Archive | August 2012

Tern and Turning to Bikes

After publishing my Cash, Drugs, Sex & Bikes post, I caught an article about Tern folding bikes on NYCEWheels, who said David Hon’s son, Josh had founded his own bike venture. Going back and forth between Dahon and Tern’s websites, Tern’s Verge series looked a lot like Dahon’s Vector series. I wondered if this was just a Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge sort of rebadging strategy, but further reading revealed that soon after Tern’s entry into the market in July 2011, Dahon was seeking a restraining order against David Hon’s estranged wife, Florence Shen and his son, Josh Hon, to keep Tern from using Dahon’s own resources to compete with Dahon.

Florence and Josh, however, owned 100% of Dahon Global, the Taiwan-based arm of Dahon, with factories in Taiwan, the Czech Republic and Macau. David owned Dahon China, the Shenzen-based arm which mostly manufactured frames, and Dahon North America, which distributed and sold the bikes. Josh claimed that his father made folding bike history, but that he wasn’t happy with the frame connections on the Dahons made in China. Except for Shenzen, Dahon factories make both bikes.

A year later, Dahon is still market leader, but as profiled in Bike World, Tern is doing brisk business and releasing new models.


According to Debt Crisis Make Greeks Turn to Cycling in Bike EU, Greek stats indicate that auto driving declined by 40% in the past two years while bicycle sales increased by more than 25%. No word on bike thefts in Greece, though.

… Until a few years ago cycling was snubbed as a sign of poverty or … seen as too risky on Athens busy road. But things are changing rapidly and the bike boom even prompted Athens mayor to start working on a public bike hire scheme similar to those in other European capitals.

Cash, Drugs, Sex and Bikes

For anyone contemplating the purchase of a seriously excellent bicycle, there’s a daunting article on bike theft from Priceonomics blog, What Happens to Stolen Bicycles? Reselling bikes isn’t very profitable, but …

… it begins to be clear why there is so much bike theft. For all practical purposes, stealing a bike is risk-free crime.  It turns out there is a near zero chance you will be caught stealing a bike and if you are, the consequences are minimal.

Most of these guys are drug addicts, but a lot of them are professionals. You can cut through a u-lock in a minute and a half with the right tools.

Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street — cash, drugs, sex, and bikes… You can virtually exchange one for another.

Six years ago, a repair shop in Frederick told me that my Trek 1100’s derailleur was probably going to fall apart soon. I had been riding the Trek to work and leaving it in a small fenced in area outside. I went to Mt Airy bikes because they had a large selection of recumbents and three-wheelers, but I found that I didn’t like riding so low that I couldn’t see traffic. I asked the owner, Larry, about Bromptons, and he talked me into the heavy duty Xootr Swift, for around $700. I also bought a new helmet and a new u-lock. I hardly ever need the lock.

I commuted to work four miles each way almost every day and stowed the bike under my desk. When I moved to Baltimore, the folding Swift was perfect for riding light rail. Now I ride the rail into work, and bike the nine miles homeward. On light rail, I see a lot of dingy guys with expensive-looking bikes, and a lot of prosperous guys with beaters. It makes me glad my bike is always in my apartment or under my desk.

Probably the only other folding bikes strong enough for me would have been the Montague folding bikes. The Montague Paratrooper, a trail bike, was the platform for the elegant but expensive Wavecrest electric bikes. Their Pavement series are folding road bikes, but have full size wheels, and would be more challenging to stow at work.

Bromptons and Dahons fold a lot smaller than the Swift, but are intended for average-sized riders. If I reach my fitness goal of 225 lbs, I’ll be five pounds under the weight limit of a Dahon Vitesse. I’d like to have a really small bike that I could stuff into a bag and carry into stores.

I’d love to ride an electric bike in to work, then ride a light sport bike home. A2B and Evelo make very attractive non-folding e-bikes, but several of my coworkers have had scooters stolen from the office lot. I can’t see spending two or three thousand on something that will just be stolen.

