Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Here Comes the Rain

It's finally happened! The skies have opened and are raining down on central Texas with enough frequency that I'm finally getting sweet justification for my fenders and raingear (which the rest of the year just seems like paranoia).

The weather lately has been fairly opposite to summer - cold and rainy, grey, and not terribly many sunbeams in sight. After the summer though, the sight of creeks and lakes with water in them more than makes up for the inconvenience of getting out in the weather.

That said, I've had a lot of moments lately where I felt unbelievably grateful both for the existence of raingear, and the type of bike I ride. My two best cycling friends each respectively own a racy Cannondale roadbike, and a singlespeed road bike, making my Surly easily the most laid back bike of the bunch. But when the skies open, I'm suddenly the fastest, driest person in the group between the bigger tires, long wheelbase, and the fenders.

What makes the weather in this part of the country unique is the unpredictable nature of it. In Texas, it can go from grey and overcast to hailing and thundering in 10 minutes, and if you're out in it, you had better be prepared. This is particularly highlighted on Thursdays, when I normally stay downtown because drinking and driving is a bad idea. A couple weekends ago, my friends and I finished up the ride and as usual I parked my bike outside their building and went upstairs to crash out. When I left, this was the scene:

Ahh, so tranquil

When I stumbled downstairs the next morning to head home, it looked like this:

Honey badger don't give a shit. In this scenario, the TARDIS represents the Honey Badger

By the time I got home from riding to the train, taking the train, then riding from the train to my house, I looked like this:

That's happiness. Really!

Later that day I ended up running an errand to the grocery store. When I got to the store, it was dry, but by the time I'd gotten my stuff on my bike and was ready to head back to the house, it started to rain again. Never fear, my dear, delicious groceries, because waterproof panniers are here to save the day and keep you delicious:

I can definitely see why most people don't regularly bike throughout the year - whether I like to admit it to myself or not, I'm just as susceptible to the effects of bad weather as anyone else in the world, I just have all the gear available to make it tolerable. After all, if there's any one lesson this year has really driven home for me is there is very little truly bad weather, just bad clothing.

But all this gear took me years to acquire, and I rode when all I had was basically a backpack lined with plastic and a poncho, so you don't necessarily require all the gear to ride. How do you roll when the weather gets nasty?

Robby's Ride: a Yay Bikes! Friend

I fancy myself to have quite a few friends who are dedicated to their bikes, but know almost no one more dedicated than my friend Robby Landauer. Coming soon, Robby is planning to attempt the world's first human-powered global circumnavigation, and is chronicling his preparation at his website, here: Robby's Ride.

This ride will traverse approximately 35,000 miles, everywhere from Russia to Brazil. Land will be covered by bicycle, and the stretches of water by what looks to me like the world's most sophisticated pedal-boat. The route crosses the equator twice, and visits a total of three hemispheres. It's a bold idea, and Robby anticipates it will take approximately 2 years to complete.

Beyond attempting to circle the globe under his own power, Robby is an accomplished marathon runner and bicycle tourist, having already completed the Texas 4000, the Austin Marathon, Boston Marathon, and Tough Mudder events. Even more, he once rode his bike, solo, from Austin to Idaho and back in a completely self-contained tour. If I know anyone who could pull this off, it'd be Robby.

This ride is on the greater level in support of Autism Speaks, (in their own words) the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

More information can be found at Robby's website, and as soon as I figure out how to put up his logo in my sidebar, you'll be able to click there to reach his website to read his blog, check out what the ride is about, and if you feel like it, donate something to support it.

You May Now Return to Regular Blog Posts

Finally, at long last, I got a new computer after the unfortunate destruction of my old one! Meaning I can get back to posting regularly, rather than emailing myself pictures, typing up posts separately, and throwing them up while I'm on break at work. Hooray!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I have an entire array of friends from the Thursday Night Social Ride that I know from absolutely nowhere else. This includes the staff from a local bike shop, architects, a dentist, and someone I'd previously met at a party, among many, many others. One of them, Ali, is a weekly regular and a recent transplant to the United States from Pakistan. One day a discussion of the relative utility of our bicycles came up and I mentioned the huge number of things I have transported by bike, up to and including a roommate on one occasion. At my statement my bike could actually move a person, Ali piped up.

"I'm from Pakistan, this is a normal mode of transport." Well, that shut me up. Even as involved as I am in transportation cycling, it's easy to forget how unremarkable and standard it is to cycle in other parts of the world, and how non-standard driving can be. Admittedly, I'm from the middle part of the US, and more specifically, mostly in the South. I'm from one of the least bicycle friendly places in the world, both in terms of infrastructure and culture, so it's easy to consider yourself remarkable for getting out of the car.

The fact that cycling is considered unusual or extraordinary is part of what's led to "bicycle culture," and along with it, things like blogs about bicycles. Debates about steel vs aluminum and snide comments about the type of bicycle someone else uses to get around. These things really don't exist in places where cycling is undertaken with the same amount of excitement and ceremony as we give driving here in the U.S. Basically, if it's standard it can't be extraordinary (that's not necessarily a bad thing).

What's further highlighted this is the recent weather we've been experiencing has caused the usual immediate winter drop in the local cycling population. In my sleep I can hear the sound of bicycles all across Austin being hung up in garages, where they will remain 'til spring. This morning, as I was locking my bike up to the rack at work, a passerby commented she wasn't brave enough to try, and looked a bit mystified when I said, "All I really did was put on a coat." This was in overcast but dry 32 degree weather, far warmer than many other parts of the country at this time of year!

What I'm coming around to here is how our perceptions of normality strongly affect our behavior - in the U.S., transportation cycling is still a fringe activity and for many, something that is done involuntarily because of the lack of a motor vehicle. Since it's extraordinary, continuing to cycle when the weather turns is perceived to be unusual, so there are very few people who just put on a coat and deal with the cold. Normalization is the only cure here, and the only way to normalize transportation cycling is for it to be a reasonable Plan A or B for anyone, whether they're 8 or 80 years old. I do my part by just getting around and doing my best not to wuss out, whatever the weather.

