Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Plain Pedal Permission

Back in January I wrote about riding with platform pedals and ordinary shoes. In the months since then, I've converted all my bikes to platform pedals and I don't see myself going back. And I'm not the only one.

Mark Boyd, a very experienced bicycle tourist , writes about his experience here:

Grant Petersen, Rivendell's founder, has long believed in the virtues of platform pedals. Grant wrote a lovely essay on the subject here:

Mark, Grant and I are all saying pretty much the same thing: we don't need clipless pedals. And maybe you don't either.

What has been interesting to me hasn't just been my experience but the sense of relief I've encountered in other folks when they find someone who perhaps rides more than they do who says "you don't need that."

If you are racing criteriums, clip in. If you love your clipless pedals and Sidi shoes, that's great. But do you need clipless pedals to be a "serious" cyclist? I don't know, I've never been a "serious" cyclist.

But if what Mark or Grant or I write or do helps get some sort of "free foot" movement going, I don't think that's a bad thing.

Keep 'em rolling,


Spook Country: William Gibson's Randonneuring Advice

OK, William Gibson's novel, Spook Country, really has nothing to do with randonneuring. In fact, I think the word bicycle only occurs a couple of times in the book. And I guess it says something about me that I notice how often the word bicycle occurs in the novels I read. But I see the world through bike-colored glasses and when I read a sentence like this one:

"He wasn't moving too quickly, she thought, but he was moving just as quickly as he could without actually moving too quickly." -- William Gibson, Spook Country, p.329

I think, William Gibson understands something about how to ride brevets.

Gibson's oddly named characters (I'm convinced one of them appeared in Gibson's imagination with the introductory words, "call me Inchmale") do not think or speak about bicycles. They do, however, explore a strange world (ours) and a strange time (now). The riddle of what these character are doing and why is what propels the narrative forward but the small touches make the novel. At 3:00 AM Hollis will envy her sleeping PowerBook. Later, she'll recount how Inchmale helped her quit smoking thanks to dangerous home-made epidermal patches made of cigarette butts and duct tape. Other characters know other things, things useful to know in certain contexts, like the fact that one million dollars in hundreds weighs about 23 pounds and fits in a small suitcase. By the way, "two-point four billion, in hundreds, only took up the same amount of space as seventy-four washing machines, although it was considerably heavier."

Gibson writes about resourceful people solving problems in the pursuit of a sometimes uncertain goal. Perhaps this has nothing to do with randonneuring or bicycles. Perhaps it has everything to do with it. All I know is that when I roll through the darkened streets, following cues to some checkpoint down the road, my actions are as mysterious to an outsider, my motives as obscure, as any character in Spook Country. And I really wish I could write half as well as William Gibson.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Outfitting The Commuter Bike Video

When I was in Spokane in July the folks from the Spokesman Review shot this little video of me. Of course, I'm talking about the bike as a commuter bike, but it happens to be loaded down for a couple of weeks of touring. I normally don't carry quite that much stuff on my commute!

Saturday Morning Errands

My friend Tai lives in Seattle but he is purchasing a DoggyRide Trailer from a guy in Redmond and he asked me if I'd pick up the trailer for him this weekend. As it turns out, I'd been meaning to pick up a supply of tubes for the Bikestation from my friends at Sammamish Valley Cycle (also located in Redmond) so this morning I rode up to the trailer guy's place. I think he was expecting that I'd show up in an SUV like what most people around here seem to use for running their errands but once he saw my bike and Tai's cash he quickly unboxed the trailer and we hooked it up to my bike. The trailer uses a clever hitch that occupies the spot on my rear quick-release that's normally filled by my Reelight, so I stowed the light in my front bag. The trailer blocks the light from rear view anyway. On Monday, when I deliver the trailer to Tai and the tubes to the Bikestation, I'll put the light back in its rightful place.

The trailer is designed to carry a dog, so it handled a load of inner tubes with no problem. I put the trailer through it's paces, going up and down some decent-sized hills. I knew I had some extra weight back there, but it didn't really change the handling of the bike. The hitch has a coil spring inside that flexes and pivots but the trailer motion isn't transmitted back to the bike in any kind of a jarring way.

