Wu Lai (烏來) Ride – April

Rode Wu Lai today – 50km in the mountains. It’s been a while. It rained from December right up to mid-March. I hate riding in the rain. Pictures come when I get a camera (soon).

Obviously my legs are numb now. Whole ride took 2.5 hours, pretty slow but that’ll get a lot better by next time. Almost got stuck on hills twice, trying to make it in the higher gears like I used to.

Wu Lai is a little town nestled in the mountains to the southeast of Taipei. It’s a very scenic area, a river runs far below in a canyon it has carved for itself between the hills, a waterfall falls at least 400m (this thing is really, really tall) to the river below. The mountains are covered in foliage, on a spring morning like today, they are awash in contrasting shades of green as trees put forth new leaves. Going all the way into town, you pass the big river that is a convergence of all the other mountain streams. It really is big. I’ll never forget the first time I crossed it, the sun was stuck behind a mountain, so most of the bridge over the river was in shadow. I rode out from behind the mountain, and it was like entering a different world. Everything was suddenly awash in bring gold and orange morning sunlight. Heaven in the hills. Going past Wu Lai, you can ride the mountain highway all the way through to Yi Lan (a town on the BEACH! The Pacific Ocean! Famous for a yearly music festival and one of the few times pot is even remotely accessible in this country).

The Wu Lai ride takes you through the mountains most conveniently-accessible from Taipei, so it’s my main ride. I’ll be going at least once a week from here on out. Pictures in 2-3 weeks.

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Taipei Cycle Show 2011

Electronic component group - Shimano's new Di2

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The New Samox Fall-Prevention Brake System

Sadly, falls happen. They most often occur due to brake error, while riding downhill or in emergency situations when brakes are used suddenly. Essentially, the use of the front brake either a split second before the rear brake, and (or) with greater force than the rear brake, can easily cause a fall. It is not too hard to imagine that if the front of the bike stops suddenly, with no force applied to stop the back of the bike, the back of the bike will have to go somewhere. Though often not a problem, this situation can be dangerous when flying down a hill at high speeds.

The fact that brake systems inherently apply more force, faster, to the front wheel brake is obviously a huge problem. Many blame inexperienced riders for brake errors, and they have a point. Less experienced riders are more likely to have emergencies and be less at ease at high speeds, thus more prone to jamming on their brakes.

But brake-related falls cannot be completely blamed on incorrect brake use. There are innate causes of greater force being applied to the front wheel brake than to the back wheel brake. These directly and indirectly stem from the variance in distances between the handlebar and the front and rear brakes. The rear brake is obviously much farther away from its brake lever. The force exerted on the brake levers thus takes much longer to reach the rear brake. Also, the longer cable to the rear brake will absorb some of the force, and less force will be exerted on the rear brake. Even if you do focus on keeping everything in control, serious problems such as the above can arise in emergency situations.

The best way to solve these problems is by using a mechanical system to control the time difference and force applied to the front/rear brake combination. In the past many manufacturers have made great efforts to do this, designing a variety of mechanical control systems. They have failed for many reasons. Some systems weren’t sensitive enough; others couldn’t retract and would get stuck clamped onto the wheel. The manufacturers of still other designs couldn’t figure out how to control the time difference.

This year, Samox has designed a patented system that uses a completely new method of control. It is enclosed in a small cylinder that runs off the front brake line. When the front brake lever is pulled, the system mechanically applies appropriate force to both brakes at the appropriate time.

It:

1) Multiplies the force exerted on the back wheel brake.

2) Shortens the brake distance, and increases the speed at which the rear brake is applied.

3) Perhaps most beneficially, it prevents the front wheel from instantly locking up.

Even if you use your most powerful grip to pull the brake, this system can still effectively control the braking time and power differential.

As you can see, the new Samox fall-prevention brake system essentially solves all the problems inherent to every brake system.

Samox will be displaying this new, patented system at the 2011 Taipei International Cycle Show. Visit their booth to try it out.

Samox; Nangang Exhibition Hall, 1st Floor, Booth J 1112.

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march 15

just put up a couple write-ups about products that will be at the cycle show tomorrow. i’ll be posting about Samox’s sweet new fall prevention brake system soon. wasn’t able to attend the technical meeting on Monday.

