Category Archives: Bicycles

Fourmile Canyon Drive

Residents living along Fourmile Canyon Drive are opposing Boulder County’s plans for reconstruction of the roadway following the floods of September, 2013.   Some residents do not want a wide shoulder along the uphill lane because perceptions of increased safety will encourage “…bike races and amateur and tourist cyclists.”  The horror.

The public side of this debate has been framed largely by Valerie Conway, a resident along the road.   Frankly, it seems like she will throw out any thought in hopes that it might get some traction.   She raises lots of concern about wildlife in what is really a low-density subdivision.  She thinks wider shoulders may encourage her neighbors to speed (she is probably right, there).  Most recently she has raised the Right-Sizing brand in an attempt to mobilize the opposition of the broadly malcontent and the reflexive anti-cyclists.   And, in a guest opinion piece she said that “hundreds of skilled cyclists” prefer the inherent danger of the road.  Improving safety on Fourmile Canyon Drive would be like “grooming the Mary Jane ski area”, in her words.   A few days ago she pleaded to a reporter that the County should get on with the reconstruction because “…we just want to get on with our lives.”   Do drive (better yet, ride) this road before it is reconstructed to see for yourself if you would class that statement as hyperbole.   For extra credit, compare and contrast Fourmile Canyon Drive with James Canyon Drive.

Conway makes her preference clear: she wants the “cyclable shoulders” eliminated from all options.

For what it’s worth, here is the input I offered to the County in support of the rock-cut option.  You have until December 18 to offer input here or by e-mail to Andrew Barth with Boulder County Transportation at  You can also send copies to the County Commissioners at

I support the “rock-cut” option for reconstruction of Fourmile Canyon Drive.  The rock cut option will provide additional resilience against flood-caused transportation disruption, while also providing more safety for uphill motorists and bicycles.

Lessons re-learned from the 2013 flood include the realization that no amount of armoring will prevent Fourmile Creek from taking what it needs from the roadway during the next big flood. The more roadway that is farther from the high-velocity regions of the channel the more roadway that will survive during and immediately after a flood. The wide shoulders on the uphill side of the roadway will be available to contribute to emergency transportation. Further, since the bedrock will remain under a larger part of the road as a foundation that the creek cannot take, reconstruction of lost roadway infrastructure after the next flood will be less expensive and faster than if the roadway were to be built on fill in the channel. The rock cut option is a long-term investment in a more resilient road.

With respect to considerations other than flood resilience, I support the installation of an uphill shoulder that can serve as a bicycle climbing land.  This is a good thing.  The existing roadway is dangerous, particularly on right turns on the uphill side.  Autos drive fast, often exceed the speed limit, and cut the corners, exposing bicycles to danger.   This is one reason why the canyon is not more widely used for cycling.  I realize that some residents are motivated to maintain the status quo to avoid increased bicycle use, but it is good for County residents as a whole to make Fourmile Canyon Drive a safer and more attractive cycling route.  The more recreation we can offer to residents where they do not have to get in a car the more we will reduce local and global impacts.

With respect to natural and social values, it is important to recognize that Fourmile Canyon is not a pristine environment.  It is highly developed, and is really a low-density suburb.  By far the largest impacts to wildlife have been imposed by the presence of the road and the presence and development of residential uses, and these impacts are essentially permanent and cannot be reduced.  The incremental negative impact from the rock cut alternative will be small, and it will be offset by a positive impact on the creek and the wildlife that use it.

Hakkapeliitta, Cyo Senso and the Dynamo

2015-11-16 16.29.58.WPI’ve been a transportation cyclist for 40 years.   Of course, until a couple of years ago I was a commuter, then I discovered the new terminology.   I ride year-round in Boulder, Colorado.   For those of you who know Colorado only from the ads for ski areas, riding in the winter is not as bad as you think.  We don’t get that much snow in Boulder.

Riding in winter is good for you and satisfying, and it can be a lot of fun.  I’m really opposed to devotion to dogma and to Emerson’s “foolish consistency”, so I ride the bus or (gasp) drive when that suits the conditions, the mission or my mood.  You don’t have to ride all the time, or even often.  Just take a small dose and see if you like it.

Here are three things that will make your winter cycling a lot more pleasurable and safe.


Even though we don’t get a great deal of snow,  what we do have on Boulder streets are spots of black ice that persist long after the snow is gone from the streets.   Before I discovered the Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106, I used to ride the bus for several days after a storm, and sometimes for weeks at a time, during a stormy period.  I’d go down a couple of times each winter, and these were mostly front-wheel falls that really hurt.

The W106 is a 700c x 35 tire with a moderately knobby tread and 106 carbide studs, located near the center line of the tire.  In the five winters I’ve been using these tires I’ve rarely ridden the bus, and I’ve fallen off only once, and that was due to a brain lock.   It’s worth noting that that fall, in a deep, refrozen, glass-smooth tire rut, happened much more slowly than it would have without the studs.  No harm done except to my pride.

