Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Been Awhile

Well, I started this blog a couple years ago and hoped to post regularly and keep people updated on it. I told someone I know about it today and looked at it again and noticed I had not posted anything since November, '09! Yikes!

I have much busier since I started this, though. I have been working odd hours, moving, managed to find a full time job, trying to bike when I can.

I wish I had some news to report, but alas, I do not. I have been trying to get to the Community Cycling Center to volunteer Tuesday nights, but missed tonight and just stayed home to watch the Blazers lose again.

The weather this spring has not been cooperative at all. I have been working full time for two months now and have managed to maybe bicycle 5 times since I started. Not that much really. Now, I don't mind riding in the rain, but 10 miles home in it can be a drag after a while.

I am hoping to get a new bicycle soon and will post about that. Stay tuned. I just didn't want this to seem like an abandoned blog!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Making Sense Of the Bike Shop

I have heard from more than one person, they are intimidated by the thought of buying a bicycle. And, I cannot say that I blame them. There seems to be so many choices and the price ranges vary so much that it could be a difficult thing to deal with coming right off the street. The point of this blog post is to help try to make it easier to walk in and feel a little more at ease.

I think the best way to start is to just describe the different styles of bicycles. I would define as bicycle as any two-wheeled, human powered vehicle. But, there are road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, cruisers, and many other styles. I am going to go over the most common types of bike out there and break it into categories.

I am going to start first with the road style bicycles. I would define a road bike as any bicycle that is meant to be traveled pretty much exclusively on the pavement. When I was growing up, they were often called 10-speeds. Road bikes tend to have narrow tires, "drop"-style handlebars (they curve out and around) and are built for speed. Most modern road bikes are made out of aluminum for a entry-level model and carbon fiber for expensive models. Here is an example of a typical road bike:

There are two other road-style bikes I will mention that at first glance appear to be road bikes, but really are a bit different. The first is a "touring" bike. A touring bike will often have drop style bars (though not always) and the larger wheels, but the tires may not be as narrow and the frame geometry is more "relaxed." In other words, it sits a little more upright. Also, they have more clearance in the wheel base to make it easier to add fenders and also built in hardware so it is easier to add a rack. Touring bikes are meant to go for the long haul, but they also make good commuters. Touring bikes are often made of steel as it tends to hold up a lot better than aluminum and carbon fiber. Here is an example of a touring bike:

The other road style bike is a cyclocross bike. A cyclocross bike is a road style bike that has a beefier frame and can be taken off road. It was meant for that. But, they also make very solid commuters as well. Like a touring bike, they have room for fenders and often bottle holders and such. They tend to be a little lighter weight than a touring bike, but they were made with racing in mind. They can also take wider tires due to more clearance--more so than a touring bike often. Here is a random photo of a cyclocross bike:

The next "type" I will cover is a hybrid bicycle. A hybrid is just that: a hybrid between a road bike and a mountain bike. Kind of like a cyclocross except hybrids generally have flat bars instead of drop bars like a mountain bike. Hybrids tend to run the bigger road style tires, but have wider rims and tires. Hybrids tend to be beefier frame wise and also have hardware slots for water bottle holders and racks. Some also call these comfort bikes. But, the difference is comfort bikes are made more for a bike path than the street. Some hybrids have shocks built into the frame and forks which people either love or hate. Shocks make your ride more smooth, but they also make your ride slower and if you are commuting, that means you need to get up earlier. Still, a hybrid makes a good choice for someone that has been out of cycling for a while, but wants something that can be taken about anywhere. Hybrids can be taken off road, but doing a lot of serious mountain biking on bumpy terrain would not be a great idea. Here is an example of a hybrid I just picked up a couple of weeks ago: Not thee bike, but the same model:

And, the Mountain bike. Mountain bikes are, well, made for the mountains. They are bikes built for off-road use. They tend to have smaller and wider wheels with knobby tires to take the abuse of riding on the rocky terrain. Mountain bike generally have flat style handlebars and the shifters tend to be at thumb-level and make it easy to shift. Mountain bikes in some places have gotten a bad rap lately. They are heavy, the smaller wheels make you go slower, and they are ugly with all that suspension are things I hear. And, some of them may be true, but that fact is they can make very good bikes for commuting as well. If you are going to commute and have no intention of riding it off road, ditch the knobbies and get some narrower slicks. Trust me, this will make your ride so much better. And, keep the knobbies around as you can put them back on if you decided to hit the mud. I personally put probably close to 3,ooo miles of city commuting on my trusty old 1990 Trek Antelope. It unfortunately sits in the basement since I went with a touring bike, but still have no intention of getting rid of it as I could not sell it for what it is worth to me and I also need a trusty backup. Here is a picture of a typical modern mountain bike:

So, there are the some of the most popular styles. Another style that has really gained in popularity the past few years are fixed-gear bicycles. Sometimes they are referred to as track bicycles. The thing about a FGB, is that they do not coast. In other words, when going down a hill, the pedals will keep spinning. Or, if walking the bike, the pedals are also going to spin. If you pedal backwards, the bike will go backwards. Another thing gaining in popularity is a single speed. Some back wheels even have both a fixed and a free hub, so one can turn the wheel around and chose. One of the major advantages of these bikes is the maintenance is minimal. No shifters to adjust all the time and a FGB also requires stopping by using your legs more than a handbrake. A track bike is also a fixed gear, but was build for a cycle track in mind, or a velodrome. Think a running track, but for bicycles.

There are other styles, but these are some of the most common ones out there. When shopping, I recommend a locally-owned bicycle shop as they are often staffed with people that are knowledable about bikes. I really do not recommend box-store bikes. The average life of a box or department store bike from store to landfill is 75 miles. And, they are built accordingly. But, if you really are not going to ride that much or if you are buying something for your kid that he is going to outgrow in two years, it may not be a bad choice.

So, what style is right for you? Well, hard to tell, but as a general rule if you want to use a bike to commute to work, pick a hybrid, touring or cyclocross. Get a hybrid if you have a short commute. Get a touring bike if you have a long commute, and get a cyclocross bike if you have a long commute, but also really want to do some road racing. If you want to get in shape and want to go fast, get a road bike. If you want to go off-road and that is about it, go with a mountain bike.

Hope that helps. Ride safe!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Few Places To Find Some Good Bicycle Information

Well, it has been a while since I posted and figured it was time. I have been working a lot of hours, but they have gone down recently. I have been fairly consistent about riding to work at least 3 times a week, though.

Anyway, I thought it would be good to share a post with people about where to find some good information about bicycles. I have amassed a decent amount of websites that will help out when in need.

I think the first one I will start with is probably the oldest and maybe the most complete site I have ever came across about bikes. It was put together by a guy named Sheldon Brown (RIP) and apparently if you emailed the guy, he would always email back. But, you want to know what the difference is between a cup and cone and cartridge bottom bracket is? Here is the place. Want to know the hell a lateral stay is (I did not even know that until now) is? You can probably find it on here. It is a great site that deserves a bookmark: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/

Here is another great site that I came across. This site is all about repairs. It shows you how to do the basic stuff like fixing a flat, installing new cables, how to overhaul your hubs and bottom bracket and how to assemble a brand new bike out of the box. And, it is not just some pictures with a digital camera. He has someone filming it and goes through all the steps! The unfortunate thing is that Alex, the site owner, has not posted anything new in nearly 9 months now. But, there are still 43 outstanding tutorials on this site: http://bicycletutor.com/

Did you find a bike on craigslist that you think will be a good fit for your body and needs? Well, before you go over to look at it, there is another excellent site that has information on every bike basically ever made. It will tell you what the frame and fork are made out of, what kind of components it has, and even the the suggested retail price is. So, you can make sure you aren't going to be able to go the bike shop and get it for the same price or cheaper. What I don't like about this site is that it does not list information from anything past 1993, but I am a lover of old bikes. You can even find the weight of the bike on some of the listings: http://www.bikepedia.com/QuickBike/Default.aspx

Do you work with a guy that is just convinced because you ride your bike you don't pay your fair share on taxes? If you do, just send him the link to this site: http://www.stlbikefed.org/Advocacy/Cyclistspaytaxestoo/tabid/150/Default.aspx

I was not sure I wanted to put these down as I am kind of giving free advertising and I do believe in shopping locally. But, sometimes going online is going to save you some money and allow you to get a few things that are hard to find.

This site has plenty of inexpensive stuff, although beware of some of the Sette house brand stuff. Some of it really is not that great. I have dealt with them a few times and the shipping is pretty quick and they do have great sales at times: http://www.pricepoint.com/Default.htm

This site is a big site that I have never purchased anything from really, but they have a good rep and there is plenty of stuff to buy: http://www.jensonusa.com/

I am sure you could find more store if you look. In order to belabor the point, you can google Nashbar, Performance, and whatever the brand of bike you want.

