Baby Steps… 1-2-3.

Today I had my most enjoyable ride on Electra with her balance wheels set at level two, and expect the best is yet to come. Back on May 2nd, I installed the balance wheels and set them to level two. They seemed lined up alright, and each balance wheel would toggle off the ground ~1” +/- 0.5”. I had previously tried balance wheels on a 29er mountain bike; it was shortly after being vacated from the hotel I lived in ~5 years because Long Beach bought the property and planned to build another shopping center. I was temporarily living with a friend from college and not allowed to work on my bike; rather, the roommate put them on the bike, through away the packaging and u-bolts for the upper frame stay; told me they didn’t fit so thrown away. The bike wouldn’t ride the way it was setup…

That got me used to riding at an extreme lean on either side for a month (4 years ago). On Electra, the right mount wasn’t right; the balances wheels on both sides rose the same distance, but the geometry of the right mount was at an angel causing an extreme lean on the right side I wasn’t aware of. Yeah, I rode her like that 4 days that first week; very slow in bike lanes by heavy traffic, but fast in residential neighborhoods were I could ride fast enough to keep both balance wheels of the road. Then I tried level one although it put the balance wheels underground. Instead of going underground, they originally put the drive wheel in the air unless my weight was in the saddle. Then the metal created an angel so the balance wheels only contact the ground with the sides of the tread. But riding became comfortable without leaning against an extreme right lean, and average speed increased 20%.

A couple days ago I set the balance wheels back to level two and they seemed alright on my neighborhood test ride; however, yesterday I rode out of the neighborhood intending to ride to the beach. In the bike lane with heavy traffic the extreme right lean returned. I was sure I worked it out during the past month, so I figured it was mechanical; hence, I returned home to work on it. I loosened the 3 u-bolts and slid it up ~1” and forward ~1”. Broke one u-bolt; too much torque and/or fatigue from May. Used a spare from 2017, and the right performs like the left now.

Today I felt comfortable enough not wearing pads, playing music, and spinning at high speed. I think both balance wheels were off the ground 70% of the time. That is based on the position of the head set when both balance wheels are off the ground while not moving and the absence of side to side motion which is common at lower speeds. Hopefully my balance will improve enough to remove the balance wheels and still ride safe in stop-and-go traffic.

Balance Wheels Back on Second Setting

On this day, last month, I lowered the balance wheels on Electra to the lowest setting. Indeed, that allowed me to ride faster: top speeds over 40 KPH and average speeds > 16 KPH; the bike is designed as a cruiser (not a racing bike). I raised them to the second position this morning and just went for a long neighborhood spin, and noticed some improvement over the past month.

Electra’s First Ride to Long Beach

May 3rd is the day I took Electra on her maiden voyage. The main strip was the path along the shore of Huntington Beach, and for the following month I rode along that shore daily (for physical and mental exercise: I find the beach very relaxing for my body and soothing for my mind). 16 kilometers north is Long Beach/Los Angeles County, and I’d ride there regularly after I moved back to Orange County, but this was the first time I rode Electra there; hence, it was an extension of the maiden voyage.

A noteworthy discovery was on a steep hill in Belmont heights. That was the first time I intentionally used the granny gear, and it was too much. What I mean is the gear ratio is too low (1.38:1). I usually use the top 3 gears, 5th, 6th & 7th. Fifth gear has a 2:1 ratio, but 7th only has 3.14:1 (81 gear inches factoring in Electra’s 26” wheel). That is just too low (considered mid gear). I don’t have budget to build a new wheel with spacing for a free hub and cassette, so I’ll keep the stock freewheel and change the crank set. Switching the chain wheel from 44t to 60t will increase the granny gear from 1.38:1 to 1.875:1. It’ll be nice for steep hills and/or strong head winds; there is a fine line between spinning faster with a lower gear ratio to achieve the same speed as spinning with more power at a slower pace in a higher gear ratio. I prefer the latter. With the larger chain wheel, I’ll achieve a ratio of 4.29:1 in 7th gear (111 gear inches). On longer rides, rides with the wind on your back, downhill… that gets you moving several kilometers an hour faster. Roxanne has 6 of 7 gears the same as Electra. The different gear is a standard 1st on Roxanne verses Electra’s extreme low granny gear.

