Monthly Archive for August, 2009

Now´s the time for back-to-school bicycle maintenance

The Davis Enterprise: August 28, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #25
Author: Joe Krovoza

photo caption:
Joe Krovoza, who tunes up and takes care of eight bicycles for his Davis family of four, pumps some air into one of the tires Thursday morning before everyone leaves for work and school. Bike fleet managers like himself have excellent support in Davis, Krovoza says, with plenty of options for equipment and repairs.

There are lots of jobs in every Davis household. There’s Take Out Recycling, Get Mail and usually Rodent Control. One job doesn’t get proper recognition: Fleet Manager.

As family members head back to school and into new fall activities, it’s the manager of the bicycle fleet who needs some recognition. Fleet managers are on the front line of Davis culture, and their performance can be scrutinized. A flat just minutes before school will start? Not good. Junior needs bail due to a failed bike light? Invariably, the fleet manager takes the fall.

I am our fleet manager. This household job supports my engineer-wannabe alter-ego. I use evenings to collect reports from my users and to prepare for the morning rush. I can avoid the dishes if I disappear into the garage to work on a bike. Fixing kickstands, tightening basket brackets and charging battery lights are best done the night before. Making sure each bike has its user’s helmet and lock ready is key. How they get mixed up I’ll never know. An organized area of the garage for bikes is a huge start.

Essentials: Get a good pump and register bikes (see box) to prevent theft and aid recovery.

With locks, I have made my greatest breakthrough. We use only combination locks, and all are set to a family combination. Locks get mixed up and bikes are retrieved by others without any combo confusion. U-locks are essential for bikes locked overnight in public.

My second greatest innovation involves tire tube selection. I gradually replaced standard tubes with thorn-proofs because the thicker rubber holds air much, much longer. Low tire pressure leads to an unhappy clientele and frequent pumping.

Extras keep my fleet users pedaling. We have a few extra locks handy since they seem to end up lent or left behind. We also keep an extra bike ready, or two or three. When there isn’t time for a repair, the extra bike prevents a parent from becoming a chauffeur. This bike has to be pretty universal. A women’s frame, adjustable seat and good basket maximize its “just in time” utility. The extra is great when kids’ friends are over and need a bike.

We also use our extra to indoctrinate I mean “lend to” out-of-towners. Their puzzlement usually converts to an enjoyable ride. Consider offering an extra to a neighboring fleet manager.

Serious inspections are part of the job. I ride my users’ bikes. Brakes OK? Gears shifting? What’s rattling? If you see an adult looking goofy on a child’s bike, assume they are a conscientious fleet manager.

This brings me to an observation. I recommend that parents keep assessing when their offspring are ready for another bike. This isn’t necessarily about size, but rather about style! Would fewer kids stop biking in high school if their bike matched their style? (Not that adults would choose a car based on style!)

Davis fleet managers have excellent support. The most empowering is Bike Forth, our new bike co-op on Fourth Street at L Street. This enterprise moved from gown to town after its first incarnation as the UC Davis Bike Church.

Bring your bikes, make a small donation, and use their tools and recycled parts to tune up your fleet. Bring an apprentice to train so you can start delegating duties. Use Bike Forth to convert a derailleur bike to a sleek single-speed, or to perform a tricky repair that requires guidance.

Also, King High School’s Bike Shop is accepting bike and part donations now, and will start fixing bikes as part of its instruction on Sept. 8. Use our fine bike shops when outsourcing in needed.

Of anywhere in Davis, Davis High School should have a bike shop and class. Supplementing King High’s program, Da Vinci High is following suit. Santa Cruz has a popular high school bike class. Would more than 26 percent of DHS students bike to school if they had a good bike shop? (At DHS, 64 percent drive/are driven, 26 percent bike, 5 percent walk, 4 percent take the bus.)

Keeping the fleet going can feel expensive in time and money. When this strikes me, I think of what we save by avoiding car payments and not buying more gas.

I like my family being more active and independent because our fleet is in service around town.

— Joe Krovoza manages a fleet of eight bikes for a family of four, plus one dog, two rabbits and a bird.

Get a charge out of commuting by bike

Davis Bicycles! column #24
Author: John Swann

One spring morning last year, I was riding my regular workout when another cyclist passed me. I jumped on his wheel and my speed went from 17 to about 22 mph. I soon noticed that something was amiss.

The author, John Swann, poses with his electric assist bicycle, which makes trips to the grocery store and other errands quicker and less sweaty. WAYNE TILCOCK/ENTERPRISE PHOTO

While I was wearing Lycra shorts, cycling shoes and a T-shirt, he was wearing blue jeans, sneakers and a ski jacket. It was a bit nippy that morning but this guy was way overdressed for the pace he was setting. When I came alongside I saw a large front hub that I quickly realized was an electric motor. It was silent. Cool!

Raul stopped to chat about his electric-powered bike. Before we finished talking I had decided to get one of my own. After some research, I bought a Bionx kit and installed it on my wife’s Fuji touring bike. We now share that bike by swapping out the seat and fiddling with the pedals. After more than a year and nearly 4,000 miles on the adapted bike, we could not be more pleased.

The kit can be installed on any bike. It consists of a rear wheel whose hub is the motor, a battery, wiring harness, handlebar-mounted controller and a charger. It’s extremely efficient. So far this year, the measured average efficiency is equivalent to 1,700 mpg. The assist continuously senses the force being applied to the pedals and gives a boost of 25 to 200 percent, depending on the assist level selected. You just get on the bike and ride. The difference is that you feel like you’ve borrowed Lance Armstrong’s legs.

Pushing hard at level 4 (200 percent) gives you a range of around 20 miles. If you’re conservative and use it mostly when you need help (like climbing hills and pushing a head wind), it can have a range of more than 60 miles. Four levels of regeneration can be used to recharge the battery on descents.

I’m sure some readers are wondering why a dedicated cyclist like me would have any interest in an electric assist. Indeed, a number of people have said to me, “That’s cheating.” The best response I’ve heard to that comment is, “What’s really cheating is strapping 3,000 pounds to your butt to drive downtown.”

Speaking of cheating, I should confess that I rode the Wheelworks Wednesday night time trial on the electric bike. Now that really was cheating. I was a bit embarrassed when one of the other racers shouted out as I came to the starting line, “He’s got a motor!” I got a good time, though; 20:45 for 10 miles. That’s an average speed of more than 29 mph. The amazing thing was that two guys beat me!

I digress. The main reason I use the electric bicycle is for transportation. If it’s available, I always choose the motor for errands, commuting, going out for the evening or buying groceries. One of the first things we did after installing the kit was to buy a trailer that can carry a week’s worth of groceries. With the motor you just don’t care about dragging the trailer to the grocery store and back. It’s not an issue.

For more than 27 years, I commuted to either Sacramento or West Sacramento on my bicycle several days a week. I always enjoyed the ride in the morning but disliked the ride home, especially in the summer when the afternoons are hot and there’s always a head wind.

Although I no longer commute, I know the ride home would be much better with an electric assist. People with shorter commutes could get to work more quickly and not have to worry about parking or getting sweaty. The assist really does enhance the bicycle as a viable transportation option.

Another benefit of the electric bike is that it improves the ride when my wife and I go together. Instead of both of us being frustrated because I ride faster than she does, the situation is reversed. She now has the ability to leave me in the dust. It’s fun for her to set the pace while I struggle to not get dropped. Life is always better when your spouse is happy.

John Swann grew up in Canada, but has lived half his life in Davis. Recently retired, he enjoys riding his bike and singing in the local band Hardwater. Reach John at or (530) 756-6093.