Posts Tagged ‘commute’

Bike to Work Day 2012

June 20th, 2012 No comments

Next week on June 27th I will be participating in Bike to Work Day 2012. If you live elsewhere you may have already done this back in May, but in Colorado we have it in June due to the fact that it is less likely to snow. I have a special fondness for BTWD (as us old timers like to call it) due to the fact that it kicked off my attempt to commute to work via alternative transportation. The first year I participated I had no bike, so I ran the 14 miles to work. I vowed to get a bike for the next year, and that May my dream was realized. By the time my second BTWD rolled around my butt had almost healed from my first attempt at riding to work without bike shorts. Now a few years later, BTWD is just another day on the calendar that I ride to work but I love to remember how it got me started!

If you talk to many hardcore bike commuters you will find that many of them hate BTWD. It’s the one day of the year that you are guaranteed to see someone on a bike do something crazy, putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s inevitable when people are trying something for the first time to have problems getting started. And I know it is tough to ask for help when you are doing something that most of us have been doing since we were 5!

So for BTWD 2012 I thought I would write a few tips that I have picked up over the years of riding my bike to work (and I’m still learning). You probably know all of these things already, but you’d be surprised at the things I’ve seen and done.

Choose your route carefully! You are not going to want to ride the same roads that you drive to work on your bike. You are not going to be able to pedal 40mph, so it’s not going to take you any longer than it would otherwise by taking side streets. And if you can avoid streets completely to ride on bike paths, do so even if it’s out of your way! It is SO much less stressful traveling on a bike path than it is on a street with cars. Bike lanes do improve that comfort somewhat, but even with them there is the feeling that you are going ridiculously slowly compared to traffic. Google maps has a great feature that will let you search for directions to travel by bike. It’s not perfect, but I’ve found lots of potential routes by that tool that avoid many of the main traffic problems. Don’t be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, or ride on the road against traffic. Cars are expecting other cars on the road, so if you act like other cars they won’t be surprised. I’ve run into a few “bike lane salmon” in my time, you do not want to be that cyclist!

Be prepared! Make sure you have an extra tube, tire levers and a pump with you. If I meet you stranded on the trail I can probably help you change a tire, or make adjustments to your bike with my tool set, but I don’t carry tubes and pumps for all sizes of tires and chances are you don’t have the same size I do. If you have the things you need most cyclists will be happy to help you deal with the problem if you are in over your head. Ask for help if you need it. There are not “born cyclists” who are good at everything from day 1, everyone has had to start at some point. If you do know how to change your own flat tire, great! Just make sure you don’t leave any trash behind. Abandoning your blown-out tube on the side of the road will not give it time to think about what it has done.

Be comfortable! I know you hate spandex, everyone does. But there’s a very good reason that bike shorts exist, if there wasn’t no one would wear them. It’s not to make you more aerodynamic. Apart from providing some much needed padding for your sit-bones, the chamois ensures that there are no seams rubbing against any part of your body that touches the saddle. The chamois is your first line of defense against discomfort, and it’s not a thing you want to go without. If you are concerned about the spandex issue wear bike shorts under your regular shorts. Once you get to work, change as soon as possible, a sweaty chamois is not your friend.

Ride your bike like you drive your car!  Stop at the stop lights and stop signs and wait until it is your turn to cross. Take your place in line at intersections, just because you can fit by on the right side doesn’t mean you should. Cars are not expecting you to come flying by on the right and that’s an invitation to getting cut off. Signal your intentions with hand signals, and thank drivers that give you extra space with a wave. Don’t react negatively to cars that cut it too close. If they are dumb enough to be trying to “teach you a lesson” with a 2000lb hunk of metal, they are probably not going to park their car to politely debate the merits of bike travel with you.

Relax! Riding your bike to work is fun. Give yourself extra time to enjoy the slower pace. If you wanted to be at work “right away” you would have taken your car. On BTWD, find a couple of breakfast stations and stop to chat. In the morning it is cool, and if you are doing it right you probably won’t even need the shower when you get to work! If you really do need that shower, just take it as an opportunity to brag to coworkers about how you just rode to work.