I love riding at night in freshly falling powder–almost any tire works in those conditions.  Riding on hard packed roads and plowed roads with studded tires is great.  But, where these studded tires really shine is on ice–if you ride sensibly they really eliminate any concern of falling on black ice.   These tires aren’t the answer for every condition–riding on that in-between “breakable-crust” stage is miserable on a 700c road tire.  Even a mountain bike tire will break through.   You’ll need one of those monster bikes to have fun on that stuff.  Luckily, this is usually only a problem here for a day, unless the weather is very cold so the snow crystals do not fuse together.

Studded tires are slower and heavier than regular commuting tires.  Riding on dry surfaces is fine, but it sounds like you are riding over scattered sand grains.  In fact, that’s a good way to characterize your traction on black ice–as if there were a thin layer of sand on top of the ice.   You should be able to fit the W106 tires on most commuter bikes.  If you are looking for something for gonzo winter riding, there are mountain bike and road bike tires with up to 240 studs each, but these need room in the fork and rear triangle.  Because these 240-stud tires have studs up on the side of the tire, people claim you can ride out of big ruts and ride side hills with them.

Get studded tires at Harris Cyclery (in memory of Sheldon Brown) or at Peter White Cycles or ask for them at your local bike shop.  The W106 may no longer be available, but there are other equivalent tires.

Cyo Senso and the Dynamo

When I decided to move on from my trusty Trek mountain bike (which I had fitted with a Nexus 7-speed internal hub), I looked locally on Craigslist.  I was looking for a frame to build up, but I found nearly the perfect bike: a Surly Cross-Check with a Nexus 8-speed Alfine power train (I’ve been commuting on internal gear hubs for over thirty years–even that first 7-speed Nexus was a big step up from the old 3-speed Sturmey Archer.)   What the Cross-Check had that I didn’t even know I wanted was a front wheel with a Sturmey Archer hub brake and a built-in 6-volt dynamo.

The hub brake was no great shakes at any time, but it was  superior to iced-up rims in the winter.   The dynamo, however was a game-changer.  That is, once I hooked it up to a Busch & Müller Lumotec Cyo Senso LED headlamp and a Busch & Müller Toplight taillight.   One ride and I knew that the lighting problem for bicycles had been solved.

The Cyo throws a long, broad, bright beam–when adjusted too high it will blind oncoming traffic.  Its reflection startles me when I ride directly toward a plate glass window.

And, its power cost is, well, virtually zero.  The Cyclists’ Touring Club in the UK has done a nice analysis (below) of the drag of hub dynamos:  with the light off a dynamo adds drag roughly equivalent to climbing one foot in a mile; with the light on the drag is roughly equivalent to climbing six feet in a mile.  The bottom line: I can’t tell the difference when I turn the light on.   Rob Dean, a UK endurance racer, puts the drag of a dynamo in terms of McVite’s Digestive biscuits.

Dynamo performance (
Dynamo performance (from The straight black lines on the drag (left) chart are the equivalent climb in feet per mile as shown on the right scale. For example, 2 watts at 15 mph is equivalent to a 3 foot climb in a mile. The SON is consistently the best performer, but you pay for it.

The “Senso” in Lumotec Cyo Senso means that the light has a sensor that will turn it on automatically when it gets dark (the light has a three-position switch: off, on and senso).   It’s cool to see it come on in a tunnel, but, after a while I just turned the light to “on” and left it–the added visibility is worth the slight bit of additional drag.

The best source for dynamo lights (or lights of any type) is Peter White Cycles.  This guy is a real Geek, who provides you with loads of data, including images of the light patterns for different lights.  My exact light is no longer available, but has been replaced by much better versions.

The most expensive part of a dynamo lighting system is the dynamo wheel.  I use a Shimano Alfine disk-brake hub on my current Swobo Fillmore, but the old Sturmey Archer worked fine.   Fancier hubs have less drag, but you’re out there for the exercise, right (and you have an excuse to eat more McVite’s).   You can find built-up wheels with the Shimano Alfine dynamo for about $220.  I see one wheel with a Sanyo dynamo hub for $95.  Peter White warns you away from the low-cost 1.5 watt Shimano hubs.

Provis Reflect360

OMG, this jacket is shocking when illuminated.   I walk into stores or offices and people startle.  I’ve  had two people stop me and ask where I got it.   This is by far the most reflective jacket I’ve seen.  The marketing photo is really not an exaggeration:


The Reflect360 performs well as a jacket.  It has lots of pockets, is fully windproof and seems impervious to water.   It seems to be made of a vinyl compound, probably to embed the reflective stuff, and that initially has an odor and is stiffer and heavier than the superlight nylon or polyester.  It’s not racing kit.  The zippers are also stiff, at least so far.   As I said, it is impervious and it does not seem to breathe, so you must use the armpit zips and the front zipper for ventilation.  Speaking of the front zipper, mine is a left-side zip, what I was brought up to think was used (for some reason) on womens’ clothing.   This is the second piece of European cycling clothing I’ve gotten that is like this.  It’s not a big problem, but just takes some getting used to.

