75421 and a Big Fat Zero

7 days, 5 people, 4 bags, 2 bikes, 1 trip, 0 cars. With a little careful packing we were able to haul seven day’s worth of groceries for five people (two average adults, three ravenous teenagers) in the four panniers on our two grocery-getters. By combining the grocery run with a stop to “refuel” on yellow curry at our favorite Thai restaurant, we turned what could have been a chore into quite an enjoyable outing, and we didn’t burn a single drop of gas in the process. Aren’t bikes cool?

EcoVelo Gallery

With the generous assistance of my readers, we built up a really cool bicycle gallery at my old site, the Recumbent Blog. Over a period of about two years, somewhere around 90 people sent me many megabytes worth of interesting photos of their bikes, with accompanying technical details, and I placed everything in a consistent format for easy viewing. I was amazed at the quality and variety of the submissions, and it’s still one of the nicest collections of recumbent photos around (if I should say so myself ;-) ). If you haven’t seen it before, you can view the Recumbent Blog Gallery by clicking here.

My intention is to create a similar gallery here at EcoVelo, but this time with a focus on bikes used for transportation. All types of bikes are on the table, so long as they’re being used in a utilitarian manner. I’ve already posted my own bikes to the EcoVelo Gallery to get the ball rolling. Please read my submission guidelines before sending your photos, and don’t hesitate to drop me a note if you have technical questions regarding file formats, etc. Let’s build this together! —Alan

PS – If one of your bikes is already included in the Recumbent Blog Gallery, and that bike is being used for transportation, please let me know and I’ll re-post it here in the EcoVelo Gallery – there’s no need to send the same photos again.

‘Bent Breakfast

One of my favorite things: getting up at 6am on Sunday morning and riding to the coffee shop for breakfast.

Tikit on a Tram

In this fun video, Bike Friday’s irrepressible “Gal From Down Under”, Lynette Chiang, and Bicycle Victoria’s David Larson, take her Tikit on one of Melbourne’s trams to test out the City’s new policy of allowing folding-bikes-in-bags on all forms of public transit.

Cyclist, Pedestrian, or Both?

Our “parkways” here in Suburbia are a lot like freeways, only with side streets and stop lights. Most have three lanes going in both directions with a substantial center median and generous, over-spec bike lanes. Speed limits on these mega avenues are typically 45 mph, but unless the authorities have recently set-up a speed trap to intimidate the locals, traffic usually flows closer to 55-60 mph. I appreciate the wider-than-required bike lanes on these surface street superhighways, but even still, it’s a bit unnerving to have an endless stream of cars flying by at 60 mph, 4-6 feet from your left ear.

If you’re only going straight or turning right (how often does that happen?), these roads aren’t really a problem, but they break down when you need to make a left turn in traffic. Imagine rush hour, with a long stream of cars flowing past at 55 mph, three lanes deep to your left, and you need to get over into the left turn lane. Vehicular cycling technique would have you take the first lane to your left, then the next, and so on, until you reach the left turn lane. I can guarantee that if you tried that during rush hour around here, the only place you’d be rushing to is the hospital or morgue.

To deal with our less-than-perfect, heavily-trafficked roadways, I often practice a hybrid combination of vehicular and pedestrian cycling. This pragmatic approach to city cycling is not beholden to any one school of thought, but is based on the reality of needing to safely get from one side of town to the other through a maze of dense and dangerous city traffic.

An alternative that I often see practiced is what I like to call “pedestrian cycling”. Believe it or not, riding on sidewalks is legal within our city limits. I don’t advocate doing so for most cyclists, but for children and those that lack the confidence to brave the bike lanes, it’s arguably a viable option. Because car drivers don’t expect to see anything moving at vehicle speeds entering the roadway from a sidewalk, it’s critical that these pedestrian-cyclists stop at every cross street and either walk their bikes or slowly ride across within the crosswalk, behaving as pedestrians. This type of riding is frowned upon by some bicycle advocates because it (supposedly) reinforces the idea that bikes aren’t vehicles and should be relegated to the sidewalk. I don’t necessarily agree with this, and whatever makes people feel safer so they get out and ride their bikes is a plus in my mind.

To deal with our less-than-perfect, heavily-trafficked roadways, I often practice a hybrid combination of vehicular and pedestrian cycling. This pragmatic approach to city cycling is not beholden to any one school of thought, but is based on the reality of needing to safely get from one side of town to the other through a maze of dense and dangerous city traffic. It involves using vehicular cycling techniques whenever practical, but quickly switching to a pedestrian cycling mindset when road conditions become dangerous and the only alternative is to slow down — and even stop to use a crosswalk — to get through a bottle-neck such as the left turn scenario described above. When I’m riding through the city, I’m following the path of least resistance, the safest and smoothest way to get through a tough traffic area on bike and foot, while trying to avoid pushing the vehicular cycling envelope too far by blindly hoping a stampede of cars recognizes my right to the road.

