Picatinny Rail – DIY Bicycle Light

Bicycle lights can be pretty expensive, at least for the good ones. But battery powered lights aren’t what I remember from my childhood – where you had a big D-Cell light that would work for an hour or so and then go yellow and dim. The LED has revolutionized flashlights and, by extension, bike lights.

I have a couple handlebar-mounted lights – decent ones, if not top of the line. I usually set them to blink – they are lights that are designed for me to be seen, not for me to see with. On an urban road at night, that’s the most important thing. The streetlights are bright enough for a cyclist to see where he is going – but you want the cars to know you are there. Bright blinking is the best for that… plus batteries last forever.

But riding on trails at night is a different story. I needed something so that I can see – a steady white light facing forward. For example, one night coming home from Critical Mass along the White Rock Creek Trail (actually, it was the Cottonwood Trail, the wooded section just south of the Forest Lane DART station – my destination) at a little after midnight I came upon a group of homeless people sleeping on the trail. Luckily, I saw them with my light. Hitting someone sleeping on the bike trail would not be good for anyone.

Again – the dedicated bike lights cost a pretty penny – but small LED flashlights are powerful and very cheap. They sell them by the containerloads – they take three AAAs – most are adjustable. Very useful lights.

The problem is how to mount them on a bike. I actually want to mount them as low as possible. It would seem that a helmet mount would be the best – but if they are at close to eye level they don’t cast visible shadows. It’s the shadows that help you see objects in the path ahead. A low mounted flashlight will throw long shadows – easy to see.

I tried a number of solutions – velcro straps worked pretty well – but nothing was both strong, reliable, and still removable.

Until I discovered the world of Picatinny (and Weaver) rails. These is a whole host of accessories designed to mount on pistols, rifles, shotguns, or paintball guns. Laser sights, scopes, cameras… and, especially tactical flashlights. This seemed like a perfect thing to mount on a bike.

It didn’t take much searching until I found this Weaver/Picatinny rail mount with flashlight holder on Amazon – shipped from China for less than five dollars. I ordered a couple of them (for spares and different bikes) and after a patient wait, the package arrived from halfway around the world.

Now that I am outfitting my new Xootr Swift for city riding and commuting I decided to add a small front rack. I’ve found these to be indispensable for urban riding. For bike riding in the city, it’s not always about cargo capacity, it’s about organization and a front rack helps me keep organized.

I bought the cheap rack, and then mounted the rail on the bottom of the rack. Here’s how.

The Picatinny/Weaver rail flashlight mount as it arrived.

The Picatinny/Weaver rail flashlight mount as it arrived.

Four mounting holes go into the small front rack. Do this with some care - or the flashlight won't shine straight ahead.

Four mounting holes go into the small front rack. Do this with some care – or the flashlight won’t shine straight ahead.

I could have mounted the rail with the bolts that come with the assembly, but I decided to use aluminum pop rivets for weight, strength, and neatness.

I could have mounted the rail with the bolts that come with the assembly, but I decided to use aluminum pop rivets for weight, strength, and neatness.

The rail mounted on the rack and the flashlight in the holder. My flashlight was a little too big, so I simply used the longer bolts that come with the unit - the ones that are intended to go around a barrel.

The rail mounted on the rack and the flashlight in the holder. My flashlight was a little too big, so I simply used the longer bolts that come with the unit – the ones that are intended to go around a barrel.

This is how it mounts on the rack. Strong and neat.

This is how it mounts on the rack. Strong and neat.

The rack and flashlight on the bike, along with a small pump (maybe I'll post how I hold that to the rack) and a little plastic box from Office Depot, held on with nylon bolts and wingnuts in holes drilled through the box and rack. It looks sort of stupid, but is very useful to hold my wallet, phone, keys, lock... that sort of stuff.

The rack and flashlight on the bike, along with a small pump (maybe I’ll post how I hold that to the rack) and a little plastic box from Office Depot, held on with nylon bolts and wingnuts in holes drilled through the box and rack. It looks sort of stupid, but is very useful to hold my wallet, phone, keys, lock… that sort of stuff.

Take some care in mounting the rack so that it is level. If the rack points up or down very much, you would have to shim the holder to get the light horizontal.

The flashlight is held on securely, yet it comes off easily for battery replacement. I ordered an extra set so I even have a spare flashlight to stick in if needed.

Yee Haaa.

What I learned this week, April 18, 2014

What Are the Least Outdoorsy Cities in America?

Dallas, no surprise, is #1.

Dallas is the sprawling place of ten-gallon hats and gleaming ten-miles per gallon SUVs. It’s the oil industry’s heart and soul (if it has a heart or soul), where only half of the residents are within walking distance of the tiny smattering of parks within its borders. Not that people walk in Dallas—or take advantage of the paltry public transportation system, or even bike on the scant number of bike lanes. The only way to get from point A to point B is generally to drive, and given the oversized amount of space, the route is hardly ever a short one. As for the park lands that do exist, one—the Mountain Creek Lake reservoir—is prohibited by the state health department from letting you from eat the bass or catfish caught there, because of PCB contamination.