I'm still not really a trailer guy. I like to keep my life simple enough that I don't need one. I gave my BOB trailer to Food Not Bombs years ago and I haven't missed it. When the kids were in their larval, pre-mobile, phase they rode around in a car-seat strapped inside a road-warrior-esqe home-brew trailer with it's own rollcage and custom suspension made from old bike inner-tubes but then they graduated to trail-a-bikes, and finally to bikes of their own. I probably should've taken some pictures of that rig, but that was years ago and we left it behind when we moved out here from New York. Maybe some homeless guy is still making use of it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I wasn't at my sharpest this morning. I'd stayed in bed a little too long so I didn't have time for my usual coffee and granola before dashing out the door. Maybe "dashing" is too active a word but I made it out the door and soon was rolling along Newport Avenue in a bit of a fog.

Even though I wasn't at my sharpest, a nail lurking on the road was. I don't know exactly where I picked it up but I didn't notice it until I tapped my rear brake as I rolled up the the intersection at 150th.

"Thkk, Thkk, Thkk" with each revolution. At first I thought I'd busted a spoke or cracked a rim but a quick inspection revealed the truth.

Now some people say Schwalbe Marathon XRs are too heavy and their sidewalls are way too over-built. Other people say I carry too many tools in my pockets. And even I admit that sometimes it pays to be both cautious and lucky. The nail completely missed the inner tube. I yanked it out and continued on my way. The most time consuming part of the entire incident was pulling my camera out to snap these pictures.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, August 20, 2007

Bike For Pie Ride -- 8-19-07

Over the years I've been lucky enough to be a part of some great bicycle rides. I've ridden from Paris to Brest and back. I've raced from Canada to Mexico. I've ridden in the Canadian Rockies, the hills of New England and the Scottish Highlands. And I can tell you this, the greatest cycling event I've ever been a part of takes place each August on Bainbridge Island right here in Washington state.

Two words are enough to explain exactly why this is the world's greatest cycling event and those two words are:


So what if it is pouring down rain in Issaquah. I've got fenders, I've got a rain jacket, I've got an appointment with some pie.

The weather is better on Bainbridge. Chuck and the other Squeaky Wheels folks even provide pre-ride pie to make sure people had enough energy to make it to Fort Ward Park where the bulk of the pies are waiting for us.

As is my fashion, I show some restraint and avoid breaking into a showy Mario Cipolini style sprint as I approach the pies. Of course, people worked hard making these pies and it's only polite to at least try a little pie.

I have a piece of Coconut Creme pie. It's quite good. Kinda sweet. Maybe I should have something kind of tart to balance out the sweetness. Perhaps a slice of the Key Lime pie? Oh yes, that's very good. Oh, what's that chocolaty looking pie? Chocolate Creme & Walnut? Well, yes, I guess I will have a slice of that. Oh my gosh that's good. Of course I should balance out my diet. What's that they say about an apple a day? It's hard to choose among the many varieties of apple pie but I settle on a juice-sweetened Apple Pie brightened up with cranberries. And for desert maybe just a bit more of that Chocolate Creme Walnut pie. But not too much, I don't want to appear piggish.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bike Paths ARE Infrastructure

A few days ago the US Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, was interviewed on the PBS program The News Hour. I didn't see this program when it was broadcast but thanks to the internet, the full transcript, audio and video of the interview are available here:

The topic of conversation was infrastructure, something the nation's attention is focused on in large part because of the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota. But the parts of the interview that caught my attention and that of those of us who use bicycles to get around was this (bold emphasis added by Jonathan Maus in his excellent coverage of this at his Bike Portland Blog):

GWEN IFILL: Aren’t many of those projects, even though they’re special interest projects, aren’t they roads and bridges, often?

MARY PETERS: Gwen, some of them are, but many of them are not. There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure.

So it sure looks like Ms. Peters doesn't think bike paths and trails are part of the infrastructure. Well, maybe she just mis-spoke.

