Posts tagged ‘bike commuting’
Do you ever have days when a tiny voice inside says something along the lines of … “today is not the day”? The planets are not aligned, there is a feeling of bad karma, an inner hesitation, clouds overhead. And of course I completely ignore that little voice. Serves me right.
Rest assured – nothing truly bad happened. No crash/collision, no flat tire, no mechanical issue. Just a multitude of basic annoyances that began with getting rained on (and having no rain gear, of course), continued with wasting energy (Staples no longer carries the type of photo canvas I went to buy), and included a superabundance of discourteous Friday motorists (the left-hand turn cut-off, the texting-while-driving twenty-something passing too close for comfort, and the barreling log-truck driver apparently late with his delivery to the pulp mill).
There are not many days I am happy to get off of my bike and off of the road, but today was one of them. I should have listened to the little voice.
It’s been a grey week. Yesterday, I had an appointment in town – and I’m always glad to have the stretch of greenway to ride. It’s not that I mind riding in traffic, but having a stretch of traffic-free – and stoplight free – pavement makes the trip much that much easier.
While I was at my optometrist’s office, I had a brief conversation with his assistant about cycling. She told me that she and her husband and finally unearthed their old bicycles out of the back of their garage, had them tuned up, and had started to do a little riding – but “not on the street!”
And the usual comments followed … too many crazy drivers out there, too scary to ride on the road, the fear of being hit by a car. While I was so happy to find out that she and her husband were re-discovering the joy of cycling, it also made me a little sad. It’s so unfortunate that people who really want to try to ride about town, past the constraints of bike paths and greenways, have reasonably legitimate fear of doing so.
This morning I read an insightful blog post by one of my favorite twitter pals and cycling bloggers in Austin, TX – Tim Starry, aka An Old Guy On 2 Wheels. Tim is a really great guy, an enthusiastic cyclist and cycling advocate, a devoted family man, and I feel honored to call him a friend (and you must check out his blog). He just attended a cycling transportation lecture highlighting a Canadian group called 8-80 Cities, who pose a really interesting question: (basically) is your local pedestrian/cycling infrastructure adequate for an 8-year old and an 80-year old to use safely?
In our case, I’d have to say yes to our local Greenway for the most part … but a resounding no to too many other places throughout town.
Tim also cited an excellent and revealing article (definnitely worth a read) by the Portland Bureau of Transportation that discusses the large demographic of people who are curious about cycling and might like try cycling for transportation, but are fearful about the traffic interaction component. Just like the woman I talked with at my optometrist’s office, and likely the majority of the people using our local greenway.
I know that progress along these lines will be slow to come in our area. We are not an Austin, TX, or a Portland, OR, or even a Steamboat Springs, CO, as far as cycling rideshare or political will. I am grateful for the stretch of greenway we have, as well as the outlook for its future expansion.
And yes, it’s always a good kick in the pants for me to read these things and think about them – and hopefully, to get more involved.
I first met David several weeks ago while riding on the Greenway. We had a discussion about the upcoming expansion plans for the Greenway and cycling in our little town of Cleveland, TN. I ran into him again this week, on his bike, and we had a few minutes to continue the conversation…
It always inspires and encourages me when I meet other like-minded cyclists – people using bike for transportation as well as recreation. People like David who are excited to participate in a less car-centric lifestyle, who support and advocate changes that will make our community more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
Like many of us, David’s love of cycling began in during his childhood. He told me about growing up in Virginia, riding his bicycle around a local Pepsi plant and realizing how amazing it was – being able to get around everywhere and anywhere his legs could pedal him. His love of cycling continued, and over the years he has participated in Chattanooga’s 3-State 3-Mountain Century numerous times, as well as other biking events, and now shares his love of cycling with his family.
Sometime in during the past few years, David decided he wanted to ride more. So he “re-commited to riding every other day” – commuting to work, to appointments, making some shopping trips with a trailer. He discovered that his commute from home to office via the Greenway was actually often faster by bike than by car.
“There is really no downside,” he told me. “I can get most places fast enough, and feel better about it.”
As we both eagerly await the upcoming expansion of the local Greenway, it was interesting to reflect upon the change in public perception over the project.
“I know there were more than a few people who were initially opposed to the idea (of constructing the Greenway), thinking it would be a waste of money,” he reflected. “And those same people have been quite surprised by the amazing number of people they now see taking advantage of it; walkers, joggers, cyclists…”
“A lot of people will say how they would like things to be ‘like they used to be’,” he commented, reflecting on small-town life when people would walk into town, to the store, etc. “What they don’t realize is that adopting policies that will help people walk (and ride) more, and drive less, can bring that back – the sense of community, the interaction.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
Ride on, David! Thanks for the inspiration. Let’s keep this conversation rolling.
This has become the only kind of triathlon I will partake in. Swim, bike, read. 😉
My usual Tueday routine of riding to the pool for a swim, and the rather loathed routine of weights and strength training. I would much rather be in the pool or outside riding, but kind of like brushing my teeth, I visit the weight room for the sake of bone density preservation (and it probably doesn’t hurt cycling/skiing/swimming-wise, either). Gee, I love getting old.
