Roving Thoughts


My summer rain gear (for biking)

In much of the year, rain gear for biking is simple and obvious. You just cover yourself with reasonably breathable waterproof gear (jacket, pants, shoe covers, and helmet cover) and you're done. In the heat of summer this approach or downsized variants of it doesn't work; with conventional gear (even just a jacket with all its vents open), your choices are getting wet from the rain or getting wet from your own sweat as you cook inside your jacket. One popular summer option is to just shrug and get wet from the rain. Unfortunately this isn't really suitable for commute riding, at least for me, because all too often it involves getting totally, utterly soaked and having whatever I'm wearing be clammy and soggy.

My current approach is the following gear:

  • Sandals instead of shoes, so that I don't have to worry about them getting soaked. Both sandals and my feet dry out very easily, which isn't true of normal shoes; if normal shoes get soaked, they may still be sodden the next day.

    (Before I switched to sandals, I had this happen to me. Biking the next day in still-sodden shoes was not a great experience.)

  • A helmet cover, in part to keep water from dripping directly onto my glasses (and eyes). I'd like to avoid putting a helmet cover over my helmet because it means I have to do without my helmet lights, but so far I haven't found any other way to keep enough rain out of my eyes (my summer helmet's visor doesn't do it on its own).

    (I've may try wearing a cycling cap under my helmet in the hope that the cap's visor will do the job.)

  • A storm poncho (aka rain cape); my current one is an inexpensive one from Sierra Designs that I picked up in a local bike shop at one point. The storm poncho is the most important piece of gear, because it's what keeps most of me dry without drowning me in sweat. However, there's a trick here.

A storm poncho by itself will leave you at least as sweaty as a regular waterproof jacket, because it's no better ventilated (in fact it's likely to be worse). So the trick is to gather up the front of the poncho and hold it up on the handlebars. This keeps the front plastic away from your body and functions as a big air scoop to keep cooling you. Of course I can't go very fast like this, but so what; I'm commuting in the rain (sometimes very strong rain), so I'm fine with being slow.

My experience is that this trick only really works on my commuter bike, which has riser bars. My other bike has drop handlebars and my one attempt to use the storm poncho there was best described as 'extremely awkward'; it was not really a success. My current approach is to not go on weekend group rides in the summer if rain is too likely, and otherwise to just live with maybe getting soaked if we get unlucky.

A storm poncho worn on the bike won't shield my lower legs (or feet), but that's okay; it's summer and I'm wearing shorts. My bare legs can get as wet as they want and they'll dry right off. Similarly I only care about keeping the rain off my upper arms (where my shirt is), not my bare forearms, which the storm poncho leaves mostly or entirely exposed.

(People who wear sleeveless tops here don't even have to care about their upper arms.)

(This elaborates on a tweet I made after a recent rainstorm ride.)

SummerRainGear written at 20:43:16; Add Comment


A brief navigation-focused review of the Garmin Edge 820

My bike club has been going paperless for some years now, increasingly shifting from printed cuesheets to having GPS route maps from ridewithgps be the authoritative version of a ride. I've been a paper holdout but this clearly wasn't tenable for ever, and so recently I decided to deal with the issue by getting a GPS unit. After a bunch of reading on the Internet, I ended up buying a Garmin Edge 820. The short version of this review is that I wound up returning it as somewhere between 'unreliable' and 'unfit for (this) purpose'.

As both a rider in club rides and a ride leader, the most important thing for me is that my GPS unit provide easily usable and completely reliable turn by turn directions for following RWGPS routes exactly. If it isn't completely reliable all of the time, I can't trust it and I need a paper cuesheet as a backup and a cross-check. Although the Edge 820 has many nice features and can do this some of the time and on some routes, it doesn't do this all of the time and I wound up deciding that its failures were sufficiently common that I couldn't live with them and would be perpetually frustrated with my 820 if I kept it.

The 820 has two sources of turn by turn directions: onboard Turn Guidance, which the unit calculates itself (quite slowly) from your route and its own maps, and .tcx Course Points from suitably exported RWGPS routes. Turn Guidance is easily usable, with clearly readable turn alerts that pop up well in advance of the turn, but not reliable; sometimes it will stop (especially if you have to go off route for 'too long'), sometimes it will try to send you off the route, and sometimes it will give you bizarre directions like 'Turn Left into Trail' instead of 'Turn Left to street <X>' (sometimes it will combine these). TCX Course Points are completely reliable (as far as I saw) but not easily usable; the Edge 820 shows them in a much smaller font that's hard for me to read and doesn't pop them up in advance of the actual course point.