A few weeks ago I noticed the bottom bracket on Roxanne has become loose. I’ll need to clean, repair if required and tighten. I originally purchased and installed the 60t crank set on Olivia, and then passed it onto Roxanne. Now I’ll pass it on to Electra and use her 44t crank set on Roxanne. Because I need to pull the crank set to access the bottom bracket shell, I’ll make the switch at the same time. I’ll leave the extenders on the 44t crank arms, so I’ll need to order another pair in advance of this project because the extra 0.77” clearance on each side is excellent for performance (on the drive side it prevents me from hitting both the u-lock and chain guard). Electra’s chain guard will be removed to make room for the larger chain wheel, and Roxanne’s is already removed because she has the 60t chain wheel and the 44t chain wheel is too large as well. For the last few years, I always had grime from the chain on my leg, but the extenders will prevent that, so both Roxanne and Electra will require a set (I’ll need another set).

Memorial Reflections

Four years ago, I spent Memorial Weekend in Community Hospital, Long Beach, California, recovering from total hip replacement surgery. A few days prior, I crashed on my 21 Speed Mongoose 29er Mountain Bike and broke my hip. Although you never forget how to ride a bike, according to medical studies of memory, I experienced a brain injury, after a car hit me at 55 MPH while riding a motorcycle, in 1991 that effects my balance. Because of that, I tried stabilizer wheels; however, they didn’t fit even though they were advertised to fit bikes with 20-29” wheels. I attempted using them with a dramatic lean on the drive side. It was during a ride to the local park where I’d do pull ups that the bike shifted from one side to the other. Each stabilizer wheel was about 3” off the ground, so it was about 6” between stabilizer wheels and when the other wheel touched down it bounced up with enough force to cause a crash. I’d been through several crashes before I tried the stabilizer wheels, but for whatever reason, this one broke my hip. I didn’t know until an ex-ray revealed it; I was unable to get up and walk so a paramedic had to bring me to the hospital.

In 1995, I bought an 18 speed mountain bike as a stepping stone to get back on a motorcycle. The beginning was hard, I’d ride and all would be well until a random start would cause a loss of balance and crash. They where low speed crashes (less than 5 MPH; because 5 MPH is the self balance speed). As time past, a couple months, my balance improved and I advanced from peaceful neighborhoods to busier business zones. In 1999, I had a second motorcycle accident and didn’t ride again until 2016. Within that time, my balance got worse and I was living in Long Beach opposed to Palm Desert. The population was about 1,500% higher and the traffic on the roads was greater, even in the neighborhoods. That traffic dilemma prevented me from attempting to ride a bike for over a decade. When I started again, I bought an adult tricycle. After Assembly, riding it on the busy main roads of Long Beach was easy. I’ve rode over 16,000 miles on five adult trikes the past 5 years, but last month bought another bicycle. I’ve rode over 300 miles on it the last few weeks, and to keep motivated, I’ll use it as a stepping stone for a faster bike (possibly a high performance road bike; I’ve never had one).

I don’t have the peaceful neighborhoods to practice in anymore; there are some neighborhoods, but they are busier. I installed stabilizer wheels on my new bicycle, but this time they actually fit. One difference is my 2016 mountain bike had 29 inch wheels while my 2021 Electra Townie has 26 inch wheels. I don’t think that is the main reason. On the old bicycle, the upper portion of the frame was too thick for the upper support brackets; however, the new bicycle frame mounts all three points of the support brackets. With the old frame only able to mount 2 points, the lack of support was probably the primary reason for mechanical failure causing injury. The wheels are solid now; I rode 4 days on level 2, and the last 2 weeks on level 1. The first level has allowed me to ride faster and become used to the way the bicycle handles. I’ll switch to level 2 again, next month, and hope my balance has improved enough to allow me to ride as fast as level 1.