Categories: bike, commute, fitness Tags: ,

Project Bike

May 11th, 2012 1 comment

Commute BikeThe conversion of road bike to commute bike is complete! With this I forgo any aspirations of ever racing this bike, and instead dedicate its use to meeting my transportation needs. I began this journey a few months ago with some investigation of how to attach a rack to a road bike. As my bike has no attachment points for accessories I was clueless as to how to begin. The search revealed two possible solutions. The first “P-clamps” which are readily available at hardware stores, and the second, a quick-release adapter to mount a rack directly to the axle.

The QR adapter was favored by touring enthusiasts and I wasn’t sure I needed to go that route for my 20 lbs of gear (I weighed my usual full commute bag). But I did know that I needed to go with something more robust than a seat mount rack, which are generally rated to only 15 lbs. It turned out that a particular brand of rack (Racktime) could be adapted to work with a QR-adapter specific for Tubus racks. Tubus racks are much more robust, and designed specifically for touring, but Racktime offer a similar design with slightly weaker aluminum construction. I ordered a Racktime rack and figured I would try with P-clamps first.

My first attempt at mounting the rack with P-clamps resulted in a functional rack system, but it did not feel very robust. With my loaded panniers (a sweet set from KoKi), my heels would occasionally catch on the bags, even in their farthest back adjustment. Also, the P-clamps that attach near the axle were carrying a lot of load on just a thin, sheet metal mounting point. My fear was I would be riding home and the clip would snap, leaving me stranded without any way to fix it.

Rack and Fenders

Rack and fenders attached with QR adapter kit from Tubus

I ordered the QR-adapter, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to mount the rack on the supplied brackets (just two holes needed to be drilled). Mounting the rack on the bike with the wheel and attaching the rack to the seat stays was another issue entirely! Eventually, after several failed attempts, and a couple of trips to the hardware store, I am finally happy with the way the rack is mounted. The QR-mount is a solid attachment point, and I would have no problem loading the rack to its full 66 lb rating with the current configuration. Heel strike is a thing of the past as well.

Buoyed up by my success with the rack, I went about adding fenders to the mix. I was convinced that fenders were essential to allowing me to ride my bike on inclement weather days. Usually, the only times I ride in the rain are when I get caught in an evening thunderstorm. The result of this is that I arrive at my destination drenched, having to completely disassemble my bike, and needing to stand in the shower for half an hour to warm up. None of these things are possible at work, so I couldn’t ride my bike to work on days when it was raining in the morning.

I bought a set of fenders that were specific for a road bike. They are 35 mm wide so that they can (potentially) fit through the brake calipers without touching the wheel. I managed to get the rear fender mounted, but it turned out it was rubbing along the whole left hand side of the fender. In other words, my rear wheel had moved over in the frame a few millimeters, and while not enough to notice without a fender, with a fender it was a big deal! I went about tightening up the spokes on the right hand side of the wheel to move it over, and in a few short minutes had completely destroyed the wheel. Not only was the dish still off, the rim was completely bent and un-true.

Front Fender

Front fender attached with P-clamps

It was then that I tapped out and took the wheel to my local bike shop to fix. They returned a true wheel, that fit properly in the frame. With that the job of attaching the fenders became much easier, and it was only 2 or 3 hours of minute adjustments before I had two fenders mounted and clear of the tires.

This week I got to reap the full benefit of my labors as I rode to work in the rain on Monday. Fenders make a massive difference, and I arrived at work almost completely dry. In addition, all of the water had been directed away from the sensitive parts of the bike so no disassembly was required, just a re-lubrication of the chain. My work clothes emerged from my water-tight panniers dry, and by the time the ride home began my bike clothes had dried out too!

Making the switch from road bike to commuter was a lot more difficult than I had imagined, but the payoff is huge. I have added so many days that I can potentially ride to work to my calendar, helping to keep me healthy, and keeping me off the bus!



