The No Sweat Way to Bike to Work

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on April 14, 2014.

It’s the 20th anniversary of Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area, celebrated this year on Thursday, May 8. For two decades, casual riders have pumped up their tires and dusted off their bikes for a short ride across town, while weekend warriors have charted longer commute routes and come up with a post-ride cleanup strategy. For people who bike to work year-round, the weeks ahead of Bike to Work Day are a time for answering questions from and giving advice to new bike commuters, like me back in 1997.

Like so many others, Bike to Work Day launched me into bike commuting. I went to a short “getting started” information meeting at my workplace, learned the best way to cross Hwy 101 from the local bike expert, then pedaled the 12 miles to my office in North San Jose. (The secret, by the way, was to cross under Hwy 101 at Ellis Street and to avoid the roads that cross over Hwy 101). The ride was about an hour so I stowed my clothes in my new bike panniers and cleaned up at my workplace’s gym locker room when I arrived.

Over the years I kept it up once or twice a week during daylight saving time, whenever my work sites gave me access to a shower. Bike commuting was a great way to get miles in when I was training for triathlons and long century rides. When I wasn’t training per se, two hours a day a couple of times a week was a great workout.

Then I took a job in Palo Alto that was less than five miles from home. It was too short to be a workout and hardly seemed worth putting on lycra and packing my work clothes, plus a towel and toiletries. Five flat miles just wasn’t worth the trouble.

Then one day in late summer I slapped myself on the forehead and said to myself, “It’s only a 25 minute ride, why do you need to change clothes anyway? Just wear your work clothes.” I put a summer dress with bike shorts underneath, slipped on flat shoes and stowed my laptop, purse and heels in my bike pannier. I rode slowly, keeping my heartbeat down at the equivalent of a walking, not running, pace. When I arrived at the office I took a moment to switch into my heels and cool down before walking in the building. No sweat!

It worked so well I was biked every day that week, then the next, and the next. Somewhere along the way I figured out that heels aren’t hard to bike in so I stopped packing my shoes. And I learned that if I stopped and took off a layer as soon as I started to warm up I could arrive sweat-free wearing almost anything, even a suit.

It helped that I started reading blogs from bike commuters in cities like Chicago, Boston and Portland. If they could ride in a professional dress there, even during the cold and stormy winters, California would be easy. And it was. Once I got a proper raincoat and boots, I was able to keep riding every day through the rainy season.

When I switched jobs two years ago to one back in North San Jose, I learned to combine my bike commute with a Caltrain ride so I could keep commuting in my work clothes. Occasionally, I’ll pack my work clothes and ride the full 13 miles to the office when I want a workout. But 95% of the time I choose my multi-modal bike + Caltrain commute. That way I can bike to work every day instead of 1-2 times a week.

There are lots of ways to make your commute no- or low-sweat. Here are my top tips:

  • Ride slowly. Save your workouts for the weekend or the times you’re planning to clean up on arrival.
  • Don’t worry so much about wasting time going slower. If you don’t change clothes at the end of your ride you’ll save at least five minutes.
  • Remember that it’s cooler in the morning here than in the evening. If you sweat on the way home you can always shower there.
  • Nothing heats you up like wearing a backpack or messenger bag. Get a rack or basket instead and get that bag off your back.
  • Underdress so you’re a little chilly for the first 5 minutes of your ride. As soon as you feel like you’re starting to warm up, pull over and strip off a layer.
  • Stow some wet wipes or a towel at work just in case you sweat more than you expected.
  • Consider partial clothing changes for your commute. Replace a dress shirt with a t-shirt or flat shoes instead of heels.
  • Wearing a helmet doesn’t have to mean you’ll have a bad hair day. Sweating, not the helmet, is the bigger cause of helmet hair. Experiment with different helmets and/or hair arrangements until you find what works. For me, all I have to do is finger comb my hair on arrival.
  • Riding a more upright bike helps. The extra windchill from being upright cools you, and somehow being upright discourages riding hard.
  • I installed a front basket so I can grab everything I need while I’m riding or walking my bike. I can strip a layer off and stow it without pulling over and my train pass, my phone, and my sunglasses are all at my fingertips.
  • Not packing clothes means I have room in my panniers to pick up a few items at the grocery store on the way home from work.

Are you riding to work on Bike to Work Day this year? Will you wear your work clothes or wear cycling gear and change on arrival? How far is your trip?

work dress heels

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Standing Tall with Kickstands

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on March 28, 2014.