What do you do?

What to Wear: Winter edition

A happy (and belated) Thanksgiving to you all! Due to a beautiful combination of seasonal change, allergies, and a head cold, the last couple weeks I've found myself off my bike, as acts like climbing a staircase were making my lungs hurt.

Today was the first time I've hopped back on my bike in a hot minute, and it's gone and gotten wintery on me! Today was my coldest commute since the heat's let up, a brisk 40 F with a north wind. Among the most powerful challenges facing any vehicular cyclist is clothing - hitting the exactly correct number of layers, fabrics, weights, and accessories. This is especially relevant at the extreme times of year - high summer and deep winter.

We've discussed the challenges of hot weather cycling - trying to strike a balance between coverage (sunburns), breathability, quick-drying, and good looking. Winter's challenges are completely different. There's a rule of thumb I've always personally followed but only recently heard articulated - "If you're not cold for the first mile or two, you're overdressed." The biggest reason - sweat becomes the enemy for totally new reasons. See, when it's hot out, sweat is this sticky constant companion. In winter, if you sweat, it can freeze and sap your warmth. So the goal is to be comfortably warm but never hot.

To those who know me, my winter cycling material of choice isn't remotely surprising. Wool. Wool does so many things - it breathes. It insulates, even when wet. It resists bacterial growth (meaning it doesn't smell). It also looks damn good. I like wool. Failing wool, I tend towards technical fabrics, and then blends. My fabric of last resort in all but the most perfect weather is cotton. As opposed to my preferred options, cotton doesn't dry quickly, smells, and provides very little insulation. And if it's wet, you might as well be wearing a wet dishrag for all the protection it offers. These properties do, however, make it ideal for wet t-shirt contests.

Next, there's the accessories - they can make or break both your outfit and your comfort. The standards for cold weather cycling (and I suppose cold weather outdoors activities in general) are wool socks, a scarf, gloves, and earmuffs or a hat. Your core and your legs will typically warm up - in a set of thermals and regular pants your legs will be comfortable in 20 degree weather, but without some help all your extremities will make you miserable in the wind.

REI soft-shell gloves and lightweight full zip fleece, Smartwool Lolligag Scarf, and a hat I found in my closet

Wool overcoats become a must in 30 degrees or below

All this being said, cycling in the winter is one of my favorite times of year. Those of us who ride through the winter always suffer from Spring Smugness - when people start pulling their bikes out of their garages in the spring weather, there's always some schmuck like me telling them all about what it was like a month back when it was freezing. You have the bike lanes and paths to yourself, and you get to watch the change of the seasons. Happy winter cycling!

Made it to work!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Man Power

This is an older ad, but easily my favorite ever produced by Miller. It's cold, and I need to make some serious clothing adjustments to account for the rain, but keep riding, my friends.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Wurst Ride in Texas

It is time for a much-belated ride report from yours truly! The Wurst Ride is a tour of the Hill Country from South Austin to New Braunfels, which was held on Saturday November 5 this year. I decided to participate in this 60 mile hilliest on Thursday, November 3. Needless to say, training had not happened. Or preparation of any type - I didn't even know which bike to ride!

My preparation pretty much consisted of deciding to do the ride while drunk, going to a party the night before, then showing up that morning with the Surly and figured "Eh, screw it, if I SAG out I SAG out, I do this shit for fun." A friend of mine from the TNSR was the service director for the ride and when I spoke to him, he told me that you could register at the ride and everything would be cool.

At 5:30 am that Saturday I arose to find… ride (my sister) had ended up not coming home the night before. I shrugged it off, put on the kit I'd laid out the night before, made my smoothie, loaded up my bike and my bag and set off. I met up with the Sparkles-es and we headed to the start of the ride together. I walked up to the registration booth where I was…..promptly denied. I had a check in my hand, ready to hand over, and they actually refused the money. By the registration lady's own admission they couldn't keep me from riding the course, but wouldn't support me.

Not one to be held down, I hauled ass back to the Sparkleses, and Justin threw his stuff in my bag, tagged it with his number, and registered it as his bag. Task 1, complete. I had brought my own Clif Bars, two bottles for water, and had my usual complete repair kit with me, so as far as fast-fixes went I wasn't too worried. So I lined up at the start with everyone else, and off we went into a cool, windy morning….straight up hill.

If I hadn't been breathing so hard, I'd have probably tried to take some pictures, but my lungs and legs were taking priority at that moment because the first ten miles were all rollers. At five miles in - bam! I have a mechanical, in the form of the skirt guard coming loose and almost getting caught in my wheel. I spent some minutes on the side of the road, basically forcing the attachment points off, threw them in my rack-trunk, and got on hell-bent on catching up with all the cyclists who had passed me as I worked on my home-grown pain in the ass.

I wheeled up to the first rest stop, grabbed some water, peeled off my leg warmers and borrowed a pair of pliers to pull off the remainder of attachment points that had come loose mid-downhill, then set off as fast as possible (my competitive nature knows no bounds).

The second ten miles flattened out considerably, but what had previously been an annoying wind was becoming problematic. The GPS on my phone read my average speed as around 7 miles an hour - around half of my normal cruising speed in similar terrain. At around mile 15 another element came to bear - I hadn't used the bathroom at the first rest stop. I was surrounded by nothing but flat, open fields with not a tree in sight, so at the first large unmoved……shrub thing, I hid my bike in some tall grass, hiked out a bit into a field, and answered the call of nature (skills learned hunting and camping for the win!). In short order I was back on the road, but the wind picked up…..and never stopped picking up. I wound through neighborhoods filled with loose dogs, open fields, over cracks and through hill and dale and always, the wind was blowing and gusting.

At around 28.9 miles (by the GPS), I had a moment. I had been on the bike for 3.5 hours, going half my normal speed - every foot was a fight. I hadn't had the best of mornings. And I was going downhill, and when I stopped pedaling, came to a complete stop because of the headwind. I broke.

