Stuff that cracks me up

I’ve been missing a lot from the blog lately, because I’ve been traveling for work a lot lately, where I see stuff like this:

Riding Options at MSPThis was Minneapolis airport Monday morning. If you’re patrolling the terminals, which do you choose? The slothy Segway, or the bike? For some reason, I always imagine the bike cop having fewer problems if I try to escape via the stairs…

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What we’re riding with: A snow helmet

Note:  USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!  We’ll go through the similarities between testing requirements, and we even got the “ok” to do it by a member of a nationally-accredited testing company, but no helmet is officially certified as a “cycling” helmet unless it has the official CPSC approval.

We’ve seen all manner of ways to keep your head warm while heading out on a bike, few of them safe.  You can head out with just a winter hat and *no* helmet, or wear a thick winter hat underneath your current helmet….  the latter being of questionable safety since it often causes the helmet to sit crooked or farther away from the head.  You can buy a helmet cover, but that is only about as warm as wearing a Nutcase dirt-jump helmet with fewer vents anyway.  So this got us thinking; what about a helmet that’s made to be used in cold weather, particularly a snow helmet?  We’ll probably never have a cycling helmet made specifically for cold weather until the number of winter cyclists increases to the point that it’s financially viable for a helmet company to invest in the tooling, patterns and so on to bring one to market, but what about wearing a helmet that’s made for (and approved for) skiing and snowboarding instead?

Few adult helmets that we know of are dual-certified for both cycling and snow sports, although I’ll admit we didn’t spend a ton of time looking (if you know of one, shoot us an email and we’ll update this post).  Snow helmets follow the ASTM 2040 standard, and cycling helmets follow the CPSC requirements, each with their own specific testing protocol.  So the question was, how similar are the two testing requirements, and would it be safe to wear a snow-sport-approved helmet while riding a bike?

For answers we turned to Dave Thom from ACT Lab LLC which performs independent 3rd party testing for many of the cycling and ski helmets that are on the market today.  To spoil the suspense (and to allow anyone bored by government-mandated testing protocol to stop reading and go for a ride), Dave was highly supportive of using a snow helmet for winter cycling, and had actually given the same response to his daughter last year when she asked about a friend using one to commute during the winter in Chicago (although he wanted to note that this applies as long as you’re not trying to ride in an aerodynamic position where the rear of the helmet could restrict your head position). Here’s how it breaks down:


The standards listed above mandate the coverage required for each sport, and while some manufacturers can offer coverage beyond/below that line, it’s not necessary and testing labs don’t test the safety of an impact beyond what is mandated.  The good news is that snow helmets have a *greater* coverage required by the ASTM 2040 standard, so that if you’re wearing a snow helmet you actually have more a greater surface area of your head protected by the helmet.  In general it comes down being similar coverage in the front (the coverage on a snow helmet is 9mm higher than on a cycling helmet on the medium J headform), but far more coverage in the rear (27mm, or more than an inch of additional rear coverage).  Again, this isn’t saying that the helmets don’t exist beyond the test line, but rather that that’s where the testable area is.  So overall, a snow helmet offers additional coverage beyond what a bicycle helmet offers.

Impact velocities and results:

All helmets are tested by dropping a weighted headform onto an implement of destrution and measuring the deceleration inside the headform.  The biggest risk of injury is a hard, sudden stop of your head, and a helmet slows down your head to reduce the impact (measured in G forces) on your brain.  Here’s a video of Limar testing helmets for the EN 1070 European standard, but the general idea is the same…  Just watch it on mute, trust me.  If the test were run without a helmet, the result would be above 1,000Gs (G=force of gravity), but for both snow and bicycle helmets, the requirement is to be below 300g.  Furthermore, for the “drop to flat” test, the impact velocity for both helmet standards is identical, with the helmet falling at 6.2m/s when it impacts the flat anvil.  For the “drop onto the hemispherical object” test, the standards again are identical, with the helmet falling at 4.8m/s right before impact.  While there is no “kerbstone” for the snow helmet test, there is an “edge” (image is in the “kerbstone” picture) which is designed to imitate an errant ski edge smacking you in the head.  The “edge” anvil is tested at a slightly slower 4.5m/s velocity, but since it appears to cause more damage to the helmet than the “kerbstone,” I wouldn’t be surprised if they were at the very least similar with regards to how they impacted the helmet.  So the actual anvils used and speeds achieved by both tests are again, either identical or at the very least very, very similar.

