Monday, November 9, 2009


Have to share: Off to a party on Saturday night, I cycled past two young lads tossing a ball back and forth on their way to the park. They spotted the Yuba's rack, and called for a lift as kids often do. For once I obliged, and carried them all of a block until our paths diverged. Don't know which of us had the biggest grin as I cycled off. :-)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Job

It's been a long time since I went to bed Sunday night feeling excited about work on Monday. My first week in a new job has started well, but slowly, and it was only on Friday that I started to learn what I needed for my main role. Can't wait to get on with it for real this week. So much happier.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One toe into the water

So I've finally got myself some bike shoes - and such classy ones!

Everybody says that you've gotta try them, and you'll be so much happier with your increased pedalling power. On the flip side, they're a big step into sport-cycling and cycle-specific clothing. I've been tossing it up for years, but recently BikeSkirt raised the question and then my LBS offered me second-hand pedals and shoes for a mere $55. I decided to take the punt, and put them on my sportiest ride: the fixie.

The shoes could be passable with a change of colour - I'm thinking of taking some boot black to them - but can expect to be replaced if the experiment works. The blue wash in the photo actually helps them, toning down the green suede around the laces. Maybe I'll onsell them to another tentative neophyte with suppressed fashion sense?

First impressions are mixed, but I'm having trouble finding the right positioning. Could partly be that the shoes are not my ideal fit, but we'll keep playing. Mostly I need to put some miles on, for experience and to see how the feet cope with many hours in the same position.

So far I've fallen off once (after getting half-way up the steepest point on the NW cycleway, which my legs/knees couldn't manage after months off the fixie). More impressive getting trapped in the shoes after failing to tighten the cleats enough. My shoes were happily rotating with my feet, so I had to unlace and step out while sitting in the saddle. Luckily I realised before I fell over in front of a line of traffic, so was able to pull onto the footpath and lean against a rubbish bin. Several busloads of commuters seemed to enjoy my little pantomime.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why I voted Yes

Why did I vote yes in NZ's current referendum on child discipline, related to last year's repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, commonly (if somewhat misleadingly) described as the anti-smacking bill?

In my opinion, NZ's good and responsible parents should abstain from any violence-based parenting tools in a communal response to the level of violence throughout our society. I base this opinion not on any inherent wrongness of smacking, but in light of NZ's attrocious patterns of violence and in the assurance from many reliable sources that effective alternate parenting tools are available. We need all sectors of society to demonstrate that violence is not the only (nor even the best) way to get the job done.

Much internet debate (such as there has been, since most have estimated that this referendum will have little practical impact) has focussed on the legitimacy of smacking, but I consider that a distraction. As my great-grandparent's generation took the pledge to refrain from alcohol in response to
it's prevailing social impact, so we need to respond to the destruction surrounding us rather than argue about the propriety of a quiet tipple of fine wine in the privacy of our own homes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Underbike Lighting - Construction Details

How to get the fun and safety factors of the Down Low Glow (DLG) without spending too much? Here's what worked for me.

LED Ribbon

A couple of years ago a colleague heavily into car audio (and thus close to the boy-racer scene) recommended a then-new product - waterproof led ribbon - that has finally started turning up on TradeMe. Turns out that ribbon strips are super easy to use. They can be cut every few cm (3 leds on mine) and have clear soldering pads which are easily exposed by trimming a couple mm off the plastic casing. (It felt like cutting through a firm gummy-bear, but without the guilt factor.) Each block is wired in parallel to the others, so you can cut or append with ease.

Each block has the necessary resistors etc., so you just need to hook up a 12V power source such as a lead-acid car battery. If you put the power through the wrong way they just do nothing, rather than blowing up. Finally, the self-adhesive backing which they all seem to come with worked really well.

Few electrical safety precautions are required with low current 12V dc. You can just pinch the wires together between your bare fingers for testing, for example. I did put in a fuse to make sure that the battery couldn't be shorted, and built some basic weather protection.


I bought 1m of green ribbon, pre-cut into 2x50cm strips and wired on one end, and two 30cm offcuts of red. All fully waterproof, so long as you seal off the ends after soldering on your wiring. I chose green as it was the brightest colour available from my supplier.

The red off-cuts were super-cheap and I thought some extra rear visibility wouldn't hurt. They were an older, dimmer model (leds get brigher ever day, it seems) but that was okay as they face directly at drivers and the blinky served for initial long-distance visibility. Conveniently their black presentation was more suited to exposed placement than the green strips.

My friend, Glenn, lent me a spare neon car tube and two sealed lead-acid batteries. One never charged back up, so awaits the next hazardous waste collection, but the other is working sweetly. It should give me about 5 hours, but isn't in perfect health and I'd be happy with 2. Frankly, I rarely ride for hours in the dark - mostly commuting, not the PBP. I charge the battery with a Battery Doc which I bought when I had a motorbike.