The lowly kickstand is the Rodney Dangerfield of bike parts. It doesn’t get no respect. “A kickstand? Why would you want a kickstand?” I’ve heard that more times that I care to recall from bike shop workers, bike manufacturers and self-proclaimed avid cyclists. Prejudice against kickstands is a rare thing that roadies and mountain bikers agree on.

The anti-kickstand sentiment is not completely unfounded. On bikes designed for performance, not carrying gear, a kickstand’s benefits are outweighed by the cost of carrying the extra weight or the risk of frame damage by clamping a kickstand on bike frames made with lightweight tubing.

But kickstands are useful, even necessary, for certain bikes and certain situations. My rule of thumb is that for any bike with a basket or a rack for carrying a load, a kickstand is highly desirable, if not required. And for any “around town” errand bike where you’ll be stopping, locking up wherever you can, and then heading off to another stop, a kickstand is a very useful. The shorter the trip and the more you carry, the more a kickstand comes in handy and the less the weight matters.

I have kickstands on all my bikes that have racks and I can’t imagine how awkward loading and unloading groceries and other purchases would be without them. Since only one of my bikes was purchased with a kickstand, I had to research and decide on which kickstand was right for each bike. They’re not all the same.

Standard Single Leg Kickstand

This classic design represents probably 90% of the kickstands in use worldwide. It attaches to the frame between the chain stays just behind the bottom bracket and flips up by simply straightening the bike and kicking it back. I originally had one my errand bike, until I wore it out from overloading my bike with too many groceries.

Advantages

  • Available almost anywhere for less than $10.
  • Some models have an adjustable length shaft so you don’t have to cut it to fit your bike.

Disadvantages

  • Does not fit some bikes, especially performance road bikes, that don’t have space between the bottom bracket and the wheel for the mounting bracket.
  • Obstructs the pedals when down, which isn’t an issue until you roll your bike backwards, say in the garage or parking area.

Chainstay Single Leg Kickstand

Instead of mounting behind the bottom bracket, this kickstand mounts near the rear axle. I originally got this kickstand for my old steel road bike since it doesn’t have space for a standard kickstand’s mounting bracket. We also installed them on our touring bikes to handle a heavy load on the rear rack.

Advantages

  • Works on bikes that don’t have room behind the bottom bracket for the mounting bracket.
  • Does not obstruct pedals.
  • Costs about $20. More than the standard kickstand, but still pretty cheap.

Disadvantages

  • Harder to find, and only available in black.
  • A heavier load in the rear of the bike can make the front end swing around.
  • The way it sticks out in the up position is not subtle.

Double Leg Centerstand

More commonly found on motorcycles, this kickstand leans the bike fore and aft vs. leaning to one side. The two legs fold neatly to one side when not supporting the bike like the standard kickstand. I installed a centerstand on my Dutch bike due to its portly size. I liked it so much I installed another one on my errand bike after I wore out her original kickstand by carrying too many heavy groceries.

Advantages

  • Supports heavier bikes and heavier loads.
  • The bike remains upright, which makes it easier to load.
  • Even your friends that would never own a bike with a kickstand will think it’s cool.

Disadvantages

  • More expensive. About $50 for the Pletscher ESGE model shown here.
  • Load must be evenly distributed left to right or it will tip over.
  • With more weight in the back, the front wheel flops into the frame unless you have a wheel stabilizer.

The UpStand

Upstand Composite

When it’s holding up the bike, the UpStand looks similar to a chainstay mounted kickstand. But instead of kicking it away to start rolling, you remove the carbon-fiber stand from its tiny attachment tab installed on the rear wheel’s skewer, gently tugging to release the tiny magnet that holds it in place. The stand is shock-corded like a backpacking tent pole, so you can fold it and put it in a pocket or bag for the ride.

Advantages

  • Extremely lightweight at 40 grams total (15 grams for the attachment tab, 25 grams for the stand)
  • The stand removes completely when not in use, leaving the attachment tab nearly invisible.
  • Surprisingly stable, as long as you align the attachment tab at the proper 90 degrees.

Disadvantages

  • It’s not particularly cheap (about $1 a gram). But nothing carbon on a road bike is cheap, is it?
  • The stand folds up to half its length, but you still have to stow it somewhere.
  • Some of the kickstand convenience is lost when you have to dig the stand out of your pocket or seat bag.

Do you have kickstands on any of your bikes? If yes, which type works for you? If not, when would you consider installing a kickstand?

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Head to Toe Comfort for Rainy Day Riders

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on March 1, 2014.

