Friday, March 30, 2007

Why Kids Are Fat

Here's an excerpt from an article in the LA Times about kids riding their bikes to school. Click the link to read the whole thing. It's amazing to think that people actually discourage their kids from getting exercise based on falsehoods.
ONE SUNNY afternoon as our children played nearby, I asked a neighbor at what age she would allow her son to bicycle around the block by himself.

"I don't think I would ever do that," she replied. "The world is a very different place now than it was when we were growing up."

Did she really think the number of child molesters and kidnappers in the world had increased in the last 20 or 30 years, I asked? "Oh, yes, I think it is increasing. Because of the Internet."

At a PTA meeting, during a discussion of traffic problems around the school campus, I asked what we could do to encourage families to walk or bike to school. Other parents looked at me as if I'd suggested we stuff the children into barrels and roll them into the nearest active volcano. One teacher looked at me in shock. "I wouldn't let my children walk to school alone … would you?"

"Haven't you heard about all of the predators in this area?" asked a father.

"No, I haven't," I said. "I think this is a pretty safe neighborhood."

"You'd be surprised," he replied, lowering his eyebrows. "You should read the Megan's Law website." He continued: "You know how to solve the traffic problem around this school? Get rid of all the predators. Then you won't have any more traffic."

More Tips For Newbies

The folks over at C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange) have put together a group of links for new cyclists that talk about good ways to get started. A few of these links are ones that I've mentioned before or are on my list over to the right, but some of them aren't.

Toronto Councilman: Bike Deaths are Riders' Fault

From Commute By Bike comes the story of a Toronto City Councilman who made some awful, appalling comments about cyclists who die on the streets. Please visit this link and give this guy a piece of your mind.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's the Clothes, Man!

[Blogger's Note - 4/2/2007: In the comments to this article, Jon noted that I make it sound like I think the only reason people don't bike commute when they could is the clothing. I don't think this, but in re-reading the post I agree that I make it sound that way. I believe there are many reasons, but instead of changing the post after the fact I decided just to add this note here. Please enjoy the article and thanks to Jon for his comment.]

It's been said in a few places that one of the reasons people don't start bike commuting is the perception that, in order to partake of the cycling world properly, one must dress the part. That means skin-tight lycra and flashy bike jerseys and the like. I'm not going to get into whether that's the case for sport cyclists, but I am going to flat-out deny it for commuters.

Now, before we go any further, here's my confession: I do actually own one pair of bike tights and one pair of bike shorts. The tights I got as a Christmas present and I have worn them on occasion, though not as much as I did when I first bought them.

The shorts, on the other hand, I have worn to bike since it started getting warm out. My bike shorts aren't the ones whose close cousin is a Speedo swim suit. Well, not completely. They are two-layered shorts - one layer with the skintight shorts and padded rump, and one layer that provides the pockets and bagginess that hides the first layer. In other words, they look like a normal pair of shorts. Under that, if you care, I wear UnderArmour boxer briefs - they're the most comfortable and quick-drying ones I've personally found. Hope that last part wasn't TMI.

Other than that, if it's not too hot out I just wear my work shirt (I wear mostly polos or short-sleeved rugby shirts to work) with the bike shorts, and a reflective vest over the shirt; or if it is pretty hot out and I expect to sweat a lot (and I do sweat a lot normally) I wear a regular t-shirt with the vest.

I don't have any fancy bike shoes or bike socks or anything like that. All winter I wore a pair of hiking boots and my rain pants (to keep dry) over my work pants. I'd possibly add a set of long underwear underneath if it was SUPER cold. My office gets cold enough, though, that long underwear in the office wasn't a bad thing. And of course, I could always pop into the john and take it off.

Now that it's getting warmer, I'm just wearing a pair of sports sandals and ankle socks to ride to work. Some folks like to have proper bike shoes so they can add clips to their pedals, but that hasn't been an issue for me yet (though I will probably get a set of PowerGrips and see how those work) before going to real bike shoes.

