Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bar-end brake lever and best bike maintenance trick ever

I decided to finally get rid of my old-skool Weinmann brake levers in favour of some bar-end brake levers, to give my single-speed a neater, more streamlined look. After some googling, I bought a pair of Dia Compe 188 Reverse Brake Levers. They are pretty reasonably priced, and well-made. My handlebar is a DIY Chop-and-Flop affair, with an inner diameter of just under 20mm. Initially I did not realise the aluminium tubes that came with the brakes were actually shims for handlebars with wider inner diameter (>20mm) - they looked to me to be parts of the brake levers. I tried to force the levers with the shims into the bar ends. Realising my mistake, I installed the levers without the shims and was happy to find that they sit very snugly inside my handlebars after some tightening.


Bullhorn with "normal" (non-reverse) brake levers mounted

Now with Dia Compe 188 Reverse Brake Levers installed

Cables neatly concealed underneath the bar tape

p.s. the levers are designed to work with BMX-style barrel brake cable nipples, but I decided to keep my original brake cables with road-style pear cable nipples. Personally, I think the levers work with pear nipples just as well.

Best bike maintenance trick ever...

So what is the best-kept secret? I had to shorten my brake cables as the cables now run from underneath as opposed to from the top of the levers. The problem with trimming brake inner cable with normal pliers is that the inner cable tends to squash under pressure, and refuses to cut cleanly. While some people would insist on buying specialist bike cable cutter, I found out that if you wrap the cable tightly with a bit of insulation tape before cutting through it, you can actually achieve a clean cut with normal pliers! Trust me, it works a treat.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Visualising 2015 Tour de France yellow jersey data

The Tour is here! I have always been fascinated by how GC (General Classification) contenders fight for their rights to wear the yellow jersey up in the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps. Names like Col du Tourmalet and L’Alpe d’Huez evoke scenes of epic battle between climbers riding out of the saddles, pushing their very limits.

So I decided to have a go at visualising the stage-by-stage times for the top yellow jersey contenders, to see how they gain and lose ground over the 21 stages.


I used the excellent (and free) tool to extract data from By creating an extractor, I was able to

I then wrote a couple of Node.js scripts to, on a daily basis,

  • fetch fresh data using the REST api and persist results from each individual stage into MongoDB
  • create and persist the json array required by the Google Charts library to render the line chart, based on the latest top 10 GC contenders

I came across the problem of having too many asynchronous operations (e.g. MongoDB queries) to manage in the second script. To avoid callback hell, I gave the q npm package a go. While I had been using jQuery promise (on the client side) for years, this was the first time I tried such technique in Node.js on the server side. Good news is the package worked a treat - below is a simple code snippet to illustrate how simple it was to use:

p.s. Today Chris Froome destroyed everyone during the climb up La Pierre-Saint-Martin to stretch his advantage to 2 minutes 52 seconds. Let's see whether he can maintain his lead all the way to Paris!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mapping the Lisbon Tram 28 route

Trying to figure out whether Tram 28 is going to take you where you want to visit in Lisbon? Now you can see the route on an interactive Google Map.

At some point, most visitors to Lisbon will have been on the legendary no. 28 yellow trams which run from Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique (Prazeres), climbing many incredibly steep slopes and negotiating numerous impossibly tight street corners.

While the Transportes de Lisboa site provides information on the Tram 28 stops, the map downloadable from the page is sadly not terribly useful for visitors who are not acquainted with the maze that is the winding streets of Lisbon. For example, the map does not show easily recognisable metro stations or street names. We wanted to travel to the Campo de Santa Clara flea market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) but the map did not really give us a good idea of how easy it would be to get there by Tram 28. So I naturally googled to see whether there was an interactive online map of the Tram 28 route, and I found none.

Coming back home, I decided to create one.

Tram 28 on Google Map

Explore the famous Tram 28 route on Google Map, where you can search for places and access Street View, etc. I hope future visitors to Lisbon will find this little map useful.