Years ago, when I first told people I intended to ride my bike to work every day, I often got the response, “Even when it rains?” I wasn’t sure what to say. I honestly didn’t know if I would commute in the rain or not. I had ridden my road bike in the rain plenty of times before, generally not by choice. With bikewear that stays warm when wet and dries quickly, a brimmed cycling cap and clip-on fenders, I could stay comfortable on the bike, but not dry. On arrival at home or work, it meant a quick shower and change into warm clothes.

The problem was that I preferred to ride in my work clothes rather than carry them since I already had a laptop to carry. I certainly didn’t want to risk sitting in my office in wet clothes, nor did I relish the idea of putting wet cycling clothes on at the end of the day for the commute home. At first, I wore a long jacket, wool leggings and tall boots, then changed into a skirt or pants at work. That got me through my first rainy season.

Rain Puddle

Still, I began a search for the elusive perfect head-to-toe rain gear, which now includes a knee length trench coat for light rain, a longer hooded rain coat for heavy rain, and an assortment of accessories for both me and the bike. With the right gear, I got through this week’s big storms without looking like a soggy mess on arrival.

Head
Helmet rain covers are popular, but I prefer a wool cycling cap with ear flaps. Helmet covers leave longer hair exposed to the rain, and unlike wool, they tend to trap heat so your head gets clammy. Helmets with adjustable sizing usually have no problem fitting over close-fitting caps, even with a short ponytail tucked into it, and the brim helps keep rain out of your eyes. Hoods worn either over or under the helmet can work too, but make sure the hood doesn’t block your view. Pro tip: If you wear glasses, choose a cap with a bigger brim.

Shoulders
Most people buy rain jackets for cycling, but unless you’re bent way forward on a road bike or carving trails on a mountain bike, I suggest going long. A thigh, knee or calf-length coat covers more of the legs, which like the back and shoulders bears the brunt of the rain. A double breasted coat will offer more thigh coverage when the coat spreads out as you sit down in the saddle. If the coat is waterproof, make sure it’s designed to allow body heat to escape through zippers or panels. For light rain, a quick-drying fabric coat is all you may need. Pro tip: a coat rack is a great way to dry out coats, caps, gloves and other items. I even bought one for work.

Knees
If you’ve ever gotten a pair of jeans soaked, you know they can take hours to dry. I tend to wear knee-length dresses and tights on rainy days. The dresses are short enough to stay under my coat and the tights dry almost immediately. If you prefer pants, wool or synthetic blends don’t soak up and retain water like cotton. Pro tip: If your coat is short, wear bike tights for the ride and change into your jeans or pants at work.

Red coat boots

Toes
Keeping your tootsies warm can make or break a ride. If you ride in clip-in cycling shoes, there are all kinds of waterproof shoe covers available that do a good job. But for commuting on a bike with flat pedals and fenders, leather ankle boots are a great way to keep the feet dry. For more coverage, you can go higher. These days my go-to rain boots are an inexpensive knee high boots made of synthetic material. Pro tip: to dry out shoes, boots and gloves quickly, stuff them with crumpled up newspaper.

Accessories for your Bike

Fenders: Most people know that a rear fender will keep dirty water from spraying up from your wheel and soaking your backside, but a front fender does the same for your lower legs and feet. Easy-to-install fenders are available for bikes that weren’t sold with them, including ones for road bikes that clip on and off quickly.

Waterproof bags: Many bike panniers come with lightweight, stowable rain covers that do a good job in the typical Bay Area storm. For heavier rain you can put water-sensitive items like laptops inside a plastic bag before putting them inside your bike bag.

Seat covers: If you have a leather saddle or if you’ll be parking your bike outside, a shower-cap style seat cover can keep your saddle dry and help it last longer.

Lights: Running your headlight and taillight when it’s raining will make you and your bike more visible. If the cars have their lights on, it’s a good idea for you to turn your bike lights on too.

What’s your strategy for staying dry in the rainy season? Is there critical clothing or gear that works for you?

Click here for more Bike Fun rain gear photos.

fenders-galore

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A Resolution for a Century (or Two)

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on January 17, 2014.

According to a recent poll, the top five New Year’s resolutions for 2014 are: lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, live life to the fullest and stay fit, and healthy. As you probably already know, riding your bike can definitely help you achieve four of the five. If someone knows how bikes can help you get organized, please let me know. Mine cause more clutter in my garage than they solve.

Resolutions are only as good as the plan you set up to achieve them, and it seems every other sports or fitness magazine or web site offers detailed plans. Most of them offer a strong framework for success, but for me, a training plan alone was never enough. I need deadlines to keep me accountable, and the best way for me to create them was to insert organized group rides into my training plan.

