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September 17, 2009

My very own Rota Fortunae
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:54 PM * 132 comments

Every working day, it’s the same thing. Get the kids to school, then off I go.

I mount the laptop pannier on the back rack and tie it down with a bungee for extra security. Left foot on the pedal, push, push, and bring the right leg over the bike seat in a long swing (or a more cautious forward move if I’m wearing a straight skirt). I ride off the curb with a bump-bump and make my way out of the throng of other parents leaving the school.

If the weather is good (and my definition of good weather is very loose), I take the southward path through Het Twiske, a local nature reserve. It’s a beautiful route. If the weather is really good and I have the time, I go north and take a longer route through ‘t Twiske. It’s a ride that pleases me in all seasons, with its bright waters and peaceful views.

If the weather is poor—rainy, snowing, or too bitterly windy—I take the narrow and bumpy cobbled road that runs straight from my village to Amsterdam Noord. But even this route, lacking bike lanes for a good half of its length, is attractive and safe.

The long route takes about half an hour. The medium one is a twenty minute ride. I can do the shortest in twelve minutes if I push.

I’ve been doing this for two and quarter years now. My daily commute averaged 15 km (9 miles) per day for the first year. Then we moved south within the village, and it’s now about 12 km (7 miles) daily. It isn’t a lot, but it does add up. Even with my insane socialist European vacation allowance, I’ve ridden about 5,300 km/3,300 miles since I started commuting by bike. That’s the distance between Augusta, Maine and Los Angeles, California.

I’ve ridden across the United States. Sheesh.

Biking to work has not turned me into a supermodel or superwoman. But I am in better cardiovascular shape than I have been in years, and the exercise and light have been useful in managing my SAD. And I arrive at work on an endorphin high; Monday mornings are really not what they were when I took the bus in Edinburgh.

But the best thing is what riding my bicycle does to my mental life. I used to read or study vocabulary on the bus. What I do when I bike is think. Sometimes I’ll tackle a complex work problem—the best object model for a set of testing plugins, for instance. Sometimes I’ll draft a blog post in my head. The spiral nature of Works and Days of Hands came to me on one such a ride. But more often, the realizations and ideas are subtler and less expressible, closer to wisdom than to knowledge.

When I was a teenager, I called my bike my seven-league boots. But now, I think, I’d consider it my jetpack: the transportation device of the future that’s changed the way I live my life.

Comments on My very own Rota Fortunae:
#1 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 07:45 PM:

I’ve ridden across the United States

Remember to stop by here when you ride back.

The distance between here and the office is a bit over 10 miles. Not that bad, and I'd consider bicycling, except for one problem. Actually, two problems. One is that the ride would be along a very busy street (unless it's 5am). The other problem is that it's uphill al the way. One way only, but...

#2 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 07:46 PM:

Whenever bike riding felt slow to me, I'd always try to imagine where I'd be walking, and how fast I'd be going. After that, I was aware that things were going great.

I'm in a place where I can get places on my bike again, and just need to recapture the habit. I've gotten back to walking my mile (about 1.25 miles now) most days, so it could happen.

I also am dancing more -- I got into the chorus of a local production of Carousel. Lots of dancing at rehearsals, while we drum those moves into ourselves.

#3 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 08:27 PM:

>I've ridden across the United States.

A travelogue I've been slowly reading: "Around the World on a Bicycle" by Thomas Stevens.

Vol I, Vol II

He did it on a pennyfarthing. I've only gotten through Germany. There was a lot of walking on muddy roads, and much of the American West was traversed using the railroad tracks, those often being the only/best ways through the mountain passes.

#4 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 08:39 PM:

Beautiful post.

I'm close enough to my workplace to bike it, except the insane traffic would end my life, and the SE Texas heat & humidity (for eight months out of the year) would make me want to end it.

#5 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 08:40 PM:

I miss biking to work. I did it all the time when I was in Pittsburgh; here in Philly I live far away enough that it's not really practical to do regularly (though I've done it a few times).

Instead, I take the train. Which can also be a kind of mental break, but I don't find it to foster quite the same level of contemplation, since it's a distinctly less solitary experience. On the other hand, it does let me read, which you can't really do on a bike (or when driving a car).

I can still bike outside work when I can make time. Next week I'll be biking with my son and his class from near my house to near the art museum, farther than he's ever ridden before. I'm looking forward to that.

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:18 PM:

This was wonderful, and Abi's photoset made me ache with missing sensible, intelligent Amsterdam, a city that shows what 21st-century urban life could be like in America if we weren't fucking crazy. Teresa and I have ridden that exact route with Abi--more than once, even. (Indeed, that windmill has appeared on Making Light before.)

Back in the late 1990s and early oughts, I cycled a fair amount, rediscovering my inner teenage cyclist who went anywhere and everywhere in the vast flat Valley of the Sun, which is to say Phoenix, Arizona and its immense suburbs. Then when Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood became unsustainably expensive and we moved south to Sunset Park as a result, I found the extra couple of miles it added to my commute were just enough to discourage me, and I fell away from the habit. But after returning from Europe this past spring, I threw myself back onto my bike.

It helped to discover that, in the intervening years, a bunch of new private ferry lines have sprung up, offering alternate methods of crossing the East River. As an out-of-shape 50-year-old, I find that I don't mind cycling seven miles from my front door to the Flatiron Building, and I don't mind pumping myself one or two hundred feet in the air over the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges, but at this stage in my recovery from sloth, doing both things, every morning, is just a bit goddamn much. So the discovery that the New York Water Taxi will ferry me from the Brooklyn Army Terminal to Wall Street was a game-changer. And as a result, I now find myself humping over the bridges more and more frequently, but I never would have achieved that if struggling over the bridges had been the only option.

I believe I need to do exactly what Abi has done, and post a photoset of my own bicycle commute, because it really has become a seriously important thing for me -- not just the idea of Getting Some Damn Exercise, but the whole business of being in the world rather than passing through it. Cycling is like that -- a trance state that demands that you stay aware of other people.

#7 ::: Feline ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Back in my IB days, when we spent every afternoon at our designated coffeeshop, I calculated that I biked 10 km every weekday I spent drinking coffee with my friends. Less when I biked straight home. More when I biked back to our coffeeshop for the evening coffee.
During my welfare slavery at the start of the summer I spent one hour every day on my bike. At a minimum.
I'm not a superman by any measure, however low, but when I was tried for our conscription system I biked the highest possible, and asked (without irony, even though I was caught smoking by my co-trialists, in defiance of the rules) if I had cheated on the test. The answer was, of course, "No, how could I?" Nevertheless, I was too weak (physically) to be able to bike for 45 minutes (nevermind that it's calculated by your strength to begin with). I didn't want to do military service coming in, but I was forbidden to do going out, and I didn't even get a chance to put forward my case.
I realised on preview that this isn't really relevant, except where it might be.

I mean, I'm your average (kind of) european, I'm 29 years old and I don't have a driving licence. My oldest brother got one when he was about my age (more or less) because he was going to become a policeman.
The other brother older than 30 is working on it. Not by need, merely because it's expected.
Of course things change once we leave the city, but that's natural. You can't expect to bike on the E4.

#8 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:14 PM:

I got me a bike just about a year back, and while I don't ride as much as I think I should, I still find it a great help for some store and library trips, not to mention dumpster rounds. I have bad knees and walking can be problematic. Sometimes the traffic can be intimidating but I am dealing with it. Sometimes. There's a nice trail or two but some nasty crossings on the way thereto. I just hope that when/if I get a job again that it won't conflict with my riding time and places.
It would help if my town was more bike-friendly, beyond the nearest quiet streets. Even sidewalks can be a problem if they are narrow or blocked by various objects including the miniature mountain ranges generated by tree roots, something I had never had a problem with before.
I wish I could come live in a sane country, if one could be found. But I am disabled, out of work, and ill-trained, having fallen into some bad work situations.
Is Carousel the one with the walrus among the characters?

#9 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:18 PM:

I started biking to work this spring and have been rediscovering how much fun bicycling can be. (My journal has had an enormous influx of bike-related posts.) One of the things that made it much easier for me to start was that the city buses here have bike racks on the front, capacity two, and that means that (since most of my way to work is along bus routes) if I get tired I can stop at a bus stop and bus the rest of the way. These days I usually bike the whole way, but when I was getting started it was nice to work my way up to biking more and more of the distance. I'm looking forward to discovering how late into the winter I'll keep biking--will I make it all the way through, or have to stop and start back up in the spring?

Of course, the thing that made it possible for me to start at all was that we moved to a house sixteen miles closer to my workplace. Four and a half miles is fine, but I wasn't going to even start working on a twenty-mile commute by bike.

So yes, I'm very happy about biking, and I've been noticing how bike-friendly my city is (even compared to the city just across the river) and being grateful for it.

#10 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:02 PM:

I thought I'd bike a lot more in grad school than I did; most places I wanted to go were either too far to bike or more pleasant to walk. I also very seldom had any kind of time crunch, and I liked the unavailability of my walking time. I have quite a lot of guilt, but even when I did ride my bike, I got helmet guilt, so who knows if I'll try again wherever I go next.

I like reading about people who bike, even with all the doing-it-wrong baggage I have in my head.

#11 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:10 PM:

Oh my, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

(Boring biographical stuff). I lived for most of a decade in Indianapolis, a city utterly hostile to non-drivers both in intention and infrastructure. Professional circumstances allowed me the opportunity to move to upper Bavaria, with a 40% increase in pay..."But we'd understand if you couldn't leave Indiana."

So now I live in a village in the Voralpen, an hour south of Munich. Soon I learned that cyclists (if they know and OBEY the rules of the road) are safe here, I began riding to work on good weather days.

