Thursday, June 30, 2016

bike ride to boulder lake

Boulder lake, a wilderness lake at the southeast flank of Mt hood, has been a spot I wanted to visit for a long time. I thought it would be a good out-and-back, or overnight ride. It's a long days ride from Portland, but there is a bus that can give me a boost up from Sandy to Government Camp. I can ride the 20 or so miles to Sandy mostly on the springwater trail, get on the bus, and then get off at Government camp and ride the 15 miles from there to the lake.

The Mt Hood Express bus costs $2 and taking your bike along is free. There is a bike rack in the front that holds 2 bikes, and during the summer months there is a trailer on the back that holds a dozen bikes. Nevertheless, I folded my bike up and put it in the seat next to me because I can. On the one hour ride up the mountain, we stopped in Rhododendron, where we picked up about 6 mt bikers and their bikes. The idea is that you get the bus ride to Timberline and then ride down various trails all the way to Rhododendron, where you can stop at the Dairy Queen, and then do it all again.

The lake itself is in an unspoiled area of the forest that has never been logged or developed, where towering stands of fir, cedar, and hemlock dominate the area.  But it is not (yet) designated as wilderness. That means that you can ride your bike to the lake! I suggest you do so before it gets the wilderness designation it deserves.

Following my planned loop route, I got a slab of pizza and a caffeinated drink from the general store at Government Camp, and headed east on 26. The Old Barlow route at mile 3 is paved, and a nice 3 mile alternative to the busy highway. Arriving at Bennet Pass turnoff, I rode to the far end of the lot to start my ride up the dirt Bennet pass road.

The Bennett Pass snopark. With pit toilet. The dirt road is just beyond.

Narrow gravel road works it's way along a ridgeline with expansive views of Mt Hood

This narrow cliffhanger of a road sees little use.
You need to be rather brave to drive your 4WD on it
The road becomes quite narrow and off camber at spots, with yawning chasm off the side here and there. It is used as a ski route in the winter, and has earned the moniker of the Terrible Traverse.

Bonny Meadows campground. Trees, creek, tables. Nobody was there on this perfect late June weekday.

The start of the 2 1/2 mile trail from Bonny Meadows to the lake.
Yes, bikes are allowed, just not the ones with motors.

Windfall trees were very frequent. 
I spent a lot of time lugging my bike over obstacles, or doing hike-a-bike over jumbles of rocks. I was able to ride perhaps half of the distance, which was all downhill. This trail is best with a bikepacking setup. Panniers would make it harder to heave the bike over the frequent windfall tree trunks.

Boulder Lake
I was alone at the lake on this perfect weekday. It has about 8 primitive camp spots. I suppose it gets more use on the weekend. There is a dirt road leading to it, which ends at a trail on its east side. But the 1 mile of trail hiking reduces the numbers of those who would otherwise visit it.

Leaving the lake the next morning along the trail on the east side, I reached gravel road 4880. Turning right on 4881 (signed: To Hwy 35) pavement resumed for the rest of the route. 

Mt Hood forest has lots of narrow paved roads like this one.

 I took the bus from Government Camp back to Sandy, and I then rode home. The whole trip took 27 hours.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A pocket respirator for bicyclists

Where I live in Portland, OR, the air is generally clear. There are very few days each year that I consider smoggy, although that's coming from someone who grew up in the Los Angeles area in the 60s, where on one of the many bad smoggy days, you could only see about halfway down the block..

I want to show you a palm respirator I put together. You can make one too. Grab it when you hear the diesel school bus preparing to pass you, before the noxious cloud descends. But first you must read my diatribe.

We are all exposed to the concentrated toxic fumes of motor vehicles. Cars emit less fumes compared to years past. But when the engine is cold, or an old model car chugs its way past you, the air you are forced to breathe is about to get very unhealthy. 

But the worst fumes come from diesel vehicles. You can hear it coming. It sounds like a bucket of bolts rattling, and evolves into an ear-splitting clattering with a whistling sound before it roars by. Next come the poisonous sooty fumes as it passes.

And when the clattering sound of a diesel approaching from behind tells me that I am about to get soaked in a cloud of carcinogenic particulates,  all I can do is try to get a few deep and relatively clean breaths before the deluge. After it passes and I can't hold my breath any longer, I am forced to breathe the toxic cloud into my lungs. We live in a time where as a society we accept these sorts of toxic fumes in our public spaces, even though the technology for drastically reducing diesel exhaust can simply be bolted to the vehicle. It pains me to see a crowd of children lingering about the school bus, breathing the carcinogenic soot deep into their developing lungs. Here is an interesting primer on diesel air pollution in Oregon.

I grew up in an era where walking or bicycling to school was the usual thing to do. It was the age where nobody used helmets. Or bicycle respirators. My grade school had a bike rack complex that could hold up to a hundred bikes! Even on rainy days there were dozens of bikes there.

Today, the school has no bike racks.

Not one.

The automotive/fossil fuel interests have won. For now. 

Meanwhile, to avoid the toxic fumes we must filter the air we breathe. While big and awkward, a face mask respirator is one option.
This stylish device will eliminate the fear you have of motor vehicle exhaust pipes.
It's the perfect device for pedaling around Beiging, China, or where the air is uniformly terrible.  I have found the GVS elipse works the best for me when I work around a table saw or in dusty conditions. Low profile and very comfortable. I can pull it down and out of the way easily, as needed, but leaving it on for hours is not a problem.

There are bicycle-specific masks you will find on the internet. They tend to make you look like you are fleeing a hazmat incident, or are preparing to rob a bank. The smaller ones lack an exhalation valve, which is a problem. If you are going to the trouble of filtering your air, you want to do it right. 

But I was looking for something to get me through the minute or two after a smoky diesel vehicle passes me until the air clears. So I attached a nasal CPAP nose mask to a single respiratory cartridge. 

A Wisp CPAP nasal mask, size large
A nasal CPAP mask nose fitting, with a respirator filter attached. I just taped it on the back. CPAP masks are medical equipment normally sold by prescription. Maybe a medical equipment supplier will sell you just the nose fitting. Or you can find one on craigslist. Or your uncle has a spare.

Taped to a single standard replacement respirator cartridge. A single cartridge is enough.

When that blue cloud is headed my way, I grab this puppy and slap it on my nose, and hold it there every time I inhale. The air I breathe thru my nose then becomes sweet and clear! I exhale thru my mouth.

It's a bit weird to do this and I have to hold it over my nose with each breath. Doing this leaves only one hand on the handlebar. I ease up on pedaling effort since I don't want to breathe in thru my mouth. The key is having it accessible, like hanging on the handlebar, or in a top tube bag. 


Monday, December 28, 2015

Making a bicycle rain cape

This is an essay on my experience with various rain capes over the years, and how I came to make one of my own.  

Here is a guy who is doing it right. Bike has fenders; cape drapes over handlebars covering hands and legs, and it fits him very well with minimal flapping in the wind. Carradice DuxBack cape pictured.

It took many years of riding bikes in the rain before I eventually gave the rain cape a serious try. Having tried all sorts of expensive Goretex or H2O-No jacket and pants, and Showers pass E-vent garments, it just seemed there had to be something better. All bicycle rainwear eventually will fail me if the ride is long enough. I will be wet from the rain, mixed with my own sweat, which can't evaporate fast enough. When I arrive at my destination, I am dripping outside and wet inside, and I bring a puddle into my destination where ever I go. Stripping off the failed garments just spreads the water to other parts of my body in cold, wet rivulets, and creates a lake on the floor underneath me. Easy to find the wet spot where the bike rider arrived. The only thing worse was trying to put all those cold wet garments back on for the ride home.

My very first bicycling rain cape was a plastic thing I got as a teenager from a camping store. Riding in the rain caused it to flap and snap, while my legs got wet. I would slow down to reduce the flapping. All the flimsy fabric seemed like a parachute. Riding thru a short downpour worked well though. It was quick to put on and remove. While it would help in a downpour, most of the water would come up as spray from the wheels. I didn't realize yet that fenders were required for using a rain cape. Decades and lots of other raingear passed by before I would give the rain cape another try.

My first good quality rain cape!
... was from the Center for Appropriate Transportation (CAT), the Ultrex model, still available, about $80 without the hood. 

Mine did not come with the optional hood

It is made of nylon with an Ultrex (similar to Gore-Tex) layer applied to the inside. The outside has a DWR (durable water resistant) finish on it that should be renewed at least twice a year, so that the water beads up and rolls away. The easier the water does falls off the outside of your cape, the dryer you and the cape will be. Renewing the finish is easy; just wash it with a DWR fabric product, and tumble dry it, or use an iron set on low it to set the treatment. When this is done, any water falling on the cape wants to badly roll the HELL off of it in the shape of a ball. It's like magic.

It was a revelation using this cape while riding with rain. So easy and simple. I stashed it in my bag and left it there. I was never concerned about a cloudburst again. I would always arrive at my destination relatively dry no matter what clothing I wore, even if it was an hour bike ride away. Riding in the rain was FUN. During this time, I started waxing my leather shoes with Sno-Seal, which would keep my shoes and socks dry as well. I stopped looking at weather predictions, knowing that I was always ready for rain. And where I  live in Portland, OR, it's a good idea to be ready for the rain all the time.

A close up of the commuter of the year photo I submitted. Normally my hands are covered by the cape.
I was "Commuter of the Year" according to River City Cycles in 2008; they saw this photo as a testament to my resolve as a bicycle commuter. 26 miles round trip; 3 nights per week no matter what the weather. In the picture, my hands are exposed (normally they are covered by the cape). Protecting the hands with the cape is one of the best things about using a cape. As long as I kept up the DWR coating (washing/ironing once a month or so during heavy use) it did a good job in repelling water. This CAT cape for me had less than ideal amount of fabric to protect my hands in the drop-bar position.
After a 2 or 3 years with a LOT of use, the Ultrex coating started to peel off at the areas of the most abrasion; the hands and the collar. The cape was flappy and was starting to look a bit tattered so I looked for something else, and ended up with a Carradice Pro-route, a bright yellow cape.

A properly applied Carradice Pro route cape. This person likes it so much, he wears it  in dry weather.

While a bike shop may order this for you, few would stock it. It's a very bright yellow affair with a bit more material up front to cover the hands on a drop bar bike. One size fits all. It is designed with an upright riding position in mind. On my drop bar bike, it would be a bit tight; stretched between my waist and hands/brake levers. I liked mine, but after a couple of years it started to wear out just like the last one. A waterproof membrane began to peel away from the heavy used areas. It was light (about 12 oz dry, without the hood that I cut off) and rolled up into a small bundle.  Both this and the CAT cape needed a complete air drying before stowing, or they would get a moldy smell. While I did like how it was light and easily stowed, similar to the CAT poncho, I was ready to try something heavier and more substantial. 

Next, I tried the Carradice DuxBack (pictured on the top of the post), a waxed cotton rain cape. It comes in regular and large size (unless you are very small get the large!).

This Duxback (water rolls off the ducks back) is a very different type of rain cape because it is made of waxed cotton. It's noticeably heavier than the previous capes (about 20 oz without hood, compared to 12 oz). The coverage was great, and there was less flapping because of the heavier material. I felt like I was riding with my head poking out of a stout tent.

The hood comes attached to it. It's an odd looking conical thing that limits vision and seems too small to accommodate a helmet,  so I just cut it off. While riding in the rain I found it to be quieter and less flappy. Like the CAT cape (and unlike the Pro-Route cape) it was not tight around my waist and hands on my drop-bar bike. The cut was more generous. It has straps that cinch around the waist and hook over the thumbs or brake levers, which help keep the cape in place. These straps proved unnecessary except in the highest winds, because the fabric was heavier.  I loved it! It was easily rolled up into a lump that I could fit somewhere. Not that much bigger a load than the ProRoute or CAT cape.

After a year or two of using the DuxBack intermittently, I had a ride in a heavy rain and over the course of an hour got rather wet! Water seeped in thru the fabric and along some seams. This garment is meant to be waxed now and then, and I guess it was time. Carradice makes their own wax, which is not easily found in the US, but I used a fabric wax bar that I found locally. A great how-to on re-waxing the garment is here. The next heavy rain event showed that the cape was (mostly) water tight. But the way water gathers on the waxed cape is different than on a DWR surface. Instead of balling up and rolling off, beads of water tend to crouch and cling. The cape stays wet much longer, and when water gets inside it, it will stay wet inside.  Putting on a cold wet cape is not fun. I can hang the wet DuxBack cape up in the cold dark garage, and it will still be wet 3 days later. I still loved my waxed cape, but I couldn't help thinking that there was a better material out there.

Advantages of rain capes:

1) It covers the hands, arms, torso, most of the legs, and most of the bike, with just one easily applied and stowed garment.

2) It's very fast to apply and remove. Less than 10 seconds; without getting off the bike. Between cloudbursts, I can ride without any rainwear!

3) Movement of the bike creates a considerable amount of ventilation underneath. Fabric that is breathable is hardly necessary.

4) Removing the cape takes only a few seconds, and doing so will not make me wet like jacket/pants rainwear does. I can arrive at my destination dry, in normal clothing, and looking like I just stepped out of a car.

Disadvantages of rain capes (with my observations):

Fenders are required.  (they protect from mud and dirty street water whether it is raining or not).

Not very aerodynamic (adds a few minutes to my hour long commute).

 Flaps in high wind. (it can flap depending on wind/fabric/and fit. A cape that fits well and made of stout material may hardly flap at all).

A headlamp must be located away from the handlebars so it won't be covered up by the cape. (There is no way around this. The headlamp mount must be at front brake or rack)

Electronic devices mounted on the handlebars will not be visible. (no way around this)

The front wheel is not visible, (this takes some getting used to; it's weird at first)

 Shoes are not protected. (The feet can get wet because a cape does not provide enough coverage there. I use leather shoes that I treat with a wax (SnoSeal), making the shoes highly water resistant. A mudguard with a generous mudflap greatly lessens any spray, and it is only after cycling for a long time in heavy rain and thru puddles when my socks will get wet. Matching chaps are available for some capes, although I find them to be a hassle.)

 The head gets wet unless there is a hood. (Most capes come with a hood, but I find they make it harder to see what is behind me, and a helmet offers enough protection from water)

I will look like a dork. (or maybe I will look like Strider from Lord of the Rings)

A rain cape of Sunbrella Plus
Sunbrella fabric is used for outdoor furniture applications, awnings, and boat covers. Casting about for ideas, I thought of an umbrella we have that goes with our outdoor table. It's made of Sunbrella fabric, and it had been out there for years in the elements.  I tested it by pouring a cup of water into a fold. The water made a giant bead and just stayed there. An hour later, nothing had changed. It was totally dry underneath. Maybe this is the rain cape material I am looking for? Time to think outside the box. Fabrics meant for standing around or walking in may not be the best choice for an activity like riding a bike at 15 mph.

The regular Sunbrella fabric for furniture and pillows is quite supple and about 8oz/sq yd. That's what the umbrella I tested was made of. It's breathable and remarkably water resistant. Then there is the Sunbrella fabric for marine applications (boat coverings and awnings) which is substantially stiffer because of the application of a resin. From this class of Sunbrella fabric, there is the regular (9.5 oz sq yd), the Sunbrella plus (which has an added polyurethane coating underneath to increase water resistance, about 10 oz sq yd), and Sunbrella supreme, which is completely waterproof/non-breathable and a rather heavy 13 oz sq yd. All the Sunbrellas are breathable fabrics except for the supreme version, which has a flocked finish on the interior.

I ordered a couple yards (60" wide) of the Sunbrella Plus, and it came in the mail a few days later. I opened the package and found it to be some rather stiff fabric! But that can be an advantage in a rain cape; no flapping! The intended exterior of the fabric (slightly darker) allowed water to bead up and roll off mostly. A film of water would remain on some of the outside material. But it IS water-tight; not a molecule of water could make it thru. The other side of the fabric is completely hydrophobic. All the water balls up and rolls off, leaving the material completely dry. I liked this because it means the cape will never be wet on the inside. A bit of gravity will make the inside of the cape as dry as the Sahara.

Since the DuxBack had the best fit for me, my thought was to copy it's design pattern. I measured the 4 panels of the cape and transferred the measurements to the new fabric.

Carradice large size Duxback measurements. Hems not included. Not to scale exactly.

Pretty simple construction. A long front panel, shorter back panel, and 2 side wings that are mirror images of each other. I added a half inch to each measurement so I had a quarter inch hem.

Some chalk lines going in.. DuxBack hanging in the background.

After cutting the pieces it was quite straightforward sewing them together. I used regular household sewing machine which worked okay on 2 layers of this stout fabric. I put it on and found the shoulders were a bit wide, so I took the hem in where it would form around my shoulders. That made a better fit. I made a cut down the collar under my chin so the opening would be big enough so I could pull it over easily with my helmet on. I didn't see the need for a zipper or an elaborate collar. 

The basic sewn cape.

Next I put reflective tape around the lower edge and collar area. During my first rainy ride, I found that the seams did not leak water. Not a drop. If I find that a seam sealer is needed, I will probably use Iosso sealer, which is what they recommend.

Reflective tape sewed on. Draped over chair. The picture makes it clear that this is not a saggy or flimsy cape.
The first ride in heavy rain left me with a big smile. This is some serious rain protection. It's a solid tent around me, and makes the other capes seem flimsy. A downside is that it does not fold into as small of a package as the others. While I could just roll the other capes into a ball and stuff them into my bag, I really need to fold this one. But this observation is not a big deal, and I intend to use this cape going forward.

The cape folded up. It won't quite fit in my pocket...

On a ride using other capes I would normally see sweat/condensation/moisture gathered the inside of the cape after a ride of an hour or so. There were just a few beads of water inside of the Sunbrella cape after a long rainy ride. And they fell away just by holding it upright.

I found there was more airflow as well. The nature of the stiffer Sunbrella fabric makes it tend to stand off the skin and clothing, allowing much better air circulation.  This difference is HUGE and cannot be overstated. You really have to try it to understand.

I will use the cape to cover the bike while I am at a destination, so the bike itself stays dry. Since it holds its shape so well, I can just drop it over the locked bike and leave it. I am now considering ways to lock the cape to the bike. The material alone costs about $80.

The weight of this cape is equivalent to the DuxBack; about 20 oz dry (both without hoods). But as I noted before, the DuxBack takes a lot longer to dry. This Sunbrella cape presently stays almost completely dry on the inside, while on the outside, in the same cold, dark garage, it can be mostly dry in less than a day. This is much faster drying time than the DuxBack which takes at least several days to get dry in the same environment. I like the idea of waxed canvas, but it does have drawbacks. The reluctance to shed water is the biggest one. 

So far so good with the new Sunbrella cape, but many more wet winter commutes and rides is what I need to really know if it is truly the bees knees. I will update this post before summer about how this cape worked for me.

A side note: the Boncho is a kickstarter project that has received some attention. It's a rain cape with a springy metal wire inside that allows it to keep shape as it covers the handlebar area. The whole thing folds in to a compact frisbee shaped object that is easy to carry around. I wish them success in putting this innovative idea forward. It's a creative take on the rain cape.

Update: after well over 200 miles of riding in the rain with it:
It's been a wet winter. How is this cape on rides and commutes in steady and penetrating or heavy rains?

This cape blows all the others I have used out of the water.

All the other capes I have ever used before (and liked very much) are like crap compared to this one. I use this cape even if precipitation is quite light, because it's so comfortable. The interior stays dry, and the cape always stays in place. While my plan was to install a waist strap and hand straps to hold it down in a wind, I find the straps are simply unnecessary. In blustery conditions, the substantial fabric just stays in place by itself. Even when I ride over bridges on windy days where the lighter capes would blow up over my head, this one hardly made a ruffle.

The seams are still not sealed, and they still don't leak. Most of the sewing in the cape is just a single stitch.  It's rather odd that it is water-tight, but that's how it is.

I made a short cable that has ends which fit over my U-lock, and can keep the cape safe from a casual thief (its the yellow line)...
A thin cable looping thru the U-lock gives a measure of security. The cape itself  is a waterproof cover for the whole bike. 

Having the cape draped over the bike keeps the bike dry, and it is a good place to allow it to drain. At the same time, I can leave it outside with the bike, and not subject my destination to a dripping garment, causing puddles on the floor. When I walk into that coffee shop... for all they can tell, it looks like I just got off a bus.

Time will tell how well this holds up, but so far it looks good. Will it keep it's stout nature and water resistance over the years, especially in the places that see the most abrasion (like where the hands and brake levers are)? This material is designed for constant exposure to the elements, and is guaranteed to hold up for something like 5 years in marine applications, so I think chances are good it will remain my best rain protection for years to come.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making a cycling cap

A cycling cap is useful in so many ways. It keeps the hair in place. Sweat is managed. Shades the head and face from direct sun. Can be micro-adjusted to block the glare from oncoming headlights. The thin fabric allows it to fit under a helmet. Pulled low over the eyes, it's how I begin a nap...

Years ago, when my old columbus hat was starting to disintegrate, I knew there would be a long and difficult search for a replacement. My head is BIG, and few hats would fit it. And I was never was that happy about paying for a hat that gives free advertising to some business. And I find the bill on cycling caps is always rather small too. It was time to figure out how to make a hat that fits me well and has a bigger bill. I have made about 50 of these caps so far. For a person who does not sew much, is not an easy project at first. Your initial caps may not be that great but they quickly improve with practice. I am satisfied with mine now, and they take about 2 hours to make. They last about a year or so depending on use. Make lots, give them as gifts, it's fun!

Rather than hunting for an online pattern, it made more sense to me to get the pattern from the old cap which I knew actually fit me. So I took it apart and had the perfect pattern right there. This 3 panel style would be easy to sew, compared to a more complicated 6 panel hat for instance. I had to figure out the steps of construction myself. There are probably other ways to put it together too. If nothing else, this type of project will help you appreciate the effort and complexity involved in making a garment.

The old hat, disassembled.
 I used the pieces as a template for making the new hats. With the visor, I drew an outline of the existing one, and then drew it a little bigger. The bills on traditional cycling caps are just too small.

New templates
From the top: visor, side panels, and center panel. The new templates are made of picture frame mat board. It's a thick cardboard like material, durable and easy to cut. When I make a new hat, I just lay the templates down on the new fabric and run a pen along the edge, and cut along the lines. The center template is symmetric, but the side template is not. The curve is just a little bit more acute along the front. Thats how my head shaped the old columbus cap. There is a right and left side. After I trace the right side on the new fabric, I flip the template over to trace the left side. This detail is not needed in making a hat from a pattern you may find, but it makes my hat fit better.

New cut fabric with yogurt container bill
We have lots of light cotton material leftover from quilting projects. Some of the first ones I made used this bird pattern. The top and bottom of the visor fabric is a lightweight, black wool. The bill stiffener is cut from a 32oz plastic yogurt container. The container is just big enough for a generous sized lightweight bill. I set the orientation using the natural curve of the plastic, but get it mostly flattened out with an iron, set on low. If an excessive curve returns (like from having it scrunched up in a pocket), I can always iron it flat again. Don't iron the plastic directly; use a piece of fabric on top of it! It takes just a few minutes of ironing, and I let it cool down with a heavy book on top of it.

After tracing the visor line on the yogurt container, I cut it to its finished size. I make the ends rounded so they don't cut into the fabric. Then I make a chalk line of the visor edge on the fabric visor material. Then I sew the 2 pieces of visor fabric together. I make 2 passes; making the stitching as close together as I can. One pass may be enough, but 2 will ensure it will not come apart at the front of the visor.

Next I trim the visor material away, very close to the stitches.

Now I turn it inside out, put the plastic visor stiffener inside. Then I pin it, so that the visor is positioned evenly and tight inside the pocket. Also I chalk a line on the inner edge to show where the inside of the visor is. Notice that there is about an inch of fabric past the edge of each side of the visor. You will need that extra fabric when you sew the cap together.

Now I sew the visor in the pocket. I go slow, trying to sew right along the edge of the plastic. 

Then I trim the inner edge of the fabric so there is about an inch of material beyond the inner visor edge. This material will help absorb sweat.

Now I sew a strip of elastic band material along the inside (bottom) of the visor, slightly overlapping the visor stitches. I pull the elastic material slightly while sewing, to give it some built-in tension. I go very slow, doing a few stitches and stopping to reposition as needed. 

Thats a 26" long strip of elastic material. Fabric stores sell this by the foot or the roll. This is probably nylon, but cotton impregnated versions are available. About 4" extends out from one side.

With the bird pattern, I need to sew 2 identical pieces together for the center panel section. Otherwise the birds would be upside down on one of the ends.

Now I am sewing the 3 hat panels together. I go slow, trying to make an even seam; about 3/16 inch.

Panels sewn, hat is taking shape!

 Next I sew the edge of the cap. I roll the inside edge about 3/16 inch and sew all along the edge of the cap.

Now I need to sew the cap on to the visor. First I center the visor and cap. A chalk line along dead center of the visor, and a pen dot in the middle of the front edge of the middle cap strip. If it is not well centered, it will be obvious when all is done. 

Starting from the center, I sew the cap on just slightly in front of the existing stitches. 

It should look like this. I don't want to see the visor stitching when I pull the material back. 

Then I sewed the other side, going from the center to the edge. Cap and visor are connected now.

View underneath.

Now I sew the rest of the elastic band along the inside of the cap. I pull it a little as I sew, to add some built-in tension. You can see how the edges a bit puckered/wavy. This makes the cap gently hold on to my head.

At the back/inside of the cap, I fold 3 layers of elastic together into a length that is shorter than the rear of the middle panel. I pin it in place, and try the hat on. Fits perfect!

Now I sew the 3 layers along the pin line, on each side. 

Now I stretch the material with the elastic and sew it down the middle. I do the same thing, 2 more times.

The goal is to have an even looking puckered area along the back of the cap, like this.

Finished. It fits well and improves with use.

A variety of hats from my current collection


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Modifying a bicycle helmet to fit my head

My resistance to wearing a bike helmet has been from finding them to be giant klunky things filled with HUGE amounts of styrofoam. My head is big from front to back, but narrow from side to side. A large or extra large helmet may sit on my head without squeezing it, but can leave a lot of space on either side. So I am supposed to put a mattress full of  the included foam padding on either side to take up the space, and the whole thing ends up looking like a giant hat from the San Francisco production of Beach Blanket Babylon.

I see some motorcycle riders go by with low-profile/minimalist helmets which can't be more than a centimeter or 2 thick. While I doubt they have an official approval for motorcycle use, I suppose it keeps the rider from getting a citation, and it's better than wearing nothing in the event of a crash.

I usually wear a helmet for longer rides, but typically not for around town. For me, a helmet is handy for several reasons:

1) It keeps my bicycle hat from blowing off.
2) Once on a ride, a beer bottle whizzed by me at 60 mph. It just missed the back of my head. The next time a motorist or their passenger wants to throw something at me, I would prefer to be wearing a helmet.
3) It's a good place to mount lights.
4) It offers some protection from rain, sleet and hail.
5) I can stop anywhere on a ride to take a nap and I don't need a pillow. With the helmet on, I can rest my head on a rock slab and catch some ZZZs.
6) In the event of a crash, it reduces the chance of victim-blaming and makes your lawyers job easier.
7) If my head ever does get smacked, I would rather have something more substantial on it than a bicycle hat.

I read that helmets are not designed to protect the head in crashes exceeding the usual bicycle speed (15mph) or in a car crash. So I'm really not concerned about modifying it. It seems to me that there is not a lot of protective effect to lose.

 I am not suggesting you modify your helmet or follow my example! Doing so may destroy the protective effect of your helmet resulting in injury or death! This is only an essay of my efforts to modify a product to suit my needs!

Carving out the Styrofoam

I wanted a helmet that was light, not bulky, has a hard shell, is comfortable, covers the back of my head (remembering the beer bottle missile), is well ventilated, and did not make me look too much like a dork. I would consider it a success if I was able to go riding with it and completely forget there was anything on my head. After a lot of searching, I settled on a climbing helmet, the Mammut El Cap, which had a rather narrow profile. The large size is a bit too small for me, but I would scoop out some of the styrofoam from the inside of it until it fit. I know that styrofoam can be cut with a hot wire or knife; but how about scooping it out with a hot spoon?

I got an old steel soup spoon, my hardware store propane torch, and a leather glove to hold the spoon. First I bent the spoon so I could maneuver it inside the helmet. After heating it up, I began carving layers of styrofoam away.  It did not take long to figure out how to do this. When the spoon was the right temperature, it went thru the styrofoam like it was scooping ice cream that was just soft enough to enjoy. A gentle pressure on the hot spoon allowed it to slide slowly thru the stuff, leaving a nice rounded interior surface. I stayed downwind of the noxious fumes that were generated from the process. After several passes and reheating the spoon many times, I would put the helmet on my head and feel where more material needed removal. After I was done, the helmet fit my head without needing any adjustment pads. An average of half an inch was removed from the inside of the helmet; maybe 3/4 inch on the inside crown. It covered more of my head because my head was more than half inch deeper inside the helmet compared to how it was before. The sides of the helmet almost touched my ears. That's when I decided to stop carving the styrofoam.

My chosen lid, the Mammut El Cap, a climbing helmet. It is quite narrow, has full ooverage, built in clips for light straps, and plenty of ventilation.

Assembling the tools
I removed the plastic adjustment strap that was part of the rear of the helmet. My head was too big for it.

After some scooping, lots of styrofoam liquifies into a small tarry patch on the spoon.

Quite a bit has been carved out. I took out a little extra and replaced the padding strips that came with it.

Cork strips along the back and sides. Replaced the pads on the inside crown.
To finish, I added self-adhesive cork strips I cut from a roll of cork meant for shelf covering. With a climbing helmet the styrofoam doesn't extend down along the sides as much, so this adds a bit of protection and fit. They expect the main issue would be rocks falling from above.

I really like this helmet. It fits like a glove, and I forget it is on my head.  I can shake my head side to side and it does not move at all. That means I will wear it more often. I should probably wear it when driving a car too.

Not a dork.