Summary of my position on bicycle helmets

I accidentally concisely summarized my position on bike helmets in a Facebook comment:

It might be a good idea to wear a helmet, but it’s a waste of passion and effort to try to get other people to do it. Spend the effort and breath you would have spent on helmet debates on making it safer to ride.

This actually sums up my position on a lot of debates. Stop wasting your breath with lectures and debates, and go out and make it easier and better for people to do the right thing (or the thing you think is right). And for the record, this applies just as much to anti-helmet people like Colville-Andersen as it does to pro-helmet people, but there are a lot fewer of them.

Bikes – 1

I sold my oldest bike today (Minerva, my Trek Navigator 200 city/utility bike), to a friend, which got me thinking about how long I’ve had it.

I’ve owned that bike since summer 2001. With the exception of some of my musical instruments, it’s the high-value possession I’ve owned the longest and used the most. (I’ve owned my flute since 1993 or so.) It cost about $400 new, and I sold it for $100 since I’ve maintained it well and it came with a bunch of accessories that I put on (rack, fenders, headlight, seatbag, lock, etc.). That’s a long time and a lot of use for a relatively small monetary outlay.

I’m really not at all unhappy to sell it on, which I was worried I might be. My friend will get more use out of it than I was getting (since I got Meg almost a year ago, I was riding Minerva only to the farmer’s market and in the crappiest rainy weather); I’ll ride Meg more which I should be anyway; I won’t be taking up space in the carport anymore; I’ll only have two sets of maintenance chores to rotate. I have a bit of extra money, which definitely comes in handy right now.

Besides, now I have room in my stable for a bike of a different function!

SKS Raceblade fenders

The Terry website, when I bought Meg (and still — also, wow, it costs $750 now?!), said that there is enough wheel/brake clearance to allow the installation of fenders. I’m honestly not sure what Terry was thinking of when they wrote that, because although there is more wheel/brake clearance than a normal road bike, every full fender install set I’ve seen requires quite a bit more clearance than they give. I was skeptical of the claim to begin with since they use dual-pivot caliper brakes instead of cantilever brakes, and they don’t usually have much clearance.

Mike’s Bikes, however, stocks road bike fenders from SKS called “Raceblade” that attach to the rear seat stays and front fork using rubber straps. Unfortunately the kind they stock are too thin for Meg, whose tires are 700x32c (good for commuting), not 700x23c. So I had to special-order them. Most of the websites that come up when you search also only have the smaller ones, except Excel Sports.

But they are totally worth it. I’ve only done one ride with them so far, but they install easily and work well. The rubber straps are easy to put on and adjust, but stay put unless traumatized. The instructions show you how to position the fender correctly heightwise (for enough wheel clearance) and then adjust the metal/plastic holders so that it’s also positioned just behind the brake. The only challenging bit is that sliding the holders along the fender is a bit tough at first until you figure out how it works.

I thought a some grit would still come off because of the clearance between the front of the fender and the brake, but it doesn’t really (although some reviews say it does — maybe it depends on geometry, or maybe my bag is catching the dirt…). The only downside is that the brake gets wet and gritty because it has no protection between it and the wheel, where full-length fender installs protect the brake as well. But…Terry decided not to allow that, so, I’ll do what I can. Poor Meg though…her white frame is very dirty now!

Wet ride

It was raining like crazy all day yesterday. I had agreed to go to a party in the evening, so I decided, in the spirit of adventure, to find out whether my bike raingear was up to the task of keeping me relatively dry and comfortable on a 9.6 mile ride in moderate to heavy rain.

Answer: relatively comfortable, yes, relatively dry, no. I was warm enough (mostly; I wish I had worn my long-fingered gloves), but my jacket soaked through eventually, and the rain came in between my tights and shoes my ankles to wet my feet, so that even wearing waterproof shoes was only somewhat helpful. The jacket was marginally breathable enough, and the weather barely cool enough, that I didn’t sweat too much, but I got wet from the rain instead. This is the eternal problem of cycling raingear. Some people swear by Gore-Tex, others say that it leaks or doesn’t breathe. I’m thinking of getting a cycling cape — apparently a place in Oregon makes them.

The waterproof shoes did show their value when I ran into a huge puddle in Mountain View. The entire right lane was covered in water to a depth of about six or eight inches, and I was nervous about riding through it, so I got off, walked up the cross street until I could get on the sidewalk, and walked through a shallower part of the puddle that was on the sidewalk (still 3-4 inches deep). And my feet stayed dry through that.