I *can't* go back now. Last week, I was riding in early, in the gloaming. In this latitude, fall is descending with the inevitability of a sledgehammer. I'm still quite shy about riding in utter darkness. The light was green, still, quiet. There was a vague mist hanging over the fields. I have to cross the Loisach river on the way to work, going over a tiny bridge...perhaps a meter wide. A great fog lay across the river, with small shafts of light *just* beginning to pierce the diurnal gloom.

The bicycle is the second finest form of transportation devised by man. *

* The Roller Coaster gets my gold medal.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:18 PM:

As for myself, I find the idea of Abi and her hubby dressed up like Vanna White and Pat Sajak a bit disturbing.

#13 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:37 PM:

One of the things I enjoyed with the motorcycle was just that sense of comtemplative time. It's a bit different from the sense of a bicycle, because of the difference in speed/risk, but there is no radio, no conversation, no cossetting in a warm car.

It also has no real effort (though there is work, and fatigue).

I got a lot of thinking done.

(p.s. for those who care, I think I can repair the bike, the frame, bracket and fairing which need replacing are probably about 300 bucks, which is less than replacing it would cost, so as soon as I have the money, I can order them; which will then mean a 6-8 week wait for parts, and then about 20 hours of work, some of which I can probably do in advance (the disssambly, with manual and camera and lots of tags; just as we did [absent the camera] for the various cars I've rebuilt the motors on. With luck I'll be indepentenly mobile, and possessed of that rota fortunae of my own again by Thanksgiving.)

#14 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:54 PM:

If anyone can recommend brand and model of a saddle that won't make my sit bones hurt, I'd be very grateful. Bicycle saddles and my pelvis are not friends.

#15 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:13 AM:

Rikibeth @ 14: Avocet make some decent tushy-kind* saddles. I've been happy with them for ten years.

*Sorry about that coinage. Best my insomnia-addled pate could muster.

#16 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:22 AM:

Rikibeth - go into a really good bike shop and ask about saddles; there's always new designs and materials coming out.

For these purposes, "really good bike shop" would be one with a focus on city riding, commuting bikes, and cruisers, not a mountain bike/racing/trail bike/etc focus. Some bike stores bridge both communities, but most are focused on one or the other. Ideally, find a store where not all the employees are 19 year old guys!

I used to bike a lot more than I do currently - living 5 minutes walk from work changes things - but I used to bike several hundred KM per week, almost all of it commuting to and from work. I've managed never to have to buy a car, although that will likely be changing in the next while. Bleh.

I still do 30km pretty routinely, in and out of town or around. I'll often take a slightly longer route to get somewhere, just for the exercise, but years of commuting have made it hard to get into a recreational out-and-back-again-just-because mode of cycling.

It's my opinion, though, that all bike trips are fundamentally the same length:
You get on the bike.
You pedal for a while.
You get off the bike.

The definition of "while" is kind of flexible, granted... and always longer in the rain!

#17 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:23 AM:

I used to bike to work about 4 days a week, 10 months out of the year. The other days on the bus.

Then I bought a nicer car. (Miata). Still rode to work. Still took the bus. Didn't want to pay for parking.

Then I changed jobs, and worked at the top of a hill. Still sometimes rode to work, but having a nicer car and a parking space kinda killed it.

Then i changed jobs again. 1hr by car. That was the end of riding. Still enjoyed the Miata though.

Then I started working at home. And well, I don't really drive the car much anymore either.

I kind of wish I was riding to work now.

#18 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:57 AM:

Abi's post also evokes a memory of Amsterdam. Sanity.

I think the bike trails are one part of what makes moving back to Eugene appealing. I just won't get on a bike here in Portland; all of the so-called bike friendly moves keep striking me as not oriented toward the middle-aged lady. But Eugene, on the other hand...ah well. I do like the old hometown.

#19 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:45 AM:

I can see riding a bicycle around Amsterdam and environs easily, and I did bicycle a lot in Miami, FL, which is really flat.

One of the drawbacks about Kansas City is that we're on a river that cuts through the middle of town. So we have lots of ups and downs, bluffs and bottoms.

Plus there is absolutely zero respect for bicycle riders. Drivers are insane here and you cannot trust that they'll act in the right way at the right time. That plus certain peripheral vision issues I have (plus concerns from my family) have lead to me never having my bicycle fixed and upgraded.

#20 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:30 AM:

Long ago I used to ride to work in London, on a very old Dutch bike which I’d inherited from a friend.  Nice ride, through Hyde Park, along Rotten Row past the cavalry barracks – the drum-horse out for exercise, a procession of one...  Anyway, that bike had a D-shaped saddle which I thought was more civilised for the nether regions.  It also had no hand-brakes – you braked by pedalling backwards, which seemed OK until the chain came off when I was going downhill!

Back in the 1960s my father walked to work, about three miles the way he went.  He’d be thinking of letters he wanted to write, and by the time he got to his office, he’d have them word-perfect ready to speak in the dictaphone for his secretary to type.

#21 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:03 AM:

Rikibeth @ 14: Saddles are a very personal choice. Some people love (for example) traditional Brookes leather saddles, others swear they are instruments of torture.

The ultimate answer is to swap the saddle for a comfy seat:
(But that can have downsides too. The most immediate obvious one is that they are all small production run specialist bikes, and priced accordingly.)

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:28 AM:

Liza @9:
Surprisingly enough, the buses here do not have bike racks on the fronts of them. I often think it would be a useful innovation, but perhaps too many people would want to use them. (Irony!)

I was really astonished, my first winter, how tolerable I found biking even when the weather was below freezing. I have a hat I like, a balaclava for really bitter days, and good gloves. I dress in layers and carry a pannier where I can put things I've taken off (It also has my rain gear in it all the time.) I've learned when to avoid unsalted roads, too.

dlbowman76 @11:
I'm still quite shy about riding in utter darkness.

I've overcome that. I rather like riding through 't Twiske, which has no street lights, in the dark*. I had to put a bit of tape across the top of my bike light so it shone forward and not into my eyes. But I've always tested myself against the darkness, so biking in it is just another iteration of the same.

The light was green, still, quiet. There was a vague mist hanging over the fields. I have to cross the Loisach river on the way to work, going over a tiny bridge...perhaps a meter wide. A great fog lay across the river, with small shafts of light *just* beginning to pierce the diurnal gloom.


Rikibeth @14:
If anyone can recommend brand and model of a saddle that *won't make my sit bones hurt*, I'd be very grateful.

I gather that Teresa took the wide saddle we bought for her here and re-engineered it with duct tape and gel padding to make it more comfortable. Maybe I can lure her into the conversation to describe how she did it.

I seem to have the good fortune that the human-side padding I got as part of my genetic package deal is of the correct size and distribution that biking rarely hurts.

John Stanning @20:
that bike had a D-shaped saddle which I thought was more civilised for the nether regions.

They sell them here as skirt saddles, for riding in tight skirts or miniskirts. I've never tried one, because skirts too tight for my normal saddle are too tight for me to wear anyway. (And miniskirts are Right Out.)

* Note that I feel safe being alone in 't Twiske after dark. But that's a whole 'nother ball of cultural-difference wax.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:39 AM:

Alan Braggins @21:

One of my colleagues was telling me about his brother in law, who had a stroke some years ago and has very little strength or movement on his left side.

It's been a struggle, over the years, for him to find ways to cycle*. He has trouble with his leg when mounting and dismounting, and though people are kind†, it bugs him to be dependent.

He's thinking of getting a recumbent cycle; apparently, many movement-impaired people do. But as you mention, they are expensive.
* Give it up? WHAT? He's Dutch.
† One of the advantages to being in a densely populated country is that you are rarely out of reach of other people. And since they're Dutch, they're helpful people.

#24 ::: Christian Severin ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:43 AM:

Thinking while riding the bike to work or back home again: Yes. I find that there's a huge difference between thinking in a car and thinking on a bike. A friend of mine took the next step and now walks to work. He says going by bike still didn't give him enough time to ponder stuff.

#25 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:07 AM:

Cycling in central London doesn't lend itself very well to thinking, except along the lines of "ohgodohgodI'mgoingtodie". I wish we had more cycle lanes. I wish we had more cycle lanes that weren't also bus lanes (the traffic equivalent of a zoo containing a Lion and Gazelle Paddock) and I would dearly like white card authorisation for taxi drivers who present a clear and immediate danger to my life. But it's still the best way to get around by far. (Tube? Ugh.)

#26 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:09 AM:

One of the other things that will help with saddle-area comfort is a shock-absorber seatpost. They're about the same cost as a basic gel saddle (about $25 Cdn around here) and entirely worth it.

There's not a lot of movement in the shock absorber (you wouldn't WANT a lot of movement, it would make peddling less effecient) but enough to smooth out minor road irregularities.

Of course, for bigger bumps, potholes you can't go around, etc, the trick is to get off the saddle - stand up in the peddles, let your knees flex as the bike goes over the bump. It helps to relax your hands and elbows, too.

I'd be one of the cyclists classifying solid saddles like the Brookes leather ones as torture devices, frankly. A modern gel-core saddle and possibly a shock-absorbing seatpost are the way to go. Leather for looks, sure, but modern materials for comfort!

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:10 AM:

ajay @25:
the traffic equivalent of a zoo containing a Lion and Gazelle Paddock

That has the polished and brilliant feel of something you thought of while cycling.

#28 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:06 AM:

Another thing to keep in mind is that (by & large, as a rule, there are exceptions, blah blah), old-fashioned steel bike frames are more naturally shock-absorbent than modern aluminum ones. I ride a relatively heavy steel-framed "mountain bike", vintage 1998 or so, with no seat-post or front-fork shocks, and frankly I find it a more comfortable ride than several lighter-weight aluminum bikes with fancy shocks that I've tried out.