There are bike events almost every weekend here in the Bay Area, from shorter fun rides to “century” rides that cover 100 mile in a day. Often the same event will offer routes in a variety of distances and difficulties so you can choose what fits your training plan. By working up to higher intensity events over a season, I’ve seen people progress from their longest ride being 35 miles to completing a 100 mile century. Actually, that would be me, back in 2003.

Vineyard Bicycling

Most Bay Area bike clubs host a century rides that include metric century (62 mile), half century (50 mile) or 30 mile fun rides in addition to the classic 100 mile routes. Some even offer double-metrics (124 miles) or double centuries (200 miles). They’re organized by volunteers which keeps their costs down, and unlike charity rides, you won’t have to fund raise to participate.

The event web site will list the routes by distance and usually have a chart with the elevation profile and total elevation gain for the ride. Pay close attention to the elevation gain. A 50 mile ride with 3,000 feet of elevation gain is harder for most people than a 60 mile ride with 1,000 feet. One smart strategy is to choose a flatter ride when increasing your distance, then do the same distance at your next event on a hillier route. String together event rides and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll go by the end of the season.

Solvang Century Finish 2

Over the years, century rides develop reputations. Some are known for jaw-dropping scenery and tummy-filling delights, others for gut-busting hills where you’re working too hard to enjoy much. The ride name gives a clue: fruits and flowers tend toward the former, and you can guess what “challenge,” “devil” or “death” in a name mean. Here are some of my local favorites and what they’re famous for.

Best Early Season: Solvang Century (March 8)
If you want to get a jump on the season, head south to the wine country on the central coast. The Solvang century offers three distances (50 mi, 63 mi, 100 mi) on rolling terrain with less climbing per mile than most. Fans of the movie Sideways will recognize locations from the movie along the route, including the ostrich farm. My friends and I shared an inexpensive room in the windmill motel in Buellton where Jack and Miles stayed.

Best for Power Foods: Tierra Bella (April 12)
The Almaden Cycle Touring Club has been sponsoring this South Santa Clara County ride with four moderate to hilly route options (35 mi, 60 km, 100 mi, 200 km) for almost 40 years. Since local cyclists plan not only the routes, but also the food, the quantity is abundant and quality is exceptional. One bite of the salty boiled potatoes at the top of Gilroy Hot Springs and you’ll forget the climb up there.

Best Kept Secret: Primavera Century (April 27)
Many long-running century rides sell out months before the event, but not the Primavera. Sponsored by the Fremont Freewheelers bike club, it tours the backroads of Southern Alameda and Northern Santa Clara County. If you’ve never ridden the twisty road above Calaveras Reservoir when the wildflowers are out in springtime you need to do this ride. Five distances from 25-100 miles with moderate climbing.

Best Apple Pie: Strawberry Fields Forever (May 18)
Head over the hills for a choice of three rides that tour the Santa Cruz coast, and climbs up to the ridge line on the 100 mile route. The rest stops have international themes from French to Greek, but my favorite is the good old American apple pie at Gizdich ranch. So fresh you can rest in the shade under the apple trees.

Best for Hill Lovers: Sequoia Century (June 1) By June you’ll be ready for a bigger challenge, right? Sign up for the Sequoia Century sponsored by our local bike club, Western Wheelers. With the exception of the 30 miler, all routes cross the hills to the coast and include steep climb up Redwood Gulch, Highway 9 and Tunitas Creek. To put it in perspective, the Sequoia’s 100 km (62 mi) route has more climbing (8,000 ft) than most 100 mile routes. If you’re training for the Death Ride, the Sequoia is a great way to prepare for the challenge.

Best for Bragging Rights: Death Ride (July 12)
Its official name is the Tour of the California Alps, but it’s called the Death Ride for a reason: 129 miles and five mountain passes for a total elevation gain of 15,000 feet in the thin air of the Sierra Mountains. Complete all five passes of this ride and you’ll get to sign the official event poster, and earn national-scale bragging rights. Registration opens every December, quickly fills and then closes. But it’s not too late. In April, they open up for a brief registration period again.

Best Death Ride Alternative: Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge (July 26)
Missed the Death Ride or want more of the pain? At 133 miles and 18,063′ of climbing, the 200 km route of the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge exceeds the Death Ride by more than 2,000 feet. If that’s too much, there are 100 and 66 mile routes that also include the climb up Jamison Creek Road that delivers a punishing 14% grade in long stretches. Even their 35 mile route racks up over 100 feet of climbing per mile. Ouch!