Bikes for this type of hybrid walking-riding need to be easy to mount and dismount. They should facilitate a smooth transition from walking, to rolling along slowly, to accelerating through an intersection, to hopping off to hit a crosswalk trigger, etc. Probably the ultimate bike for this type of riding is a small folder or possibly a step-through city bike. Among recumbents, bikes with low bottom brackets and upright seating positions (for easy entry and exit) are best. Quick handling and minimal weight are also pluses.

I want to believe our roadway designers carefully consider bicycles in their plans, and I also want to believe automobile drivers have our best interests in mind while operating their vehicles, but unfortunately, my real-life experiences have taught me otherwise. So until our road conditions improve, I’ll ride like a vehicle when I can, but I’ll switch at a moment’s notice to whatever technique is necessary to arrive at my destination in one piece.

Basil Kavan II Natural Panniers

I’m a big fan of traditional English and Dutch utility bikes. They’re durable, practical, comfortable, and stylish, but they do have a few quirks that make them a bit more difficult to outfit and maintain than your garden variety comfort bike or commuter built for the U.S. market. Many have 700B (635mm) wheels (unusual in the U.S. but standard on Dutch/Chinese/Indian/British roadsters) and non-standard racks that may, or may not, accept panniers from mainstream manufacturers such as Arkel and Ortleib.

My Pashley Roadster Sovereign came outfitted with a non-standard rear rack as mentioned above. Fortunately, Basil Design of the Netherlands manufactures adjustable, strap-on panniers that, unlike most modern panniers, will fit nearly any rack, regardless of tubing diameter or fittings. I recently obtained a set of their Kavan II Natural panniers.

Kavan II Naturals come packaged folded flat. Each bag has 3 stiffeners: one is cloth covered and lays in the bottom of the pannier, and two slide into slots with velcro closures on the front and back (see photos below). The stiffeners are fairly difficult to insert, so I’m assuming the panniers are not designed to be collapsible. Once they’re in place, the bags hold their shape very well, even when fully loaded with groceries or everything needed for a day at the office. The lids are foam filled to give them structure and keep them from sagging as well.

Mounting the Kavan II Naturals is straightforward. The 4 straps at the top of the panniers use a simple sliding loop style fastener, and the single connectors at the base of each pannier use a belt-loop style fastener. The mounting system couldn’t be simpler or more effective, and it’s flexible enough to use on practically any rack made.

With a capacity of 45 liters, these are big bags. They’ll easily haul 4-5 days worth of groceries for 2 people. Some might complain that they’re a little heavy, but if you’re riding a roadster, weight should be the least of your concerns. Personally, I appreciate the fact that they’re overbuilt and should stand up to considerable abuse.

Basil Kavan II Naturals are beautifully constructed. They’re made from heavy weight, water-repellent canvas, with wide straps and brass hardware. They have a substantial feel and I suspect they’ll just improve over time as they take on a nice patina from regular use. They’re tough, yet stylish, with a look that’s fitting for classic euro-style utility bikes. The only drawback I can see is that they require more effort to remove from the bike than “quick-release” type panniers, so they’re not necessarily ideal for commuting if you need to take the bags inside with you. Even so, they’re attractive enough that I suspect many will choose to use them anyway, even on bikes with standard racks that don’t require a strap-on design. Highly recommended.

Available at Velo Orange

Leg Suck Be Damned

Let go of the fear…

OK, I know I’m going to catch sh*t for this, but I recently switched from clipless to platform pedals. I’m going to get in trouble because a couple of years ago, on a popular message board, I mouthed off big time about the dangers of riding unrestrained, and there are still a couple of people out there that love to remind me about my one-and-only public message board temper tantrum… LOL.

The sight of my foot pointing exactly 180 degrees from normal when I got up from the crash is still clearly burned in my memory.

I have good reason to fear riding without toe clips or clipless pedals; I broke my leg and ankle in multiple places in a leg suck accident many years ago. The sight of my foot pointing exactly 180 degrees from normal when I got up from the crash is still clearly burned in my memory. I’ll admit it was a bit of a fluke, but it put me through multiple surgeries and in-and-out of casts for over a year, so I’m still a wee bit skittish around platforms, even after all this time.

Coincidentally (or not, as these things often go), our household is on a serious jag to revamp our on-bike time to include more utilitarian cycling in the form of commuting, library trips, grocery shopping, dental/doctor appointments, coffee/breakfast/lunch/dinner runs, bill paying, etc. We’re trying to make hopping on the bikes as convenient as hopping in the car (imagine how much automobile use would decline if we all changed into padded shorts, helmet, gloves, goggles, and special shoes every time we hopped in the car to make a grocery run for soy milk or toilet tissue). We added platform pedals and panniers to our main rides and revamped our bike storage situation to make for quick and easy entry and exit. The platforms accomodate whatever shoes happen to be on our feet, the panniers accomodate the stuff we need to haul to or from wherever we’re headed, and the convenient entry/exit just makes the whole process that much more pleasant.

So there you have it: I’ve officially rescinded my dogmatic stance on the benefits of restrained pedaling. Let the barbs fly! Leg suck still looms a little larger-than-life in my amygdala, but the freedom to come and go on a whim is finally putting that old fear to rest.

© 2011 EcoVelo™