Well, actually, what I said was, "You know what, fuck this, I'm not having one bit of fun. I do this for fun. So if I'm not having fun, it's defeating the point." So I stopped. I waited. A SAG car appeared, and dragged me to the next rest point, an embarrassingly close distance away.

As I sat on the side of the road, I gradually felt my sense of humor return, as I remembered I have nothing to prove to anyone. So I asked a fellow rider to take a photo illustrating my state of mind at that moment.

So began phase two of my day: awaiting someone to take me to New Braunfels. We waited. We waited some more and came to find out that the winds had been gusting to about 30 mph from the south. The result of this wind was an extremely high number of people dropping out of the ride, and so an extremely busy SAG car team was having trouble getting everyone to the finish.

I sat by the side of the road for a total of about three hours (during which my phone died - turns out GPS is hard on the battery) when who should appear driving my SAG wagon but my friend from the TNSR. I cracked a beer in the back of the van on the way to the finish line. Once I got there, I found my friends, collected my bag, and my friend gave me his wristband, thus entitling me to beer and sausages. Then my friends, who had finished the ride, opted to take the bus home rather than go to Wurst Fest, gave me their admissions tickets. In short, despite the fact the registration lady refused to let me register, I reaped every single benefit of a fully supported Wurst Ride. She probably should have just taken my $70.

Thus fortified with beer and sausage, I swung back onto my bike and rode to Landa Park, where Wurst Fest is held. My total for the day - 31 miles. I drank the beer. I ate the Wurst. And best of all, I rode my bike.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Austin & Separated Bike Lanes

As a vehicular cyclist, one of the biggest complaints drivers often utter is that cyclists on the road are many things - dangerous, slow, inconvenient, reckless, in the way, or otherwise Not Welcome. While the classic (in America) striped bike lane through a residential area certainly adds to mobility and infrastructure, these routes usually wind through neighborhoods and have few to no businesses along them. The idea here is that you cycle down these designated cycling routes, then emerge into main areas to access businesses - at least, that's how I use them.

However, as we all know, I am in love with the northern European model of bicycle infrastructure - the separated bike lanes that follow main roads. Here in Austin, we have a few designated bike lanes that are separated from the driving infrastructure, but are still part of the road. The primary two are along 4th street in Downtown, and the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a paved two-way bike boulevard along Cesar Chavez Blvd. To all drivers who describe cyclists in the terms above - when the correct infrastructure is present, you are hard pressed to find the average cyclist in the road. Why would we? There's a safe, dedicated spot that goes to the same place, from which I can access the same businesses and amenities, all without feeling the brush of death on the back of your neck.

There's nothing breathing down my neck!

I'm becoming convinced most American vehicular cyclists have the equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome - we've been held hostage and abused by traffic for so long, we don't know how to react when all that emphasis on bike handling skills, timing, and hyperawareness of our environment suddenly goes away. A separated bike lane feels so free, so friendly.

However, it's important that when we install infrastructure like this, it's done intelligently. To put it mildly, the roads of Austin are not made for the traffic volume they're currently experiencing. And I have no idea where to put all these people - our cities in America are only so dense, so the distances we must travel are (as much as I hate to admit it) far enough that sometimes your only choice is to drive. But when they put in infrastructure for bikes somewhere anyone would want to go, it gets used. My favorite example of this is the train. The two most southerly stations along the Cap Metro Rail are both in heavily trafficked areas by bikes. The largest number of bikes I've ever seen in my train car was 23 - also known as "a hazardous number in case of an emergency".

Among my favorite separated accomodations are pedestrian bridges. My most beloved here in town is Pfluger bridge, which crosses Town Lake just east of Lamar Blvd. Everything about it cries out livability, and I am including it both for it's practicality and beauty.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The only Skirtguard in Texas

Today I finally finished a project I started almost 2 months ago - I set out to create a set of skirtguards forbthe Surly.

For the currently confused, a skirtguard is a really, really practical accessory. They're basically panels that cover the upper part of your rear wheel, thus keeping flappy clothing safe and you looking ever so fly.

Behold what I have created!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Temporary Technical Difficulties

My computer has recently suffered some damage and unfortunately that more or less puts me on involuntary hiatus from blogging. At least, if I'd like to type it out on a device other than my phone. Once I get my computer fixed we should be up and running again, though!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Singin' in the Rain

It rained Saturday! Actual water fell from the sky while ominous thunder rumbled and the roof made a soothing pattering sound. To the rest of the world, rain is probably rather unremarkable. But here in the land of natural disaster scale drought, dryness, and heat, that evening and night's thunderstorm was enough to blow my hair back.

As biking days go Saturday was cool and different, not the least because of the weather. Here in my neighborhood I often hang out/mentor a little girl with her bike. I've shown her how to change a tire, how her brakes work, how to adjust her handlebars, and so on. This week was her 11th birthday and in celebration, I promised we'd go for a bike ride. Early in the morning my sister, Bike-Padawan, and I stuffed all three of our bikes onto/into my car and drove off to what I had settled on as the beginning of our 5.5 mile ride. We parked, de-stuffed our bikes, and set off for a Birthday Bike Ride!

Our route took us 2.7 miles down the super-smooth part of Shoal Creek Blvd from where we parked to the always-awesome Amy's Ice Cream. An indication of what was to come later in the day, we merrily rode through mist, exhulting in its dampness the way only people from drought country truly can. My Bike-Padawan made me proud- she shifted, braked, signaled, and crossed roads just like I showed her. My sister and I both got huge smiles every time we'd pass something cool and she'd yell "Look at that!"

Ice cream and a quick stop at the grocery store later and we re-stuffed the bikes onto/into my car and got Bike-Padawan home for her birthday party with her friends.

Now as most Austinites can probably tell you, yesterday was the Red River Shootout up in Dallas (that's the Texas-OU game for non-natives). A friend of mine came over to drink massive quantities of alcohol and eat various meats. Several hours of drinking into our day, it is revealed that someone needed to make a beer/snack run and since I was pretty much most of the way comatose, my friend was nominated for the job. He borrowed my lock, hopped on his bike, and off he pedaled to the beer and snack store while I did my best impersonation of a corpse on the couch. About 15 minutes into my nap, the phone rings.