(RWGPS has an inadequate hack semi-workaround for the 'no advance alert' issue.)

There are plenty of good things about the 820; I really liked having the during-ride data it could present to me, it did so in a way that's customizable and flexible and far more readable than my basic wired bike computer, it's nice to have the ride track and related data to look at later, and so on. And it had good battery life; I did roughly eight hours of riding (with breaks) and wound up at 65% battery left. There were also other frustrations and flaws and things I didn't entirely like (the map display used colours in a way that wasn't all that easily readable in bright sunlight, for example). But the killer issue was that I couldn't trust the turn by turn navigation, and that wound up trumping everything else.

(When Turn Guidance worked it was great; I could completely tune out from remembering the next turn and keeping an eye out for it and tracking where on the route we were, and just be riding away heads-up and seeing the scenery and so on. And it works great on certain sorts of rides.)

The Edge 820 also has a meta-problem, which is that Garmin is famously unresponsive to customer issues and that many or perhaps all of these navigation issues are not new in the 820; they are in fact long standing in many Garmin Edge products. Some Edge products have been worse (apparently some used to crash if your route crossed over itself, for example). All of this left me feeling that none of my issues were likely to be fixed in future firmware revisions, and in fact from stuff I read on the Garmin forums it sounded like some of the issues are intrinsic to Garmin's approach to calculating Turn Guidance directions.

(The story as I read it is that Garmins basically slice your route up into 300m or so segments and then do their own routing from the start to the end of each segment. If you are unlucky, there is an alternate path from the start to the end that the Garmin likes better than the actual route, and so the Edge will try to send you off down it. This matches the pattern that I saw in 'tries to send me off course' Turn Guidance failures. This is a somewhat weird approach, but it makes a peculiar kind of sense if you start with software that doesn't accept routes from outside and then hack in that feature later.)

Interested parties can peruse my thread on the Garmin Edge 820 forums about this.

(This review was sparked by @YoloPerdiem's request.)

Sidebar: The sorts of rides Turn Guidance is likely to work great on

Based on my experiences and readings, I think that Turn Guidance is mostly likely to work flawlessly on routes that basically don't double back on themselves or otherwise touch and where the turns are widely separated from any other roads or trails (and where you don't go off route because of surprise construction or whatever). The former situation seems to often confuse the Garmin, and the latter means that the Garmin can't misroute you because it has no other choice but the route's own turn. This happens to describe many of our rides out in the countryside, where the Garmin Edge 820 worked pretty well for me.

Unfortunately it doesn't describe city riding at all, and many of the club rides I go on and lead are city ones. Almost all of the really terrible turn by turn failures that I experienced were in city riding.

GarminEdge820BriefReview written at 19:44:42; Add Comment


Bike helmets are a distraction

It started on Twitter, where a conversation caused me to have a realization that's obvious in retrospect:

@cwage: so, B-cycle is awesome, but it occurred to me recently that it basically promotes people riding bikes in the city without a helmet. discuss.
@cwage: let me rephrase my earlier tweet: Nashville is not (yet) a bike friendly city. not enough infrastructure. not nearly enough bicyclist density
@cwage: thus, automobiles lack awareness, and B-cycle users are largely inexperienced riders. the combination (without helmets) is terrifying

@cks: @cwage I think the combination would still be terrifying even if the B-cycle riders wore helmets.
@cks: .@cwage Wearing a bike helmet is not a substitute for avoiding getting hit or crashing. It's just a minor safety boost if you do.

There is a lot of fuss made about people being irresponsible when they don't wear bike helmets and about how you need to wear a bike helmet to be really safe and so on. Some places have mandatory helmet laws, some places just strongly encourage it through social mechanisms (Toronto is the latter). Helmets may or may not increase your safety in practice for various reasons; there are serious arguments that they don't help once you take a total view (instead of focusing just on what happens once a cyclist gets hit).

