Craigslist Commuter

My commuter bike

My old commuter bike

I never noticed the Yosemite engraved on the seat tube until I removed the old paint.

I never noticed the Yosemite engraved on the seat tube until I removed the old paint.

So, the other day I was riding my commuter bike. This is the ancient Yokota mountain bike I bought in a pawn shop in 1994 for sixty dollars and then converted last year to a commuter. I stripped the bike, repainted it and added racks, lights, and fenders (and more). It was a workable commuter bike, the frame was a little small for my size – but otherwise fine. Well, like I said, I was riding it around the city and I kept feeling something wrong. It felt like the seat was broken – when I pushed on the pedals the seat would shift side to side. I slowed down, rode carefully, and made it back home.

I took the seat apart and looked at it carefully – couldn’t find anything wrong. Then I gave the whole thing a once-over and discovered that I had broken the seat tube. The weld where the tube joined the bottom bracket had cracked – that was what was flopping back and forth. I’m lucky that was the weld that broke – most others would have sent me for a tumble.

The crack in the seat tube at the bottom bracket.

The crack in the seat tube at the bottom bracket.

It’s not a surprise that it broke – I’ve been riding the bike for almost twenty years (and it was used before that). That’s a lot of flexing on that weld.

Now I needed to figure out what to do. I need a commuter bike. Plus I need two bikes anyway – my Technium road bike is even older than this one and one bike is always under repair of one kind or another.

A friend of mine tried to weld the crack – but the tubing is too thin and the weld wouldn’t hold.

A new bike is out of the question – we are so broke right now.

So I looked at new frames. There are some very affordable generic mountain bike frames available. The problem is that I would have to buy a lot of new parts (threadless headset, fork for same, stem, top-pull derailleur, cables….) because so many parts from my old bike are obsolete – even if they are still working.

Another option is a used bike. I spent a day touring pawn shops (I’m wary of this – I don’t want a hot bike – but at least I could look at some options) but their prices were high. I was working on putting together the funds for a new frame and components when I spotted a bike on Craigslist.

My old bike was a little small – so I wanted to get the size right – but this one was spot on. It was an older, well-used mountain bike, a Giant Rincon SE, for a hundred bucks. That seemed like the ticket to me – the thing should convert into a good commuter – I could mix and match parts from it and my old bike to put together something nice.

So I met the seller at a warehouse (she said it belonged to her son who rode it “all over Southern California”) and bought the thing.

I spent most of a day cleaning, adjusting, and lubricating – then adding my racks, bags, and lights. I swapped the lugged mountain tires and wheels with the slicks on my commuter. The bike has twist-grip shifters, which I’ve never used before – but maybe it’s time to try something new.

Another difference is that it has a front shock adsorbing fork. I’ve never used one of these before. It’s a cheap one, but does seem to make the city riding a bit more comfortable. The problem is that I can’t mount fenders on the fork – so the bike won’t be as good commuting in the rain.

I’ve been thinking about this and I think I’ll buy a steel rigid fork and an extra headset. I can mount a spare brake and my front rack and fenders on that – and use it for commuting. Meanwhile, I can keep the shock fork and the lugged wheels – if I want to ride off-road I can swap them out in a few minutes.

Two bikes for one.

It rides nice. The Giant aluminum frame is rock-solid and it does fit me perfectly. The components are cheap – but they are running fine right now. They should be good enough for commuting. I’ll keep my old parts and swap them out if anything wears out.

The timing is good – it looks like I’ll be short a car for a while – and have to ride to work.

My new Giant Rincon SE commuter bike.

My new Giant Rincon SE commuter bike.

Giant Rincon SE with Dallas in the background

Giant Rincon SE with Dallas in the background

What I learned this week, May 10, 2013

May is National Bicycling Month, next week is Bike-to-Work week… and Friday, May 17th is National Bike to Work Day.

Local groups are sponsoring “Energizer Stations” – I’ll visit the one at Arapaho Center Station on my way in on Friday.