So that's my bike wardrobe. If I'm in shorts and a t-shirt, I bring my work clothes with me and change at work, then sit with my fan on at my desk for a few minutes while I cool off. The one item I may pick up before fall is a cycling jacket - something in a color that really stands out. The jacket I was wearing was a nice royal blue one, and I just threw on my reflective vest with it, but I'd like to be a little more visible and such a jacket would certainly help.

But I really think that one reason people don't take up bike commuting is that the idea of wearing all the spandex that seems to be required for cycling is a little off-putting, especially in a society as rampantly obese as ours has become. The argument can be made that "yeah, they might look bad now, but wait till they get going for a while, let's see how much weight they take off." That may be true, but it's not going to get them on the bike now, is it?

Another reason that bike clothes turn folks off is the colors involved. Let's face it - some bike jerseys are downright awful and gaudy. Now, on this topic I'm going to go with the brighter colors. Why? Visibility. Visibility is the key to survival on a bike in the city. So don't be afraid to throw on that bright lime green jacket - it's going to get you noticed. But the gaudiness is another reason some folks might not pick up the habit.

But the other side of that - the gaudy factor, with all sorts of advertisments, cartoon characters, geckos, skulls and crossbones, etc. - can get to be a little much as well. I was in Bike Source the other day and I was looking through the jerseys, and came across adult jerseys that had Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster from Sesame Street on them. I honestly don't know a self-respecting professional who would wear Cookie Monster to work.

So what to do? I think it's important for sites such as mine to talk about the clothing of cycling and point out that, although racing clothes are skintight and streamlined by design, you don't have to wear those to go to work. Racing clothes were designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, decreasing wind resistance and supporting the cyclist's body as he strives up the Pyrenees or what have you.

In truth, though, it's much more convenient if you DON'T wear the racing clothes to work. Just grab some old grubbies you have at home. If you have a commuter type bike you probably don't need the cycling shorts with the padded rumps, since your saddle isn't going to be designed to push you forward onto your handlebars and assume the proper racing position. It's going to be more comfortable. Throw on a light long-sleeved shirt unbuttoned over your t-shirt - the sleeves will keep you safe from too much sun and the flapping of the shirt will help to cool you. Find some shoes that are comfortable to walk in - you never know when you're going to have a break-down and have to walk the bike.

The folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works in California have a similar essay on bike clothing and a lot of great advice on looking "normal" as you bike. Take my words and their words to heart, but come up with your own wardrobe for cycling. Wear what's comfortable and convenient for you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Al Gore of Cycling

A couple days ago I posted on John Burke's ideas for supporting bike advocacy... here's more:

John Burke is the president of Trek Bicycles, the company that made bikes for guys like Lance Armstrong and also makes bikes for every use under the sun. He's got a nifty idea about the best ways to encourage bicycle sales while helping solve the problems of obesity, pollution and global warming, and traffic congestion: support bicycle advocacy efforts! Watch the video and learn more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Weather at Your Fingertips

Obviously, the weather is a big factor on how our commutes are going to be each day. What we need to bring and wear are key factors and the weather decides this. You can watch the Weather Channel or local news religiously, like some do. Or, if you have a computer at home and/or work, you can do what I do and use widgets!

What are widgets? Widgets are little tiny programs that run on your desktop at all times, and you can bring them up by hitting a button on your keyboard or moving your mouse to a corner of the screen, depending on the widgets you use. Two of the most widely used are those made by Yahoo and Apple. The Apple one is obviously only for use on Macs, but Yahoo has one that runs on both Windows and Mac PCs.

I use the Apple one at home and the Yahoo one on my work PC. The last couple versions of Apple's OS X 9 (Tiger and Panther) have Widgets functionality built in, all you have to do is go to the Apple website and download the widgets you want.

The Yahoo one requires an "engine" application that, once you load it on your PC, will run all your widgets for you. Go to their widget website and download the latest version (which is usually listed on the front page).

Now, the widget you're looking for (and it exists for both Apple and Yahoo) is the Weatherbug widget. I personally find this to be the most useful weather widget, though you can find others.