I love cycling in London, but I do have to admit that almost all the cycling I've done there has been in the company of Avedon Carol's husband Rob Hansen, who appears to know every short-cut in the city, every parking lot, hidden pathway, sheltered mews, canal towpath, and other way to minimize riding alongside fast-moving traffic on busy streets. Riding with Rob is also a great way to wind up seeing bits of London whose existence you never would have even suspected.

#29 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:12 AM:

I've ridden across Sweden for two weeks when I was 20; my knees didn't like it, but I'd do it again tomorrow if I could. (Stockholm is lovely, btw.)

I'd love to bike to work, BUT there is a little problem. I sweat. A lot. I always did, even when I was playing semi-pro football and was as fit as humanly possible, and now that I got a bit overweight the situation obviously has not improved.

How do regular bikers cope with this logistical nightmare? I have a few colleagues who go on and on about cycling ten gazillion miles per day, but to be honest, at least a couple of them make the office smell. We do have a shower in the office, but it's rarely used. And obviously I can't visit customers all drenched.

That's a big showstopper for me.

#30 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 07:32 AM:

Alan, #21: The other downside of recumbents is that they don't balance using the same set of reflexes that a regular bike does. I got to try one out recently, and it was like being a beginner all over again -- I felt like I needed training wheels!

#31 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 08:46 AM:

27: in a brief interlude of calm between near-death experiences, yes, it was.

28: I'm trying to get to that point but have a way to go still...

#32 ::: Melody Nims ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:36 AM:

I'm in a ROWE (Results-Oriented Workplace Environment), so I work from home about 9 days in 10. One of the selling points is more time during the day to exercise and live your real life, but I should perhaps not have been surprised by how that hasn't happened quite like the brochures. So...any kind of rack sort of arrangement available for using a laptop with a treadmill? I'm all thumbs, or I'd try hacking my old music stand.

#33 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:44 AM:

I'm planning to buy a bike next month, having recently moved into town. My bus commute is so easy, though, that it may not get used for work as much as for weekend shopping -- also, for a university town this isn't the most bike-firendly place in the world. It's been 20-mumble-something years since my college days, where I went everywhere by bike, and I do miss the freedom of just veering off and seeing where THIS path through the park goes, or does THIS parking lot lead to a decent shortcut...

#34 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:49 AM:

Giacomo @ #29:

I've found that cycling clothes, which wick away the sweat from your body, help both to cool you and to keep you from getting drenched. Doesn't hurt to towel off before changing into work clothes either.

#35 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:58 AM:

Giacomo, could you use your office shower even if others don't? At worst you'll look very freshly showered meeting with clients. If you have short enough hair this is not an issue. If you have longer hair you may need to blow-dry before client meetings.

#36 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:01 AM:

I have a lovely 70s-era bike from my grandparents' estate that I've been meaning to start riding. I can't seem to make myself go get a helmet, though, and don't want to ride without one. There's something about the aforementioned shop full of 19-year-old guys that makes my well-padded self hesitant.

When I do start riding, it will be just around the neighborhood and any bike trails I can find. Riding on the road in northern Virginia is asking for it.

#37 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:38 AM:

One of my fondest memories of a six month sojourn in France was coming across an elderly farm couple on ancient bicycles, herding their cattle from the pasture into their walled farm courtyard.

Living in Ottawa, cycling to work can be easy, although we've had a horrendous summer of fatal or near fatal bike/car and bike/bus collisions (the most recent). I've done about 3000 km of commuting since the start of the season in late March, much of it on the city's recreational pathways, including a 3 km stretch along the Rideau canal. In winter, I'm able to skate to work on the entire canal skateway (about 6km) when it's open.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Giacomo @29:
I second the suggestion to just use the shower.

But it's entirely possible to take a shower and not get your hair wet, if you don't want to wash it and dry it. Just, you know, don't put your head under the shower head. (I do that all the time.)

I don't sweat^H^H^H glow very much in general, and I tend to keep my layers light enough that I don't overheat on the way in.

Or maybe I do stink when I get to the office, and somehow this entire company full of Dutch people just don't say anything. How likely is that?

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:26 AM:

"Oh no!"
"She's in."
"Stinky Abi."

#40 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:34 AM:

caffeine @ 36 - I know how you feel. Until about two years ago, I couldn't face any of the sports shops. I haven't gotten along with sports-oriented folks since school. I've never thought of myself as particularly big, even when I was, um, shall we say pudgy and seriously needed a lifestyle change. Then I started running (another story, though clearly related), which was followed by the realization that I had to get some decent shoes to fit my unusually shaped feet if I was going to continue. This led me to a local running store. I was in total dread, but somehow the staff were friendly, courteous, and genuinely interested in helping.

The same thing happened when I walked into a bike shop a little later - great friendly service, even from those fit 19 year olds. It's as if they cared more about getting me riding than about showing off.

My only possible explanation is that sometime about 2 years ago, most of the jocks in the community were kidnapped by aliens and re-adjusted. Or maybe I was.

Walk into one of those bike shops - you may be pleasantly surprised.

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:34 AM:

"Oh nee!"
"Ze is al hier."
"Stinkende Abi.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:37 AM:

Or Abi as the sister of Pépé le Pew?

#43 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:50 AM:

Paul @40, I've gotten a recommendation from a coworker for a good helmet fitter, so the next time I'm over there (the REI at Bailey's Crossroads, for any NoVA folks who might be interested) I'll go on in.

The coworker who gave the recommendations bikes from Shirlington to Chantilly (both in Virginia) and back at least once a week, something like 25 miles. He's somehow managed to find a way to avoid major highways. I think it involves lots of cutting across parking lots.

#44 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:54 AM:

Friends of mine biked to work some, and one asked about getting key access to the showers in our building-- but no, students can't do that. She kept biking in, as did a great many others. I'm trying to internalize what they do rather than what I already have internalized (if I shower/make my hair look less bad/change clothes, everyone will judge me a worthless human being*).

I do use my bike bags a lot-- they're the kind with a ring and hooks to go on a bike frame thingy, and when I was riding more, they were great. They're sized for grocery bags, so now that it's okay for me to bring my own (see irrational opinions, judging, internal double standard), they are much useful.

I think that irrational/judgeypants/double standard thing is a bigger problem than many would like. How many people dismiss biking with, "Well, we don't do that."?**

*I believe a great many irrational and counterproductive things. Many of them are blatantly wrong.

**and how does one punctuate that?

#45 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:36 PM:

caffeine and Paul LaLonde -- I was actually discussing this with an old friend of mine recently. We've both taken up solo exercise; she's taken up biking and I've taken up running and weight training. It's weird to both of us, because we were the nerdy, non-jocks in high school. Sport was a statement then, and if you couldn't compete at serious-athlete level, you were discouraged from doing it at all. It was win or stay home, so we stayed home.

It's only now, ten years on, that we've started to get over that hangup enough to do physical activity just because we enjoy it and it makes us feel good. It's not easy to get over.

It helps to have someone you trust with you when you do the starting-out thing. Maybe someone who cycles and whom you like could go with you to the store, to kind of run interference if any of the employees act like you shouldn't be there.

When I started going to the weight room, I was really anxious that others would stare at me and resent my presence because I'm not a jock or bodybuilder. It helped to go with a female friend who had been weight training for years.

#46 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:47 PM:

#17 (and others) a couple of years ago in mid-2007 when I was working at home but the company was about to open an office, I started my bike commute two weeks before the office opened. I'd bike in the morning a distance equivalent to half way to the new office, then go home. It was definely fun. Unfortunately, that office had no shower available to me (and at 30 km each way, a shower is important.) And then we moved to 40 km away, which is a bit far.

In 2008, I drove halfway, parked the car, and biked the rest a few times. 2009 has been a big fat zero for bike commuting so far (too rainy in spring.)

I find that in Ottawa there are a handful of days where I can balance the clothing to the weather and not need a shower. These are the days with weather most like Scotland (or probably Netherlands); mid-60s F. Colder than that and I tend to over-layer. Hotter, and I sweat.

My lower temperature limit was -10C, which happened by accident. When I was in regular practice, -3C is my "I'll think about it" temperature. If the forecast is -3 or warmer, I'll think about biking in spring. One morning I didn't check the temperature before heading out. I found I never had to stop and shed layers that day!

At -3C, I had double gloves, double tights, helmet liner, earband, and four layers on the body - undershirt, cycling jersey, hockey jersey, and a vest/waistcoat.

I have bike-commute envy at present. I do keep an office bike for lunch runs, even it doesn't get enough use this year.

#47 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:09 PM:

The amount of the year here when it isn't either too hot or too cold to bike is not large. I've got a bike, last I looked, but I haven't been on it in years. Maybe 15 years or some such; I don't think I've ridden it from the current house.

Growing up in Northfield, I found I far preferred walking in winter to riding the bike. Compressed snow with ridges was pretty nasty, wind chill gets nasty fast at low temperatures (it routinely hit -20F in the winter; averaging over a week a year), and the length jacket I had becomes a funnel to bring the wind up inside it on a bicycle. Then, for a lot of the summer, I'd arrive anywhere that required any serious effort drenched in sweat, which is not acceptable in an office.

One reason, I suspect, that we don't have all that serious support for bike commuting (and Minneapolis is a lot more bike friendly than most places; we've got 80+ of miles of paths, 40 miles of bike lanes, bike racks on all the buses) is that very few people consider it a possible full-time commuting option. It's always an optional thing, basically recreational. Hmmm; and I think those mileages are for the city of Minneapolis, not the whole metro area.

#48 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:17 PM:
Another thing to keep in mind is that (by & large, as a rule, there are exceptions, blah blah), old-fashioned steel bike frames are more naturally shock-absorbent than modern aluminum ones. I ride a relatively heavy steel-framed "mountain bike", vintage 1998 or so, with no seat-post or front-fork shocks, and frankly I find it a more comfortable ride than several lighter-weight aluminum bikes with fancy shocks that I've tried out.