Best for Procrastinators: Holstein Hundred (August 16) & Napa Century (August 17)
If you got a late start on your training, there’s a double header of centuries in the North Bay in August. The the Holstein Hundred ranges from foggy coastlines to sunny valleys with yes, lots of cows in rural Western Sonoma County. That same weekend, the Napa Century rolls through vineyards and wineries with longer routes climbing out of the Napa Valley. The morning chill is gone by that first climb and before long you’ll be relaxing with a glass of your favorite vintage. For a challenge, you can stay in Petaluma or Santa Rosa and ride both centuries in one weekend.

Do you have a training plan or a cycling challenge for the new year? We’re over two weeks in, how’s it going?

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A New Bike for Christmas

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on December 25, 2013.

It’s such a traditional Christmas gift that it’s almost a cliché: the new bike. I don’t remember ever waking up to find a bike under the Christmas tree, but I do remember that one year my father repainted my older sister’s outgrown bike and updated it just for me. Off came the 1960′s style handlebars and saddle and on went Stingray handlebars and a banana seat with bold flowers and a sissy bar. I was very excited to have a girly bike in the latest style.

As an adult, I appreciate even more that my father took the time to not only paint the frame and upgrade the worn parts, but to choose fashionable accessories for me. My dad is more of a “function over style” kind of guy. There were many crudely but effectively repaired items around our house to attest for his skill. I don’t have a photo of the bike, but it looked like this groovy one I found on Craigslist, except that mine was spray painted blue and had long handlebar tassels.

If Santa didn’t bring you a new bike this year, it’s not too late to get a groovy bike that you’ll love as much as I loved my faux Stingray. If you want a sleek road bike or a plush mountain bike, there’s plenty of advice at your local bike shop or on the internet to find the perfect bike for you. But if you’re looking for bike to ride around town doing errands, shopping or for a relatively short commute to work, you might want to consider a city bike instead (or adding a city bike to your stable of bikes).

Christmas Tree Bike

City bikes are designed for cross-town trips in street clothes, not about riding your fastest or getting a workout. For those reasons, city bikes have specific details that those bicycles don’t have, either because they add weight or get in the way when you’re charging down the trail. Properly equipped city bikes have fenders and chainguards to protect your clothes, racks and/or baskets to carry purchases, handy accessories like lights and bells, and flat pedals and kickstands so you can hop off and on quickly and easily.

At shops more oriented for recreational riding or racing, staff may not see the value for these very useful features. As someone who owns two city bikes and has helped a handful of friends find their perfect match, here are my top tips for buying the right city bike for you.

Don’t Be a Weight Weenie. When buying a road bike, the first thing most buyers do is pick it up. Road bikes are designed for speed and distance, and lighter weight can mean winning a race or finishing a century ride before they close the course. City bikes are designed to carry things so they need a heavier frame. And they’re designed for shorter distances, where slower speeds don’t make a big difference. Of course, if you have to carry it up stairs to an apartment or you live on a steep hill, you may want to check the weight. Just don’t obsess.

Frame the Question. You’ll need to decide whether you want a traditional diamond frame or a step through frame, aka a men’s bike or a women’s bike. Not that the decision lies with gender. Men sometimes choose a step-through so they don’t have to lift their leg high over the top tube. Women, especially ones who don’t wear skirts, sometimes choose the diamond frame. Side note: mixte frames, like the white one below, are said to be named for “mixed gender.”

Mixte or Dutchie

Upright, Not Uptight. Pedaling while upright feels odd at first if you’re used to a more aggressive position, but upright bikes are great for shorter urban trips because you can see what’s around you better. That also means others can see you better. You’ll still want to adjust the seat height and perhaps lower the bars a bit, but there’s little need for precise fitting. You won’t be bent over on the bike for hours and you won’t be locked into a single position on your pedals.

Size Matters, But Not So Much. Because they don’t require such precise fitting, city bikes come in fewer sizes than road bikes. You’ll know the size is right if you don’t feel crowded between the seat and handlebars or too stretched out. If the bike is too small you may feel perched too high once your saddle is adjusted to the right height. And if you’re sitting on the top tube, your frame is too big. Nothing new there.

Gear Up. Most city bikes have 3-8 gears with a reasonably wide range. If you live in a hilly area, buy accordingly. But gear ratio range matters more than the number of gears, and it can be hard to know the range without a test ride. City bikes often have internal gear hubs, which protect the gears from street grime and protect your clothing from gear grime. Internal gear hubs are more expensive than derailleur-based gearing.

