APHA Report: The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation

The American Public Health Association has published a new report titled The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation. Findings include an estimate that the health impacts from our dependence on the automobile may cost as much as several hundred billion dollars per year. Traffic crashes account for an estimated $180 billion, obesity accounts for an estimated $142 billion, and air pollution from traffic accounts for an estimated $50-80 billion. From the report:

Our dependence on automobiles and roadways has profound negative impacts on human health: decreased opportunities for physical activity, and increased exposure to air pollution, and the number of traffic crashes. The health costs associated with these impacts, including costs associated with loss of work days and wages, pain and suffering, and premature death, may be as high as several hundred billion dollars.

View the report

Chain Maintenance for Clean Freaks

Greasy chains can be a real annoyance for bike commuters who ride in business attire. Sure, it’s simple enough to use a cuff strap or tuck a pant leg into a sock, but if you’re a numbskull like me, you still eventually manage to get grease on the cuff of every pair of khakis in your closet. Full chain cases are the obvious solution, but not everyone wants a chain case. Another approach is a belt drive, but again, we’re talking a specialized bicycle. What many people may not realize is that a perfectly clean running chain lube has been available all along.

Chain Waxing
Wax makes an excellent chain lube. It runs extremely clean and it seems to be good for chains. Chain waxing is nothing new (here’s an old article by Grant Petersen on chain waxing from 1992). I’ve waxed my chains on-and-off going all the way back to the 1980’s. There are those who claim a waxed chain will not last as long as a chain lubricated with modern synthetic oils (probably the manufacturers of those products), but anecdotal evidence seems to support the contrary. Personally, I’ve put what I’m guessing to be 10,000 miles on a waxed chain, and I’ve seen claims of up to 15,000 miles. Whatever the numbers, it seems waxing is sufficiently effective to assuage any concerns about bicycle chain life. The obvious downside to chain waxing is that it’s a bit of a process, so if your chain maintenace method consists of dribbling a little oil on your chain every few weeks and calling it good, the waxing process may may be too much and you can stop right here. But, if you’ve had it with greasy chains and you’re interested in an alternative, read on!

First you’ll need a 1lb. block of paraffin, available at most grocery stores as “canning wax“, or at craft stores as “premium candle wax” (not to be confused with bee’s wax). You’ll also need either two pots to use as a double boiler, a real double-boiler, or an old crock pot. It’s also nice to have an old spoke or a wire coat hanger handy for fishing the chain out of the hot wax when the time comes.

Here’s the process:

  1. The first time you use the hot wax method you’ll want to sanitize your drivetrain before starting (you’ll only need to do this once). Remove the chain and strip it using your favorite biodegradable degreaser (my favorite method is to fill an old plastic soda bottle 1/4 of the way with Simple Green, feed the chain in the top, put on the cap, shake like crazy, let it soak for 10 minutes, shake like crazy again, then rinse the chain thoroughly with water). While the chain is drying, scrub your chainrings and rear cogs. Use whatever method you’d like, just make sure everything is squeaky clean and dry or the wax will pick up and absorb the oily gunk that was leftover, defeating the purpose.
  2. Heat the block of wax in your double-boiler or crock pot. [CAUTION: Paraffin is flammable. Attempting to melt paraffin on the stovetop without the use of a double boiler may cause a fire! —ed.] Once the wax is completely melted and is about the consistency of water, turn the heat down a bit and carefully place your chain in the wax. You’ll notice bubbles emanating from the chain; these bubbles are the air that’s being forced out of the inner pockets of the chain by the wax (this is good!). Let the chain stew for about 15 minutes; the wax will adhere better if the chain gets up to about the same temperature as the wax. Once you’re convinced the chain is sufficiently saturated, turn off the heat and wait another 15 minutes for the wax to partially cool and thicken to the consistency of syrup.
  3. Using your old spoke, fish the chain out of the wax and hang it up to drip dry (this is best done outside). If done carefully, you won’t lose a drop of wax and your significant other won’t kill you for dripping paraffin everywhere. Once the chain is hanging, use a clean, coarse rag to wipe the excess wax from the chain.
  4. You can either just leave the remaining wax in the pot to harden for use on another day, or if you’re the frugal type, you can reheat the wax and pour it through cheesecloth into another container to filter out any dirt and grease particles that were picked up during the process. If you choose to forgo the filtering process, you’ll get 4-5 uses out of a batch of wax before you need to replace it.
  5. Reinstall your chain and enjoy the clean, silent ride of wax!

The first time out you’ll notice some wax flecks on your bike and the chain may slip a bit; both will subside as the excess wax flakes off.

Expect to get anywhere from 400-600 miles per wax job, depending upon your local conditions (just like with any lube, the nastier the conditions, the sooner you’ll have to re-apply). Be sure to re-wax your chain as soon as it starts squeaking.

