Bad panniers made good

My new (used) Cannondale R300 has proved to be a little challenging to transform into a reasonable commuter bike.

Specifically, I’ve found it a little challenging to be able to carry the amount of stuff I want, with the flexibility I want, on this frame.  I’m really attempting to take a low-end “racing” geometry bike, and turn it in to a touring bike.  No small feat.

Fitting the Tubus Cosmo rear rack was pretty straight forward, thanks to the advice (and assortment of adapters and conversion parts) of Wayne from TheTouringStore.com.  However, the short chain stays on this bike still gave me issue with heal clearance from time to time.  Also, this rack (as seen in the picture) has a lower set of bars in addition to the upper set – and this is where I wanted my panniers to hang.  Why on the lower rack?  First off, I carry a fair amount of weight at times, and keeping that weight lower has advantages for bike handling and stability.  Secondly, I like to put stuff on the top at times – like other cargo, or a rear “trunk” bag I have that straps to the top rails.  Either of those two things make it so you can’t take panniers on and off without a great deal of trouble.  There was also a bit of an annoying issue where the bolts that hold the hangers on the panniers were hitting various spots in the rack preventing them from hanging securely in some positions.

Unfortunately, moving the panniers to the lower rack moved me from a situation where I might hit my heel on the bags under certain circumstances, to a situation where the heel was definitely going to hit the bags each and every pedal stroke.

However, the solution to this was actually another idea that was given to me by Wayne from TheTouringStore.com.  Basically, it is a small modification to the bags to make them hang at an angle instead of straight up and down.  Picture the side view of a bike with a pannier hanging on it.  Then, picture moving the rear, upper corner of the bag up slightly.  You’ll realize that the front bottom corner – the place you foot would hit, will actually swing back slightly giving you more clearance for your heel.  This was the modification I was going to make.

My particular bags kind of, well, suck.  Generally speaking, panniers are made to carry most of their load in a vertical orientation – that is to say, they are taller than they are wide.  This is due in a large part to the heel clearance issue I was facing.  My bags, however, are oriented horizontally.  Kind of a pain in the butt.  These are another one of those items that I bought early on in my cycling experience, when I didn’t really have all of the information I needed to make the best product selection.  However, I have them now and I’m not in a super big hurry to replace them, especially if there is a simple modification that can make them more functional for me.

There is, however, one thing about these bags that made this modification a whole lot easier.  As you can see from the photo, the bags can actually be detached from backing that attaches to the bike.  This backing is a hard plastic sheet covered in canvas, sporting both straps and zippers on both ends.  The zippers are how the bags are attached, but you can also use the straps (sans bag) to attach stuff that might not fit into the bags – think sleeping bag here.

This makes things easier for me, because what I need to do is rotate the attached aluminum bar in a way that will cause the front, bottom corner to rotate back and up.  The aluminum bar is simply bolted through the plastic sheet on both ends.  All I need to do is unbolt the back end of this bar and drill a new hole in the plastic lower down.

Before Modification
After Modification

Drilling through the canvas actually turned out to be surprisingly difficult.  I was using a standard drill bit, so I’m thinking it just never “grabbed” – and thus getting through the canvas was more of a friction / wearing down operation than a drilling operation.  However, I was able to get cleanly through the plastic sheet on the inside once the canvas was pierced.

I chose to rotate the bar down as far as I could – which put me right up against the riveted pin that anchored the bungee cord.  It would actually have been possible to rotate further by also relocating the bungee cord anchor, but I decided to try it without that extra step first to see if it worked out.

After I drilled the first pannier, I stuffed the bag with towels and a ubolt to simulate a fully loaded bag and mounted it on the bike.  It was a good, stable fit on the lower rails, with the vertical bar going up to the upper rails in the rear actually providing additional stability.  I had the bike already mounted on my training rollers so that I could actually test the fit out in as close to real-world as possible without actually going outside.  The result?  I had about an inch of clearance with my heal artificially stretched out as far as possible while clipped in to the pedals.  Success!

This simple modification took me maybe 30 minutes at most – including my silly mistake of drilling the wrong end of the second pannier!However, it saved me perhaps a couple of hundred dollars or so in the short term.  At some point I’m going to have to upgrade to something a little more weatherproof anyhow, but as we head into spring this is probably something that I can put off for now.  And even after I do get different panniers, these bags will be a lot more useful and usable for trips to the store, camping, or whatever else may come up.

Again, a big thanks to Wayne for the whole idea of modifying these in this way, and for the great service getting the rack itself fit to my bike properly.  One of these days I’ll pick up a set of forks that are the same geometry, but with eyelets in ’em and get a rack on the front too.

New chainrings and a new rack in the rain

It wasn’t exactly cold, but it was a little chilly.  And there was a constant drizzle that was just on the borderline of being called rain.  The weather report said the gusts were in the 15-20 mph range.  Generally not the ideal riding conditions.

And I was loving every minute of riding in it.

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When riding through the pain ain’t a good idea

There is no denying a vein of sadomasochism in cycling.  Learning to ignore – or even enjoy – pain cause by muscle fatigue is part of the allure of cycling for many.  Feel the burn! It is a common mantra, and applicable here.