Apple: Weatherbug Local Weather

Yahoo: Weatherbug Local Weather

The ease and functionality of the Weatherbug widget is great and I think you'll find yourself using it more than the TV once you've gotten the hang of it. And Weatherbug is the weather content provider for Columbus's CBS station, 10TV. So you're not missing a thing by getting a Weatherbug widget and eschewing the tube.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Another Bike on the Racks

A new bike was on the bike rack today, looked like a mountain bike. Combined with the bike that has been there since I started (and not moved, which makes me think it's been abandoned) that makes three of us. Three for a whole complex of people. Not just one building... a whole complex of about seven buildings.

It still amazes me that people insist on driving to work when the weather is getting so nice out! Today was a perfect day for riding and yet the parking lot was full. I don't really get it at all.

C.I.C.L.E. :: » Trek's John Burke Tells Industry that Advocacy Is the Future

C.I.C.L.E. :: » Trek's John Burke Tells Industry that Advocacy Is the Future

Here's an interesting article on the way that Trek bikes plans to promote its bikes in the near future: by advocacy. As many of us in the bike commuting blogger world have talked about, bikes are so clearly the answer to a great number of current ills in the world. And Trek is trying to position itself to join the fight and make a few bucks in the process.

Read the article... good stuff.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bike Commuter Act Brought Up in Congress

You may have heard about the Bike Commuter Act being brought up in Congress recently. Tim Grahl has more on it at Commute By Bike, and includes a link on how to register your support for the bill. The bill would give tax breaks to bike commuters as well as employers who support their employees' cycling commute in various ways.

Read more here!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pedal With Pete

Who's Pete, you may ask? Well, he's Pete Zeidner, and for almost 20 years now he's been working to raise money for Cerebral Palsy research and treatment through his cycling journeys around the state. Pete, who has CP himself, first biked the entire perimeter of Ohio to raise attention and funds for the cause. Now, aside from his own cycling endeavors, he and his brother Chris run two bike rides to raise money for CP in Kent and Columbus.

The Columbus ride this year is on August 18th and starts at Hilliard Middle School. There are routes of anywhere from 7 miles up to the famous 100 mile rides, and they all feature full support from a staff of dedicated cyclists and friends who are there to make the day a great time.

My wife and I have been involved with Pedal With Pete for four years now and it's always a great time. This year I hope to actually ride in it and not just do registrations... :)

Please visit the Pedal with Pete website for more information. And watch the video below to see just what a special day this is.

April Showers and All That...

As of yesterday, we're into the more-or-less official riding season - that is, not winter. I've seen more cyclists out the past couple of days than I've seen in months.

The other thing that Spring means is rain. Lots of rain. So in this post I thought I'd share some tips I've found for riding in the rain.

Note: I can't stress enough how much I think that every bike commuter should pick up a copy of Mr. Bike's Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips: Low-Tech & No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep a Bicycle. Everything I'm going to tell you is going to be in that book somewhere. I'm just going to tell you some stuff that's worked for me personally.

What to wear: well, this depends on the factors other than rain. But one item that fits no matter what the temperature is a good pair of glasses. They'll keep the rain out of your eyes (and riding fast with rain pelting you in the eyes is not fun), and if you have a pair like I do (Tifosi Slip T-V130, with tinting lenses that actually work) they will keep the glare out of your eyes, too.

I've heard a couple of different opinions on clothes. First, if it's not cold out, and you're not going that far, and you have a place to change clothes once you get where you're going... don't sweat the rain gear. Just wear your helmet, your glasses, and whatever else you'd normally wear to ride.

Since those three conditions are almost never met (especially the third - how many places in Columbus are actually set up properly for bike commuters?) then you're going to need some rain gear. I have a couple different things I use for the rain.

First, I carry a Log House Bike Cape. This is a rain poncho with small straps in front to hold the cape over your front, all the way up to your handlebars. It also has leg loops to keep the cape from flapping up in back while you're riding, which keeps your back dry. I wore this home last winter when there was freezing rain coming down and I was dry and comfortable the entire time.