It is my friend. Somehow, in the 10 minutes between locking the bike and checking out, the spare key to my bike lock I had loaned him fell out of his pocket, and his bike was now chained to a rack, un-unlockable with my brand new U-lock. In the time since he'd left, it had started seriously pouring out. By this point I'd been drinking for several hours and was in the middle of a nap. I dragged myself, my rain jacket, my bike, and a spare rain jacket out of the house and pedaled off into the rain for first time in months.

I haven't ridden in rain in months (mostly because it hasn't rained in...well, months). If I'd been thinking, I'd have taken pictures of my jacket, bike, or the conditions. Sadly I was mostly drunk and half asleep. Also, frolicking in the water. But I can definitely say that by Austin standards, Saturday was a cool day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Welcome to the WORLD OF TOMORROW

The Netherlands once again astonishes me with their dedication to practical urban cycling. They have now launched the The Dutch Cycling Embassy. Holy shit, the video.

Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.

I very rarely make it through a video this long without getting bored, even one about cycling. What can I saw, I'm a child of the internet generation and my patience for content is about.....2 1/2 minutes. If I'm not hooked, I turn it off. I watched the whole thing.

As someone who is a very strong believer in the power of the bicycle to change the everyday lives of people on many levels, I want this embassy to succeed. Thanks again, Holland. We need you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Keeping it in the Family

My new favorite biking buddy is my sister. Early yesterday morning, I called her up to see if she was awake yet and if she was, what her plans were for the day. I received sleepy grumbles for this effort and prepared to shuffle on about my day. 45 minutes later, I get a call back from her: "I can't sleep. What are you doing?"

Me: "Not much. We could go ride bikes, maybe?"
Sister: "I'll be over in a bit."

And thus we set off on the longest bike ride of my sister's brief (3-week) cycling career. Our first stop was to drop some things off at my Bike Shop of Employment, where we also scored a new, way more comfortable saddle for my sister. Between her relative inexperience at cycling and the fact Grey Bike's previous OEM saddle could better be described as an ass-hatchet, the cushy gelness of the Serfas we installed put my sister, in her words, "In Butt Heaven".

Ooooh, squishy!

Her butt thus cushioned, we set off on our grand adventure for a beer and lunch. Yes, it was 11 a.m. Yes, that could well make us alcoholics. No, I don't really care.

Anyways, we set off, my goal to show my sister the majesty of Shoal Creek Boulevard. Shoal Creek, if I haven't previously explained, is a road running through Tarrytown paralleling Mopac all the way south to around 31st Street. South of that it becomes a trail, but our destination was around 40th, so that is where we branched off. One of the beauties of Shoal Creek Trail is the shared bike/parking lane is the width of a regular lane. It also has a low speed limit, so up and down this road you see every stripe of cyclist there is to see. Fredtacular roadcyclists in spandex, recumbents, tandems, whole families out for a day together. We even saw a couple with a dog in a trailer tootling along together for lunch. It's an education in who can cycle, and how accessible it is because as an activity, cycling is so open to interpretation by the individual that anyone can ride a bike just about any way they want. Our preferred method is "Wearing fairly normal clothes, getting from A to B, often drunk."

Our first stop was the Central Market cafe on Lamar, where we procured a feast.


We sat, feasting, basking in the warm sunshine, drinking beer, and throwing bread to the crows who populated the tables with abandoned food in the fashion of a swarm. My sister took a moment to update her Facebook, "Annie and I riding bikes eatin Quinoa! Dude did I just say that?" Yes Sister. Yes you did.

We packed up the leftovers of our meal, made sure to leave some bread for the crows, and set off in the direction of home. As we rode north through the neighborhood we saw a handwritten sign in a front yard that sang out to us, "YARD SALE, EVERYTHING 1/2 OFF." Half price are the kind of prices I like! So we stopped and for a dollar, bought a flagpole and two pairs of groucho marx glasses.

We rode another few blocks and lo and behold, another yard sale! Another $2.75 later, and we are the proud owners of an original 1950s SaladMaster and a knitted glove which is meant to be used to dust knick-knacks. But here was the problem - we left the house with the intention of eating lunch and going home. My sister didn't have her basket, I didn't have my panniers, and we were already carrying a flagpole and a bunch of food.

We ended up bungee cording a box to the top of the rack on my sisters bike, and using masking tape to attach the flagpole to my bike as though it were jousting. We pedaled off, giggling the whole way. We got it home and hoisted my pirate flat out in the yard, where it warns off all who would plunder my booty (heh).


Friday, September 23, 2011

Up for Sale

I've made the remarkably difficult decision to sell Shadow. I've put her on Craigslist, and am asking $700, which considering her retail value at purchase, the minor upgrades I've added, and the level of care she has received makes her a hell of a deal. So if anyone in the Austin area is interested in a 47 cm Cannondale Synapse Feminine with a Tiagra drivetrain, one very beloved but recently unridden bike is up for sale. She needs pavement under her wheels, she deserves better than to sit motionless in my kitchen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Would That It Were

This weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Austin City Limits music festival. As I'm sure you have guessed, I attended con velo, and was able to take some astoundingly mediocre cell phone pictures of the truly impressive bike parking facilities. In all sincerity, the quantity and variety of bikes at this music festival was truly a feast for the eyes for a bike nerd like me. I apologize for the worse-than-usual quality of these pictures - you must understand I was drunk for most of them. For instance, behold!

It's a Gazelle! Live and in person! I had never actually seen a Dutch bike in person, but somehow, sitting chained up to a pole outside a music festival, wet from a brief rain, it looked right at home. Welcome to Texas, Holland!

I attended ACL one day last year as well, which is when I was initially struck by the availability of bike parking. As in, two areas each respectively the size of a football field, nothing but bike racks. Is this what the entirety of the Netherlands looks like? What if it were normal, whole parking lots of bikes. I had to look for parking, for crying out loud. That's no surprise to car users, but to a cyclist that's grounds for shock. Check it out.