Uhhm, nope. That doesn't seem to be the case. Later, she says pretty much the same thing again:

GWEN IFILL: Who is spending the money inappropriately?

MARY PETERS: Well, there’s about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails. Some is being spent on museums, on restoring lighthouses, as I indicated.

OK, so Mary Peters doesn't get it.

Now I've often said that it's hard to change a person's mind if the first thing out of your mouth are the words "You're wrong." but I've got to tell you, in this case, those are the words that came to my mind.

But I think I do understand a bit of what Mary Peters is thinking. And I think I understand because I never was that big a fan of bike paths and trails. In fact, I still have some mixed feelings about them.

I'm mostly a transportation cyclist. I use my bike to get to the places I need to go. I've often said that I don't expect people to build me paths everywhere I'm going to go. I'll often take a decent road with a good shoulder over a bike path. And a good road shoulder is better than a badly designed bike lane.

But here's the thing. Those bike paths and bike lanes actually do get people riding. It wasn't until I started working in bicycle advocacy and seeing the numbers and actually looking at the facilities that I really figured this out, but those paths and trails really do work.

They get more people riding. And not just riding for recreation but riding to go places. Maybe to work, maybe to the store. Maybe people start out riding on the paths and then become road riders. But the people do ride.

But short bits of infrastructure do help. Infrastructure isn't just about driving from place to place, it's about getting people from place to place. The Minnesota-based Transit For Livable Communities provides some interesting facts:

Eight million U.S. households do not have a car. As many as 30 percent of us cannot drive because we are too young, too old, or physically impaired (1). For those who cannot or choose not to drive, bicycling and walking provide crucial access to goods, services and recreation.

We could easily walk or bike more: Half the trips we make are less than three miles, 40 percent are less than two miles, and 28 percent are less than one mile (2). Yet 75 percent of trips of less than one mile are made by car (3).

Cities such as Minneapolis MN, Portland OR, and Vancouver BC which have invested in bicycle infrastructure all have higher rates people using bicycles for transportation than cities that have neglected to make such investments.

I commute to work daily via a bike path on the I-90 floating bridge. I ride through a tunnel that serves only pedestrians and cyclists. These facilities are not bits of pork, they are part of the infrastructure and they help people get to the places they need to go.

Bicycles and walking will certainly not replace automobiles for everyone or for every trip. But if people are provided with safe places to ride and walk rather than drive, some people will. And those people, making those choices to not drive are helping lessen our demand for foreign oil and decreasing our traffic congestion and air pollution.

The folks at The League of American Bicyclists created this handy form that will let you send your comments to Ms. Peters:

I just used the form to send her some of my civil thoughts on this issue. I urge you to do the same.

Keep 'em rolling,


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reelight SL-120 Electrodynamic Light Set

Earlier this year my friend John Duggan wrote a very persuasive article called AN OUNCE (OR TWO) OF PREVENTION COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE. In the article John points out the usefulness of a front facing white LED strobe light. I've used LED lights for several years and John's article prompted me to use my LED light more. And even though LEDs don't draw much power, I did have to remember to turn the lights on and keep them loaded with charged up batteries. This wasn't a big hassle but it was enough to get me thinking about other alternatives. I remembered seeing some LED strobes that are powered by magnets that attach to your bike wheels on the Hiawatha Cyclery website, so I decided to check those out.

I wound up ordering a set of Reelight SL-120 lights from Hiawatha. These lights are a bit pricier than the original Reelight SL-100 model but they have a capacitor circuit that keeps the lights blinking even when the bike wheels aren't moving. Jim at Hiawatha shipped my lights right out and I got them a couple of days ago.

The first thing I noticed was how solid these things are. They seem to be very well-made but if you are a super weight-weenie these might not be your thing. The lights feel substantial and they attach to the wheel skewers with big, beefy black steel brackets. There are no switches at all on the lights, they look to be pretty much completely weather-proof. The wheel magnets (2 per wheel) are encased in plastic and they are really powerful. When I unpacked the lights and magnets, the magnets stuck to themselves and the lights with a satisfying THUNK.

