Posts from the ‘review’ Category
After 3 weeks at school, lots of kids decided to make a last trip home over the long Labor Day weekend. Dillon had several things to take care back here, “stuff” to re-deposit, other stuff he’d forgotten to bring, so Tim and I headed down to Berry College to pick him up and bring him home. We took our bikes down and took some time in the afternoon to ride around the campus and explore parts of the seemingly endless grounds before heading home.
A little bit about Berry … A small, private Liberal Arts college located in NW Georgia. With over 26,000 acres, it is the largest contiguous college campus in the world. Parts of it are designated Wildlife Refuge, there are approximately 70 miles of biking and hiking trails, a gazillion deer, beautiful old and new architecture, and close to 2,000 students. The nature of the campus also provides a wonderful arena for research opportunties – from biodiversity and conservation, to water quality and agri-studies.
One of the most interesting aspects of college life at Berry is their on-campus Work Experience program. Nearly every student participates in some type of paid, “meaningful work experience”; Dillon’s job is with the campus’ environmental “Green Team”, which connects with his studies in chemistry and environmental science. There are also several on-campus Student Operated Enterprises, conceived and impemented by students – my favorite being the newly formed Viking CycleWorks, a small facility offering bicycle repair services and basic parts/supplies. Their slogan: “You break it, we fix it”.
It’s a perfect college campus for biking – from the quiet campus roads to the amazing trail network. Although most of the academic and student-life buildings are centrally located, it is spread out enough that cycling is the perfect and preferred means for getting around. We kind of ran out of time – riding around the main campus, and visiting the Mountain Campus – but I look forward to another visit to check out more the trail system.
Enjoy the long weekend – get outside on your bikes! 😀
(More images on my Flickr set).
halcyon |ˈhalsēən|, adjective — denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.
Last weekend when we were taking Mason back to APSU in Clarksville, we made a quick stop in Nashville to visit a fantastic used bike store – Halcyon Bike Shop. Mason had visited the shop last spring with one of his cycling/physics friends, and was convinced I would love the place. And I did.
There is so much beauty in the endeavor of recycling, rehabbing, re-using bicycles and old bicycle parts. Everyone wins. Beautiful new (old) bikes are born. Affordable transportation is created from discards. Landfills are spared. Pink bikes get to go to college.
The growing number of “bike kitchens” and used bike shops also often offer places where people can volunteer time to work on bikes, and learn basic mechanical skills. Many of them, like Halcyon – through their Bike Workshop – help educate and provide transportation for underprivileged youth in the communities they serve. Everyone wins.
We saw some really divine machines at Halcyon; it was hard to leave without one. Mostly, there was a great informal vibe to the place – friendly and creative. I think a single sentence on their website describes them best:
Come to the shop and say hello, we are very nice and want to be friends.
There is a long list of things that comes to mind when thinking of summer: popsicles, baseball games, watermelon, swimming pools, the beach, bicycles. Probably not Siberia – or riding a bicycle through Siberia – but it’s about all I can think about, read about, through these infernal days of heat and humidity.
The heat is sweltering here; a recent article claims we’re in the midst of the hottest six months in recorded history. Another reminder – along with the mess in the Gulf – from Mother Nature: ride and walk more, drive less? I’d like to think so, but also admit that it’s a difficult task in this kind of weather. And you have to be willing to arrive everywhere dripping with sweat and looking like hell; no room for a shred of vanity, that’s for sure. But hey, as Stephen Markley penned – “We didn’t need a world with a functioning climate anyway.”
Back to Siberia … Rob Lilwall’s book, Cycling Home From Siberia, is beautiful, remarkable, inspiring, and the perfect summer read in the midst of a heat wave. What began as a preposterous undertaking to begin with – his plan to spend one year cycling from a far-eastern city in Siberia, in winter, all the way home to England – turned into an epic 3-year/3-continent/30,000-mile cycling odyssey. It is filled with fascinating detail, humor, and yes – the expected drama and dire circumstances you might expect. But it is written in an amazingly unpretentious and even very spiritual voice. It is a beautiful story – on so many levels.