I also have a cheap Columbia rain suit that I've had for years. I think it cost me $30 back in 2001 or so... it's just a simple rain jacket and rain pants. If I KNOW I'm going to be riding in the rain then I put this baby on. The cape is more for if the rain catches me by surprise.

Now, one problem with the rain suit - the legs snap shut around the ankles... but all the water then flows down and into your shoes. The way I fix this problem is with a couple of plastic bags. Yes, a use for all those awful plastic bags that you get at the market (other than lining trash cans). Wrap your ankle straps around them and tuck them under your rain pants and you're good to go.

You can get helmet covers for the rain, but I don't personally have one. My hair is so short that it's not really an issue to have a bit of wet hair when I get to work. My gloves are not waterproof, but they keep my hands warm enough so I don't worry about waterproof gloves.

The other category is what to do with your bike. First, I recommend fenders. I've mentioned them before, but I have a set of Planet Bike ATB Full Fenders. They are easy to install and do the job admirably. The ones I have are wide enough for mountain bike tires, and they also come in a road tire size. These will keep the water off your underside and pair nicely with the rain cape.

Also, make sure you're keeping your chain lubed properly. Rain and the salt left on the road by overzealous plows during the winter will eat your chain quickly. I was recommended Finish Line Cross Country Wet Bike Lube at Bike Source and so far I'm pleased with it. It takes a minute and a half or so to apply a drop to each link on your chain and you do it once every couple of weeks.

Make sure you have bike lights. In the rain, it's important to stay visible. Even if you have a big yellow rain cape or rain suit on, having that flashing light on the back of your bike will get drivers' attention. And a headlight performs the same function on a bike that it does on a car: it catches the attention of people looking behind them in their rear-view mirrors.

As far as riding goes... it's simple and similar to what you'll hear for cars: stay out of the big puddles. Brake early to slow down. Take it easy.

The only non-car thing I'll mention is that you need to take the lane any time you need to. You should be doing this anyway, but it's even more important in inclement road conditions. Don't feel you have to ride through the puddles on the side of the road just to stay on the right. Ride where it's safe for you to ride. And don't sweat the cars that are behind you. If it bothers you, pull over now and again and let them pass you, then continue to ride safely.

Riding a bike in the rain is really no big deal as long as you have what you need to do it safely and keep dry. Just keep in mind some of these tips. And if you have tips you'd like to share, please do! That's what our comments are for!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Freeing Up My Legs

After a cold winter, it felt absolutely awesome last Tuesday to get out on the bike with a pair of shorts on and let the wind blow past during the uphill ride home from work! I have a pair of Cannondale bike shorts that I bought from Bike Source back when I had my mountain bike, pre-theft, and I felt great on they way home as the wind was able to cool me.

Of course, today isn't going to be that way as it's 32 degrees and raining to beat the band, so it'll be back to the poncho and rain pants. We'll see how the new fenders handle things today - I suppose this is the acid test (or rain test as the case may be). I may have to try out the trick of putting plastic bags over my feet to keep my feet dry (and avoid the problem of rain pouring into my shoes, particularly since I don't have my hiking boots any more). Lord knows that we have enough bags to do that, thanks to the onslaught of stores like Giant Eagle, Target, and even Weiland's Grocery.

And apologies to those who've been reading faithfully the past few weeks - I haven't posted in a week or so due to a death in the family, but now we'll be getting back into it. I have some neat stuff in store for you (I hope) and I hope you stay tuned!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Adding to the Commute

Last night my wife wasn't in the mood for cooking so we ordered out to the local Middle-Eastern restaurant in our neighborhood (about three blocks away). And, for the first time, I biked it with a backpack to carry the food.

It was dark, so I had to put on my lights and vest, but it was easier than driving. I didn't have to ride around looking for a parking space forever (though I did have to chain my bike to a street sign since the place has no bike racks), and I got a little extra exercise. I'm not sure why this never occurred to me before... but it felt good to do it.

