Google Biking Directions a Disappointment?

Now that we’re a couple of weeks out and we’ve all had a chance to try out Google’s new “Biking Directions” component of Google Maps, I’d be curious to hear how it’s working for you. I hate to say it, but the directions I’ve been getting around here are not great so far. In many cases, the best off-street paths and back road shortcuts are completely ignored in favor of high-speed 6-lane parkways, while at other times the results suggest impossible routes that go through locked gated communities. I’m wagering that Google will improve the service over time as riders provide feedback, but at this point I’d give the application an A for effort and a D for execution.

Google Biking Directions

How would you grade the accuracy of Google Biking Directions so far?

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Mundo in the House

Yuba recently loaned us a Mundo Cargo Bicycle to play around with. Impressions so far? Waaay cool. More to follow… :-)

Yuba

Streetfilms: The Capital’s Colossal Contraflow Cycle Track

Creative infrastructure improvements in the nation’s capital.

From Streetfilms

Counting the Miles

Yesterday’s post on multi-modal commuting triggered some interesting comments on commuting distances. There seems to be a consensus that bike commutes under a certain length are too short, while others are too long. Those that are too long can wear down a rider and may be unsustainable over time, while those that are too short don’t provide the physical exercise and enjoyment we bike commuters have come to expect. (Funny, but it’s hard to imagine a person who commutes by automobile complaining about a commute being too short!)

Obviously, what constitutes an ideal bike commute distance will vary depending upon the rider’s physical condition, time constraints, and other factors. Still, I thought it would be interesting to set-up a poll to look at what our readers consider to be an enjoyable and sustainable bike commute distance.

What do you consider to be a perfect bike commute distance (one way)?

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Mixing Modes

For bike commuters and car-free individuals who live long distances from their workplace or school, public transit can be an important part of their transportation mix. In my case, I have a 50-mile round-trip commute that I find too demanding to maintain on a regular basis on the bike alone. I managed to piece together a manageable, albiet somewhat complex, multi-modal commute that includes a bicycle ride, a train ride, a bus ride, and a hike. The total commute time door-to-door is approximately 1.5 hours each way.

My son, who is attending a local college, has a 20-mile round trip commute in the other direction. He mixes bike, ped, and bus to make his way to-and-from school. On days when the weather is nice and he feels up to it, he rides the full distance both directions. On other days, he mixes the bike with the bus, and if the weather is particularly nasty, he walks to a nearby stop and takes the bus the majority of the distance.

Even though we’re both bike commuters and believers in active transportation, we depend upon public transit to make our respective commutes sustainable over time. Also, having the option of transit built into our commutes ensures we can avoid the car even on days when we’re not feeling our best or our schedules demand a quicker trip.

What are the components that make up your commute?

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Prepping for the Puncture Season (and a cool PDW pump)

With spring on the way here in our neck of the woods, the potential for punctures will soon increase exponentially. It’s at this time of year that I take my annual look at the saddle pouches on each of our bikes to be sure we have everything we need to repair a flat or take care of minor repairs on the side of the road. This is the basic kit we carry on each of our bikes:

  • Multi-tool
  • Tire irons
  • Patch kit
  • Mini pump
  • Spare tube specific to the bike

On a bike with nutted axles I add a 15mm wrench to the above.

If a puncture is from a sticker, I’ll usually first try to repair the leak with the wheel on the bike. I’ve found it fast and easy to pop the tire free from the rim adjacent to the puncture, pull out the portion of tube that’s punctured, install the patch, re-insert the tube, and pop the tire back onto the rim. It saves a couple of steps and works fine when you know the cause and location of the puncture. If I don’t know the location of the puncture, I’ll take the wheel all the way off and completely remove the tire and tube from the rim so I can locate the leak and make sure whatever caused the puncture is removed from the tire.

Even after riding for over 40 years and repairing countless flats, I’m still surprised and disappointed when I feel that tell-tale squirm that indicates a puncture.

If you’ve tried mini pumps, you know it’s a chore to pump a tire from fully deflated up to riding pressure with such a tiny barrel. But since we ride only robust, puncture-resistant tires (at least 32mm with a kevlar strip), we don’t expect to get more than a few flats per season among all of our bikes. Since the odds are with us, it’s a fair trade-off for eliminating the need for larger pumps or cartridges. If we rode lightweight tires, we’d carry more substantial, full-sized frame pumps.

As an aside, Portland Design Works sent us the little Poco mini-pump shown in the photo above. It’s a sweet little pump, and the bamboo handle looks great inside Michael’s fancy saddle bag (OK, not a high priority, but what the heck). Most mini pumps work about the same, and this one functions quite well while also looking better than the generic black plastic versions. With its CNC-machined head, it may end up lasting longer as well (with our current low rate of flats, it may take a while to figure out… LOL).

I’ve yet to decide if the newer self-adhesive, glue-free patches work as well as the old school glue-on type. I grew up on the latter, so I’m a little skeptical about the new self-adhesive patches; I’d be interested to hear your feedback on these.

I can’t prove this, but I’d swear higher quality tubes resist punctures better than generics. For sure, Schwalbe tubes hold air better, and require less frequent top-offs, than cheapie generics. If you’re running puncture-resistant tires, I’d say it’s well worth the extra few dollars for premium tubes. Just watch out for premium “lightweight” racing tubes; they’re not nearly as puncture-resistant as even generic standard weight tubes.

Some people don’t carry an extra tube in their saddle pouch. I think it’s a good idea to always carry a spare tube because they sometimes fail at the valve stem, and if they do, a patch kit won’t get you home. Just be sure the tube in the repair kit fits the bike it’s intended for.

We’ve been fortunate to have very few flats over the past few years. As we’ve moved to more and more robust tires, the punctures from stickers and glass have dwindled to nearly zero. Flat protection technology has also improved over time, with the latest flat-resistant tires being surprisingly light, supple, and lively. One of my favorite tires is the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme. It’s a sweet riding tire that wears well and has proven to be quite flat-resistant.

Even after riding for over 40 years and repairing countless flats, I’m still surprised and disappointed when I feel that tell-tale squirm that indicates a puncture. At least if our saddle pouches are stocked with the necessary parts and tools to make the repair, we know we’ll be back on the road in no time.

If you’ve never repaired a flat, check out the tutorials on inner tube replacement and repair at the Park Tool website.

Signs of Spring

Saturday was the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and right on cue, the first poppies of the season appeared. What a pleasurable time of year to be a bicyclist!


 
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