20 August 2010

Pretty in pink

pretty cyclist in CambridgeShe was smiling at a pedestrian as she cycled by on this beautiful summer day.

19 August 2010

Practical Joke?

bicycle wrapped in plastic wrapThis bike was spotted in Harvard Square on Sunday. A few years ago I saw the guy shown below at Target, I wonder if his friend thought he would be safe if he gave up the Jeep for a city bike? Plastic wrap wins again!

car wrapped in plastic wrap

16 August 2010

A few thoughts on Cyclotouring

I never meant this blog to be about long-distance cycling, and I've tried to keep the posts from being about myself. However today I'm going to forget this policy and, by reader request, share some thoughts and personal experiences regarding long distance cycling.

I actually started riding long distances before I was a transportational cyclist. I was still a city-walker when we lived in Paris, but I bought a road bike to accompany my then-boyfriend on rides out exploring the countryside around Paris. You do need a good bike for this kind of adventure. My first long ride was Paris-Chartres. We extensively used MayQ's routes and advice, all of it is highly recommended, Route #6 will take you to Chartres in about 100km. However I hurt so badly on that first ride thought I was going to DIE.

This is important to remember, and my husband brings it up often. I don't think anyone is born with the ability to go long distances right away. You must build up your endurance, you must build up your saddle seat, you must build up your navigational skills. I'm here to tell you it's worth it, but know that there is a learning curve, start somewhat small, and remember those first rides because you'll look back on them and smile at how far you've come.

I went from that 60 miles or so to doing 250 miles in New Hampshire one day on one occasion and later that summer doing 800+ across France in 8+ days and not even feeling sore. So I can tell you that it can be done. If I can do it you can do it, I find it helps to have a mantra. When I was a wee girl my favorite book was The Little Engine that Could. Now, cycling, I just repeat "I think I can, I think I can". You'll have to find yours.

So we started going further and further and eventually added overnights to the mini-tours. We just do motel-style bike touring, there are some incredible souls who carry tents and stoves on their bikes and I'm certainly not there yet! I learned that if you ask for bike parking you'll be told they have it and it will be a rickety rack in the back of a parking lot. If you call and explain that you have an expensive road bike that can't spend the night outside, but you really want to give the motel your money, they will usually find an acceptable place for the bike, or direct you to a nearby motel that will work. This approach has worked in the USA and France, I imagine it will work just about anywhere. When in doubt just sneak your bike in. If you leave no grease (and you really shouldn't) they'll never know anyway.

Nelson Longflap Carradice on Raleigh
Going away for overnights and longer adds the complexity of packing for the trip, so let's talk about bike bags and minimalist packing strategies. On my lovely Raleigh International I ride with a Carradice Nelson Longflap (with a Bagman) for touring. I've used it stretched to capacity with everything I needed for a 10 day trip (including a bottle of wine made by our friend's father) and I can't really imagine ever getting a larger bag. I suppose if I ever wanted to tour in a cold climate I might need more space. Anyway, I have modified the attachment system on my bag to allow me to take it on and off the bike. This is particularly important if you're visiting towns and parking the bike on the street. The steps I took were as follows:
  1. visit hardware store. Find flat-bottomed hooks that have narrow enough hook parts to fit through your Brooks saddle loops. This may take several iterations, and I have many hooks that DON'T actually work.
  2. pull the Carradice-supplied straps through the attachment holes and push the hooks through instead. Run the straps through the flat portion of the hooks and loop twice around the internal dowel. Fasten once and be happy that you'll never have to fasten that again.
  3. Extra-Credit - take two D-rings and a length of webbing. Sew a short strap and thus fashion yourself a purse strap to carry your Carradice around your destination.
I can take more photos but hopefully these will help convey the idea. Here are the hooks peeking out from the bag:

hooks to attach a Carradice bag
Here's what it looks like on the inside of the bag:

inside the modified Carradice bag
Here's the bag with the "purse" strap attached, ready to be carried around while your bike is parked:

Carradice Nelson longflap with shoulder strap
Finally, here's a closeup of the photo above where you can see the hooks attaching the bag to the Brooks saddle, the "purse" strap is stowed inside:

Carradice hooked to Brooks saddle

Now all of this can be avoided if, like my husband, you get their "Seatpost Quick Release" (SQR) bags. I didn't care as much for the look, and the mounting bracket won't work on my Campagnolo aero seatpost (and that is a thing of beauty) so this was my only option.

Once you have your bag ready for touring you have to fill it. We have a team list and then personal lists. Things that the team needs include (in no particular order):
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • toiletries
  • map(s)
  • lights
  • cash, credit cards
  • cell phones, camera
  • bike lock
  • riding clothes
  • civilian clothes/pyjamas
  • saddle cover and rain gear
  • snacks, water
  • tools, tubes, pump
Note that this list should logically expand, lights would include batteries to make those lights work, etc. Also, while we both need sunglasses only I need to bring regular eyeglasses so those we logically file under "toiletries" and my husband doesn't worry about them. You'll work out your own system but this is what works for us.