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Testing the Taroka E-folding Bike. And why electric bikes do in fact matter.

I should start a post about an electric bike with a note on the purpose of and the market for the e-bike. I can see the Cycle Junkie scowls already. But that’s the point; the typical e-bike buyer isn’t a cycle junkie. We ‘cyclists’ love the challenge of a steep hill. We see a bad headwind as resistance training. But hills and wind make cycling horrid for the typical person. The kind of person who might be interested in an e-bike just wants to get around easier, without looking for parking, waiting at red lights, and adding to the gas bill. E-bikes are a form of transportation. They are a green form of transportation. They allow the user to get a little exercise.  In some cases, such as the e-bike detailed in this article, they are ultra-convenient, and can be used in conjunction with other forms of transport.

Tested the Taroka electric bike twice, once along the Zhong He (‘Middle River’) Riverside Path and once at the Taroka factory in Zhang Hua.

Meet up with my boss Terry and his friend Ricky at around 11 o’clock on a sunny Saturday. I’m late – the ride along the river was longer than I expected, and the wind was brutal most of the way. Terry explains the bike – the control system mounted behind the seat, multiple power shorts (the bike conforms to strict European Union safety standards), the pedal torque sensor that activates the motor, and the control panel on the handlebars. The computer system is mounted on a little pouch on the back of the bike. He harps on the battery – his bike uses the latest Lithium Ion, apparently much better than Giant’s…. I get around to getting on.

Woah! What a fun ride! Terry tells me where the throttle for electric power is, and that’s all I really need. Within seconds, I’m zooming up and down along the path, not even pedaling, impervious to the wind that for the past two hours had slowed me down. Not pedaling? The bike employs a front hub motor, one of the many advantages of which is the independence of manual and pedal drive systems. Electric power output can be dictated by a torque sensor near the pedals that detects when the rider is seriously exerting his/herself, but can also be dictated manually (yeah baby) by the throttle, located at the right or left thumb. This also allows for the two drive systems to complement each other – the motor drives the front and the feet drive the rear. All wheel drive! The automatic power is supplied based on how hard you pedal, so one will never feel like they are not working.

What really struck me was how well the bike rode without power. Great handling is to be expected from a 20’ bike. It was quick to accelerate (most electric bikes weigh far more), and still had a comfortable ride, which would suit the typical e-bike consumer. The controls include a speedometer, which I was able to push well past 30km/hr with electric assistance. Using the electric motor only, one can ride at speeds of up to 25 km/hr (the legal limit). This was also the fasted I was able to do without the motor – obviously it’s not a bike built for racing. The Microshift shifter/Shimano derailleur combo shifted smoothly through all seven speeds.

I still can’t stop thinking about how this bike is the perfect city vehicle, from its overall design to the small features. It screams convenience: It not only folds into a small bundle, but at 40 pounds, it would be one of the lightest bikes on the market. How easy would it be to take this on public transportation, or store it under the cubicle desk? It’s fast enough to keep up with local traffic, with the speedometer to prove it. The appearance is basic, we all know flashy stuff is an easy target in the city. The wraparound chainguard is ideal for the casual rider; long pants will stay bike-grease-free.

The bike is currently selling like hotcakes under different brand names in Europe and China. A nice beach cruiser is on the way. Taroka gladly supplies for OEM. Have it custom painted and slap your own brand on it. All it needs is someone to take care of it in America.

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Bribb – clothes worth my time to write about.

I fell in love with cycling as a student at the University of Chicago, during summers spent exploring the city on my bike.  After riding for a few hours I would inevitably see an interesting bar or restaurant, but in a soaked tank-top I was not dressed right. Soon, carrying a backpack with a change of clothes all day became a serious bother. So naturally, I think Bribb is amazing stuff.

The fundamental idea behind the Japanese-designed Bribb clothing line is inner-city riding in Asia: hot summers in crowded cities where bikes are an important form of transportation. People use bikes to get around, and want to look good doing so. Basically, Bribb finds a balance between athletic function and attractive fashion. Jerseys are designed for style and not advertisements, casual polo shirts are not only good-looking but made with quick-dry “moisture-wicking” cotton and polyester blends. Jackets are vented, loaded with features, and fit completely into their own back pockets and strap to a bike frame. Materials are very high-quality and thus very comfortable.