Retention system test:

Identical.  Both helmet standards require a 4kg weight dropped 0.6m on both the roll-off and retention system test.


*Very* similar.  Snow helmets are tested under colder conditions (down to -18F) but only up to 100F in the “hot” condition.  Cycling helmets are tested down to 1F, but go up to 127F.  Honestly, if you’re riding with a ski helmet in conditions above 100F, you’re not using it for the correct application.  Both standards require an “ambient” and a “wet” condition as well.

Obviously, the tests are not identical.  There are some specific requirements about which hits can be placed where, and while both standards require a helmet to survive 4 individual hits to the same helmet, the specifics of how close the hits can be to each other mean that they’re different enough that a snow helmet would have to be tested again to get the cherished CPSC label.  What I take away from it (and I used to be a helmet product manager for Trek) is that the testing is so similar that I am not only confident with using a snow helmet for cycling, but that I also am comfortable with my wife wearing one as well….  now about that life insurance policy.

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What we’re riding with

Last year we wrote a post about how we dressed for cold weather riding, and although many of the links to products that we suggested are now dead, the overall message remains the same:  dress as you would for any type of outdoor activity, and you should be fine.  To follow up on that idea, here are a few items that we’ve picked up recently that have made riding in cold weather better, even if half the time we’ve had to leave them at home half the time since the weather has been unseasonably warm here.

Cheap mittens ($9 at local big-box hardware store):

I don’t know what it is about “cycling specific” gear, but most of it is a) expensive and b) not *actually* made for sub-freezing temperatures.  Most of it (not all, you can find Bar Mitts, for instance) seems to be much more performance-oriented, with lighter-weight insulation and focus on gloves as opposed to warmer mittens.  For someone with bad circulation like me, no glove is going to be as warm as a good, well-insulated mitten, and that includes the lobster-claw-style cyclingthings that are far more focused on allowing shifting a road bike than keeping a commuter warm as he/she rides a singlespeed to and from work.

So instead of spending $75 on a “cycling specific glove-mitten-hybrid” that *still* won’t keep my fingers warm, I found these for $9.  Fleece-“gloves” inside of an all-encompassing Nylon “mitten”.

The Menards site claims that they’re currently $11.99, but I found them for $9 at my local store.  They also blow away my pricey pair of Trek winter gloves that retailed for 6 times as much when they were sold a couple years ago.  These mittens are so warm that I mistakenly overdressed one day (mid-upper 30s) and my hands were far, far too warm.  Sure, there are a ton of downsides including having too much insulation in the palm area, and I can’t imagine trying to shift a road bike with them, but for a winter bike?  They’re perfect.  And the best part (aside from the fact that they’re toasty warm, work great at blocking wind, and were only $9) is that if you participate in *any* outdoor activity when it gets cold, chances are you already own a pair, or at least something very, very, very similar.

Merino wool socks ($4 at Costco):

Ok, this is probably due to the abnormally warm winter causing overstock in winter clothing at major retailers, but Costco recently had thick Merino wool socks for $12/3 pair.  Yup, a grand total of $4/pair of toasty warm wool socks that didn’t cost $65/pair (yikes!!!).  Obviously YMMV for finding a deal like that, but for keeping your feet warm inside your hiking/winter boots, you really can’t beat a deal like that.  If you don’t have a Costco membership, you can find similar socks for $8+ at sites like or

Cheap “Sports” prescription glasses ($60 at Zenni Optical):

We’ve actually been riding with these since last year, but can’t help but gush about how cool this website is.  I’ve had to wear glasses since the 4th grade, and it has *always* been the same story; you get one expensive (starting over $100 25 years ago, amounting to over $400 for my last pair) pair of eyeglasses that last you several years until you’ve absolutely *destroyed* them through normal use, sports, etc.  For almost 15 years I wore contacts for sports, but that meant that every time I wanted to ride I’d have to put in contacts and go searching for my expensive cycling-specific glasses.

