Sunday, November 17, 2013

tried and liked/didn't like in 2013

It's time to consider what worked and what didn't in this year of bicycle riding.
Feel free to respond in the comments below with links to your own lists.

Tried and Liked: 

1. Mileage tracking. This worked when I felt like it, or when it seemed like a good idea to record my miles just to see how many I averaged in a week. When I tracked my miles I tended to ride a little more, and a little more often. I took a break from this during the summer, and that's why it appears on both lists. See below.

2. Swrve urban cycling pants. To be fair, I'd already had a pair of these that I got last fall -- but I got them at Goodwill and had to take them in with needle and thread to get them to fit right so those don't really count. Then, this year when I was feeling a little flush, I scored a few pairs either new or used on ebay, on purpose, so that counts. Swrve make slacks and jeans that are specifically cut to be comfortable on the bike as well as off it. And they look nice enough for me to wear at my teaching job. The really nice ones are almost nice enough for me tow ear at synagogue services, which is saying something about just how nice these pants are. They downside is that if buy them directly from Swrve you need to wait for older colors and cut to go on sale or you'll end up paying well over $100 a pair. The 97% cotton/3% lycra blend in their Cotton Regular Fit Trousers wears quite well. I also ended up getting a pair each of their Cordura jeans and their Lightweight Regular WWR (Water & Wind Repellent) trousers and both are doing a great job of Not Being Blue jeans and being Comfortable On The Bike. Yes, a hundred bucks is a lot of mony to spend on a pair of pants; but on a pair of pants I wear almost every darned day, it turns out to be a good value if they last several years.

If I still had a little extra money to spend I'd spring for a pair of their middleweight WWR trousers for commuting in Portland's cold and wet winters. Even at $125, I'm easy enough on most clothing that they'd last long enough to eventually justify the price.

3. Chrome Bamboo fabric t-shirt. Not currently offered during the wnter months, but popular enough that Chrome will probably (hopefully!) bring it back in the spring. Basic black, hangs very nicely and looks slightly nicer than a regular cotton t-shirt. I have two of these and have gotten away with wearing them in my classroom on warmer days. In crew and v-neck styles. Ideally, find a friend who works for Chrome and get it through them, because at $60 retail it's a bit steep. I haven't tried it, but Swrve makes a bamboo t-shirt at half the price of Chrome's, and it comes in more colors besides basic black. It's also still available.

4. Local Handmade Shoe Covers. These are available at Citybikes Annex in Portland. They're locally made in Portland of lighter-weight waxed cotton with a rubberized material covering the bottom of the toes, and they wrap around the entire shoe and go up to the top of your ankle. They do a surprisingly good job of keeping your shoes dry, they fit over street shoes (and even some lightweight hiking boots) and they come in sizes to fit most feet. Mine are nearly a year old and they work very well -- better than the Rivendell Splats that I'd gotten the year before. As with all such shoe covers, they're really not meant to be walked around in at length, so remove them when you get to your destination to save wear and tear.

5. Kucharik merino wool cycling cap. These used to fit my head sort of funny and wrong -- then, shortly before I left Citybikes, the latest Kucharik order had come into the shop and I tried on one of the new wool caps. I bought one in mid-September of 2012 and put it back for when the weather turned really cold (by which time I'd left the bike industry). The cut and fit are greatly improved and the caps hold their shape well through regular use. If you machine wash, be sure to wash gentle cycle and drip dry. They also fit pretty well under a variety of "urban" or "city" style helmets. They're soft, non-scratchy and come in a wide variety of colors. I wear this one, in Team Slow's orange and black, daily now that weather has finally turned cold enough.

6. Planet Bike Blaze Micro 2-Watt headlight. Now in a smaller package than previous years. It takes up less room on my handlebar, and still puts out a bright enough beam that I can direct it slightly downward and actually see where I'm going. My rechargeable batteries work well in this.

Tried and Didn't Like:

1. Mileage Tracking. When I struggled with some personal stuff in the middle of the summer, stuff that included some radical changes in my cycling patterns which were directly connected to a radical change in careers, I left off tracking my mileage for nearly two months. I was sad, frustrated, scared that all these radical shifts in my life would make me fall flat on my face -- and I just didn't feel motivated to think much about riding beyond the bare minimum needed to get me from place to place. For a little while, at least, it was a good idea to take the pressure off by not tracking my mileage. Of course, when I found my head again in the fall and decided to go back and try and estimate the miles I hadn't tracked, it got a little messy. Still, taking a break was just something I had to do.