It’s a story that is filled with human (versus super-human) moments; his “humanness” and honesty draws you in, while the adventures keep you turning pages. And ok – the guy rode over 30,000 miles, so there is a fair amount of super-human in there as well, for you feats-of-incredibleness junkies. But with chapter titles ranging from “Over Mordor” (ch.1 – yes, in reference to Tolkien’s gloom-filled world), to “The budgerigar and the naked weatherman” (ch. 11) and ” ‘I’ve had enough of this stupid bike ride’ “ (ch. 36) … it is entertaining, often funny, sometimes sad, sometimes frightening, yet always so very real. A better description appears on the back cover:
A gripping story of endurance and adventure, this is also a spiritual journey, providing poignant insight into life on the road in some of the world’s toughest corners.
Get your hands on a copy and read it. Period. That’s all I’m going to say.
A final note to my kind friends and those of you who commented on my last post: your insight has been most valuable to me, and I greatly appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts – and even more for listening to me and reading. It has really helped me, and has made a difference.
#330daysofbiking update: today I have ridden 110 of the past 117 days …. 248 days remain. And so it goes. (As I wish for a blast of arctic air to blow over from Siberia).
Once again, the best opportunity to ride was in the evening. The sun was setting over my next door neighbor’s hilly field, and I just ” saw” my bike on the crest.
Today was a very fine day … not so much the biking (although it was lovely), but being embraced by some like-minded friends. Inspiring exchanges with some great people in the cycling community – people who have such a great positive outlook on the cycling lifestyle, sharing the joy, advocating through enthusiasm … all of the stuff I love and admire and strive to be a part of in my own small way.
My friend Darryl at LovingtheBike invited me to be a part of the conversation – with a gracious mention in his June Look Who’s Loving the Bike page today, in the company of some other amazing cyclists and bloggers, including Ryan Van Duzer and his cross-country journey on a 3-speed (this is a must-watch video). 😀
I am especially enthusiastic about what Darryl is doing at LovingtheBike – there is something for everybody, and the content is always delivered in a positive, fun (and sometimes funny) way. One of my favorite posts is The Cyclist’s Wife … it is perfect! Mostly, his site captures his attitude and excitement about cycling, his love of life and his family – and is such a great platform for spreading The Love. I’m a fan – I hope you are too. (And thanks again, Darryl, for letting me join in the fun!)
The other bike-y stuff of my day …. did some initial experimenting with the new boat and the Xtracycle. Have to confess, this is looking a little sketchy. The depth/shape of the hull on the new boat is fairly different from our old beater boat, and although I managed to get it loaded and pedal a short distance, I’m not convinced I have the pedal- and front tire clearance I need to safely take her out on the road. The X can haul virtually anything … and I’m not ready to give it up, but some additional adjustments may be called for.
Oh well. Tomorrow is almost here. Still loving the bike … with or without the kayak on board.
Riding in the rain; grocery run on the X. Sometimes rain is lovely to ride in, and today was one of those days. Everything is so newly green, and it is good to have some of the pollen washed out of the air. When I left for the store, it was a light rain, not much wind. As one of my Portland friends has said before, riding in the rain can be very cathartic. I agree.
There is often alot of discussion about the best gear and clothing for riding in the rain. From a commuting standpoint, I’ve managed to come up with my own Top 10 list of things that work for me on the rainy days …
- Fenders, front and rear. The one “accessory” that probably does the most to keep the road splash to a minimum.
- A great lightweight and well ventilated rain jacket. After owning several, my favorite is my Mountain Hardwear Conduit Silk jacket. It has kept me as dry as a piece of toast in a few of the most torrential downpours; it’s lightweight, breathable, comfortable, has “pit zips” and a nice hood, and most of all I don’t feel like I’m wearing a sauna suit.
- A pair of rain SHORTS. Yes, shorts. I have both the Gore BikeWear Alp-X shorts and pants, and I almost always wear the shorts. If it’s warm enough to be raining, it’s warm enough to have a little bit of shin exposed – and very easy to towel off. I find that as long as my seat and thighs are dry, I’m much more comfortable (and less sauna-suit like) wearing the shorts. I love these things. I’ve also worn them with a light synthetic (quick-drying) base layer underneath, and still prefer them to the pants.