I exposed the other end of each green strip and soldered on the wires from a red strip. To provide weather protection I put shrink-wrap over the connection. There was never much space between the end of the strip and the first led, and wrap wide enough to fit over the strip didn't shrink enough to really grip the wires, but it seems to be working okay. I tried putting wrap on the 'open' ends of the red strips, to seal them off, but it didn't stick so well without the wire and I left it off.

Then I peeled off the backing tape, wiped down the mounting surfaces, and stuck each pair down. Simple as that. I put electrical tape over the 'open' red ends, to seal them and to hold that end down. I wasn't sure if the ribbon would adhere to the tubing, but the tubes are fairly wide and it seems to be working. The green strips had shrink wrap forcing up both ends of each strip, but was placed under a flat surface and seems to be gripping well.

The blue neon went on the down tube, just taped on. This light is possibly illegal, as NZ car lighting regulations require that you can't directly see cosmetic lights. (That's partly why I put the green ones underneath running boards, not just on the rear wing tubing, although they'd soon enough get crunched against a curb if I put them there.) The tube is pretty heavily frosted, so I'm not worried that it will blind a driver or anything, and who knows exactly what regulations apply to bikes.

I brought the three sets of wires, from front neon and left and right green/red pairs, to a single point on the frame near where the battery would go. Then I taped it all down - not super beautiful, but effective enough.

Battery and Circuitry

I built a simple case out of coroplast for the battery. I'd wanted some experience with this material, and learned a few things. The lid has no fastening, but sits pretty snugly around the base. I built the base taller than the battery, so that there was room to put in the wiring. It took a bit of practise to figure out how much allowance to make for the curvature/thickness of bends in the board.

The base box is held together with packing tape and has no overlapping surfaces. Very basic, but not much required either. The lid has overlaps, and I found that I got a strong join by cutting off the inner surface of the overlap and applying hot glue. Probably didn't need to cut off the inner surface, but that way the overlaps are flatter. I had read about 'welding' the plastic with a soldering iron, but couldn't make that work.

I wanted to be able to to swap out the battery pretty easily, so have connected to it using alligator clips. First thing connected to the positive terminal is a fuse, then there is a switch toggling between connections to the leds and the charger. The negative line just joins directly to those two connections.

Both sets of connections come out the back of the box, threaded between the lid and base. I put one extra loop of wire around the cable-ties holding the box on the frame, just to keep my options open, then soldered the wires from the battery box to those from the lights. Passing the charger connection above the cable tie seems to have kept it away from the tubing and prevented banging.

Now I plug my bike in every day when I get home, like I used to do with my motorbike. (The main charger unit sits on the rack of a Raleigh 20 which hangs from the carport roof in the forlorn hope of refurbishment.)


Overall, I'm stoked. The light cushion is nice to ride on and I feel more visible on the road. Too soon to say if I get more road space, but I've had some positive feedback from passersby.

The neon is good for side visibility, but isn't as bright as I might like. It takes about the same power as one of the green strips, so is less efficient (no surprise). I could perhaps replace it with some leds, but would probably still want to diffuse the light in some way. I don't know that the green leds throw out as much light as the DLG, but then I could always add more leds. Not for a while, though.

So far I've spent NZD$80.20, but that doesn't include the blue neon, battery, or charger. Most expensive of those is probably the charger, but with a basic model charger and battery I'd still have some money to play with. My battery is probably heavier and cheaper, but the Yuba was never a weight weenie.

There's also the pleasure in making my own system, which I can alter as I please. Definitely worth the trouble taken.

On a Technicolour Cloud

After a trial run at the May Critical Mass, my new bike lights had their maiden voyage (appropriately enough) on the way in to a public consultation on NZ's 2020 carbon emissions commitment. Inspired by Rock the Bike's Down Low Glow, I've attached some led strip lights under my running boards and down the back carrier support. A friend lent me a standard 'neon' car tube as well, so I've thrown that on the down tube.

In case you can't tell, the first photo is the view from my saddle, taken with my phone. It felt a bit wierd in the darker segments of the ride, glancing down and seeing an ethereal cloud in place of mundane concrete. Not to mention the blow glow on my feet. The light kept grabbing my attention at the bottom of little dips, when the bike shifts up and the pool of colour races forward into my peripheral vision.

Construction details will come in time, but here's a front and rear shot taken in the bike shed at work.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On crossing the Harbour Bridge

Yes, of course I was there when cyclists and pedestrians forced their way onto the AHB. I wasn't ready to push past the cops, but neither was I so opposed to the idea that I didn't cross once I saw that thousands of others were pouring over.