For what it's worth, I think that the 'stiffness' feel of a bike and how harsh it feels when riding is almost entirely the fork. Diamond frames are really freaking stiff in plane, but the whole point of a fork is to bend and flex a bit as you go over bumps and whatnot. If you can, watch what happens to a front fork as you use the front brakes (carefully and all that, don't run into anything). You should see the front hub visibly move back to front as you brake.

I noticed this maybe 10 years ago when test riding Cannondales, some with carbon forks and some with Really Fat Aluminum forks, but the same frame. The carbon onew were cushy, the aluminium were jarring.

My cushiest ride is actually an aluminum cross bike with forks that are just barely strong enough to do the job. I've actually bent them enough to need replaced twice, once in a wreck and once just hitting the brakes too hard and going over the front.

And to tie it to commuting, the $400 used cross bike was an awesome commuter. Space for fenders, single chain ring with guards, and it's a racing bike so it responds well to jamming on the pedals to fight with traffic. I'm totally type A when it comes to bike commuting.

#49 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:22 PM:

Mmm...laptop pannier! I need to get one of those, I think. I'm onsite (in Atlanta, these days) most of the week, but I go to my own office on Fridays and it's only about 13 km

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:52 PM:

Dave Weingart @49:

Mine looks like a normal messenger-type laptop bag, but there's a zippered flap in the back that used to open to reveal clips for mounting on a bike rack.

Sadly, they were not up to the bouncing that they had to endure, and over time, they began to break off. I used zip ties to mount carabiners whose gates I'd pulled out on the last anchoring bits of plastic.

Then one weekend I said "screw it", broke all the spare bits of plastic off, pulled out the rivets, and started afresh. I rigged a couple of mounting points for webbing straps (using spare Ikea hardware, of all things), then put straps-and-buckles on the bag and straps-and-other-halves-of-buckles on the bike. It's much more secure than it ever was before. I really should photograph it. Not tonight, though.

But yeah, laptop pannier. Very good thing.

#51 ::: Bether ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 02:40 PM:

I bike in Portland, OR, where it's fairly easy, compared to other places in the states, and while this kind of urban riding is less conducive to contemplation, I find it very satisfying to get out into the world a couple of times a day.

I also walk as much as possible -- my philosophy is that if I need to get there fast, I'll bike. But if it's 2 miles or less, and I've got the time, I can walk perfectly well. This means I often walk to my nearest "main street" about a mile away, where the shops and restaurants are, and on the weekends, my partner and I walk to the grocery store about 2 and a half miles away.

We just got our first motorized vehicle (a scooter, and a precursor to the eventual car), and it's fun, but it just doesn't beat person-powered transport.

@Joyce, #18 - give the cycling a shot sometime, if you haven't. I've seen plenty of middle-aged women in the lanes. (Being a twentysomething woman myself, I am perhaps less cautious about such things, but not as much as one might expect.) I'd be willing to provide advice, if you wanted.

#52 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 02:46 PM:

My own basic pannier (mine's the black) accommodates either of my laptops quite comfortably; indeed, I'm taking the Thinkpad home in it tonight.

Regarding sports-oriented bike shops: If you read reviews in places like Yelp, you might believe New York City's long-established Bicycle Habitat is a haven of buff-athelete snobbery. And yet Teresa and I were there a few months ago, looking at various bikes, and we were treated extremely well. More recently, I needed an emergency repair and it turned out a branch of Sid's was the closest bike shop. They supposedly have the same kind of rep for being hostile to normal cyclists, but quite the contrary, they were entirely pleasant and helpful.

It's possible that with cycling on such a steep increase in New York City (a 35% increase in bicycle commuting between 2007 and 2008), smart retailers have realized that they need to be making a special effort not to annoy those middle-aged, out-of-shape customers who don't actually know how to field-strip a derailleur. Also, I've heard that "comfort bicyles" -- Electras, step-throughs, "Dutch"-style bikes -- are one of the fastest-growing segments of the current market. Those are being bought by people like us, not by 20-year-olds with washboard abs.

#53 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:49 PM:

Abi @ 50: I'll have to poke around and see what there is here in the hinterlands of Long Island (although I can probably just mail-order one).

Patrick @ 52: I've found that most bike shops out here are pretty good in terms of pleasantness and service, even for casual cyclists. I'm glad to see that NYC is the same! And thanks for the bag recommendation

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:56 PM:

I live and work within a block of the same boulevard; it's a straight 3.5 mile shot with minimal hills between. Bike lanes, yes; lots of traffic, yes.

I'd bicycle to work in good weather, but for the fact that my commute can't be much longer (time-wise) an account of my dog.

There's also the sweat factor. We do have showers at work.

I might try it someday.

#55 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:00 PM:

I never learned to ride a bike. Growing up on a farm in the American mid-west, it was either my feet or four wheels.

I do like to walk, though. I love discovering the quiet secluded places framed by an opening in the trees or a fold in the hills. The shape of valley unfolding around the winding courses of a watershed when seen from the tiny headwater of a small stream is a wonderful thing -- like a leaf knowing the whole tree all the way down to the tip of the smallest root. Second to that joy of discovery are the conversations I have with my muse. Much like Abi and her cycling, walking gives me time and headspace to work things out and be creative. Using my feet allows my imagination to go on longer journeys into other places, some unreachable or unrealizable by ordinary means.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:35 PM:

I've done a fair amount of walking and thinking over the years. But I find biking and thinking different.

It's probably because I'm a slow walker, slow enough that I don't get the same wild mix of endorphins and oxygen going in my bloodstream. So I pace through ideas as I pace through the landscape. It's a good way to think through all the implications of an idea.

But when I bike, I get magical leaps and insights. I synthesize rather than analyze.

Both are good.

#57 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:50 PM:

abi @56. The quality of thought while biking has much to do with the environment I'm riding in. Commuting in low traffic or on a pathway is best: I'm not preoccupied with automobiles traffic, and the route is familiar enough that the pleasant scenery doesn't distract too much.

The only place for contemplation that compares for me is in the shower.

#58 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:57 PM:

Caffeine, your problem's easy to fix, and Rikibeth, yours might be also. While you might not yet be old enough to deal with shopping at a specialty shop run by bike/surf/etc geeks who are in far better shape than you ever were at that age (I'm middle-aged enough not to be bothered by that any more :-), you can do the Johnny Mnemonic approach of "if they know you're technical, go crude". There's a bike store where you'll fit in just fine, and be in, find what you need in 5 minutes if they've got it at all, and be in better physical shape than their average middle-American customer base - I'm talking Walmart. Target or Sears might do, but I've had really good luck with Wallyworld for things like helmets, locks, and inner tubes, and they tend to have all the bike stuff in one place, though I'd go to a bike store if I wanted fancier parts like gears or derailleurs.

Their collection of seats isn't as extensive or high-end as a good bike store's, but I found what worked really well for me. It's what gets called "noseless" - there's no annoying painful piece sticking out the front to chafe your thighs, and it's basically a rectangle that's wider than it is front-to-back, a bit curved to show you which direction to sit on it, and while it's not super-padded, it's good enough for me, and set me back a whole $25 for something that's more comfortable than the relatively high-tech padded seat I had before.

Back when I lived in New Jersey, I occasionally biked to work, about 5 miles, but the big hills meant I didn't do it very often in spite of having showers at the office. When I was commuting by train to San Francisco, I'd occasionally bike to the train but we didn't have a shower there so it usually wasn't a good choice except during the rainy season. Since then I've either telecommuted or had distances too long and freewayful to bike, though I did bike to a customer meeting a few years back just because I could. (My company had a gorgeous building 4 miles across flat non-freeway streets from home, which would have been good light exercise and idyllically Californian, but it never made organizational sense to have my office located there.)

#59 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:59 PM:

I have a bicycle; it's a Marin Kentfield. (Somehow it bothers me when foreign manufacturers rip off American place names for their products, but that's neither here nor there. Or maybe it's both.) What I love about it is you can shift down real low and ride the dirt trails and it's also good on steets. (it's a hybrid) What I don't like about it is I had to replace the rear wheel twice. The first symptom is the need to replace a spoke as the wheel goes awobble and starts making a rub, rub, rub noise as the tire hits the frame once per revolution. Several repairs like that and it is necessary to replace the whole wheel. Is the wheel just underspecified weight-tolerance-wise? I think underinflation is a factor. Any long-term solutions re better wheels or whatever? Or do I just have to keep repairing and replacing?

(The first time, they replaced the wheel on warranty. The second time, I bought a new one. The shop has offered to custom-build a higher-quality wheel, but that would cost more than half of what I paid for the bike.)

#60 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:51 PM:

My husband and I are in the market for new bikes and have been shopping around to find a bike store we like. It took a couple of tries, and walking out of a couple of stores feeling annoyed, but when we walked into the one we're now planning to buy from... ahhh. They were friendly and helpful, there was zero attitude, and I can't wait to give them my money and get rolling again. Their motto is something along the lines of "everything for the everyday biker", which I think probably helps with the lack of attitude.

Q: how do you keep a Lexi in suspense?
A: Say "Our stock is low right now and the new 2010 models won't be in for another month or so. Want me to email you when they arrive?"

Waiting to hear from them is serving as an outstanding practice opportunity. *sigh*

#61 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:52 PM:


Most wheels are crap these days, and it's suprisingly hard to find the parts to make a good wheel anymore. So it's not altogether unusual to find an inexpensive bike breaking wheels. I've built my fair share, had some fail on me, and have done the reading on how to do it right.

There are a bunch of steps that don't really happen on machine made wheels that tend to cause low spoke tension, unwinding of spokes, and stress risers in the spoke elbow that can all contribute to loose spokes, broken spokes, and wavy rims.

