One Less Car on the Road

Committing to Commuting

Whether it was our choice or not to take the leap and make the plunge, it is done.  We have removed one more exhaust spewing, chemical dripping, money pit from the road. 

Like most families that I know we were a two car family, and it made sense for us once upon a time.  My wife and I both worked full time and we lived in an area that did not have public transportation readily available and also was not bike friendly.  So when we moved, we automatically defaulted to the two car situation that we were so accustomed to.

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As time went on and we settled into our new situation we started to reassess the need for multiple cars.  My wife is not working while we are abroad, besides her side hustle, that is (check it out here), and the public transportation and bicycle infrastructure in our area is well established.  The more we looked at it, it was actually my full time work schedule in the same office, at the same time, five days a week that was less demanding of having a car on location than her side hustle was.

I recently completed a bike build as well, where I took an early 2000s Mongoose Wal-Mart bike, stripped it down to its frame and rebuilt it back up into a respectable cruiser style bike (check it out here). Just to add another little nudge, our house is less than one kilometer from a train station.

Still I dragged my feet, the hardest part about making the change would be to change our routines and our convenient, comfortable yet wasteful habits.  As if the powers that be were alerted to my hesitation, the decision was made for us.

My car went from never giving us a problem, not even an inkling that something was amiss, to suddenly broken down on the side of the road and two days later pronounced D.O.A. Dead On Arrival by the garage mechanics.

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We could have ignored all of these ever so subtle hints, ran out and threw a bucket of cash into another convenient conveyance, or we could adopt change and step out of our comfort zone for the betterment of ourselves and the environment.  As if the title didn’t give it away, we chose the latter.

Nevertheless, we still weighed the pro’s and con’s of being a one car family and commuting.

Pros 

  • Commuting is better for the environment, and reduces our carbon footprint. 
  • Bike riding is a healthy form of exercise.
  • Vehicles are a drain on your finances.
  • We could save around $700 a year on car insurance, $1000 a year on fuel and roughly $200-$300 estimated per year on maintenance and that is probably a low estimate.
  • Train commuting is safer than driving, trains don’t often run into other trains because the driver was texting his buddy.
  • Bike commuting is safer than driving, yeah accidents happen involving bicycles but nowhere in the realm of car on car accidents.

Cons

  • If our one car breaks down, then we have no car.  This is bound to happen eventually.
  • Cold, rainy and snowy days are not fun days to ride a bike to work.
  • I would have to get up a little earlier and I would get home a little later.
  • Dependent on the trains running on time. (Who am I kidding, this is Germany the trains are always running on time).
  • I would need to buy a commuter train pass for around $800 for the year.
  • I would not be readily available during work hours in case of an emergency.

So there it was, all laid out on a piece of paper in front of me.  The benefits were clear benefits and there was no disputing them.  I found myself explaining away some of the con’s.  Yes, cars break down and if we only have one then we would have none.  On the rare occasion that this does happen though, you are typically stranded no matter how many cars you own, also a few forced days at home while the mechanic repairs it or while you are on the market for another car doesn’t seem so bad when trains and walking are so readily available.

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The commuter train pass costs $800 a year, but I am saving at least $2000 a year by not having a car, so that is a no brainer.

Not being available in case of an emergency is the only one that really gave me pause.  As I sat back and thought about it though, I couldn’t come up with a single instance when I needed to get somewhere instantly.  I was commuting, I wasn’t stuck, I was just at the mercy of the train schedule, I may not be able to get somewhere as fast as if I had a car, but I wouldn’t be too far behind it.  Between the trains and my bike I could literally get anywhere if I had to.  Also, unless the emergency involved my wife, we did have another car and my wife was likely to be near it.

So it’s settled.  I have committed to commuting.  I will let you know how it goes.

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Bamboo Bicycles

A Step Further in the Sustainability Direction

Bicycles are an incredible innovation, a health conscience, Eco friendly alternative to fossil fueled vehicles.  They are universally loved throughout the entire world, from children as young as two, to men and women of every age.

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There are more than 100 million bicycles manufactured every year and there are well over 1 billion bicycles currently present in the world already.  The largest accumulation of bikes is estimated to reside in China with nearly 500 million plus found there alone.

Those able to forego fossil fueled vehicles for a bicycle to complete their daily commute have an incredible positive impact on the environment and their own health.  It’s hard to look at a bicycle with anything but positivity in correlation with the economic impacts. But what are bicycles?

