
  7. The 'Flavourings' category includes cream and fish sauce as well as herbs and spices. Either Heather couldn't find a number for how much fish is in fish sauce, or (more likely) it was very small as no value has been entered for flavourings in the sea 'footprint' column.
In other news, Google Spreadsheets are not quite ready for prime time. I just couldn't figure out how to do a % pie chart with an empty wedge, for example. I couldn't even graph data and labels in non-adjacent columns!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Asleep at the wheel

I almost won a door prize on the way to work yesterday, but got just enough warning and was able to shimmy about six inches to the right. My rear wheel slid in towards the car as I shimmied - a downside of the long wheelbase of the SUB, I assume - then straightened as I eased off the brake. The driver had been talking on his cell phone, sitting in his parked car, and I hadn't been looking in the back windows like I usually try to do. I feel a bit silly to have been so close to the parked cars since there wasn't any other traffic on the road.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunny long weekend

Queen's Birthday weekend was supposed to be rainy, but we have probably had a majority of sunny weather. I took Heather out in her wheelchair this afternoon, out the road and around the end of the cul-de-sac. She had hoped to take out the wheelchair bike, but I wasn't up to the initial granny-gear grind out of the gully between us and the main road.

On Friday, headed home from Pak'n'Save with a banana box full of groceries, my panniers were empty and I was able to pick up a little basket of flowers for Heather. Carrying flowers has always been hard on bikes.
Yesterday I took a chilli plant around to a colleague who has just moved into the neighbourhood. Earlier in the day, finding myself awake in time to visit the Ethiopian Orthodox who meet at 6:30 in our church building, I was pleased to find that the large frame of the Yuba Mundo kept my long overcoat out of the rear wheel. (It didn't seem to right to turn up in bizarre cycling gear to strangers whose entire culture is unfamiliar to me.) You might have picked up that I'm enjoying this bike.

Does ´Food Security´ mean Isolationism?

The Green Party, who I have been known to give my party vote to, seem to be pushing ´Food Security´ just as their conference comes up. Perhaps it will form a key part of their policy platform? As stated -- still somewhat vague -- the idea seems to be very anti-trade. Could this be an issue which divides me from them in this election, as the GE Free campaign did eight years ago?

After several days of mulling, I have posted a fairly lengthy comment on frogblog based on two points:
  1. Trade exposes us to the madness of the world, and
  2. We must reshape the system, not exercise our privilege by leaving it.
A central feature of the madness I refer to is the obscene paucity of opportunity and reward available to most of the world´s population. Trade is essential to levelling up the nations of the world. Frankly, I am convinced that we should invite as many foreigners as we can sustain to help us forge a prosperous future which their home communities can share in via remittances. Free Labour, not just Capital.

As for taking part in the system so that it reflects ´us´ not only ´them´, perhaps I need to take my own advice and get round to joining the Greens?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Our Carbon Emissions

Update - Jan 2010. The spreadsheet is finally available.

Heather has just worked out our carbon footprint for the last tax year, and found that we generate 3 times the sustainable global average. She has put a heap of effort in, based around 3 months of measuring and tabulating our household inputs and outputs. She has separated the routine elements from the irregular, and filled in for the rest of the year. We are both glad that we have completed our baseline measurements, and can take the compost out in peace.

The only changes we've made so far based on this info are switching from butter to margarine and putting up a 'No Advertising Please' sign on our letterbox. Recycling 3kg of junk mail a week generated about 6.5kg CO2 equivalent for each of us every week!

Here's the breakdown. Click through for the details - still working out how best to share this type of data. Eventually we plan to publish the detailed calculation spreadsheet in case anybody else would like to check their household out -- first I have to automate it further and port it all across to Google Docs.

Friday, May 30, 2008

3 Cheers for Auckland University Sustainability Network!

I think that's who it was who met us at the end of Critical Mass with hot samosas and a tomato-based sauce! What a great way to finish - all standing around in the cool, clear night air and chatting rather than disappearing into a noisy pub.

My dinner plans had been up in the air, so I dug in for two samosas and ate my bowl for "desert".