How Government Wrecked the Gas Can

I’m pretty alert to such problems these days. Soap doesn’t work. Toilets don’t flush. Clothes washers don’t clean. Light bulbs don’t illuminate. Refrigerators break too soon. Paint discolors. Lawnmowers have to be hacked. It’s all caused by idiotic government regulations that are wrecking our lives one consumer product at a time, all in ways we hardly notice.

Dallas-area hike-and-bike trails poised to get major financial boost

What is nice is that these are almost all “connector trails” – designed to allow bicycling trails to be used as transportation corridors, rather than something to stroll along with your kids on Sunday afternoon.

The group’s Regional Transportation Council will vote Thursday on a plan to use more than $13 million to benefit nearly a dozen biking and pedestrian projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The efforts are intended to provide transportation alternatives to motor vehicles, especially by connecting the projects to existing paths.

“They can’t be purely focused on recreation,” said Karla Weaver, a program manager at the Council of Governments. “We wanted to help to get some more concrete stuff in for active users.”

Brain, Interrupted

No surprise here, interruptions make you stupid. I find The Pomodoro Technique to be very useful to focus concentration for a short time, get important and difficult tasks completed, generate ideas, and help me ignore interruptions while still keeping up with things.


An Idea Pomodoro – timer, pen, composition book.

Bike rider on the DART train.

Bike rider on the DART train.

Bicycling in the City and Living to Tell a Skittish Class

Ride with the flow of traffic, the teacher said, or be prepared to “spend the rest of your day in the hospital and the rest of your year filling out insurance paperwork.”

And always live up to these buzzwords, even when fellow travelers do not: predictable, visible, assertive, alert and courteous.

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

Home by Hovercraft in Deep Ellum

Home by Hovercraft in Deep Ellum

Interview with Home By Hovercraft

Hummus Is Conquering America
Tobacco Farmers Open Fields to Chickpeas; A Bumper Crop

Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem

Bars Are the Secret to Thriving Downtowns: The Best #Cityreads of the Week

Local officials who want a more lively town center and a development team seeking to restore a landmark hotel were hoping to put a new watering hole on Main Street. Then they ran smack into New Jersey’s strict, Prohibition-era alcohol laws, which restrict the number of liquor licenses per town. Flemington had just three—two belonging to establishments in strip malls and one for a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.

Having a decent bar, it turns out, is helpful to reviving small downtowns, development experts say. So, in February, the developers came up with a novel but expensive solution, buying the Italian restaurant that owned a license and eventually transferring it to the downtown hotel. The price: about $1 million for the permit alone.

Town Centers Seek Another Shot at a Bar

Commuter Bike

A long time ago, when I was a young, avid bicyclist I had a salesman call on me. He shared my love of the human-powered two-wheel machines. We’d grab a bite and talk bikes. I remember him telling me, “My wife is really upset at the number of bikes I have. I’ve got my road racing bike, my triathalon racing bike, my around-the-neighborhood-beater bike, my mountain bike, my touring bike, my cargo bike that I take to the grocery store, a tandem, and a fun pavement bike. Eight bicycles are too many for one person, but I can’t think of any of them that I can live without. I want an ultralight road bike, but she says I have to get rid of two before I can buy one more. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

I said that I knew exactly how he felt.

Right now, I can’t live with fewer than two bikes. I have my old road bike, my vintage Technium – I call it my “fun” bike. For a machine that’s almost thirty years old it’s light and nimble enough, fairly narrow tires, and I keep it as “clean” as I can and still carry what I need. It’s good when I want to crank out the miles.

But I wanted another bike, a “commuter” bike. That bike is the opposite – a bike with all sorts of shit hanging on and off it. Wide gearing, wide tires, fenders, front and rear racks, two water bottles, room for locks and tools, lights, and upright handlebars. In other words, a bike that can go anywhere and carry anything.

