Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I'm in lust again - The Sweetpea Little Black Dress

I spend a lot of time building my imaginary bike collection - all beautiful, most of them hand-made, and each for their own task.  Since I sold the Cannondale, I've exclusively been riding my Long Haul Trucker, and the TARDIS and I have a relationship that is solid as ever. there room in my life for something a bit....saucy?  Sassy?  Flirtatious, even?  A bike fast enough for a man, but made for a woman?  Could be. And when that day comes, I think I want it to be a Sweetpea Little Black Dress.  LOOK AT IT.

I swear it's whispering to me.  It wants me to hop on it, and start pedalling.  We'll take it slow at first - clipping in, and relaxing into it, warming up.  As the blood in my legs gets moving, maybe we'll make a stop for some tea, a scone, and a stretch.  Then it's back on the road with the Little Black Dress.  Together, through trees and past fields, up hills to view the hill country, then a swift descent, tucked into the drops, heart in my throat.  Oh, yes, Little Black Dress, this is lust.

Weighing in on Critique and Cycle Chic

Recently, Elly of Taking the Lane has posted a critique regarding the evolution of the Cycle Chic movement, intertwining thoughts on the objectification of women and how the very nature of "Chic" can be exclusive to those who are not-so-cycle-chic. Being a bike blogging nerd, I thought to weigh in on the argument raging on Twitter (as much as anything of significance rages on Twitter).

I personally have followed Mikael Colville-Andersen's Cycle Chic movement for some time, and it's certainly one of the blogs that inspired me to try dresses, as it showed them as compatible with my fairly active lifestyle.  There, I had proof!  I could be myself and dress like a girl at the same time, an image not previously available to me as a woman on a bike.  It was freeing, and inspiring.  The first time I rode without a helmet and felt the breeze in my hair I almost wept with joy (not solely because a helmet in 105 F weather is total misery).  But as I read the critique, there certainly are things that ring true.

I am not a Chic person by nature.  My favorite clothes are all made of technical fabric, and yes, I wear them to work.  Most of the time, I look like this:

For clarification, those are technical fabric shorts, a technical fabric hiking shirt, hiking sandals, a Dallas Cowboys hat, combined with a waterproof messenger bag.  I ride a diamond-frame touring bike made by a company that has told me has no plans for a Mixte, and I freaking LOVE that bike.  I have tan lines.  By any measure, I fall well short of cycling Chic-ly, and I don't mind that one bit - it's just me being myself.  

I came to cycling as a sport, rather than a form of transportation - that evolved naturally for me.  Wherever I went, I wanted to ride bikes there, so I did.  

But it's dismissive of some very valid points on the part of Taking the Lane to say that it's a bunch of bike geeks protecting their turf.  Rather, it's to accept that for one thing, cultural differences are often to be embraced - I own a helmet and like roadcycling for sport while wearing spandex.  The cross pollination between sport cycling and transportation cycling in the USA is huge, and in a country with an obesity epidemic, a wonderful way to introduce people to the notion of alternative transportation is to introduce them in other, less intimidating ways.  And let's face it - the idea of cycling to work is intimidating to many people.  How will I carry my stuff, what will I wear, will I be all sweat, cars are scary - barriers are there beyond whether or not you choose to wear a helmet.  Yes, infrastructure would solve a lot of problems.  But that doesn't make cycling in sporty clothing an invalid choice when it's literally over 100 degrees.  

So it seems like we have a lot of people, all trying to get across the same message, but getting caught on their own hangups.  On the part of Taking the Lane, that is the notion that style is a very exclusive idea, and that it's a potential block to those who may come to cycling in other ways.  On the part of Colville-Andersen, it's the notion that the "Bike Geeks" are "ignoring the Bull in the China Shop" when they suggest that maybe helmets work for some people.  But the common thread here is this - we want more people to ride.  It's currently not possible in the minds of the many (here in North America), and how to break down that barrier is a subject of great debate.

All I'm saying is this - don't get so caught up bitching at each other about gender roles, helmets, bike geeks, and so on that we forget what the original idea was.  Make cycling accessible and break down barriers.  That's it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gear Ranges and Ratios

A couple of my friends are looking at purchasing bikes, which means I'm answering a lot of questions involving weight, gears, bike types, prices, and so on.  One big concern for residents of the Hill Country is the number of gears on the bike as it relates to hills - people see that my Surly has 27 gears and make the false assumption that more gears equals easier cycling.  But it's not true!  Each situation is unique and the right bike for me isn't necessarily the right bike for them (but everyone should try the Long Haul Trucker).

To illustrate, I've taken the gear ratios from a couple of my household bikes and plugged them into Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator. This is a fantastic tool that will tell you exactly how much work you're putting into getting from A to B. Things get a little more complicated when we factor in that both of these bikes feature derailleur gearing, rather than internal hub gearing.  They are also about 10 lbs apart in weight, which will affect speeds both uphill and downhill (this becomes more extreme when we add the bodyweight of the rider).  However, most Americans have bikes with derailleur gearing, so we'll make an assumption of all other things being equal for the sake of argument.

Here's the chart for my Surly Long Haul Trucker, which has 3 chainrings in the front, and 9 cogs on the cassette in the back for a total of 27 gears.

Here's the Trek FX 7.1, which is has 21 gears total (3 in the front, 7 in the back).

You can interpret these charts to mean my bike has both a higher and a lower gear range than the Trek, so it both goes faster on the downhills and gets up hills a little easier, assuming a cadence of 80 revolutions per minute.  It also has more gears, so there are smaller jumps between the gears, which is mechanically speaking easier on the moving parts of the drivetrain.

