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Friday, March 13, 2009

Solar powered pogies and other oddities

Always a day late and dollar short, I thought I'd get this post out before winter ends next week.

Yesterday, I rode my hybrid electric bike from Fremont, which is at sea level, over Capital Hill, down into the Rainier Valley and back. It was about 15 miles round trip. I took mental notes on the discomfort I experienced along the way.

1. It was a cold and my face was freezing.
2. Although I had on thick gloves my fingers still got cold.
3. Whenever I needed to undo a zipper or do anything else with my hands I had to take my gloves off.

Taking gloves off so one can do something like adjust a jacket zipper requires riding with no hands while dodging potholes and cars. Yes, I know I could just stop riding to do it but like most other guys, I'm too stupid for that. And once you get your gloves off, you have to stick them under one arm. Putting them back on is even worse because you now have to bring your teeth into the act as well.

I spent the last two days in my workshop cobbling together fixes. The freezing face problem was handled by bolting on a cheap and simple face guard (found at Lowes and Home Depot among other places). I used wing nuts to make it easy to remove. Much to my surprise, it worked flawlessly on several test-rides in cold air. You can see it in action here. Never mind the bolt sticking out of the top. I'll get to that in another post.

This fix may also offer some protection against face plants. I know three people who have augured-in face-first this year. My wife's walking buddy woke up with face rash and a concussion. She isn't sure what happened but thinks she may have hit a slippery painted stripe on the road. She's afraid to get back on her bike. My wife's Spanish teacher managed a rapid deceleration using her face and a metal fence post, splitting her lower lip. My daughter's friend's boyfriend lost several front teeth and needed reconstructive surgery on his nose after his front wheel came off. Luckily for him, chicks dig scars. Bike helmets just don't offer much in the way of face protection unless you are willing to wear a full-faced version used in racing circles. The ones on the market today tend to be hot and uncomfortable. If anyone knows about one that works for regular bike commuters let me know.

The cold fingers problem can be resolved by a combination of Atlas 370 Nitrile Touch Gloves (preferably black to maximize solar gain) and a pair of solar powered pogies which you can make yourself. These gloves are very flexible with textured rubber on one side and cloth on the back to let them breathe. They are thin enough to manipulate things like zippers and bike helmet latches with ease but you can't quite pick your nose with them on. If that's a priority with you, consider cutting the tip off the index finger.

What's a pogie you say? It is, among other things, a wind and water proof cover that fits on an oar or handlebar (motorcycle or bicycle) to keep your hands warm and dry. This is an example of a pogie fail.

After much deliberation and a few glasses of wine, I made a pair out of one-gallon Glad double-lock freezer bags. Clamp one end around your handle bar with a paper clamp and cut a six-to-eight inch slit on the bottom side about two inches from the aft seam to stick your hand in. Experiment until you get it right. They come 40 to a box. Keep a few in your bike bag for riding in the rain or on cold days. I was hoping that by using a transparent material I would get some solar heating and sure enough I did when stopped at a light. Convection losses while moving overwhelm any solar heat gain. Who knows, one day you might start to see solar heated pogies available commercially.

You can't tell a nerd from a dork by looking. A dork does not realize that his or her pants are too short, whereas a nerd just doesn't care. Saving the planet is going to be a delicate balancing act. Ideas must scale (become popular with large numbers of the unthinking herd) and to do that they have to cross the coolness barrier. I am hopeful that if fixie bikes (which have the advantage of being able to go in reverse) can cross that boundary, this helmet and solar powered pogie can.

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  1. Apologies for lackluster photo, and my wife's stand up comedy act. She will be keeping her day job.

  2. Anonymous12:44 AM

    Actors! That's why I use my dog on my blog Russ.

    No respect, I tell ya...

  3. Anonymous12:54 AM

    An imperfect medium, for imperfect people.

    Hehey. No respect, I tell ya...

  4. Pogies kept my hands warm and toasty on a ride today. It was about 45 degrees F and mostly sunny. The solar heat gain worked even while moving.


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