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.


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.


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.

Oddly Ikea-like

September 9, 2008

Wahey! I’ve received and installed my new bike computer. I’m replacing my wireless front wheel computer with a wired rear-mounted one, so that I can get accurate mileage while on the trainer. Not that I’m actually going anywhere when on the trainer, but you get the picture. It also measures cadence, which is not something I’ve been able to do before.

Installing it was predictably simple yet simultaneously tricky: the concept is easy, but the zip ties… oh the zip ties! And there was no way to get the cadence sensor close enough to the cadence magnet. The picture in the instructions alluded to some sort of extra plastic thingie and yet… no extra plastic thingie. But I padded the magnet out a few milimeters with some inner tube rubber and everything now seems to be hunky dory (as Bowie would say, were he into this sort of thing; I assume he has people to install bike computers for him).

Next stop: an actual ride.


June 26, 2008

I’ve finally bought clipless pedals (doube-sided Shimano SPDs), something that I should have done ages ago. My OCR3 road bike came with toe clips and straps, which my wonky, somewhat sideways feet never quite fit into correctly (at least not without my knees pointing inwards a bit too much). I’ve been using Powergrips on my commuter bike, which is a great solution if you want to be able to use regular shoes. Anyways, one of my toe straps broke on the road bike, so it made sense (or so I tell myself) to have a pedal upgrade. Aside from the fact that my bike looks much more hardcore and serious, the ride is fantastic. It’s odd having your feet magically stuck to the pedals, but I have a real upstroke now. I was worried that my feet would be forced in too straight, and that I’d have to get fancy expensive floating pedals, but I was able to adjust the cleats at enough of an angle so I think I’m fine. I’ll go for a proper ride tomorrow if it’s not raining. Only four more miles to take June to 200.

Turn Signals

March 17, 2008

I want, I want, I want…

Sadly, this bike shirt is just a prototype, designed by Leah Buechley, a Ph.D. student in the University of Colorado’s department of computer science. According to Gizmodo, “LEDs embedded in an arrow formation flash to indicate the cyclist is about to turn left or right, warning motorists, and so, hopefully, preventing any unnecessary squishing.”

I approve.


February 9, 2008

So I have somewhat wonky knees. Or, at least, my knees and feet are weirdly misaligned, with my feet splaying out quite a bit. It’s just the way I am. It’s meant that the clips on my road bike put my feet in a slightly awkward position vis a vis my knees, so I tend to ride with the straps loose and my feet pointing further out than they should. The answer seems to be floating clipless pedals, but these are pricey. Meanwhile, over at the commuter bike, my shoes have been sliding off the big blocky plastic pedals when wet. Not good.

So today I purchased a dorky solution to both problems: power grips! Which even came with exciting new pedals. And all for just over $30.

I’ve installed them on the commuter bike and, though taking a bit of getting used to, they seem to make my ride both more efficient and comfortable. We’ll see how well they work with my knees. If they’re a problem I’ll take the grips off and happily accept the non-slip pedal upgrade. But so far they seem like a good solution, especially given the fact that I want to be able to bike with normal shoes on my commuter bike. And if they are kind to my knees, I’ll also get some for the road bike and ditch the clips.

On another note, LMS has a dream bike on order. Which the manager of the bike store told me not to ride. Because if I do I’ll want one too.