It is awesome not to be in the hospital recovering from total hip replacement surgery Memorial Day Weekend 2018-2021 and riding a bike (trikes in 2018-2020, and a bicycle in 2021). I’ve had some challenges to get to this point, and hope my experiences can help others on this crazy cycle journey.

Smooth Riding in May

It has been fun riding Electra this month!!! Recap: May 3, I took her maiden voyage. The day before, I installed the balance wheels at level 2 and rode through the neighborhood. That week I rode her half the time and Roxanne the other half; that was 6 days split 3 and 3, but on the 7th day I rode Electra so it became 4-3.

For the second week I adjusted the balance wheels to level one and planned to adjust them back to level 2 in June. The balance wheels at level one has allowed me to become familiar with the bike and ride faster. I put extenders on the crank arms so each pedal extends 0.77 inch; my feet are happier with more room. I also noticed the headlight is bright, and the electricity generated must be less at lower speeds because the light flashes then. On my rechargeable LED lights, strobe is an energy saving mode. But on Electra the power is generated in the dynamo hub, and at higher speeds the light burns steady. The taillight would also flash, but the wire delivering power is broken, and I have not repaired it yet; I don’t know if the rear stays in flash mode or becomes steady. Flashing lights are more visible to motorist, but a steady light makes judging distance easier for the rider. The front light burning steady at higher speed is good, and if the taillight stays in the flashing mode, that’ll be excellent!

Time is advancing, I’m now in the third week with the balance wheels at level one. This is also the week with Memorial Day Weekend. Next week we have Memorial Day, and then it is June. Soon I’ll need to adjust the balance wheels back to level 2.

I’d also like to install a larger crank set. Electra only has 81 gear inches, and when I’d like to shift into a higher gear, she is already spinning in the highest gear. My first thought was lower the cassette (higher gear ratios have more teeth on the chain wheel and less on the cog). Then I discovered Electra has a freewheel. Both a freewheel and cassette go on a free hub; the freewheel is the inexpensive option that does not perform as well. I increased gear ratio a couple times on trikes by installing a larger crank set and chain for the larger chain wheel. It is a small performance enhancer, but an option. Take off is slower so I’d like to wait and see how much of my balance comes back. The faster I get >= 5 MPH, is idea for self balance. But there are many times when a slow ride is the only option and balance is vital.

26,000++ Kilometers

As I reflect on the kilometers I’ve rode the past 5 years, I’m grateful I can still ride that much. There are many styles of bikes on the road today: electric and expensive technology, and old school adult tricycles can’t keep up. I run high gearing and can spin it for hours at a time, it allows me to out perform many bikes, but not road bikes on the open highway or electric bikes on the beach path. The last couple weeks I’ve logged 230 kilometers on Electra (brand not electric bike) and the freewheel cogs are similar to the ones on Roxanne, but the chain wheel on Electra has 44 teeth and Roxanne has 60. More teeth on a chain wheel is faster, so Roxanne is geared higher; however, the aerodynamics of Electra makes her almost as fast, and the only difference in the freewheel is Roxanne has 28t as 1st while Electra has 32t as an extreme granny gear; otherwise, they both go from 24t to 14t. Electra is a cruiser in the wind; I mean it takes little effort to pedal. In normal conditions, I start in 5th gear without lugging, but in heavy winds I’ll sometimes downshift to 3rd. Roxanne starts in lower gears and accelerates slower, but is faster once moving. Electra is faster in stop and go traffic, and way more comfortable!