The TARDIS hangin' out with all the other bikes.

An admittedly glare-riffic picture, but ignore that. Look at the pure scale. You had to wander around and look for your bike.

This one I took before drinking on the third day. This is actually on the opposite side of the park. Yes, there were two parking lots this big, For bikes.

I want every street to have one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A whole new commute

I am in the process of transitioning jobs, which brings with it a whole new commute. My new one is a little under 6 miles each, which is longer than my previous one by a couple miles. After my first (admittedly non-rush hour) try with it today, I am begobsmacked at how much of a pleasant ride it is. It's a bit hilly, but barring a total of about half a mile, all neighborhood roads. I pass houses, apartments, elementary schools and the occasional taco place.

This commute is interesting, though, because the more direct, car-friendly route also has a gigantic bike lane. There's a grocery store, banks, and everything else I could possibly need to swing by on my way home, all on bike-friendly routes.

Compare this to my previous commute, which had basically no bike lanes whatsoever, no conveniences in a direct line to my house, and an extremely busy freeway crossing. To boot, the bike before the freeway crossing vanishes exactly right before the turnoff for the service road - i.e. one of the places I'm most likely to be cut off by a car.

Sometimes, it turns out, longer is easier. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paying It Forward: Part 2

As of this weekend, I have a new cycling buddy! That is, my sister moved to Austin this weekend, to my great jubilation. In honor of her arrival, I have given her Grey Bike, and all it's many accessories, so that we can go for bike rides and generally cause non-motorized mayhem.

Two things about this that leap out at me - one, the Grey Bike is the nicest bike my sister has ever had. Two, she's never really ridden in the street. I'm super-proud, she's moving to new places, trying new things, making it happen, all that jazz.

Last night we hopped on our bikes for a ride to the pub (hey, the beer was cheap and there was football on). The ride to the pub involves a rather large hill, a descent on the way there, and a long climb on the way back. The alcohol helps the climbs go by faster, I admit.

The thing that astonished me is that while my sister has all the characteristics of someone who is new to biking, she looks comfortable on the bike and is utterly fearless in traffic. Perhaps this is a result of her driving tendencies, which have recently included a ticket for driving nearly 20 mph over the speed limit. Maybe it's the same inner fire that makes me want to break a car in half rather than yield. But holy damn it was fun to ride with someone whom fear is not a thought. She stops with balance, she takes the lane, and climbing the hill on the way home, she stood up and gutted it out until the purpose of shifting became more apparent.

In summary, while I consider this to be paying it forward, it sort of feels like the universe is paying me back on this one.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How Time Flies

Several important milestones in my cycling life have passed recently! It's very exciting. As of now, I've been riding bikes as a grownup for over three whole years! It all began with my much-loved Schwinn purchased at Target for what then seemed like the herculean sum of $125. I did try to do some minor research before I before I bought this bike, which sadly, was stolen from its locked home under my porch before it even got a name.

Very soon after my bike was stolen, I graduated college and moved to California, which I consider to be my spiritual bike-riding home. I got a free, equally crappy mountain bike out of someone's garage. Then I got a Free Spirit from a shady Irishman in a parking lot. This picture is not my bike, but a bike that looks just like it:

This bike was replaced by my first ever good bike, Grey Bike. Grey Bike is the oldest of these bikes that is still with me, and good lord what a workhorse. Grey Bike is a 2008 Novara Buzz V I used as my primary form of transportation in California. I moved back to Texas and it became the bike I gave my mom, until she got her Townie. It's been my guest bike. And now, as of next week, it goes to my sister to hopefully bring her into the fold. And as of this month, we've been together three years, outlasting all my relationships excepting that with my dog.

Old Reliable. You deserve all the respect in the world.

In March of 2009 I acquired Shadow, my roadbike. I'd taken rides as far as 25 miles on the Grey Bike, but Shadow truly opened my eyes as to the possibilities in the world. On her I've conquered physical barriers I hadn't even thought I could take a stab at - I've climbed several thousand feet. I've ridden more than 50 miles in a day. I've trained for distances I hesitate to take my car. I learned to ride in drop bars, I learned to ride clipped to the bike. She gave me the only sport I've ever been any good at.

Through it all though, I had my eye on the Surly Long Haul Trucker. The bike I could ride for groceries and for distance. A platform. It could be anything! A cargo bike, a commuter, a piece of art or a roughneck. So in June of last year, after 2 years of staring and saving up and planning, I ordered the bike that has gone through so many names before I realized it's my spaceship. While it's certainly a stately bike now, when I got it, it looked like this:

It's grown up a lot.

As of June it's been a year with the TARDIS. As I celebrate these little milestones, it's becoming more apparent to me how large a part of my life riding my bike everywhere has become. But it's just too much fun to quit, especially with all the lovely choices of bike in the world. So I guess I'll conclude this post by saying, just keep on pedaling.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Sense of Place

Cycling is by its very nature something that is local. While bikes are portable (and I certainly take mine on many of my trips out of town), at the end of the day you walk out the door, swing your leg over the frame, hop onto your bike and pedal away. You are immersed in your environment - smells, sounds, and sights are all enhanced by the fact you're cruising by slowly enough to take it in.

Something I never realized until I got out of my car is how isolated an environment a car can be. You're surrounded by metal and glass, with climate control typically listening to something you like. While there's a certain beauty in rolling down the road with the windows down singing along to the radio, I get the same sensation almost every time I get on my bike. I am not typically one to listen to my headphones while cycling, so I have committed several songs to memory so that I can provide my own (off key, off beat) soundtrack as I roll down the road.

As of today, it's September - for many parts of the country, the start of fall is almost here. For those of us from Texas, September is the light at the end of the oven-like tunnel that is high summer. It stays (by most people's standards) hot for a few more months here, but 90 degrees is, for us, a 15-20 degree drop from our most severe temperatures. It feels downright cool by comparison, like spring come again. It makes me want to ride, rediscover my sense of place.