As for my personal packing here's all I took on a long weekend trip last year (dubbed 4 States, 4 days, 400 miles):

packing photo bicycle tripIn this photo you can see my bag and helmet, both with taillights, a bag of toiletries, a jersey and bike shorts and overskirt, rain coat, arm warmers, gloves and socks, my long black jersey dress, cycling shoes, grey tights for early morning/late night warmth, a wallet I modified into handlebar-mounted camera case, the purse strap, my cell phone, wet wipes, headlight and sunglasses with extra lenses. Not pictured are my underwear because, while I want to help other aspiring cyclotourists, nothing will compel me to post photos of my underwear on the internet. But don't forget yours!

simple dress works for cyclotouring
A word about my jersey dress - this was one of several black jersey dresses I picked up in college, and I wish I remember where! It's light, very drape-y, will not wrinkle, is comfortable to sleep in but can dress up to look completely elegant. I wore it with a black shrug out in France and Madame at our bed & breakfast was astounded at how elegant we looked. She couldn't believe we had that in our little bike bags! If it impresses a former Parisienne then it's good enough for me. I like looking like a relatively normal person for the non-cycling portion of the adventure. I don't know what the equivalent garment will be for you, but I'm certain there is a low-fuss simple option that's probably already in your closet.

When touring far from home you're faced with the question of transporting your own bike or renting one there. I think there are two questions to ask yourself:
  1. Am I a standard size in the place I'm going and are they likely to have a bike that is comfortable for me?
  2. How long will we be riding? Will there be enough vacation off the bike that having it around will be a hassle?
You'll have to work these questions out for yourself, but for our 8 day trip we brought our own bikes. This is no small task! We got cardboard bike boxes from the local bike shop (free) and pipe insulation from the hardware store (~$5/bike). We wrapped the tubes of our bikes in the pipe insulation and wrapped all the components in bubble wrap and clothing. The story is better told in person, but there were all these miraculous circumstances that ended up allowing me to have an old skateboard cut so we had a platform, trucks, and wheels for each bike box. When we got to CDG we pulled out the wheels and duct tape and added them to the back end of our boxes. We could then pull them to the RER and through the streets of Paris. We were lucky enough to have friends willing to store our boxes while we travelled, so we just reversed the procedure to go home. I believe that some hotels have basements where they would do the same thing.

skateboard wheels on a bike box
I can tell you that our homemade solution got a lot of attention in the streets and airport. I thought people were irritated by our large size until I overheard an American family exclaim "Oh! It has wheels!" I guess the wheels are small enough it looked like it was levitating.
Anyway, hurray for Yankee ingenuity, this worked very well for very little cost.

skateboard wheels on a bike box
By the time we were back home in Boston the cardboard had gotten a bit mushy. If you travel much longer than that you might want to reinforce, or actually get a real travel box.

So why bother with all this? If you've read all this text you probably already have the itch to get out there and see the world at the speed of a bicycle. In my experience I've found that you see things, smell things, taste and eat things that you never would have encountered sealed away in a car. People, particularly men of a certain age, just love to come and talk to you about your bike. I've made friends around the world this way. In my case, more than anything, it's been a wonderful adventure with my husband, a microcosm of our more general journey together which has given us new communication channels, appreciation for each other's skills and strength, and a rich set of shared experiences to enjoy even in the midst of the less exciting daily life. It's like therapy, I suppose, but a LOT more fun! So much fun that we spend our time thinking about getting out there again. Where to next? We're planning the next big adventure for September...

In the meantime, happy adventures to all!

adventures by bike

13 August 2010

You turkey!

wild turkeys on bicycles
A reader sent in this photo, taken this morning, of wild turkeys availing themselves of bicycle roosts at Longwood.

It seems the one in the basket looked as if s/he was settling in for a long stay.

12 August 2010

Bicycle Friendly Towns: Bennington, VT

free coffee for cyclists in Bennington, VTSomewhat randomly this summer I got to visit Bennington, VT for the first time. What struck me most, besides how perfectly charming and 'New England' the town is, was how shockingly friendly the people there are to cyclists.

You can see that you don't even have to arrive a cyclist, they will loan you a touring bike at the Visitor's Center.

loaner bike provided by the town
Once out on your loaner bike you can visit the Crazy Russian Girls Bakery. The coffee's free if you arrive on a bike!

free coffee for cyclistsWith countryside like this, why wouldn't you want to be on a bike?

road in Bennington, VT
The Bennington Arts Guild was even featuring bicycle parts re-made as art in its windows.

Bennington art gallery featuring bicycle art in the window

Bennington, VT bicycle art

I don't know when I'll be back, but I'd love to cycle there again (and at a time that the bakery is open!)

11 August 2010

Red Purse

chic cyclist with a red purse
She's looking fetching in her neutrals with that vivid red purse.