- A good dry bag. When I’m on the Xtracycle, I love their DryLoader bag for hauling everything from groceries, to camera equipment, to extra clothing. (Sorry, I couldn’t find it on their website, so don’t know if it’s still available?). I also like lightweight sil-nylon drybags, typically used for backpacking.
- When I’m not on the Xtracycle, my Ortlieb Backroller panniers are indispensible; I seriously use these on an almost daily basis – easy to access my “stuff”, holds a ton, and completely waterproof (because you never know when a shower might pop up).
- Shoes, shoe-covers … hmmmm. My verdict is still out on this. I have some neoprene shoe covers that I wear over my road-biking shoes, primarily to block wind and keep my feet warm on really cold days. I don’t typically wear them for commuting, but opt for a pair of Columbia Dragonfly Lea hybrid travel/hiking shoes, with a “waterproof” upper. I’ve found they do a decent job of keeping my feet warm and dry, and I don’t have to mess with shoe covers.
- Gloves. I have yet to find a pair that I really like. If they’re truly waterproof, I find they are too warm. If they’re not waterproof, it’s just cold, squishy and nasty. This year I’ve been using a pair of Seirus Hyperlite gloves … which are just ok. Mostly, I end up gloveless, unless it’s really cold.
- Hat vs. helmet cover. Another tough one. I have a Gore Bike Wear helmet cover, which is just ok. My head has ended up wet while wearing it. I also have a small Gore Bike Wear waterproof cycling cap (to wear under a helmet) – and I actually like this a little bit better. In the end, my hair is very short – so it’s easiest to let it get a little wet and just towel it off when I stop.
- Illumination! On dreary, rainy days, I believe in heading out “fully lit” (LOL!). Blinkies everywhere. On the bike, on my helmet, on my panniers – the more, the merrier (and the safer, in my opinion). The Blinkie Superflash is my favorite. I think we own over a dozen of these little guys – can clip them on to virtually anything and everything.
- A good brain. Riding in bad weather can be tricky at best, dangerous or fatal at worst. Roads are slick, visibility is often bad. WEAR A HELMET. Obey traffic signals. Use your brain. Be the model cyclist.
There are probably a number of things I have left off of my list … but these are the top things that come to my mind on days like this.
I had a lovely ride, got the groceries home (and my cereal and crackers were completely dry, thanks to the DryLoader :). Somewhere along the home stretch, the sun started peeking out. Felt like I was being smiled upon. 😀
I just turned 49. So I bought myself a party hat.
Really, one of the geekiest, least-appealing (to me, anyway) aspects of bicycle commuting is the wearing of the bike helmet. As I’ve written about before, I AM a believer; I won’t ride without a helmet, but it doesn’t mean I love how I look in them.
Last year I read about a new helmet design by Yakkay – a street-inspired helmet design with interchangeable covers (hats). I loved the idea, loved the pictures I saw, and I knew I really wanted one. Sadly, they were not yet available in the US. As this winter started kicking into gear, colder temperatures on the way, I re-visited the idea of purchasing a Yakkay, and hooked up with a wonderful gal, Lavinia, from LondonCycleChic. With her help and a few clicks of the mouse, I got my beautiful new “birthday” hat, complete with removable fleecy ear covers and snappy tweed cover. Even better news, the LondonCycleChic folks tell me that they are working on “opening a little US antenna in March 2010” … which I figure will be just in time for me to order a sweet summer cover. 😀
Anyway, they were great people to do business with, and I really look forward to them expanding stateside. You can also follow one of their peeps on Twitter (@CazCyclechic), and they have a terrific LondonCycleChic blog, full of great London cycle fashion photos and articles.
Another great birthday gift came from my Dad and his wife – nifty little Po Campo handlebar bag. Po Campo is a Chicago-based company (my “home town”), and my Dad was kind enough to send me a gift certificate which I used to pick out this great little black and white bag.