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Found an interesting new blog yesterday, with a great post on consent. We need more men in NZ speaking up about the practical implications of consent, in terms that show the simple humanity of the idea (and conversely how non-consensual acts deny the image of God in the other, although I doubt Ari would use those kinds of words).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Need for Speed

Yesterday I had to rush home when Heather cut her hand with a utility knife (making my birthday present!). As it worked out a neighbour drove her down to the doctor for two stitches, and I met them there. Nothing big, but she was worn out by having to make the excursion and sit up for so long in her wheelchair.

On the way home I was wishing for a speedier bike -- the Yuba may be great in general, but I was reluctant to wait for lights, let alone shop or scavenge on this trip. What I wanted was the 'Sunday Sports Car'. I have two spare bikes at work, waiting in the hope of pulling in colleagues for lunchtime rides in the Spring, and ought to set one up for the emergency sprint home. I'll probably configure the fixie with the highest gear I can manage in the homeward direction, which I would not otherwise do since that implies walking at least one section on the way back to work. (Not only is the steepest section uphill on the way in, but anytime after 10am I'm more energetic and limbered up.)

I am still considering whether I am comfortable giving up the motorbike permanently. It wouldn't have helped yesterday anyhow, as I wasn't able to predict the incident. It is good for lunchtime doctor's appointments, and late mornings when I want to get in quickly, but a speed-freak bicycle may help to mitigate the loss in those situations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

El mundo - mi perla

So last month I finally received my new Yuba Mundo after months of waiting, and suffered two tantalising weeks to building it up. Since then I have taken it camping, bought a sack of rice, and commuted every day.

The big rack looks wide from behind, and gets such respect from cars that I plan to retire my blond wig. In reality it is no wider than the handlebars, so I can still fit through the same gaps. You do have to avoid cutting across the front of a car before you've actually passed into the gap, given the extra length. The maneuvreability is really noticeable with a moderate load of 10-20kg; where my old tourer would have become whippy in the tail, this monster truck rides just like normal.

"Monster truck" I said, but clown-mobile is more how I felt the first week. The whole bike is so big and heavy that you feel ludicrous without oversized boots and a giant red nose. Then you become familiar with the commanding presence on the road. You learn to carry momentum into hills, and settle into the steady rhythm of gearing suitably low for the Mundo's immensity. You learn that you can pick up those extra items at the supermarket, without worrying whether the panniers will fit them or regretting leaving the trailer at home. Then you learn that the load doesn't stop you climbing the hill between stationary lanes of traffic to position for the right hand turn towards home.

For Critical Mass last month I rode the Yuba. One of the ubiquitous fixies had a puncture, and I offered him a ride. He sat on the carrier, and held his front wheel off the ground so that the bike trailed after us. We had to trade off a couple times, as much because it was hard work holding the bike at arm's length, and we walked the last part of the major climb out of town. This was my first real load, and I was pleased with the handling. We wobbled drunkenly for a moment at the low speed of initial movement and just before stopping. In between we were pretty stable. Sadly, although many pictures were taken none seem to have reached the Flickr group and I wait until this month's ride to ask

Friday, May 9, 2008

"Car" Camping

Safe in my hammock, with the fly keeping out the rain, I foolishly assumed myself safe from the weather...Lesson learned: hang your luggage, or pick a campsite that won't flood!

A couple of weekends back I was able to take a respite break and went camping in Shakespear1 Park, Whangaparaoa. I needed to rest more than ride, and desired an excusion just far enough to test out my new bike and newish hammock. Shakespear worked well because there's a ferry to Gulf Harbour, after which you only have to ride 7km to the very end of the peninsula. Until you reach the park itself you are in residential neighbourhoods, and there would be sufficient hostelry if I had to bail out.

Lacking time to pack tidily and efficiently, I just threw an oversupply of clothes into one of those cheap woven-plastic bags and strapped it on the yuba. 16kgs on one side and about 3 on the other, but it rode surprisingly well. I love the simplicity of this bike.Although this was the last weekend of school holidays, the weather has recently turned cold in NZ so few people were in the park. Probably a wise choice by everybody else, as it rained about 1 in every 2 hours from Friday night until Sunday morning. The last night was particularly fierce, and I realised about midnight that I had been flooded out. Thankfully I'd used separate plastic bags inside the large carry-all, not trusting it2, and nothing essential got damaged before I rescued it onto the rack of the bike (under its own tarpaulin).
The only damage done was to my breakfast :-( and a fixable rip in my bug netting when I turned around too vigorously inside the hammock and dragged the corner of my air mat across it.

