Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike to Work Day!

I got up early today because I had stuff I needed to finish at work by 9:00am.  I still managed to stop by one of the numerous DC-area Bike to Work Day pit stops and get a free water bottle and T-shirt though!

It was somewhat celebratory for me since this was the first bike commute in almost a week and a half - I sprained my wrist last week and was in a pretty restrictive splint for a while.  I'm still in a splint now, but I've been given the green light on anything I can do (while wearing the splint) that doesn't hurt.  Biking isn't super easy - it's awkward to hold the handlebars - but it doesn't hurt if I'm careful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Breaking the Law...

The Washington Post ran an editorial today entitled, "Bicyclists are welcome in DC, but they, too, should obey the law." 

For a full-on critique of why this seemingly even-handed article misses the mark (and the facts), check out Washcycle's response post, "Drivers are welcome in DC, but they, too, should obey the law."  But let me offer my quick reaction:

Yesterday, I was honked at, cursed at, and almost hit (intentionally) by a driver who thought I shouldn't be in "his" lane - this despite an EMPTY lane to my left.  This occurred approximately 100 feet behind a county police cruiser that had just passed me (disappointingly, no action on the part of the cop).  I was then passed too closely by the next vehicle as well (VA law states there must be 2 feet of passing distance), and about 1/4 mile down the road discovered I was being "tailgated" at a distance of 2-3 feet - right where I needed to slow down and turn. 

This wasn't a typical day (thank God!), but nonetheless I'm angered by the Washington Post article, which seems to view the actions of drivers such as I encountered yesterday as merely "churlish," rather than recklessly life-endangering.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gas Prices

As we've all noticed, gas prices have been going up lately (again). 

An article at the personal finance site Wise Bread mentions some ways that gas prices could be brought back down again (essentially, reverse the direction of speculation, since prices are speculation-driven), as if the best thing for us all would be if gas prices were to drop.

I actually think higher oil/gas prices are a good thing. 

Why would I say that??  It's because our country's energy and transportation policies and expectations are largely based on the assumption of cheap energy for the foreseeable future.  That assumption in turn drives our foreign policy - leading us to questionable "allies" and increased military expenditures that often don't demonstrate direct benefits for the U.S. - not just wars, but protecting certain shipping lanes, for example.

Higher gas prices lead to conversations about energy policy that we as a nation need to have.  It may hurt in the short term, but hopefully it helps us figure out some longer-term solutions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

376 Calories

That's how many calories WebMD says I burn on my daily bike commute. 

I'd never realized it could be that much.  I don't actually time myself, so it may actually be a few more (up to 411) if I'm going faster.  I'll assume the lower number though.

There are 3500 calories in a pound, so at this rate if I bike 10 days (9.3 days to be precise, but it's pretty hard to bike 0.3 round trips to work) and otherwise have a neutral food intake, I'll lose a pound. 

Seems like another good reason to bike to me!  I'm trying to lose 12 pounds from where I was at the beginning of this year.  I'm halfway there now... only 55 round-trips to work to go - which would happen in late August if I keep up current patterns.  I'm hoping it doesn't take quite that long - and now that I know how many calories I'm burning, perhaps it won't!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Please Don't Hit Me?

I was riding to work this morning and stopped at a traffic light.  A young woman pulled up behind me, and after a minute or so rolled down her window and started talking to me.  Here's the conversation we had:

Her: Are you, like, actually biking in the road?
Me: Yes. (mentally noting the absence of anywhere else to bike in this particular location)
Her: Well, I'm really late for work, and I don't want to run you over!
Me: I don't want you to run me over either.

(10 second pause)

Me: How about I just move over a bit going through the intersection and you can go by me?
(Light turns green, I do as I suggested and she zooms by me)

I hope she didn't hit anyone else.

The funny thing about this is that we were on a 4-lane road (2 in each direction) - there were a few cars at the light, but she would have easily been able to switch lanes to get around me within 15-20 seconds of the light turning green anyway.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Biking in the Rain (and liking it!)

I promised this a while ago... and here it finally is! 

A lot of people give up on biking (or doing much outdoors at all) when it rains, which is unfortunate since in the Washington D.C. area, it rains an average of 87 days per year (or roughly 7 days per month).  If you have the right equipment, dealing with rain isn't that tough at all.

In terms of bike commuting, the first thing to remember is this: it doesn't matter nearly as much if it rains on your way home.  There are clean, dry clothes at home (or at least, there should be... if there aren't, stop reading this and go do some laundry!).  It's rain on the way to work that gets tricky.