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Bicycles are hunks of metal, rubber, plastic, carbon fiber and grease.  Now, many of them are also equipped with batteries, but that’s another story for another post.  Bicycles don’t seem so enchanting when you think of them like that, but I’m not here to bash on bikes.  They are still a thousand times better than the alternative…automobiles. There is another, even more eco-friendly and sustainable option out there though – Bamboo Bicycles.

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Multiple companies have sprouted up with high quality, well made bamboo bicycles.  These companies are taking an already incredibly eco-friendly product and making it even more sustainable.  Bamboo is arguably the most sustainable material in the world. It’s regenerative qualities are unrivaled, when harvested it can regrow up to four feet in a single day.  It can absorb five times more carbon dioxide and create a third more oxygen than a similar sized grove of trees.

While most bamboo bikes still do typically contain some metal or carbon fiber at the joining joints, the longer stretches of material are replaced by bamboo stalks.  Not only does this decrease the carbon footprint of bicycle manufacturing, it also serves as a highly capable material. Bamboo is very lightweight and has a high tensile strength, it also has a higher shock absorbency than carbon fiber.  On top of that, it’s a cheaper building material than steel, aluminum and carbon fiber. A good company will pass that savings on to you!

If you are interested in a bamboo bicycle, there are quite a few established companies out there already, here is a handful:

BooomersYes, the three O’s is the correct spelling.  Booomers also uses there bike sales for additional socio-economic impact as well which you can read about by clicking on their company name. Additionally, the joints of a Booomers bicycle is created with a plant based fiber and epoxy which is somewhat unique in this industry.

My Boo – Is an impressive company based out of Ghana and Kiel, Germany, My Boo bamboo bikes offers handmade city, sport and electric bicycles.  The joints on these bikes are formed with glued and polished hemp rope adding to the sustainability of their product.

Ewabi – Established in 2016, Ewabi uses locally sourced bamboo from Bali, aluminum joints wrapped with natural fibers, resin and hardeners. Unique in its addition of bamboo mud guards.

Pedal Forward – These sustainable bikes are built with steel joints and Pedal Forward uses a portion of every sale to reinvest back into developing the transportation needs of developing communities.  They only have a few models at the moment, but offer them at a cheaper price point than most.

Bamboocycles – This company, based in Mexico manufactures bamboo bicycles with carbon fiber joints and offers a plethora of frame styles and designs.

In-Bo – A French company, specializing in bamboo products such as bicycles, skateboards and eyeglasses.

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The Truth Behind Oval Chainrings

An oval chainring is a necessity for any single speed bike, hands down.  Let me explain.

  • Maximize your leverage.
  • Ease your transition.

Maximize – Between the 1 and 2 o’clock position through the 5 o’clock position for either foot is the location where the most leverage is found when riding a bike.  Having the widest part of the chainring vertically for this area is the equivalent of adding 2 teeth to the chainring, essentially giving you an increased gear.  Ex. a 34 tooth oval chainring will put out a power equivalent of a 36 tooth round chainring throughout this position.

Ease – Conversely, the muscle transition zone in your pedal motion occurs between the 5 and 7 to 8 o’clock position for either foot.  As a result this is where your leverage is at its weakest. With an oval chainring the narrowest part of the chainring falls throughout this area, reducing the chainring to the equivalency of a 32 tooth round chainring.  Essentially given you an additional decreased gear, making this area easier to pedal, and easing the strain on your knee and ankle joints and muscles as this transition takes place.

In order to recreate this effect with round chainrings, you would have to have 2 gears and a front derailleur that is ready to do some serious work.  For every full revolution of your pedals you would have to shift between a 32 and 36 tooth chainring 4 times. 36 tooth at the 1 o’clock position; 32 tooth at 5 o’clock; back to 36 tooth at 8 o’clock; back to 32 tooth at 11 o’clock.  Then repeat for every revolution…

Often the main argument against oval chainrings is in reference to the failed Biopace oval chainrings of the 80’s and early 90’s which lead to multiple knee and ankle issues with riders.

There was one fatal flaw with the design of Biopace chainrings that resulted in these injuries.  They were designed to be installed 90 degrees off from the current ones, and that makes an incredible difference.  Installed in that manner places the hardest part of the chainring (36 tooth area) directly in the muscle transition zone.  So you were struggling to power through the most difficult part of your pedal rotation while your knees and ankles are at their most vulnerable.