I managed to pry the magnets apart and followed the simple instructions for installing the lights, The only tools I needed were the knife blade of my Swiss Army knife to open the ubiquitous plastic packaging and the Phillips blade to install the magnets and adjust the lights location relative to the wheel. It was literally a five-minute install.

At first I thought I'd done something wrong because the lights didn't spring to life when I spun the wheel. But when I hopped on the bike and started rolling, the lights started flashing before I was fifty yards from home. It just takes a little bit of time for that capacitor circuit to charge up. Jim tells me that the cheaper SL-100 lights come on right away and are actually a bit brighter than the SL-120 lights.

The Reelights are definitely more of a light you have so folks see you, rather than being a light to see by. They are plenty bright and attention grabbing in that capacity and the stand light feature of the SL-120 lights really does work. After just a couple of minutes of riding, the lights will stay flashing through the length of a stop-light cycle and after my 18 mile commute, the lights stay flashing for at least five minutes. If you get the SL-120 lights, you may have to put up with helpful friends and co-workers telling you you've left your lights on, but that's a small price to pay for having lights that you pretty much don't have to think about.

My friend Brad commented that "every kids bike should come equipped with these" and my buddy Mark expressed the stronger opinion that "every bike should come with these."

If I try hard I can maybe come up with a few downsides of these lights. In theory, the magnets add a tiny bit of drag to my wheels. In theory, the added weight is also slowing me down a bit. In practice, I don't care about the little bit of weight and drag. Since the lights only flash, I can't use them on some brevets but I figure for brevets I'll be using other lights and I'll leave the Reelights at home. And finally, if I bought into the moth effect theory, I wouldn't use these. But I bought these lights instead and I'm happy with my purchase.

A Coroplast Handlebar Bag

Back in 2002 I made a coroplast handlebar bag for my bike. I took some pictures and wrote a bit about the bag here:

The bag worked well and I used on various adventures including my tour back to Minnesota.

Over the years I've had various bikes and worked out various luggage solutions for them. My current green bike performed like a champ on my recent Washington state tour and my various commutes but I got to thinking I could use a bit more storage space up front for things like food and maybe a rain jacket. I also got to thinking about my old coroplast handlebar bag. I dimly remembered making an alternate version of that bag, one that turned out to be a bit too big for a bike without a front rack. But my green bike has a front rack...

I dig the second coroplast bag out of storage and it turns out to fit the green bike perfectly.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Even if it takes five years and I had no idea what the plan was when I started.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Survive I-5 "Bike Bus"

Here in the Seattle area they are closing some lanes of Interstate 5 for a couple of weeks for some road construction. Based on the hype in the news media, this is something of a huge disaster, on par with Y2K. You remember Y2K, when all our computers failed and the sun exploded and we all had to flee our old world and settle here? Oh wait, maybe it didn't quite happen that way. Anyhow folks are freaking out and we've been fielding calls from concerned folks who are trying to figure out if they can maybe get to work without driving.

The folks in the Cascade Bike Club Educational Foundation have a pretty good page with some solutions and one of the things they want to try is setting up some "bike buses" which are not really buses they are people joining together on their bike commutes. So far a couple of Bike Alliance members have stepped up to lead commutes. You can see what I'm talking about here:

What I did for my "bike bus" is stabilize the times and put in place some meet-up points for my regular commute. On Thursday I'll see if anybody joins in.

BTW, my counterpart in Cascade, a nice fellow named Chris Cameron, had the good sense to schedule his vacation this week. That Chris is always thinking at least a couple of moves ahead!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Helmet Mirror

Several people have asked me about my helmet mirror. It's a "Take A Look" brand mirror. I like to ride with a cap under my helmet so to get the mirror out where I need it, I rigged an extension from an old fender stay and some zip-ties. I've ridden bikes without mirrors and bikes with handlebar mounted mirrors, but once I got used to the helmet mirror, I've found it to be my favorite. With a helmet mirror, I can keep an eye on what's going on behind me with a quick glance and by moving my head I can sweep my field of vision to compensate for blind spots. Even with a mirror, it's often good to look back at traffic behind you, the act of turning your head signals to drivers that you know they are back there.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wander Around Washington -- Stuff that works

I wrote up a list of what I took with me on my recent "Wander Around Washington" tour (you can see the list here) and I thought it might be useful to spend a little time commenting on some things that worked out well on the trip. This isn't necessarily an exhaustive list, just some things that I'm thinking about as I look back over the list and back on the trip.