I love riding with a destination in mind - something that makes the journey just a little bit sweeter. Sometime in the next week I think I'll take a bit of a picnic and go visit the Hi How Are You Frog. It's one of my favorite spots in town and of late it's been too hot to go joyriding. It's the joyrides that for me create my sense of place. You ride, with a destination that's purely for fun. Ride to the pool, ride to a piece of art, ride to a restaurant or a park, visit a friend, go to a festival.

The TARDIS cools its heels outside the 2011 Austin Hot Sauce Festival

Fall is almost here! Go outside and play.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This is How We Do It

I suppose it's not terribly surprising that I read a number of cycling-oriented blogs from around the world. The most popular blog has got to be Copenhagen Cycle Chic, but I actually love looking at the pictures from the "Cycle Chic" network from around the world. Something that consistently leaps out at me (aside from the fact all of these people seem to default to being more fashionable than I can be with effort), is that the default type of bike is very different depending on your locale.

As a for instance, behold the bikes of northern Europe - upright, heavy, tank-like, elegant, somehow all these words apply to the classic Omafiets/Dutch Bike/Upright bike. Different brands, but generally speaking it seems in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, they ride something that looks about like this:

Gazelle Tour Populair T8, Ladies

Whatever the brand, no matter how many pictures I look at of these cities, that is the dominant type of bike, seemingly across all sectors of society.

However, cross a very short piece of water into Great Britain. While Britain is home to iconic cycling brands like Pashley and Raleigh, their commuter bike culture isn't nearly as developed as their friends on the continent, and their bikes are different as a result. London Cycle Chic's current from page shows off a huge array of bikes - singlespeeds, upright bikes, roadbikes, old crappy mountain bikes, and so on. There's no one dominant type of bicycle, which intrigues me because they're so physically close to continental Europe and their infrastructure is vastly more similar to Europe than North America.

And on that, back home to the good ol' U.S. of A. (as well as Canada - our bikes seem pretty similar from what I can find). Our bikes come in a staggering array, but what has been missing until very recently have been bikes specifically designed for the tasks of commuting. I've gone into some of my favorite commonly available brands before and won't do so again, but our commuters are still sportier than the Omafiets of northern Europe. Even our commuter bikes, like:

Specialized Globe Daily

Trek Allant

Even these bikes have a slightly sportier demeanor than the grand lady made by Gazelle at the top. I'm becoming convinced the bikes we ride say something to our national character - the United States is undeniably a flashy place in love with the imagery of athleticism. Our bikes reflect that, even the commuters. Our branding cultivates an image of the urban warrior facing the world. This crosses over even into our cars - anyone looked at Cadillac's advertising lately? The car formerly of ladies whose homes are called estates is now sporty and modern.

I'm going to be looking more carefully at the images of cycling I find from all over the world, because I am curious what a nation's choice of bike says about that country. What do you think?

Friday, August 26, 2011

You Get Used To It

"You know, I can't tell if I'm just getting used to it, or if 105 isn't really all that bad," is something I overheard said the other day. Something I've realized is that if you're going to be an all-year cyclist (or in my case this summer, an 11/12ths of the year cyclist), one thing you will gain by necessity is hardiness to the weather. Hot, cold, rain, extreme drought, I've biked through it all. And you just sort of get used to it.

Last night at midnight I was biking home from downtown, when the temperature has dropped to a brisk 80 degrees or so. The air was cool on my skin, I wasn't even breaking a sweat. Yet, I remember March. Just after the end of all the cold weather (well, Austin-cold) and months of biking wrapped in scarves, gloves, fleeces, and jackets. It was 80 degrees and I was sweating like death itself had come for me. Because I'd gone and gotten used to it all winter. Fast forward half a year and Austin is working to see how hard it can beat the record for the hottest, driest summer in a century.

While I'm restricting my time out during the middle of the day, I've sort of just gotten used to this all over again. 80 degrees feels cool compared to our daily highs of around 109. It's a difference of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a drastic difference. For reference, that's the same difference between 90 and 60 degrees. After this, at 60 degrees I'll be wearing a sweater.

So while the weather is brutal and essentially trapping me indoors til the sun sets each night, I've gotten to a point where it's at least tolerable in short bursts. That being said, I can't wait for fall. Please, my kingdom for October.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Confidence.

Today I got back on my bike for the first time since I fell down Thursday, late in the night to take my dog (and best good friend) Guinness for his evening turn about the block. Over the years I've owned Guinness this has become one of our favorite ways to go for a walk together, as it allows me to keep pace with him, and us to knock out greater distances in shorter amounts of time.

Tonight was different though, because I'm still feeling the aches and pains of landing on the bottom of two bikes and another person. My confidence, which can normally be measured in the same level as the stratosphere, is (by my standards) shot. I'm biking in straight lines, but not with my usual nerve.

Part of this, I know, comes from having suffered a life-altering joint injury fairly early in life. I am very closely acquainted with the damage real injury can inflict on your life on a long-term level. This loss of confidence happens every time I have an incident that reminds me of the fragility of my own existence.

For example, several months ago, I had an incident where a bracket tore up the sidewall of my front tire, forcing me to purchase a new one. The very first day I had the new tire on, I slipped a bit making a turn into my neighborhood on a patch of gravel and almost ate pavement. I managed to catch myself before I fell, but for weeks I was slightly mistrustful of both that corner and the new tire (which has turned out to be fabulous, as tires go). No amount of logic could convince my heart and adrenal gland it was a one-off incident, that there was nothing wrong with the tire, that it was a corner I'd taken hundreds of times before. Every time, I was a bit hesitant.

So having taken a fairly hard fall, I am now faced with the long, slow prospect of rebuilding my confidence levels. Never mind it had been over a year since my last fall. Never mind that this wasn't a bad one - no sprains, no breaks, just one very rung bell. The part of me that shrieks "BE CAREFUL LEST YE PERISH!" is doing a lot of the talking right now and the cure is nothing but repetitions of riding a bike without incident. Fun!

Friday, August 19, 2011


Well, I hadn't come off a bike in well over a year, so I suppose I was due. Let's set the mood.

