Monthly Archives: April 2014

Keep It Local on Bike to Shop Day

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on April 25, 2014.

There’s more to practical cycling than bike commuting on Bike to Work Day on May 8. The whole month of May is National Bike Month and you’ll find a full calendar of bike activities throughout the month, from urban skills classes to a theft prevention seminar to a family ride with Kidical Mass. And this year there’s a new event being launched here in Silicon Valley: Bike to Shop Day.

For me, shopping by bike is a great way to have fun and get exercise while taking care of errands that started back in 1993 when I bought an entry-level mountain bike so I could ride downtown. At one mile from my home, Castro Street was too far to walk comfortably with packages and it seemed silly to drive such a short distance. I installed a rear rack, bought some panniers and starting riding all over town, just like I do today. I’m not the only one out there either, as evidenced by bikes parked to every rack, signpost, railing and tree on Castro Street and by the busy bike racks at stores like Safeway, Trader Joe’s and at Stanford Shopping Center.

But somehow biking to shop doesn’t get promoted like biking to work gets, which has never made sense to me. My workplaces have always been 5-12 miles from home, whereas most of my errands are close to home. Groceries, pharmacy, post office, dry cleaning, sporting goods and hardware stores are all less than a 15 minute ride away. Even more important: I don’t have much choice in my workplace location, but I can choose where I shop. If there’s not a pleasant route or secure parking, I shop elsewhere.

Adina at Mollie Stone

That’s why I’ve teamed up with volunteers and staff at Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to launch Bike to Shop Day Silicon Valley. The concept is simple: You hop on your bike to shop, dine or do errands on Saturday, May 17, 2014 and participating local businesses will offer you a discount or other incentive for arriving by bike.

The team has signed up 16 Mountain View businesses to offer special deals for bike shoppers and another 16 within easy biking distance in Los Altos and Palo Alto. Plus dozens more throughout Silicon Valley for a grand total of over 75 shops. Participating merchants are listed and mapped on the Bike to Shop Day site using smartphone-friendly Google map that’s zoomable and clickable to view shop and special offer information. Starting next weekend you’ll see Bike to Shop Day posters in windows of participating stores.

Patagonia Bike Shopper

If you’re new to shopping by bike, you have a few weeks to get prepared. For small shopping loads, all you need is a backpack. But now is a good time to gear up with a front basket or a rear rack and panniers to carry more. If you don’t want to burden your favorite bike with such attachments or park your precious baby outside stores, consider souping up an old bike as a grocery getter like I wrote about last summer.

If you’re a dedicated bike shopper who prides yourself on the crazy things you’ve strapped on your bike and rolled away with, the Bike to Shop Challenge gives you a chance to show off, and a chance to win some prizes. Businesses have donated gift certificates and other items as drawing prizes for people who take the challenge. To enter, all you need to do is take a fun photo of your bike and/or you on one of your shopping trips, then send it to organizers. Your photo will be posted on their web site and on social media and you’ll be entered in the prize drawing.

challenge-photo

I’m really excited that we’re expanding Bike Month beyond Bike to Work Day, and I’m proud that so many of our local businesses are getting involved. Maybe next year Bike to Shop Day will grow to be a regional, state or national event. And then we can say that like so many other things, it was founded in Silicon Valley.

Do you shop, dine or do errands by bicycle? If so, where are your favorite places to go and why?

Quick Gear Guide for Shopping by Bike

  • Rear racks support loads over your bike’s rear wheel, making for a stable ride. Most attach to the frame near the rear wheel axle and to the seat stays, the frame area just below the seat.
  • Panniers are bike-specific bags that attach to racks. Touring panniers are designed to be more aerodynamic and weather-proof for long trips, while boxy open-topped panniers are convenient for quick stops and shorter trips.
  • Baskets are usually mounted on the handlebars but can also be attached to a rear rack. Handlebar baskets are great for keeping things close at hand, like purses and small pets. Having weight on the handlebars affects steering more than when the weight is on the back, so be careful with a heavier load.
  • Elastic straps work well when you have an odd-shaped object or a few too many items to carry. The best ones are flat instead of round with two or three straps emerging from a single hook at each end, but I also keep micro-sized bungees on my bike just in case.
  • Kickstands are handy for making quick stops on errand runs and almost required when you’re carrying groceries on your bike. It’s a lot easier to load up when you don’t have to balance the bike too.
  • Bike trailers can carry far bigger loads than a bike alone. I use my cargo trailer when I’m buying the big stuff like 30 rolls of toilet paper at Costco, or when I want to buy more than three bags of groceries in one trip. Note that they’re less stable when empty. I learned the hard way.
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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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