As I’ve found before, rain pants are not worth it; I just wear my bike tights, which dry quickly and are warm and comfortable even when wet (the microfleece layer stays soft against my skin and doesn’t feel wet). I also don’t bother with a hood or helmet cover; instead I comb out my wet hair when I get someplace. I wear my cycling glasses because I hate getting rain in my eyes, but I do take them off every so often to wipe them off, and occasionally when I get tired of trying to see through them.

My conclusion is that I need to find a better upper (or maybe alternate several, using the current one for light rain, a cape for warm and wet, and a truly waterproof jacket for cold and wet), and get some of those booties/gaiters for my ankles to limit the drippage. I hate wet feet more than I hate almost anything else.

Overall, I did enjoy most of the ride. There wasn’t much traffic on a rainy Saturday between 5 and 6 pm, so the ride wasn’t stressful. The trees are turning colors, making the scenery interesting, and the cool, dull color of the light was soothing. It was nice to try the central route in relative daylight, and see the interesting things I passed by — parks, schools, cool houses. Everyone still had Halloween decorations up, which was also fun. I wasn’t in a huge hurry (though it took longer than I expected — oops) and was riding my old commuter bike, the first long ride she’s been on in a while, so I just toodled along, feeling relaxed. However, I was very glad to get home and change into dry clothes and warm up in my cozy blankets.

The miracle of rotated handlebars

So I went through this entire odyssey after I discovered that Meg’s handlebar/stem combination wasn’t working well for me and wasn’t going to be easy to replace. I looked for stems that would work and found almost nothing, and I couldn’t figure out whether any non-31.8 handlebars would work. I think the odyssey is finally over, at least for a while.

When I went to Mike’s Bikes tonight, I talked to a guy about searching first and he tried to find me a stem, but came up with nothing. So I went back to the repair guys to talk about moving the levers again, and they finally explained that the reason they were worried about moving the levers and rotating the bars was that I might not be able to reach the brake levers from the hand position on the drops.

I demonstrated to them that I already can’t do that, so to please go ahead and make the change if that was their only concern!

I didn’t even know it was possible to do that — my hands just aren’t large enough; I can’t do it effectively on my road bike either. If want to brake I put my hands either forward into the furthest-front part of the drops or I come up to the hoods.

Now that my bars have been rotated, the very bottom of the drops is at a bit of an angle and isn’t quite so comfortable to use, but given the small amount of time I spend in the drops compared to the time I spend up top, it’s a tiny loss. The top feels very much like my road bike bars and is so much more comfortable it’s almost unbelievable.

Thank heaven for Mike’s Bikes and service guys who actually are patient and take the time to talk to you and explain their perspective!

While there I also picked up two new pairs of gloves that I hope will be much more comfortable than my current Novara ones, and which were, surprisingly, no more expensive. I also got another jersey identical to my favorite blue one that I got last year (someday I’ll have someone take a picture of me in those on my bike and put in on my W2W page and you’ll see what I mean) which I love and which was 40% off! I couldn’t believe they had some left over. They also have some Specialized saddles that look interesting which I may look into for my road bike because I think that saddle is too wide, and some road bike fenders that use clip attachments to the rear triangle instead of going under the brake, so I’ll be back for at least one pair of those come winter.

Nashbar wins again

I’m guessing the crappy knicker thing with Nashbar was just a fluke, because I ordered some more stuff from them recently and it came today and everything looks great. The Cateye magnet works fine with the Cannondale computer I mysteriously either lost the magnet for or which was defectively packaged with no magnet. I also got another Delta Leonardo rack, so soon both bikes will be hung up out of the way. I’m tired of tripping on Meg all the time. And I gave in and got the tire tray too. I don’t think it’ll 100% save the wall, but it should help keep things stable and a bit cleaner. The Topeak Road Morph G mounted perfectly on my down tube — I just wish I hadn’t lost the first one I bought the day I bought it, but that’s entirely my own fault.

And the Nashbar brand thing I got, the Townie Baskets, look seriously awesome. They’re very sturdy-feeling and come with bright yellow raincovers (that store handily in a pocket on the bottom) and some velcro so you can keep them closed when they’re not in use! They look like they’ll work and hold up as well as the rack trunk, which I’ve been really happy with. They’ll be great for toodling around town, especially to the farmer’s market so I don’t have to stick everything in a backpack. Just fill some of my Monde Ami bags and drop them in the baskets.

My saddle soreness is clearing up nicely, if not instantly, and I got a couple kinds of ointment I saw recommended for soothing/prevention and will try to pick up some actual Chamois Butt’r before Sunday.

