Weather, Volcanos and Bikes

March 7, 2011

A recent conversation with a  “local” missionary made me wonder about weather conditions and bike riding. He had brought me a picture for the “Wall of Shame” showing his face a bit mashed and scraped from landing on it. His bike went out from under him while riding in Colorado, in February on an icy road. Aside from wondering if missionaries should be wearing full-face helmets, I wondered what he was doing trying to ride a bike on icy roads.

I don’t have the “little white book” (aka: missionary handbook) memorized but I remembered there was something about weather conditions and bikes in there. In fact it says: “Avoid riding…in bad weather”. I mentioned this “rule” to Elder Smashedface and found his answer quite entertaining and interesting. Apparently he had been concerned enough about riding on snow and ice that he mentioned the same “rule” to his senior/trainer companion. As they pushed off to ride through the snow and ice, the trainer replied: “that rule means bad weather like tornados and volcanoes!”.

As a past educator, my first concern was for the trainer’s education. Mistaking a volcanic eruption for weather made me really worry about his chances in college and of course his safety. It was also worrisome that a tornado would be considered the only other “bad weather” keeping him off his bike. However, the more immediate concern was his interpretation of the “rules” and the obvious danger it brought to his trainee. Perhaps the rules needed to be a little clearer to include out snow.

Granted, coming from the windswept, frozen tundra of Idaho I could sort of understand the trainer not worrying too much about a little snow in Pueblo. But the problem is that a little snow or a lot of snow makes no difference when it comes to biking. Snow on the road should mean no bike on the road. Knobby tire to smooth tire, none of them “stick” to snow and the results are painful and dangerous.

The bottom line for missionaries in cold weather is that they need to stay off their bikes when the snow begins to fall. If they don’t, broken bones and bikes will be the consequencs.


Physics is Phun

February 1, 2011

We keep getting questions about single speed vs. multi-speed bikes along the lines of: “isn’t it harder?”.  Getting the questions is understandable: we are the only company selling “just” single speeds to missionaries. Additionally we live in a society where more is almost always promoted as better (i.e. more gears must be better). So we understand the question. What we don’t understand is the confusion over the answer. Accordingly, I will — using my background as a physics teacher, single speed bike rider and missionary bike mechanic — try to better answer this question.

Harder needs to first be defined. If we are speaking in terms of work then the actual definition is:

Work = Force x Distance (i.e. more work would mean “harder” to do)

In other words, lifting a 10 lb box vertically 2 feet onto a loading dock, equals 20 units of work (I won’t complicate things with units). Doesn’t matter if you lift it fast or slow. You still did the same amount of work. Now if you slid the box up a 6 foot diagonal ramp onto the same loading dock, you would still do the same (actually a little more because of friction) amount of work, but it would seem easier because the effort of accomplishing the work, could be spread out so to speak. This is because the ramp would actually make the box seem lighter than 10 lbs, BUT you would have to push that “lighter” box up 6 feet of ramp rather than lift the 10 lbs just 2 fee.

The same principles apply to pedaling a bike up a hill with one gear (single speed) vs. multiple gears. With multiple gears you can shift to an “easier” gear just like using the 6 foot ramp. You will be able to push the pedal around “easier” but you will have to turn them many more times. In other words a “hard” gear might be turned 100 times to get up the hill or an “easier” gear 300 times to get up the same hill. In fact, due to friction, the “easier” gear will actually take a little more work because it goes through the gears many more times. Like the ramp, the moment to moment perceived effort with the “easier” gear is less than that of the “hard” gear – but the overall work is basically the same.

So when we’re asked “isn’t it harder?”, the answer is yes and no. Yes, because if you could shift into an “easier” gear it would feel easier but for a longer period of time. No, because with a single gear it would feel harder but for a shorter period of time. In the end (or top of the hill), on a single speed you will have done the same (even a little less) work. You can spin the pedals faster or slower but getting to the top of hill takes the same amount of WORK = overcoming your weight (force) x the height of the hill (distance). The only thing you could really change to make the work less, is your own weight!

