Are You Watching Le Tour?

We can’t quite figure out if it stems from our general reduction of interest in all things competitive, or if we’re simply burned out on all the doping scandals and drama surrounding the sport, but we’re finding ourselves almost completely disinterested in the Tour De France this year. We’ve watched it religiously in years past, but for whatever reason the sheen has worn off. At this point, we’d rather just take a ride to the coffee shop and enjoy bike riding in a pure and simple way. How about you; are you a TDF fan?

Are you following the Tour De France this year?

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Belly!

We keep bells on all of our bikes; we like to think of them as the Little Brass Ambassadors of the Bike Trail.

Do you use a bell?

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Wrench Junkie

Project on Deck

Sometimes I just make up reasons to work on my bikes. It might be a complete drivetrain overhaul or something as simple as replacing the bar tape, but it seems I almost always have some project or another in the works. I guess I have to face the fact that I’m a gear head of sorts, and working on bikes is very nearly (but not quite) half the fun. Add to that the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and some might say I have a full-blown addiciton to wrenching on bikes. The good news is that I have the family’s entire fleet to attend to, as well as no shortage of toys on loan from friends and sponsors, all of which help to keep me busy and out of trouble.

I guess I have to face the fact that I’m a gear head of sorts, and working on bikes is very nearly (but not quite) half the fun.

My latest jag was sanitizing the drivetrains on every bike in our stable and converting from wet lubes to hot wax. We’re now all squeaky clean and quiet. Mrs. EcoVelo was kind enough to find an old crockpot at a thrift store for my paraffin/beeswax experiments, so we’re in great shape now; no more wax drips on the kitchen counter! [BTW – If you’re a waxer, I’ve made some interesting discoveries involving mixing paraffin with beeswax – drop me a note if you’d like my formula.] That endeavor provided a deep sense of satisfaction that might be a little hard to understand for those who are less obsessive about their bikes.

This coming weekend’s project is a bar re-wrap. I understand complementary colors, and I use complements in design work all the time, but somehow I never fully embraced the orange/blue combo on my Sam Hillborne, so I ordered up some brown Newbaum’s that should nicely harmonize with the green/brown/orange color scheme on the rest of the bike. Of course, I have to make it more complicated than necessary, so I’ll tie-off the wraps with some twine, and slather the entire bar with a 50/50 mix of amber and clear Bulls Eye shellac. Can’t wait!

All of this is in good fun and, fortunately, it has the practical benefit of keeping our bikes in great shape for presentation on the blog. And while I sometimes feel as if I’m the only obsessive mechanic out there (people constantly tease me about our clean bikes), I know I can’t be the only one. So, how about you? Are you a wrench junkie? Do you enjoy working on bikes almost as much as riding them?

Do you enjoy wrenching on your bikes?

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A Bike Clothing Agnostic

Shorts Weather

I don’t often ride in purpose-made cycling clothes anymore. This isn’t a political statement as much as it’s a statement of personal preference; I simply no longer have a desire or need to wear specialized “cycling wear”. And although I think there may be some merit to the idea that people riding bikes in normal clothes present a positive image of bicycling to the general public, I certainly don’t look down on those who choose to wear cycling-specific clothing. I suppose when it comes down to it, I’m pretty much an agnostic on the Cycle Chic versus Lycra question.

I don’t often ride in purpose-made cycling clothes anymore. This isn’t a political statement as much as it’s a statement of personal preference; I simply no longer have a desire or need to wear specialized “cycling wear”.

My routine in the winter and spring is to wear my work clothes and simply layer up over the top with various fleece vests and coats. It’s usually cold enough when I leave for work in the morning, and I ride slow enough on my inbound commute, that I’m not concerned about perspiration. As the year progresses and the weather warms, I shed layers until I’m down to just a shirt and slacks in the spring.

When the temps approach triple digits like they did yesterday, I switch over to a garment swapping routine that puts me in progressively lighter and cooler clothing as the day warms: on the morning commute while it’s still relatively cool, I wear slacks and a long-sleeved shirt (this could be a tech-T or a lightweight wool shirt ); then, when I arrive at the office I clean up and change into a short-sleeved, lightweight, work appropriate shirt; and for the ride home, I swap the slacks for a pair of lightweight, breathable shorts. On the few days of the year when we’re actually in triple digits, the work clothes are packed from the start and it’s shorts and a breathable shirt on both the inbound and outgoing legs of the commute.

We’re lucky to have such mild weather here in Northern California; by mixing-and-matching the “normal” clothes in our closet (for us that’s a mix of cotton street clothes and all-purpose, REI-style “outdoor” clothing), we’re able to stay comfortable on the bike throughout the year. I’m guessing that in other regions where the weather is more extreme, clothing choices are more difficult and specialized bike clothing is more of a requirement.

What about you? Do you wear specialized, bike-specific clothing on your commute, or do you just wear the street clothes that are already hanging in your closet?

What type of clothes do you wear while bike commuting?

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Beyond the City Walls

At least anecdotally, it appears the number of suburban and rural utility bicyclists is on the rise. I suspect this group of transportational bicyclists is much larger than most people realize — even rivaling urban bicyclists in numbers — yet it has been largely ignored by the bicycling press who seem to prefer to focus on the more hip and trendy aspects of urban/transpo bike culture (i.e., cycle chic, tweed, fixies, etc.).