Riding Electra the past couple weeks has been a blessing. The first week, I rode Roxanne about half the time, but this week I’ve just been riding Electra; except tomorrow when I plan to take Roxanne to the grocery store because the adult tricycle is an excellent cargo cycle. The bicycle is much more sporty around town, though. I delivered “The Desert Sun” Newspaper for years when I was a child (365 days/year rain or shine). That must have stuck with me because when I started riding an adult trike in 2016, I was able to pedal great distances in heavy Long Beach traffic with no problem. After 5 years and various cycles (mostly adult trikes) it is wonderful to be back in the saddle of a two wheeler; although I have balance issues from my 1991 motorcycle accident, so for now I’m using balance wheels.

Electra
Roxanne

Balance Wheels at Level One

It has been an exciting week for cycling because I began riding my new bicycle with 2 wheels and it has been over a decade since I rode a two wheel bike (excluding my failed attempt in 2017). My failed attempt was short (a month) and sprinkled with several successful rides (mostly to the park where there was a pull up bar I’d use a few times every week). The failure was mechanical. I was tired of road rash from losing balance and falling once in a while, so I put the stabilizer wheels back on (although they did not fit the frame of my 29er mountain bike) and was thrown off during one of the side to side shifts breaking my hip. How many times you fall is not important; how many times you get up is. I usually get up, but unable to after that injury. After total hip replacement, I bought another adult tricycle to get my new hip working with my body. I rode 3,122 miles on that trike; part of over 16,000 miles on four trikes during the past 4 years. I still have one which is geared higher than my new bike. Better for grocery shopping and commuting, but the bicycle is a true beach cycle optimized for cruising the local beach in Surf City!

The training wheels have performed fantastic during the past week. I initially install them at level 2 because level one put the training wheels underground. Today I put them on level one to see what would happen; the training wheels didn’t go underground; rather, they raised the bicycle drive wheel off the ground (<1”). However, when I sit on the bike, all the wheels contact the ground. Not sure why but I suspect the frame and or mounts have flexible metal.

Level one allows self balance, and gives me the opportunity to concentrate on maintaining a higher cadence for the lower gearing (81 gear inches in 7th gear opposed to 111 gear inches in 7th on my trike). With the higher gear inches, I spin at a lower RPM for the same distance as lower gear inches with higher RPM. Faster RPM is achieved with lower gear inches, and slower cadence is achieved with higher gear inches, but more force (strength) is required. That is basic physics.

I’ll try level one for a month, then switch back to level two. That is where I’m at going into this next week. Today I kicked it off with a spin to Surf City State Beach; the self balance of level one was good at times and annoying at others. On level straights, I miss rolling on two wheels, but on crowns the bike rides on all four wheels instead of a major lean and three wheels. I can still feel the lean required and hope to naturally lean before I go back to level 2.

Electra’s Maiden Voyage

2021, May 3, Electra on the shore of Bolsa Chica State Beach.

The training wheels worked great on my neighborhood spin yesterday (3 miles) so today I took Electra on her maiden voyage: Sunset Beach, then through Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Dog Beach, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and business districts of Surf City (20 miles). It is good to be back in the saddle of a two-wheeler, but it’ll be better when I remove the training wheels and speed restrictions. For today, I learned about shifting my weight due to crowns in the roads; I also learned that greater speed requires less weight shifting. I knew these things before and did them without thinking, but the training wheels make me more aware. The last time I used training wheels, I was 3-4 and don’t remember the details. True, I tried training wheels in 2017 but they didn’t fit the mountain bike, so I broke a hip… These new training wheels fit Electra allowing me to ride in bike lanes to and from the beach.

Enjoyed a Neighborhood Spin on Electra

Yesterday I installed HD training wheels on my new Electra Townie 7D Equipped, but the head on my bicycle pump was too big to fit in the spokes of the 12.5” training wheels; hence, I held off on the last step: inflating the training wheels. Today I bought a foot pump with a smaller head on the air hose and inflated the tires. Then I took a spin around the neighborhood; I loved that I finally got to test ride Electra beyond the bike shop parking lot without crashing!!! I’m grateful I can still ride, and Love being on a two wheeler again after 4++ years and >16,000 miles on adult tricycles.