10 August 2010

Fender Detail

homemade DIY metal bicycle fenders
Spotted in Cambridge, I believe these minimalist fenders may be homemade. All the more impressive that the ends have such elegant detailing! I could be wrong, but I haven't found any photos on the web showing fenders like these. Anyone?

homemade metal bicycle fenders

homemade bicycle fenders

06 August 2010

Back Bay Bike Parking

Back Bay bike parkingNew bike racks are going in on Clarendon Street, in the Back Bay. This location is right across from where the Hard Rock Café used to be (empty now), and is very near the new John Hancock building and the Back Bay subway and commuter rail station.

Back Bay bike parkingThe upside of all this parking is that there is certainly a lot of it, it's in an area with a paucity of bike racks, and the entire area is covered for protection from the elements. Downside is that the entire area is covered because it's a tunnel freeway entrance for the Mass Pike. It's a great use of space for a much-needed resource, but beware of "freeway-minded" drivers folks!

05 August 2010

San Francisco Bicycle Parking

bicycle parking San Francisco
Sent in by a friend, this image was taken outside Public Cycles in San Francisco. I think this may be the most elegant outdoor bike parking I've ever seen. It's almost as if they're surfing bikes, paddling out to the break.

What do you think? Parking or sculpture?

UPDATE: Thanks to D in the comments I now know this is called a Bike Arc.

02 August 2010

New Bike for a Friend

I get the fun job of helping a friend shop for a new city bike. She's mother to two, so the bike must carry the 18 month old, and in this case reliability trumps aesthetics. I'd still like to find her something cute, and regular readers know I'm a bit out of my element when it comes to new bike shopping, I'm a vintage bike kind of girl. But as I adjusted my brakes yet again this morning I knew that I should limit this bike search to new bikes. I thought I'd list my thoughts and hope that you, dear readers, could chime in with ideas and suggestions.

My friend is about 5'7", a very fit triathlete, with two young girls (4 years and 18 months) who are also growing up to be cyclists. Her previous city bike was a generic hybrid, which was stolen off her fenced back patio! This bike will have to go in the same spot, but we hope to have it better secured. She has a triathlon bike, this should be her upright kid-hauling city bike.

Loop frame ANT with lavender rims
1) dream bike would, of course, be a custom ANT ($2,700)
Upside would be that it would be perfect for her and her family, now and in the future. Downside would be the price. But look at those lines! The headlight! These lavender rims! And working with Mike is so fun. I love the upgrades he has planned... Sigh... It's fun to dream about the custom colors I would choose.

Electra bicycle
2) REI offers the Electra Ticino ($800), onto which I imagine we could add a chainguard. This bike looks a lot like mine, which may be why I like it, but it has cantilever brakes, which appeal to me for kid-carrying. She'd also get the REI refund on the purchase.
Downsides include no eyelets for a rear rack (and thus no baby seat). This is a deal-breaker Electra!

Public mixte
3) A new maker, Public, offers a cute Mixte ($750)
My friend would love the color options, it has a chainguard, and internal hubs ($890 if she needs the 8 speed). There are eyelets for the child seat. As people have commented on this blog, the fender line shown on their website bodes poorly for their overall attention to detail, but we can hope that was just the poor work of the bike stylist?

Lovely Bicycle KHS green
(Photo credit to the excellent blog Lovely Bicycle, who steps in where bike manufacturers fail!)
4) KHS offers the Green bicycle ($350) in black only.
I think the biggest downside to this bike is that certain parts of it do look really cheap. On the other hand they're some of the parts I'm most likely to change anyway. If we got a sprung black Brooks saddle and a pair of black swept-back handlebars I think it would go from "cheap" to "simple little black bike" pretty quickly. I don't believe the included rack is rated to carry a baby seat, so we'd have to switch that out. Also the ladies' bike only comes in 14" and 17" frame sizes. She might fit on a 17" but I know I wouldn't! I do like the idea of an internal hub for her, but while I'm ok with 3 speeds and a rack of groceries, I don't know about three speeds and a rack of toddler. She may need more gearing options. This bike works well for some but definitely has some drawbacks.

Belleville Trek bike
5) Trek offers the Belleville WSD ($660)
It has the 3 speed internal hub, includes the chainguard and fenders and racks. The front rack would likely be very useful to my friend, the rear rack would again probably have to be changed for the baby seat rack. Somehow there's something about this bike aesthetically that I don't like - has it got too much going on or something? Maybe it's that saddle.

Gary Fisher city bike
6) Gary Fisher has the Simple City 3 ($600)
I can't put my finger on it but this bike (and the 8 speed) does not excite me at all, and the women's version is worse.

red Specialized Mixte
7) Specialized Globe has a beautiful candy apple red Live 1 Mixte ($580) but I think my friend needs some gearing. Otherwise I think this bike has a lot going for it, particularly for taller ladies.

So readers, are there any new bikes out there that are exciting, and meet my friend's needs? Should I start looking into vintage bikes with new components (à la Renaissance Bicycles?) How can a lady haul toddlers in style?