Two Fish Bikeblocks

I’m finishing up October with 14 rides, tying with July and April.  In keeping with this somewhat off-year of riding, it’s fewer rides in October than I had in 2008, 2009 or 2010.  I’m at 130 rides on the year.  My goal for the year is 150, which should be doable.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a couple of Two Fish BikeBlocks.  These are rubber blocks with velcro straps, meant for securing a frame pump to your frame.  The Bikeblocks do a decent job.  They’re a bit pricey at around $7 each, and unless your pump is  6″ long or shorter, you’re going to need two of them.  They do a good job of keeping the pump in one place; my commute has some bumpy stretches, and I didn’t have any problem with the pump sliding or moving around.  The blocks stand the pump off around 1″ away from the frame, which could be problematic with certain frames.  On my single speed, the most logical place to mount the pump would be on the underside of the top tube; however, while it did fit, the rear brake cable rubbed against the Bikeblocks, which would have worn them down over time.  My next try was the seat tube, where I have a water bottle cage, so I had to mount the pump so it stuck out to the side.  This put it too close to my legs, to where I kept brushing against it.  The lower part of the downtube was a no-go too; the pump didn’t clear the crank arm.  I ended up putting the pump on the side of the downtube, above the bottle cage.  I had to tilt it slightly towards the front to keep my knee from brushing it during standing climbs; and in this position, there’s only about ½” clearance between the pump and the pedal, and the top of the pump is ½” or so from the front fender.  It’s a tight squeeze, but it fits, and it gets the pump out of my side pannier, which was my goal.  I’ll ride with it like this for awhile and see how it works out long-term.

Sub 40

Today was my first sub-40° ride of the season, and my first ride since last spring where I had to wear something to keep my head warm.  Usually I’m good without anything extra on my head (other than my helmet) down to around 45°, give or take a couple of degrees depending on wind, precipitation, and other weather factors.  This morning was a crisp 38°, and it was the first morning in awhile that actually felt cold.

I gave my new helmet-mounted rear flasher a spin today.  It’s a Planet Bike Blinky 3H.  It fits on my Bell Sweep helmet just fine, and stayed put through the entire 11.5 mile ride to work.  Other than occasionally hearing it pivot on its bracket, I didn’t really notice it was there.  It gives me extra visibility up high, which I think will help with safety while riding at night.  There’s a bit of a dork factor to it, but you gotta take the bad with the good.  🙂

New Bike Swag for Winter

Normally, I’m all about getting rid of “stuff.”  However, my one weakness is stuff for my bikes.  I get a strange thrill out of buying stuff that promises to make my year-round, all-weather bike rides safer and more enjoyable.  I’m sure it secretly drives my wife nuts.

Just over a week to go before “dark season” is upon us, and with it, cold and icy winter weather.  This year, I have a whole slew of new gear that will be put to the test in the coming months:

  • Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires.  I bought these for commuting in icy conditions, in hopes that they’ll keep me upright and prevent things like, oh, falling down and getting concussions and multiple rib fractures.  Not that I have any experience with that.
  • New headlights.  I bought 3 Planet Bike “Blaze” lights:  a 2-watt, a 1-watt, and a ½-watt.  The 2- and 1-watt lights will go on the bars, and the ½-watt will go on my helmet.  I had initially intended to mount the 1-watt on my helmet, but it’s a little too bulky and doesn’t fit well in the helmet mount.  So I went ahead and got the ½-watt, and I figure 3 headlights are better than 2.  The lights have seen plenty of use in flash mode during daylight, but have yet to be tested in the dark.
  • Helmet mounted taillight.  After reading several articles about how a helmet flasher really helps with visibility, I picked up a Planet Bike Blinky 3H.  I was initially concerned that it wouldn’t fit properly on my Bell “Sweep” helmet, but happily, it fits perfectly.  I haven’t ridden with it yet, and may wait until it’s dark.
  • Ergon GR2 grips for my mountain bike.  The mountain bike is going to see a lot of action this winter, and it desperately needed new grips.  The Ergons have been widely praised, and I’m hoping they’ll be more comfortable than what I had on there.  The GR2 also comes with a short bar end.  It was at a good price point relative to their other models.  The bar ends are a little shorter than the old bar ends I used to have on the bike, but I don’t think I’ll miss the extra length.  After much deliberating, I went with the small size grip.  There’s not too much perceptible difference between the small and large sizes, but I’m guessing the small will be more comfortable with gloves.  We’ll see.
  • Kool Stop replacement brake shoes and pads for my single speed.  This bike came with Dia Compe BRS101 brakes, with cheap one-piece shoe/pads.  They squealed a lot on the rims, and now one of them is worn down, so I’m replacing all 4 shoes.  The Kool Stop pads are much better made, and the shoes and pads are separate, so the shoes can be reused when the pads wear out.  I’ve been really happy with the Kool Stop cantilever pads on my mountain bike, so I’m hoping they’ll perform well on my caliper brakes too.

