Monday, March 24, 2008

The trailer is fully functional!

I've spent the last week working on the trailer and getting everything going as smoothly as possible. That included remaking the inner wheel plates this morning. Now, everything bolts on tightly and there's absolutely no wheel wobble.

Here's the finished trailer, unloaded and by itself. It really doesn't look like much. Basically, it's a frame made of EMT conduit, bent with a pipe bender. The bed is 3/4" plywood. The overall dimensions are about 57" x 20" of usable cargo space. The toolbox is bolted on, and it holds a bunch of bungee cords, some tarp tie-downs, some ratchet tie-downs, and a cable lock to lock the trailer to the bike.

Here's the hitch I used. Basically, it's a 4" x 4" electrical box cover folded in half, then bolted onto the left chainstay. It's got a screw eye in the lower part of it. The trailer side has a U-hitch with a screw-shut gate that goes through the screw eye. The backup is a bungee cord attached to the cargo rack.

This hitch setup works remarkably well. The only thing I'd add to this would be some electrical tape around the screw eye and the U-hitch to lessen the rattling sound, which isn't all that bad, anyway. The main problem that I have with this hitch is that it's a chore to disengage it after a ride, since the screw-shut gate tends to tighten down a little during the ride. It requires a wrench to open it. So, I added one to the toolbox on the trailer.

Here's everything attached, bike and trailer, but unloaded. The trailer is about as long as the bike, and it makes the footprint a little wider, which annoys a few drivers on Crater Lake Avenue, the main road up to my house (with no shoulders, no bike lanes and sidewalks on only 1 block, I might add). But I think it tends to get me seen a little better, too, since drivers aren't used to seeing a big darn trailer attached to a bicycle. That's always a plus in my book.

I put two lights on the back of the trailer, one on each side, so when I drive the thing at night, it gives drivers a good sense of how wide the thing is, so they don't think it's just two bicycles in a row and clip the edge of the trailer. That makes one light on each side that I'll leave solid, and one blinker on the back of the bike in the center, one handlebar mounted headlight, and one helmet-mounted light. I prefer the handlebar light most of the time because I ride mostly a straight line, and I don't like to blind folks with my headlamp.

Finally, here's the whole thing with my normal grocery setup. I've got two plastic bins for groceries, two rack-baskets for the side of the rack, and one cooler. I also have two cooler bags that I can use when I'm getting a lot of cold things that need to be home quick. I can do a whole week's worth of shopping at Safeway's, Melello's and anywhere else.

Funny part of this is when I ride with the trailer, I'm darn near as big as a car, at least I'm about as long as a compact car. I'm about as wide as half a compact car.

So, I rode to the coffee shop to pick up our bi-weekly pound of coffee and realized that their bike rack is really badly positioned for a bike with a trailer. Either I'll block the entrance, or I'll have the butt of the trailer in the drive-thru. So, I decided if I'm as big as half a car, that should entitle me to at least one parking space, so I took one. Everyone thought it was rather amusing. Fortunately, Safeway's has better positioned bike racks. Lowe's, on the other hand, doesn't even have bike racks, so I lock the bike up to the lawnmowers.

Next up, I'm going to finish the box on the trailer, giving it 12" high sides and a tailgate. Something to put stickers on. Since it's plywood, I can plaster it with bumper stickers to my heart's content!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Of trailers and odd links

Today was the maiden voyage of Trailer, v 2.0. I was still having trouble with the wheels not aligning right, no matter how I adjusted them. So, I switched out the wheels for smaller ones with bolt-on axles rather than the quick release, since the QR just wasn't hanging on as much as I wanted.

Now it works great. I just need to remake the inner wheel plates to make the notches a little narrower so the bolt hangs on better. Riding with the thing is great. Once I get going, I hardly notice it's there. Even with 50 pounds of groceries and such on the back.

There's an interesting link that I ran across while surfing my blogroll today. Take a look and see if you pass the test.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Inconvenient Ride

Project Earth Care, a program in the Seattle school district, is going to be staging a cross-country ride to raise awareness about global warming. The ride is sponsored by Mayor Greg Nickels, and the route has been mainly devised by him to hit cities that have signed on to his Climate Action Now Initiative.

The ride is being called "An Inconvenient Ride." It's starting in Washington DC on March 29th and traveling all the way back to Seattle to arrive there on April 22. Participants will include 4 student bike riders and 4-6 student producers / camera operators.