The bottom line: there is no free lunch

Fender Fun

January 24, 2011

It is actually very easy “to spot” a new missionary – at least one that is assigned to a bicycle area of the mission – because they are typically sporting some fancy new fenders. It seems that after spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on suits, suitcases, shirts, ties and a bike, shelling out a another $30 or $40 for some fenders is easy. Interestingly, if you look at everyone other “old” missionaries bikes you will notice they almost never have fenders!

Now it could be assumed that they are not needed and the “older missionaries” have just taken them off. In reality the fender attachments are still on the bikes but the fenders themselves have long been broken off: typically within about a month of arriving in the mission. The point is that a shiny new bike looks great with shiny new fenders, but do you really need to spend the extra money?

Anyone that has REALLY ridden a bike in the rain – especially missionaries who are out in the weather rain AND shine – knows they are going to get wet with or without fenders. So the having fenders to keep dry is a relatively mute point. However, there are two big advantages to having fenders: 1-they keep your expensive suit from getting a big “tiger stripe” up the back and 2-they do keep your bike “innards” somewhat protected from the dirt and grit sprayed about by spinning tires.

So now that I have argued for and against fenders, what is a missionary to do? Basically if you don’t have the inclination for simple DIY (do it yourself) projects and you do have the money, then buy a pair but get the kind that snap on and off.  Keep the fenders off until you need them so you lessen the likelihood of breaking them off in your daily riding. On the other hand if you have some minimal DIY inclination and ability and/or you just want to save some money, then consider some extremely simple homemade fenders.

Political signs finally have a useful purpose: bicycle fender construction. AFTER the election locate a sign made of the plastic, cardboard like material (Coroplast). With a pair of scissors a front and rear fender can be cut from the sign. The front fender is easily attached to the down tube of the bike with a zip tie or just string. The rear fender can be attached to a 1 inch strip of aluminum and then the seat post. These are very cheap while still be quite effective. And wherever you end up in the United States, you are sure to find some free “building materials”.


To Gear or Not to Gear

December 27, 2010

Gears on bicycles have become like memory on computers: every new model has more. Many bikes now come with 27 gears! While you might need more and more memory on a computer, does having more gears on a bike really make your bike better?


If you believe that “more is better” than a multi-speed is for you. Unfortunately, 27 gears means that many “extra” parts and two derailleurs. These are the mechanisms that move the chain to different sprockets. In addition to their precarious position (literally hanging off the side of the bike) they are somewhat delicate. Using a bike daily, riding it in all kinds of weather and frequently hanging it on car racks can be “less than” delicate. Damaged and poorly maintained derailleurs quickly become a headache and expense rather than an asset.

Internal Hub

In part, because of the precarious position of derailleurs, many companies have begun building internally geared hubs. These are mechanisms inside the rear wheel with 3 to 8 gears. For the vast majority of city riding, 8 speeds is more than enough. Not only do they have the advantage of being less “exposed” to damage, they also have just one shifting mechanism rather than the two (front and rear) required on multi-speeds. Overall, this makes the bike easier to manage as you ride it and simpler (i.e. cheaper) to maintain.

Single Speed

The “more is better” attitude has actually created a backlash. Many riders — bothered by the expense, weight and maintenance headache of finicky multi-speeds — have turned to single speeds. They believe simple is better. This “movement” has lead every major manufacturer to offer single speeds. This is a great for missionaries because single speeds offer an inexpensive, reliable and easily maintained bike.

Most bicycle messengers ride single speeds. They’ve learned that “more” might occasionally be easier, but it is not really better. Simple reliability, when riding on a “schedule”, is critical. Yes you can spin the pedals on a geared bike easier but Work = Force x Distance. So riding up a hill with or without gears takes the same work on any bike. The difference is you pedal a little harder for 100 strokes on a single speed and a little easier for 500 strokes on a multi-speed. The big advantage of the single speed is few parts to maintain and repair – which ultimately saves time and money.


Stopping: A Necessary Evil

December 13, 2010

When your transportation is powered by what you ate for breakfast, it is frustrating to slow down. You know Newton’s first law (inertia) is in your favor as long as you don’t touch the brakes. Unfortunately, in the city you will be stopping and you want the right equipment for the task. There are basically three types of brake systems for bikes, each having their own benefits.


