Dorkness Visible

January 11, 2009

So it turns out that when you ride a big heavy commuter bike that’s laden down with clothes and books all week, a weekend spin on a road bike is weirdly liberating. It’s almost like having no bicycle at all.

Which doesn’t mean that I haven’t been totally digging the big heavy bike. It’s been a while since I rode in downtown rush hour traffic, so I’m trying to be as visible as possible. In the day that just means my big yellow reflective jacket. But I’m working two evenings a week, when I take the train home. Usually then I’m wearing my black leather jacket, which is far from ideal for the night-time mile or so from the MARTA station to my house. Luckily there’s this incredibly dorky solution, which I’ve just ordered:

Brilliantly visible, in a wonderfully silly sort of way. Once it arrives, I’m sure I’ll get a weird bust of satisfaction from strapping a giant triangle to myself. Maybe I’ll wear it around the house just for fun.

On another note, this is the first piece I’ve read that acknowledges the cyclists who seem totally unreached by mainstream bike culture. It could be my own ignorance – and I really hope it is – but there seems to be a massive disconnect between bike advocacy and low income cyclists, particularly immigrants. Does anyone know if there are many Spanish language bike groups? I see plenty of advocacy for bike commuters like me, people who are middle class or nearly so, and strap giant dorky reflective triangles to themselves. But because a lot of that sort of thing centers around bike stores (not to mention people with internet access), I don’t see signs of much outreach to people who can’t afford to buy cool reflective stuff and nifty panniers.

Do collectives like Atlanta’s SOPO reach the city’s immigrant communities? Are there other groups out there helping low income bike commuters to maintain their bikes and have access to the equipment needed for safe riding? I hope so, and that my lack of awareness of them is a function of my own ignorance.

Up to Speed

December 23, 2008

So I’ll be back in the full swing of bike commuting come early January, after over half a year doing most of my work from home (and so most of my cycling on my road bike). Which means that it’s time to get my city bike back into shape. Not that I haven’t been riding it regularly, but it does need a little care and attention for the fifty-odd miles I’ll be putting on it each week. Nothing too drastic though. Just a good oil and clean of the chain, along with some new grips and a new saddle.

My old grips had reached that point of deterioration where they were leaving little black flecks on my hands. And they’d always slipped around a bit. Some hairspray on the inside of the new ones has them securely in place.

But it’s the new saddle that’s the best change of all. I wore through the springs on my old one, so it needed replacing. I had rather naively thought that I could pony up $30 or so for something decent. Once in the bike store, however, I felt the lure of the Brooks saddles, and succumbed to the all-too-convincing sales pitch of the bike store dude, who pointed out that if I went the Brooks route I’d be buying my next one in thirty years or so.

Plus which, they’re just so lovely. I mean… leather! I feel that a Brooks saddle somehow makes my life more Victorian. I already shave with a brush and soap, so why not bring my cycling into sync with my personal grooming?

Anyway, several rationalizations and more money than I care to mention later…


Lovely, innit? As it’s leather I have to anoint it with special oils on a regular basis during the breaking-in period, and wait for it to mold itself into the shape of my ass cheeks. But already it’s quite deliciously comfortable.

On another note, I can’t quite decide whether I think this article is awesome or slightly annoying. It’s about the political implications of cycling, and particularly Critical Mass, local bike collectives and the general impact that getting around by bike has on the way you relate to the world. On the one hand it does a very nice job of examining the politics of cycling. But buried in here are some slightly annoying binaries. The piece seems to subtly equate following traffic laws and wearing helmets with a lack of radicalism, while providing a heroic narrative for youthful bike subculture (while simultaneously arguing that said subculture transcends intergenerational boundaries).

Um… can’t I have my politicized cycling without unnecessary head injuries? If you believe this piece, no-one who attends Critical Mass wears helmets and follows the basic rules of the road in their regular biking lives. Since when did a styrofoam exoskeleton on your noggin make you pro-car? And since when did biking on the right side of the road efface the independence and rejection of the automotive status quo that comes with getting around by bike?

Or maybe I’m being too cranky here. Thoughts?

Errol Morris Bicycle Themed Cheap Beer Ad

October 7, 2008

This ad perfectly combines three things: opposition to oil consumption, appreciation for cycling and a love of cheep beer. Enjoy!

The Perfect Pedal Solution

October 5, 2008

For a long time now I’ve been looking for the perfect pedal solution for my commuter bike. My commute is about fifteen miles round trip, with lots of hills, so regular pedals don’t really cut it. At the same time, I use the bike for lots of trips close to home for which I like to wear normal shoes, so clipless pedals would be a problem.

I had been using Power Grips, which keep my feet in position and provide a bit of pull without requiring bike shoes. Straps or clips weren’t an option as they and I don’t seem to get along (partly, I think, because of my slightly wonky, splayed feet). The Power Grips were dead cheap, and locked my feet in place reasonably well. But they remained a pain in the bum to get in and out of. On those busy stretches of downtown, where there’s a light every block, I would give up on being strapped in as sometimes it could take a block just to get my feet in place.

