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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Australia Sounds Like The Worst Place to Bike Commute Ever

To wit, police are cracking down on cyclists to reduce incidents of dooring. The combination of things in the first photograph on that page blow my mind - there's a helmet wearing fellow in a neon yellow reflective jacket - that man could not be more of a safety minded commuter. Yet nonetheless, if cyclists are typically involved in a certain type of accident, the blame immediately comes on us for having the audacity to exist (as far as I can tell).

Additionally, Australia has a helmet law which involves a potential fine of up to $146 AU. Now don't get me wrong, if you want to wear a helmet while riding your bike, that's up to you. But helmet laws to me smack of legislating personal choice, which I disagree with. I'm a grown adult and I can decide whether I would like to wear a helmet or not. Honestly, I feel the same way about seatbelt laws (except in the case of children). It's nanny-state bullshit.

In all of this, the quote that really jumped out at me comes from the end of the article; "Motorists find it hard to see bike riders at the best of times, so when you're not wearing those reflective vests, not wearing a helmet or not wearing the lights, you're riding around invisible to other road users."

I agree lights should be an integral part of any commuter bike - that is the primary method by which you are easily seen by motorists. But here's the thing: the cycling mode share will never increase past a certain very limited population if you by law mandate everyone look like a twat made of 3M reflective tape while they do so.

Additionally, at what point is a motorist responsible for not smacking their car into other road users? If I am riding a bike with a set of good lights, in good working condition, in accordance with the road laws of the place I live, whether I'm wearing a helmet or not, you're NOT SUPPOSED TO HIT ME. Get off the phone, stop arguing with your wife/kids, pay attention to what you're doing, and drive like other people exist.

Or on the other hand, we could fine cyclists for getting doored and give them tickets for not wearing a plastic hat. We could do that.