Despite the rain, I was able to open out the fly during the day and make a comfy campsite. I made a good start on my current reading project, mostly sitting in the hammock and resting my foot on the gas bottle.
I must confess that the bottle was not part of my original luggage - the friendly ranger lent it to me after we got talking about bicycles and eventually it came up that I had mis-understood the level of cooking facilities described on the council's website. That bike got me into a lot of conversations, actually -- must get some business cards or something from Stu.

All in all, a good trip. Got more familiar with my gear, and look forward to taking it on a more adventurous journey. I do need to find some kind of cooking solution - exactly what depends somewhat on whether I expect to retain the voluminous storage of the yuba or choose a smaller bike for longer trips. I also need to find a bit more insulation for my feet - they stuck off the end of the insulating mat and that hammock was quite cold on my un-insulated parts.

1) (No, there isn't supposed to be an 'e'.)
2) Actually, the cheap bag was pretty shower proof. I was impressed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nuvinci - Riding Report


I have been very happy with my NuVinci hub over the two months it has been my regular ride. Continuous shifting works well on steady or slowly-changing slopes, although I have not (yet?) developed a feel for wide shifts on sharp dips and rises. The low maintenance and simplicity are a real plus, and the wide range has worked well for commuting and grocery hauling. The weight will put off any racer, but as a commuter and utility cyclist I only notice on my most sluggish days (and could do with burning the extra calories). I have lent the bike to several novice riders who found it intuitive to use.

Sorry that this post is very long, and lacks pictures, but I wanted to lay out the details as best I can in case somebody else there is making purchase decisions. Hopefully my experience will settle your qualms about an adventurous purchase.

General Feel

The hub has provided a simple and reliable ride to and from work. It doesn't feel unique any more, although when I lent it out last week it was a bit restricting to return to big jumps between gears. I never felt that the drive was 'inefficient', however that is measured.

The hub is certainly heavy, but I don't usually notice its weight until I come to park and try to lift the tail closer to the wall. The whole bike is fairly heavy, actually, but I don't swap regularly to provide a contrast and presumably just burn a few more calories on the (fixed length) commute.

I had read that changing gears required easing off on the pedals, but I find this ceases to be a problem if my cadence is over about 70rpm. Perhaps more powerful riders would find this more of a problem, but once I get into spinning rather than grinding mode the gears move quite easily. There is a risk that I overestimate the ratio I can take through a rise, as once I am in too high a gear and pressing harder on my pedals it does become difficult to change down. I did find that adjusting the cable tension helped a bit with smoothing out the adjustment - there is a balance to find between too tight to pull at all and so loose that the controller plays quite a distance before pulling. I couldn't find an obvious sweet spot and the feel varies slightly day to day, but wherever I settled seems to be working now.

Having continuous gearing has helped me to work on my cadence after a bad year in that respect. I have tweaked a cheap computer to show me how I'm doing, and am slowly increasing my average. Unfortunately the old bike I've thrown the new wheel onto doesn't encourage fast spinning by its geometry.

The 350% range allows me to pull a trailer of groceries home (and light trailers on the steeper route to work), but still gives me just enough speed to feel safe on my commute. I am running 36:17 rings, which works out to about 6km/h at 45rpm in low gear and 46km/h at 100rpm in top. My most important downhill runs from 35-45 when congested, so I only fail to keep up if the cars are accelerating into space (such as after traffic lights). (Btw, this is close to the lowest permitted ratio (2:1), so I don't think that the hub (as rated) is ready for really heavy hauling like a rickshaw.)

Continuous Shifting

Adjusting to the new gearing was very easy -- perhaps the hardest part was turning the my wrist in the opposite direction to the friction shifters I had been using. I was certainly tentative about finding the right setting at first, but am now confident of my feel for it.

On flat road or steady climbs the smooth gearing allows you to steadily build speed and intensity. If I lose my cadence at the start of a rise (not uncommon) then I can regroup at a lower ratio and smoothly adjust the ratio as I power up. Similarly, I can ease off the gearing to retain my rhythm as the slope outlasts my energies.