Several months ago I went clipless on my road bike, something that completely revolutionized my biking and for which there’s definitely no going back.  This also made the Power Grips seem sort of half-assed. I contemplated going clipless for the long ride into work, keeping a pair of regular shoes in the office. But that would rule out biking in normal shoes for the pub, post office or coffee shop.

Enter the perfect solution: the nattily named Forte Campus Pedal. They’re clipless on one side and suitable for regular shoes on the other. I’ve just installed them, and they definitely work well with either kind of footwear. The customer reviews suggest that they might conk out after a couple of thousand miles, but if that’s the case I’ll just upgrade to Shimano’s more expensive version. Right now, though, it really does look like I have the best of both worlds. I think I’ve found my full-assed pedal solution.

Out of Gas

September 24, 2008

The sense that, to quote Robert Carlyle’s character in Formula 51/51st State, the United States is “Albania in neon” has been compounded this week by the fact that Atlanta has run out of gas. Every gas station I’ve passed has those little covers over the pumps, thanks to hurricanes Gustav and Ike (we get our fuel from the Gulf of Mexico in these here parts), together with generally poor refining capacity. It’s the 1970s all over again! But hopefully not the 1930s. Rosh Hashanah is nearly here, and I don’t think I can deal with the brownshirts.

Although a lot of people have been terribly inconvenienced, I’m horribly smug about how little this affects me. Today I did 16.62 miles of errand cycling (yes, I am obsessed with quantification), between lunch at Chic-Fil-A (they’re Christian fundamentalists, but oh so tasty), work in a coffee shop and a ride to the pub. And not a gallon of gasoline used. The perfect storm of self-satisfaction.

Technically speaking, we just need gas in order to do our weekly grocery run. If we broke it up into a few trips we could do it by bike right now. Or we could get an S.U.B. That is to say, a Sports Utility Bike or Xtracycle. In fact, what with the impending apocalypse and all, we’ve basically decided that this is where our next tax refund is going. Look, they’re gorgeous:

You can buy one outright, or get a kit to convert an existing bike. As LMS has a Raleigh in the garage that we use only for guests, we’re going to go the latter route. Which should mean that we can leave the car at home when buying food. Just the thing for the Mad Max future that most Atlantans are one empty gas tank away from ushering in.

On another, less apocalyptic note, according to the League of American Bicyclists, this great state of Georgia is 49th in our republic for bike friendliness. Screw you, West Virginia!


September 15, 2008

Two things have arguably saved my sanity in the last couple of years: Afrobeat and cycling.

Afrobeat because there’s something about Fela Kuti‘s infectious grooves that latch onto the third of my brain that would otherwise be screaming with stress and anxiety. And cycling because, well, it’s cycling. I get to exercise, get around pleasantly, lose weight (15 lbs so far) and consume fewer natural resources.

So far I’m yet to find a way to combine these two life-saving obsessions. But AfricaBike sure comes close.

Kona has built a bicycle specifically suited for Africa: rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. You and I can buy one for $375. But we can also buy one for a health worker in Africa for a mere $100. The idea being, of course, that home health care workers can deliver more ARV drugs to HIV/AIDS patients if they can actually, you know, get to people’s homes. And look! AfricaBike even has its own MySpace page. I wonder if it will be my friend?

As I don’t ride while listening to music — I consider the combination of bike riding and earphones to be almost as nuts as riding without a helmet — I can’t directly combine my love of Fela with my love of cycling. But I can salute Fela’s Pan-Africanism by giving it up to AfricaBike.

You’d look hotter in a helmet

September 14, 2008

So I’m seeing more and more people cycling without helmets. Maybe it’s because more people are using their bikes to get around these days, so there are more inexperienced cyclists out there. Or maybe it’s the pernicious influence of this study, which argued that motorists give cyclists more room if they’re not wearing a helmet. In either case, it’s really alarming.

Helmets save lives. And even if it is true that people without helmets are given more room by drivers (though I’m a bit skeptical of that), when you actually do fall off a bike they protect your noggin. Besides, if that study is right, it only sums up current driving culture, which can change over time. Were everyone to wear a helmet, drivers’ behaviour would presumably be different.

Anyway, all I know is that when I was in the emergency room after falling off my bike and breaking my wrist, the first thing every doctor I met asked me was, “were you wearing a helmet?” Perhaps I need a “you’d look hotter in a helmet” t-shirt. Because you really would. Not that you’re not hot now, of course.

On another note, Ride Smart has launched a “bike buddy” program, encouraging seasoned bike commuters to mentor new riders. A great idea, though probably not for me. Even if I weren’t working from home right now, I’d probably be so horribly cantankerous in the morning as to scare the other person away from cycling for life. But maybe someone else could do this. Someone who is, you know, a nicer person than me.

And be sure to check out the various links at the bottom of the bike buddy page, which include services such as a guaranteed ride home program and bicycle roadside assistance (though the former link appears to be dead right now).

Anyway, here in Atlanta gas has leapt 40 cents in one day following Hurricane Ike. LMS’s mum, who lives in Houston, is doing fine. I’m glad about that, and glad that we won’t need to fill the car up for at least two more weeks.