However, it is also important to know when to stop and listen to the pain.  Being able to differentiate between discomfort cause by the natural creation of lactic acid in the muscles and pain indicating a strain or pull can be the difference between one short ride, or several weeks off of the bike.

This has become painfully clear to me (both figuratively and literaly) recently has I’ve been hit with another round of symptoms from Iliotibial Band Syndrome.  In a nut shell, this is the irritation of a particular tendon that runs across the outside of your knee.  During normal cycling, this tendon rubs across the knee every time the knee bends.  In certain circumstances, the tendon will become inflamed and cause pain.  Unfortunately, the inflammation of the tendon can actually increase the rubbing and snapping that happens due to the size increase – a kinda nasty feedback loop of sorts.

This is definitely one of those times when riding through the pain will make things worse for you – both short and long term.  Aside from long term muscle building and flexibility improvements, the only relief comes from allowing the inflammation to subside.  And that isn’t going to happen unless you stay off of the bike for a while.

Group Rides and Forthcoming Videos

I just found out about a blog that has been put together for the Cycle Folsom Peloton Group – the group I ride with on the weekends.  It is cool to see these – as these are they types of post that I wish I was writing.  However, I generally go into ultra-lazy mode after these rides and don’t do much.

I’m hoping to soon contribute some video, either here or to the Peloton group blog.  Very shortly I’m going to get my self a GoPro HD Helmet Pro.  This cool little camera has the hardware to mount to your helmet, handlebars, or top tube, among other places.  I know the guy from Cyclelicious has used this company’s cameras for some of the video he has posted – and they look great.  In fact, I’m off to REI to pick my new camera up now…

Why stop at just stealing a bike.

Apparently for some simply stealing a guys bike isn’t enough. Instead of stopping there, let’s beat him unconscious too. At least that’s what a SacBee article is reporting.

That actually raises an interesting point that has always bothered me. Historically we’ve had much higher legal penalties for stealing primary transportation – first horses and now cars. These penalties have been (and are) higher than the simple financial value of the stolen property. Why? A big reason is that stealing someone’s primary transportation can leave a person stranded in a way that can potentially be dangerous for them. Well, what about those of us that use bikes as our primary transportation? What happens when I am 30, 40, 50 miles or more from home and get my bike stolen? Where’s my “Grand Theft Bicycle” statute?

All that aside, I wish this cyclist a speedy recovery. I’m still feeling the mental effects of the theft of my bike, and I didn’t have the added insult of a physical assault to go along with it.

More mobility means more blog posts

It is not all that uncommon for me to be out and about in the world and thing of great ideas for me to blog about. I’m terrible about writing notes for myself (I generally just lose them anyhow) so a great many of the “brilliant” ideas go forgotten.

However, I’m giving the wpToGo app for my Motorola Droid a try. In fact, I writing this very post with it. Looks like there is at least baswic support for adding images and hyperlinks, so I otta be able to get the basic blog post out no matter where I am.

So, if you are like me and frequently moving around and you have a WordPress based blog, it might be worth a try for you.

How to ride with your wife, take pictures, and more

I was going through some of my old Google Alerts emails, and I stumbled across a link to Eight Tips for Photography while Cycling – Part 2 – a post on a blog by Daniel Carruthers.  The title itself caught my eye, and the post was a good read.  Of course, I had to go back and check out Part 1.  But the more I looked at the stuff Daniel and written, the more interested I was.  Probably the best I found were his two posts on Riding with your Wife (also see Part 2 of the same).  Good stuff.

Of all my recent web finds, this one as stood out for me as one that I’ll keep reading.  In fact, I just added it to my RSS feed reader.  Check it out.

HTFU

More Cycling Blogs Than I Know What To Do With

There is one thing about cyclists – we seem to like to blog about our passion excessively.  I can’t believe how many new (well – new to me at least) cycling related blogs I find on a weekly basis.  A couple of simple Google Alerts, follow a couple of links and 20-30 can be found within an hour.  It is amazing.

Some of you have already seen my Random Bike Blogs, Forums and Web sites page.  This is quickly growing, and I’ve begun to realize that utilizing the standard WordPress “Blogroll” functionality just isn’t going to work for me.

I’ll continue to collect cycling related sites as I find them, and add them to that page.  At some point I’ll come up with a good way to orginize these, but until then hopefully you’ll find something new and interesting in the potpourri of links.  Also, if you keep your own cycling related blog, forum or website , let me know.  I’d love to read what you have and add a link to the collection.

.  This

A cyclist’s career in review

Not sure what it was exactly.  Maybe it was the new year, 2010.  Maybe it was riding home in the cold and the dark at 9:30pm.  Maybe it was the realization that the ride I do daily and casually – to get to and from work – would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.  Whatever the impetus, I started to reflect on how far I’ve come in cycling, how far I have to go, and how quickly it has all happened.