This is all great when I'm fired up for my ride, but on the down days it probably lets me slack off somewhat - slowly easing down the ratio just when I ought to be pushing into the challenge. I should only bottom out the gearing at two places on my ride, but am periodically surprised how far I've let the gearing drift down. Since I don't watch the indicator most of the time, it is easy to get out of sync with my actual position in the range of adjustment.

One part of my commute crosses a series of short ridges, and I find it hard to shift very quickly. The long overall travel (over a full turn of the controller, which is well past what my wrist can do in one go) and the loose awareness of the absolute adjustment at any time mean that I can't just shift to a known setting. Stepped gearing, with it's limited options, is therefore simpler when you want to crash through several gears.

Two factors do mitigate rapid shifts. At the bottom of a dip, pedalling difficulty steadily increases. This keeps plenty of pressure on the pedals, providing more information to find the right gear. So long as you keep up or ahead of the required change then you're good. If you loosen up too much then you will lose speed but can regroup and rebuild as described above. This is annoying, but not the end of the world if you're focussed on getting places simply rather than in the zone of the ride itself. At the other end of the scale, when I crest these particular rises and drop into the next dip I have gravity assisting me if I don't get into a faster gear as soon as I'd like.

One last shifting context of note is rising out of the saddle. I am slowly learning to ease up the gear from a half-standing posture which allows me to hold high torque across an intersection. I rarely rise out of my saddle on hills, and the first few times I tried it was hard to twist my wrist on the controller while I had more reliance on my hands for riding. Once again, this isn't such a problem for more leisurely cyclists.


Two months isn't long on this count, but the hub hasn't seemed to slip or give any kind of trouble. No maintenance is required on the hub itself -- I haven't even oiled the chain, which is probably a bit cruel even on a straight chain line. Despite a couple of heavy loads and slopes that pushed my legs to their limit in low gear, the hub never slipped. There was one curious feature, though: the rear cog still spins a bit when I freewheel, so when I restart pedalling the takeup isn't always quite where I expect it. The external freewheel is supposed to eliminate exactly this issue, so perhaps mine just needs a bit more lube?

I've dropped the wheel off a few kerbs, and even around a couple kms of off-road track (WARNING - not covered by the warranty!) . The biggest risk evident so far is that the heavy hub lands with quite a thump and needs a strongly built wheel and fat tyres or suspension for even small drops.

I have managed to damage one element - the indicator is a bit scratched up from flipping the bike over to fix punctures. Since it sticks up way above the handlebars, the indicator is always going to be a point of contact during roadside repairs.

Novice Riders

My major hope for the hub was that it would be easy for novices to pick up. I've lent the bike to a few colleagues who hadn't ridden bikes since their teens but joined a recent series of lunchtime rides to picnic at the beach. They had no trouble other than hauling the extra weight back up the hill, and were certainly mixing up the gears a lot. They still had some trouble picking the right gear, tending to spin out on uphills instead of settling in to the work. When somebody didn't change down in time they were able to stop, changed down, and restart.

By contrast, two guys on derailleur gears were discovered to be riding the same gear the whole trip. They got the idea of the rear gears fairly quickly, but avoided changing the front ring and therefore heavily reduced their range.

My flatmate, Sarah, took the bike out having not ridden for about 20 years. She picked the gearing up immediately. The only question she asked, once we had gone down and up the big dip in our street and were working uphill on the main road, was whether the cadence she had naturally settled at was 'proper'. It felt slightly fast to her, but was working smoothly, and turned out to be a tidy 65rpm.


I would strongly recommend this hub to utility cyclists if you are buying new kit, or find one cheaply second-hand. If you're buying new then it's not that expensive, but there's so much good stuff being thrown out that I would encourage people to use that instead. If you've been wistfully dreaming of a Rohloff, then give this one a thought.

If you're putting a commuter bike together for a friend who is new at cycling then Nuvinci would be a great bet. The weight may deter an unfit rider in hilly areas, but give them an old beater until they've demonstrated some commitment and built up some stamina. The heavy hub on a new bike is no worse than riding an older bike with heavy frame.