Last year we discovered Zenni Optical, which manufactures cheap prescription glasses in China and ships them directly to you here in the US.  Now, instead of buying one pair every couple years and hoping that they last, we can now purchase LOTS of glasses, including ones specifically for riding.

The yellow ones on the top right are specifically for sports-oriented cycling (ie, mtn biking, road biking, etc), and the dark ones below them are for normal riding when it’s especially bright out.  No more fumbling with contacts, no more reordering every 6 months, no more buying contacts *and* (non-prescription) sunglasses, and no more trying to make one pair fit multiple uses through clip-on shades or Transitions photochromatic, this has allowed us to purchase enough glasses that we can start specializing in how we want to use them.  Normal riding, “hard-core” cycling, every-day commuting, etc.

Note:   We opted for the super-special 1.67 high-index lenses on some of these, which were a $35 (per pair of glasses) upcharge.  If your eyesight isn’t as bad, or if you can live with a slightly thicker lens, particularly on the plastic-framed models, your costs would be far, far lower, closer to the $35 range for the yellow “sport-specific” glasses.  The rest would be in the $20-25 range.

So that’s what we’ve been riding with, what have you guys found that’s cheap, effective and non-dorky this winter?

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Let’s hear it for Congressional inaction!!! (no, really)

The most recent Congress just did something incredibly positive for this country – absolutely nothing.  No, this isn’t a call for more inaction on the part of our increasingly dysfunctional national legislative body, but rather to note a specific nonaction:  Congress officially rejected continuing ethanol subsidies as of the end of last year!

Last year, ethanol subsidies were a $6 billion handout to American drivers from every single American taxpayer.  Since there are 250 million Americans over the age of 18, that’s ~$25 taken every adult and given to automobile drivers.  If you go with the (often criticized but technically relevant number since the $6b cost is paid through federal income taxes) assumption that only 53% of those pay federal income taxes, it means that automobile drivers are being subsidized to the tune of $45 per-federal-income-tax-paying adult*.

A responsible family of two working adults that don’t have cars and rely on bicycles, walking and public transportation to get around?  Yup, they’re coughing up $90 for all of the irresponsible people putting 20 gallons of gas into their huge SUV.

I’ve taken to riding a bike and pulling a trailer when going to the grocery store (when the weather’s decent).  It’s not bad, gets me out in the fresh air, and it’s not *actually* that bad pulling the groceries home (or what counts for groceries here in WI).  But on the last trip, I couldn’t help but stop and think about how there were 3 bikes in the rack, and probably 500 cars in the parking lot.  And I subsidized each and every one of them.


*Note:  These numbers are purely hypothetical, since we live in a society with a graduated / progressive tax system.  For the vast majority of people who pay less than the average (ie, median is less than the mean), the amount that they “contributing” is far less than $45.  Also, since we’re running a budget deficit the added cost is actually paid for through federal debt, which may be paid for through a mix of corporate and personal income taxes.  What I’m saying is that these numbers were used for added effect, and, well, since it’s my blog I can do whatever I want.

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New record for getting yelled at on a ride…

Three.  That’s the new record for people driving by yelling at me and Shannon on our ride home from Ale Asylum tonight.  Three separate cars slowed down (ok, one was already stopped at an intersection), had people roll down their windows and scream out….


Yup, three different people felt the need to compliment us (rather loudly) as to how cool they thought our lights were.  Not only that, but an  additional three pedestrians *also* commented on how cool the wheel-lights were.  We were absolutely floored…

The afternoon started out with a nice drink at our favorite local brewery, and we timed the afternoon date so that we could head back after dark to both try out the wheel LED lights along with a new high-intensity headlamp that we just received to test (more on that in a later post).  Heading back was truly an eye-opening experience.  We stayed mostly on the roads as opposed to bike paths as we wanted to get home more quickly (it was getting cold), and the overall positive response was just about overwhelming.  A car waiting at an intersection rolled down the passenger window and called out “NICE LIGHTS,” and someone who overtook us going the same direction slowed down as they did and gave us the same compliment.  A third car also complimented us, along with several people walking along the road getting ready to head in to a Christmas party.  This all occurred on a 6 mile ride home, and I’m pretty sure that this is the first time I’ve had people yell positive things out of passing cars.

