Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Made in USA on a budget 

My focus again is bikes, but the same aspects apply to several other engineering related industries, where skills and quality matter over sheer volume and lowest price.

There was a time when the USA was a leading bike manufacturer by volume and I'm not expecting that to return. However there are a range of quality jobs particularly for small innovative companies that do make sense and should be supported here in the USA.

One popular option is to locate the design, research, sales and marketing, support, final assembly and packaging in the USA while actual manufacturing is overseas. The most well known of these is SRAM.  But there are also a range of companies making components here in the USA and this is a welcome trend.  Many people don't even realize that they can source almost all of the components on their bike from USA companies.

These components tend to be aimed at the serious biking community, off-roaders and commuters rather than the casual urban cyclist.  However, by careful use of eBay and internet discount sites along with direct ordering from USA companies sites you can definitely equip your ride well without over reaching your budget.

Parts such as bars, stems, seat posts, brakes and headsets are all available with several choices.  Then accessories such as bar tape wrap, bottle cages, bottles, hydration systems, bags and cycling computers can be found too.

My previous blog post was on lighting systems and here I feel most people will not want to skimp on price and quality.  Being safe and being seen early and often clear makes sense on the road anywhere and a lot of reasonably priced lights are available from USA companies and quality suppliers such as REI.

Wheels are one area I think there is more opportunity. Right now companies assemble in USA from Taiwan components, with some USA made parts, such as hubs, but there is no entire made in USA wheelset maker.

So, what does a made in USA bike look like with a majority of USA made components that is not a boutique highend purchase from a custom builder?  I've been working for the past six months via eBay and internet deals on slowly retro-fitting parts on my ride, a Bike Friday Crusoe, that I originally acquired on eBay.  My cost has been a few hundred dollars total on these USA made switch out components, but the ride quality and overall improvements have been worth it.  Far better brakes, new replacement headset (old Taiwan one was simply worn out), vastly improved lights, and superb seatpost being the main parts. Then accessories include a wicked stainless bottle cage, bar tape and new 130mm stem. You can see the entire list of components here and their sources, along with the bike itself here.

All this was triggered in part by Bike Friday itself, I was disappointed in how many low end Taiwan parts come on their regular bikes.  Well hold that thought, as part of their 20 year celebration they have produced an "almost all made in USA" bike, collectors edition, 20 bikes, sticker shock on these is $6,000 but they will be snapped up I'm sure because Bike Fridays hold their value very well.  You can see this machine and the story of how they sourced the parts right here.  I wonder how much customer pressure they have got to not just make in the USA but source in the USA.  I see encouraging signs in their new releases such as their Llama with Aerospoke wheels and the Tikit commuter with belt drive. Of course you can always buy a bare frame set and add all your own components. Clearly they can do more, without tagging you with a $6,000 sticker price!

So the message here is one of citizen power.  As consumers we have choice, see this "Buy American" site, and regardless of politicians and government "stimulous packages" our choices are generally much more effective and direct in influencing our lives.  Read the packaging carefully on products and use the internet to make informed buying choices, and as I found recently, if unsure Google for the same item in Canada where their sites actually show you the country of origin details.  Just in case you had any doubt about the power of big corporations to restrict your access to information during your buying process!?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day or Night needs - Bike lights comparison and tests 

Another area of technology that has transformed is bike lighting systems and their use.  The LEDs and rechargeable batteries provide industrial strength lighting while being compact and lightweight.

The most important change however is the ability to use daylight running lights with real visibility.  Why is this so important?  The answer is drivers perception and behaviour toward you is transformed.

I did not really believe this but having experienced this first hand, it is huge. I've ridden in all kinds of traffic in major cities around the world, and used traditional lights and then LEDs and "Blinkies".  While these work OK at night on side streets, on major roads and during day time, they simply can disappear into the other lights and visual distractions.

This is not the case for these high intensity LED systems which provide light at levels usually associated with high performance cars and trucks. The bottom line is these systems make you visible and a big part of the perception system of other road users, and what that means is, they slow down, they wait, and they move around you because to their perception system you now appear 3 times larger than before.

A bonus is that these higher end systems are available from USA companies, many of whom are doing assembly here in the USA.  This is spawned by demand for these lights systems by off-road users, water sports and adventure seekers and even field photographers.

I bought one of these rear lights off eBay - the Light and Motion VIS 180 - used it on my regular day time training ride - and the next day I ordered a CygoLite HotSpot for my wife's bike.  This enhanced safety is well worth every last penny for these systems.  I also found a used CygoLite 250 lumen front light off eBay.  What these light systems can mean is that you are visible even in day light situations, such as riding into a setting or rising sun when road users may miss seeing a bike in the glare.