Stay tuned for raving and/or whining about each of these products (whichever is warranted), as I start to use them!

Rain Gear

First ride in full rain gear in awhile this morning.  It was nice and mild, so I took the opportunity to ride for 11.5 miles, including a loop through Patapsco State Park.  Most of my rain gear is the same as last year, including Novara rain pants (REI house brand), Patagonia TorrentShell rain jacket, and neoprene shoe covers from Performance.  New for this season is a pair of Seirus Hyperlite All Weather gloves.  I bought these because I wanted a pair of lightweight, reasonably weatherproof gloves.  I already have some cheap light gloves, but they aren’t waterproof, and I wanted something I could wear in the rain.  The Hyperlites did the job pretty well.  They breathe OK and do a decent job of repelling water.  They’re not as good as Gore-Tex, but they’re not as expensive as Gore-Tex either.

The Performance shoe covers are still as good as ever.  My shoes and feet stayed bone dry for the entire ride.  Out of all body parts, the feet are the most important to keep dry during a rainy ride.  If your feet get wet, a rainy ride can go from enjoyable to miserable in no time flat.  I keep telling myself I need to go to Performance and pick up another pair or two of these, in case they do something stupid like discontinue them or cut back on the quality.

Lately, my cyclometer, a Cateye Velo 5, has been getting really flaky.  It keeps losing connectivity between the unit and the base.  If I press down on it and fiddle with it a bit, it will pick back up.  However today, I couldn’t get it to work at all in the rain.  I’m not sure if this is the result of oxidation on the terminals, loose connection due to general degradation, or a combination of both.  Regardless, it’s getting annoying.  I may try coating the terminals with some anti-oxidation gel, and see if that helps at all.  Stay tuned.

Text Effects with GIMP

As part of my fledgling hobby/future side career doing game development for the iPhone, I’m becoming sort of an inadvertent GIMP expert.  I’m not a graphic artist, and I don’t do any original artwork for the games I code.  However, I often need to edit and re-touch existing artwork, which is where GIMP really shines.

One of my games has a nice, eye-catching title logo:

Hurry Up Bob! Logo

This logo came to me as a PNG image.  I wanted to add some extra text with the same look, so I decided to try to mimic it with GIMP.  Most of my GIMP knowledge comes from reading tutorials on the net, so I figured I’d “give back” and share how I did it.

The first step was to install the font in GIMP.  The font used here is “Addled Thin.”  I looked online and found a .ttf for the font, dropped it into GIMP’s fonts directory, and restarted GIMP.

Next, I created a text layer with the text I wanted.  The text size is 96px.  To set the text color, I used the color picker tool and selected the foreground color of the text, which is #FBAE5C in RGB notation.