Here's my shortlist of the essentials for biking to work in the rain (and enjoying it):

1. A change of clothes.  A towel might be good too.  You can keep as much of this at work as you want... I generally have a towel and few extra clothes at work, but mostly take my day's attire with me each day.

2. A waterproof bag for your clothes.  This can be a messenger bag, pannier, or - in my case - trunk bag with a waterproof shell to go over it.  I keep the shell (which is basically a raincoat for the bag) in one pocket of the bag, so it's always there when needed (you can see this in action in my "Snow Bike" post).

3. Rain jacket/pants.  These don't have to be bike specific.  I use a Marmot Precip jacket that I got for backpacking, and a basic pair of wind pants - not technically waterproof, but definitely highly water resistant.

4. Wool socks.  My shoes aren't waterproof, but it doesn't matter as long as my feet stay warm - which they will with wool socks.  There are also some tricks or equipment you can use to dry your shoes after they get wet.

5. Fenders.  I have Portland Design Works Soda Pop fenders - a great deal at $25 for both, and also nice because they're easily removable for when I know it's not going to rain.  Fenders not only help keep me dry, but also help keep a lot of road gunk off my bike and off me.

That's really it.  If you have those things, you can add whatever other clothes are seasonally appropriate under them, wear gloves if it's cold, etc.  Even if you don't have all these things, it's not a deal-breaker - I didn't have fenders or wind pants until recently.  However, these things do make it so I'm much more likely to bike in the rain.

Disclaimer: I have not been paid, bribed, threatened, or otherwise encouraged to promote specific products or brands in this post.  The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my experience - nothing else!
Child on tricycle image courtesy, used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why Commute by Bike?

I introduced my commuter bike the other day, but I realized I haven't mentioned why I commute by bike.

  • Financial Freedom.  Biking to work allows our family to save money.  We've only had one car since early 2009.  We "upgraded" to a slightly larger/newer car (ie minivan) in 2010 - and paid cash.  My bike cost money, yes - but a bike is cheap compared to a car payment!

  •  Health. I get paid to sit at a desk all day (except when I go to meetings - then I'm paid to sit at a table).  Without some form of exercise, I would turn into a baked good.  Biking is easy because it doesn't take that much time out of my day - my commute biking is about 20 minutes whereas my commute driving is about 10 minutes, so I get 40 minutes for the price of 20. 

  • Productivity/Creativity.  Days that I bike are often more productive and/or creative days at work.  Endorphins win over coffee.  I still have coffee... but I don't need it quite as badly!

  • Biking simply feels good.  My 20-minute commute is a good wake-up in the morning and helps me de-compress in the afternoon.  My family notices a difference in my mood when I bike - I'm much happier coming through the door than when I drive.  I get time to think about things, but also some time to just be outside and enjoy it.
When was the last time your commute did these things for you?

(Note to my wife: Yes, you can remind me of this post when I'm feeling lazy in the morning.  I won't appreciate it then, but I'll appreciate it later!)

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Snow bike

    Yes, it's still snowing. 
    Yes, I said the next post would be about biking in the rain.  But we just got 10 inches of snow, so writing about rain will have to wait.

    It started snowing just before I left work - and in the hour it took me to get home the snow increased from 1.5" to about 5-6" deep.  It was the fastest I've ever seen snow fall.  Here's what I looked like right when I got home:

    As an aside, I look a lot happier than most of my coworkers probably did.  Some of them took up to 9 hours to get home that day (which actually meant it was technically the next day).

    Here are the essentials that made this trip a success:

    • Clothing - I had on a good base layer of sweat-wicking material (REI midweight long-sleeve shirt and Pearl Izumi Amfib tights over regular bike shorts).  On top of that, I had a waterproof jacket and wind/waterproof athletic pants.  Also, I had good gloves, face protection, and 180 brand earmuffs (which work great with a helmet).  Most of this is not biking-specific: you don't need crazy special stuff to bike in winter, just the right type of layered clothing to keep you warm (and preferably dry).  The most important part was the wind-blocking - block the wind and you can stay warm down to much colder temperatures than this!

    • Studded tires - I just bought these - Nokian Hakkapellitta W106 tires.  These are the only studded tires I've tried - there are others out there that get good reviews as well.  They helped a lot riding on packed snow/ice.  They won't help in deep snow - but they were great this time.