What becomes obvious though is how similar the upper and lower ranges of the two bikes are, despite the fact their drivetrains are in other ways significantly different.  This information is the easiest way to understand out what you're getting into with gearing, and for me at least, visually explains the real-world connotations of the gear range of a potential bike.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A visit to Dallas, a revisit to the Electra Townie

I spent this weekend in Dallas, and in a mission to provide more detailed photos to go with the prior review of the Electra Townie 8i owned by my mom in Dallas.  The bike is a couple years old and my mom stores it in their shed, which means it's not exposed to water, but humidity is a factor.  There were no signs of dry rot in the tires and the only wear has been a bit of rust on a few bolts. 

And now for some pictures!

 From the non-drive side

From the drive side where you can clearly see the hockey stick chainguards.

 Closeup of the chainguard

This is written on the seat stay - flat foot technology is a patented Electra technology and they seem to be pretty proud of it.

Really, they really emphasize the positioning in the branding.

 The headtube badge

 Shimano Nexus 8 internally geared hub, the same one found on just about any 8-speed internally geared bike made. 

Finally, the pictures to go with the review! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Aaaaah, the Weekend

This weekend, my boyfriend and I took a nice ride to the pub, joined by a friend of ours from work.

It was delicious.

Adventures in Cap MetroBus

Yesterday, through circumstance, I had the second half of the day off work.  However, I had completely forgotten, and carpooled to work.  About halfway through the day, I found myself with nothing to do but get home, but no car or bicycle with which to transport myself. "I know what to do!" I thought. "I've been wanting to try the bus for a while now! Surely the city of Austin's speedy, cleanly bus system can ferry me home".

You see, I have a confession.  I am a feet/bike/train person.  I've never taken a city bus.  So I have no idea how it works.  The first thing I discovered is that the nearest bus station is a mile from my job.  So I took a shuttle halfway, then walked the rest of the way.  I stopped at a convenience store to buy water and get cash back for the bus, which I assumed preferred cash.  Despite expectations, though, I had stumbled into the only convenience store in America that doesn't do cash back.  So, back on the sidewalk, I hoofed it the remaining half mile to the nearest bus stop praying their machine/fare box takes debit cards. 

The bus arrives, and alas, my prior thought was correct - the bus takes cash, and bus passes, but no debit cards.  So, I recommenced the walking, to the bus pavilion on the other side of the freeway.  So I walked.  I arrived at the Park & Ride Pavilion, which is a significantly sized area with a parking lot and a covered area to wait for your bus.  I was working on the hope there would be some sort of ticket sales machine at the Pavilion, given it's size, but no.  

Back to walking - I swung through the Academy next door, because I know they do in fact offer cash back.  As is my habit, I took a turn through the bike department where I discovered they sell brand new, insanely cheap road bikes featuring stem mounted shifters.  I wasn't in fact aware they still manufactured stem-mounted shifters.

They also had some pretty sweet bathing suits.

Camo, baby.  Welcome to the south.

I ended up purchasing something, and got ten dollars back so I could finally, two hours of walking later, take the bus home.  I got on my phone, checked Cap Metro's trip planner, and discovered that the itinerary to get me within a mile of my house would take an hour and a half, plus additional walking time home.  So I admit it.  I called my roommate to come pick me up.  I fail at the bus.  And all I could think the entire time was "I wish I had my bike."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Slogging through Molasses

Man, I don't know what's up with me lately!  This weekend, the boyfriend and I took a Sunday jaunt to our local watering hole/establishment of sports broadcasting to catch Stage 1 of the Tour (go Cancellara!)

Now, I am not known to be the most patient person on earth, and I've been known to fuss at my super-athletic boyfriend because he tends to lollygag while cycling.  This weekend, as I pulled up behind him to the light, I found myself unable to push my legs faster.  I feel heavy, slow, like I'm slogging through molasses on a cold day in January.  I noticed the same thing this morning at the gym while working out.    The complete opposite of how I fancy myself.

The struggle with this is to not let it get to my self-esteem and just keep moving - the longer I spend on the bike, the better the situation becomes.  It's just hard to want to get on the bike when you're worried about disappointing yourself.  Meaning this is all a head-issue.

How the hell do people motivate themselves when they plain old don't want to?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lock it Up

Earlier today I came across this video - I started watching around the 6:30 mark.  To briefly summarize, in about 2 minutes worth of actual work, these guys managed to cut through about $800 worth of bike locks, including the touted-as indestructible Kypronite New York Lock.

I personally do a combination system - I use a combination of the older version of the OnGuard Pitbull Medium through my frame with a small, thinner OnGuard Doberman Cable Lock through both wheels.    When it's all the way done, it usually looks about like this:

These photos (which are admittedly a bit old, but my locking is the same) are the before and after of leaving my bike locked up outside a friend's apartment building in downtown Austin on a Friday.  While I've never had a problem with bike theft, I fully recognize that this makes me lucky, rather than good.  For all that we spend money on locks, past a point, these things are all about deterrence and making it more of a pain in the ass than it's worth to steal the bike.

While I personally lean more towards the U-Lock, there are some corners which love the hardened chains, which look like gigantic beast-slayers (but no love for cable locks).  As that video at the top demonstrates, it's all possible to get through with a stout set of bolt cutters.  I'd love to know if anyone has creative locking strategies beyond the basic "Lock all the things with whatever you can get around it"  - theft is an issue that affects anyone who has to leave things outside from time to time.  Thoughts?