One can add Currie or Bionx drives to many folding bikes. NYCEWheels used to sell a Swift with a Bionx drive, and they still offer kits for Dahons and Bromptons. But every time I think about getting an electric bike, I have this image of running out of juice and having to drag a dead battery up the hill to my apartment. While the initial 20 mile range is enough to bike both ways, I’ve seen with the Leaf that battery capacity declines over the years.

So for the time being, I’m sticking with the Swift.

Out of Mind

In his NY Times OpEd, Destroying Precious Land for Gas, Sean Lennon paints a wonderful picture of the rural land his father and mother picked out in New York State, and warns against big companies that want to frack there:

A few months ago I was asked by a neighbor near our farm to attend a town meeting at the local high school. Some gas companies at the meeting were trying very hard to sell us on a plan to tear through our wilderness and make room for a new pipeline: infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing. Most of the residents at the meeting, many of them organic farmers, were openly defiant. The gas companies didn’t seem to care. They gave us the feeling that whether we liked it or not, they were going to fracture our little town.  …

Natural gas has been sold as clean energy. But when the gas comes from fracturing bedrock with about five million gallons of toxic water per well, the word “clean” takes on a disturbingly Orwellian tone. Don’t be fooled. Fracking for shale gas is in truth dirty energy. It inevitably leaks toxic chemicals into the air and water. Industry studies show that 5 percent of wells can leak immediately, and 60 percent over 30 years. There is no such thing as pipes and concrete that won’t eventually break down. It releases a cocktail of chemicals from a menu of more than 600 toxic substances, climate-changing methane, radium and, of course, uranium.

I frequently come home to find my wife watching some romance on Lifetime or Hallmark or a similar channel. The plots have gotten so predictable that I could almost write one myself.

The main character is a stressed-out city dweller, but for some reason has to stop in, then spend an unexpectedly longer amount of time in a small town. Maybe his or her BMW has broken down, maybe he or she has inherited a farm, but there they are, cell phone in one ear, in a hurry, wearing city duds in the local diner – where they meet an incredibly attractive and single person, of the opposite sex, of course, who is wearing country casual, and looks damn good in it. After some requisite bickering, they do some chores or solve a crime together, ride a horse or paddle a canoe, go to the local dance or fair, then fall madly in love. After a few fits and starts, the city mouse figures out that just about everything is waaay better in the country. The city person either quits her or his job, or decides she or he can do it just as well from the small town or opens a new small business doing what they were always afraid to try.

I tell my wife that such films are essentially the television version of country music. They are about a longing for the supposed simplicity of life in the country. I’ve actually moved to the country, though. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t bliss, either.

When my family left Long Island for a rural MD suburb of Washington DC, we settled in an old farm, which had less than ten acres of land but was nestled between hundred acre pastures. I was ten. We couldn’t even see the nearest house, and it seemed like we were alone. We kids started exploring the land nearby and found two dumps. Both were in creeks. The closer one was “in the woods” and contained old washing machines and furniture dumped by our neighbors. Even then, it seemed like a bad idea to leave large hunks of metal to rust in the creek, but it was on their own property. Our neighbor’s kids didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Along the gravel road was a more general dump used by anyone that didn’t feel like driving to the county landfill. My Dad bought a trailer and we diligently brought our waste to the smelly landfill. Trash attracts more trash, though, and as more and more people moved in to the area, we would see more and more station wagons and pickups full of trash headed down that road. We thought it would be better if they didn’t.

Nowadays, we drop bagged trash at a giant compactor run by the apartment complex. People drop off all the same sort of stuff, and it goes somewhere. Unlike the Zero Waste Project or Cradle to Cradle, the products we use always come with disposable packaging.

Likewise, the energy we use always comes from extracting, refining and delivering fossil fuels. Usually that happens out of sight, in blighted areas near the Gulf or in Cushing or in Athabasca. Oil pipelines run unnoticed and leak without much publicity. Coal moves on rail cars. Fracking is just the latest, most invasive, hardest to ignore manifestation of our dependence on fossil fuels.