    • Waterproof cover for my stuff - Not essential on the way home (where laundry can be done), but nice.  Mine goes over my trunk bag - but really anything waterproof would work.

      Really, that was it.  I rode a singlespeed mountain bike, so I had better balancing ability than I would have had on a road bike, and the singlespeed meant that the gears couldn't get messed up.  However, a geared bike probably would have worked.  Other than that I just stayed calm, moved along with the traffic when I was on roads, helped a stuck taxi get unstuck, and made it home in less time than I probably would have by car.  I will confess though - I was tired when I got home!

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    The Commuter

    Over the last 3 years or so, I've commuted to work by bike or bike/ metro quite a bit.  I've had the same bike most of the time - a Cannondale Bad Boy (link is to current version) - which has worked pretty well for me (with a few modifications).  My current commute is a little under 5 miles one way, but I've had commutes up to 17 miles one way and done fine on this setup (it just took me a while to get there!).

    A lot of people wonder what type of bike is "best" for commuting.  The answer - of course - is "it depends" - on what you're used to/comfortable with, the type of roads or trails you take to work, how far you have to go, what you need to carry, etc.  Here's MY setup and why I chose it.

    Mountain style frame: I'm a mountain biker at heart, and I've always been more comfortable with that riding position as a result.  It also gets you slightly more upright - it's easier to look around.  The C'dale frame is basically a mountain bike frame.  This also means it's a little heavier-duty than many road frames.

    700c (road) wheels/tires: Road tires are generally bigger (in diameter) and skinnier (in width) than mountain tires (there are exceptions, but I'll address those in a different post!).  To make it really simple - this means you can go faster with less effort.  My tires are a little wider than racing-style tires, but nowhere near what mountain tires would be.  NOTE: normally you can't mix a mountain frame and road tires!  This bike is designed to do this.

    Seatpost-mounted rack and trunk bag: There are many ways of carrying stuff on a bike.  This works for me most of the time - it keeps stuff off my back, the bag mounts quickly and securely to the rack, and the rack can be moved from one bike to the other if necessary.  Topeak makes what is hands-down the best system for this.

    Funky handlebars: Due to a wrist injury several years ago, certain riding positions hurt after as little as a few minutes.  These bars are swept back at the ends to allow for less stress on my wrists - and more riding enjoyment!  Handlebars are easy to change out in most cases, and can really change your perception of how a bike rides and how comfortable it is.

    Lights: Lots of them!  I run a Planet Bike headlight/taillight set and (as of Christmas 2010) a Bikeglow system.  If you can't see me, you probably have your eyes closed.

    So there you have it - it may not be everyone's ideal commuter, but it works pretty well for me!

    Next up: What about rain snow?

    Disclaimer: I have not been paid, bribed, threatened, or otherwise encouraged to promote specific products or brands in this post.  The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my experience - nothing else!  If any of the manufacturers happen to know who I am it's only because I've complained about something...

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    The Bike Path

      The first real bike I can remember owning was a single-speed, coaster brake-equipped bmx-style kids bike.  It was a red Murray, and I loved it.  I rode it everywhere I could, popped wheelies, skidded until the rear tire was bald in spots, and made all the ball bearings fall out of the headset.  It hung around long after I’d gotten other bikes, eventually falling victim to an imbalance between my desire to modify it and my ability to modify it (I wouldn't say it was useless when I was done... but it wasn't too far from it).

    The workshop
    Over the couple of decades since then, my love for bikes has continued (and the number of bikes I own has grown), but until recently I didn't have the opportunity to do much work on my own bikes beyond the basic repairs.  This changed in 2009 when my wife and I purchased a small house - with a large 2-car garage.  It was a fantastic day for many reasons, but among them was the idea that once we got settled in, part of the garage could be my workshop and bike-storage facility.  This renewed my passion not just for riding bikes, but also for working on bikes.  Over the last year I've built a workbench, received a Park tool workstand (thanks honey!) and the Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, and started tinkering with bikes much more.

    Right now I own 4 bikes that I ride, with the addition of a rotating stock of 1-2 project bikes at any given time.  I’ve been bitten by both the singlespeed and 29’er bugs, and have also been convinced that riding, building, rebuilding, and maintaining bikes is part of what makes my life worth living.  I’m not the best biker out there, nor am I the best bike mechanic (I’m sure many mechanics would laugh at some of the things I mess up!), but I experience joy and satisfaction when I’m around bikes, and I’m learning more every day.  That’s what this blog is for: to share with you both the joy and the things I learn - with a few other things thrown in.