My current bike sacrifices performance for comfort, but at this point in my life, it was a trade I’m happy with. I have a friend: Vasco da Gama, 13th great grandson of the Portuguese Explorer of the same name. I didn’t know that when I met him, Norm and their wives at a gas station in 29 Palms. I was on my way to Las Vegas, taking the back desert highways to Route 66 and then I-95 in either Nevada or Arizona. The bikes caught my eye at first; it was 1998 and they both had Harley-Davidson 95th Anniversary Paint Jobs, or so I thought, but Norm’s was a HD Electric Glide and Vasco was riding a Yamaha Royal Star with a similar paint job. He told me they were going to Laughlin and I could ride along so I wouldn’t get lost. I accepted and was invited on weekend rides about twice a month through 1999. It was also in 1999 when I traded in my 1998 Harley-Davidson XLH 883 for a 1996 Harley-Davidson Softail Custom. Rick was doing the paperwork at Pomona Valley Harley-Davidson and needed 3 references (formality). Vasco’s name came out of my phone, but I told Rick let me try and remember his last name. Rick said, ‘is it da Gama?’ I said yes, do you know him. He said no, I know a Vasco da Gama from history. I said ‘interesting, I’ll ask him about it’. I did and he told me the story. Somewhere in the middle, he said he rode the Royal Star for a smoother ride opposed to the vibration of the Harley-D; I was around 30 and Vasco was around my current age. Decades later it rings true for me more than it did when he first told me. We are all on unique journeys, but my sacrificing performance for comfort on a bicycle is similar to Vasco doing it on a motorcycle.

Blood n’ Gears

It has been a week since I attempted to ride Electra around the neighborhood. I didn’t get very far; after about ten feet, I lost my balance and crashed on the street. My left eye socket suffered the most visible damage: a couple deep cuts in the upper left corner and swelling around the inner perimeter. The first couple days swelling was bad and I had to keep one eye closed when using the computer. The swelling went down and my eye bruised/black. It’s all healing, including the road rash on my hands and knee. The worst is not visible; rather, internal bruised ribs and sprained wrist, but healing too.

Take off was too slow. One change I made between the test ride and my attempted neighborhood spin was starting in 1st gear rather than 4th gear (about a 1:1 ratio instead of a 2:1 ratio). That was a mistake. I should increase the teeth on the chain ring so the starting ratio is 2:1 and prevent slow take offs in normal conditions. Quicker starts result in less time to reach self balance. First, I must remaster human powered two wheel cycling.

I received some advice about trying protective gear. I’ve never had any and could only find children sizes when I bought the mountain bike. It seems like a great idea at this point in my life, so I ordered some adult size elbow, knee and wrist pads from Amazon. Hopefully they’ll work for me. I also ordered another set of stabilizer wheels. I tried a set on my mountain bike in 2017, but they didn’t fit (each wheel was about 3 inches off the ground on the lowest setting). They should be about ground level on that setting, allowing the rider to become familiar with the bike. Rising should be in level 2-3, followed by removal. When I looked at some pictures of my MTB in 2017, I noticed the stabilizer wheels were ground level after installation, so the metal probably reformed when I sat on the bike. I attempted re-adjusting the wheels several times but had no success. Soon after, I broke my hip following stabilizer wheels side-to-side shift causing a speed wobble and crash. Hopefully, this new set is higher quality! That plus the pads may be the ticket to easing back into two wheel cycling.

Fresher in my memory is my attempt at two wheel cycling in 2017. I had to practice on the streets of Long Beach (mostly traffic circle residential and business zones). Reviewing old photographs, I realize I had some success even though I remember the crashing most. It is painful but if the pads can take away most of the blood and pain, 2021 may be more enjoyable with happier memories. IDK, but I’ll find out this weekend…