Minus the bump on my knee from the cabinet at work (owww), things are going pretty well, although I’m getting confused/frustrated by the suggestions in my training books and how picky they seem in some ways, so I’m sure there’ll be more about that later.

A matter of course

Today was an interesting bike day.

In the morning, I had a bike-car contact moment when a guy stopped suddenly in front of me (someone had stopped suddenly in front of him). I had a moment to think “Huh. My brakes aren’t going to stop me in time. Whoops, I just hit him.” Fortunately it was just a firm but not fast contact of my front tire against his rear bumper, since I was only going a few inches per second. I lost my balance, but, not being clipped in at the time, was able to recover myself without actually falling over, although the bike fell almost all the way over under me. (When it has my bag on it, stopping it from falling over once it unbalances is challenging.) The only bad effect is a small bruise on my left shin from the pedal. Fortunately. It left me shaken and was a good reminder not to follow too closely and always be prepared to stop. Also, to not generally clip in in a hurry when at an intersection. (Despite the potential hazards of the clipping, I would have been more injured had I had standard pedals, because standard pedals have more sharp edges.)

The next interesting moment was when my constant paranoia at the right-turn that I had my first accident at paid off and I only had to slow a bit to make sure people were done turning before I got near. I always think my paranoia there is excessive, but occasionally it pays off. I have a general parannoia about right-hooks, and staying alert for that does seem to help generally. There were a couple of other situations on the way back where awareness kept me to the left of a person trying to turn irght.

I also had an epiphany about riding all the way to and from work. I’ve done it every so often for a while, but it’s actually taken me a pretty long time to really get the hang of the route to the point where I always have a feel for what’s coming next, how long it is, how to pace myself, how to handle the tricky spots best. It didn’t take me so long to get the hang of the route from the train station because it’s shorter and I was riding it nearly every day, so I didn’t expect it to take so long with this route. But now that I’ve got it, I feel more comfortable with the idea of doing it a lot. Today we finished our conference call at work about 15 minutes too late for me to catch the first evening local train, so I figured, you know, it’s going to take the same amount of time, why don’t I just ride. So I did, and it was pleasant, though there are always annoying bits (often other cyclists, I’m sad to say). I guess this is part of the process of becoming hardcore and just riding everywhere all the time like some of the awesome people I know. You just get used to it and do it, and not only does 10 or 20 miles not seem like a long way for a fun ride, it doesn’t even seem like a long way for an everyday ride. Also, I prefer it after rush hour is over. It makes the situation at Middlefield and San Antonio a lot less stressful.

I do really need to take care of this handlebar thing, though. I just can’t get comfortable on the Salsa handlebars even now that I’m used to them. It turns out they’re actually a bit deeper and have a greater drop than the Bontragers, even though I described the opposite case when I first looked at them. Anyone got a suggestion on finding a 60-65 mm (very short) stem with a 31.8mm clamp and a 15 degree rise? At a reasonable price, of course…

I’m a self-propelled person!

I picked up a copy of Momentum magazine (“The magazine for self-propelled people”) out of a box they brought us at Maker Faire to take to SFBC. It turns out it’s an awesome magazine, and it’s incredibly cool that the ads are all for things I might actually want, or want to know about — bikes, bike clothes, bike accessories, bike events, travel, sustainability stuff…it’s great. And the articles are even better. From kinderbakfietsen (hee!) to Mellow Johnny’s, Chicago to Toronto, Safe Routes to School to Bike to Work Day, sustainable arm-warmers to helmet-mounted cameras…this is the first magazine I’ve seen in ages that I actually want to subscribe to, and the only one I’ve ever seen where I like the ads as much as the magazine.

They’ve already introduced me to a new line of adult trikes and a great writer and tourist. It can only get better.

I just LOVE cargo bikes!

Here’s some awesome stuff I’ve been checking out:

How can you not love something named Bakfietsen?! Okay, they’re stupidly expensive, but you could still buy four of them for the price of a car, and with a rain tent for your cargo and enough room for three kids and groceries, why would you need a car?

Kona Cargo Bike — like the Xtracycle but with a frame built around the cargo.
I can’t really tell from the pics if the dimensions are similar to the Xtracycle, but it sounds like it. This looks nifty, with the frame built around the cargo idea and all.

There are a few more, like the Mundo Cargo Bike, which is similar to the Kona. And the Surly Big Dummy is a Surly bike — makers of awesome cargo frames — built around the Xtracycle cargo attachment. These have been crazy popular and are largely sold out.