I also had one of my typical moments of sheer genius today – left the house with camera(s) in hand … only to discover that I had left both batteries in the wall-chargers. Apparently I need some strength training in my brain muscles. So – no batteries, no pictures – except for these rather messy things I took with my iPhone. FTW! 😛
On the way home I decided to stop at the bookstore, in search of a good book on photographic composition. As is typically the case, I left the store with not one, but four books in hand. Not all photography books, but still – ridiculous lack of self control when it comes to books.
One of my twitter cycling friends, Kerstin (@Kittydew) – who is a brilliant illustrator and computer/graphics design instructor, as well as an awesome cyclist – has been working far too hard lately. (Quite unlike myself, as you can tell). So I told her I would take a scenic detour on her behalf during today’s ride. And I did. Took the long(er) way home, along Candies Creek Ridge Road. And I will apologize to her in advance for the absence of some nice pictures of “her ride”. Stupid, stupid battery-less me. iPhone is all you get, my friend.
Now to sit down with the new books….
I’ve “met” some of the finest bicycle people around the planet on Twitter. Recently, there has been a topic of discussion about why we ride our bicycles – organized and defined in the Twitterverse by a hashtag, in this case – #whyweride. Some of the 140-characters-or-less “why’s” have been inspiring and moving, and others entertaining and amusing. Yet all of them describe the variety of reasons and levels of passion of these amazing friends who love their bicycles.
Here is a sampling of a few of my favorites (the authors’ twitter names are in in green):
@area45 I just spent an two hours tinkering on my bikes. It was more fun than working on a car. #whyweride
@justridingalong …because Freddie Mercury would’ve wanted it that way. #whyweride
@14bikes I ride because an automobile is an expensive excuse to be lazy #whyweride
@dangerjosh There is a certain peace in knowing that you do little harm. And becoming more fit doing so. #whyweride
@lifeonqueen I ride my bike because I love it, I ride for moments of grace as I glide along the streets. Good for my soul, good for my planet. #whyweride
@ohaijoe I was told that if I sold my car, I wouldn’t get dates. Let’s just say the past two years have proven them wrong. :0)#whyweride
@14bikes I ride because what I do matters to everyone. A lot of people doing a little bit makes an incredible difference.#whyweride
@metromixAC I ride so I can eat more bacon. #whyweride
@nicycle Because I’ll get there faster than you. #whyweride
@thinkkesho I ride because I hear sounds you will never hear.#whyweride
@ohaijoe I ride 4 peace of mind, stay fit, save $ & time, freedom, cleanr air, solitude, to meet new friends, & f*ck traffic! #whyweride
@danceralamode I ride bc when u ride a bike, the ride is about the journey not the destination #whyweride
@GaryRidesBikes By bicycle is the fastest and most efficient travel by human power. I am my own motor. My commute is powered by fruit and cereal. #whyweride
@ohaijoe Cyclists have the sexiest bodies. Just saying….#whyweride
@jonthelam i ride because i want others to know there’s another way to travel w/o a motorized vehicle. #whyweride
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.
For the final day, the Experiment said,
Take a break from everything. Ohm Shanti.
Although it was a pretty laid-back day, I didn’t completely cut off from everything. Took a little time on the computer to catch up with this blog and a couple of other things. I let my alarm-clock radio play for a bit. I used my espresso machine.
But I also left the house quiet, no tv, no music, no lights. I read for a while, played with the animals, and took a walk. I photographed some of the fall color, which I don’t expect to last much longer. Our brief window of amazing.
I have taken away more than I expected from the week. I’m thinking again about the impact-reducing things we have done, as well as the the things we haven’t. I know where there is room for improvement, and I find myself being more careful – trying to use less water when washing dishes, turning off that other lamp, being more diligent about composting, unplugging, shutting off, slowing down. Although I will continue to try and figure out the complicated web of sustainable food choice, I am going to try not to stress about it as much as I had been. I have even greater appreciation for my bicycling, and the fact that I am physically able to to “drive” my bike.
I read this wonderful piece on “Driving by Bike” by the editor of Bicycling Magazine, Loren Mooney:
I could go on about how riding helps the environment by reducing carbon emissions and saves money on auto maintenance because those short trips are hardest on your car. But in the end, the best reason to drive your bike is that it transforms the trip from another spell behind a steering wheel into, quite simply, a ride – a ride that, for all its utilitarian value, can be as fun and spontaneous and satisfying as any other.
So what now? I don’t want to be like the leaves – a brief few days of brilliance, and then it’s over. I want to stay inspired to keep working at this project. I want to share, I want to participate, I don’t want to be one of the few bicycle commuters in our area, but one of the many. I was thinking I need to have a No Impact Week once a year – as a reminder of all the things that are important to me, to renew my desire to make the changes, and to re-evaluate where I want to go.
But for now, I’m signing off to continue my quiet day, my eco-sabbath.