Last night as Thursday, which means that just like every week, I could be found at the Thursday Night Social Ride. This week's ride took us to the East Side of town, an end of the city I've never spent much time. One day I will buy a proper camera, because the quality of the snaps I took with my cell phone leave enough to be desired as to not merit posting. But the view over the lake from the dam bridge at dusk was breathtaking.

This week's ride featured a special guest! A lad who has been kind enough to grace me with his company the last few weeks met us out and joined us for a leg of the ride. We decided to bail on the ride early (as we often feel no need to continue drinking by the end of the ride), and were picked up from the park by Sunshine's awesome boyfriend, Mr. Sunshine. We went and devoured quite the spread of food and the Sunshines headed home southward. The Lad and I went our respective direction north together.

Unfortunately, when you combine a bit of spaced-outness, 3 hours of having cycled in a group, a route I'm incredibly familiar with, and alcohol, I essentially forgot I was the only one that knew where we were going. I essentially took a right turn into the poor guy. Oops. I took the majority of the fall, which has led to my left arm being a bit bruised and scraped, but otherwise I'm completely fine.

Roadrash just means you're in the club, right?

The point of this post goes out to all the new kids on the block - we all fall down. If you spend enough time on a bike, at some point, you are going to come off it in an involuntary fashion. It's nothing to be afraid of! Take a moment after you fall, sit down and make sure nothing is seriously injured, have a bit of a sniffle, pick yourself and your bike off, dust yourself and your bike off, get back on and ride.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Commuter Bike Cometh: Part 2

As a bit of an ongoing series, I've decided to highlight commuter bikes I love. Now I admit. Most of these I haven't test ridden, mostly because my dear TARDIS and I have such a beautiful relationship.

So here's my criteria when I'm highlighting these brands. First, the bikes shouldn't cost more than $900 and ideally I'm trying to keep it in the $300-600 range. On an objective level for most people looking at bikes, $600 may sound like a bit of cash, but for reliable short-range transportation, it'll pay for itself in about a year. Well cared for, any of these bikes should last for years. So I think a $600 price point as my preferred cut-off is actually pretty reasonable.

These bikes will for the most part be steel. Again, this is from a durability standpoint, but that's not to say some aluminum won't sneak it's way in. Variety is the spice of life and to limit myself by frame material is certainly to reject that philosophy. These bikes will typically come with at least fenders, and preferably a rack and pants guard. Some may even come with dynamo lighting. Easy to deal with, easy to ride.

The idea here is that most people, as opposed to me, aren't total bike dorks. When I was setting up the TARDIS, half the fun was in choosing each accessory to add to the bike. This is the equivalent of getting choosy over the exact type of leather on your car interior, the exact model of bumper. Most people just want the thing to come tricked out so they don't have to think about it very hard. It doesn't hurt at all if it matches.

My last criteria is that they should be readily available. You should be able to find a dealer locally without too much effort, or order it directly to yourself. They should be fairly easy to get your hands on.

My next three highlighted bike brands:

Linus Bikes:

Based in Venice, CA, Linus bikes focuses on making affordable, practical commuter bikes for the American Market. When I checked their distribution page, I found at least one distributor in every major city in Texas (including Corpus Christi), though admittedly I didn't look at other states. I've run into a few of these bikes at the Thursday Night Social Ride and generally biking around downtown, and they are well constructed, reliable, and very, very sharp looking. They run in the $500 and up range, which to me is quite reasonable for something this classic.

The model showcased above is the one I've run into around town, but they also make a mixte, a stepthrough Dutch-style frame, and they come in a whole range of component packages.

Electra Bikes:

Electra is an incredibly commonly available brand through most bike shops. While they're (justifiably) most famous for their Townies and Cruisers, I decided to include a picture of one of their models that is less-known, but more deserving of recognition, namely the Electra Ticino.

All Electras are aluminum and they come in a staggering array of colors, gearing options, and accessory packages. In the Townie series alone, you have the choice from a singlespeed with no accoutrements whatsoever, all the way up to the Electra Townie Amsterdam series, which comes standard with a rack, fenders, multiple gears, and dynamo lighting. The sky is really the limit with Electra, and you will look damn stylish arriving at your destination.

Flying Pigeon: The official bike of the People's Republic of China comes to the American Market.

This is the women's model (there's a men's available as well). I have never ridden a Flying Pigeon. They may be creaky for all I know, but I do know one thing - that is a fully tricked out, ready to rock and roll commuter bike suited for flat terrain. That goes for $400. It is easily within the reach of just about anyone with the willpower to save some money for a few paychecks. Say what you will about Chinese construction and components or the death of American manufacture, but in this case if the goal is getting wheels down on the road, it needs to cost a reasonable amount. This bike meets that criteria beautifully.

So there we have it. Three more options for the aspiring American commuter cyclist whose pockets are not bottomless. Each brand will certainly appeal to a different consumer, but that is the beauty of choice. Whether you're for classic practicality like Linus, style over speed with Electra, or pure utilitarianism as best exemplified by Flying Pigeon, there really is a commuter bike for everyone.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Great American People's Bike Revolution Cometh

So as I've no doubt endlessly prattled about, my favorite form of cycling is done by the people, for the people, because it's a lot of fun, it's practical, and it's a hell of a cheap way to get around (this has been highlighted by my recent use of my car). There have been signs lately that point to me, at least, that great and overwhelming numbers of vehicular cyclists are coming. The creation by American brands and retailers of regular commuter bikes, available in regular stores.

This has been highlighted by the recent premier of the Missoni for Target collection, coming in September. Missoni is an Italian fashion house who have created a line of cool, funky clothes and accessories for Target (who I assume I don't have to introduce). Among this collection has been a bicycle. But not just a bike. A step-through frame, in a way-cool color scheme, that comes standard with a fully enclosed chaincase, dressguard, fenders, a basket, bell, and awesome upright geometry with swept-back handlebars. Behold:

What makes it significant to me is that is a real, true commuter bike you can ride in any clothing. It looks cool and is promoted as fashionable, and most importantly, will be sold on the sales floor of a big-box retailer regular people routinely visit. As much as I love the LBS and all it brings to cycling, you have to know you want a bike to walk into one. You don't impulse buy one with your patio furniture.