First off, the bike itself, an old Gary Fisher HooKooEKoo, worked great. With the front and rear baskets the load might have looked a little odd, but the bike was rock solid, ride all day comfortable. At one point I took my hands off the bars while descending from Washington Pass at 30 mph. The bike tracks great.

The WTB Rocket V is the very same saddle I rode on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race and it's still a great saddle. This particular saddle is a little cracked and worn so it's been patched in a couple of places with duct tape and I covered the whole thing with an old lycra armwarmer but it is still going strong.

The Ergon grips are great. No hand numbness or other discomfort. One interesting side benefit of the Ergons is that I can rest my forearms on the grips and stretch out in aerobar fashion if I want.

My bike has Schwalbe Marathon XR tires and they are great. Yeah, they are kinda slow but so am I. I had no punctures or other mechanical problems on this trip, although I do think a bit of tackweed may be embedded in one of my tires, I've got a very slow leak so I'm adding air every few days. I'll have to get to the bottom of that.

I'm pretty much sold on flat pedals with no foot retention for touring. No foot issue, I never once felt "oh, I wish I could pull up" and it's great riding in perfectly normal shoes for walking around.

By the way, I'll never pass for "normal" but for basically all of this trip I adopted what Grant Petersen calls "dressing like Homer Price." Shirts with buttons, either long or short sleeve. I wore cycling shorts under my REI Sahara convertible pants. As for clothes in general, I took maybe a bit too much. I could've gotten by with one less pair of socks. I did wind up using my warm stuff when I was near Mount St. Helens, so I was glad I had it with me.

For things like socks, shorts and my shirt, I adopted a wear one/wash one strategy. I did use a washing machine a couple of times but mostly would wash stuff in a sink and then hang it from bungees on the rear basket to dry.

By the way, Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure-Castile soap totally rocks. I washed my clothes with it, I washed me with it, I shaved with it. I might not have been totally minty fresh but I never got thrown out of any place either. Plus, if I ever get busted on some bogus drug charges (and in my case they would be bogus unless they've outlawed caffeine and chocolate when I wasn't looking), I figure the Dr. Bronner folks will come to bat for me.

My techno gadgets in general worked well. The Nokia N800 and folding keyboard worked great. I used the computer for everything, typing notes, reviewing photos and storing, email, writing blog entries, as an MP3 player and as a general web browser to find local info. The Nokia picked up wifi signals in all kinds of places. There are lots and lots of places like motels, libraries and coffee shops that have free wifi. My lack of time kept me from making more use of the device but finding connections was never much of a problem.

NiMH batteries and the little AC chargers worked well. I did use the solar charger a bit for the Nokia and the single AA charger once to top it out when I was camped near Mount St. Helens, but in general I was able to keep my batteries charged up from AC outlets.

I kept all the really valuable stuff like the electronics in my Camelbak. When riding, that rode in the rear basket, when parked, the Camelbak stayed with me. This system worked really well.

My Pencam worked pretty well until I killed it (broke the shutter button). The more expensive camera takes better pictures an is probably more robust. The pencam did get me used to taking lots of pictures and I think that's the key thing: take lots of pictures and toss out the ones that don't work. Don't get too distracted by the camera, just shoot a bunch in the moment and sort things out later.

My camping gear worked great. The bivy plus sleeping bag plus tarp combo is very versatile. The thermos plus Kelly Kettle combo is a real winner. I didn't use it much on this trip but it's just so great to be able to make coffee or tea out in the sticks.

Finally, I've got to say that the front rack with a basket is great for holding snacks and a map. Peanut M&Ms are one of the best travel foods for me and having a big bag of those in the front basket makes it pretty easy to crank out the miles.

Keep 'em rolling,