Sorry, but that's the best shot of me I got

It didn't surprise me that some people weren't deterred by the token police presence, but I was surprised by who went first. I had thought perhaps the fixies, or the more militant element who come to Critical Mass, but it was actually road racers who made the break. They tend to be wealthier, middle-aged men - a politically confident demographic who can be useful to have on your side. There are a lot of such men on the North Shore, and Shore people have a lot to gain from easier bridge access since so many regional jobs are South of the bridge.

Lots of friends were there to enjoy the moment with, although on the bridge itself I got drawn away in the crowds and found myself alone. I bumped into JayJay from the HandlebraEasyRiders again (pictured), and briefly met Antoine from IBikeNZ.

Politically, the demonstration triggered mixed publicity. Negative reports focussed on held up motorists and chaos spreading back through the traffic lanes, although we were able to spread the question of why Transit forced us onto the central lanes and stopped all traffic instead of working with us to keep two lanes open (ample for the Sunday morning traffic flow) and mitigate their concerns about pedestrians on the clip-ons. Letters to the editor were consumed with how the little children were learning that their parents thought it okay to break the law - as if law and order were a fragile binary state.

On the positive side, we raised a lot of awareness of the importance of the bridge to both cyclists and pedestrians. Certainly how strongly we felt about it, but also how critical that point of the network is to getting places. The issue became one for pedestrians as well as (those crazy) cyclists, and having children and elderly involved made it harder to call us a niche interest. Perhaps best of all, Transit's "plan" to provide access in 30 years was publically derided as a nonsense and they come over as intransigent in the face of extended prior negotiation for even a commemorative celebration.

Of course, they're still the ones we need to keep working with, so I don't know how the relationship will go now. That was the big concern holding me back - were negotiations so dead that they could only get better? It seemed probable, but I wasn't yet certain.

Overall, I'm glad we did it, and so glad I made the effort to be there just in case. Being on the bridge was much more emotional than I had expected. I heard my voice cracking as I called home to report where we were. Looking back, the emotion came partly from the excitement of the moment - anticipation, rebuff, and then breaking onto the bridge certainly made for a striking morning - but also from hope momentarily fulfilled echoing into strengthened desire for the future.

Sam was pretty stoked, too!

Frosty Morning

Today we had the first frost of the year. We don't get many, so I whipped off my woolen glove and snapped a couple of photos on my phone. Above is the shared use path alongside Great North Road, looking back towards home. I have once (in summertime), seen rabbits playing on the edge of the grass here.

It is unclear whether cycles are supposed to use the path going downhill (see how the arrow only points uphill), but I use it fairly regularly depending on where the four lanes of traffic offer a gap to cross. At the bottom of the (lengthy) descent the path joins the NW Cycleway, which crosses Gt. N. Road on an overbridge. On Sunday I spoke with a new neighbour who has been doubling back to join the path before the bridge, but crossing on my own further up the hill works far better for me. Recent plans to improve/complete cycle facilities on this busy road were scotched, perhaps because they weren't very satisfactory to anybody. There is now a plan to put a six-lane motorway underneath the existing four-lane road, and so somewhere in the (re)construction process we ought to get improved cycle space - still waiting for any decent details on the motorway, though.

Below is a view off to the left where the Oakley Creek gully cuts through.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Running Boards

The highlight of my respite weekend was making running boards for the Yuba in my pastor's shed. I wanted running boards because my sack of onions often falls mostly through by the time I get it home from the market, but it actually happened because it's a pre-requisite for a future project. There is a downside risk that I can't put the wheel of another bike through the wings when towing like I used to, but I have a couple of options if that really proves troublesome. I do like the increased visibility (and always wanted the red model anyhow).

My pastor generously donated a plywood offcut, and had the suitable tools for the job. I started by tracing the front and back curves of the sideloaders onto the wood, far enough apart to allow overlap for the clamps I attached it with (more on the clamps below). Conveniently the sideloaders have a long straight edge to align the ply against. After cutting the shapes out with a jigsaw, I found the band sander very useful for smoothing up the amateur-hour result and balancing the curves nicely.

I was surprised by how easy it was to get a passable shape. The front and rear of the sideloaders both have short straight sections on them, and I found it helped to establish them on the sander before working on the curves. With the straight edges established, I was able to smoothly transition from one to another, shaping the curve by the pace of rotation. It also helps not to lean too hard on the thing, taking longer but making mistakes less severe and easier to sand out.

Drilling the holes and painting were pretty straightforward, although one set of holes only just worked for me. The plywood surface cracked slightly when the bit emerged, so I drilled a small hole from the back where I'd marked the placement and then the full size hole from the front to the back. There was a similar problem when I tightened the bolts down hard and the plywood surface cracked a bit.

