Thursday, October 23, 2008

Winter is coming!

The days are getting shorter, the mornings are getting chillier, and I'm psyching myself up for riding all winter long.

A big help is - they give a lot of useful tips and tricks. This is also where I discovered the monthly Midnight Marauders' ride - a load of fun.

Last night, I did some maintenance - brake tightening, chain lubing, and a general once-over. I've also just purchased a set of planet bike fenders on Amazon ($28.18) and some nice gloves ($32) from the local bike shop.

This brings my total commuting costs up to $399.51 since April.

I need to go searching for my hats and ski masks (I know I have a nice blue one somewhere). I'm not sure about eyewear - I think that my metal framed sunglasses won't be very comfy for much longer. Maybe a few yellow-tinted and clear safety glasses? Or, perhaps ski goggles?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Costs update

Mom visited last weekend, so I purchased two 3-day CTA passes ($24)

I decided to get access to my company's bike room (four blocks from my office) to use during poor weather ($10 deposit)

The previous total was $305.33, so the total I have spent on commuting since April is $339.33

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Q&A: Where do you get waste vegetable oil?

A while back, I received the following question:
Hey, I just wanted to say hello and ask you if you have any suggestions about procuring the vegetable oil. My bus is about ready and I heard there are good establishments to get oil from relatively painlessly. Any advice is appreciated.

Supposedly there are organizations who will sell the oil- already filtered for cost but this is anecdotal. I am perfectly happy climbing in the grease traps and sucking it out and filtering it myself, but I need to know where to actually get it.

Sadly, when I replied to the email address Adam gave, my reply bounced. Here is my answer:
Hi Adam,

Gosh, that's the million-dollar question: where do you get vegetable oil?

First, a few warnings about dumpsters:
  1. Once oil is placed into a dumpster, it legally belongs to the company that owns the dumpster. If you pump oil from the dumpster (even with the restaurant's permission), you are stealing. There have been prosecutions of people running their cars on veg oil who pumped oil from dumpsters in Texas and other states.
  2. Can you really, guarantee that some brainiac hasn't decided to dump their old engine oil into that "oil only" dumpster? You can't filter engine oil out of veggie oil, and I guarantee that engine oil will cause damage to your engine.
Now, on to your question: where do you get used oil?
Most restaurants pay a waste removal service to dispose of their used fryer oil. If you offer to pick up their oil for free, most restaurants will be happy to help you out.

What you want:
  • Vegetable oil without animal fats that has been used at relatively low temperatures (~300-350F). Preferably canola or soy oil.
  • Absolutely no hydrogenated oils - the words "creamy fryer shortening" on oil containers are a tip-off that their oil is hydrogenated.
Best places to try:
  • Mexican restaurants that only use fryers for making tortilla chips
  • sushi restaurants that use fryers for making tempura with vegetables and fish
  • vegetarian or middle eastern restaurants that use fryers for making falafel and french fries
  • chip factories (only approach them if you can handle the volume - otherwise, they will drown you in oil)

Tips to prevent you from ruining it for the rest of us:
  • Be professional, polite, and dependable - the restaurant is depending on you to remove their oil. If you can't do it reliably, they'll wish they had could just pay Waste Management to do it. Establish a day/time to get the oil, and stick to it. Even during the winter.
  • Get the manager's name and contact info; give them yours.
  • Be clean: bring a tarp, lots of rags, rubber gloves, funnels, and lots of absorbent material in case of spills. Leave your workspace (their kitchen or alleyway) as clean as you found it.

If all of this sounds like too much work (and it is a lot of work), try, or look for a biofuels co-op, conversion shop, or other vegetable fuel organization near you.

I hope this helps.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

British couple finances honeymoon through recycling

Found an interesting little article:
John and Ann Till, from Petersfield, in Hampshire used a recycling-to-rewards-miles machine at their local Tesco supermarket to gain enough air miles to finance business class tickets for their honeymoon.

John and Ann Till, from Petersfield, in Hampshire, took thousands of cans and bottles to a recycling centre at a nearby Tesco supermarket.

For every four recycled items, they earned a reward point which was then converted into BA air miles.

They amassed 36,000 miles, which they used to fly back in business class from their US honeymoon.
Congrats on the wedding!
BBC News

Friday, September 12, 2008

Virtuous Cycles

Wired has an interesting article examining evidence that as bicycle ridership increases, per-rider accidents with cars decreases, causing a virtuous cycle. As riding increases, safety increase, so more people ride.

Also, I have a bit of catching up to do for costs:
My previous total was $171.06.

Since then, I've spent:
$20 to the CTA for an occasional L train ride.
$45 to Working Bicycle Co-Op for a guest helmet and U-Lock (they gave me a free blinky red light, too)
$30 to a woman named Julia for a yellow Schwinn Continental Tourist (for guests)
$39.27 to for fresh tires and tubes for the Schwinn.