Although it’s not very big, it’s just enough to carry a wallet, phone, and a few small essentials for quick commute to an appointment or other errand when I don’t need to carry much. I also like the front pocket – perfect for easy access to my phone. (Not while riding, of course). Mostly, I love that it is on the front of the bike – rather than on the back or over my shoulder – easy to see and easy to access.
The final piece of commuting gear I have finally acquired – and really, more essential than the rest – are a set of Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic waterproof panniers. I cannot count how many times I have been out – at the Y, around town, errand-running – and I have gotten caught in an unexpected rain shower. Stuff gets soaked – wallet, phone, extra clothes, camera, books, etc. I can tuck this into a side-loader on the Xtracycle, or I can put it on the rear rack of my commuter bike or the eBike. And everything stays dry – no matter what I encounter or find I have to ride through.
Aside from the waterproof-ness, things I especially like (putting it way ahead of other panniers we’ve owned):
- Great easy-access top opening – no zippers or flaps to mess with. Simply roll down the top (constructed much like a typical dry-bag, with plastic strip on edge), and clip the strap over the top.
- Slim profile, multi-pocket inner organizer – perfect to stash a wallet or phone, doesn’t take away from the main large storage space.
- Superior rack attachment system – the top hooks can be customized with inserts, to fit a variety of different diameter rack rails. They don’t just “hang” on the rack rails, they actually close around the rail (see photo below). The 2 top hooks can be adjusted (spacing between the two hooks), and the bottom QL2 hook is fully adjustable/rotatable as well – invaluable features I’ve not found on other panniers.
- Two large reflective “spots” on both side panels of the bags, making them interchangeable on either side of the rack. I’ve also found that I can easily attach a Blinky to the top of the shoulder strap when the bag is mounted on the rack – perfect positioning.
- And did I mention they are fully waterproof?
I love the ease of access to the main compartment when it’s mounted on the bike. Nice wide opening, quick and easy to access and load. I don’t know the exact specs on the capacity, but they can hold a lot. And the bag is a breeze to take on and off of the rack. You simply pull up on the top handle-strap (which is attached to the quick-release tabs on the top hooks), and pull straight up.
Finally, a nice shoulder strap (that is secured to the front of the bag when not in use), makes it great to carry in and out of your destination – from the office to a quick stop at the store.
And did I mention they are fully waterproof?!
Out of everything next to the Xtracycle, I don’t know how I managed without these for so long. Indespensible, in my opinion – because you never know when wet weather might hit. Design-wise, I don’t think I will ever buy another brand of pannier – these are just so well-designed from every angle.
So that’s it. I’m older now. But also a tiny bit more stylish (I think) when I’m out on the bike!
A little over a month ago we did it. Went “rogue” and bought an electric bike. I know, I know – I’ve heard the cries: “what’s wrong with your legs?”, “hey, isn’t that cheating?”. I have to admit I had reservations. Venturing into what seemed like “pseudo-cycling” did feel a bit traitorous. If it wasn’t human-powered, why not just drive a car?
We made at least three trips to Chattanooga Electric Bikes. I took test drives. I left, undecided. I went back again and took another test drive. I left. It was hard to bring myself to make the sacrilegious leap to something that I viewed as, yes – the wimp’s way out. I adored getting around on the Xtracycle, enjoyed long rides on the road bike, and even occasional errand-running on my mtn-bike-turned-commuter-bike … but something kept pulling me toward some electrical assistance. (Maybe it was my impending 49th birthday and fading sense of invincibility?)
Like the days I took l road rides (40+ mi), and arrived home to find out I needed to get into town for some reason (shopping, an appointment, an errand) – and I just didn’t feel like getting back in the saddle and humping up “The Big Hill”. Also the days when I headed to the Y for swimming and weight training – it’s a nasty uphill slog on bad roads with alot of traffic; my least favorite ride. Many times I’d arrive at the Y, swim, and cut my routine short, because I knew I had to save some leg power to get back home through it all. Over the past two years, I have discovered that I don’t have the super-powers that I may have had 20 years ago, and sometimes – especially on multi-trip days – a slightly “easier” ride would be very welcome.