I Wish My Commute Was Longer

There's something you'll never hear a motorist say... mostly because they feel like the guy over there <== when they get out of the car.

With a commute of just 1.6 miles, I have absolutely no problem with timing it or reacting to traffic issues (I mean, what cyclist does?) but I do wish it was a bit longer so I could enjoy the ride. A couple days ago I commented briefly on how I've reached the point of no return with my commuting - I'm not giving this up for anything. I have less stress, I am outside enjoying myself (heck, I'm even enjoying the rainy and cold rides!), I'm practicing what I preach environmentally, and even though the ride is short I'm getting a brief workout.

I just wish I could ride a little further sometimes. I was just getting my swerve on today when my office creeped up on me and beckoned me within. I was even starting to sweat a bit, something I don't have to do on the way to work much since it's mostly flat or downhill. And it felt GREAT!

Oh well... maybe they'll move our office again...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Performance Bike Posts Benefits of Cycling to Environment

Interesting find here... as I was messing around with my latest mailer from Performance Bike, I came across this link about how Cycling helps the environment. Being a treehugger at heart, I checked it out.... here is the link for you to do the same:

Performance Bike - Home for all your cycling needs!

Fenders Put To Use

It wasn't the big test I was looking for, but it was a good test. This morning it snowed here again, a nice powdery snow that makes me wish I was strapping on skis instead of a bike helmet. On the main roads there had been enough traffic to melt the small amount that had fallen at that point, so there was some water on the pavement. I wore NO rain pants.

The result? My Planet Bike Freddy Fender Hardcore fenders kept me dry. No problems whatsoever! SUCCESS! Now I realize that this isn't the same as a rainstorm, but it's a start. My pants are dry and I didn't have to wear rain pants to accomplish this. So far, it's two thumbs up for my new fenders.

And when I got to work, I had a lady sort of watching me as I put on my lock and removed my lights from the bike and was heading inside... as I got closer she asked "So, what's it like riding a bike in the snow?" We chatted a bit about tires and traction and she seemed amenable to the idea. I doubt I'll have another bike commuter in our office any time soon but you never know.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

You Know You've Hit A Point Of No Return....

... when you look forward to your rides to and from work more than you look forward to the job that necessitates your commute.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Finally Fenders!

I ordered a set of Planet Bike Freddy Fenders Hardcore from Bike Nashbar (and then promptly found them for cheaper on, but so is life). They are located in West Virginia, but the stuff they sent me started in Ohio so they came overnight. I put them on Friday night and naturally we haven't had any rain yet, so I haven't had to test them. I suppose it's something like remembering to bring your umbrella being the best way to make sure it doesn't rain.

I was impressed with how easily they went on - I had to rummage around in my box of random screws to find ones that matched up for my front fork, as the ones they sent weren't quite long enough to go through the fender's attachment and my fork, but they back one worked fine. I'm looking forward to seeing how these work.

Friday, March 2, 2007

What To Do About Diesel

A report by the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force reported that commuters get 60 percent of their exposure to harmful pollution during the 6 percent of the day that they commute. That's particularly worrisome for us as cyclists, since we have no filtering system like cars with air-conditioning. Apparently Columbus was one of the cities that had information gathered for the study.

There is talk about requiring soot-reducing mechanisms on all diesel engines, but we'll see how that goes...

The Record
Austin American-Statesman

Does anyone know anything about face filters or any such thing for cyclists?

Bicycle-Related Recalls

This is a collection of bicycle-related recalls that I've found online in various places. I'll be updating this as I go along.

Mirraco Recalls Bicycles Due to Wheel Fork Failure Hazard - 3/2/2007

How Not To Get Hit By Cars

One of the primary concerns you hear from people who can't believe you ride your bike to work is "there are so many crazy drivers out there! You're going to get hit by a car!"

Well, yeah, that can happen. It can also happen if you're walking down the street, or you're in a car. But there are a lot of ways to avoid the problems inherent when bikes meet cars in a public street. And the folks at Bicycle Safety have listed a bunch of them.