In the country romances, the city dweller probably won’t have to smell the town dump or drink the fracked water. In real life, though, it will be harder and harder to escape to places not affected by our consumption of resources. We may be drinking fracked water for generations.

Leaf: Plus and Minus

To avoid sending money to the oil cartels, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor has purchased a Leaf battery electric vehicle, and posts about it in My Nissan Leaf life, Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Nissan has erected a new lithium-ion cell fabrication plant next to their vehicle assembly plant in Smyrna TN, and sometime in 2012 will start producing the 2013 Leaf in America as well as Japan. The 2011 and 2012 Leafs used battery cells from Automotive Energy Supply Corp (AESC), a joint venture between Nissan and NEC, but the Daily Yomiuri Online claims that the 2013 Leaf will use less expensive Hitachi battery cells instead. Nissan won’t comment, but why build a new cell plant if you’re outsourcing cells? Less expensive cells may enable Nissan to increase the Leaf’s 73-mile EPA rated range or to reduce the Leaf’s asking price.

Meanwhile, the saga of battery capacity loss in Phoenix AZ Leafs continues. Without a Temperature Management System (TMS) for their battery packs, Nissan may have a hard time selling any sort of Leaf in hot climates. Nissan sent a letter to owners that had complained about losing capacity:

… Battery data collected from Nissan LEAFs to date currently indicates that less than 0.3 percent of Nissan LEAFs in the U.S. (including vehicles in service dating back to December, 2010) have experienced a loss of any battery capacity bars. Overall, this universe of vehicles represents a very small fraction of the more than 13,000 Nissan LEAFs on U.S. roads. Also, data received globally from other LEAF vehicles shows that this condition typically occurs to high-mileage cars or those in unique operating situations. …

On the MyNissanLeaf forum, a Leaf owner responded:

You can make statistics support just about any position and although I appreciate the above response from Nissan, stating that only 0.3% of Leaf’s nationwide present with this problem is misleading. Looking at the 42 Leafs … of the approx. 400 vehicles sold/leased in the Phoenix area … shows this issue affects at a minimum, 10% of the cars in Phoenix. Nationwide 1 in 300 (0.3%) cars sold have presented with this issue. In Phoenix, 1 in 10 have this issue and that is only based on known wiki reports. This stat alone demonstrates that this is not a “method and frequency of charging issue, amount of electricity consumed during daily usage issue or a vehicle’s mileage or age issue”. …

Leaf owners may well be abusing their batteries through over-charging and topping off, but it also seems likely that Phoenix’s hot conditions and the lack of temperature management are making use and abuse much harder on the battery. And battery electric vehicles have a tall order satisfying our expectations. In, Battery Performance Deficit Disorder, Tom Murphy of Do the Math blog shows that the physics just doesn’t support them as a replacement for ICE vehicles.

Batteries fail—as certainly as death and taxes. Rechargeable batteries at least offer the possibility of repeating the cycle, so are in this sense more like recurrent taxes than death. But alas, the story cannot repeat indefinitely. One cheerful thought after the other, yes?  But wait, there’s more… Add to their inevitable demise an overall lackluster performance in battery storage technology, and we have ourselves the makings of a blog post on the failure of batteries to live up to their promises.

To set the stage, the specific energy of gasoline—measured in kWh per kg, for instance—is about 400 times higher than that of a lead-acid battery, and about 200 times better than the Lithium-ion battery in the Chevrolet Volt. We should not expect batteries to rival the energy density delivered by our beloved fossil fuels—ever. …

Don’t get me wrong: even though I dwell on the shortcomings of batteries in this post, I still hold a net positive view. … Despite their lackluster performance next to fossil fuel storage, batteries still beat the pants off of mechanical or gravitational storage.

And even though I might appear to be picking on the Chevy Volt by highlighting its deficiencies, I actually rather like the design point …. In fact, I was half way to buying one. By half way, I mean that if the price were cut in half, I would surely have one now.