(I used to plot the route, and to extract the coordinates in KML format, before overlaying the route on top of Google Map)

Saturday, May 02, 2015

London Underground Metropolitan Line Luggage Rack

Sze Kiu and I went to the London Transport Museum Acton Depot open day last week, and we could not resist the temptation of buying a reclaimed luggage rack from the now de-commissioned London Underground Metropolitan Line "A Stock" trains.

The old "A Stock" train -

Not only is the rack a piece of iconic London history, it also proves to be an extremely practical and stylish item for our living room. Voila:

They are available from the London Transport Museum online shop (at a considerably higher cost than what we had to pay for at the open day, incidentally)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Product management: a walk in the wild

Roadmap is often used as a tool to plan how a product gets developed and evolves. Being a keen walker and also a product manager, I was pondering today on the "map" metaphor.

Here is a series of simple analogies:

  • As a walker, you set the objective to climb to the top of a hill.
  • As a product manager, you set the objective to reach a targeted number of active users.

  • As a walker, you establish a strategy to climb the hill by taking the most direct route.
  • As a product manager, you establish a strategy to grow your active user base by developing a specific set of features to differentiate your product.

(Hopefully, you will have somehow validated your strategy!)

  • As a walker, you map out the segments and plan your walk.
  • As a product manager, you map out the features and plan the development work.

  • As a walker, you make tactical decisions during the walk on when and where to stop for food, when to put on your waterproofs.
  • As a product manager, you make tactical decisions during the project on what user stories to prioritise in the product backlog.

  • As a walker, you monitor the distance and make adjustments to make sure you make it to the top.
  • As a product manager, you monitor the product metrics and make adjustments to make sure you hit the target.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Two-brewery walk - from Brockley to Peckham

Microbrewery seems to be a popular business in London nowadays. There are two rather excellent, friendly breweries close to where I live, in southeast London - Brockley Brewery in Brockley and Brick Brewery in Peckham Rye.

I regularly walk these neighbourhoods, so I thought I would map a walk linking the two breweries. This simple 2.4-mile walk takes you past a couple of very pleasant parks, an old Victorian cemetery and down one of the most vibrant shopping streets in London.

Click here to see the route on Google Map

A brief description of what you will expect on the way:

Brockley Brewery is on Harcourt Road, pretty close to the Brockley Overground station, housed inside what looks like an old garage. After enjoying a tasty pint (or a half) there, make you way back to the station, cross the bridge, turn right to reach Drakefell Road, a typical Victorian terrace-lined road in this part of London.

You will walk past the entrance to Telegraph Hill Upper Park. I encourage you to pop in, if only just to check out the wonderful view across London from the top.

Go through a foot tunnel/bridge and follow the route to reach Linden Grove. Here you will find a real hidden gem - Nunhead Cemetery. This is one of the "Magnificent Seven" Victorian cemeteries. Again pop in to experience the tranquil and magical environs, but don't get lost - you need to get to the other brewery!

Go down Forester Road and then Solomon's Passage. You will soon find the vast green space of Peckham Rye Common.

Head north along the edge of the common to reach Rye Lane. The combination of Art Deco architecture (yes I am a huge Art Deco geek, check out my Art Deco London map) and diverse cultural vibe always fascinates me about this busy shopping street. Also worth mentioning is Bussey Building on the right which hosts some interesting art and music events.

Turn left into Choumert Road, and then right into Choumert Grove, and you are in a decidedly different setting to the hustle and bustle of Rye Lane. Look out for the beautiful Girdlers Cottages before being stunned by the quaint Choumert Square - I bet you would never believe a place like this would exist right in the middle of Peckham.

Find Brick Brewery on Blenheim Grove to claim your well-deserved pint!