Categories: bike, commute Tags: , , , ,

Take the Lane

March 24th, 2011 4 comments

Bikes Use Full LaneI thought it would be good to share about one of the most helpful things I have learned as a bicycle commuter. Hopefully this will inspire other new cyclists to try it, and keep everyone a little safer on the roads. The concept is called “taking the lane” and from a beginner’s perspective it is counterintuitive. Bikes are supposed to stay as far to the right as possible, correct? The answer is no, bikes should be as far to the right as is safe for the cyclist, however there are many instances when the safest place for a bike to be is occupying the entire lane. In the city of Denver the law is clear on how bicycles shall be operated on public roadways.

In particular, section 54-565:

Every person riding a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subjected to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by the traffic rules and regulations of this city applicable to the driver of a vehicle,

and section 54-572 (a):

Every person operating a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right-hand side of the roadway as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so.

My take on the concept is that if, as a cyclist, you want to be regarded as a vehicle with rights to the road, then you should be acting as if you are a vehicle. If you ride your bike the way you would be expected to act as a car, motorists will be anticipating your actions and will respond in a predictable way. This way, not only are the motorists anticipating your actions, but you can also to some extent anticipate their actions. This means safer riding.

My favorite example of this is when approaching a stoplight. I always take my lane at a stoplight, regardless of whether there are cars there or not. First, if there are no cars there the sensors generally won’t see you if you aren’t in the middle of the lane. If you are too far to the right, cars will try to turn right in front of you, cutting you off or even knocking you over. If you are too far to the left in the lane cars will try to squeeze by you on the right to turn right, or even to pass you on the right in the intersection when the light turns green. In both these cases it is safer to be in the middle, as if you were a car occupying the full lane. When the light changes everyone is going slowly enough that you can easily move to the right of the lane as you cross the intersection, allowing traffic to pass.

If there are cars at the stop light I always take my lane, and my place in line. I am an outlier in this sense as most cyclists will pass along the right to the front of the line of cars. I think this practice is dangerous. It upsets drivers, because if they have had to pass you further back on the road they now have to think about passing you again. As a cyclist, passing on the right you also open yourself up to someone turning right in front of you and cutting you off. If you take your lane and place in line, suddenly the dynamic changes. Now you are behaving as a car would and the cars in line to cross the intersection understand that you will behave in a predictable way. Once traffic is moving through the intersection it is easy to move to the right when it is safe for cars to pass.

These are two good examples of how taking the lane as a cyclist can be safer, but there are many more cases as well. If I am attempting to turn left I will always change lanes and move into the turn lane to turn. Generally this makes sense as turning left from the right side of the road is never reasonable. If I can’t move over to the left to turn I will dismount my bike and cross at the crosswalk as a pedestrian. That brings up another issue which is to never, ever, ride on a sidewalk. Not only are you now not behaving as a vehicle would, but every single driveway/mall entrance/corner becomes a huge hazard. Cars don’t expect you, and they will absolutely not see you.

I do believe that there are certain ways that cyclists should not behave as cars. This is in the case of high-traffic, high-speed limit roads. Does a cyclist have the right to ride on such a road? Yes. Does that mean it is safe or reasonable for a cyclist to exercise that right? Absolutely not. My feeling is that the top speed of a bike is fairly limited, while an automobile’s speed is not. That means that a cyclist is going to travel just as quickly on a side street where the speed limit is 25 as they would on a road where the speed limit is 45. Most major thoroughfares run parallel to numerous side streets where the traffic is minimal, and the rate of travel for a bike on these roads is essentially the same. There may be more stop signs to deal with, but those really do not impact travel time significantly. A little bit of route planning before your ride can make things so much safer for everyone, so do your homework. Google maps now offers bike directions that generally avoid major streets and opt for bike routes and bike paths, so there are no excuses.

Not all of the situations you will encounter on the bike will be easy to evaluate, but generally if you are thinking and behaving as if you were a car this will be the safest option. What’s most amazing is that I’ve found drivers are fairly tolerant of this behavior as long as you are keeping to the right when the road is open. Just watch how many people give you a little extra space the next time you line up at a stoplight and don’t jump to the front! Now get out there and ride safe!

Categories: bike, safety Tags: , , ,