Well folks, I am back. It was a long, cold, hard winter, and I did little riding so I had little inspiration. But alas, spring has sprung, the pollen is flying, and I am back on the bike as well as the keyboard.

This installation has been inspired by two separate events that occurred in the same week. The first was a Facebook post by a friend of a Lexus with a fancy bike rack and a “Share the Road” license plate that was parked very poorly, thus using 2 parking spaces. The other happened last Thursday when a pickup truck came off the road and into the grass to try to block my progress. Which leads me to ask, where does sharing the road begin and end?

In the first instance I responded and stated that at least the poor parking job would not kill anyone, but cyclists get killed and injured by motorists who refuse to share the road. But if we as cyclists want the motorists to share with us, we need to take care in how we drive and park to show that we are practicing what we preach. Cyclists can be their own worst enemies when it comes to positive PR from our word and actions. Let us remember that “sharing” is always a 2 way street, even though many of us treat it as a one way and then boldly feel it’s our right to ride against the flow.

The second instance just makes me see red every time I think about it. Traffic was backed up at a traffic light on an uphill stretch of road. In that area there is sufficient berm to ride a bike past stopped traffic instead of being stuck sucking exhaust fumes. According to the way I read Title 40, Chapter 6, and Article 3 of the Georgia Code I am legally able to use said berm to pass standing traffic so that is what I was doing. As I was riding I saw the pickup start to inch to the right in an attempt to block my path so I went into the grass. The truck then continued into the grass and I felt he was at that point trying to hit me. I was able to avoid him and get back on the road and continue my climb to the light. This is by far some of the worst road rage I have experienced.

I am not really sure why this driver committed this act of Road Rage against me and I wasn’t about to stop and ask. Maybe he has encountered some of the same “head up their butt” cyclists that I have. Maybe he wasn’t able to find a parking space due to a poor parking job of a cyclist’s car. All I know is that the law here in Georgia says that we need to “share” the road and that means everyone need to do their part.

According to Dictionary.com:

share

verb (used with object), shared, shar·ing.

to divide and distribute in shares; apportion.

to use, participate in, enjoy, receive, etc., jointly

 

So as cyclists we need to share just as much as the motorists, if not more. We need to be vigilant about following the law so that we can have a leg to stand on when needed. We need to be vigilant as ambassadors of our sport and lifestyle. And we need to keep our heads on swivels because there are people out there who wish to harm us.


OK, so I haven’t blogged in a long time, but then I haven’t been ridding or re-building any bikes which is where I get my material to write about.  It is now one day into the New Year and I am relegated to the trainer in the basement where I am trying my darnedest to ride 5 to 6 days a week.  Where this does help to keep my legs in shape and some weight off, it is really pretty boring to write about.  I did acquire a heart rate monitor for Christmas which is allowing me to play with target zones and see the estimated calories burned and the percentage of those calories that were fat.  Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with those details either.

Over the Christmas break I did notice an article in VeloNews that peaked my interest in a book entitled “Land of Second Chances” by Tim Lewis.  The book is about the Rwandan cycling team and the country in general.  There is a coffee shop that was started Roswell, GA called Land of a Thousand Hills that serves Rwandan coffee and so I was somewhat familiar with the countries story, so I thought.  Being that I had nothing pressing to do over the New Year’s holiday and to my amazement our local library had a copy of the book so I had my wife pick it up for me. (I don’t have a library card)

I am a pretty picky reader as well as a somewhat slow reader, so I don’t tend to read many books very quickly.  If a book does catch hold of me, I can be totally distracted by it.  I sat down with this 327 page book on Tuesday after noon and finished it Wednesday night.  May it be noted that during that same span of time I made cinnamon rolls from scratch and watched a movie on Tuesday night and took down Christmas decorations on Wednesday afternoon.  None the less I amazed my family by literally devouring this book in two days.