The rationale from Biopace was that the increased momentum gained from the easier section being in the high leverage zone would virtually pull itself through the transition area.  A flywheel concept of sorts. Unfortunately, mountain biking is rarely a smooth, flat, open road and generating enough momentum to achieve a flywheel effect is virtually impossible, even with road biking this would be nearly impossible.  Hindsight also proves that this theory was implausible, evident in the resulting knee trauma. 

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Nomatic

Bike Build Step #2

Refinishing

My Frankenstein bike is stripped down to the frame and its original chrome frame is mocking me every time I walk past it.  I can hardly stand it anymore, after a quick check on this afternoon’s weather I decide, today’s the day.  

We have some sandpaper left from my wife’s last furniture refinishing project.  I deface my mountain bike frame with vigor, sparing no nook or cranny. A thorough sanding and wipe down and this monster is almost ready for some paint.  I mask off the internal cups in the headset and bottom bracket and set out to get the paint.

A moment of deep thought and contemplation in the spray paint aisle at the hardware store and a decision is made.  I go with a darker shade matte green, not unlike the shade you would see on the old military style Jeeps.

I hang my frame up from the swing set in the backyard with some twine, and go at it with the spray paint.  

Happy Accident – The slight breeze causes the frame to rotate slightly allowing me to look over the frame from all angles while I paint.

Multiple coats later I am satisfied that I have covered all areas with a smooth even finish.  I leave the frame hanging for a couple hours to ensure it is dry, then lock it back into the maintenance stand to await the next step.  

Coming soon – Reassembly.

Tools used for this step:

Sandpaper

Masking Tape

Twine

Spray Paint

Total cost so far: 8.99 Euro.

Bike Build Step #1

The Breakdown

I started with the easy stuff.  Front and back wheels off. I search the chain for a master link but don’t see one, no worries.  I am turning this sucker into a single speed anyway, I will just remove the front and back derailleurs with the chain still looped through them…wait.

I will be getting a new half-link chain in an effort to match the magic length of a single speed chain without the use of a tensioner.  Since I am not worried about reusing this one, I just take a screwdriver and a pair of pliers and snap a link in half to remove it.

Next, I fish all of the brake and derailleur cables out of the cable guides and remove them.  The front forks and the cockpit are in dire need of a replacement, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to the twist grip gear selector but in all honesty, I don’t really know how to remove them.  So I don’t, I take the entire handlebar assembly off as a whole, and just leave the forks and headset.

I unscrew each piece of the headset allowing the forks to fall right out.  I reassemble the headset as it was for reference when it comes to buying the new forks and new headset.  I leave the internal cups for now, I hope to maybe be able to reuse them.

I remove the rear rim brake assembly and the pedals with the help of a cowboy and bedhead riddled little man.  Tip – both pedals unscrew towards the rear of the bike so the right side unscrews counter clockwise, and the left side unscrews clockwise.

For the bottom bracket I employ a plumbers wrench, another tip – on the non-gear side the nut unscrews clockwise.  I remove the bracket and reassemble this as well for future reference. I leave the internal cups in here as well for possible reuse.

Oddly enough, the old kickstand is the hardest piece for me to remove because I don’t have a big enough allen wrench, I remove the stand itself with its spring but have to leave the bracket on for now.

Last thing left to do is clean it up a bit…

Tools used for this step:

Phillips screwdriver

Pliers

Adjustable wrench

Open ended ⅝” wrench

Plumbers wrench

Flat head screwdriver

Allen wrench set

Total Cost so far: $0.00

I will be giving the frame a light sanding and will repaint it next, then reassembly will begin – stay tuned.

Life on Two Wheels

Germany is a very bicycle friendly country, in fact all of Europe shares this trait.  It is healthy, environmentally friendly, efficient, low budget and an activity that is very Hygge-list.  The benefits of bicycling for your own health are innumerable, not to mention the multitude of benefits to the environment.  The communities of people and personalities that enjoy pedaling as their primary source of transportation lead to experiences and friendships that will last lifetimes.  As you can imagine, I am eager to join this community.

I do own a bicycle, albeit it is a decade or so past its prime but it is functional.  This winter I have decided that it is time for my dusty old bike to go under the knife.

This page will track my progress as I rebuild my bicycle into something I can be proud to ride come spring time.  It will then document my many explorations on two wheels across the countrysides of Germany and its neighboring countries.