Try Before You Buy. As with any bike purchase, a test ride will tell you a lot. Is it easy to get on and off? Is it the right size? Does it feel balanced and track straight? Does it brake well? Does it shift well? Does it seem well-built? Do you feel “one with the bike?” Did riding it make you smile?

Dick Test Riding Secret Service 4

A Lasting Relationship. Consider the bike shop and its staff. They should be knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and take time to answer your questions. If they primarily sell other types of bikes, make sure they value city bikes and understand their specific needs. If they tell you that you don’t need a kickstand or fenders, go elsewhere. Finally, if you don’t like the staff enough to want to go back to the shop, don’t buy the bike there.

How well does your current bike work for errands and short commutes? Is it missing key features that you’d like in your next (or another) bike?

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Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on December 12, 2013.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer.

It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare shopping trips. But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa.

Microwave in Trailer

If you haven’t done much shopping before by bike here are a few tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most racks are built to carry at least 40 pounds.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

Want to see 36 rolls of Costco toilet paper on a bike? Check out my Shop by Bike gallery for that and more.

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Bicycle Getaways: The Riviera on San Francisco Bay

When most people think of traveling by bike they think of bicycle touring, where you carry everything you need to be self-sufficient for long distances: clothing, sleeping bag, tent, cookware. Like backpacking on wheels. Or perhaps “credit card” touring, where you skip the camping and stay in motels or hostels. Or supported tours, where guides plan your route and vehicles carry your gear (and you too, if you don’t want to ride that day).

When my husband Dick and I bought our touring bikes last year, we didn’t really have a plan. I suspected we’d set out for credit card type tours, and we still may. But so far, our overnight bike trips don’t fit any of these models. I would call them “bicycle getaways,” 2-4 day trips, more urban than most touring trips, using transit to increase our travel ranges, and with luxury accommodations. Ideally a hotel with a fuzzy robes and great restaurants nearby.

So far, we’ve done four bicycle getaways: San Francisco, Sacramento, Folsom and one I planned last year for Dick’s birthday. Instead of giving birthday gifts, we have a tradition of surprising each other with short trips. Dick’s birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, which makes planning more challenging for me. Airports and highways are full of holiday travelers, and after ten years together we’d already visited all the closer spots. I was running out of ideas.

Strawberry

Then I thought of Tiburon, a small town on the north end of San Francisco Bay that along with neighboring Sausalito and Belvedere Island make up what’s affectionately called the San Francisco Riviera. I was sold.

Like our other bike getaways, the train made it easy to ride from home. The late-morning Caltrain bullet got us to San Francisco, where rolled slowly up the waterfront under clear blue skies. Since Thanksgiving is the traditional start of Dungeness Crab season, we stopped for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf. Messy but tasty, I was grateful for the seafood bib they provided.

After lunch we changed into bike wear for the 30 mile ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the bay to Tiburon. Having ridden across the Golden Gate in the fog and wind of summer, I must say the late fall crossing was a delight. We hugged the bayside then rolled down Tiburon’s historic Ark Row, named for former houseboats converted to stores when the lagoon was filled, and arrived with plenty of time to rest and clean up for Thanksgiving dinner on the bay.

The next day we rode to San Rafael along the scenic Paradise Drive and through the new Cal Park Hill Tunnel, then finished the ride with a 360 degree tour of hilly Belvedere Island. From Belvedere, the complete view of the “San Francisco Riviera” could be seen in all its glory, from Sausalito to Tiburon. Getting home the next day was just a ferry ride, a short spin down the Embarcadero, and train ride away.

San Francisco from Tiburon

Starting from home in Mountain View, we traveled this route for a total 165 miles: 80 miles by train, 75 by bike, 10 by ferry, for less than we’d spend on a tank of gas. No holiday traffic like a driving trip would be, and more luxury than a traditional bike touring trip. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Where have you ever done loaded toured with your bike? Did you go hardcore with fully-loaded touring or did you “credit card” it for a lighter load?

Check out the photo gallery for our trip.

Categories: Destinations | Leave a comment

A Ride 2 Recovery for Wounded Warriors

For most of us, the challenges of bicycling lead to growth as cyclists: climbing a long, steep grade to the top of a hill, staying balanced and pedaling through a difficult section of trail, taking a deep breath and merging into traffic on a busy road. But for some, bicycling takes them beyond growth and into transformation.