I should also note that the jackets are ridiculously functional. Made from seamless polyester, they are completely waterproof, house mp3 players and headphone cables, and each one completely folds into its own back pocket and velcro-straps to a bike.

Bribb Jerseys

Polos

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Trail and offset geometry: why your bike shakes and can’t steer.

Ever ridden a wobbly bike; a bike that shook throughout the frame, especially at higher speeds? What about a clumsy one that was slow to steer?

These two problems can be caused by geometry problems throughout the entire frame. The major culprit though, is improper trail. It is one of the chief factors that should be considered when putting a bike together. Sadly, few consumers, DIYers included, understand trail. What’s really terrible is that trail is a concept that many engineers at assembly plants out here either don’t truly understand or choose to ignore. This isn’t as big a problem in America, but these are still ideas any cyclist should understand, especially those hoping to build their own bike.

I’ll discuss two important concepts. Photo reference below.

Trail: Trail is the distance between two points located on the riding surface (ie the ground). The first point comes from the extension of the steering axis (head tube). The second point is the contact point of the wheel. This point is also directly under the front hub. Any vehicle with wheels has trail measurements: cars, motorcycles, shopping carts. It’s just a measurement. Here’s a link to a deeper discussion on Josh Putnam’s site.

I won’t turn this into a physics lesson. Practically, trail is a major influence on the handling of the bike. A larger trail measurement increases the tendency to steer straight ahead. Bikes that are easily ridden no-hands have bigger trail measurements (cruisers). Smaller trail leads to more maneuverability and responsive handling (track bikes).  Big problems occur when trail is too big or too small.

It’s a precise game. The idea trail of a bicycle falls between 45mm-60mm. A trail less than 45mm causes shaking and an increased danger of falling. A trail greater than 60mm makes for a very clumsy and hard to control bike. As you can see, this is only a 15mm window of effective bike function. Trail is a very precise combination of frame and fork. Folding bikes more often have bike shake issues. Mountain bikes and city bikes more often have cumbersome handling issues. Many think keeping top-shape tires can solve a clumsy bike, but tires are just one piece of the puzzle.

Offset, or rake: Once again, imagine the line extending through the middle of the headset (the steering axis). The distance between this line and the axle (exact center) of the front wheel, when both are at the same level, is the offset. “Both are at the same level” describes the plane parallel to the ground. A very important aspect of offset is shock absorption, because roads have all kinds of unevenness and little potholes. Greater offset=greater shock absorption. As we know, shock to the front wheel runs right up through the forks, headset, stem, handlebars, and to the hands. No one wants handlebar palsy. Furthermore, shock limits the lifespan of the bike’s parts, especially the ball bearings in the headset.

So where do the problems come from? They occur at various points throughout the manufacturing and distribution process, even at the end-user level.

First, design itself. Often, factories will copy frame designs from foreign companies who come East for their manufacturing. They will either try to improve on designs, or just copy them directly. But, out of either lack of understanding or carelessness, they will ignore the trail measurements. We so often see designs that have the measurements of the parts, but nothing in the way of trail or offset. This causes serious follow-up problems, like, once you have your frame design, how do you even pick a fork? They don’t know how to choose the correct measurements. Even worse, sometimes designers just treat the offset as the trail, which causes some pretty ridiculous design errors.

Second, come problems at assembly plants. Few brand names make all the parts for their bikes. It’s a question of economics. Factories are very specialized, because it is most efficient to focus on making one part, and making it very well. Assembly plants then buy the parts, brand them, and put them together. If assembly plant technicians/engineers don’t rigorously check the manufacturer’s accuracy, then it’s really hard to find the error after the fact, when the completed bike starts experiencing problems.

Finally , enthusiasts who put own bikes together often select frames and forks only based on qualities such as weight, looks, etc., when a major focus should be engineering: trail and offset. Encountering bike shaking problems, riders will wrongly increase offset to solve the problem, but this will only reduce trail and make the bike shake even more.

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