I could go into detail. Pages. I'll try to keep it to a short paragraph.

The rim is a weak, flexible noodle. The spoke is strong and stiff, but only if it stays in tension. Every time a spoke goes to the bottom of the wheel, it unloads some. The more it unloads relative to its tension: the shorter it's life (metal fatigue), the more likely the spoke nipple will back out (reducing the tension further, and making the wheel not true) and the more likely your'e going to bend the rim (dumping load to other spokes). The solution is high tension and thin spokes (double butted). Unfortunately, that's not the easy kind of wheel to build. High tension is hard to do without twisting the spokes (giving them something to help unwind them) or making the rim unstable (potato chip buckling). I used to like Mavic open 4 (non hard adonized, double eyelet, non machined) rims with 14/16/14 spokes. Those rims went away a long time ago.

If you've got a little mechanical aptitude, it's not that hard to true a wheel. Takes some patience and a little insight, but you could probably get the basics in 1/2 hour or so.

#62 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:56 PM:

abi 41: Het abiveld explained!

#63 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:03 PM:

Xopher @ 62... Doesn't 'stinkende' sound classier than 'stinky'? Of course, if one wants the word to sound even classier, I recommend going for the French word. Everything sounds classier in French. What? You think I have a parti pris?

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:05 PM:

Heavens, Serge, I've never seen your pris and I have no idea whether it's suitable for a parti or not. I'm just glad you didn't take it out at the parti in Montreal!

#65 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:08 PM:

abi @23 : I can understand getting a recumbent trike as an answer to difficulty mounting a bike (a relatively upright one like an Anthrotech, not one so low it has its own problems), but I'm surprised a bike would help. But if it works for him....
I did see someone with only one leg riding a Brompton folding bike not long ago. I've no idea how he managed getting started and stopping on it. He had crutches strapped to the rack.
wirelizard @ 26 : leather isn't that solid compared to some saddles - if it's close to the right shape to start with, it will slowly mould itself to exactly the right shape (or so I'm told). But if it doesn't roughly suit you to start with, it might not ever be right.
Lee @ 30 : Yes, I found much the same thing. But when I did have a long enough try on a friend's to get the hang of it, it was great. I still haven't justified buying one myself though (and the friend in question still prefers an upright bike for use in town traffic).

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:30 PM:

Xopher @ 64... I'm just glad you didn't take it out at the parti in Montreal!

Well, the soirée wasn't THAT privée.

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 07:05 PM:

If you're not in mixed company, just say "I have to go take a pris" and go out to the privee. Then you can take your pris out if you want. I don't see what's so hard.

Then again, if it IS hard, in your case I hope you ARE in mixed company (your wife's, in fact)!

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 07:09 PM:

Why do I find myself wanting to sing "Oh sweet mystery of life at last I've found you!" ?

#69 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 07:33 PM:

Sing it if you Kahn, Serge. Oder sage Garr nichts.

#70 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 08:20 PM:

Bill @58, that sounds like a marvelous description of a saddle that might work for me, although thigh chafing isn't my problem -- it's the sit bones, pure and simple.

And I'm not sure whether it's my advancing age (40 in February) or my refusal to grow up that leaves me unworried about the idea of a bike shop full of 19-year-old bike geeks. The surf shop full of 19-year-old surf bums (and their cute dog) was entirely comfortable. Hell, if the bike geeks are as cute as the surf bums were, it might be a positive pleasure to shop there!

Everyone else who's suggested solutions -- thank you, and noted. Shock-absorbing seat post, gel-core saddle. I'll remember these words.

The bike I have is an inexpensive heavy steel ten-speed racing bike acquired through Freecycle. The last bike I rode regularly was an older steel mountain bike, and that was the one that made me say "the hell with it," because I like to be able to sit down without feeling bruised.

But I see so many people riding along the route I take to work that I'm getting inspired to try it myself, even if I'm going to have to do some serious conditioning to manage it -- there's a bit of a local mountain in the way.

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 08:38 PM:

Rikibeth @ 70... my advancing age (40 in February)

The horror. The horror!

And may I be the first to wish you a Happy Birthday?

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 08:41 PM:

I've never been able to ride a bike (out of fear, and a lack of balance). Walking middling distances, that I've done. Got a lot of reading done that way too. It's amazing how you can manage to carry a schoolbag on one arm, read a book, and manage a pace of about two-and-a-half miles an hour. It was fortunate that there weren't too many cars on those roads. Nor bicycles. I did get a lift from a bookmobile once.

Xopher #67: Isn't that a matter for the Privée Council?

#73 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:18 PM:

Interesting -- I was a sometime bicycle commuter for 11 years(*); routes ranged from 1 to 4 miles each way, which means that I certainly managed a coast-to-coast r/t but probably not a third leg (judging by the few years I had a working odometer). I don't remember doing much thinking. It may have been the route: mostly city streets with lots of turns and no lanes. (The one river stretch on the outbound tended to have seasonal things to look at.) Or it may have been that the jobs didn't much call for advance planning (more like "What's coming down the chute today?") -- my current job is the sort that sometimes gets chewed on outside the office and sometimes gets an odd-hours inspiration that may or may not work out when I'm fully awake. I never noticed being happier or more awake on days I biked, but I tended not to pay attention to such in those years -- maybe I should have.

dlbowman@11: you've found a roller coaster that will actually take you somewhere? Where? Where?!?

Serge@12: you've obviously allowed popular culture too much brain space; my immediate picture was a rough-looking drawing with "regnabo", "regno", etc at the quarter pointers. (It may help that I've prepped "Carmina Burana" a few times....)

various: luggage? yes, that was fun; for a little while I bungeed a cheap hardshell briefcase onto the back flatrack, but I found that a lightweight backpack worked better -- and I could get enough reflective tape on it that a separate vest wasn't necessary when I was going home at 10pm.

(*) The commute ended when a good job moved from near downtown out to the perimeter highway \and/ most of the way up the aptly-named Prospect Hill. I did the distance once to prove I could, but it was a push; I really should have brought a change of clothes. The move also took away a big edge for cycling: when I was near downtown, most of my evening activities were deeper downtown (so parking sucked) \and/ in the general direction of home (when the commute was longer), so biking netted faster than driving. The new location had almost-free health-club memberships which caused me to drop ~10# and 2" in the first few months, but I think I miss being out in the open.

#74 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:31 PM:

Rikibeth, I've been very happy with various seats from Selle Royal. (Beware, there are other Selle brands and I'm only talking about that one.) They make ergonomically-designed gel seats and they make different versions of each seat depending on whether you want to put it on a road bike, hybrid, mountain bike, etc.

Their website is, alas, only barely informative. But I have their Respiro Moderate on my hybrid and the Respiro Athletic on my road bike, and have also liked the Lookin Athletic. (Moderate and Athletic, as well as Relaxed and Sport, refer to what sitting angle each one is designed for. That's one of the things I like about the brand.) YSBMV, of course (Your Sit Bones May Vary). And as you may know, even with a good bike seat you're likely to be sore sometimes while you're getting used to it. I've never figured out how you're supposed to be able to tell the difference between new-saddle soreness on a saddle that's right for you, and wrong-saddle soreness, but there it is.

Come to think of it, now might be a good time to share my Cautionary Tale with all who see this:

Ten years ago I lived in another town and biked almost everywhere I went. This went on for years. I enjoyed the biking. Over that time I noticed I was gradually having a harder and harder time reaching orgasm. I didn't draw any connections between the two for years, but eventually I did, and learned it wasn't just me, riding on the wrong bike seat for one's body can do things like squish the nerves that lead to the genitals. Almost all the research I've found about this is focused on men, but the same thing can happen to women.

I moved to a less bike-friendly place around then and didn't bike for years, during which time I gradually recovered my response. Now I'm biking again, and loving being back on a bike but I'm also being extremely careful about what bike seats I use. No seats made for men (cuz I'm not one), no seats that aren't ergonomically designed or that seem to be squishing me oddly, and the bike that always seemed to be suspending me in midair by my crotch got returned to the store. With these precautions, I've been fine--but it helps that I knew I had to take the precautions!

#75 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:42 PM:

Giacomo @ 29 on managing smell: What works for me is to shower regularly (even if I'm going to be sweating again after the shower, at least it will be fresh sweat); wear different clothes for my commute than I'll wear during the day at the office, so I'm not sweating *in* my work clothes; and when I change to my work clothes, I take a damp paper towel and wash the sweat off my face and neck (this cools me down and also helps keep me from breaking out). Nobody has complained yet...

(Oh, and I sweat less overall now that I've started using a pannier mounted on my bike instead of having to carry everything in a backpack! It's great not having the backpack there to reflect my body heat back at me.)

I think some people who'd like to commute by bike have a problem with bike helmets messing up their hairstyles. Since I usually wear my hair in a braid anyway, that's not an issue for me. It's occasionally inconvenient if I had my hair up in a bun (I've got a lovely metal snood that makes it easy) and have to take it down to wear the helmet, but that's all.

#76 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 02:07 AM:

For about two years I was doing a 25km each way bike commute (45-55 minutes on the bike; those of you who think in statute miles can do your own conversion, I'm afraid) and I always, always had a complete change of clothes for the office end. Complete - even sweaty biking socks got changed!

I also tried to time the ride so as to get to work 20-25 minutes early; I'd wander around turning on lights and computers to cool down a bit, then change (wash the face & re-apply pitstick, etc) and be ready for the day. I'd usually even have time to brew a mug of tea to sit down with by the time official opening time arrived.

I liked having most of the building to myself for those 20 minutes or so, actually.

When I was full time, I'd often leave a pair of decent work shoes at work, and carry clean office clothes every day. Shoes are bulky damn things.