European style bikes like that are now available with great accessories such as internal-geared hubs and generators for lights. I can’t afford that, however, so I began to rebuild something in my garage – my old 90’s-era Yokota Yosemite mountain bike (I bought it [used, probably hot] in a pawn shop around 1994 for sixty dollars). I scoured the Internet for bargains and sales, and picked cheap, used stuff up at swap meets and came up with the parts I needed.

The last time I wrote about it – I had stripped the paint off the old, mostly white bike (the paint was hopelessly scratched and torn up). So now I’ve rattle-canned the thing a dark green (Charleston Green – almost black) and put it back together. The paint job is embarrassingly bad – but it won’t rust.

Some of the gear I have on it:

  • Nashbar Rear Rack
  • Front Rack – picked up used at a swap meet
  • New V-Brakes bought on clearance online (to replace the weak squeaky cantilevers)
  • New shifter-brake combo levers
  • Bar ends
  • The narrowest almost-slick tires the wheels will take.
  • Old seat-bag with tools (these never come off the bike)
  • Head and tail lights and an extra mount for an emergency flashlight
  • Mini-pump and velcro mount (I broke the plastic water-bottle mount)
  • New grips
  • Platform pedals (inefficient, but I want to be able to get on and off quickly – no clicking in)
  • Italian Saddle (bought used off Ebay – a lot of folks think those big, wide seats are comfortable, but once you are used to them the narrow saddles are best. Unfortunately, I left the thing on the porch one evening and the dogs chewed the leather a bit – but it still works).
  • All fresh ball bearings in the wheels and bottom bracket
  • New middle sprocket (the old one was amazingly worn) and chain
  • Planet Bike ATB plastic fenders

That looks like a lot – but I only spent a couple hundred dollars or so. A lot cheaper than a new bike.

I’ve been experimenting with mounting crap on the front and rear racks. I bought a used bag at a swap meet that works on either one – it holds my camera well. For a while, I’ve had some panniers and a cooler that I can carry cold water in – that helps get me through the summer. I have this nice little plastic box I bought at Staples and mount on the front with nylon wingnuts – it looks awful (it’s this bright translucent blue – I’ll go by there and get a grey one soon) but is handy to throw in last minute stuff – phone, lock, whatever.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting with ways to mount writing materials (pens, moleskine, and/or my Alphasmart keyboard) to carry for bicycle writing marathons. I’ve found a couple of compact bags that hang from the rear rack with two small carabiner clips. Works great (If I carry a full laptop I prefer to wear a backpack – for a little more cushioning and safety).

This gives it a junked-up appearance. I don’t care. This is my go-anywhere and do-anything bike. It’s not for looks.

My commuter bike

My commuter bike


So now I have my commuter bike. It’s a lot more work than the road bike (the wide tires, weight, and the upright position) but it gets me where I need to. Anything less than fifteen miles or so aren’t a real problem – and it can go anywhere in any weather (as long as I can hold up – it can).


My commuter bicycle - I'm now taking it apart for a rebuild.

My commuter bicycle – I’m now taking it apart for a rebuild.


A lot of tubes, a lot of paint to scrape off.

A lot of tubes, a lot of paint to scrape off.

And After:

You can see the bag (I think it used to hold a portable DVD player) hanging on the rear rack. Perfect for a Moleskine and some pens.

You can see the bag (I think it used to hold a portable DVD player) hanging on the rear rack. Perfect for a Moleskine and some pens.

What I learned this week, April 19, 2013

As I’ve said before, I strongly support Amir Omar for the upcoming Mayoral election in Richardson.

Here’s an interesting article from D Magazine on the election:

An Outsider Takes on Richardson’s Old Guard

Amir Omar is a two-term city councilman, running for mayor, against the wishes of the city’s established powers.

The Dallas Morning Snooze made the statement: “It’s telling that every former mayor and every council member who now serves with the two candidates endorse Maczka, 48, over Omar, 41.” They say it as if that was a good thing.

The End of the University as We Know It

In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.