But all of that misses the issue that I summarized in my last tweet: helmets are only a marginal improvement and if they do any good you're already in trouble. They're a consolation prize if you have an accident; you may be hurt but sometimes you'll be hurt less than if you hadn't been wearing a helmet. It's much more important not to have the accident in the first place. Getting people to wear helmets is something you think about after you've tried to keep them out of accidents in the first place. Someone who is wearing a helmet but riding unsafely or in a dangerous situation is much worse off than someone without a helmet who is riding in safety.

(This is especially bad if wearing a helmet has convinced the cyclist that they can ride more aggressively and less safely because now they have protection. Wrong (but very human).)

That's what I mean by helmets being a distraction. In practice the 'wear your helmet' advocacy has wound up causing people to focus on helmet wearing to the sad exclusion of keeping cyclists out accidents. Given limited resources, limited attention spans, and human psychology, we'd be much better off if people ignored helmets and focused on accident prevention.

(I understand the various reasons why people can't, including that it's very hard to pass up an obvious harm mitigation measure.)

HelmetDistraction written at 11:36:29; Add Comment


Bike parts I've replaced (as of 2013)

For no particular reason I feel like running down all of the bits of my bike that I've had to replace due to wear since 2006. Please note that I bike a lot. People who bike less will replace less stuff.

  • brake pads: repeatedly. They wear out.

  • the entire drivetrain (with the exception of the front derailer, it's still original): repeatedly. Chains (and gears) wear too.

  • tires, both front and rear (repeatedly). See the sidebar.

  • wheels, both front and rear. Although I don't do any extreme biking I seem to be very harsh on rear wheels; I've gone through at least five.

    (The death toll: two broken axles, two used enough that the rims started cracking around spokes, and at least one that just started breaking spokes too often.)

  • pedals (repeatedly): either the physical pedals got damaged (when I was using plastic pedals) or the bearings inside the pedals got too worn. I've had two pedals actually break, with the pedal falling off; fortunately both times happened on commute rides with bike stores open and nearby.

  • brake and shifter cables. The most memorable time was when my rear shifter's cable snapped, immediately dumping me into an inconvenient gear. Fortunately it was on my commute ride.

  • pedal crank arms (I forget why).

  • the actual brake arms (sometimes called calipers): these have springs inside (to force them open when you release the brake levers). Mine seize up sooner or later.

  • the bottom bracket. This was replaced as part of chasing something else but really, it was time; it had apparently basically rusted into place.

  • the headset. The bike came with an adjustable headset (that I never adjusted the angle on); eventually the adjustable joint basically broke. It was replaced by a perfectly good non-adjustable headset which I expect to last forever.

  • the (add-on) rear rack. If I remember right, a welded joint eventually separated.

Surprisingly I haven't replaced the bike seat. It's still the original, although it's definitely getting a bit worn by now.

(I think that's everything. If I remember something else I'll update this entry.)

Sidebar: my experience with bike tires

For most of the time since 2006 I've replaced tires when they started to get too many flats. A few years ago I wound up with midrange Continental tires (I believe one step below Touring Plus's), which I've now replaced merely because they looked like they were getting too worn; my rear tire actually wore the tread pattern completely away without, I believe, basically any flats. I currently have Touring Plus's on both front and rear so I'll have some opinions on them in a few years.

In general, either I've had very good luck with my tires or I've got much more relaxed standards of when to replace them because my tires seem to last much longer than most people's. For the front and rear Continentals I replaced this year, the rear lasted over 10,000 kms (carrying a relatively heavy load, since I keep lots of stuff in my panniers) and the front likely ran over 15,000 km. This seems to be well over the usual distance ratings.

BikePartsReplaced2013 written at 16:04:14; Add Comment


My bike gloves for cold rain (as of winter 2012)

As a minor update to my previous entry on gloves, I have since gotten some neoprene paddling gloves for biking in cold rain (as I planned at the time). Specifically I got the MEC Humboldt 2mm gloves. They have been a complete success in this role.

Initially I thought that the gloves would be too cold (since they seem to be only partially neoprene with some thinner, more cloth-like lining at the sides of the fingers) but in actual use they've turned out to be more than warm enough for my commute riding. If anything they're a little bit too warm when it's warmer (for example, if it's 10 C and raining). They do get wet in the rain but they stay warm; if anything, they sometimes feel warmer when wet than when dry.

(Note that I don't go on extended rides when it's cold and raining.)