Hopefully there'll be enough purchasers to keep the company going until they can make a smaller, lighter version and the wider market discovers them. (I fear, however, that the fools who disdain re-cycled gear will lack the sense to buy this nice piece of technology because they think it isn't racy enough.) The technology clearly has promise for electric bikes, and the unicyclist community would kill for a fixed version.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

When will we Get Across?

It looks like there's a big campaign coming for cycle and pedestrian routes over the Harbour Bridge. I can't make the launch tomorrow, but hope to get a t-shirt or something to parade around town. They'd have sold a bunch if they'd had them at Critical Mass.

This has been tried before - hopefully the time and public mood are right. I don't think that our beloved mayor will be a fan.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Busy, Busy Bike Week

Heather and I took a quick spin this afternoon in the wheelchair bike, since she was feeling moderately okay and hadn't been out for ages. She'll pay for the hour-long excursion over the next few days, but did enjoy getting to see the next street over as we dropped a couple of things into letterboxes. The nearby creek bends around the end of the road, and although too steep down for us to get near the creek there were many long driveways with flax and other 'wild' plants along the roadside above. This was a relaxing way to end a busy but encouraging week which has at several times deprived Heather of my company.

On Monday night I tested a set of front and rear lights with flashing indicators, with a view to writing a review for Chainlinks magazine. They're just coming into NZ, and will soon be available for $120. I could see them being useful, but indicating isn't a major requirement for my commute and they don't fit quite right on any of my current bikes. I reckon they'll sell a fair few units, and it was fun riding round with them. Nick, the importer, says they are considering a 3-unit set for rickshaws, and they would work sweetly on the trailer. I don't take it out on the road after dark at present, and would like to be able to indicate even when I'm pulling into or out of the main traffic flow.

Writing the review took well into the night Tuesday, and I didn't see Heather in the morning either as I left early for the ...

Bike-to-Work Breakfast

On Wednesday there was a big breakfast put on by local government for anybody who cycled to work in town. About 700 people turned up, which was pretty good. Only three came from my work, which was way poor even by our standards. Having so few makes it hard to request t-shirts from the management for this or similar events.

I did enjoy the breakfast, however, and traded a ride on my NuVinci for a ride on a Rohloff-equipped Birdy. Nice bike, that. And the Rohloff was certainly easier to shift than I've got the NuVinci at this point. About 5 times the price, of course. I also talked to some chaps from about the NuVinci, and whether it could be adapted for their needs. The big issues are whether it can be adapted to run fixed, and if it will become lighter over time. I progressed to work via Bike Central, and was pleased to see their facilities for the first time.


My big event for the week was a lunchtime cycle ride to the Harbour Bridge and back, which I organised at work. I was thrilled to get nine along in total, including four who don't usually cycle and one who hasn't commuted since a bad accident last year. Even better, there is talk of another trip next week. People seemed to like being at the beach in the middle of a working day.
Our route took us along the waterfront downtown, past the marina, and right under the bridge. There is wee beach just by the motorway on-ramp, where we stopped for a pleasant repast. The geography conspires to hide the adjacent bustle, and the sun shone to complete the scene. Unfortunately lunch was immediately followed by a climb regaining perhaps 75% of the height lost in our initial descent. One of our party had to walk, and another required stops on the way, but the quiet road afforded all the time required.

On Monday I had taken my two spare bicycles in on the trailer so that I could lend them out. That worked out well, although it was perhaps tactless to pack a lunch that needed to be transported on the rack of a bike I wasn't riding. Particularly when that rack snapped its upper mounting and pivoted back onto the ground less than five minutes into the ride! Fortunately we had a spare bungee to tie it up with, and the ceramic quiche plate didn't break.

Riding the trailer in wasn't too hard, although it helped that I had just dropped the front ring on that bike (the NuVinci one) to 36 teeth (giving 28-100 gear inches). I did manage to tip the trailer on its side on one corner, forgetting how high the load was on the one side, and scraped up the corner of an old lady's seat. No structural damage, so all was happy.

