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.

Another Project – Kindle Case

Well, I installed a monitor on my exercise bicycle and then I built a case for my camera. Now, I decided on another stupid project – something I would be better off buying… but anyway.

You see, I lost my Kindle. It was my 2nd generation model – the one I received for Christmas two years ago. I felt awful. I know that a replacement isn’t that expensive anymore but I hate losing gifts – plus I try to take care of my valued possessions and I felt like an idiot. I do carry my Kindle with me literally everywhere (that’s the idea of having one) and will pull it out and read for a few seconds whenever a spare moment comes up (that’s the idea of having one) – so I suppose it was inevitable that I would misplace it eventually.

So after a week or so of terrible withdrawal symptoms, I gave up and waltzed over to the closest Everything Store and bought one of the little Kindle 4 with special offers. It was only 79 bucks and came with a discount and a gift card so it ended up costing less. I keep all my books organized, categorized, and  backed up with a program called Calibre (very highly recommended if you have an ebook reader) so it was a simple task to load all the books onto my new device.  I already have more books on the damn thing than I can probably read in the rest of my life.

The thing is tiny. It is also very light. I had to think a bit about how to carry it. I had spent a bit of money on a genuine Moleskine cover for my old Kindle. It protected the device well and came with a Moleskine Reporter Notebook attached for quick ideas while I was reading. I didn’t want an attached case for the new Kindle, however. The nice thing is its tiny size and feather weight – it makes it easy to hold. But I needed something to protect it while I was carrying it. I played around with some small sleeve-like things and a tiny plastic box that I lined with foam, but none of these fit the bill.

After thinking about it, I decided to make my own. I wanted something to protect it, maybe disguise it, and something that wasn’t much bigger than the Kindle itself.

So I decided to hollow out a book.

The first step was a stop down at the big main Half-Price Bookstore where I walked down the clearance sections with my Kindle measuring it against the books. I wanted a hardback that was only a half-inch or so bigger than the Kindle. I learned a little bit about bookbinding too. A lot of modern hardcovers are bound with the signatures glued directly to the spines. I didn’t want one like that – I wanted a book with the signatures glued to a flexible piece of cloth or paper that was separate from the spine. I wanted one that looked like this – so I could slice the pages out of the book while keeping the spine intact.

Most importantly, I didn’t want to pay more than one dollar.

I found a used copy of Dancing at the Harvest Moon, by K. C. McKinnon that met these requirements. I apologize to Mr. McKinnon and his fans. I apologize to book fanatics everywhere. It feels sacrilegious to carve up a perfectly good book (even a used one for sale for a buck) to make a portable home for an ereader. Sorry. Get over it. I promise to actually read another copy of the book when I get time. There is even a movie, with Jacqueline Bisset – and I promise I’ll watch it if I get the chance.


On with the slaughter.

Here is the book I chose, and the Kindle. And a razor knife. Oh, the humanity.

The first step is to cut the pages away from the spine and end boards with a razor knife.

Next, I used the knife to divide the pages into three groups, keeping each group glued together as best I could. I helps to cut at the borders of the signatures. The center section is the thickness of the Kindle, with the rest of the pages divided evenly into two groups.

I thinned out some carpenter's glue with water to stick all the pages together.

Next, I soaked each of the three groups of pages in the glue. This was pretty hard - trying to get the glue between all the pages. Then I stacked them up, with plastic between each group so they wouldn't stick together, and weighted them down to dry.

This was the part that didn’t work too well. I thinned the glue too much and it didn’t stick like I wanted it to. Also, anyone that has experience with water-based adhesives will recognize that once the pages are wrapped in plastic and weighted down they will never dry. I had to unwrap them and set them out to dry, which took a long time. I have to think of a better way to do this.

I’m thinking of epoxy resin thinned with alcohol – though that would be a real fire hazard. I’ll work on it.

When you look online, most folks only spread glue on the outside of the pages and then cut down through with a razor knife. I wanted to go a little more serious than that – I wanted to glue the pages together into something like a block of wood and then cut the center section out with a band saw.

I traced the outline of the Kindle on the center section and then cut it out on the bandsaw. One edge is open - the book spine will go there and keep the Kindle from falling out.

Again, here, I didn’t do as good a job as I should. You can see that the paper wrinkled as I was cutting. Plus I was in too much of a hurry and didn’t mark or cut the outline as neatly as I would have liked. It works great, but looks a little ragged. I’ll be more careful next time.

Then I glued the cut out center section to one of the end pieces and then glued both end pieces to the cover boards.

At this point, I spent some time applying extra glue to the sides of the stacks of paper and to the exposed paper. I thought about lining the opening with thin foam, but the paper itself is a pretty good cushion. After I took this picture I peeled away a couple pages until a nice picture of a duck was displayed. I also cut a piece of good quality paper and glued it over the ragged exposed spine – mostly to give it a bit of a neater look and for a bit of reinforcement.

It took a long time to dry. I couldn’t resist messing with it, but any problems could be fixed with a little bit of glue-water mix.

Finished, with the Kindle inside.

Closed, it looks like a perfectly ordinary boring book.

The only thing left is to put a closure onto it. I thought about concealing small magnets in the glued pages, but that’s a bit more complicated that I want to get this time. I need to go to a fabric store and buy some elastic so I can drill a couple holes and install an elastic closure, Moleskine style. I should have done this before I glued the pages to the cover boards, but I didn’t think of it.

I’ll use this for a while, and then, if it works well, I’ll do a second generation – applying what I learned. Hopefully, it will look a bit better and I’ll put in the magnetic closures… that would be cool. Maybe a space for a pen. Maybe a little spot to keep a USB charging cable…

The mind boggles.

Oh, by the way… while I was working on this, I got my old Kindle back. I left it somewhere and the people that found it couldn’t figure out how to get my information off of the Kindle. After about a week they thought of looking in the attached Moleskine Notebook where I had my name, address and phone number. I am very appreciative and thankful they called me and I was able to pick it up. After thinking about it for a while I decided to keep the new, smaller Kindle and let Lee take the old one back to school with him.