Thursday, March 26, 2009

riding a bike

"i used to fantasize about living in a healthier place, one where i could ride my bike, for example. then, one day, i started riding my bike. now, without having fled or escaped to anywhere, i live in a place where i can ride my bike."
– heretic fig

In 2007 I gave up my car commute and started biking. Yes I burn less carbon, yes I use less oil and yes I'm in better shape, but the reason I've stuck with it is that riding to work is so much fun. I'm going to go over some bike basics for those of you thinking about spending less time in your car. By the way you'll save quite a bit of money if you're able to give up your car.

I started at my local bike shop (LBS). I had done my own reserach online and thought I knew what I need but I turned out to be wrong. My LBS owner helped me put together a great setup tailored to my commute. I mostly ride a Trek 7.6 hybrid pictured at the end of this post. I strongly suggest that if you're interested in a bicycle as your main means of transportation you should get to know the people at your LBS. Their knowledge is very valuable.

But there are some things you can consider before talking to someone locally about what might work best for you.

Riding positions. Bicycle geometry is a somewhat complicated topic. Your needs will vary depending on the size and shape of your body, the distance you plan to ride on a regular basis and what you plan to carry. For instance my commuter cycle has a straight bar like a mountain bike. This means I ride in an upright position. I see cars and they see me. I usually only ride 10 miles or so at a time so this position doesn't get to tiresome. On longer trips it does. I switch to a road bike with drop bars and a geometric configuration that is better suited to longer distances. (See pictures at the end of this post.)

Lights. I have two headlights and two taillights. All are capable of producing a stream of light or a flashing light. I have two of each because I never want to leave home after dark and find out the batteries are dead on my only headlight. Plus two lights are brighter than one. I have rechargeable batteries and check them regularly. You might thin kyou'll only be riding during the day but inevitably you'll end up out after dark or caught in a rain shower. Lights will help you ride more sfaely.

A Helmet. Of course in terms of safety you'll want to wear a helmet. I've gotten so used to leaving the house with a helmet that I often grab it even when I'm planning to take my car. Of course I don't actually wear it when I'm driving. ;-) Helmet = Good.

I have on 700 X 38 tires on my commuter cycle. They are wide enough to be stable if I have to leave a paved surface but they are made for traveling quickly over pavement. You can also get 27" tires with all sorts of tread types from smooth to very stubby for off road biking. Somewhere in between you're likely to find a tire that's right for where you plan to ride. There are lots of options. Ask you LBS people.

A Way To Carry Stuff . I have a friend who is fond of saying, "Cycling is just recreation unless you can carry stuff." This is key because if you're riding to work or to school or to go shopping, you're going to need a way to take stuff with you and back again. Rear and front mounted racks can carry bags for goods or people. My commuter cycle has a rack that is compatible with my two year old daughter's bike carrier and also with the pair of saddle bags called panniers. In them I carry my lunch, a change of clothes and anything else I need. For bigger stuff, or bigger people I switch to my xtracycle.

It can carry up to 200 lbs. I a child on it and still have room for groceries.

I have several bike locks. I keep one on my bike at all times. you never know when you're going to want to stop and you'll need to be able to leave your bike safely by itself.

A Tube Replacement Kit. This also stays with me on all rides. With precautions, tube punctures can be minimized but every once in a while I have a flat. A spare tube, the tools to install it and a way to inflate the tube have me up and running again in no time. To prevent flats consider a tire liner.

Toe Clips or Clipless pedals. Using these will help myou better leverage the full power of your legs. It helps me get to work and back faster. They aren't for everyone and they take some getting used to but for many people this will help you get around easier and faster.

A Water Bottle Cage. Stay hydrated.

Fenders and rain gear. By hydrated I meant on the inside not on the outside. If you are going to ride in the rain (and everyone will eventually;-) I suggest fenders and waterproof clothes.

A Computer. OK this isn't necessary butI admit I like to see how fast I'm going, how far I've ridden and to track my progress as a cyclist.

Extras. There are plenty of add-ons that you might find very useful for your bike set up. I have bar ends with built-in rear view mirrors on my commuter. The bar ends are a great way to change hand postions during longer rides and seem to help me get better leverage on hills. I seldom flip out the rear view mirrors but I do use them occasionally, especially in more urban environments. You might find that bell for alerting pedestrians or special seat make your ride more enjoyable.

Again depending on where and how often you plan to ride and what you need to carry with you your particular bicycle needs will will vary. That's why I recommend visiting your local bike shop to help get you started. For most of us using a bicycle for many of our daily trips really is possible and I urge people to give it a try. You might wind up addicted like me.

My commuter cycle gets me around town.
1) Straight Bar for riding in an upright position

2) Head Light

3) Tail Light

4) Helmet

5) 700 X 38 Road Tires

6) A rack with panniers on it

7) A bike lock in the panniers

8) A tube replacement kit in the panniers

9) Clipless Pedals

10) Water Bottle Cage

11) Computer

12) Bar ends with fold-in review mirrors

Not my bike but the same model I use for distances of 15+ miles


risa said...

This is a good primer, very comprehensive withing the typical attention span of blogreaders -- like so much that you do.

A note for the riding masses. That little bell or the quiet, fervently whispered phrase "on your right..." -- I can't hear it. I am deaf in my left ear and wear a powerful hearing aid in my right ear, which does not reach (for me) to the sound of bike tires, phrases from the rear, or bells, any more than it reaches to the sound of tea pouring, birds singing, or engines knocking. Please don't assume that everyone will step aside as you ring the bell. Defensive riding is as important as defensive driving.


Robyn M. said...

Okay, I've lusted after an Xtracycle for over a year now, but I have one hangup about them (besides the cost, which is a non-trivial hurdle)--can you transport your bike on a rack when modified as an Xtracycle? Not every day, but fairly frequently we end up driving our bikes somewhere to use, say with family at the Farm, or to the bike shop for repairs (it's in a place that, ironically, is not bikable!). What do you think?

nulinegvgv said...

i'll keep an eye out for you risa. pedestrians have the right of way.

Robyn, Isn't it funny how many bike shops are in locations that aren't very bikeable. The Xtracycle mounts on my car rack just fine. I have to be sure to load it so the extended rearend hangs on the passenger side and to take the bags (freeloaders) off or they act like sails. Otherwise no problems.

Anonymous said...

Helmets are optional. Just like everything else. It's a bike ride. You're not getting shot out of a canon.

nulinegvgv said...

Well of course it's optional; all this equipment is optional. For most people, so is the bike ride.

When I started riding I had many moments that went something like this,

"Oh crap, I stayed at my friend's house too longing and now it's dark and I have to ride home in the dark. I wish I had a headlight so I could see in the dark and a taillight so cars wouldn't hit me from behind."

I'm just trying to decrease the number of those moments for other people. By the way regardless of how well you prepare those moments still happen. They can be fun as long as they're not life threatening and you don't get your bike stolen.

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