Critical Mass

Finally, and quite excitingly, I joined the first Critical Mass seen in Auckland for some years. I joined a couple in 2005, riding once with only 3 people, so was pleasantly surprised to see 70-80 turn up! Props to the people organising it, who did a good job of spreading the word. There were a few belligerent young men present, mostly riding fixies - was glad I had left mine at work, but was interested to discover most were riding roughly 42/17 which was my main gear for Taupo. We ran almost all the read lights, which I think is a poor choice. Even worse was that a few riders weren't deferring to pedestrians. Hopefully I and like-minded riders can inculcate a change of practise over time. Still, I would rather have the event than not.

Met some interesting Young Greens and their friends at the pub afterwards. Most of the riders were quite young, I noticed, which contrasts with the 35-45 peak age bracket for sport cycling. Not a great pub, and they weren't prepared for forty cyclists dropping in together. Poor single-handed barman did a sterling job, however, and they had Bulmers which is about the best of the ciders you can get on tap around here.

So - a good week all round but slightly tiring. Hope it has an impact going forwards.

ps. Apologies for any archaic turn of phrase. Heather is listening to The Well at the World's End while I write.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nuvinci - Installation Notes

A few notes from fitting my new wheel with the Nuvinci hub and its controller.
  1. Fitting the wheel itself was pretty straightforward, but having to use a 21mm wrench to tighten the drive-side nut was a nuisance. There was room to get my adjustable spanner in for a first try, as I didn't have a 21mm, but I bought one for future use. Couldn't find a nice light one, and they don't come as standard on cyclists' multi-tools.
  2. The controller takes up quite a bit of handlebar space. I ended up buying a new set of brake levers, as the ones I was replacing had a fitting for gear levers which prevented a snug fit. I got long levers to reach past the controller. (Interestingly, the LBS produced a set of Sachs 5000 levers in yellowing packaging. They must have sat on the shelf for about 10 years! They feel great, and much better than the money would have bought me in 'new' components.)
  3. The controller sticks up quite high as well, which means that when I flip the bike to work on it I scratched the finish. Not a major, but a shame when I did it before the controller ever hit the road.
  4. Very few bikes are likely to have fittings for dual rear gear cables. This was my first go at picking a cable path, and I felt uncertain about selecting the length to cut the sheathing to. Everything is stuck down with electrical tape for now, and seems to have worked out okay.
  5. Put quite a bit of slack in the adjuster screws at the controller end before fitting the cables. I almost got stuck with slightly too-tight cables that made it hard to fit the pulleys into the housing. It took me 15 minutes to ease them in without losing any loops from the cable that was round around the outer pulley.
  6. Don't cut short the wires until just before putting the cover on the controller. That seems convenient to do once you've got each wire positioned, but limits your options if you're having trouble fitting everything together. It also exposes your fingers to more sharp bits.
No pictures, sorry, as I got all absorbed in my work and my hands were very dirty.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Continuously Varying Single-Speed

Our flatmate is away, and I've had the luxury of littering the carport with bicycle components. Yesterday I dragged out my brother-in-law's old bike1 from under the house and fitted in the NuVinci hub I ordered in October2. I haven't had time to install the gear controller, so it functions as a single speed with a knob on the back to change the ratio whenever you care enough to hop off and do so. It seems that without the controller installed the adjustment screw slowly turns while you ride and the going gets harder, hence the 'Continuously Varying' label.

In order to fit the hub I had to respace the frame to 135mm from 126. This turned out to be really easy -- so easy that my first effort was too strong and I had to adjust it back some. The spectre of getting this part wrong has held me back from getting started when I only had a short period to work in, so I was particularly pleased with myself when I had done it. I tried to use the string method Sheldon Brown describes for checking that the two sides are adjusted evenly, but found it hard to know if I was taking square measurements. I guess it gave me peace of mind that everything was near enough.

The hub went in easy enough, although the drive side nut is quite unusual. There is a disk mounted on the outside3, then inside that is the nut which you would expect to see. Unfortunately the nut is a 21mm fitting, so I didn't have a proper spanner and had to use my adjustable. I'll have to buy a tool, as I don't want to carry the heavy wrench around in case the wheel needs to be adjusted.

Needless to say I'll let you know when I've had a chance to wire in the controller and give the hub a proper try.