We did take a quick video that we’ll upload soon, but in the meantime here’s a pic of Shannon’s and my final design.  Yes, the color choices are hetero-normative gender specific, get over it.


Edit:  Yes, another crappy cell-phone video showing the lights in the dark.  You can even hear my neighbor say “nice rims!!”

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DIY Bike Wheel Lights, Pt. II

So in the previous post on bike lights I alluded to having a few new sets of lights on order from, and I can now say with 100% certainty that they are superior in every single way…  particularly in that whole “reduced risk of the bulb getting caught between your brake calipers and rim and sending you to the hospital” thing.  The biggest problem with the Christmas lights was that the “bulbs” stuck out from the rest of the wire, meaning there was far too much of a chance of them sticking out and hitting the frame/fork on a typical road-bike setup such as the Sasha due to the narrow wheel and frame.  If you have a Pugsley, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure they’d work fine.

So for my second attempt I purchased these LED light strings off of  20 LED lights on a 7′ wire strand, powered by 3 AA batteries, all for ~$4.50 each.  The main reason I was so excited about these was that the LED “bulbs” are actually in-line along the thin-gauge wire.  You can see exactly how small they are in this picture:

That is all there is to the “bulb” in the middle of my hand.  So the installation process was identical to the previous attempt, with the battery pack / controller ziptied to the spokes towards the center of the wheel, with the wire held in place along the rim with color-matched electrical tape.  When viewed closely the blue tape and rim doesn’t match 100%, but it’s close enough that when it’s seen at a distance it’s not that bad.

And from a distance:

Obviously if you have a black rim it’ll be *far* easier to color-match, as well as if you have a green Sasha with white rims.  The thin wire running along the rim is almost invisible from 5-10′ away as well.  The result:

And yes, that is one of my photography assistants helping out as usual.

Total cost:
$9 for 2 strands of blue LED lights
$2 for 6 AA batteries (about, they came in a pack of 20)
$2 for blue electrical tape
Few random zipties

And the output is 40 LED lights positioned where they move the most (in the dark our eyes often go first to *moving* lights as opposed to stationary), and are bright enough that they blow away any of the small rear blinky lights that we have at our disposal to test against.

A couple things to note:

1)  While the wire strand is waterproof, the battery pack / controller is *not*.  If you’re going to use this in all types of weather, you might want to wrap the controller in a plastic bag to keep the moisture out of it.

2)  We haven’t noticed the battery pack throwing off the balance of the wheel, but we’re primarily using this for short commuting trips.  YMMV, especially if you’re going faster/farther/etc.

3)  As always, use at your own risk.  The thin wire has far less of a chance of “falling off the rim” and getting caught in your brake pads than our previous attempt, but as always, anything is possible and play around with these at your own risk.

Stay safe, and enjoy the night!

edit:  By the way, these LEDs are about as bright as the Christmas lights we tried out earlier.  In the pictures they don’t look as bright since for the original post we set up the camera with a long (5+ second) exposure and had 100% of the light coming from the LEDs.  In these pics we had a back light on for some ambient lighting, and kept it to a more reasonable exposure time.

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Ever just have one of those days?

You know, where you’re just DESPERATE to avoid whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing?  After a week’s vacation and *two weeks* with a nasty cold, I’ve got a pile of things that I *should* be doing…  But it seems like the more stuff that gets piled on your plate, the less likely it is that you do any of it.  So what do you do as a small business owner?  Act on that completely separate idea and claim that it’s work-related because you’re going to turn it into a blog post.  :)

Shannon’s recent blog post reminiscing about when we used our bike stand as a “Christmas Tree” reminded me of an idea that I’d been thinking about for some time.  The biggest drawback to riding in the fall, particularly the late fall is darkness.  The cold isn’t even that bad, but it seems like after rolling the clocks back at the beginning of November you’re almost guaranteed to be commuting home in the dark.  Looking out the window (at 4pm) with an overcast sky it’s already dusk, and it’ll probably be pitch black in another 20min.  As a bike commuter visibility is essential for safety, and so we usually scrounge (literally) every single blinking light we can get our hands on.  The all-to-common phrase is “I’m lit up like a Christmas tree.”