The book is about cycling, broken people, a broken nation, broken NGOs, and, of course, second chances.  This book is about so much more than cycling and I don’t know where to even begin to explain it.  Having lived in a third world country for two years and dealing with a foreign culture this book hit home with me in a deep inner place.  The struggles of the foreigners to understand Rwandan culture and the clash of Euro/Western mindsets with those of the native peoples are both very real to me.  I wish I could put into words what I feel, but it may be that it is still to fresh and raw for me to process.

This book so captivated me that my wife, a non-cyclist, is planning to read it.  I recommend that everyone read it.  Read it with the title in the forefront of your mind.  Read it knowing that no one is perfect, no one is without blame, and everyone deserves a second, or more, chance. 

I think that is it for me.  We tend to give up on things too quickly.  We pass judgment and move on.  I believe second chances are deserved and can be earned, even for those that society deem unworthy.  I am glad that I have been given second chances, and thirds and fourths.  My guess is that everyone has needed a second chance from time to time.  My question to all is, How will are you to offer a second chance to others?


This is the third and final installment that was written for the Georgia Clean Air Campaign.

In the first installment of the three part series I covered solutions for the top two excuses for not commuting.  In this third and final installment I would like to cover the basics of how you get started on your new commuting lifestyle.  We will cover the basics of setting up your bike, choosing your route, and actually going for it.

The first thing you need to do is get what you need for your bike so you can carry what you need.  This may be as simple as a backpack or messenger bag, or it may require the addition of a rack and panniers if you need to carry a lot of stuff.  What you need to carry and the distance you have to travel are the major factors that determine your set-up.  For short distances and lighter loads I would suggest a backpack or messenger bag to save on cost and also convenience.  The further you travel and / or the if you need to carry quite a bit of stuff, you will want to put your bag on the bike, not your back.

I have a longer commute and use a hydro pack so I use the rack and pannier option.  I also drive my car to work on Monday with my bike on the back and my weeks’ worth of clothes inside.  This allows me to carry less on a daily basis and I also have my car at work if I need it through the day or if a storm blows in and I need to drive home.  When I started I used a garment bag pannier that allowed me to carry all of my clothes and that worked well but it created a lot of surface for cross winds to catch.  I really like my current set-up, but it took some trial and error to get to where I am today.

The next thing you need to spend some time on is the route you will take.  This will be an easier task for some, but will take time and thought for the majority of riders.  You start by sitting down with a good mapping tool and looking at the roads between your house and work.  Think about your current commute and which streets you could ride on safely.  Then mark the streets that you cannot or will not ride.  Next, find alternate streets for the ones you are not going to use to complete your route.  Once you have a route set, drive it to see if it will meet your needs.  Finally, test ride the route on a weekend to get an idea for how long it will take to make the ride and to familiarize yourself with the roads.

I know that Google will show you bike paths and bike friendly roads if you choose the Bicycling option in the drop down.  You may also need to plan one route for the morning and a different route for the evening depending on traffic patterns.  My ride to work is 18.4 miles and my ride home is 20.4 because there are roads that are not as safe during the commute home.  My routes have changed several times since I started out of safety concerns.

The final step is to get out there and do it.  Get all of your gear ready the night before and either load it up or lay it out.  Go to bed and get a good night’s sleep so you can get up and not be rushed in the morning.  Get up a bit earlier than you need to so you have plenty of time to get yourself and the bike ready to hit the road.  The only thing left to do is climb on your bike and start pedaling.

I hope that these blog entries have been persuasive and helpful.  I am an addicted bike commuter and my hope is to create a few more addicts like me.  If we get more bike commuters on the road it will have a cumulative effect of reducing traffic and pollution, and increasing physical activity and cycling awareness.  I know that I am in a much better place physically and mentally when I can bike commute, and I spend a lot less on gas so it helps financially as well.


In sports it is said that “the best offence is a great defense”, which can also be applied to bike commuting as well.  When you are on the road, it is you against the motorists, and they have the size advantage and well as outnumber you.  It is best that you create a great defensive plan for any time you decide to ride on the road.