(The other MEC gloves I looked at turned out to have been replaced by the Humboldt gloves, which will undoubtedly be replaced by another version at some time. The 3mm Humboldt was substantially more awkward and less comfortable than the 2mm version when I tried it on, and given how warm the 2mm Humboldt is I suspect the 3mm would be significant overkill for me.)

GlovesWinter2012 written at 23:39:00; Add Comment


A review of the Filzer dZ4L bike computer

This may be a good bike computer for someone, but it certainly isn't one for me. My experiences with two units have been negative.

My first dZ4L lasted only a few weeks after I bought it; it failed to survive a relatively modest Toronto autumn rain. As far as I can see, this is intrinsic in the design of the computer; the transparent plastic top seems to be simply pressed very firmly on the main unit, not sealed. This is basically tailor made for capillary action around the edges, so once you've got enough water exposure the water starts being drawn up the sides and into the main display area where it mists up the screen and then gets into the electronics. Result: dead unit.

After a year of more or less reliable operation out of the rain, my second dZ4L is now frequently failing to register wheel motion, resulting in either much too low speed readings or a total glitch. This appears to be due to the plastic mount warping (and expanding in the summer heat; hotter weather makes it worse and cooler weather makes it more reliable) so that it no longer firmly holds the computer against the mount contacts. It can simply stop working on its own, plus even small bumps seem quite prone to jarring it just loose enough. Rapping or pressing the computer into the mount can temporarily make it register again, but it's far from reliable and rather frustrating. Trying to use a map case or anything that rests near the mount on the handlebars is troublesome, because it seems very easy for a velcro strap or whatnot to put just enough pressure on the computer or the mount to let things come lose; even a very light touch can be enough.

I find this really unfortunate. The dZ4L's four line display is by far the best information display of any bike computer that I've seen, but a bike computer that periodically glitches out and drastically under-reports speed when I go over even a minor road bump is not a bike computer, it's an unattractive handlebar ornament.

(I may some day put this on the MEC website, where I bought my dZ4L.)

DZ4LReview written at 14:07:43; Add Comment


My bike gloves as of spring 2011

I bike in all weather conditions. As a result, I have a whole lot of bike gloves (and gloves that I use when I bike), and I'm often looking for better gloves. Because I feel like keeping track of this, here's my current list with notes about when I use them.

In order of decreasing temperature ranges:

basic MEC fingerless bike gloves
These are my warm weather gloves, say around 20C and upwards. I used to use the MEC commuter cycling gloves but last year switched to the 'road' gloves, which have less padding, and I think they work better with my very comfortable Ergon grips.

(I have very comfortable grips, so in the summer I wear gloves mostly to keep my hands from slipping with sweat (and partly to keep the grip pattern from printing itself on my palms). Padding is not necessary for this and seems to actually get in the way and make things less comfortable.)

basic MEC full-fingered gloves
Intermediate cool weather gloves for temperatures in the mid and low teens, especially on group bike rides. These are what I'll call 'skin' gloves, with no actual warm materials used in their construction.

(I'd give the MEC brand name, but MEC keeps changing things around.)

'Netti' mid-weight gloves
Cool weather gloves for the low teens and upper single digit temperatures. Unlike the MEC gloves they have some actual warmth and insulation, but not large amounts (and the side of the fingers are vented, which lets the cold air in).

I got these at Urbane Cycle, and they appear to no longer be in production. So it apparently goes with bike gear that I buy.

thin but insulated Castelli gloves
Cold weather gloves for around 0C; I believe they have some fleece lining. These are thin enough to be fully dexterous; I can comfortably use my DSLR while wearing them, for example, with only minimal fumbling.

I bought these at MEC a couple of years ago as the best cold weather gloves they had at the time, and they were okay for that but they are not really warm enough for serious sub-zero temperatures.

I can't remember the Castelli name for them but it probably doesn't matter since it looks like they're out of production anyways. There's a theme here.

Castelli Pioggia gloves
Cold weather gloves for sub-zero weather. These are much more insulated than my thinner Castelli gloves above, but significantly thicker and thus less dexterous (although they are still decent for this). They rapidly get too hot at above-zero temperatures.

In theory they have a waterproof liner layer, but I have never used them in the rain to put this to the test. If it worked it would be great; cold rain is one of the things that I don't have a good set of gear to deal with yet.