Straight paraffin works well in dry conditions, but you may need to add a little Teflon (PTFE) impregnated oil such as Slick 50 to increase its effectiveness in wet conditions. One or two tablespoons of oil per 1 lb. of wax is plenty. Grant Petersen advocates mixing paraffin with bee’s wax at an 80/20 ratio. Whatever your flavor, adding anything to pure paraffin will increase its stickiness while reducing cleanliness.

Very few people still use this antiquated method to lube their chains, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like the idea of a super-clean, greaseless, yet well-lubed drivetrain, you might give it a try sometime.

Note: A variation on this post was originally published on my old site, The Recumbent Blog, back in 2007.

Working Overtime

My Mobile Office (at our local coffee house)

Sometimes you have to work overtime on a holiday weekend; I figure you might as well make the best of it, eh?

Tiny Bikes and Changing Needs

Regular readers of the blog may have noticed the recent addition of a pair of folding bikes to our stable. Our transportation needs, as well as our future plans, have been evolving, and as a result we’re making a few adjustments.

As we’ve become more involved with the bicycling community in the larger surrounding area, we’ve had a need to transport our bikes more frequently. When we can, we either ride or take the train to various events, but often times the distances are too great or the transit schedules simply don’t work. In these cases, we’ve had to resort to renting or borrowing a truck, or simply skipping the event (we’re not fond of vehicle bike racks, but I’d rather not go into that here). Now, with a pair of folding bikes, we can either drop them in the back of our little car and drive to the event, or take them on the bus when the train schedule doesn’t work (not all of our buses have bike racks).

As our family is growing up and heading off to college, we have mid-term plans to downsize fairly dramatically. When that happens, storage will become even more of a premium than it is now. Because of the work we do here at the blog, we often have at least one or two extra bikes around that we’re evaluating or photographing, so it only makes sense to keep the physical footprint of our personal quiver to a minimum, something the folders help with immensely (see above). This doesn’t mean we’ll replace our everyday, full-sized rides with folders, but it does mean we’ll have a mix of bikes that have less overlap and more completely cover our range of needs as we continue to do less driving and move toward a 100% car-free lifestyle.

We also hope to do some multi-modal touring in the future. We love trains, and nothing goes together better than a tiny folding bike and a passenger train. Bromptons are one of the select few bikes that will fit between the seat backs on passenger trains, which makes them packable on almost any train in the country. We envision a day when we take a trip across the country, partially on trains, partially on bikes, stopping along the way to do some bike touring in interesting towns, then getting back on the train to move to the next interesting town for another day or two of exploring. We can’t think of a better way to see the country (for us).

Some people will say owning 4-6 bikes to share among 2-3 people is extravagant. From our perspective, what is extravagant is the fact that 70% of Americans drive to work in cars, and that as a country we own 1.17 motor vehicles per licensed driver at an average cost of $9,641 per year, excluding loan payments (according to figures from the AAA). In this context, owning a few specialized bikes to help reduce your automobile use appears to be a great investment.

People who live in urban areas just a few blocks from their work and essential services have completely different needs than those who live in suburban or rural areas. Physical terrain such as hills, and weather considerations such as snow and rain, also factor into the equation. The goal is to figure out how best to utilize bicycles as car replacements in your life. This could mean anything from a simple one-speed crusier, to a garage full of specialized machines, and it could mean making a few adjustments as your transportaton needs evolve over time.

Paris Bike Plan

The City of Paris has a new 4-year bike plan in the works that will be presented to the city council in June. The new plan calls for increasing the number of bike lanes from 273 to 435 miles by 2014, adding bike boxes to many intersections, and adding 1,000 new bike parking spaces each year.

Paris Bike Plan (French Language) →

Business Attire

Brompton M3L with a Brompton A-Bag; always stylish and appropriate.

Click, Click, Click

We’ve all experienced annoying little clicks and creaks on our bikes. You know, like the kind that happen each time the crank comes over the top at 2 o’clock. I often hear people talk about tightening crank arms and checking bottom brackets when this happens, but odds are it’s a pedal. See, many of the pedals we commuters use, particularly those such as the low-end models from Shimano or the touring pedals from MKS, contain the cheapest bearings on our bikes. They’re the most likely to run rough, and they’re also the most likely to click and creak. If you find one of your pedals making noise, it’s usually a simple matter of disassembling the pedal, cleaning, and re-packing with Phil (be careful to make note of how it came apart and don’t lose any ball bearings). The MKS pedals are particularly simple to overhaul, one among many reasons I prefer them over Shimano pedals, some of which require special tools to adjust.

© 2011 EcoVelo™