Before the 25km commute the ride was usually 10km or less (20-25min) and I'd usually just take a clean shirt with me and only change that. That was also an even less formal job than my current one, granted.

Rikibeth@#70: The bike I have is an inexpensive heavy steel ten-speed racing bike acquired through Freecycle.

A modern, mid-range aluminium bike is going to be (nearly) exponentially lighter than an older steel bike, even an older racing bike. A hybrid - mountain bike frame geometry, but lighter, with smoother tires, designed mostly for on-pavement riding but capable of handling gravel OK - might also be a more comfortable fit than a racing frame with drop bars and such.

By mid-range I'm talking $400-900 (USD or Cdn, not much difference right now). That might seem like a lot of money for a bike, but if you're planning on making it a primary mode of transport, it's about the cheapest form there is. For what a monthly bus pass costs here, I could replace my current bike every ten months, or buy a significantly better bike every year and a half!

One year's worth of average car insurance - never mind gas, repairs, etc - would buy a really, really great bike... one good enough I'd be afraid to leave it locked up outside when I used it for utility purposes, to be honest!

Department-store bike... ick. "Not bikes, but approximately bike-shaped objects" was how a friend put it, and I really can't disagree.

#77 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 02:14 AM:

Wirelizard, I appreciate the calculations and can't disagree, but that's more than a week's pay right now. I MIGHT be able to afford a new saddle for this bike. I certainly can't afford a whole new one. Did you see the part where this one was free?

Also, it's a modified-racing style; the handbrakes have dual levers that allow you to use them whether you're using the drop-handles or the crossbar. That's the sort of bike I used to ride in my teens, so it won't be strange to me.

And I live in New England. A bike will NEVER be the primary year-round mode of transportation for me. My commute would take me four hours, walking, under ideal conditions, and isn't bus-able; if I don't have a car for the winter months at least, I won't be working. And that would be bad.

#78 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 03:07 AM:

Got home late tonight, and found many many bikes going down the street, escorted by some traffic cops. Apparently it's Third Friday Bike Party! Normally in San Jose, but for whatever reason it's in suburban Mountain View tonight. Unlike Critical Mass, which is at rush hour, partially serious and occasionally aggressive, this is strictly a relaxed party. On the other hand, it's 11:30 and there're still partying yahoos out on the main traffic streets. Don't know if they went downtown to the restaurant zone or if they're just looping around.

Rikibeth, the bike seat I've got is probably better for relaxed touring than leaning-forward faster biking, but it's designed to be wide enough to support my whole butt, so the weight's on the padded parts and not just the sit-bones.

#79 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 07:37 AM:

Erik Nelson @ #59:

Foreign manufacturers? Marin Bikes were started out of San Anselmo, in Marin County CA, so presumably fail the "foreign" thing from within the US.

#80 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:15 AM:


I learned a new term today: "bicycle monarchy", which according to a radio program I was listening to is what some British people call certain European royal families that don't go for all the pomp and circumstance, nor insist on being driven around in a custom Rolls all the time, etc.

After everything Abi has been telling us, you will probably not be surprised when I tell you that the Dutch royal family not only is one of these figurative bicycle monarchies, but has been known literally to get about by bicycle from time to time.

#81 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:46 AM:

Have you gotten to the point where you're allowed to ride without the "Kijk uit, Amerikaanse fietser!" * placard on the bike?

*This is to warn people that the bicyclist may engage in bizarre behavior like slowing way down for cross streets and the like. I was frequently amazed at how aware of the bicyclists the vehicle drivers were, even when there was a row of parked cars and a row of trees between the motor lane and the pedal lane.

#82 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 09:19 AM:

#80 : For the record, as far as is known the present British monarch doesn’t care much for pomp and circumstance, nor does she or her family “insist on being driven around in a custom Rolls all the time.”  I think there’s a Rolls with special body – mostly glass roof – that’s used on ceremonial occasions for visbility.

I don’t think the term “bicycle monarchy” was originally intended pejoratively (though no doubt it is so used by the ignorant) but more in admiration for the queens of the Netherlands, particularly the late queen Juliana, who did bicycle around a lot and generally operated in an informal way that higher-profile heads of state cannot do.  The more recognisable members of the British royal family can’t bicycle freely around London any more than the US First Family could bicycle freely around Washington.

We were in the Netherlands in the late '80s when two winters running (very rare) were cold enough to run the Elfstedentocht.  We didn’t go to Friesland for the occasion, but we saw it on TV.  One year, at the end of the event, we saw tired skaters arriving at the finish, climbing up the bank to be greeted by their families in the waiting crowd.  There was a moment’s close-up of one such skater being embraced by his mother – it was the Queen and he was Crown Prince Willem-Alexander.  Probably a policeman skated with him, but he certainly wasn’t surrounded by a massive ring of security, and nor was she.  Only in a sane country like NL could the heir to the throne (or the First Son of the President, if you will) join a run among thousands of ordinary people, and only in such a country could the head of state stand among other parents in a crowd of well-wishers to greet him, even twenty years ago, without being hassled by nutters or worse.  Things have changed now, with even the Dutch royal family being threatened by terrorists.

#83 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:55 AM:

Building and truing wheels: a good place to start is to read what Sheldon Brown had to say on the subject:
(As a general rule, a good place to start on any cycling related subject is to see what Sheldon had to say.)

A cheap machine made wheel that you have tightened, trued and stress relieved might not be as good as an expensive handmade wheel, but it is likely to last better than if you hadn't done anything.

#84 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:19 PM:

I was in the Netherlands last week (first trip to that part of Europe), and happily spent a couple of days in Amsterdam. It struck me as a very civilized city, by my criteria for civilized: frequent small shops, many sources of fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of green growing things, excellent public transit, not many cars, fabulous bike lanes.

Amsterdam was one of the few cities I've seen that I might be able to live happily in.

I don't own a bike any more, and would be scared to ride it much if I did, even in this small rural city, but I do walk to work most days (4-mile round trip). That time is crucial to my mental and physical health, and excellent pondering time. Even if I was almost struck recently by someone whipping around a quiet residential corner in the wrong lane, with no turn signal, while I was in the crosswalk. He thought it was my fault.

#85 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 02:35 PM:

Ingvar M. at #79:

This one is made in China, according to the label.

#86 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 03:28 PM:

Serge @ #42: the mental image of abi and her daughter, in matching outfits, frolicking through Amsterdam with the distinctive Pepe le Pew gait as the Dutch flee in dread--irresistable!

Bill @ #78: down here, we have Courteous Mass. Much nicer.

#87 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 04:28 PM:

Lila @ 86...

"Ah, my little darling, it is love at first sight, is it not, no"

#88 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 04:58 PM:

Haven’t read this book yet – going to a reading by the author on Wednesday – but the title and image seem appropriate.

#89 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 05:01 PM:

pnh: I love cycling in London, but I do have to admit that almost all the cycling I've done there has been in the company of Avedon Carol's husband Rob Hansen, who appears to know every short-cut in the city, every parking lot, hidden pathway, sheltered mews, canal towpath, and other way to minimize riding alongside fast-moving traffic on busy streets. Riding with Rob is also a great way to wind up seeing bits of London whose existence you never would have even suspected.

Well, I'm pretty good on my side of London, but the west remains terra incognita for me. I still like to set off on the bike most weekends and explore bits of this side of London I don't yet know. My mantra is: "hmm, I wonder what's down here?"

I should cycle into work more often than I do (15 mile round trip) since it's not a difficult ride for this 54 year-old and I continue to refine it so as to eliminate every last bit of dealing with major roads that I can. Actually, I ought to take and post a set of pics of some of the more interesting things I see on my route, particularly since the return leg takes me by the big Olympics 2010 development, whose progress I've been following with interest.

#90 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 05:55 PM:

Something that mildly ticks me off.

When I browse through the Sunday paper advertising supplements, I see lots of adverts for bicycles.

And they're all frigging mountain bikes.

OK, I exaggerate a little. Some sports stores do advertise racing bicycles. But they're horribly pricey. (And not the insanely pricey bicycles with carbon-fiber wound unobtanium frames you get a cycle shops.)

But for the most part, its mountain bikes all the way.

I want a commuter bicycle.

#91 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 05:58 PM:

Stefan, is a racing bike a better commuter bike than a mountain bike? What makes it so? What makes a good commuter bike?

I am very curious about the distinctions, as I;ve got the low-end racing bike, the kid has a vintage cruiser, and I've been offered a freebie mountain bike as well.

#92 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 07:00 PM:

My commute bike is a touring bike. It's shaped like a racing bike, with dropped handlebars and suchlike, but it's sturdier and has things like mud flaps and a back rack.

That's actually quite strange here. Almost everyone rides the classic "granny bike" style, very upright.

I've added coat catchers (jasbeschermers) to keep my skirts out of the spokes of the back wheel, plus the predictable lights and panniers. I also have a complete inner tube change kit under the seat; thanks to my quick-release wheels, I can change a flat tire by the side of the road. (Very few Dutch bikes allow that,)

#93 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 07:06 PM:

Rob @89, A lot of contractors are basing plans on the next London Olympics being 2012, not next year. Three times in London – that's a record!

#94 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 10:10 PM:

Stefan Jones @90: I want a commuter bicycle.

Try a hybrid. Frame geometry is roughly that of a basic mountain bike, but lighter, with mostly-smooth tires that aren't as narrow as a standard road bike.

A hybrid can be ridden on gravel and loose dirt, but is NOT a true mountain bike and will probably not like you very much if you attempt to treat it like one.

Far faster than a mountain bike on pavement or hard smooth trails, though, and not as useless as a road bike if the surface isn't purely pavement.