And while I understand a lot of these adorable bikes will be purchased and left in garages all across America, lots of them will be used. Maybe for pleasure cruises, maybe to buy beer, maybe just to feel cool. They probably won't have the world's nicest component spec. But past a point, who cares?! I got by just fine on my bike I bought at Target while I was in college, and it's a lot of what brought me to cycling.

In slightly higher quality but similar in idea, there is Public Bike. They make city bikes that look cool, work like they're supposed to, and range in price from around $550 - $900. Now this may sound like a lot, but a $550 bike, brand new is pretty reasonable for a piece of transportation that will pay for itself. They're comfortable, practical, and come in all kinds of awesome funky colors.

The best thing about these bikes is with the exception of a rack, they come standard with at least fenders, and are ready for a rack. Pretty much all you have to do is get on the thing and ride it.

Even better, the distribution of these bikes involves a "Ready to Ride" option shipped directly to the customer. Now admittedly, I personally would take any bike built before it was shipped to me to a shop for a safety check at the bare minimum. But the EXISTENCE of such a product with that kind of service eliminates barriers to cycling. And elimination of barriers creates a larger modeshare.

Get ready, designers of roads, the people's bike cometh.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Long Haul Trucker takes on Walnut Creek

As part of my very half-assed (or more, time got away from me) efforts at the LGRAB Summer Games, today I went to pedal around Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, a green area I've never been to. Walnut Creek is known among dog owners and mountain bikers for being a haven in North Austin, and now that I've been, I can't believe I hadn't been before.

I had some errands to run beforehand which put me in at the northern entrance to the park (a map is available here, but be aware that it does not have the trails labeled as they are named on the park signage). Unfortunately, most of my pictures somehow got corrupted, but I have a few that came out!

Hooray! I found it!

There is a road that runs through the center of the park, by a couple baseball fields and a public swimming pool (which I am totally taking advantage of soon). The trail meets about ten feet back from the main parking lot, and I hopped on it and headed left, because it seemed as good a direction as any to go.

The road into the park. The next like, 4 pictures I took got corrupted, which sucks because they were all of the trails.

I hopped onto the trail on the TARDIS because despite what other people think, I'm not going to let my lack of an actual mountain bike keep me off the trails. For god's sake, when I started hiking I routinely wore flip-flops out of pure and simple "Don't know no better." There is a main trail that encircles Walnut Creek that is only marginally less smooth than a fire road, meaning the Surly is more than capable of tackling them. Whether or not I am is another question entirely!

Not to be a walking advertisement for Surly or anything, but it blew my mind that despite the fact I was riding a road-touring bike with street tires on it, my bike really didn't handle any differently despite the surface. It's an incredibly stable bike and it's fun to ride even off road. So, way to go Surly.

A rare species is sighted! A bike with fenders, a rack, and a kickstand in the wild!

I didn't ride very far, I admit, mostly out of insecurity, but also out of the fact that (as usual at this time of year), I was getting the beginnings of heat exhaustion. And, as is often the case with the wrong tool for the job, every time the trail got technical (I got lost down at least one side-trail), I opted to hop off the bike and walk it. I think with practice, to be honest, most of the sections I walked are perfectly doable on the Trucker, but I also admit that there are far more ideal bikes for the task. If anyone has any spare cash sitting around, the Santa Cruz Juliana is a pretty good tool for the job.

I eventually got to the point where I was getting a bit concerned about my ability to press on, as I could feel my head getting lighter and my heart beating faster (for those who live in cooler climates, this is a sign you need to cool off NOW). I asked a very kind fellow on a super-sporty Trek and he gave me directions back to the parking lot. Once there, a very nice lifeguard let me hose myself off and fill up my water bottle afresh, which improved my morale quite a bit for the ride back up the hill back to the house. I unlocked the TARDIS, swung us back onto the pavement where we usually play, and headed home.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thursday, Thursday, Gotta Get Down On Thursday

Just about every week I attend the Thursday Night Social Ride, an Austin classic and my favorite night of any given week. As part of the LGRAB Summer Games, here is a post highlighting, celebrating, and all around pimping out this week's ride. All photos are with courtesy of and with the permission of Gordon Aikman, who is an all around cool guy for letting me use his pictures.

Among the best parts of the TNSR (as it is affectionately known) is that it follows a different route every week, routinely taking me to parts of the city I've never seen. I get to know my city so much better for the experience of having seen it by bike.

Every week, for all that the ride ranges from 200-300 people, I run into the same people. I always meet new ones, but there are a few regulars I get to see all the time. My dear friend Sunshine and I arrived around 7 or so for pre-ride socializing and all-important beers - those bags are heavy til you drink them lighter!

Does something smell funny to anyone else?

Nah, I'm just kiddin'

Around 8 the group took off from Festival Beach park. The exit is always interesting, with the inevitable bottleneck caused by 300 rolling vehicles trying to spread out but stay in conversation range. It's a social ride in every way, so while there are faster and slower cyclists, everyone is primarily there to hang out together, doing something we love. We follow the laws to the best of our ability, are polite to other vehicles and riders, and generally try to be good ambassadors for cycling on a grand scale. And it works! Generally everyone has a very nice time and nothing bad happens.

Takin' off

This week's route took us on a winding, hilly ride through east Austin, stopping at several parks, and ending at the Nomad Bar. As we rode, my bag gradually got lighter, but the end result of beer drinking is that I was completely starving by the time we got to the bar. Sunshine and I, having had our fill of beers, but having no clue where we were, decided it was time to make our way home after sitting on the curb and splitting a Coke and a medium-sized bag of Fritos between the two of us.

One problem - I had absolutely no clue where we were, just that we were "somewhere in central-northish Austin east of the freeway." Lucky me though, that my phone also functions as a GPS. We fired up my Device, I mapped us a route back to Sunshine's house/my car and slow-pedalled it the whole way back. I'm sure the Fritos helped in that effort.