Monday, August 30, 2010

Bike commuting by CalTrain: Part 1

Since 2007 I have commuted to work by bicycle and/or a local SF Bay peninsula train known as CalTrain. In 2007 I rode a fantastic vintage Fuji S-12-S I rebuilt as a single speed and commuted to SOMA SF. Subsequently I've commuted to the southbay as well. Lately I've been doing this more and since the beginning of August, haven't driven to work.

Commuting by bike and train forces you to get your routine down, getting everything together, but the more you commute by bike, the easier it is. With bike commuting, I love the freedom of not having to deal with traffic or waiting forever at stoplights (well, you can wait, but if it's clear, it's an option). Having to get to the train involves a certain lower end form of riding similar to amateur stop-sign-interval training.

There are lots of kinds of people who ride CalTrain. There are usually one or sometimes two train cars that are designated specifically for bicycles. Since people are going different places it's often useful to tag your bike with your destination so other riders can know where you're going and can stack their bike next to a bike that is going either to the same stop or further down the line.

A few common bike commuting CalTrain annoyances:

Bikes with no desitination tag
Adding something to a bike to let others know where you're going is a simple thing to do. However some bike commuters are lazy or don't care.

Riders bringing unreasonably large bikes onboard.
It's often funny to watch bike commuters wrestle with large cruisers or heavy duty mountain bikes. These bikes take up more room and on a crowded train, this can matter. In this case, I appreciate single speed/fixie bikes.

Riders stacking bikes all pointed in the same direction.
It works better if you alternate bikes so they're stacked pointing in the opposite direction since they tend to fit better. CalTrain signs state this but are unreadable, if only they could be more graphic.

Passengers without bikes sitting in the bike car
Some passengers jump on the first car even though they don't have a bike even though there are 500 other seats on a train.

Cel phone talkers
Passengers who blather on and on while riding CalTrain should have their phones confiscated.

Otherwise biking and taking Caltrain is great and definitely better than driving.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Vintage MAFAC brake lever hack

Lately I've been working on (for some unexplainable reason) an ancient, precambrian Peugeot bike, a 70s "Record du Monde". Despite the name, this was a fairly low end production bike commonly sold in the US. These bikes are the antithesis of a lightweight race bike, what record they hold, besides weight, I'm not sure. They could be more aptly named "Record du Stovepipe". One redeeming feature on these however are the venerable MAFAC Racer centerpull brakes and original MAFAC levers. The levers have an older style demi rubber hood that just covers the top portion of where you rest your hand. Similar to this lever below.

The original hoods for these are now collectors items and either difficult to find and/or very expensive if you find them. The ones on this bike were complete toast from weathering, but the cable adjuster inserts, a nice feature still today—especially for centerpull or cantilever brakes—were good. I was able to fit a more modern conventional brake hood on the lever. To take up the gap around the adjuster, I took a wine cork, drilled it out, cut it lengthwise into two pieces and then sanded one end of each piece into a conical shape. I then used these as insert supports around the cable adjusters, filling in the space under the top of the hood. A good workaround if you can't find the original hoods for these MAFAC levers.