I've got a 2000 model Trek 7200 that I got in Feb 2001 and have been riding thousands of km ever since. It's on it's third front tire, fourth or fifth back tire, second rear rim, and third complete drivetrain. (and about eighth chain...) I'm hard on it, but willing to pay for good maintenance and good replacement parts. One of these days the twist shifters are going to start to go, and that might be the signal for a replacement bike... or I might just replace the shifting system and ride the thing until the frame gives out!

Trek Canada's website gives the current 7200 model MSRP as $669.99 Cdn; I paid just over $500 on a year-end model clearance sale.

All the new ones have front forks, which mine doesn't have. Not sure I'd want front forks for the type of riding I do, TBH.

Not sure if this URL will work for anyone else, but here you go:

#95 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:07 AM:

Bether @ 51--No. Freaking. Way. BTDT. I don't consider Portland to be a safe biking commute in my hillier part of town, except for close stuff where walking is my preference, anyway.

You're in your twenties, and the consequences of traffic mistakes are somewhat different from what it would be for me, in my fifties. Most of my around-town errands are far enough away and in parts of town that have heavy enough traffic that I don't care to do it. I much prefer Eugene and the way it's set up, and have biked there recently. My work commute is too far for biking and I do get plenty of outdoor exercise there, as well as the other stuff I do.

I appreciate the offer, but seriously? Not interested, not in this town. I don't like biking that much to begin with, anyway.

#96 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Abi @ 56--I can see what you mean. I'm a contemplative walker, but I also walk pretty quickly and can set up a good aerobic pace (I used to jog but with the current state of my knees, walking is the most I should be doing).

I didn't do much biking until adulthood, so it's not second nature to me. Ideally, I'd prefer to commute by horseback (or driving the horse), but that's totally unrealistic and messy.

#97 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:10 AM:

Looking at Abi's flickr stream, it seems your place of work is very near where I live; I recognise those buildings at the end of it..

I actually don't bike at the moment; my bike got stolen earlier this year and I have been a bit lazy in seeking out a replacement.

But you csn replace flats without changing the wheels, as long as you don't have a straight punchout. The number of time I've had to do up a hole or another...

#98 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:56 PM:

rikibeth@91: What makes a good commuter bike? My opinions: smooth tyres (mountain bike knobblies are fine off road but on road they're just making you do more work because of their greater rolling resistance), mudguards, pannier rack. No suspension (especially if the bike's not expensive). After that it starts to get into 'whatever you feel comfortable riding'. I like hub gears, for their low maintenance and being able to shift while you're stopped, but they're by no means essential.

In the UK recently the "hybrid" class of bike (as mentioned @94) seems to be becoming more widely sold; I suspect this is a reaction to an increased demand for utility or commuting bicycles (as opposed to 'hobby' cycling). Or perhaps they've always been there and I wasn't interested in them when I was a 16 year old...

#99 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:07 PM:

Bicycle monarchy: I think I remember hearing stories about the king of Norway riding the streetcar. With skis.

#101 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 06:26 PM:

ajay @ 25: I too cycle in London - and I found myself nodding in vigorous agreement as I read your post. I used to cycle in from home to Camden, when that was about a six mile commute each way (with large uphill stretches in both directions, but particularly on the way home - the joys of living out by the North Circular over the far side of Muswell Hill). Now I'm living about 14 miles out, which is too far (particularly when I'm usually carrying 8-10 kg in my backpack and there's nowhere to shower on arrival) so I bought a folding bike and I cycle once the train has deposited me at Charing Cross, to avoid the dreaded Tube.

Rikibeth @ 14: Don't know what the shape of your backside is, but the solution for me was to go for a blokes saddle not a ladies saddle - the ladies' saddles are too wide for me (I definitely do not have childbearing hips) - although that's not actually a "hurt seatbones" problem, more an "and I move my legs to cycle how?" problem.

Stefan Jones @ 90: Yes, you want a Hybrid.

Laptop panniers: I suppose I should look at one. I've always carried my laptop in a backpack because I thoought I'd better put myself as a shock-absorper between the electronics and the road. Would it be safe (wrt shocks) to strap it onto the back rack? - I'm not sure panniers will work with 20 inch wheels (folding bike).

pm215 @ 98 Hybrids are relatively recent - they didn't exist in 1985/6 when I was getting my first adult bicycle as an 18-year-old, but they were getting quite common when I got my next one about 10 years ago.

#102 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Liza@74: No seats made for men (cuz I'm not one), I remember an article from >30 years ago on how to alter "saddles" that assumed the male bone structure; it's good to hear that is less necessary.

Paul@80: the Dutch royal interest in bicycling was well-known even ~40 years ago; I match John Stanning's recollection that their well-publicized habit is how the term started. I remember because I didn't expect to see it on this side of the pond, so I was astounded when I saw the president of Harvey Mudd (small tech college ~40 miles east of LA) bicycle off to lunch. In SoCal in 1971 that was astounding.

dcb: Hybrids not available in 1985/6? I wonder why the UK didn't have them; I bought my "city" bike in 1986. When I explained how I'd broken the frame of its predecessor (head-on collision on a blind curve on what the greater-Boston parks authority was pleased to call a bike path), the shop pointed me to a row of what they descrbed as mountain/racing hybrids: 10-12 speeds (non ultra-low), moderate-weight frame, wide undropped handlebars, and moderately knobby tires (which IME are also better in rain than the tires sold with reasonably-priced "racing" bikes).

#103 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:09 PM:

pm215: Do I hear a fan of the 1960's Robin Hood-era Raleigh cruisers? You've described my teenager's bike perfectly (hers is a '70). I took it in to the shop for a thorough check-over because I know nothing at all about how to inspect and maintain the internal hub gearing but I'm told they're beautifully reliable as long as you add a few drops of oil now and then.

On one point of safety and utility I'm with CHip, though - replacing the tyres, I turned down the perfectly smooth racing ones in favour of a bit more tread for less skidding in the wet and on sanded and salted roads.

#104 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:54 PM:

Okay. The inner tube on the rear tire on the racing/touring whateveritis cheapie definitely leaks -- so new tube and tire tomorrow. Then I ride it around a little, to see just how much I hate its current saddle and get a sense of how to describe the Special Needs Of My Butt to bike-store expert guys.

I'll have to consult with the kid to see whether I need to buy a second set of pannier baskets eventually. (Above-mentioned kid with the 1970 Robin Hood cruiser). I could get by with a backpack if I managed to commute to work, because all I'd need to bring would be chef pants, a T-shirt, and a bandanna -- and maybe my boots, Doc Martens probably aren't optimal for biking. But panniers would be convenient if I stopped for groceries. Kid has the panniers attached to the cruiser, but AFAIK isn't using them and finds them a hindrance. Will have to check if this has changed.

There's a hell of a hill (it's called Talcott Mountain, but I don't think it actually meets the definition, it's just a hell of a hill) on the route, but I do see people biking it all the time. And the downhill side would be fabulous. It IS 13 miles each way, which is ambitious, but on the bright side, it's a physical job anyway, so perspiring isn't a problem.

I wonder if I can get in condition enough to be biking it during leaf season?

#105 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:36 AM:

Rikibeth@91 : The better commuting bike depends on your commute. I know someone who commutes 20 miles each way, adding a detour to increase the mileage as part of his training. He uses a racing bike. On the other hand if your commute is "along the pot-holed farm track to the bridleway, then along the gravel towpath by the river", you want something with fatter tyres and stronger wheels.

The best bike for typical commutes will probably sold as a hybrid, a "city" bike, or an "urban" bike. (Marketing terms vary from brand to brand, there aren't exact definitions.)
(Or a folding bike, if you want to be able to take it on a train or bus for part of your commute.)

For most people a proper racing bike will have unnecessarily thin tyres and an excessively bent over body position, no mudguard clearance, and no provision for fitting a pannier rack. But if you want to ride as fast as possible and then change into the clothes you left another day, those are features not problems.

A mountain bike will have knobbly tyres which will be slow and noisy on road, but that's easily changed. A high-end full suspension mountain bike will be expensive, attractive to thieves, and also hard to fit pannier racks to. A cheap suspension bike will waste your energy bobbing about.
A cheap "mountain" style bike will often be unnecessarily heavy because it uses oversize tubing to look like a more expensive bike, but doesn't use the same alloy and thin walled tubing. If it's not so heavy that it puts you off riding it, that needn't be a problem.

#106 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:56 AM:

dcb@101: I used to think that way about laptops and rucksacks, but when I finally bought panniers I found that it wasn't a problem (I had the laptop in a neoprene sleeve and it was usually nestled comfortably on my change-of-clothing).

CHip@102 on knobbly tires in the rain: if tyres with knobs on make you happier about cycling around in the rain then go ahead and use them. I'm just taking Sheldon Brown's word for it when he tells me that bicycle tyres don't need tread because you can't aquaplane a bicycle. His arguments seem plausible to me but I can't claim I've done any comparison tests. I think "take it a little easier when it's tipping it down with rain" is probably a more effective safety move than using knobbly tyres, though.

Mark@103: yeah, I rather like elderly Raleigh three-speeds. In fact my spare bike is a Raleigh Twenty (folder!) dating back to April 1977, which makes it about four months younger than I am. That was my main commuter bike until I got the new bike a few months ago.

#107 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:08 AM:

Bicycle tyres are not much wider than the tread block on truck tyres, if that, which is fair evidence that they don't need the same provision to get water out from under the tyre.

My ordinary bike--lots of gears and ordinary handlebars--came with lightly grooved tyres. I'm not sure it can make a difference. I suspect it would be an OK commuter bike, but you could spend a lot more to get such things as a lightweight frame.

I started riding a bike a long time ago, 40 years or so, when gear-changing was unknown on most bicycles. Now I have something that has as many different gears as the racing bikes of my youth. And the three ranges overlap somewhat.

I still don't like hills.