The first part of the plan should be to insure that you can be seen.  For this you will need to consider the conditions you will be riding in as well as being aware of what time the sun will set.  I saw a person on a bike this morning wearing all black riding a bike with no lights.  This is not the first time I have seen this, but it always amazes me when I do.  Being seen is rule number one on my safe commuting list.

Light colored clothing is always a smart bet with the florescent colors topping the chart.  You can also find clothing and accessories that have reflective piping, tags, or patches that will help after dark. If push comes to shove, you can get one of the reflective vests to wear.  I have leg warmers that look black by day, but light up silver when hit by headlights in the dark.  I also like yellow or florescent green gloves because they are more easily seen when signaling for a turn.

There are two considerations for choosing lights; being seen and being able to see.  I start every morning commute in the dark so I know a bit about lights.  My rule is three lights up front and three on the rear.  This might sound a bit like over kill, but remember that bike lights run on batteries and batteries go dead.  I cannot even start to count the number of times I have seen a cyclist riding in the dark with one tail light that has weak batteries so it is barely visible.  If that happens to your only headlight, then not only can cars not see you, but you can’t see either.

For headlights I recommend that you skip the cheap lights and got for ones that are rechargeable and at least 250 lumens.  I have two 400 lumen lights on my handle bars and a 250 lumen light on my helmet when riding in the dark.  One on my handlebar lights is set to a steady beam while the other is set to strobe to help catch peoples eye.  With this combination not only can motorists see me, but I have a clear view of the road as well.

To the rear I have a rechargeable tail light on my helmet, and AAA battery operated tail lights on my hydro pack and the back of the bike.  The latter two are rated at being visible from half a mile and the little helmet light is remarkably bright.  By running three lights I again hedge against a complete taillight failure and give motorists plenty to see.

Many cyclists take the reflectors off of their bikes because they don’t like the way they look.  I have to admit that I have fallen into the same vain category, but there are other options.  I use black reflective tape on my black rims.  By day the bits of tape are almost invisible, but at night they become a circle of light when struck by headlights.  I have even seen valve caps that have LEDs at the tip that generate the same circle of light effect in the dark.  The point is to make you as visible as possible.

The bottom line is to make yourself and your bike as visible as possible.  You also need to be able to see to avoid pot holes and other road hazards in the dark.  Even in daylight conditions I will run a headlight set to strobe to help make myself more visible.  Remember that old adage, “the best offence is a good defense.”

 


OK, so I get it, most commuters live in urban areas that are fairly flat and travel short distances to get to where they are going.  With this in mind I still take umbrage to the Bicycling article “2014 Commuter Bike and Gear Preview.”  Of the eleven items featured, only three are applicable to long distance commuting.  The rest of the items have no application for cyclists commuting over ten miles, in the south, where every mile contains a hill.

I realize that most cyclists that long distance commute primarily use standard cycling apparel and use a road style bike.  That does not mean that we wouldn’t mind some gear designed especially for what I deem as the hard core commuter.  We don’t want fat tired bikes that force us to sit upright and have limited to no gearing options.  We don’t want preppy looking jackets, and slacks that cost $270 dollars.  We want gear that is durable, adaptable, and affordable.

In my humble opinion, if you are looking for an “out of the box” bike option for commuting longer distances you should look at cyclocross bikes with rack mounts.  The only modification would be needed is to swap out the cross tires for some Kevlar belted 700×25 road tires.  I am currently drooling over the new Surly Straggler which features decent Shimano equipment and Avid BB7 disc brakes.  A steel frame should be treated to prevent rust, but it offers the ride quality only steel can provide.  If anyone from Surly happens to read this, please note that I am available to put this bike to the test as a commuter and give a full review.

As far as clothing, I use standard road cycling apparel.  I wear bib shorts and short sleeve or sleeveless road jerseys in the summer and I also have the standard cold weather gear as well.  What I wouldn’t mind seeing is a better option than tights for colder weather.  I have commuted in temperatures down to 25 degrees and have not found a reasonably priced tight that keeps my legs warm.  I would like to see a pant that is lined for warmth, windproof on the front, breathes to the back and priced under $100.  I know how I would design it, so if there is a cycling clothing designer out there, contact me.