For the men and women who serve in armed forces, being strong and capable–physically, mentally and emotionally–to meet the challenges of battle is core to not only their job, but to their identity. To be wounded and permanently lose capabilities is a life crisis for anyone. For warriors, the wounds can run much deeper.

Through cycling, Ride 2 Recovery “makes a difference in the lives of healing heroes by providing life changing experiences that can help speed up the recovery and rehabilitation process.” A few weeks ago, they started their California Challenge ride at the VA Center in Palo Alto. It was cold that morning, but I rolled out of bed early to see them off on their 450 mile ride down the coast to Santa Monica. I wanted to see these courageous wounded warriors on their ingenious adaptive bicycles.

Ride 2 Recovery designs and builds adaptive bikes that it make it possible for almost any injured veteran to participate in the program. For a veteran who lost an arm, it might simply be adjusting the brake and shift levers to be one-handed. For veterans who cannot use their legs due to paralysis or have lost their legs, hand cycles get them rolling. For balance issues, recumbent trikes allow riders to lean back with their legs forward. Each bicycle is customized to the needs of the rider, and adjusted as the rider’s needs change through the training process.

Ride 2 Recovery hosts day and week-long ride challenges throughout the United States for wounded warriors as well as non-injured riders who raise money to support the program. The challenge rides let the injured veterans set individual goals while working in a group, and lets them accept help when needed. Sometimes a gentle push on a climb is all they need to reach the top.

Out of respect for their privacy, I didn’t talk to any of the injured veterans about their challenges: why they decided to do it, what were the biggest hurdles, how it’s changed them so far, what’s next for them. But we don’t need to know the details, do we? Even as outsiders we can imagine that it’s physically and emotionally hard every step of the way, that the rewards are boundless, and that the experience is transformative.

I cannot imagine that these wounded warriors see themselves in quite the same way after learning to ride a bike again as a double above-the-knee amputee or after being blinded–or both.

I was honored to have the opportunity to see them gather for the start of their 7-day challenge, and was humbled as I struggled to catch the group after it sped down Foothill Expressway. After seven miles I finally caught them, only to silently bid them adieu and wish them farewell on their long journey south.

What were your biggest challenges in bicycling? Has bicycling fundamentally changed your understanding of self, your beliefs, your life? Has bicycling been transformative for you?

Wounded Warrior 2

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bright Lights, Dark City

Spring forward, fall back. When you remembered to turn back your clocks did you remember to clip on your bike lights? Now that we’re back on Standard Time, sunset is just after 5:00 pm and it’s fully dark by 5:30. If you haven’t already turned on your bikes lights for your evening commute you almost certainly will this week.

When I first started bike commuting to work years ago, the end of Daylight Saving Time drove me off the bike, but not anymore. I now have bike lights that keep me visible to others, and keep the trail or street visible to me. Like most things, feeling comfortable and safe was a matter of having the right equipment.

I’ve gathered quite a number of lights over the years and learned through trial and error what works for me, which may not be what’s best for you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Putting Your Best Light Forward
A white front light keeps you visible to oncoming vehicle and bike traffic as well as to people walking. To ride legally after dark, your front light must be visible from the front and side at 300 feet away, which is about one city block or five houses away. A basic $20-$30 light with fresh batteries will meet this legal standard and is good enough if you’ll be riding on slower-speed city streets with street lights. Most of these lights operate on standard batteries, but some are rechargeable through a USB connection.

If your routes take you on unlit trails or poorly-lit streets you’ll do well to invest in a more powerful light rated at 150 lumens or greater. Pricing for these lights starts at about $60 and virtually all feature rechargeable batteries. You’ll also want a powerful light if you’ll be riding on roads with speed limits of 35 or greater. At higher speeds, drivers need to see you from further away so they have enough time to react to you.

Aimed for Success
Front lights can be mounted on your bike’s helmet, handlebar or front fork. Helmet lights let you see around corners better and let you look down at your bike if something malfunctions. Handlebar or front fork lights work better in fog and don’t add extra weight to your head, which can be an issue for the more powerful lights which have heavier batteries.

In either case, make sure your front light is pointed at the roadway and not blinding oncoming traffic. That’s especially important for helmet lights, which are harder to adjust and mounted higher, and even more important when you’re using powerful lights. Blinding drivers doesn’t make you or anyone else any safer.

Brightening up the Rear
By law, your bike only needs a red reflector visible from 500 feet to the rear, but most riders use red lights, not just reflectors, for higher visibility. Like the front lights, more expensive rear lights are generally brighter, but the range is not as dramatic. Rear lights can be mounted on the bike or clipped to a rider’s backpack or pannier. Common bike mount locations are the seat post, the frame of the bike near the rear wheel (seat stay), or on the back of a rear rack. If you mount it on the bike, make sure any gear you carry or any clothing you wear doesn’t block the view.