Next, create the brown outline around the text.  Use the select by color tool to select the text, then choose Select » Grow.  Grow the selection by 5 pixels and click “OK”.  Then create a new layer and order it so it’s below the text layer.  Go back to the color picker and select the brown outline color from the original image (#5F3813).  Select the new layer and choose the bucket fill tool.  On the tool options, select the radio button to “Fill whole selection.”  Fill the enlarged selection with the new color.  This should give you outlined text:

Outlined text

Now move the text layer up relative to the outline, to create an offset look.  I moved it up 2 pixels.

Outline with offset

Now, we want to repeat this drill to create the black outer border.  Hopefully, you still have the original enlarged outline selection active.  Grow this selection by another 5 pixels, create a third layer, fill it with the dark outer border color (#14100D), and offset it by 2 pixels relative to the other two layers.

Dual offset border

Starting to look pretty good.  Next we want to use GIMP’s built-in drop shadow effect to create a shadow.  Before doing this, merge all of the layers together by choosing Image » Merge Visible Layers (or Ctrl-M).  Then choose Filters » Light and Shadow » Drop Shadow.  I set “Offset X” to 5, “Offset Y” to 5, “Blur Radius” to 5, and left the color as black and the opacity at 80.

Drop Shadow

Finally, add in the coarse gradient effect from the original text.  To do this, I selected a chunk of the gradient from one of the lowercase ‘r’s on the original, and copied it to the clipboard.  Then I used the Select by Color tool to select the original text again, and did Select » Paste Into several times to recreate the gradient inside the selected text.

Text with gradient and shadow

One thing to note:  if you look at the original text, the words are all rotated at various angles, but the gradient is always horizontal.  If you want the new text rotated, you’ll want to rotate it before adding the gradient.

And there you have it:  A pretty close approximation of the original text effect.  Here it is pasted into the game artwork:

Finished artwork

Cage Rocket

I was in the bike section of my local REI the other day and noticed they were stocking a gadget called a Cage Rocket.  The Cage Rocket is a water bottle-sized pod with a hinged opening, meant for carrying gear and designed to fit in a bottle cage.  There’s a standard version and a slightly-more-expensive waterproof version, which includes a foam seal on the opening.  I had read about these before on a couple of different bike blogs, and was considering trying one out, so I bought one of the waterproof ones.

I’m still working on an ideal system for hauling gear around on the 3 different bikes I use for commuting.  Each bike has certain gear that is specific to that bike (for example, each bike uses a different size spare inner tube).  Then there’s the stuff that comes with me on all the bikes, like my wallet, patch kit, and multi-tool.  My goal is to make it as easy as possible to switch from one bike to another, without having to shuffle a lot of gear around.  I wanted to see if the Cage Rocket could help me out.

Initially, I’m trying the Cage Rocket out on my fixed-gear road bike.  This bike has an extra tool (a Pedro’s “Trixie”) which I originally had bolted to the bottle cage braze-ons on the seat tube.  However, that left it exposed to the elements, and I quickly learned that the Trixie is not weatherproof, as it’s getting some rust on it.  Also, I’m storing a frame pump, spare tube and a couple of tire bead jack tools in my rear panniers, where they take up a lot of space, because there’s currently nowhere else to put them.  I figured for starters, I’d see which of these I could fit into the Cage Rocket.

The Cage Rocket, while useful, his its shortcomings.  There’s only so much you can fit in a rigid pod that’s the size of a water bottle.  You’re limited to relatively narrow items that are 7-8 inches long or less.  My Topeak “Alien” multi-tool is too wide to fit, but the Trixie fits fine.  My Kool Stop “Bead Jack” tire tool is too long.  No chance of fitting a frame pump inside it, but it would probably accommodate a CO₂ inflater and a couple of cartridges.  It fits a spare tube, but you have to roll the tube up into an oblong shape or it’ll be too wide.

For starters, I’m using the Cage Rocket to hold the Trixie and a spare tube.  It keeps the Trixie out of the elements, and the spare tube out of my pannier.  The tube takes up most of the room inside, but there’s still a bit of room for something else.  So while it’s not the ultimate answer to all of my on-bike storage problems, the Cage Rocket is a step in the right direction.  We’ll see how my use of it evolves over time.