Finally, a great site I ran into is one that plans your route for you using Google maps. The bummer is that it is only for Portland and Milwaukee, WI. It really works just like Google maps and allows you to choose a safe or a "normal" route. It is: bycycle.org

So, happy riding to all and be safe! The days are getting shorter so don't forget the lights. This company makes great lights and they donate 25% of proceeds to bicycle advocacy!: http://www.planetbike.com/page/

Sunday, August 23, 2009

So Ya Wanna Ride Your Bike To Work?

Last week, I decided I was going to attempt to commute home from work. I would ride to work, but will need to get in better shape if I want to really think about battling those 8%+ graded hills. So I ride downtown, catch the light rail, and pedal the short distance to work.

And, I have had a few people ask me about riding a bike to work or elsewhere and have asked me for advice about the best way to do this. So, I am going to try to condense all the knowledge I have picked up over the years and try to make it easy to digest and make it easier for you, the reader or advice seeker.

First off, if you are thinking about, good for you! It is good exercise, it is safer than you think, and it can save you a lot of money. But, how do you start?

1) Obviously, you are going to need a bike. Got one? Good. What kind of shape is it in? Do you ride it at least once a month for some exercise, or has it been sitting idle for who knows how long? If it is the latter, do yourself a favor and take it to your local bike shop and have them give it a tune up. The mechanics can make sure it is running smoothly and even tell you if it is a safe bike to ride. Let them know that you plan to commute on it. Good mechanics will ask the necessary questions then. Depending on where you live, I would almost suggest taking it to a shop that focuses on repair and not sales. If you live in Portland, I would recommend City Bikes on SE Ankeny or the Community Cycling Center on NE Alberta. There are many good places to go and those are just two places I have done business with and have done very good work for a decent price. They focus on getting you back on the road with efficiency, not flair. I may go into selecting a good bike in a later blog. Stay tuned.

2) Bike in shape for the commute? Sweet! Now it is time to plan your route. Things to consider are this. How far is your commute? How is the traffic on the way there? If something goes awry with my bike, is there a bus stop nearby I can walk my bike to? What is the weather going to be like? These are important questions because they can make a difference if you commute daily or tried it one day and stopped.

I always suggest trying to find streets that have low traffic on them. This is pretty obvious, but drivers tend to realize they are cruising a residential area and need to watch out for kids and pedestrians and will cut cyclists a lot more slack. This is not always possible, but it is still important to find the safest way to get there.

Do you have a long commute? Or a short one with no bus service along the way? I would suggest carrying a spare tube, a small pump, and some tire levers in case of a flat. A bike shop sells seat bags and they are perfect for carrying these things along with tools to help. Often you can find a small, Swiss Army knife style multi-tool that will fit all of your needs. If you have bolt on wheels, however, you will want to carry a small crescent wrench, too.

3) Check the weather before you go! There are those folks out there that brag how they ride in a foot of snow or rain or shine or during earthquakes. However, if you want to be a fair-weather cyclist, you are basically joining the majority of bike commuters.

But, it does not mean it can't be done. I do ride in the rain here, but I am prepared for it. I have waterproof pants and a jacket. I have fenders and brakes that are supposed to help stop me with wet rims. I do need some shoe covers and that will be the next thing.

There are such a thing as studded snow tires for bikes. While I do think some of those people riding around in the lycra and spandex look kind of silly, there is a purpose for it. Riding year-round can be done. Again, the local bike shop can probably help you the best.

4) But how am I gonna haul all my crap? Good question. That can be tricky if you have to haul a laptop and other work stuff. The cheapest (and perhaps easiest) way is a simple backpack. It sits on your back and does not shift and does not add extra weight to the bike. However, if it is hot, your back will be sweaty. Messenger bags also do a good job. The bad is that they shift. The good is that they allow more of your back to be exposed and collect less sweat. I recently bought a metal rack that attaches to the back of my ride and found a bag that connects to the side of it. It holds quite a bit of stuff. I can easily hold my lunch, a change of clothes, my extra tubes and tools, and probably a few other things. The name for those is a pannier and comes from the name the things that people put on horses. Again, find a good local bike shop nearby and they can also help.

5) Am I going to smell like a locker room when I get to work? It depends. I mean, how hot is it? How far is it? Like me, do you sweat like crazy? There can be ways around this. Does the place you work have a shower? Find out and shower when you get there. No shower? I have heard of people keeping baby wipes as a way to wipe off the sweat when you arrive. Remember, the sweat beads off and evaporates when you ride and doesn't when you stop. Often if you sweat a lot, you will find it roll down and collect on your waist line. While there is no way to stop this, I have tucked several paper towels from the washroom and tucked it by my low abs and buttoned up. It does the trick!