How do I know this will happen? Because recent history shows us that the internet is a great destroyer of any traditional business that relies on the sale of information.

Should You Get a Ph.D.?

Only if you’re crazy or crazy about your subject.

The average commute in the United States is 25 Miles each way.

Your Commute Is Making You Fat (and Killing You)

The average American spends 50.8 minutes travelling to and from work every day. That time could be better spent exercising, working, making and enjoying a healthy meal or—for the indulgent—sleeping in.

Five Unique Parks Around Dallas

Deep Ellum Brewing Company - Dallas Blonde

Deep Ellum Brewing Company – Dallas Blonde

American Microbrews Catch on World-Wide

Elaborate Drive-By Photo Studio Takes Pedestrians by Surprise

I am fascinated by street photography but am frustrated by the poor quality of the images produced under the less-than-idea conditions that are always encountered. Johnny Tergo solved that problem – mount a portable high-quality photography studio, complete with lights, in a truck, pointing out the passenger side, and drive around shooting.

War On The Young: Social Security Edition

Most of our readers are aware that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme not a savings program, that the vaunted trust fund is an accounting mirage, and that nothing much is being done about it by anyone. But sometimes it takes some concrete numbers to properly get your head around what’s really going on.

20 Best Episodes of The Office

Stripped to Bare Steel

I want a new bicycle but I simply can’t afford one. So I’m making do.

I’ve been riding my old Technium and it’s doing well. It’s a road bike and a lot of fun. Still, one of my long-term goals is to integrate biking with my daily life and I want a commuting/shopping/bombing around the neighborhood bike. I want a bike that can go anywhere, anytime – and I don’t really care how long it takes to get there.

So I’m rebuilding my old Yokota Yosemite steel mountain bike. I’ve scrounged up a set of fenders, front and back racks, and a cheap lighting system. I found bargains on new shifters, brake levers, and more modern V-brakes to replace the squealing cantilevers.


My old bike. I bought it for sixty bucks at a pawn shop over fifteen years ago.

Looking at the bike, though, I realized the paint was really messed up. It was white, and showed every scratch and scrape… and twenty years of tough riding left a lot of scratches and scrapes.

I decided to paint the thing. If nothing else, this gave me an excuse to remove every little piece and part. One of the few good things about doing your own maintenance is that it teaches you about your bike and gives you a connection – the inanimate, mechanical object of metal, plastic, and rubber – becomes almost a living thing in your mind, and extension of your own body, so to speak.

The only problem is that stripping all the paint off the old steel frame was a ton of work. Paint stripper, flat bladed scrapers, and sandpaper… combined with helpings of time and elbow grease took the thing down to stripped bare steel. I don’t know what kind of paint they used, but it was tough.

I have become enamored of steel framed bikes. Nowadays, of course, it’s all aluminum and/or carbon fiber. Anything to shave off a few more ounces.

But now that I see the gleaming steel that was under that paint – I’ll take the toughness, versatility, and smooth ride of that steel even if I have to push around a couple more pounds.

I never noticed the Yosemite engraved on the seat tube until I removed the old pain.

I never noticed the Yosemite engraved on the seat tube until I removed the old paint.

A lot of tubes, a lot of paint to scrape off.

A lot of tubes, a lot of paint to scrape off.

The bare steel flash rusts almost immediately without any paint protecting it. I'll have to give it a final sanding right before I prime it.

The bare steel flash rusts almost immediately without any paint protecting it. I’ll have to give it a final sanding right before I prime it.

Now I’m ready. We have this little plastic outbuilding that I need to clean out and convert into a temporary paint booth. I’ll have to slot out the time and I’ll need a final sanding to clean the flash rust off the frame; then it’s primer-color-clear.

I thought about colors – I want something really simple that won’t show dirt. It looks like it’ll be Charleston Green. – which is almost black, but is supposed to show a green tint when the sun hits it right. That’s darker than I was thinking originally (I was looking for a dark British Racing Green) but the more I thought about it, and the more I read about the history of the color, Charleston Green it is.