That got me thinking.  What about *actually* lighting yourself, or your bike up like a Christmas tree?  Bike lights seem extremely expensive for what they are, but that’s only because when you put the word “bike” in front of something it automatically quadruples in price.  You can get an allen key multi-tool from Home Depot for $6. Add something bicycle related (chain breaker, for example), sell it in a bike shop and suddenly it’s $35. So at $15 for a crummy rear blinky, you’ll be broke if you try to add up enough of those to actually make yourself visible*.

The solution?  Actual Christmas lights.  With LED technology and mass production, lights are cheaper, more efficient, and can be run off of a few AA batteries.  I picked up a couple sets of battery-powered, 20-LED lights from Target ($8 apiece, not including batteries), and installed them on Shannon’s bike:

A couple things to note:

1)  These are the TEENY LED lights, which are impact resistant and don’t have an actual “bulb”.  Hopefully the lack of a bulb will allow for a bit more resilience if they get a bit out of place and smack the frame/fork.
2)  They’re held in place by white electrical tape, which is color-matched to the rims, or would be if the rims were actually clean…..
3)  As many of you probably know, you want to keep any and all weight as close to the hub as possible.  The battery pack is zip-tied to the spokes up close to the hub.
4)  The biggest problem I had (still have) is that with a narrow-framed road bike the fact that the lights stick out mean that there’s a chance of them hitting either the frame or the fork.  Working carefully around the wheel when you’re putting them on, you can tape the wire so that the “bulbs” are always facing straight up towards the hub.
5)  This is only my first attempt.  I’ve also placed an order for some alternative LED lights, which hopefully will be here later this week.  I’ll keep quiet about which ones I picked just in case it goes horribly, horribly wrong…
6)  None of the ones that I picked out are waterproof.  There are waterproof options, though.
7)  USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!!  On the Sasha the rims are tall enough to hopefully keep the lights out of things like the brake calipers, but your riding conditions, your rims, and your application could vary widely, meaning that you could easily catch a bulb in between the brake caliper and the rim.  If you’re in doubt, just put the lights around the frame, the handlebars, the seatpost, anywhere where there’s no chance of it getting caught and causing an accident.  Please, be careful out there.

edit:  Here’s a quick video of it in action –

Christmas lights on a bike

*Note:  State law in WI requires either a red reflector *or* a red blinky in the rear.  None of what is discussed here alleviates you from that requirement.

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Holiday Tree Alternatives

Santa Claus on a bicycle tree ornamentYesterday, Travis and I got our Christmas tree. It is now up in our living room, liberally festooned with lights and ornaments.

Looking at it now, it reminds me of when we lived in a considerably smaller place. In our first apartment together, we didn’t have enough room for a tree, but we did have a floor-to-ceiling four-bike bike stand. Since it was too cold and snowy to take the bikes out, we just strung them up with lights.

Every night, before we went to sleep, we turned on the bike stand and watched the lights. As much as I love my tree (and the smell is about a million times better than chain lube)I do miss those days of shining bikes. It’s a funny little reminder to me of how bicycles can fit in everywhere, if you let them.

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And the magic number is…


On my ride to work this morning, I saw 53 other riders out on the roads and bikepaths.

That’s incredible.

It was in the upper twenties when I left home, and about freezing when I got to the office. (It’s pretty funny when “freezing” is an improvement.) At this time of year, I hope to see about one rider for every degree Fahrenheit, so 53 people was significantly more than I was expecting.

One thing I noticed on my way was the importance of good gear. This morning, I was particularly grateful for my ski mittens and balaklava, particularly when I saw all the riders getting by with inventively wrapped scarves and gloves (how do they feel their fingers after ten minutes?!).

So, what’s your secret for keeping warm?

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Heading home

Minneapolis airportToday, I saw something truly awesome at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

An airport security officer riding through the terminal on a bicycle.

It was so much more confidence-affirming than when they’re riding along on Segways…

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