This brings my total commuting and bicycling costs up to $305.33 since April 28, 2008.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Q&A: Vegetable Oil Storage 2: Inert Gases

I just received the following question from Jim:
I have a question. Being interested in using VO for diesel fuel, and knowing that air and reactive metals cause degradation of the oil (polymerization - and also putrifaction), I am wondering if an inert atmosphere would help. Would nitrogen do the trick (or air purged of oxygen), or would argon be necessary?


Thanks for your question!

Yes, a nitrogen or argon blanket would significantly slow the rate of oxidation. Unless you have an extremely problematic storage situation, using either nitrogen or argon is unnecessary (and expensive).

In my experience, vegetable oil doesn't degrade that quickly from oxygen unless there is a lot of heat and a lot of oxygen present (such as if your oil is constantly shaken or has air bubbling through it). In a heated fuel tank, you do have this situation, but the oil doesn't stay there long enough to degrade enough to be a problem.

In my experience, storing fuel in a dark, dry place is more than good enough. Make sure to rotate your stored oil so it doesn't sit for too long (this applies to all fuel supplies, actually). I once stored waste vegetable oil for over 6 months in a hot and humid storage shed (in a sealed container), and it was fine. If your supply is so large that you're storing your fuel for more than six months before using it, consider giving some away on or

The real culprit in storing vegetable oil isn't oxygen, reactive metals, or heat: it's light and moisture. Light and moisture promotes algae and bacteria growth - which causes clogged filters and general fuel system nastiness. So, keep your fuel dark and dry. Luckily, this isn't a biofuel-specific problem, it's a problem for petroleum diesel fuel, too - this means that petroleum diesel biocide additives work well for treating biodiesel and vegetable oil algae and bacteria problems.

Thanks again for your question, good luck, and if you're ever in Chicago, drop me a line!


Monday, August 11, 2008

Truck Tales 2: Monster Truck for Rent

Here is the second (and final, for now) tale of trucks in Chicago:

Monster Truck for Rent:
"It's not going to fit."

"Sure it will," I say with false bravado. We lift the dresser and start waddling out towards the street and towards the too tiny car. We pop the trunk, and lift again. There's no way the dresser's going to fit.

We turn to the seller, she needs to get rid of it before the next day. "Ok, looks like it's not going to fit, we either need to borrow a truck or do something. We'll give you a call if it turns out we can get it from you." She looks crestfallen as we carry the dresser back inside and drive away in the too tiny car.

Later that evening, do some brainstorming and call the building supply store about their truck rentals. "Sure, it's 19.95 for the first 75 minutes, and you pay for gas."

The following evening, we rent a Ford Super Duty truck with a gigantic steel bed. It's a monster truck. In Chicago.

Right away, we notice the reverence other drivers give to this huge beast with sharp corners. Changing lanes is suddenly easy: turn on your blinker, and the waves of traffic part cleanly - no one wants to be between you and where you want to go.

Giddy with power, we cruise through quiet evening streets, picking up and delivering furniture, and returning well within 75 minutes and 0.3 gallons of fuel.

Monster trucks for rent - I love it.

image: Gunslinger from wikimedia commons

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Car vs Bike wars heating up all over the country

As more people decide not to buy $4-a-gallon gas and start pedaling to work, road rage seems not to have been left behind. This NYT article, "Moving Targets," covers the increasing Car v Bike tensions.

I hate to admit this, but I have had my own share of taxi-induced road rage.

Be safe out there...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Truck Tales 1: Red Menace

I have two stories to tell about trucks in Chicago:

1. Red Menace

Pedalling down Grand Avenue, I feel a whoosh of air as a large, red Chevy pickup passes within inches, its engine roaring as it accelerates past.

It changes lanes quickly, the driver aggressively muscling through traffic. I lose sight of the truck as it passes over the freeway overpass.

At the Grand and Milwaukee intersection, I slide between stopped cars. I chuckle to myself as I ride past the stopped red Chevy truck.

As soon as I reach the crosswalk, the light goes green, and I pedal through. Three blocks down, the pickup passes me again, thankfully in the far lane this time. I again lose sight of the truck when it passes over the Chicago River bridge leading into downtown.

I turn North on Des Plaines, I'm about a mile from my appointment. Near Division, I get passed again by the red truck - traffic is looser here so it changes lanes more frequently, pushing to go as fast as possible. The truck pulls over and parks near North Avenue, and I cruise past just as the driver gets out.

All that frenetic driving, just to arrive at the same time as a guy on a bike? Sad.

image: Chevy Silverado from wikimedia commons

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Veg Oil Powered Band: Them Damned Young Livers

I just got an email from a band asking for a good place to get biofuels in the southwest US (I pointed them towards our friends at the Denver Biodiesel and Boulder Biodiesel CoOps, natch).

The band is Them Damned Young Livers, and they're on tour right now in a vegetable oil powered bus. I took a listen to their MySpace page - and they put out some pretty decent driving tunes (nearly makes me wish I had a car again) about hard drinking.

Good luck, out there guys.