PS - remember to check on the brewery websites for opening hours (Saturday afternoon is a safe bet)!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Recycled bike tyre belt and Terry Riley

After my first long hill ride this year (to Ide Hill and back), I was quite quite happy to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at home, resting my legs. I also thought that would be the perfect opportunity to start my little project - a recycled bike tyre belt. I came across this idea in a bike exhibition recently, and I happened to have a retired Bontrager Hardcase Race Lite road tyre lying round. Plus, my old (faux) leather belt is falling apart, so I didn't even need to buy a buckle to make my new belt.

I came across this wikiHow page with detailed steps on how to make a tyre belt, but I did not have either a Chicago screw or a leather hole puncher.

My other thought was whether I could cut through the kevlar/puncture-resistant material that the Bontrager tyre was supposed to be lined with. As it turned out, cutting through kevlar was not a problem, but, instead, the wire bead around the tyre presented some challenge. Luckily I have a mini hacksaw.

After rummaging through my DIY cupboard, I gathered the following and decided to have a go:

  • a mini hacksaw
  • a sturdy pair of scissors
  • a penknife with a reamer/punch tool
  • some garden wire

Step 1: cutting the tyre (or sawing, if you have a wire-bead tyre)

Using a mini hacksaw, I managed to cut through the tyre to turn it into one long, curved strip of rubber.

Step 2: trimming the edges and digressing...

At this point, the strip was still too wide and curved up to make a useful belt. So, using a pair of sharp scissors, I trimmed off the edges, retaining about 2cm of rubber in the middle (similar width to my old belt).

The process proved to be quite time-consuming (and boring), so I opened up BBC iPlayer to find a program to watch, while fighting my way through the length of the tyre. I decided to go for this program on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. I must admit I knew nothing about the album, apart from 1) its opening riff, and 2) that it is famous. The program turned out to be extremely fascinating, as it looked at Mike Oldfield's troubled adolescence (incredibly, he made the album at the age of 19!) as well as the beginning of Virgin Records, with Tubular Bells being it first commercial release, recorded in a manor house in Shipton-on-cherwell just north of Oxford.

Not to downplay the genius of Tubular Bells itself, I was, however, most excited by this mind-boggling piece of work mentioned in the program - A rainbow in curved air by Terry Riley. Psychedelic electronic jazz?! Have a listen:

Anyway, back to belt-making. After trimming off the edges for just over half the tyre length, I chopped the rest off, to keep what was now effectively the belt (check the length of your favourite belt to make sure it doesn't end up too short!!).

Step 3: attaching the buckle

I used the reamer tool to make a hole 4cm from one end of the belt. I then folded it back to fit the buckle removed from my old belt, as follows:

As you can see in the photo, I had to somehow secure the folded end back to the belt itself. Without any suitable screws or bolts, I resorted to making a couple of holes and threading some garden wire through them to secure the folded end. I then covered it with some pvc tape.

It was not pretty, but it worked. Otherwise, if you care about how it looks, use one of these instead.

Step 4: making a belt hole

I just used the reamer tool to make a single hole somewhere appropriate along the belt to turn it into a functional one!

The final product (note the pvc tape finish won't even show):

A 65k ride, a new belt, and a new music discovery - not bad for a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Up to eleven

Just having a bit of fun making word clouds based on famous Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul players. All images created using Tagul.

First up, my fav guitar - Tele: (

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Chain skip and lubricant

Chain skipping (jumping between rear gears) is damn annoying, especially when it happens as you are riding out of saddle. There are a number of reasons why this may happen: badly adjusted derailleur, worn cassette, worn chain. Last week, my bike started to suffer from chain skip all of a sudden. The cassette did not seem worn, nor did the derailleur look misaligned. So I decided to just give the chain a good lube and see what would happen.

The problem went away!

I cannot really figure out why lubricating the chain would fix the problem. There isn't really any literature on the internet I could find on this topic either.

Anyhow, next time if you can't figure out why your chain is skipping, get the lube out and give it a go. It may solve your problem. Who knows...