Thursday, November 06, 2008

Current Bike-Lighting Configuration

Here's what I currently have as a winter time visibility kit:

- NiteRider 15W halogen on handlebars, with sibling NiteRider taillight, both running off my home-made 12V NiMH battery pack on the back of the seat tube. I just got this working again after a 2-year hiatus, so there are some other headlights still on the bike until I'm confident in the new battery.

- Small Cateye on handlebars -- mostly a backup light, it will probably go back in my bag.

- Big Cateye (HL-500 Opticube) on the left fork -- also currently a backup.

- NiteIze SpokeLit on the front wheel -- it's a very bright green, highly visible and unusual, I really like it!

- Blackburn taillight on back of helmet - this thing is *bright*! Between it and the NiteRider taillight, I get frequent comments from other riders when they come up behind me at stoplights, such as "wow those are really visible!"

- I also have a Planet Bike Superflash; it was mounted on the seatpost (where the NiteRider is now) but it's currently a backup and living in my commute bag.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

BUUD Alert #3!

This is Bicycle-Unfriendly Urban Design (BUUD) Danger Alert #3!

Location: Hollenbeck Ave at El Camino

Issue: The traffic signal yellow-light duration is way too short for a bicycle to make it across El Camino before the light changes to red. Even at >15 mph, a bike entering the intersection on a green light can't make the other side before the light is red.

Proposed solution: Increase the yellow light duration.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Building a replacement battery pack for a NiteRider 12V light

Since it was quickly getting very dark in the evenings, and I knew the "fall back" time change was soon to be upon us to make it even darker, my thoughts turned to bike lights.

More specifically, my thoughts turned to the general inadequacy of my current white-light setup... I've been using a little Cateye on the handlebars in blinking-mode (to get the attention of cars) and a bigger Cateye HL500 mounted down on the fork blade for trail/road illumination. But it just can't cut through oncoming cars' headlights, and on a trail with twists and turns, it has too narrow a beam.

Last year, I put the small Cateye on my helmet, to get around the HL500's focused beam; that wasn't bad, but the combo just wasn't bright enough. I started using these lights after my NiteRider halogen's battery pack finally died. I got several years' use out of it, but a replacement battery pack is over $150, and I was having a hard time justifying the expense.

So, having decided the current combination was just not cutting it, I weighed my choices: get a completely new system (maybe a hub generator? can't switch it between bikes very easily, and quite expensive. New-tech rechargeable LED stuff? Nice, but pricey) or revive the old one (but a new battery pack is almost as much as a low-end LED light!) But perhaps there was a less-costly option...

With nothing to lose, I tore open the NiteRider battery pack. Inside, it's just made up of commercial/industrial NiMH cells -- which are available on the 'net, if one looks around enough. The only label was "4500mAh JAPAN". Turns out, they are "4/3A" cells; e.g. 1/3 bigger than a regular A cell. What, you've never heard of an A cell? Think about it, though -- we're all familiar with AAA and AA batteries... does not their existence presuppose the existence of an A cell? And indeed, they can be had, but a lowly A cell packs not the 4500mAh we're looking for... even a regular 4/3A is only around 4000mAh. We must find the mighty Sanyo HR4/3FAUX to get what we desire!

I found 'em at TNR Technical, for $6.50 each (and you need 5 for a pack.) They're available with solder tabs, which we need; no extra charge. With tax ($2.36) and shipping ($9.95), my battery pack cost $44.81.

Once I had the batteries, all I needed to do was solder them together in the right order, swap the cables and molded casing over from the old battery pack, and charge it up. The batteries are set up in two rows of 2, with the fifth one located on top of those two rows, all wired together in series to give 12V. The factory pack used heat-shrink tubing and hot glue to hold everything together; I used a small amount of electrical tape and it worked fine.

When I cut the grey silicone casing off the factory pack, I probably sliced it more than I needed to. I had to use a several wraps of electrical tape in putting it back together, to ensure it would be waterproof. In retrospect, I would have tried harder to get the casing off without cutting it at all -- I'm not sure that's possible, but I think it could be done with some patience.

Summary: Works dandy! 1/3 the factory price.

BUUD Alert #2!

This is Bicycle-Unfriendly Urban Design (BUUD) Danger Alert #2!

Location: E Evelyn Ave and Hwy 85 onramp

Issue: Bicycles headed east on Evelyn for the Steven's Creek trail must a) enter left turn lane, b) change course in the middle of the left turn, making a right turn and entering onto the south sidewalk, c) ride the wrong way down the sidewalk to the trail entrance.

Proposed solution: create a bicycle/pedestrian crosswalk directly under the bike bridge.

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BUUD Alert #1!

This is Bicycle-Unfriendly Urban Design (BUUD) Danger Alert #1!

Location: W Evelyn Ave and Hwy 85 onramp

Issue: Bikes exiting the Steven's Creek trail find themselves on the sidewalk, with no ramp down to the bike lane prior to this intersection. The curvature of the intersection makes visibility difficult, and cars making a right turn are frequently in conflict with bikes/peds heading west.

Proposed Solution: Cut ramp in sidewalk at junction of bike trail and sidewalk, to allow bikes to join lane where visibility is better.

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Bicycle-Unfriendly Urban Design

This post inaugurates what, unfortunately, will become a regular feature here on the blog. I see so many gratuitously bad and dangerous examples of the urban-bike interface that I decided I should:

a) keep track of them,
b) share awareness of the hazards with other cyclists,
c) have a convenient place to which to refer public officials and planners when I
d) make a habit of alerting said officials and planners to the dangers.

The first example will be highlighted in the next post. You will be able to find all the related posts by searching on "buud" or "bike danger".