[Update - After riding this setup to work today, I can report that the self-adjustment mostly happens when you apply a lot of torque. That makes sense, I guess. Unfortunately it means that just when I'm working hard to top a rise the gearing gets even harder on me! Hopefully I can fit the controller on Wednesday, which is Waitangi Day.]

  1. This bike was probably last ridden in 1991! Heather remembers trying to use it as a fallback in 1996 and finding it unrideable. The rear wheel was dead (but I didn't need that) and the brake pads are as worn as they must have been 16 years ago, but other than the abundant superficial rust it is quite rideable. And people throw their old bikes out...
  2. I received the hub in November, had it built into a wheel just before Christmas, but wasn't able to collect it in time to do anything further during the break. I've been itching for a chance to play with it.
  3. It keeps the ratio adjustment knob from coming too far out, and the controller latches to it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Immigration: increasingly important to me

Another link from Free Exchange - this one on a topic that troubles me more and more. I repeatedly ponder why I have a highly paid job in NZ that is inaccessible to the other kids I grew up with in Koksamrong.


Via Free Exchange I found yet another article considering the enormous challenge of meeting climate change stability targets. I agree with their opening point that efficiency will be the key issue, but I think that there is more than one facet to being efficient.
  • Carbon-efficient power generation is all the article considers. This will be important, and we can probably make a lot of progress in that area. They focus on electricity generation, but we all know that efficient burning car engines etc will also matter.
  • Efficient use of the generated power will also be important. Think car engines again, but also using other forms of transportation when a car's peculiar attributes are not required. Technology will move us forward here, but pricing (economically and/or socially) will help to make people aware of when they are choosing the inefficient option from the array of 'green' technology to hand.
  • Unless the above work far better than expected, we're still going to have to make choices about what is really important to us. Expect pricing to feature again here, to help us determine what pursuits will efficiently achieve our key goals. Put differently, the up side of scarcity is clearer thinking about what we really want. So long as the scarcity is in luxuries this can be seen as good (if rather bracing). Unfortunately some of us will certainly retain the freedom to choose luxuries while others will be pushed to meet their most essential needs.
Heather and I are quite optimistic that a sustainable lifestyle can be devised which is truly enjoyable, but think it will require a shake-up that few are talking about at present. It could be quite healthy for us in the affluent 'West'/'North'.

p.s. We have just returned from a holiday weekend on Waiheke Island, where it proved really useful to have a car available for getting to/from the further-than-expected beach. On the other hand, as Dad and I paddled a rented kayak through the wake of various launches I pondered the ratio between the vastly greater resources required by a launch and the extra happiness it generated compared to our exertions.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New(ish) Toys 2 - Frame Lock

Yesterday I rode my fixie to work, as I wanted to swim first and it locks up easiest. Not only doesn't it have a derailleur hanger to get caught in the horrible wheel-bending parking slots, but it has a simple frame-lock attached.

The lock is always on the bike, and the key stays in it while it is unlocked. All I have to do is swing the lever through the wheel, line it up slightly (cheap model) and push it home. Since I ride in normal shorts I almost always have a pocket for the key. The security wouldn't be sufficient for parking at university, or in many cities, but I consider it good enough for our suburban pool. The lock really comes into its own at the dairy, where it often takes me longer to place and remove a cable lock than I spend in the store.

Mum scored me this lock from China, as they seem hard to come by in NZ. They were common on the bikes I knew as a kid in Thailand--at least the adults' bikes. This model has a weak connection point, which doesn't compromise its effectiveness as a lock but does mean that it bends away from the seat stays and hits my heels if I don't tape it down. My only complaint, however, is that I don't have one for each bike.

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Toys 1 - Homemade Trailer

Late last year I finally got around to painting the trailer which I had welded together at a night class (read club for men without sheds) in the first half of the year. I'd been toying with having it powder coated, but that was too expensive. It was supposed to be cheaper than a bought one, even with the cost of the night class counted in. Galvanising seemed like a great proposition, until I learned how many drainage holes I'd have to drill before they'd go near the thing. So finally I bought a can of Hammerite and painted it by hand. It was actually fairly easy, but I put it on a bit thick. Choosing a hammered copper finish probably didn't help with that as it didn't go on uniformly and I was perpetually uncertain what coverage I had achieved. The paint seems to be holding, however, and I have plenty left after cautiously upsizing to 250ml.