I’m not saying that Dallas is Portland… but the paragraph above is largely a result of a stereotype rather than recent research. True, Dallas is massive – and the summers are toxic.

However, there are a few things that should be pointed out.

paltry public transportation systemDART has a lot of work to do, but it is the largest (85 miles) operator of light rail in the country – I can assure you that with a bike (for that last mile) and a transit pass you can get anywhere in the vast Metroplex with ease.

scant number of bike lanes – Again, a lot of work to do, but here’s the Googlemaps Bike map of my neighborhood (bike lanes/paths in green). The other residential streets are all rideable too.

Duck Creek bike paths/lanes

Duck Creek bike paths/lanes

All across the city trails, dedicated lanes, sharrows, bridge conversions are going up.

Tiny smattering of parks within its borders. I don’t know about that… White Rock Lake is as good as it gets. Then there are the more modern versions – Klyde Warren Park is amazing. It’s true Dallas parks are horrifically hot in the summer, but what the hell can you do about that.

The Dallas Park and Recreation Department maintains more than 21,000 park acres including 17 lakes with 4,400 surface acres of water at 17 park sites, 17,196 acres of greenbelt / park land, and 61.60 miles of jogging and bike trails at 24 locations.

(and that’s only Dallas proper – there are the suburbs too, plus Fort Worth is way ahead of its bigger brother).

The Great Trinity Forest is the biggest urban hardwood forest (virgin forest, btw) in the country. Despite a few missteps, it is being brought into an amazing asset for the area.

What my point is – the “outdoorsy” or bike-friendly aspects of an area are highly subjective. If you do the work, you can get outside. The need to drive all the time is in your head, not in your feet.

I think the current controversy over the tear-down (good idea) and Trinity River Tollroad (terrible idea) will be a bellweather event for the future of the city – and have tremendous ramifications beyond the fate of a few acres of concrete. It’s the chance for a paradigm shift for the city.

Some More Local Response to the article.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle. (click to enlarge)

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle.
(click to enlarge)

The crowd at Ciclovia Dallas on the Houston Street Viaduct with the Dallas downtown skyline

The crowd at Ciclovia Dallas on the Houston Street Viaduct with the Dallas downtown skyline


And for an alternative view:

Texas is on Fire! And other Great Texas Happenings


FXX is going to show 24 seasons of The Simpsons in a legendary 12 day marathon.

FXX to Stage Epic, 12-Day Simpsons Marathon

In the same vein, here’s a guide for watching shows from begining to end.

The Paste Guide to Binge-Watching

In the past, I particularly enjoyed bing-watching The Tudors and Battlestar Galactica. I’m sort of stalled now, but am trying to work through Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I tend to wait until a series ends before even starting to watch – ever since I was burned with Carnivale. I was hooked on the series – but apparantly I was the only one… it was canceled before it finished. Pissed me off.


I meant to put this in last week, but never did.

10 Foolproof Tips for Overcoming Procrastination


How the makers of Corona sell so much bad beer

There is a reason so many people stick limes in the necks of the things – it’s to disguise the simultaneous foulness and tastelessness of the swill.


Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Huge Big Boy steam locomotive coming back to life

Unfortunately, this isn’t the Big Boy engine that I watched them move out to Frisco last year - one just like it. It is an amazing piece of machinery and history.

Big Boy 4018

Big Boy 4018

The massive drive wheels on Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

The massive drive wheels on Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018

Big Boy 4018


A Pollinator Bock on the right, Dallas Blonde on the left.

A Pollinator Bock on the right, Dallas Blonde on the left.

The FDA wants to regulate spent grains, and the beer industry is not having it

The Beer Institute points out that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined.” They cite an economic analysis that found “if all the taxes levied on the production, distribution, and retailing of beer are added up, they amount to more than 40% of the retail price” …

The federal government, however, is looking to potentially jack those government-imposed costs up ever further — all for our own good, of course. Last October, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a potential new rule via the Food Safety Modernization Act that would regulate brewers’ spent grains the same way as pet food, requiring that the grains be dried and packaged to ward off contamination before they come into contact with other humans. Seeing as how this would completely mess up the mutually beneficial arrangement between many brewers and ranchers wherein ranchers come and pick up brewers’ spent grains and then productively and inexpensively recycle them as a feed source for their livestock, this rule poses something of a problem.