6) Light 'em up! The most important thing you can do when you ride to enhance your safety is to be as visible as possible. Get a good set of lights for your bike. In a pinch, you can buy them at department store, but I suggest going to a bike shop. Honestly, the cheapest ones both of them sell will cost you at best a buck more at the bike shop and will be half the size and twice as bright. And, most of them will have batteries included, so it is probably cheaper. They will also have a better selection. Get the best thing you can afford. Your life is worth the five extra bucks to get something brighter. Also, wear bright clothing. Those yellow jackets do wonders. Cars will appreciate you for doing this.

7) Okay, this is good info. Anything else? Sure thing. If possible, leave your work shoes at work. Sometimes people have special clipless pedals and already do this, but you will thank yourself if it starts to rain or of you have to wear dress shoes. Also, search the web for the town you live and see if there is a bike commuting page. I was surprised to see that Billings, MT had one complete with tips and a map with safe routes.

Hopefully, this helps everyone. And, please feel free to ask me any questions.

A Little About Me And Why I Am Starting This Blog

First off, a little bit about me. I am a (I guess I better admit it) a middle-aged guy living in Portland, OR. I currently work as a social worker at a psychiatric hospital and have worked in this field for over ten years. I am originally from Billings, MT and moved to wonderful Portland about 5 years ago and love it. Like everything else, it has its good and not so good points. What I do like is the city itself is friendly for the 13th largest metropolitan area and I do like the weather here. Now, you may be scratching your head at that considering all the clouds and rain, but I am not a fan of extreme hot or cold. And, thankfully Portland gets very little of that.

I also like how the city is friendly towards bicycling. Now, there are those that live here that really don't like the fact that I ride a lot and feel cyclist in general are a bunch of hipster, scofflaw types that do not think the same rules of the road apply to them. But, the truth is, there are a handful of people this this. The large majority of the cyclists in this town really do follow the rules and ride with skill.

Cycling is something that has always been part of my life, although I did have long spells where my bike sat idle with flat tires for years. When I was a kid, I raced BMX and rode just about everywhere. To the mall, to school, to the store to get grocery's for my Mother. However, when I turned the driving age and got my first car, I quit biking. Maybe I thought that if I rode a bike, that would give people the idea that I do not (gasp!!!) have a driver's license. I remember taking my birthday money when I turned 21 and bought a used mountain bike. I rode it around a bit, but not very much.

That changed after I spent a year in Portland. I was back in Billings for my sister's wedding reception and decided it was time to get the thing in motion again. I took the wheel off and shoved it in the back of my car. The year before, I had underwent back surgery to repair a herniated (L4, L5) disk in my back. I could not work out like I used to and was attending grad school so did not really have the funds to do it. While the surgery was successful, I did have a few lingering things. My left quad had a constant buzzing sensation. It didn't hurt, but it was not all the comfortable and certainly was annoying. I also felt week in the low back where the surgeon had to go through the muscle. But, after a few weeks in the saddle, I noticed this go away and when I moved closer to town, bicycling started to become a little more of a mode of transportation that simply a form of exercise.

Sure, the rain here has often put me in the car more. It took me a while to get some fenders and rain gear. But, slowly I am becoming more and more of a full time cyclist.

I decision to title this blog The Mindful Cyclist came from my professional career. Two years ago, I took a position working as a Dialectical Behavior Therapy clinician. While I will not go into the complexities of DBT, one of the things that it talks about is mindfulness. It is a therapy that stresses being mindful and doing one thing at a time and putting your focus on this. One of the things we ask clients to identify is an activity that they feel they can be very mindful doing as a way to unwind and clear the mind. This was example. When I ride, I am focused on one thing. I don't think about other things because if I did, I would increase the chance that I would end up on the hood of a car.

I focus on the noise around me. I look at the rear view mirror of each car before I pass it to make sure no one is in it and about ready to open the car door in front of me. I focus on the road so I can avoid (or brace myself) for the oncoming potholes. I focus on my breathing to increase my efficiency. I check to see if I am spinning my pedals or if I am mashing on them. I am not thinking about work. I am not thinking about dinner. I am not thinking about much of anything else.

While I probably will focus a lot about cycling on this blog, I am certainly going to talk about other things. I will talk about careers, politics, and many other things. I do get some questions from friends on Facebook about bike related stuff, and I will often try to write blogs about bike commuting, repair, and culture.