It’s really cool to see that this market is taking off in the US. When I first checked out cargo bikes in college, I’m pretty sure Xtracycle was the only one and I promptly fell in love with the idea, but never actually got one — couldn’t afford it and didn’t really have a need, since I was mostly just riding back and forth to school.

However, one of these or similar will almost certainly be my next bike purchase, once Minerva (my old, upright commuter) is sold! The Kona is the most reasonably priced if I want a full cargo bike with frame built around the cargo, but the Xtracycle full builds are also pretty reasonable. Another option is to not sell the old bike but have an Xtracycle Free Radical conversion done on it. I’m still pondering this but several friends are interested in buying my old bike, so we’ll see.

Gear update: 2WG bag

After I finally got my 2WG bag from the post office, I’ve been getting used to it. I didn’t want to do a review of it before I got used to it, because it takes a while to get used to a new bag and figure out where you want to keep everything and what you should take.

First of all, I want to say that Jonah, who runs 2WG, is just terrific on customer service. I have asked him so many questions and he wrote back patiently to all of them. I don’t think I could get this kind of service from any other company. The biggest problem I had was that my Blackburn EX-1 is too tall for the straps to reach the bottom of the rack so that I can properly hook the D-rings that keep the bag from jouncing around. He suggested attaching S-hooks to the bottom to increase the reach, and when I was slow on the uptake of going to purchase them (I just have not had time to go to REI yet) he sent some to me! Now that’s service. He also explained why the pockets are one-up one-sideways (you can load the sideways one while the bag is hanging) and how to best put the bag on and get it off.

The bag seems well-made to me. I have had some doubts about the zippers, I must admit, but they are trying to do something tough (go around corners) and have slowly gotten easier to work. Even when they seem to be straining they don’t break or misalign, which is a good sign. I also don’t often have to undo the corner parts.

The sizes of the main outer pockets are ample for my lunch jar and a book on one side and a laptop in a soft carry-case or my lock and shoes on the other side. (The lock will fit into the lunch jar side if I’m carrying my laptop. I have given up on mounting the lock on my bike because it comes with a weird mounting system that does not work as well as the old Kryptonite system.) I have a medium-size laptop, so it wouldn’t fit a huge MacBook, but it’s fine for most normal PC laptops. If I’m not fully loaded I can stick a box of soymilk and a few other groceries in there on the way home, even though grocery trips are not what this bag is designed for.

The smaller outer pockets (on the outside of the larger ones) hold plenty of miscellany like my cell phone, wallet, buff, MP3 player, sunglasses case, etc. I kind of wish there were organizer pockets in one of them, but that would reduce their general usefulness at the price of satisfying super-organized people like me, so I think it’s wise they didn’t do this. The top half-cylindrical pocket holds my random bike/transit stuff — multitool, tire levers, maps & schedules, ankle bands, and the like, and easily fits my keys for quick access.

There are even several little attachments for straps on the outside, handy for attaching my helmet or whatever. There’s a good tail mount for a taillight and some bright reflective tape on the back.

The big main compartment has room for lots of clothes either hanging (normal use) or folded (if you load it while it’s flat rather than vertical) or dropped in the bottom if they don’t need hanging. This is the bag’s main selling point — that you can carry your clothes without smashing them — and while I don’t take full advantage of this for work because my work is casual, it’s nice even for that and it would be so handy if I needed to look presentable one day but still needed to ride (it does happen!), or for special trips that I want to ride to but need to look presentable at. I know there are loads of people that ride in normal clothes or even suits, but I sweat easily and inevitably get grease on me, and it wears out the clothes, so I just prefer bike clothes and changing when I get there.

The bag is also great because it is not very hard to take off the bike, and once removed, it looks like a large garment bag-cum-briefcase (exactly what it is!) which looks far more professional than your average pannier. This is important for me because it has to come off on Caltrain (no room for cargo) and if I’m toting clothes to look nice in I’d prefer my bag look nice too. I wear it across my body (shoulder to over the opposite hip) using the included strap and have no trouble getting on and off Caltrain with it, even with a lot of stuff in, though it is large and heavy. It can also be carried in hand by two handles.

All in all, if you are looking for a bike bag to commute with and want to carry clothes to change into and don’t like stuffing them in a backpack, this is a great bag. However, it is built exactly for this purpose and I don’t think is the best bag for anything else. If you want a multipurpose bag, better stick to a backpack or another type of pannier.