If you’ve ever ridden an older kid’s bike, you’ve used a coaster brake. There is nothing to grip with the hands, you simply push back on the pedal to stop. The braking mechanism is contained in the rear wheel hub. Some manufacturers are putting these on commuter bikes. They are simple to use, have no cables, last a very long time but usually require a shop for maintenance.


These come in a variety of styles but all work by squeezing rubber pads against the rim of the bike wheels.  The force produced by your hands is transmitted by cables to the brakes. The brake arms accentuate your force and transmit it to the pads that touch the rims. These are the most common brakes found on both road and mountain bikes. They are also inexpensive and easy to repair and maintain.  For missionaries this is probably the best option.


Many mountain bikes now come with disc brakes. Like rim brakes the stopping power comes from your hands. However disc brakes use cables or hydraulic fluid to transmit the force to the brake.  Additionally, the brake pads squeeze on a disc rather than the rims. They offer greater stopping power in muddy/wet conditions which is great racing on a dirt trail down a mountain. However, the added expense, weight, and maintenance requirements make them a poor choice for urban missionaries.

Theft Protection

December 6, 2010

We have been hearing a lot about bicycle theft in recent months and want to offer assistance. We know a bike is an expensive investment and painful to replace. To help minimize those expenses, we have found the least expensive means of “theft protection” for missionaries. We want to share these with you, because they can be implemented by any missionary.

Please note: While no plan is full proof, these facts may help recover the cost of a stolen bike.

FREE lock manufacturer’s theft replacement :

Many bike lock manufacturers offer free or inexpensive bike theft replacement plans (Kryptonite, On-Guard). Since missionaries need locks, they should buy one with a MANUFACTURER theft replacement plan. Locks with free theft replacement are usually $50-$90.  Less expensive locks also come with theft replacement plans but for a small additional fee ($10-$20).

Parents Home owners insurance policies

Most home owners insurance policies provide coverage for possessions even while you travel. A missionary’s bike can often be covered by their parent’s policy for no additional charge. Parents should be made aware of this potential coverage and check with their insurance company. Bicycle serial numbers and purchase receipts should be kept/sent to the parents.

FREE wholesale cost replacement

The fact of the matter is that bikes will be stolen regardless of the type of lock or amount of caution you take.  To help reduce the cost of replacement we will now offer our bikes at wholesale costs to any missionary, in any mission, that has a bike stolen. We will provide this option to ALL missionaries regardless of where they originally purchased the bike.

Flats – How to fix

November 29, 2010

Your mission president is waiting. You’re pedaling as fast as you can but your bike just gets slower and slower. Oh no, you have a flat. Don’t keep riding, it will cost you more to fix the ruined tire than just fix the flat. But what is the best and fastest way to fix that flat?

Avoidance . It would be great if you never got a flat. But that is about as likely as the MTC putting in a swimming pool.

Patch or Spare

Patching on the go is painful, difficult and time consuming. Carrying a spare is really your best bet. But to save space and weight, uust carry a “cheap” thin walled spare at all times. You can quickly pop in the spare and take the flat tube home for patching at a more convenient time. Of course if you have slime in the tube then it can’t be patched – just toss it in the trash.

Tool Kit

Your “kit” can basically consist of two tire “irons”. These come in all shapes, sizes and materials. While plastic is gentler on your rim, they can break. This is not a time to scrimp and the “right” tool only costs a buck or two more. So get a heavy, solid plastic lever like Pedro’s: . Most wheels are attached with a quick release requiring only your hand. However, some bikes have nuts and you need a small crescent wrench. One other “tool” is a pair of latex gloves. When you take a back wheel off you will get greasy. Shaking a new contacts hand with a greasy hand can make a “real” first impression.

CO2 or Pump

You have the flat fixed, now you need air in it. While the number of available, cool little hand pumps is in the 100’s, they can all be ignored for one wonderful invention: the CO2 inflator. These use compressed CO2 (think paintball gun) to inflate your tire. Don’t get a fancy or expensive one. Buy one that uses non-threaded cartridges so you can buy a cheap box of replacement cartridges at Walmart. Learn how to use it and it will take you 10 seconds instead of 10 minutes to inflate your tire.