To Blink or Not to Blink
Most bike lights offer both steady and blinking options. I set mine to blinking as the sun starts to go down and then switch to steady at dusk. I find a steady front light helps me see the road ahead better so I can avoid potholes and other obstacles. Steady lights also help other road users gauge your distance from them better than flashing lights. Also, super-bright flashing lights can be very distracting to drivers, other bicyclists and people walking. One day a man walking by actually thanked me for not setting my bright front light to flashing.

I do set my lights to flashing after dark in areas with a lot of other lighting distractions or when it’s raining at night. Or sometimes I set a smaller light to flash and my bigger main light to steady.

Looking for the Bright Side
Being visible from the side is often overlooked. The law only requires white reflectors on the wheels or tires with reflective sidewalls. I have both, but also have amber spoke lights for extra visibility. I’m a lot more comfortable approaching or rolling through an intersection knowing I’m visible from all directions, whether or not there’s a headlight hitting my wheels at the right angle.

Back it Up for the Unexpected
Don’t get left in the dark when your front light loses its charge or your rear light falls off your bike mid-ride. It’s worth buying and carrying a second pair of lights. One easy way is to mount an inexpensive “be seen” front light to your helmet and mount a more powerful one on your handlebars. The same works for the rear: mount a more powerful rear light on your bike, but clip an less expensive blinkie to your bag or helmet.

Are you and your bikes ready for this week’s early sunsets? What are your go-to night riding accessories?

Bike Lights Road

Categories: Gear Talk | Leave a comment

What Does 3 Feet for Safety Mean?

Last month Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1371, a three foot passing bill that requires drivers to pass bikes with three feet or greater clearance. The bill has had some people wondering what it means for them. The good news is that for the overwhelming majority of drivers, this law doesn’t require any changes in their driving behavior.

In my experience riding my bike around Silicon Valley on a daily basis, most drivers pass me safely, giving me more than 3 feet clearance. Safe drivers know that passing anything on the roadway closer than three feet, whether it’s someone standing on the sidewalk, a parked car, or even a lamp post, is risky if their car is moving faster than a crawl. And if what they’re passing is moving too, like another car or someone on a bike, safe drivers allow even more room. Both drivers and bicyclists often make small adjustments to maneuver around potholes, avoid people stepping out of cars, or react to other unexpected road conditions. A bigger buffer keeps everyone safer.

So what exactly are the provisions of the bill? The bill enacts the Three Feet for Safety Act, which prohibits the drivers from passing bicycles moving in the same direction “at a distance of less than 3 feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.” That means three feet between the car’s rear view mirror, not the body of the car, and the bicycle’s handlebars or rider’s elbow.

The act also requires drivers to pass “at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, and the surface and width of the highway.” In other words, large trucks traveling at high speeds that could create a dangerous draft would be required to give more clearance than a small car at lower speeds that doesn’t create a wind draft.

If three feet clearance is not possible due to traffic or roadway conditions, the act allows the vehicle to pass closer if the driver slows to a speed that is “reasonable and prudent” and doesn’t “endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle” as described above.

As a driver, how do you know how far three feet is? It’s about how much room you need between parked cars to exit yours without hitting the other car. In other words, roughly a car door’s width.

Another thing the Three Feet for Safety Act does is clarify when a lane is too narrow for a car and a bike to travel safely in the same lane. This is important because bicyclists are not required to ride on the right-hand side of the road when a lane is too narrow, per CVC 20122. If the right lane is “too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane” then people may ride their bikes in the middle of the lane to ensure that drivers change lanes to pass instead of passing too closely in the same lane.

There are streets in Mountain View where there are parked cars on the right and the lane is not wide enough to allow three feet of “door zone” clearance between the parked car and the bicyclist, plus three feet between the bicyclist and a passing vehicle. That’s why you’ll sometimes see people riding in the middle of the lane, especially on the narrow streets downtown. It’s perfectly legal for narrow lanes, and it discourages drivers from unsafely squeezing past.

But once again, the vast majority of drivers pass safely because they know the potential for injury. The Three Feet for Safety Act just spells it out for the dangerous few who don’t.

Will the Three Feet for Safety Act change how you drive or ride a bike? Will it make you feel safer riding a bike? Will it change your behavior when you drive?

Categories: Bike Safety | Leave a comment

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