Bicycle Lanes

While Dallas rates, again, its well-deserved award as the worst city in the nation for bicycling, my suburb of Richardson was awarded the most bike friendly neighborhood. The best of the worst… so to speak.

One piece of cycling infrastructure that Richardson has embraced is the idea of separate, striped, bicycle lanes on their broad residential avenues. The square mile neighborhood I live in, Duck Creek, is bisected north and south, plus east and west, at the half mile marks by two of these avenues – Apollo, going east and west, and Yale, north and south.

In the last year or so, both have had a bike lane striped off going each way. These are marked off on the right hand side and are shared with bikes and parked cars. The square mile is also sliced on the diagonal with the Duck Creek Linear Park and its trail, plus the Owens Trail branching off to the north under the power lines, Glenville Trail heading west through the trails snaking around Huffines Park – my neighborhood is not lacking for bicycle infrastructure (love the Googlemap green lines for bicycle routes – though they don’t have the one’s on my streets).

The city is expanding this program, and another road near me, Grove, has had the same treatment for at least two miles of its transit through the city.

These improvements have been very popular. Not so much for the bicycle infrastructure they provide – but for their “calming” effect on traffic. These roads were wide enough to allow passing before – which only encouraged excessive speed, and a lot of folks were confused over which lane to drive in. Now the roads are narrowed to a reasonable width and seem to be the better for it.

Recently the city improved the bike lanes in my neighborhood by adding a narrow “buffer zone” that restricts traffic a tad more and gives a bit of confidence to the bike riders.

Bike lane on Yale, near my house.

I’ve been experimenting with these lanes a bit over the last few weeks and have come up with a few opinions and observations.

The lanes themselves are great. Sometimes, sharing the lane with parked cars can be a problem – wide vehicles like lawn-mowing company trailers can force you too far to the left, and there’s always the fear of someone opening a car door in front of you. The drivers do respect the lanes, though. The lanes would be tough for a high speed rider on a hot road bike – but a slow tourist or commuter has no problem in the middle of the blocks.

One problem is the intersections. Left hand turns are harrowing on a bicycle – there isn’t enough sidewalk or shoulder to do the stop, turn, and cross. The cars use the bike lanes for right turns. Look at this picture.

Bike lane merging with right turn lane at Beltline road.

This is a very busy crossing and the cars are going by fast in all directions. There is simply not enough space to navigate a bike through there. If you ride a bike very much in traffic you will learn that bicycles are often invisible to turning cars – I am more afraid of cars making turns than I am of speeding motorists.

Another observation is a more generic one. Planners tend to look at long stretches of road. If they can open up a long stretch, they view that as a victory.

When you are planning a route for your own personal use you tend to think about choke points. These are locations or short stretches of road that cannot be easily or safety crossed on a bicycle. Your route will be developed not to take advantage of long stretches of good road as much as it is chosen to avoid these choke points.

Some of the most notorious sets of these are the railroad crossings. Look at this one on Arapaho – a very busy major thoroughfare.

Rail crossing on Arapaho road.

There are three lanes of traffic both ways going through that little space – going fast, up to fifty miles per hour or more (don’t lecture me on speed limits… this is Texas). There is no sidewalk, no shoulder, no other way to cross. That hump has a set of rough wheel-swallowing steel rails sitting there on top of it. You hit that wrong on a bike and you are going down. There is no other crossing to the south for a mile. It’s two miles south to a safe crossing.

The Grove road bike lane is right behind me… as is the Arapaho DART station. If I want to ride my bike to the library; I have to go through there. If there is any traffic at all I have no alternative than to stop, get off my bike, and carry it over the tracks.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world… but I wish someone would work on these choke points.

My Commute Home from Work

I used to tell people that I couldn’t ride a bike to work because the route wasn’t safe. The streets I drive on have a long, blind, fast curving stretch that would be fatal for a slow bicycle. But as I thought about it, I figured out that I could find a safe route – especially after the Glenville Trail that runs behind my house opened up. I thought about it for a year, then finally started to ride. It seemed like a big deal for me when I was thinking about it and when I rode the first time, but now it’s routine.