#108 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:11 AM:

CHip @ 102: It's possible hybrids were just coming in at that time (if not in the shop where I got my bicycle) but I got the feeling they were still in the "taking off" stage when I got my next bicycle - in the 1990s.

pm215 @106: Thanks for this. I'm aware I'm carrying more on my back than is sensible, and that it's not going to be improving my balance carrying the weight that far up, but I've always been concerned about the jarring (Tottenham Court Road and Bloomsbury Street, among others, have surfaces composed mainly of potholes and patches, along the edges where cyclists ride).

#109 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:22 AM:

UK hybrid history:

#110 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:04 AM:

I think "take it a little easier when it's tipping it down with rain" is probably a more effective safety move than using knobbly tyres, though.

My problem with biking in the rain is not that I lose traction; it's that my brakes get wet and I can't stop properly. I am forced to take it very easy indeed, because at my normal cruising speed I can't be guaranteed of stopping in less than 12 or 15 feet unless I'm willing to dump the bike.

I've lost almost two weeks of lovely biking weather now because I have a flat and I can't afford to get it fixed. Sad.

#111 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:21 PM:

That's really lovely. It reminds me by turns of Boulder and Minneapolis. There's one underpass that could be transplanted right off the Boulder Creek bike path.

Technology is too cool when it works. Being able to point at that in the middle of a conversation, when that is, like, on the other side of the planet...

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:50 PM:

Alan Braggins @105:

Your brief overview of bike types completely omits the touring bike, which is basically a racing bike with pannier rack, mud flaps, wider tires, and a stronger, heavier frame.

Basically, it bears the same resemblance to a racing bike that a hybrid does to a mountain bike.

I have one, and I love it dearly.

#113 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:45 PM:

abi @ 113: It wasn't intended as a comprehensive overview.

A touring bike will generally have a body position aimed at all day comfort rather than the racing bike's optimal aerodynamics, and a wider range of gears, often shared with mountain bikes and hybrids. (Of course by changing or adjusting stems and saddles and seatposts, you can set a given bike up with a range of different body positions. And racing on a track is different from racing a time trial is different from racing a stage race is different from racing a triathlon, and the rules for different events allow or disallow different bike setups, not that I do any of those myself. So "a racing bike" actually covers quite a range of bike types, without even including things that are casually called racing bikes but aren't, or offroad racing.)

A traditional tourer has drop handlebars, hybrids generally have (roughly) flat bars. Drop handlebars are useful if you might be riding into headwinds and want the option of the more aerodynamic position on the drops (even if not as low as a racing bike would have them), or want a greater variety of hand positions.

If you do have drop handlebars, and spend a lot of the time on the tops in a more upright position for better visibility in traffic, it's worth considering auxiliary brake levers like these:
(Not to be confused with the old fashioned extension levers designed for the same job. The new design are also known as cyclocross levers. Cyclocross bikes are another type of bike I didn't mention which suit some commutes well. Something like this: )

#114 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:40 PM:

Alan Braggins @ 109 Thanks for the link - interesting to read (and good to see my memory regarding when hybrids came in wasn't too far off). I have a Raleigh Pioneer - that's the "my next bicycle" I mentioned. Bought rather than a Trek or Giant partly because those were "cooler" so more likely to be stolen. My folding bike is also a Raleigh - a Boardwalk Lite (same components as a Dahon Vitesse 7 speed, different frame, and £300 rather than £350). I wonder whether dropping the "Rudge" and putting the Raleigh badge on it has improved sales? I've chose it after doing a fair ampount of research, found it a good machine and have recommended it to others (a friend just got one).

#115 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:07 PM:

Alan Braggins, abi: I suspect my bike might best be described as a "touring bike," rather than the racing bike I thought it was. It has drop handlebars, but the auxiliary brake levers to make it simple to use them in the upright position. When I acquired it, it had capacious wire pannier baskets attached. (I've since transferred those to the kid's cruiser.) It doesn't have mudguards, but I think one could characterize the frame as "sturdy." It has ten-speed derailleur gears.

My commute is entirely paved, although some of the pavement is sketchy in spots, and includes the option of going over a wooden-plank bridge closed to car traffic. It also includes Very Steep Hills.

It sounds like I might actually have the right sort of bike for the terrain.

#116 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:22 AM:

The best commuter bike is the one that you'll ride.

Having said that, I like cyclocross bikes. Drop bars, road sized wheels, fender clearance, but built for offroad racing. Like a touring bike, but more sporty. Some of them even have top-of-the-bar brakes that actually work, as opposed to the brake extender levers from the 70's which are dangerous. They just don't give you the control or leverage you need in a panic stop.

A couple of other things. Steel rims in wet weather are Not Good For Braking, and should be avoided. Aluminum alloy are a lot better. If you're having trouble stopping in the rain, seriously consider putting new, good, brake pads on. Eagle Claws are ones that I like, but that info is a few years old. On dry ground, your stopping is traction limited on the back, and stability limited in the front. You have much more braking power in the front brake, but you need to be a little more careful in using it. Pushing your center of mass back can help get you more braking power. In wet conditions, you may be traction limited in both cases. (Also, if you're on a tandem, but that's unlikely while commuting.)

#117 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:41 AM:

There's also the "it's just a bike" bike. These days they tend to be hybrids, but they existed before mountain bikes were invented to hybridise with (with 3 speed hub gears or 5 or 10 speed derailleur gears, rather than a modern hybrid's 21 or more). has an overview of commuting bike types.

#118 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 05:13 AM:

eric@116: yes, steel rims in the wet are awful; there's nothing quite like the feeling of applying the brakes and having no apparent effect. I'd expect any bike less than two decades old to have aluminium rims, though. I like Kool Stop salmon brake pads, but even they can't do much about steel rims.

Carrie S@110: I'm a bit hesitant about suggesting this, because it seems kind of obvious, so there's probably a good reason why you're not doing it already. But: in the long run, fixing your own flats is very close to zero cost, and it's not very difficult. (First time around is unfortunately a bit more expensive if you need to buy a tool or two or a pump.)

#119 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 09:15 AM:

pm215: The problem is that I don't have the tools, and I am currently too poor to buy them. This is only my second flat in four years of biking to work regularly; I don't know if that's a good or a bad average. :)

It'll be too cold to bike soon. My first winter, I gave myself bronchitis biking when it was too cold, which is a mistake I'd rather not make again...

#120 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 10:21 AM:

Carrie S. @119: When you do get the flat tire fixed, you might ask about nylon tire liners. They are basically a ribbons on nylon that can be set between the inside of the tire and the inner tube. I have them on front and rear tires. For a modest cost, I've found they protect against a lot of nuisance flats.

In your case, two flats in four years doesn't sound outrageous. Most of my riding is around and about a small city, and there is always broken glass litter. The nylon stops most of the slivers of glass which get through the tire from puncturing the tube.

One anti-flat technology I've tried (came with the last bike) and dislike is the goop which is injected into the inner tube. This is supposed to fill a small hole when the tube gets punctured. It does work frequently, in that you don't get an immediate flat when you get a puncture while you're out riding, and you get back home without incident. However, you do not know that you got a puncture, until you set off to ride later, and find the tire has gone flat. And the goop complicates trying to find the leak so you can patch it (patching flats is one of the few bits of bike maintenance I still feel up to — most of the rest I would rather leave to people who have the shop, the tools, and the knowledge to use them effectively. Not to mention the spare parts).

#121 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 10:37 AM:

re brakes: For a bit of expense, one can also get disk brakes, which are pretty good at keeping traction in wet weather.

#122 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Carrie S. @ 119 Sometimes it's possible to find cycle puncture repair kits - even including tyre levers - in a pound (UK)/dollar(US) store. If there are only two tyre levers (and really you need three) a round-ended teaspoon (e.g. bead pattern) can substitute for the third - particularly if you can find someone willing to lend a hand to hold it in position.

#123 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Just spent a while on a bit of routine bicycle maintenance. Lube the chain, little things like that. Some people would be rightly intimidated by the thought of re-greasing a wheel bearing: it's the sort of thing I've done on much bigger machinery. Check the derailler settings, there can be a little stretch in the cables.

I can recommend Sheldon Brown's writing as a starting point.

#124 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:22 AM:

Just spent a while on a bit of routine bicycle maintenance. Lube the chain, little things like that. Some people would be rightly intimidated by the thought of re-greasing a wheel bearing: it's the sort of thing I've done on much bigger machinery. Check the derailler settings, there can be a little stretch in the cables.

I can recommend Sheldon Brown's writing as a starting point.

#125 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:25 AM:

Rob Rusick @120: [..] ribbons of nylon [..]

#126 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:33 AM:

Every so often, Lidl in the UK sells cheap bike-related stuff. But a puncture repair kit is not expensive.

Tyre pump and lights are where you want to avoid the ultra-cheap.

#127 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:44 PM:

Dave Bell @126: But a puncture repair kit is not expensive.

Knowing how to use it may be an issue. One of the bike shops in my area had a free class to show new bicyclists (or at least bicyclists with a new interest) how it was done. I wouldn't be surprised if someone had a demo on YouTube.

#128 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:49 PM:

Rob Rusick @127:
I wouldn't be surprised if someone had a demo on YouTube.

Here is a good one.

Though I tend to use the tire levers to put the tire back on, too.

#129 ::: Chris W. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 06:07 PM:

that's some fine canned meat product there

#130 ::: Debbie_sees_spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2010, 04:41 AM:


#131 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 07:03 PM:

Without knowing where you live, it's difficult to say: you might check and see if there's a Legal Aid group in your vicinity who can give you local advice. Or if (in the US) there's a state insurance commissioner who can help (they do some good in Washington, at least).

#132 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 07:06 PM:

(I hadn't seen Tom's helpful comment when I posted.)

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