I had planned to make a canvas bed, but was so pleased with the two bamboo garden stakes I lashed on for my first trial that I'm sticking with them. I hope to get some flattish segments from a neighbour's large bamboo offcuts to make good cross-wise supports, but the scrounged wooden cross-pieces pictured hold up if I don't hit bumps too hard.

My course finished before I got another bar on the front to stop cargo sliding forwards. This conveniently allows me to put heavy loads right at the front where there are more structural supports underneath. Presumably this dramatically increases the tongue weight and makes the bike work harder, but it gets the goods where they need to go.

The trailer rides quite comfortably. I have it hooked up to an old, upright bike which is fairly heavy itself. The two parts look good together, and I think that the bike engenders a suitable riding style for the trailer.

The trailer hitches to the rear axle. Consensus on the internet seemed to be that axle mounts ride better than hitching to the seat post, and so far it has ridden nicely for me. I did get shunted by the trailer until I tightened the connecting pin really firmly into the trailer arm. On the other hand, Aaron, who I got trailer plans from, has switched to seat mounting because it gives him a better handle for trundling into supermarkets etc.

I do recommend Aaron's plans. They were easy to work with, although he suggested using galvanised materials which makes for terrible nasty fumes during welding.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Twice in one day

Once you get the habit...

Just to let my devoted readers know that I've posted a first entry on a thematic blog about the many and varied uses of Oil. Heather and I find that everybody talks about running out of oil to drive cars (and maybe heating houses), but who wants to live without all those other oil-based products? [Basically anything 'synthetic' - H interjects] She is trained as an industrial chemist, so is rather more aware than me on the topic. Should learn something.

I used to read a blog called "Oil is for Sissies" (now defunct), but we wanted a more positive slogan. Still looking for something catchy, as oil turns out to be everywhere.

[Okay, so this makes thrice. But only twice here, so still good.]

Giving Up

No, I haven't given up on blogging. I have been stopped up by needing to report on Taupo, and at the end of my Christmas break I'm squeezing in the planned report. Hopefully that'll free me up to give you more reports later.

So, anyway, I did give up at Taupo. I completed the back half of the course - the vast majority of hills - in 4 hours, pretty much as hoped. Unfortunately my victory was phyrric in nature and after taking a long break and limping through to the 3/4 mark I called it quits there. That was about the 7:40 mark, so I'd have been a late, late finisher had I continued. There was mostly flat left, but a decent headwind had come up and I didn't have any strong commitments to draw me on. So I got a lift with the truckie who was just finishing dismantling the final relay station.

Next morning I felt right as rain - it was certainly a fuel problem not any set of muscles giving out. My computer showed a steady 19km/h for on-bike time, but obviously my stops had become too frequent. It certainly hurt most that I'd given up, which is an unfamiliar feeling. Normally I don't commit myself into such stretching challenges, so haven't felt the bitterness for a while. I'm proud that I beat the hilly bit, and still mostly convinced that I didn't have any clear drivers to push myself too far on what was supposed to be a 'respite' weekend, but I'm still niggled by the idea of going back and completing this time.

If I do keep riding then first I want to ride something closer to home. No sense in driving 4 hours to ride your bike. (Or in hitching lifts and getting friends to transport your kit so you don't get your bike back until Christmas day!) I should probably also train more. The fixie will probably be on hold for a while as I aim to get a test bed for the Nuvinci (now built into a wheel and waiting at my LBS), which may be more sensible given how hilly the local rides are.

I have made a New Year's resolution - don't mix respite with such strenuous activity. That whole weekend so exhausted me physically and mentally (taking into account squeezing in packing etc) that I didn't recover until the Christmas rush was well on top of me. It was good to have had a crack at, though. Sadly I didn't get any work people along, which had been what originally drew me into it.

There was a late-minute plan to do a commuting promotion, which didn't come off. Am considering what we can do for the local Bike the Bays in March.

That's probably all I need to say. I did take a voice recorder around with me and when I figure out the uploading you can hear firsthand how exhausted I was.

Happy New Year.