The real point is that batteries fall pathetically short of our customary fossil fuel energy storage medium. When we wake up to a declining global availability of petroleum, we won’t just switch over to electric cars. We may not be able to collectively afford such a transition, given the huge up-front costs in both money and energy. Where will the prosperity come from? If oil shortages drive recession in the usual fashion, expensive options may be off the table.

The Latest Face of Racism

Almost everyone noticed when there was nary a non-white face in one of Romney’s early campaign advertisements. And if they didn’t, the Daily Show made it fairly hard to ignore. We don’t know if all that paleness was a misstep or intentional, but it was eerily accurate. There’s been a lot written about the prevalence of white faces among Republican supporters.

In the Daily Beast, John Avlon asks, When Did the GOP Get So White: The Republicans’ Loss of Diversity:

“Zero Percent of Blacks for Romney”—Oh, that headline hurts. And the WSJ/NBC poll can’t just be dismissed out of hand as the work of partisan hacks.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that no African-Americans will vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket, just that it will be within the margin of error and along the lines last time, when McCain-Palin somehow managed to score 4 percent of the black vote.

But ’twas not always thus for the GOP. Dust off your history books and you will see Republicans once had a virtual lock on the minority vote—and minority elected officials. The legacy of Lincoln was alive and well until not so long ago.

In Salon, MD Prof Thomas Schaller describes an emerging paradox in, Republican National Convention: Heart of whiteness:

These changes aren’t eye-popping, and it’s hard to know for sure if the minority or female representation in the GOP will continue to edge higher or even hold steady. But the sudden uptick in minority and female Republicans is especially noteworthy because it creates a rather curious paradox: The rising diversity among Republican elites comes at the same time the party seems to be retrenching —willingly and strategically, it sometimes seems—toward a more base-oriented, white-male dominated coalition of voters. Yes, the shares of non-white and female Republicans at the ballot box still far exceed the shares found, for example, at congressional roll call. But at the moment the two percentages are moving in opposite directions.

In the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates takes a different tack in a long piece, Fear of a Black President, noting that even our first black president prefers to avoid talking about race.

As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s original sin, slavery. But as our first black president, he has avoided mention of race almost entirely. In having to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” Obama reveals the false promise and double standard of integration.

TNC comes at the issue as a black man with ancestors that were lynched and friends that were, “shot while black” by police. I grew up hoping that racism would recede into the past, but instead find subtle racism everywhere. It is tempting to talk about a new racism, but I suspect it is a new manifestation of the same old racism.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my redstate friends and relatives are easily infuriated by charges of racism, and I suspect it is more than the tactical sort of taking offense one hears so much on right-wing radio. My family grew up around black people. We attended school with and played with black kids. Between them, my siblings have brought home friends of all colors. How can they possibly be racist?

What I suspect is that racism is becoming more of a classism. Whites are now allowed, even encouraged, to have non-white friends, and often those African- or Asian-American friends behave very much like their Caucasian-American friends, with similar income and education. Whites therefore feel entitled to despise the wrong sort of blacks — the poor, culturally-different dark people that speak in an argot, talk loud during movies, and wear their pants way too low.

Shooting Trayvon became OK once he was successfully portrayed as the wrong sort of black youth. Taking the vote away from those people is also OK because they are all perceived to be living off society and dealing drugs. Foreclosing on those people is OK because they bought houses they knew they couldn’t afford.

The question is whether the haves will ever be able to afford to openly turn on poor whites, many of whom are also living off society and dealing drugs. So far they have gotten a pass because the GOP needs their votes.

Drill Mitt, Drill

From Democracy Now!’s headlines:
Romney Calls for Ending Federal Regulation of Drilling, Mining

On the campaign trail, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has unveiled a new plan that would radically alter the nation’s energy policy. On Thursday, Romney called for ending the longstanding federal regulation of oil and gas drilling and coal mining on government-owned lands, and instead transferring responsibility over to the states. The move would mark a huge win for oil and gas companies as states notoriously have weaker regulatory mechanisms than the federal government. Romney also vowed speedy approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast. Speaking in New Mexico, Romney said his plan would lead the United States to energy independence.

