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.