This link is also on the right under General Bike Commuting Sites, as I want it to stay there even when this post has moved down the page and into the archive.

There are a few things to take note of on this site:
  1. TAKE THE LANE. You have just as much right to be on the road as a car, and the law says that you only have to stay as far to the right as is PRACTICABLE. So take the lane. Don't worry about holding up traffic, your safety is more important than someone else's desire to go fast.
  2. BE VISIBLE. I can't stress this enough. Get lights for your bike - headlights, rear blinkers. Get the proper reflectors for your wheels. And wear something that increases your visibility: a yellow or lime green jacket or a reflective vest.
  3. OBEY THE TRAFFIC LAWS. Riding on the sidewalk or against traffic are great ways to get yourself into an accident.
  4. GET A MIRROR. Being able to see behind you is key as a cyclist - you can generally see cars but they won't notice you all the time.
A lot of the advice on this site is the same as you'll see in the book Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips that I've mentioned so many times. It's nice to see the same advice coming from multiple sources - that means that the techniques work.

More Reason To Get On Your Bike NOW!

After the relative discomfort of yesterday's rainy day, today's Dispatch gave me a bit of a boost. They had an article about the higher prices of gasoline and how it's going to affect drivers in the city.

For those of us enlightened enough to bike for our transportation... this is not an issue at all. Doesn't it feel great to have released ourselves from the slavery of the oil and automobile companies?

For those who may be reading this and thinking "I wish I could bike to work," well, you probably CAN. The key thing is to stop thinking of reasons you can't do and start figuring out ways that you CAN do it. You'll be better off for it - you'll be in better shape, you'll stop paying for gas and supporting oil executives and terrorists, and you'll help improve the rate of carbon emissions.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Rain vs. Snow

Today's commute was wet. Real wet. We're under a flood watch here in Central Ohio (thank goodness my house is in Clintonville, where we have all the ravines to funnel water away from us), and it's raining pretty hard.

I was wearing my rain cape, a pair of rain pants, my hiking boots (which I've worn all winter for riding, they've worked great keeping my feet warm and mostly dry), a polar fleece sweatshirt, and had to carry my backpack on my front under the cape because if I'd kept it on my back the back of the cape would have ridden up and my back would have gotten all wet. Oh, and my glasses and helmet, of course.

Darn, I need some fenders. And some panniers.

Anyway, I came to the conclusion today that I'd rather ride in sub-zero temperatures than ride in the rain. Not that I have a choice, but I would rather be cold for a few minutes at the beginning of a ride (I am NEVER cold at the end of one!) than rained on and wet the entire time. Even snow is better than rain - it doesn't kick up all over the place and once you get the hang of the technique for riding in snow it's actually not that bad (and a great workout).

The rain cape does certainly help, though. It's basically a poncho, but it has two loops at the front that you put your thumbs into to keep it over your handlebars and keep your hands from getting too wet, and one big loop that you put around your lower waist to keep your butt dry. It's bright yellow and designed so that the visor on the hood still works nicely with a bike helmet on. It looks a little dorky, but I don't care as long as it keeps me dry.

One upside of riding in the rain, I think, is that the air seems cleaner. Perhaps the rain is knocking more filth out of the air and into the drains (which doesn't help the environment any more, just reroutes the filth) but it seems like a more refreshing ride as far as breathing goes.

No issues technically with the bike ride today. I just kept my speed low, pumped the brakes a bit when approaching a stop, and that did the trick. The only issue I had was with a girl who tried to pull her car up past me as we were coming to a line of stopped cars. As a bit of self-criticism, I probably should have taken the lane a bit more than I did. But I knocked on her window and gestured at her in an unfriendly manner (nothing involving the middle finger, more of a pointing finger that indicated "YOU STAY PUT!"). I think she was so freaked out by the big yellow blob knocking on her car that she stayed well in back of me until I changed lanes into the right lane following the intersection.

So despite getting a tad wet, it was a good bike ride today. I learned a couple things, and that's always good.