Shoes will be the last topic I will rant on.  I love the Shimano RT51 shoes that I have.  They are built like a standard road shoe, but have a thicker rubber heal and rubber around the cleat mounts so that you can walk in them.  The problem is most bike shops don’t carry this type of shoe, so you have to special order them. 

The other issue is keeping your feet warm in the winter.  I realize that you can buy winter shoes, but they are expensive and only useful in really cold weather.  It would be great if someone could design a commuter shoe like the RT51 that was less breathable and wool felt lined for warmth.  This would include a roomy toe box that would accommodate toe warmers, but still fit nicely into a set of neoprene booties.

OK, I will now climb down from my soap box and end this entry.  It is just that I get excited when I see stuff advertised for commuters only to find that it is “city biking” gear.  I love it that manufactures are trying to make city commutes via bicycle more feasible and fashionable; I am just selfish and want stuff designed for me and my type of commute.  It would also help to spread the message that bike commuting can be for everyone, not just the city dwellers.


This blog entry was originally written for the Atlanta Clean Air Campaign.

How far it too far?  This is a question that plagues a lot of perspective commuters, but the real question is, “How far am I willing to go?”  How committed are you to changing your commute to one that includes cycling?  Are you willing to take the time to find a way to make bike commuting an option no matter what it takes?  Can you find a way to make it work?

In the following paragraphs I will attempt to give you answers to some of these questions, but the core answer is up to you.  It doesn’t matter if the commute is 3 miles or 20 miles, you need to make the first step and commit to commuting by bike.  There are plenty of excuses out there, but they are all like armpits because they all stink, but they can also be cleaned up.  You see, I am of the belief that for every obstacle there is a solution, the challenge is in finding it.

I think it best that you know a little about who I am so that you can see where I am coming from.  I have been cycling since 1997 and have commuted to work in two continents.  I started bike commuting in Michigan where I only had a 5 mile commute and would ride in weather as cold as the twenties.  We then lived in the country of Albania for two years where bike commuting to work took half the time as driving.  Now that I live in Georgia my commute is 18 miles one way and I have commuted in temperatures as cold as twenty-five degrees.  I am also six foot three and weigh between 230 and 250, depending on the season.  Many call me crazy, but I find that these commutes are what help me keep my sanity.

With introductions out of the way, let’s start tackling the obstacles that seem to stand in the way of commuting.  The first one I usually hear is, “It’s too far.”  OK, so you know I commute 18 miles so anything less is never too far.  It should also be noted that any distance can be reduced by doing a split option which adds a car or bus to cover part of the distance.  I had a co-worker that would use his bike to get from home to the Marta station and then from the last bus stop to work.  There is also the option of driving part way and riding part way.  This option is great for those who are just getting started to build endurance or for those who live more than 20 miles away to make the commute manageable.  This now eliminates the “It’s too far excuse”, so just scratch that one out.

The, “I don’t have a shower at work” excuse is one that is a little more viable.  No one wants to show up to work smelling like a wet dog and Georgia summers are good at making you sweat.  There are a couple of options to overcome this obstacle if you are willing to make the effort.  The first is to look for a fitness center near you place of work and see if you can work out a deal to be a “shower only” member.  Some fitness facilities are open to this option and will let you use their showers for a small monthly fee.  The other is to either use baby wipes or a washcloth and bath in front of a sink.  This option may not be ideal but it can work, especially if your commute is not real long.  (I actually used this option when I worked in Indianapolis and had a nine mile commute)

OK, so I have given you solutions for the top two commuting obstacles.  In future installments I will help you overcome other obstacles and give you pointers staying safe on the road.  I hope this post is helpful and hope it will convince you to seriously look at cycling as a commute option. 