It is the latter that really struck me.  Cycling is a big part of my life.  It is my primary mode of transportation (by time, and by miles some weeks) as well as my primary recreational activity.  It invigorates me, motivates me, and in many ways defines part of who I am.  It is such a huge part of my life that I feel like I’ve always been a cyclist.  But in fact it has been more like 3 very short years.  That’s right – three.  And it all began because of a little job I took in Palo Alto – while living in Sacramento.

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Tips for bicycle security on Caltrain

After the recent theft of my bike off of Caltrain, I started thinking a little more about bicycle security on the bike cars.  I come from an InfoSec background, and a large part of being successful in that field involves understanding how “the bad guys” go about their attacks.  I starting thinking about the bike cars with the same frame of mind and started to think about how I would steal a bike from the train if I so desired.  The argument here is that, the more potential theft gambits I know of, the better equipped I will be to defend against those thefts.

Now I know that some of you will be thinking “But Ross – you’re just telling the thieves how to do it!”  It is a common statement, and open to some debate.  On the one side are those that believe that publishing information about how to engage in a particular harmful act (breaking into a computer system, stealing a bike, whatever) only serves to make the criminals more efficient.  On the other side of the argument there are those that maintain that the criminals can come up with this stuff on their own, and our ignorance of these techniques only makes us more likely to be victimized.  Obviously I belong to the second group.

I’ll also offer some of my own suggestions on how to help mitigate the risk of getting your bike stolen from you.

I’ll start off with an examination of how the perpetrator was able to get away with my bike, which was less than 15-20 feet away and in plain sight, without me even being aware it had happened.  This scenario is put together with bits and pieces of information I got from the conductor and other passengers at the time.

The “plenty of time, grab-n-go” theft

The prerequisite for this theft involves a location where the train is sitting idle for long periods of time.  Specifically, this takes place at either San Francisco 4th & King for southbound trains, and San Jose for northbound trains.  Our victim boards and places his bike against one of the racks.  He then goes to his seat – turning his back on the bike by necessity.  Furthermore, most of us will be slightly distracted as we sit down – pulling laptops out of our bags, eating the Subway sandwich you just purchased in the station, whatever.  All of these provide moments of opportunity for our thief to notice your inattention, grab your bike from the rack and head out the door.  As soon as they hit the platform, they can jump on the bike and be out of the station to the street – probably faster than you can even get out of your seat and out the door, alert the conductor, or whatever.  If you happen to be sitting on the top level of one of the older cars, your path out the door after the thief is even further hindered.

The “pretend to be a regular commuter” theft

This method is probably more effective on crowded trains, and again may benefit from being carried out before leaving either the SF or SJ stations.  People standing around, shuffling bikes can often block your view of your bike from your seat, further setting the stage for our thief.  In this situation, our victim is already on the train with their bike in the racks.  Our thief boards with a bike of his own (crappy and disposable, we would assume) and loiters near the doors.  When the thief feels the time is right, she will approach the rack where our victim’s bike is and remove it from the rack – acting as if she is simply putting her bike behind the victim’s.  This is not an unusual occurrence on Caltrain as folks organize the bikes to ensure that those getting off first don’t have to move other bikes out of the way.  But already our thief has the upper hand.  Perhaps she already kn0ws this is your bike and as casually checking to see if you are watching.  Even if not, though, she’s already got the bike in her hands and gained an advantage.  Time this (by fumbling around, whatever) and you can actually spring towards the door as soon as the chime and “Caution, the doors are about to close” announcement comes on.  Our thief is out the door and, even if our victim is fast enough to catch her, the doors are already closed and the train is beginning to move out of the station.  Sorry – you’re bike is gone.

Protecting yourself

Caltrain doesn’t allow you to lock your bikes to the racks – for understandable reasons.  However, there are some things that you can do to help alleviate the threat – most of which result in making your bike appear as a more difficult target:

  • While you can’t lock your bike to the train (or other bikes) you can lock your bike to itself.  Put your UBolt or chain through one or both rims and through the frame.  This eliminates the possibility of a riding getaway, and may actually fool more ignorant or less observant thieves into thinking the bike actually is locked to the rack.
  • Remove the saddle and take it with you.  Or – another approach is to turn the saddle around backwards.  Again – hindering the quick ride away.
  • Place your bike in the racks farthest from the door.  Truth be told, however, mine was in the fourth rack from the door of one of the older style train cars.  Still, bikes close to the door sure feel like easier targets.
  • Watch your bike very very carefully until someone else places there bike on top of yours.  You might want to notice where that “outside” bike is going, too, so that you can pay attention at that stop.
  • Sit as close to your bike as possible.  Hell, maybe just stand next to it depending on the length of your commute.
  • Take removable stuff like cycling computers and lights with you to your seat.  Yes – these can get stolen too, and are a lot harder for you to notice when it is happening.

Basically, though, there is one thing that protects you more than anything else you can do – watch your bike! Certainly no one is going to stare at their bike non-stop through their entire trip.  However, if you are vigilant at all of the station stops you can go a long way towards protecting your bike.  Clearly no one is getting away with your bike on a moving train!

Hope this helps others somehow avoid my fate.  Cheers, happy cycling and may all of your bikes arrive at the station with you!