While I understand the issues surrounding sprawl, there are still a number of valid reasons people choose to live in the suburbs and beyond, including an aversion to the intensity of city life, work that involves suburban/rural activity, the need to be near family, etc., etc. Whatever the reasons, and regardless of the current emphasis on re-urbanization, a large number of people are going to continue to live in suburban and rural areas. And while long commutes and freeways full of cars are certainly not the answer, we have to acknowledge that a complete restructuring of our cities and their suburbs is not going to happen for a very long time, if ever. It’s in our best interests to promote utility bicycling and transit use among this group, and get on with fully integrating our transit and biking infrastructures to efficiently and sustainably move people from the suburbs to the city and back.

I believe there is tremendous potential to increase the use of bicycles for transportation among those who live outside large urban centers. Sure, the distances outside the city tend to be longer, and bicycle-specific infrastructure can be sparse, but the roads are also less congested. I live in the suburbs and I’ve made it work; if it works for me, it can certainly work for many others as well. Changing perceptions about what’s possible, as well as educating people about how to integrate with transit, are key. And because suburban trip distances are greater than what are typical for the city, the potential rewards in terms of reduced emissions are enormous.

I’d be interested to know what percentage of our readers live in either suburban or rural areas.

Where do you live?

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Sidewalk Riding

Sidewalk riding is always a controversial topic. It’s legal in a surprising number of places, though the fact that it’s legal is no indication of whether or not it’s a safe practice. I feel sidewalk riding can be relatively safe in certain circumstances and when approached with a certain mindset, but I often see bicyclists on sidewalks riding in ways that are dangerous to themselves and others.

One of the main issues with sidewalk riding is that motorists don’t expect to encounter vehicles traveling at close to motor vehicle speeds anywhere other than in the road. We’re all accustomed to looking in certain directions at certain times while riding or driving, and anything that doesn’t fall within normal traffic patterns runs the risk of being overlooked. Consequently, bicyclists traveling at anything over walking speed on sidewalks are in danger of having vehicles pull into their path at intersections and driveways.

One of the main issues with sidewalk riding is that motorists don’t expect to encounter vehicles traveling at close to motor vehicle speeds anywhere other than in the road.

Likewise, pedestrians are only accustomed to sharing the sidewalk with other pedestrians. Because they’re not expecting a bicycle to come up from behind, they have no reason to maintain a perfectly straight path, so there’s potential for collisions there as well. While collisions with pedestrians are not as dangerous as collisions with motor vehicles (obviously), these negative sidewalk encounters reflect badly on bicyclists in general.

In my hometown, we have a number of high-speed parkways with 2-3 lanes running in each direction. These roads have a center median and wide sidewalks on both sides that are separated from the traffic lanes by grass buffers. The only side streets are major intersections or entrances to neighborhoods. No residential driveways enter these roads. The sidewalks are wide enough that they could easily be considered separated bike paths. The lack of driveways and minimal cross streets make these pseudo multi-use paths safer and more useful for bicyclists than most sidewalks.

On the other side of the coin, we have sidewalks inside residential neighborhoods that are lined with parked cars and criss-crossed with driveways, cross streets, and alleys. They’re also often filled with small children, dog walkers, and skateboarders. Certainly, everyone can agree bicycling on these types of sidewalks is not a good idea.

As I see it, the only way to safely ride on a sidewalk is to act as a pedestrian anytime we’re near a pedestrian or an intersection. That means riding at walking speeds while in the presence of pedestrians, and it means slowing or stopping at intersections, driveways, and alleys to look in all directions (including behind) before crossing. Other than in certain special circumstances such as those along our parkways, I think most bicyclists would find the above approach barely workable. Unfortuantely, any other approach to sidewalk riding may be an invitation to conflict or even injury.

Do you ride on sidewalks? (Feel free to elaborate)

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The Rolling Stop (And a Confession)

For those who are unfamiliar with Idaho’s “stop-as-yield” law, it allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs:

49-720.STOPPING — TURN AND STOP SIGNALS. (1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

The law has been on the books since the early 1980′s, undergoing only two minor revisions since its inception. From all appearances the law has been fairly successful. The past couple of years there has been growing interest in initiating similar laws in other states.

As an exercise, this past week I’ve been making an effort to come to a complete stop, with a foot down, at every stop sign on my daily commute. I have to admit, this is not normal practice for me.

As an exercise, this past week I’ve been making an effort to come to a complete stop, with a foot down, at every stop sign on my daily commute. I have to admit, this is not normal practice for me. I’ve designed my commute so that I’m traversing mostly bike trails and quiet neighborhood streets. My morning commute starts early while the roads are pretty much empty, and as a result, I’ve fallen into the habit of treating many of the stop signs on my route as yield signs (but only when no cars are in sight). I must say, coming to a complete stop at every corner feels awkward and disruptive, particularly where the stop signs are placed close together and are clearly designed to slow motor vehicle traffic in quiet residential areas.

My little experiment has done nothing to convince me one way or the other that stop-as-yield laws would be appropriate in more traffic dense areas, but I’m pretty sure there are many otherwise law abiding bicyclists like myself who are fudging on this issue. I’d be curious to know how you treat stop signs and how the conditions in which you ride affect your approach.

Do you treat stop signs as yield signs?

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