Mitt Romney: “This is not just a matter of economy and jobs and rising incomes and a growing economy and more tax revenues. It’s also more security. It means we don’t have to rely on people who in some cases don’t like us very much, that America will be able to stand on its own, will stand arm in arm with our friends from Mexico and our friends from Canada, and assure that we have all the energy we need to keep America powered and to make sure that our military never has to borrow from someone across the ocean that might not be our best friend.

Romney unveiled his plan just days after taking in nearly $10 million from the oil and gas industry in two fundraisers. According to the New York Times, Romney’s staff drafted his plan with energy industry executives, including the billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm.

The Washington Post adds:

His plan would also open new areas for offshore drilling, starting off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas, and empower the states to lease federal lands for oil, coal and natural gas development.

So when you summer at Virginia Beach, or Kill Devil Hills, keep an eye out for the derricks.

In, Romney energy plan: More drilling, fewer rules. What could go wrong? the LA Times asks:

Perhaps Romney missed the news that just a couple of years ago, the largest oil spill in history occurred in the Gulf of Mexcico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform sprung a leak, flooding the water with about 5 million barrels of oil.

The spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, and to the gulf’s fishing and tourism industries.

BP, of course, has spent millions on an advertising campaign in hopes that we’ll forget all that.

One Small Step, Seven Tours de France

Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, has died at 82. Although a few crackpots claimed the moon walk was staged, most of us believe that a man walked on the moon.

Lance Armstrong, winner of seven Tours de France, has refused to further engage the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Despite the hundreds of drug tests that Armstrong has passed, the USADA has been pursuing charges against Armstrong seemingly forever. Most of us know that the sport of bicycling is rife with doping, and many of us wonder if Armstrong could possibly have won, have dominated, without doping, but none of us know for sure.

I happened to buy Saturday’s paper edition of the Washington Post, in which Tracee Hamilton writes Vicious Circle Leads Nowhere (online title: Lance Armstrong vs. USADA: What are we to believe?) and Sally Jenkins writes USADA’s Campaign Is Far From Fair (online title: Lance Armstrong doping campaign exposes USADA’s hypocrisy). Both admit that they don’t know if Armstrong is clean, but both resent the USADA’s high-handed harassment.

Lance Armstrong vs. USADA: What are we to believe?

I have always found the Lance Armstrong vs. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency fight a tough one in which to take a side, because there are no sides. This is a circle, and a vicious one at that, of accusations and denials and accusations and denials. To believe USADA, to me, meant suspending belief in the science of drug testing. To believe Armstrong meant going out on a limb with an athlete who is easy to admire as a person but who excelled in a sport where seemingly half the competitors were cheating.

I’m glad I don’t have to answer to the USADA for anything, but I reject Hamilton’s false dichotomy that either drug tests or testimony be considered. As in any court case, any evidence should be considered. And as in any court case, there should be discretion in bringing charges.

Lance Armstrong doping campaign exposes USADA’s hypocrisy

When are people going to grow sick enough of these astonishing overreaches and abuses to do something about it? As my friend Tommy Craggs has written for Deadspin, WADA and USADA have become “a gang of moralizing cranks . . . and it is beyond me why an organization that wants to ban caffeine again hasn’t yet gotten laughed out of polite conversation.” … How does an agency that is supposed to regulate drug testing strip a guy of seven titles without a single positive drug test? Whether Armstrong is innocent or guilty, that question should give all of us pause. How is it that an American agency can decide to invalidate somebody’s results achieved in Europe, in a sport it doesn’t control? Better question, how is it that an American taxpayer-funded organization can participate in an adjudication system in which you get a two-year ban because “there is no reason to exonerate” you? At what point is such an organization shut down and defunded?

For my part, Armstrong continues to be innocent until proven guilty, but the entire sport is suspect. The entire world of professional sports is increasingly distasteful.