Now, what does this have to do with bicycle commuting in Medford, Oregon, you ask? The riders will be coming through the Rogue Valley on their way north from California. They will be leaving Scotia, CA on April 19, and heading through Arcata, CA to Ashland, OR. Once they reach Ashland, they'll be heading up Hwy 99 through Talent, Phoenix and Medford to Hwy 238. Then they'll head out to Jacksonville on 238 to Old Stage Road, which they'll take to Hwy 234 and link back up again with 99 to take them to the finish for that day in Grant's Pass.

The Siskiyou Velo club and the Medford Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee will be meeting them on their way through Medford, probably by City Hall.

I'll be posting more details as the days get closer, since I'm working on talking with the organizer to nail down a time. They're traveling 268 miles on the 19th, so we don't want to keep them that long.

Check back for times and locations as they become available.

**If the link for the ride doesn't work, I'm sorry, I've been having trouble with it, too, but I'm going to keep it up in the hopes that it will work again.**

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gas prices to hit record highs in Medford

It's finally happening!

Now, a long time ago, I made a resolution to myself that when gas hit $3.00 a gallon, I would start riding my bicycle as much as possible and park the car except when it was absolutely needed. When Katrina hit LA, that's when it pushed it over here in Medford. That's when I started seriously taking up bicycle commuting.

I've learned a lot in that time, and I've managed to put a lot of miles on both my old bike and my new bike. The one thing I couldn't get around was groceries. You can only carry so much on a bicycle with a rack and baskets. Granted, I can carry quite a bit, but just not quite enough to make a full trip to the store.

Solution - a trailer. The problem is that every trailer out there that comes even close to the cargo carrying capability that I want is well over $200, and for a CNA / EMT that's just way too much. So, I found directions for making my own trailer. I just completed the basics of it on Tuesday. It's basically a platform on wheels with screw-eye attachment points for bungee cords and tie-downs, but it's functional.

A couple pieces of advice if you're building this thing -

1) If you're using spare parts from other bicycles, like the wheels, measure the wheel dropouts on the bike before you cut out the metal plates. My first attempt I cut out 1/2" notches in the plates, and I had a horrible time getting the wheels to fit. The second time around, I measured the bike, and found that it only had 3/8" dropouts. Not a lot of difference, but it made a huge difference.

2) Remember that when you put the thing together, the plates on the outside will be about 3/4" higher than the plates on the inside. If the wheel slips up in the plates, it will cause the wheel to turn inward and rub against the frame, so make your notches about 3/4" shallower for the outside plates.

3) Use good old bolt axles, not quick release. The quick release are generally designed for bikes, which have dropouts about 3 times as thick as the plates you're using for the wheel wells. With bolt-on axles, you can tighten the bolt as tight as you need. You can also put a large washer on either side of the plate to help increase contact surface.

I haven't put the sides on yet, but when I do, they'll probably only be 4-6" high, just enough to keep things from sliding off the end when I bring something really long home, like more EMT conduit. I did bolt a cheap, lockable toolbox to the front to hold bungee cords, tie downs, a tarp and tarp clips, and a cable lock to lock it to the bike when I stop at the store.

So, get out there, get on your bikes, and start telling those who make the rules that there's a point where you won't be buying gas. There's always a solution to just about any problems you can come up with for bicycle commuting, you just have to be willing to look.

Be safe, be seen, be assertive!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monthly BPAC update

The city of Medford Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting was this last Monday, and I'm going to try to make it a point to update everyone that reads this blog as to what's being discussed.

First up was the application for Lithia Motors' new Middleford commons structure and the plaza-like park out in front of it. Bartlett Street and an alley farther east will be widened slightly, and everything in between those two streets between 4th and 6th will be torn down to make this nice park. Officially, everything checks out, and I won't oppose it in committee because that's not my job to be political there.

Unofficially here in cyberspace and in my own opinion, it's just another example of how we're too car dependent. The streets will have parking on one side each, and it will just invite pedestrians to walk out in the middle of the block where the doors are, dash out between parked cars and get hit. I also think the park will be irresistible for transients.

Next up was the safe sidewalks to school program grant. The city is going to be constructing lots and lots of sidewalks, most of them will only be on one side of a given road, so kids can walk safer to school. I don't know, the feasibility of this program seems to be overrated. How many parents, after growing up with "Stranger Danger" and its ilk, are going to allow their children to walk to elementary school?

A last little bit for everyone who's interested, since it's a little difficult to find buried in the city's website - here's the link for the official bike lane map of Medford. I will warn, though, that the map is not all that accurate. There are some places marked on the map that don't actually have bicycle facilities, but some of it is accurate, and you can use it to plot some routes.

Remember, be safe, be seen, and be assertive.