So finally, after making Mark nearly crazy with my indecision, we made the plunge and bought the eZip Trailz. We debated doing a conversion of one of the other (mtn) bikes in the garage, but in the end decided on the Trailz, largely because the pretty small difference in price didn’t seem to justify a conversion ($350+ conversion vs. $500 for complete bike), and there were some questions on compatibility of gearing, etc.
The other factor was the difference in controls. With the conversion, we’d end up with a single “throttle” lever; the Trailz has a twist throttle with two modes: PAS (Peddle Assist) and TAG (Twist And Go?). And the final factor (I am sorry to have to say this), the conversions we saw done by the guys at Chattanooga Hybrids were, well, a bit sloppy (wiring, etc.). We just didn’t get the impression that they were too experienced in bike-building.
So, we got it home, made a few minor modifications – added fenders, lights, and replaced grips and pedals. Took it out for a real-world test drive – a trip to the Y – and it performed very nicely. I mostly rode in the TAG mode – allowing me to pedal nearly all of the time, except for places I wanted a little extra power (going up hills). Riding this in this mode, you can really feel the weight of the bike – it’s a bit of a tank, honestly. According to the manufacturer’s specs, the bike weighs approximately 70 lbs with one battery (battery alone weighs roughly 12 lbs). The stock “comfort” tires were another dislike. And on the very first trip, I managed to get a flat on the way home – a small staple punctured the rear tire. Then and there, I realized puncture-proof tires were mandatory.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint about the bike at this point. I’ve done my share of repairing flats, replacing tubes, out on the road – but repairing a rear flat/changing a rear tube or tire on this bike is a royal PAIN. To begin with, there is no documentation available on how to remove and disconnect the rear wheel from the motor and drive – and it is not a job you want to attempt out on the road. We discovered – only thru internet comments left by other owners – that you have to virtually dis-assemble the whole rear end, removing the motor and drive chain, yadda, yadda, yadda. Making things even less easy to deal with, the motor is hard-wired (vs. a quick disconnect), so I had to physically hold up the motor housing, while Mark was removing the wheel, etc. It was a timely, pain-in-the-ass job that I definitely didn’t want to have to deal with again anytime soon, so we promptly replaced the tires with Bontrager Hardcase puncture-proofs. We also changed the skewer on the front wheel, swapping in a quick-release (a stupid manufacturer omission, in my opinion).
After making the little list of modifications, I have ridden the eBike about once a week, mostly to the Y to swim, but also a trip or two up The Big Hill for a few errands. After some experimenting, I have found that riding in the PAS (Peddle Assist) mode seems to be the best option for me. After a few pedal strokes, you can feel the motor slightly “kick in”, but you still have to pedal, downshift on hills, and ride like a normal bike – you feel like you are actually pedaling a bike. As soon as you break or coast, the assist stops. I’ve found that it really resembles riding a normal bike on a flatter terrain; you feel the assist primarily when climbing a hill, and you still have to use some leg power. I can still break a sweat, I can still get the heart pumping – it just tends to “flatten” out a ride on rolling or hilly terrain.
I haven’t quite figured out how many miles I can get on a single charge; I’m finding it largely depends on how much assist and/or throttle frequency is involved. I know I can travel more than 20 miles in PAS mode around here, hills included.
Bottom line (to date): It’s not a bike I believe I will be riding most of the time, but it’s an excellent alternative to driving a car when I just can’t ride a “real” bike. It’s definitely more of a bicycle than, say, a scooter. To use it to it’s potential, you need to pedal and shift gears, etc. If you are looking to drive it “throttle-only”, I think you may be disappointed; I don’t think the battery capacity and power is adequate enough for riding without pedalling – at least for any kind of distance. I expect it to be a great option in the scorching heat of summer when I need to arrive somewhere and not be a complete sweat-ball. I’m hoping that Mark and the boys will give it a go occasionally when they need to get somewhere – rather than driving the car. Aside from the few initial flaws (tires, etc.) we’ve discovered and dealt with, I think it’s a good value for the pricepoint.
Mostly, I really believe that eBikes in general can be a great transportation alternative to people who maybe can’t fully commit to 100% human-powered bicycle commuting. I can see so many types of people riding bikes like this one – a great alternative to driving a car. I’ll continue to evaluate, and let you know.