I bought these at MEC this fall as an attempt to get better gloves for sub-zero weather, and they have been a resounding success at this; they are actively comfortable in such weather, instead of merely sort of tolerable and survivable.

MEC 'lobster' style cycling gloves
I haven't yet biked in weather conditions cold enough to force me into these, possibly because I stop biking when the roads are covered with snow, ice, and slush. The few times I wore these (before I had the Pioggias), I found them not entirely warm enough without liner gloves.

I have some additional gloves that don't neatly fit into temperature ranges:

basic leather gloves with a light inner layer for warmth
These are currently my 'cold rain' gloves, because they're the only thing I have that is both reasonably waterproof and sort of warm enough. Before I got the Pioggias they were also my really cold weather gloves when worn with liner gloves; they were better than the lighter Castellis but not as comfortable as the Pioggias.

basic MEC polypro liner gloves
I used (and use) these for additional warmth underneath my leather gloves and the MEC lobster gloves. I can't remember if I tried using them with the lighter weight Castelli gloves, but I suspect that there wouldn't have been enough room.

I have read a fair amount of praise for neoprene paddling gloves as cold weather rain gloves, so I intend to get a pair when MEC gets them back into stock and experiment. I believe that MEC also sells waterproof shells, but when I looked at them in the fall none of them looked really attractive.

(The leading paddling glove candidate is the MEC CyclPad 3mm gloves, with the MEC Catch Neoprene gloves as a second option. The MEC Humboldt gloves in 2mm and 3mm are new enough to not have real reviews.)

Sidebar: other cold weather gear I swear by

  • a basic MEC fleece cycling headband. This is just the thing to keep my ears warm on cool days, and keeping my ears warm turns out to make me much more comfortable.

  • a basic MEC fleece skull cap thing, with ear covers; I wear this under my helmet in subzero temperatures. MEC has cycling specific ones, but I believe mine comes from their general cold weather gear because I didn't like any of their cycling-specific ones at the time that I was looking a few years ago.
GlovesSpring2011 written at 00:26:11; Add Comment


The novelty of frozen brakes

A disconcerting novelty happened to me a few weeks ago: my front brakes froze solid. As far as I can tell, I mean that literally; not just that they seized up, but that they seized up because they were frozen. As you might imagine, it was more than a bit disconcerting to squeeze the front brake lever and have it have no give at all, especially since the front brakes are the more powerful ones where you do most of your braking.

(This is not always the case for me, but that's another entry. Someday.)

My best theory on what happened is that in previous days some water had worked its way onto the brake cable and into the front cable housing (perhaps from spray thrown up by passing cars) and had not drained away. When I took the bike out in sub-zero temperatures with significant windchill, the water froze and locked the cable and the ferrule together. Exposing things to warmth and working the front brakes improved the situation by melting things a bit and breaking the binding action, although they were not entirely better.

Ah well, winter biking can be interesting. (If it was easy and painless, everyone would do it.)

FrozenBrakes written at 21:15:52; Add Comment


How to help bicyclists #1: don't do us any special favours

Let us suppose that you are a well meaning driver who wants to help out bicyclists, but you don't bicycle yourself (or at least not anywhere where you're sharing the road with cars) so you don't have direct experience to draw on. So, what can you do to help?

Paradoxically, one of the best things that you can do to help is to not do us bicyclists any special favours; to treat bicyclists just as you would any other vehicle (which is what they legally are, at least here in Ontario).

The problem with doing bicyclists special favours is that it makes you unpredictable, and bicyclists really want cars to be predictable. When a car deviates from what we expect and what it should do, we have no idea what it's going to do next; we have to slow down and assume the worst, not because we think you're malicious but because we just don't know what's going on.

The corollary to this is that if you do want to do a bicyclist a favour, such as letting them turn left in front of you, it will help a lot if you do something obvious to signal that you're doing it deliberately. This converts your unpredictable behavior (inexplicably slowing down, for example) into predictable behavior; ah, you're generously letting them turn.

(PS: please don't be offended if the bicyclist doesn't give you much acknowledgement of such things. Generally the best I can do is to give you a brief thumbs up in thanks, because I am otherwise too busy with the mechanics of signaling, turning, and so on.)

NoFavoursPlease written at 01:35:08; Add Comment

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