I have written that there is no such thing as the out of the box “perfect bike” and I will stand by that till I draw my last breath.  I now want to expand on that thought and hopefully help you to think “out of the box” when you are looking for your next bike.  Maybe you should not be looking for a “new” bike, but rather a great bike.

I participated in the Bike MS event here in Georgia last week-end.  I started riding for the MS Society in 1998 and if I counted correctly this was my 13th ride.  As I was preparing for the week-end I was watching the weather closely because it would determine which bike I took with me.  If rain was likely, then I would take my commuter with the aluminum frame.  As it turned out, the forecast was for sunny and clear conditions, so I got to take my vintage, late 1980’s, Schwinn World Tour which I have featured in an earlier blog.

I had taken this bike on one 20 mile jaunt and been very pleased with the ride quality and performance, but had not had a lot of time to ride it since.  None the less, I wanted to ride my “cool” bike at the event and was hoping that it would perform as well over 95 miles as it did going 20.  It is important to have a properly functioning bike on this ride since the last part of Saturday is be filled with climbing.

The course for Saturday’s 63 mile loop does a progressive decent until about the halfway point and then starts the climb back to Pine Mountain.  The last 10 to 12 miles of the day are the most challenging as you feel like you do nothing but climb from the last rest stop until you get back into the edge of town.  The 32 mile loop on Sunday is much more relaxed as you pedal over much easier terrain around the FDR State Park. 

OK, now it’s time to brag.  The Schwinn performed flawlessly!  The gearing was perfect and using the stem shifters was not an issue.  I did almost all of the climbs from a seated position and still had some leg left at the end of the day.  The steel frame soaked up a lot of the road vibration while but did not feel heavy.  The bullhorn handle bars that I installed were a bit flexi but that also helped to take the vibration off of my hands.  I would not try to race this bike, but if I had a better motor (which I need to work on) it would tackle any century.

I was also not the only person on a World Sport.  I saw one other person riding one that was a little older than mine, and he wasn’t looking to trade up any time soon.  I talked to a few people on vintage bikes during the ride and all were happy riding their old school rigs.  One was a bright chrome frame that a guy had bought in Japan while in the Marines in the 80’s.  It was the first bike he had bought and he said he couldn’t think of parting with it.

All of this is to say, that the next time you think about getting a “new” bike, maybe you should think “out of the box” and buy an old one.  If you know what to look for you can find some real gems out there at a bargain price.  It might require you to invest some time money, but if you are buying a new bike what does money matter and time can be found by turning off the TV.  Finally, always remember, good steel does not equal heavy, but it does equal smooth and beautiful.


This past weekend I participated in my 14th charity bike ride for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.  I started back in 1998 when a co-worker challenged me and another co-worker to use our cycling for a greater purpose.  At the time I knew two people with MS, today I know hundreds.  This one simple challenge changed my outlook on cycling; I stopped doing it purely for myself and started using it to benefit others.

When I started doing the MS rides in Michigan it wasn’t because I had any connection with the MS Society.  My parents had a friend with MS and my mother-in-law had a cousin with MS and that was all I knew about the disease.  The start was merely an opportunity to do a group ride over a two day weekend with a few friends.  The interesting thing was that as I started raising my pledge money I found that I had co-workers, neighbors, and friends whose lives had been affected by MS.  I soon learned the 24 to 28 people a day are diagnosed with MS which has no cure.

As I learned more I knew this was a cause that I wanted to partner with.  It didn’t hurt that the MS rides that I have done have been the best organized and executed rides I have done.  I grew my Michigan team from four to fifty by the third year and gained the financial support from the company I worked for which helped to underwrite the cost of our shorts and jerseys.  We were the third largest team in Michigan from 2000 to 2003 and brought over $60,000 dollars in donations to the MS Society in that 4 year span.