I don’t ride to work… there is no way for me to take a shower and I sweat like a stuck pig in this summer Texas heat – so I get someone to drive me in to work in the morning and I ride home. This has another advantage of taking away any time constraints so I can ride as slowly as I want. Friday I loaded a point and shoot into my handlebar bag and took some shots along the way.

Near my work I have a couple routes through the parking lots of an extensive area of small business parks. Looking at these businesses – of a tremendous variety – is always interesting to me. I admire and am fascinated by entrepreneurship and these strips of cheap space are the heart and birthplace of new industry.


Magrathea Incorporated? What a cool name. I looked them up – they are on facebook – they’re in the business of restoring classic old cars. A bit of a fall from making entire custom ordered planets – but still pretty interesting.

Wood World

Wood World – a neat store with all sorts of rare and useful wood raw materials, tools, and pen kits.

I emerge from the industrial parks and cross Spring Valley at a busy intersection next to the DART station. It’s a long, long light – then I play chicken with the transit busses turning left in front of me.

Here’s the hardest and most fun part of the ride. When you drive around Dallas, you think it is as flat as a pancake. But there are hills that you can notice on a bicycle – when you have to expend the energy to get up them. There’s this alley that I found – almost a mile long, and a slow steady uphill the whole way. When I first rode, it was a struggle riding that stretch. Now I barely even have to downshift. It’s a shock how quickly that changed.

Bike Lane on Grove.

The City of Richardson has started designating the right hand lanes on many of their neighborhood thoroughfares as bike lanes. It’s working out well – the bikes like it and it helps control the traffic. The only problem is making left turns out of the right-hand bike lanes – there is no way to do that safely.

One surprising barrier to bicycle transport are the rail lines. This one cuts right through the city and there are few routes across it – and they are narrow, busy roads.

Glenbrook Trail

The last mile and a half of my commute home is on the Glenbrook Trail – which starts out running under a power line right of way. It was supposed to go farther, but they could not get permission to cross the railroad right-of-way (see above).

The Glenbrook Trail crossing Beltline road.

The trail crosses the very busy Beltline Road (everything in the suburbs of Dallas is on Beltline Road) a block west of Plano Road. It’s a nasty intersection – when I went to meetings on the planning of the Glenville Trail they said they were really struggling with this section – there is simply not enough room.

The other day, while I was waiting for the light to turn, a woman in a VW made a left and a huge SUV was coming way, way too fast and she turned in front of him. There was a screech of brakes, horns, and skidding tires – the SUV went up on two wheels and swerved right past me – in the end nobody hit anything, though it was close. I stood there watching it thinking that if the truck hits the VW it will bounce off and crush me standing right there, four feet away, on the sidewalk with my bike.

The whole thing was over in three seconds.

The intersection is lousy with surveillance cameras and I wondered if I had died a sudden spectacular death would it be captured on one of the traffic cams. Would my demise make it onto Youtube? Texas bicyclist crushed by careening Tahoe. Would I go viral?

Plano Road crossing

Where the trails cross busy roads without lights (this one is on Plano Road) they have these S-Shaped islands. At the planning meetings it was explained that this design forces bicycles and pedestrians to stop in the middle of the crossing and then turn and face oncoming traffic to see and wait for a gap to continue across. It actually works really well – I feel safer at these crossings than I do at the lights (see above).

The ponds at Huffhines.

The last part of my commute is the easiest part – the trail goes through the ponds in the park at the end of my block. This is on the bridge over the ponds next to the new Huffhines Recreation Center.

Wal-Mart panniers.

I bought these panniers on clearance from Wal-Mart, believe it or not. They are not the best quality in the world – I wouldn’t go on a cross-country cycle journey with them, but they are handy and work great for clothes and whatever work I have to take home.