2. Carradice Bike Bureau. I got one of these late last year, after my Tried-and-Liked report went out; and I used it a fair number of times to haul my laptop back and forth to work. I liked having the laptop at work; it made lesson-planning and parent emailing handier. But I didn't care for lugging the heavy laptp back and forth in the rain in a pannier that was so large it made my bike feel lopsided when loaded. I got a smaller device a few months ago and that has made the Bike Bureau almost unnecessary. I'm hanging onto it for now, but I may end up selling it before too long. It's just more bag than I need.

3. Generator hub lights. I had installed a generator hub on my All-Rounder a couple of years ago, a used model that had been pulled from one of the discontinued Citybikes rental fleet. While I found the reliability useful, the extra weight and my inability to afford the best generator lights money could buy rendered the hub superfluous over time. The hub worked with cheaper lights, but also burned them out at an alarming rate; I went through THREE Bush-Muller Secu-lite Plus taillights in about 14 months' time. After I burned through the last one, I decided I was done, and went back to rechargeable battery lights. I sold the wheel, along with the still-working front light, and reinstalled the original front wheel (which I'd saved all this time just in case). My bike lost several pounds as a result, and my smaller lights handle rechargeable batteries quite easily. If I was a serious rando rider and could afford the super-bright fancy generator systems available now I could justify the extra weight and cost; but as a simple urban commuter I just can't make that commitment, and I find I don't really miss the generator.

4. Sadly, the Portland Design Works FenderBot taillight has proven to be something of a disappointment. I had bought the regular RadBot 500 taillight for my Sekai Quasi-Rando -- it fits on the same rack bracket as Planet Bike lights do -- and figured I couldn't go wrong with a version that would bolt directly to my rear fender for the All-Rounder. However, the difference in the brightness, the shape of the light beam and the blink patterns between the former and the latter make the FenderBot sort of substandard by comparison. I will be looking at a way to attach a bracket to the rear rack of the All-Rounder so I can get another Radbot 500 for that bike.

5. Surly Big Dummy. This was the hardest one to write about. I started using a longtail cargo bike about seven years ago, to haul tools and bikes to 'cross races and to carry my guitar to gigs. As my cargo needs changed and I got older, I found I was occasionally having balance issues when the bike was fully loaded (though nowhere near the recommended capacity). I ignored it and upgraded from an Xtracycle add-on and mountain bike to a Surly Big Dummy. I liked the added stiffness of the Big Dummy's frame, and kept riding. This past year, I found that it was getting harder for me to balance heavy loads on only two wheels. After three rides to or from gigs in the last six months where I laid the bike down because of balance issues I finally asked my doctor what was happening. She suggested that we all begin to experience changes in how we deal with balance as we age; it was not surprising that I had begun to feel less steady under these conditions now I've begun my fifties. My doctor reminded me that most women my age are not towing the heavy loads I am by bicycle and that I am still ahead of the curve as regards my daily physical activity levels. She suggested I try something that would give me more points of contact on the ground -- like towing a trailer or perhaps switching to an adult trike. I switched to hauling everything in a trailer and the change in stability and security was immediate. So I am selling my Big Dummy. I hope to find a buyer for the whole bike soon; if not, I'll probably dismantle it and sell of individual parts.

The very best thing about bicycle riding in 2013: Showing a car-dependent suburban community a glimpse of the bicycle life. In June of this year, I spent three weeks teaching at a large synagogue in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. Overland Park is a sprawling suburb with a "big box" store on almost every corner, and only one road with a bike lane that I could see. My night blindness meant I could not rent a car, so I would have to make do with a bicycle and trailer.
As part of the contract, arrangements were made for me to stay in a private home near the synagogue and to borrow a bicycle and trailer from congregants so that I could tow my guitar and music supplies back and forth each day. For special events or field trips located farther away, I would be car-shuttled by someone from the synagogue, or on the bus with the students. Each morning and evening of the summer program, I could be seen hauling my guitar along Nall Avenue, a decidedly suburban road with no bike lanes -- but with unusually wide sidewalks that saw very few pedestrians other than a handful of early morning joggers. As part of my thanks for having a bike to borrow, I did a little tune-up on the bike before returning it, replacing the brake pads and seatpost and truing up the wheels a little. By the end of my time teaching there I had made my impression, and some of the students had taken to calling me The Bicycle Lady.

There is a possibility that the synagogue will invite me back again in June 2014. If they do I may make arrangements to ship a larger bicycle that fits me better, to save my knees and encourage me to ride more and farther on my days off. If it happens, I will once again have the pleasure of watching peoples' reaction as they realize that I am not towing a child in the trailer. Bringing the bicycle life to communities that aren't used to considering it gives me a sweet little rush. I hope to have other opportunities to do it elsewhere as my new career continues to grow [hopefully].

Happy riding.

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