But, whatever the small disadvantages of this jacket, it has one big advantage–It will help you stay alive.

Update on the Reflect360, December 3, 2015:  Tonight an oncoming, well-lighted cyclist yelled out to me “Nice Jacket!”  Last night a woman approached me to ask where she could get one.  I think she might at first have thought that it had batteries.  I almost feel self-conscious riding in the thing.  I had a another thought while  riding on busy streets the last couple of nights:  Beyond making me more visible, the jacket gives me a clearly human form.  This might just be the edge I need some time.

With respect to performance, I rode the loaded Swobo (with studs) out to Sparkfun today, and from there to Lynker and finally home.  22.5 miles.  When you are working for a while the jacket gets moist–you might want to adjust ventilation more frequently than I did.

Right-sizing a parking lot

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.  H. G. Wells.

It is no small irony that McGuckin Hardware announced yesterday that it will start giving employees $240/year toward the purchase of a commuter bike.  This, and provision of EcoPasses (RTD transit passes) to employees is hoped to reduce the number of parking spaces used by employees and thereby increase the convenience of parking for customers.  (On any given day, McGuckin employees use about 50-80 of the 890 spaces available at the shopping center.)

I won’t presume that McGuckin opposed the Right-Sizing of Folsom, but the store was frequently cited by opponents as one whose business was being reduced by the three-lane configuration.   That’s why this announcement made me chuckle–McGuckin employees will still face the most important impediment to transportation cycling: concerns about safety while riding in traffic, something, the primary thing, that the Right-Sizing was intended to address.

(Bus service to McGuckin, from most parts of town, is anything but direct.)

It is also worth noting that anyone who approaches McGuckin from the north on Folsom will have to make a left turn to get to the store, either at Canyon, or in the block south of there.  The three-lane configuration makes a left turn much easier.  Take it from me–I’ve made thousands of left turns, in a car and on a bike, off of the three-lane segment of northbound Broadway.   Right-sizing is good for business.


Wherever the law is, crime can be found.  Aleksander Solzenitsyn

I feel a little awkward featuring this quote, because I was introduced to it by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his article on incarceration and the Black family.   But, it is entirely relevant to the topic, and perhaps the contrast between his use and my use will emphasize that most of us face only first-world problems here in Boulder.

It’s also worth remembering that just before the initiation of Right-Sizing on Folsom Boulder Police shot and killed a young CU math student who was evidently under the influence of “bad LSD.”  Samuel Forgy was naked and armed with a hammer.  He was 22.   Only a couple of anguished people wrote “wait a minute, folks” letters about Forgy’s death.   They were drowned in a sea of anger about a minute or two delay on whatever errand, and about government overreach and arrogance.  The irony of that last thought in the face of Forgy’s death leaves an acid taste.

But, back to the first world (or, perhaps the zeroth world, in Boulder).    One thing we got out of the Right-Sizing project is a little data, and one of the things we learned was that 15% of drivers exceed the 30 mph speed limit on Folsom north of Bluff by at least six or seven mph.  The average speed there exceeds the speed limit by two or three mph.  These speeds are a couple of mph lower than before the Right-Sizing, which is one of the objectives of the approach.

Boulder Mayor Matt Applebaum reportedly asked City transportation staff why, instead of installing the three-lane configuration, they didn’t just lower the speed limit.  I don’t know how the staff answered him, but I hope they told him that reducing speed limits has very little effect on speed, because that is true.  Raising speed limits has more effect, but less than you might imagine.

It turns out that road conditions, traffic conditions and the road configuration determine how fast people drive.   Hence the logic of the three-lane configuration.

The one thing that raising the speed limit does do is reduce the frequency of noncompliance.   Right now approximately half the drivers on this stretch are violating the speed limit.  If we raised the speed limit to 36 mph only about fifteen percent would be in violation.

This most recent spasm of anti-bike rage in the local paper is different from those that periodically preceded it only in the intensity of the anger expressed.  I think that intensity is more a function of the time than anything else, and has little to do with actual attitudes toward cyclists.  One thing that was the same-old-thing, though, was the complaint that bicyclists wantonly run stop signs and commit other infractions, and should be called to account.  This is often a prelude to calling for visible license plates and taxation of these freeloading miscreants.

Whenever I read these letters I think, “What’s the big deal, lots of motorists breaks the speed limit.”  Now we have the data.

So, I suggest we give bicycles the same latitude taken by motorists.  On Folsom that’s 36 mph versus a speed limit of 30.   At a stop sign that translates into 6 mph versus a speed limit of zero.  Take a deep breath, and chill.