But the beer industry is arguing that they have no idea what exactly these foodborne illnesses are supposed to be, since the grains are already declared fit for human consumption before they start the brewing process and because they have been working with ranchers for decades without problems. A bunch of brewers are currently protesting the proposed rule, arguing that the equipment and processes they would need to install would make the whole thing too expensive, and that they’ll just end up trashing their spent grains into landfills — while ranchers are worried that they’ll lose a valuable source of feed…

people3


It’s Time to Stop Talking Past Each Other on I-345 Teardown

The teardown of I-345 represents the most immediate and large-scale opportunity to reverse a pattern of growth that has led to the dilution of Dallas’ urban form. The very fact that detractors characterize urban life as a kind of designer lifestyle, a playground for the young and well-to-do, is either a reflection of an ignorance of what it is like to actually live in a city or a caged animosity for forms of living that look anything unlike the homogenized stratification of life in super-sprawl suburbia whose highest civic value is individualistic autonomy (“What if it were your daughter?” Jones threatens). But what is at stake is more than a real estate gambit. The teardown is an opportunity to begin to reverse 60 years of failed planning and begin to move towards building a future city in North Texas that achieves the economic efficiencies and social edification that are absolutely necessary to sustain the region’s viability.


Blur

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

—-Mahatma Gandhi

Superdrome, Frisco, Texas

Superdrome, Frisco, Texas

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. At least there is the fact that once you increase its speed past a certain point, all is a blur. There is a comforting mystery in a blur. Like a hummingbird’s wing – you can forget the delicacy and fragility… seduced and confused by the motion.

An object in motion tends to move out of the frame. Unless you manage to move the frame. Maybe the world deserves to be smeared across the concrete. It is softened but also obscured. Detail disappear; unseen patterns emerge. Is the truth better seen unfocused?

But who wants a clouded truth?

Procrastination with Google Maps

I have been suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block and have been spending too much time staring at a blank screen, waiting in vain for some sort of a useful idea to come bubbling up from… well, from wherever useful ideas bubble up from. Of course, the staring doesn’t last very long until it is replaced by silly web-surfing. You know how that goes.

So I was wasting time by GoogleMap StreetViewing (I’m no fan of the current fashion of converting tech nouns into verbs, such as in the phrase of “Netflixing through Mad Men,” but this is what life is in this best of all possible worlds with) places that I used to live and I came up with this shot:

Live Oak in back of the house I used to live in.

Live Oak in back of the house I used to live in.

First, it’s interesting that in my old neighborhood they even have GoogleMaps StreetView in the alley. Let that sink in for a minute. Not only did the Google car drive down the street taking photos willy-nilly to post for all to see, but then it proceeded to creep down the alley in back of the houses, doing the same thing. The alleys there were extra-wide (the kids used to cone them off at the end of the block and play roller hockey on the concrete) but… just sayin’.

What I thought was cool is that tree there. The big one in the corner of what used to be my yard.

My son Nick (now in his final classes at Duke University) was a toddler. He was born in East Dallas, a few miles north of this spot, and we moved before our second son, Lee (now a financial analyst in New Orleans) was born eighteen months later. I’m pretty sure the tree was planted before Lee was born, so Nick would have been about a year old.

I took Nick down to the Dallas Arboreteum for a Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, I discovered they were giving out free trees. I picked up a Live Oak planted in a recycled coffee can and brought it home, intending to plant it in the yard of our then-new-to-us home.

It looked substantial in the can, but after digging the hole and getting rid of the container the tree was only about an inch and a half high. It was dwarfed by the weeds that surrounded it. Everybody thought it was ridiculous and that I was an idiot for planting such a tiny sprig.

Still, despite the ridicule (probably because of the ridicule) I stuck it out. I carefully marked out the area around the twig to make sure it wasn’t mowed over or trampled upon. I watered it faithfully and tended it as best I could.

And, wonder of wonders, it grew. Fast. It grew like a weed. I talked to a friend that is a landscape architect and he said, “The smaller a tree is when you plant it, the bigger it will be in ten years.” Something that small doesn’t suffer the shock of transplantation, which sets a tree way back.

A few years later, it was already as high as my head. Putting in a new fence, the wind caught a panel and yanked it out of my hands. It landed on the tall, but still thin tree, smashing it flat. I was horrified.

I carefully raised the reedy trunk back up and staked the tree in position. I expected it to die, but, surprise, it didn’t miss a beat.

And now look at it. It’s one of the largest trees in the neighborhood. When we moved in, the block was thick with fast-growing “junk” trees – put in by the original developer to give quick green. Those have all now (mostly) succumbed to disease and are either gone or skeletal ghosts.

The sturdy oak is still growing.

I’m proud of the fact that I planted that tree (also proud that I got it for free). We moved out about ten years ago, when our kids were in Middle School. Nobody in the neighborhood knows this story, but I do, and that’s what’s important.

It’s also cool that the tree is the same age as my kids. If you have little ones – go out and plant a tree in your yard, or a park, or somewhere that needs one. The decades go by faster than you imagine is possible and a sturdy oak will rise to mark the passage of time with some welcome shade.

Dead End

Frisco, Texas

“Quite possibly there’s nothing as fine as a big freight train starting across country in early summer, Hardesty thought. That’s when you learn that the tragedy of plants is that they have roots.”
― Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

“Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

“The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her—her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
― George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier