Bike Light

I’ve been riding on rural and small town roads for several years now with pretty good success.  I haven’t been hit!!  That is not to say that there are not some real bone-headed drivers – there most certainly are plenty of those.

I bought a cheap red light a long time ago and only used it occasionally until this spring.  I then started trying to use it every ride. I’ve probably achieved 80-90% use.  The light is far from bright but is something – which is better than nothing.

This spring I’ve had a couple heart skipping moments with cars attempting to re-arrange my body parts and decided that a front and rear light set may help.  Researching this, I found that there are many good possibilities.  I eventually decided on the “Knog Blinder 4″ set and purchased from Amazon for about sixty bucks.

Cycling Bike Bicycle Light LED USB

The Knog Blinder 4 LED light set is USB rechargeable. This was important to me as paying for new batteries all the time is very annoying.  Charge me up front for a rechargeable please!  Each light has four LED’s. The front white light produces 80 lumens, the rear red light 44 lumens.  I’m not much of a lumenary expert but know that both of these lights seem mighty bright – actually kinda painful to look directly at them. They each have a nice integrated rubber strap and lever action clip.  They fit very nicely and seem secure.  The front light just barely fits on my carbon aero bar so be aware of that.

Cycling Bike Bicycle Light LED USB

I’ve been riding with these lights for about a week.  I’m not actually sure if they make a difference or not.  I cannot imagine an oncoming vehicle cannot see them.  If success is measured by not being hit by a car, they are working – knock on wood.  I have used them only in blinking mode and have not ridden at night with them.  In ‘full on’ mode (not blinking) the front white light produces a lot of light but it is somewhat dispersed so I’m not sure that it would be an ideal light to illuminate the path ahead (think flood light versus spot light).

Overall, the Knog Blinder lights seem like a pretty good deal, I am happy.

Cycling Motivation?

My cycling really took a hit over the winter.  I had a really tough time getting out and riding.  I spent lots of hours on the trainer but that doesn’t seem to count.

Even when good weather arrived, I seemed to struggle.  I wanted to ride, I did ride, but my mileage and time in the saddle was just kinda poor.  I had a couple one hundred mile weeks but more often they were in the 50′s. Of course, business travel got in the way.

So, I rededicated myself. Basically, I had a stern discussion with myself about priorities and the importance of continuing to get fit – for myself.  Thankfully, I was in complete agreement with myself and things started to look up.  My attitude was better and my time on the road has significantly picked up.  I did one hundred and fifteen miles last week!!

rechargeable light set to make me feel more comfortable on the road with traffic during the early morning hours. A new carbon handlebar and new brake/shifters.  The two latter items are in hopes of resolving some hand soreness that I’ve been experiencing.  A friend reported to me how comfortable carbon bars can be (absorbing vibration/shock) and my existing hoods do not fit my hands well.  Cycling Bike Bicycle Carbon Fiber Bar DropI’m hoping that a new level of comfort will spur me on to two-hundred and fifty mile weeks!!  Finally, a carbon wheelset – no, not the high-end, multi-thousand dollar option but the relatively cheap Chinese option.  Since a new ultra-comfort carbon bike is not in the budget, I thought perhaps these wheels would soften the ride of my existing Giant OCR-3 and make me twenty miles per hour faster.  We shall see soon enough!

I also concluded that better winter clothing may help my winter riding.  So, this fall I am going to gear up and attempt to keep the activity level up once the temperatures come down.

Busy Summer

What a busy summer!  I am so thankful!

patienceMany things have been happening and my posts here have really taken a hit.  Fear not!  Another flying/camping trip to the Idaho backcountry is in the books and I’m working on the story. I’ve made several trips in the motorhome and gathered a handful of tips to share as a result. And, of course, the cycling is in full swing which means new equipment to experiment with, results to share, and weight loss!!  Yay!   Several business trips to Miami, Seattle, and Portland, OR have sucked up all my writing time but resulted in some fun excursions.

I’ll get it all posted soon – apologies for the delay.

Fat Clothes

I recently read a pretty good book titled “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.  I enjoyed this book and picked up a bunch of really good ideas from it.

One of those ideas is the value of decluttering our lives and the freeing effect that has on us.

SmileyOnBeachxSo, this past weekend I was staring at my closet full of clothes that I never wear and decided that today was the day to take a whack at decluttering.

I started with the clothes that I will never wear because they are dorky looking.  Easy.

Next I moved to the clothes that were XXL or larger.  They all look silly on my now (like wearing a tent) and I vow never to be larger enough again for them to fit.

Finally, I made a pass pulling out the clothes that may fit but just aren’t really me anymore.

Done!  A closet that is now only about half full a bunch of spare clothes hangers, and a big pile of clothes on the floor!

I was on such a good roll, I also attacked by dressers.  I’m not exactly sure how a person can collect DOZENS of t-shirts but I have managed to do it.  These are not the ‘under a good shirt t-shirt’ but the everyday wear type of t-shirt.  I followed about the same approach, too dorky, too big, too weird – all went into the ‘to go’ pile.

Thumbs_21When it was all said and done, I had two very large black garbage sacks full of clothes.  A quick trip to Goodwill and they were out of my hair.

Gretchen was right!  Walking into my closest the last few mornings has been far less stressful than it was previously – thanks Gretchen!

Trimetric Battery Monitor

While researching solar power on the Internet, one cannot miss the many references to the Trimetric Battery Monitor.  Many, many people love this monitor.  So, I followed their lead and purchased one too.  I got the RV-2030 model.

Trimetric Battery Monitor

Why??  Well, that is the question I had prior to spending ten days boondocking with solar only.  As a result of that experiment, I began to understand how nice/convenient it would be to know what is happening with your battery bank.  Required? No, it is not. However; one does run the risk of damaging the batteries (over-depleting) and is constantly wondering what state things are in.  I decided that knowing exactly what was going on with my 12 volt electrical system would be very beneficial, provide a great deal of peace of mind, and would be well worth the two-hundred dollars that the Trimetric battery monitor costs.

Installing the Trimetric Battery Monitor is pretty simple but that doesn’t mean that some effort is not required.  In my case, I needed to install a 500 amp shunt at the battery bank and then run the cables.

The shunt is pretty easy. You simply need a place to mount the shunt and the correct cables to connect it to the battery.  For this, I had to make one very short length of cable.

The cable from the shunt to the Trimetric monitor is a not so easy – at least in my case.  I wanted to follow the existing electrical wiring and not punch a new hole anywhere.  This required a run from the battery bank in the very front of Shaneeda, to the rear axle, up thru the floor, and then forward to my “electric panel” location.  I ordered a 50′ cable and just barely had enough.

Of course, while I was at it… I also ran a battery voltage sense cable and battery temperature cable to the MorningStar MPPT solar charge controller. These two add-on’s would allow the charge controller to do a better job by having an accurate  sense of the battery voltage and temperature.

The Trimetric monitor has a bunch of features. Initially, it is setup to provide just the basics and only requires setting three values.  The monitor is very capable is this mode only.  Configuring the monitor requires a read or two of manual as everything is done with just two buttons.  It is certainly not difficult – just read the manual.

I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with this new tool.  It is fun to run various electrical components after dark and be able to see the amperage being drawn and the battery ‘percent full’ change.  I’ve drawn the house batteries down to the 80% level overnight. Believe it or not, this takes a great deal of effort.  I am entirely LED equipped so leaving all lights on doesn’t draw much power, so, I have to use things like fans, incandescent lights, and a small inverter.  Watching the voltage climb and the battery ‘percent full’ value climb as the sun rises is very neat!  The battery bank is full by 09:30 AM and I can burn as much electricity as I like.  That is a great feeling.

Energy Audit – Watt For?

Like nearly everything else in life, it seems there are an infinite number of ways to approach the use of solar electric for a boat or motorhome.  In my case, my motorhome has a big 7500 watt generator and it is always available.  Therefore; it is not critical that I have sufficient solar power to provide for all of my needs.  That said; I really prefer not to run the generator simply because it is noisy and I really enjoy being out in nature and hearing only nature. My real limitations are budget and roof space on which solar panels can be mounted.  With that in mind, I could purchase as much solar as I can afford and/or will fit.

Of course, some people use their generator for air conditioning.  It is very unlikely that one could put a solar and battery system on a motorhome that was sufficient to run air conditioning.  So, why have a solar system if running the generator six or more hours per day is the norm?  I dunno, can’t think of one.  In my case, I live in the west so when it gets hot, I go up (altitude) to the cool air. I’ve ran my air conditioner while traveling (using the generator) but have never actually used it while parking camping.

As you can see, your use and requirements/limitations may be entirely different than others and that’s ok. We do not live in a one size fits all world.

If you’ve determined that a solar system fits into your style of use/camping, a good next step is an energy audit (energy budget, electricity budget, etc…) to determine how much electricity you use during an average day.  Doing this is not hard but you have to it in watt hours per day.  This means that you must convert each devices input to watts and then multiply by the number of hours that it is in use.

Ohms Law Watt Amp VoltThis (math) is where people often begin getting lost.  Trust me, this is not a big deal – it only requires some understanding of some basic electrical concepts.  I won’t go into much detail as there are a bunch of web sites that focus on this.  A Watt is simply a standard electrical unit of measure and it does not care about voltage. Converting to watts is easy because the calculation is W = V * A (watts = volts * amps).  So, 1 amp at 12 volts = 12 watts.  1 amp at 110 volts = 110 watts.  Thus; if a device consumes 50 watts/hour (per hour is the standard) and you use it for 4 hours, it will consume 200 watts (50 watts x 4 hours).

One can usually read the power consumption on the label of most devices. It is worth noting that most devices list their worst case condition and not their typical condition. For example, an electric motor may consume a lot of amperage when it is starting but once running it drops way down to perhaps 25% of the startup amperage. A great option to actually measure the consumption of a 110 volt device is the Killawatt device. It plugs in between the device and power outlet and reports the actual use. Sometimes measuring is easy, sometimes an educated guess is required.

Once all this data is in hand, you simply add up the energy consumption for a day. You can pick whatever case you are comfortable with – I went with worst case (most energy used).  For example, I may go for a month without turning on the television but I included it and the satellite receiver in my energy audit.

Refrigerator (on gas): 12 watts x 24 hours = 288
CPAP: 12 watts x 8 hours = 96
LED Lights: 12 watts x 4 hours = 48
LED TV: 50 watts x 4 hours = 200
Satellite Receiver: 50 watts x 4 hours = 200
Stereo: 12 watts x 4 hours = 48
Laptop: 75 watts x 8 hours = 600
Monitor: 100 watts x 4 hours = 400
Water Pump: 60 watts x .5 hour = 30
Misc. (LP Gas Detector, clocks, etc…) : 25 watts x 4 hours = 100

2010 watts/day – worst case.

A more typical day would look like the following:

Refrigerator (on gas): 12 watts x 24 hours = 288
CPAP: 12 watts x 8 hours = 96
LED Lights: 12 watts x 2 hours = 24
Laptop: 75 watts x 4 hours = 300
Water Pump: 60 watts x .5 hour = 30
Misc.: 12 watts x 4 hours = 48

800 watts/day – typical case. Assuming I’m off by 50%, let’s call it an even 1200 watts per day.

These values (1200 – 2000 watts per day) framed the size of the solar system that I would need to completely power my rig from solar.  But, given my limited space for panels and budget, this did not dictate the sizing.

Obviously, the sun does not shine all the time.  I live in the southwest were it shines a lot but it still sets in the evening, sadly.  A rough rule of thumb is to expect 5 hours of charging from your system.  This varies by location and time of year but is a reasonable place to start.

Six Volt Golf Cart Battery ReplacementTo generate 2000 watts of electricity during a 5 hour day, I would need 400 watts worth of solar panels (PV). However; one doesn’t get full rated output from the panels all the time.  One might think that by installing 650 watts of solar panel capacity, in the best case possible, I could expect about 3250 watts of electricity each day (650 watts x 5 hours = 3250 total watts). However; that simply isn’t real.  How does one deal with this?  Well, I don’t know what the experts do but I can tell you what I did. I took some guesses based on my location, expected usage, and data reported by others.  I think something along the lines of 70% rated power from the panels is more likely given shading, angles, and wiring/conversion loses.  Then toss in the fact that the panels produce less power early in the morning and late in the day and you are probably down around 50% or less for that five hours each day.  So, I’m guessing that about 1600 watts per day would be a good and reasonable expectation.  One could argue that here in the southwest, in the middle of the summer, the PV panels will be producing output far more than 5 hours per day. I suspect you are right.  At this time of year (April), mine seem to start producing pretty early (8:30am) and don’t stop until pretty late (7:00pm). Let’s say 10 hours.  That represents a pretty fantastic opportunity for producing electricity.  However; it is best case and not what I am going to expect as being typical.  If you are an optimist, you may go with that number but I suspect you might be disappointed.

Another consideration is the size of your battery bank (total amp hours).  Mine is relatively small. Some people can use battery for two-three days without running the batteries too low (there is a healthy limit you know).  I cannot.  On the days that is cloudy, I’m parked in the shade, and/or consuming lots of electricity; I will simply need to start my generator.  That is a nice option that not everyone has.

Of course, increasing the capacity of my battery bank is on the list!

Solar Success

The initial run with the new solar power system has been a success!

To start the trip, I was faced with 25 mph headwind on the Interstate.  Even with the headwind, gusts of wind, and semi’s passing and buffeting Shaneeda; the PV panels stayed firmly attached to the roof.

Heart Love Caring ConcernI found a nice spot at the Bluewater State Park where the array would not be shaded.  The solar charging system performed flawlessly and I was never short of power.

After about a week, I moved to a boondocking site in Cibola National Forest south of Fort Wingate, NM.  Here, there was some shading from trees.  Once again, I was never short of power.

It is now very clear to me why a battery monitor is important.  Without it, you have only a vague idea of what is happening. Additionally, a solar charge controller monitor (meter or panel) would also help to know exactly what the solar array is doing. So, both of these are on my list.

I am really happy!

Basement Doors

When I purchased Shaneeda, several of her basement doors were in bad shape.

In RV/motorhome parlance, the basement doors cover the storage area under the living space. These basement doors consist of an aluminum frame made of angle, channel, and such and an aluminum sheet “cover” or face.  The face had come loose on most of the them.  The handle/lock mechanism is mounted in the face and attaches to the latches on the frame.  That was about all that was holding several of them together.

To repair, I used Gorilla glue. I applied some between each face and frame and used several clamps to hold it all together.  This is worked well on all the doors but one.

The one trouble basement door had been “repaired” by the previous owner.  Sadly, the job wasn’t all that great.  The remains of whatever glue was used was all over the place and preventing the face from making good contact with the frame.  So, a better repair was necessary.

I removed the face entirely from the frame and then proceeded to thoroughly clean both parts.  This involved a LOT of chipping and scraping of the old material.  I used a combination of tools – putty knives, utility knife, screwdriver, pocket knife, etc… Of course, not damaging the exterior finish has to be a priority. Once it was finally clean, I used rubbing alcohol to prep for some new adhesive.

1994 Fleetwood Pace Arrow Motorhome RV Class AThe Gorilla glue had worked well for me and I like the fact that it expands a little bit to fill voids.  However; I was out.  I did have a tube of 5 minute epoxy so I gave that a shot.

Of course, five minutes is not very long to apply, properly align the face on the frame, and get all the clamps attached.  Nonetheless, I was reasonably successful.

So, the frame is re-attached and looks pretty good.  However; I am not sure that the epoxy will be a good solution as it feels very rigid.  When I move the door, I can hear some small cracking sounds.  I suspect the epoxy will fail in short order and I’ll have to repeat the process using Gorilla glue.

Oh well, live and learn!

The Drummer

I love the drummer!!!

The 80′s were “My Era” so, of course, I love 80′s music. I recently saw the following commercial and had to chuckle.

YouTube Preview Image

Ya, check out the hair too!

Motorhome Handling

If you follow this blog, you’ll already know that Shaneeda is no spring chicken (if you don’t, check out this page to learn more about Shaneeda).  As such, she didn’t exactly handle like a race car – or even a car.  Some handling improvements were in order.

There is a great deal of conversation regarding handling improvements in the motorhome world.  Obviously, there are differences among the chassis options.  Mine is Chevy chassis.

After replacing the front suspension air bags, I decided to next try the anti-sway bar bushings.  They were the original rubber units so far past their useful life.

I’ve used urethane bushings from Energy Suspension on other vehicles and have been impressed every time. They were available for the rear sway bar (but not the front) so I ordered a set.  The rear sway bar is 1.75″ diameter and the part number is 3.5148G.

Energy Suspension Sway Bar Bushing Urethane

For some reason, urethane sway bar bushings are not available for the front. However; Moog sells a bushing (part K6476) that is hard plastic type material (versus a hard rubber).  The front bar is 1.25″ diameter.  This seems odd to a race car type of fellow as the larger anti-sway bar is usually located in the front.  I suppose it makes sense to switch it in an RV as the bar is working more to prevent the house swaying in wind gusts than to keep the vehicle locked to the road during high G maneuvers.

Replacement of both the front and rear bushings is very simple, partially because there are none of the typical rod end links that one may be familiar with. Two bolts for each bushing and four bushings per bar.  I plugged the impact wrench in and went to work.  To make things as easy as possible, I loosened all the bolts (but did not remove them) and then replaced one bushing at a time – as opposed to removing the entire bar from the vehicle.  They are pretty heavy and doing that single handed would have likely added a lot of work.  The whole job probably took 30 minutes.

The problem (there is always a problem) with such a quick project is that I nearly always forget to take photos!  Argh!  So, you’ll have to use your imagination.

A short test drive revealed a very definite change for the good.  The entire motorhome felt much more “solid”.  A few weeks after the install, a trip that involved several hours on the Interstate with a twenty-five mph wind provided the real test.  The difference was pronounced.  Shaneeda now sways much less in gusts of wind and when semi’s zoom past.  I’m not sure why but bumps seem to be slightly damped, she doesn’t seem to bottom on big bumps as often. This makes highway driving less work and more relaxing.

Shaneeda is still a big motorhome (not a race car) and I can imagine that new shocks will be the next upgrade. However; I am happy with the difference that the new bushings made.  The investment was pretty small, about eighty dollars and a little time.