Since then I have worked with the MS society in Indiana and now here in Georgia.  I am not the best fund raiser, but I do try to recruit new team members every year because I believe in the power of numbers.  I also hold onto the words of my co-worker who first challenged me; “If you are going to ride, do it for a purpose.”  That is my challenge to all of you who read this blog post.  Do it by yourself, find a team to join, or build a team, but don’t just bike for yourself, bike for something greater than yourself.

http://www.nationalmssociety.org/index.aspx


I went out to one of my cycling web sites this week and they had their top picks for Ti road bikes.  They showed cool pictures and gave great write ups on their top 5 bikes which ranged from $3000 to $10,000 with one that was a frame only at $2200.   All of the bikes are beautiful and well out of my, and I would say most peoples, price range.  Not only are they really expensive, but none of them perfect!

I do not think that I have ever spoken to a cyclist that has ridden a bike right out of the box and loved every aspect of it.  There is always something that we feel needs tweaked or replaced.  Maybe it’s the saddle, or the stem.  Or we want a different seat post or wheels.  We may use the tires that it comes with, but when they wear out we choose something different.  Cyclists are all a little fickle and we all have our quirks and preferences.

My commuter is an excellent example.  At most there are 4 original parts left on the frame do to upgrades and personal taste.  Even the classic Schwinn that I restored got bullhorn handlebars, bar-end brake levers, and a new saddle.  My single speed mountain bike got new grips, saddle, and brakes.  I may be an extreme example, but even when I bought a nice Bianchi road bike I had to swap the saddle before it left the shop.

For those of us who have been cycling for years we know that there is no such thing as the perfect bike.  For those of you that are new to the world of cycling I want you to understand that it is normal to make changes.  I had a friend who spent close to $10,000 trying to find the elusive perfect bike and he finally discovered this simple truth.  The perfect bike isn’t purchased, it is created over time through trail and error.


My son and I went to our favorite mountain bike park on Sunday to just do some noodling on the easy trails.  It was fine afternoon with low humidity and comfortable summer temperatures.  The park was moderately busy with its usual mix of experience levels along with my favorites, the kids on their kick bikes.

We had been riding for a half hour or so when we heard approaching sirens that sounded like they were stopping in the parking lot.  As we came off of the trail, we could see a fire truck and a fire rescue ambulance already parked and then in cam a SUV pulling an ATV that had a trailer with a stretcher attached.  There were also some folks talking to one of the fireman/paramedics and it appeared they were telling him about the injured individual.

I had seen some of these folks earlier and they did not look like they were very experienced, yet they were near the entrances to an intermediate trail, and advanced trail, and the downhill course (which was closed).  I figured they had gotten onto the intermediate course and someone had taken a nasty spill and couldn’t walk out.  When mountain biking, accidents happen.

My son and I started talking to some cyclists that were gathering and soon learned that the injured party had gone down on the downhill course.  This peaked our interest so we road back to see what we could see.  We didn’t go right to the scene, but stood and gawked from a distance and talked to others that had gathered.  My son, who is 12, was most intrigued by the ATV.

The good news is that the rider was bloodied, but was conscious as they hauled him out of the park.  I could not find anything more on his condition, but it did not appear that anyone n his party was overly upset. 

The sad news is that he should not have been on that course because it was closed.  This run is marked an Expert level trail and is in no way a run for novice riders.  The final insult is that he was there with adult supervision that should have barred him from being on the trail.  Can you say, “Three strikes and you’re out!”  You may think I am being harsh, but this group included riders that were not wearing helmets which is a violation of the posted rules.

I do hope that the teen makes a full recovery and returns to mountain biking.  I also hope that the whole group has learned a few lessons.  1) Follow ALL posted rules.  2) Never ride closed trails.  3) Accidents will happen, but many can be avoided buy being smart.

My son and I have both gotten banged up mountain biking and thankfully we have been able to walk or ride away.  There is always a risk, and to improve you need to keep pushing yourself to attempt trails that are more difficult and accept the possibility of injury.  There is a line though, and those that cross it run a greater risk of serious injury, and those that ignore the rules are setting themselves up for disaster.

My final word: Ride hard, follow the rules, have fun, and try not to hurt the rocks and trees!