Check out these videos to see how this looks:


Sunglare example

Setting sun

and then more details in a review here.

A next consideration is narrow beam v wider flashers, and the VIS 180 combines both with a 35 lumen main light and a side flasher, while the CygoLite Hotspot goes for raw 65+ lumens.  This is serious light output, so much so, they come with low settings so you do not blind the rider behind you if you are drafting up close. See the comparison shots here if you really still think your "Blinky" LED rear light with 2 AAA batteries that you paid $10 for from China meets the mark (mentioning which these lights are examples of externalizing costs).  Need to know where things are really made? Check out Canadian sites such as this one.

For front systems I found this really excellent test video showing what these setups can do for serious commuting and night time riding even in darkness without street lighting.  That is obviously the extreme end of the scale, but the bottom line is having these light systems will make you dramatically more visible in all situations.  You can see a comparison sampling of available systems here and REI have a good product selection of rechargeable systems and then see this bike review of lights plus this interactive review collection.  If you are riding on road situations day or night, then you owe it to yourself to give these systems serious consideration.

Monday, January 16, 2012

IEEE P1622 Election Data Standard published 

After almost 9 months of work the long awaited IEEE P1622 first standard for US election information processing has been published as a joint work product between IEEE/OASIS/NIST/EAC and individual contributors.  The formal announcement is provided below.

This sets the stage for a significant improvement in transparency and verification of election information in the US and beyond.  Several election system manufacturers are now incorporating the specification and data standards into their product offerings.  This also has the potential to save costs and improve accuracy and availability of election information prior to and during elections.

In addition with the success of this initial work there are now several other use cases that are being worked on as follow-on specifications for US elections information processing including election results reporting.

While all this is not exactly earth shattering, the long term implications for better elections and election processes are significant.  My good friend Dick (Richard) Johnson is sadly no longer with us to witness this achievement, but he was one who advocated for this work within IEEE at an early stage.  To see this finally achieved is therefore doubly rewarding.

On Thursday, January 12, 2012, the IEEE Standards Association published IEEE Std 1622-2011, the IEEE Standard 
for Electronic Distribution of Blank Ballots for Voting Systems. This standard specifies electronic data interchange formats for blank ballot distribution, primarily to assist in satisfying the needs of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. 

Subsequent standards may address other requirements for electronic data interchange formats used by components of voting systems for exchange of electronic data. This scope does not include return of cast ballots by electronic means.

This standard is available at no charge from 

This standard is made available for free under sponsorship of the IEEE Standards Association because of the IEEE's desire to support this work of national interest and at the specific request of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How good are modern bike wheels? 

Another use for cadence and speed computer devices is allowing comparisons between different wheelsets. I recently noticed a short 2 minute video of a Kinetix Pro 20" wheel.  The hubs are made by American Classic and the complete wheel assembled by them from high end components for Dahon and others folding bikes.  Obviously an excellent wheel, but how does it compare to regular 20" aero wheels, or 700cc road bike wheels?

I probably need to road test a Dahon with a set of these wheels on to see truly how it compares, but since no one has shop samples of these machines in the area, tough to do.  In the meantime this simple spin test is an indication of how well the wheel rolls generally.  This is the spin test from 60 mph for the SparCo 451 20" aero wheel, and then the Williams Cycling 30X wheel, with ceramic hub, same approach.

Verdict is that all three wheels seem to be about 80 to 90 seconds spin time on this test.  Which tends to make one think the physics here is the real limit for how smooth and friction free the hub bearings and rachet mechanisms are.  Cheap wheelsets however are in the 60 seconds or less range; I tried a couple of low end Shimano hubs and budget wheel rims also.

All of this is rather moot since of course ride quality, acceleration, weight, effort, power transfer, wind cross section, cornering and myriad of other factors that make a wheel handle well on the road, not shown in this test!

There is actually a ton of very high end science, wind tunnels, computer simulations and more being thrown at wheel development - see also this article on bike wheel and tire science.  Not surprisingly the math and science only has a limited sense of everything that is going on dynamically with a wheel as it moves under different load and wind situations. The difficulty of research can be seen from this link on tire materials and sizes here (see comments at bottom). Traditionally this has all been trial and error development of course, to see what just "feels better" and delivers better more consistent results on the road against the clock and other peoples equipment.  For certain that today's wheels will outperform older equipment simply because of the quality and materials now available.

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