I attached these boards with basic u-shaped clamps. They were fairly simple to use, but I had a limited choice of sizes and the ones that weren't too large fit so tightly that I had to completely remove them to adjust their position slightly. They also cut somewhat into the layer of electrical tape I put on to protect what remains of the paintwork. I found that I had to use a longer screw on one end of each clamp, athough I could remove that after tightening everything up bent the clamp into submission. This is probably partly due to poor hole placement and partly to poor size matching.

My choice of clamp meant that I needed to leave overlap at the front and back. This works okay for me, but will probably cause occassional heel strike. It only happens when I let my heels sink as the pedal rises back up, which I think I do when I ease off after standing up. I've seen some running boards on Flickr (no time to find right now) which look like they are screwed directly into the tubing (which I'm nervous of) or possibly into single-bolt clamps which wrap right around the tube. Something you might want to consider if you're making your own.

The plywood we had to hand was only 150mm wide, but it seems to work nicely enough. The 12mm thickness looks to have provided sufficient strength; the long unsupported edge does flex a bit, but I expect the boards to stop things slipping through and provide comfortable foot placement rather than hold great weight at any one point. The wood was exterior grade, but lacked a nice finish (hence the effort to paint it). The paint is a simple water-based acrylic.

I'll try to update on how it's going after a period of genuine use - haven't even had it out on the roads yet, as I've reverted to my fixie for more intense cardio and (hopefully) fat burning.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Catching my breath

This weekend I took a respite, and boy did I need it. I'm supposed to take time off every 3 months, but went to China in November and then had an assignment that soaked up a week's holiday in Te Aroha in March/April. In between I've been pushing one commitment too many, and haven't had time for optional extras like blogging. Nor has there been much bike activity to blog about, although I did see a few bikes in China.

Back to the weekend... I read a bit of SF, and got a good start on Subverting Global Myths by Vinoth Ramachandra. Paul had recommended it, and the library helpfully got it in for us. Ramachandra is Sri Lankan, and writes from his experience working across Asia, but that is less prominent than I had expected.

On Saturday I rode out to Te Atatu with a friend to watch somebody I didn't know play soccer, and meet somebody else I didn't know - so nice to just do simple things. That evening a group of us popped into town to see the Town hall all lit up as a promotional event.

I also moved to a new level of comfort with some nearby friends who I stayed with. It was a bit strange being so close to home, but nice to be able to pop in for new jeans after sitting on the damp grass at the soccer. Thanks to all the friends from church who helped Heather while I was away, even when they saw me coming and going on the same street.

Hopefully I'll be back on my feet for a while, and you'll see a few more posts again.

Mea Culpa

Today I forgot to swap my front light onto the bike I rode to work, and then left my reflective vest hanging in the locker room as I set off for home. I'd worked a bit later, and a rainstorm came in, making it too dark to be on the road without lights.

As I rode past the zoo, a lady coming the other way realised she'd missed her street and did a 3-point u-turn. I would have been t-boned if I hadn't noticed and sped up, or if she'd come in faster and braked late and hard. I got a bit of a shock, but feel bad that she will have had one too. She slowed down and encouraged me to get some lights, but without the aggressiveness that you might expect from many drivers after such a fright.

I do have a second front light, but can't find it anywhere. Maybe it's time to face reality and get a new one.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dingle Cog Perfect for Polo

After months more of crazy buzy (and rocking fun) life, I was able to put Sunday afternoon aside for some Polo. It was just as much fun as last time (way back in October!), but I wasn't quite so incompetent and even managed to score a couple of goals and be on a winning team for the first time. We hope to play again in 2 weeks - check this thread if you'd like to join us.

Because I still ride the Surly Dingle Cog which I got as a precaution for riding Taupo in 2007, I was able to ride over in my normal gear (48:17) and then switch lower (42:21) for the play itself. This is the first real use I've found for the switchability (since I never get offroad), but it was a real winner. The lower gear gave me heaps more acceleration and (importantly) braking, so I could get there fast with less risk of horrendous collisions*. Having all that control gave me confidence to get in tight, so in the end I had more crashes not fewer. The astroturf surface also helped - not so bad to fall on as tarmac (and fun to skid between games).

Way back in October their was a photographer watching us, who turned out to be from Remix magazine. The following shot turned up on a double spread of 'scene' photos**, and he was good enough to make a copy available.
Afficionados will observe that I've just released my brake lever to free up my mallet hand - having a gear low enough to ignore the brake simplified everything. The guy in the black jacket and jeans is Alex, who helped setup

* I do run a brake, but it's on my mallet hand so it was good to forget about it.
** At a whopping 2" across, but there I am in print!