Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How To Know When It's "Right" ... and New Shoes!!

Back when I was growing up (when the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family were NOT re-runs), I loved to ride my bike.  First it was the Schwinn Sting-Ray 3-speed with the huge stick-shifter in the middle of the top tube, which would now be banned for being dangerous to a young boy's "special parts".  That was my brother's hand-me-down bike, but I loved it anyway.  Then, the first bike of my very own, a metallic blue Schwinn Collegiate 5-speed with drop bars and a single stem-mounted friction shifter.  I dreamed of that bike for a long time before it became my 12th birthday present.  When I rode, I never thought about whether or not the saddle was the right one.  There was never a thought about whether the handlebars were the perfect fit.  I didn't own "cycling" shoes, and simply rode the rubber block pedals that came with the bike.  Tires?  I don't even know what they were, only inflated them when they looked flat, and had no idea what a tube was.  Helmets didn't even exist for bicycling at that time.  Yep, I just hopped on and rode ... in whatever clothes were appropriate for the weather ... on the completely stock bike with no question of modification.  The thing is, I was very happy riding my stock bike with no special options.  It was what it was, and didn't need anything else.  Was it simply youthful innocence or just the way times were way back then?  I'm not really sure ... but things seem to have changed quite a bit in my old age.

Flash forward to the present day.  The media and current culture demands wearing a helmet, which is actually a good idea, and tells us we need special clothing for riding a bike.  Special shoes, special padded tight shorts, form-fitting shirts to reduce wind drag, aerodynamic sunglasses ... and that's only the beginning.  Then there's the bike itself.  So many choices ... and so many options.  To make things worse, my older body now tells me quite explicitly that it's very picky about EVERYTHING.  Most saddles are medieval torture devices.  Very few are right for me, and it took a long time to figure it out.  The same is true for handlebars, grips, pedals, shorts, shirts, underwear ... and especially shoes.  My feet are incredibly sensitive.  The smallest grain of sand in my shoe feels like a huge sharp rock.  And they tend to go numb if I don't have adequate toe room, proper shape, good arch and metatarsal support, and the perfect ratio of stiffness in the right places to flexibility in the others.  Oh, and they must have enough room (but not too much) for a few favorite sock types, and no interior edges that might irritate my feet, too.  It's maddening.  What happened?

Well ... I could spend all day trying to figure that one out ... but instead, I'll accept it and move on to how I determine if something, be it a bike component or article of clothing, is "right" for me.  It's a simple procedure, but it does require a bit of effort to adjust one's thinking.  Here's the secret:

When it's "right", you won't think about it when you ride.

That's it ... that's all.  It applies to everything ... saddles, pedals, handlebars, grips, as well as placement and position of components for your fit preference.  When you have the right saddle, in the right position, you won't think about it at all when you ride.  Why?  Because it's not a distraction in any way.  You shouldn't be thinking about your saddle when you ride ... you should be thinking about the ride, where you're going, what's in front of you, the outdoor air, and so on.  The same applies to every other part of your bike.  And don't ever let anyone tell you that you need to "adjust" to it if it doesn't feel right.  While some "breaking in" may be required for some things (leather saddles, for example), by and large, there shouldn't be any major discomfort, or ANY discomfort for that matter, after a few minutes of initial use.  If you've ridden a saddle for more than a few rides, and it's still uncomfortable, it's the wrong saddle for you.  Take it back and try another one.  If your local shop won't allow that (within reason, of course), then find a different shop to deal with.  They should be willing to work with you to make your ride the best it can be.  After all, if you're happy riding, then you'll be buying more stuff.

This practical, yet simple secret brings me to the reason I'm writing this post ... I have new shoes!  Now I know that may not be a big deal to most people, but as I mentioned earlier, I have sensitive feet, and getting new shoes is an event of large proportions.  Not as large as a new bike, perhaps, but still quite important.  Many questions arise through the anticipation period.  Will they be everything I hope for?  Will they be smooth on the inside and tough on the outside?  Will they support my feet without being painful?  Will they look good or will they look ridiculous?  I realize these are questions generally only asked by women when shopping for the perfect shoe for the most important day of their life (not intended as sexist), and not generally asked by men shopping for athletic apparel.  However ... once again, I have sensitive feet (have I made my point yet?).

I have purchased more shoes than any man should ever admit to, so I won't attempt to calculate the number.  Suffice it to say there have been many.  For cycling and general applications, I've found great success with Teva sandals.  I do live in Southern California, after all, so good sandals are just part of the culture.  They fit well, even with socks (yes, I often wear socks with sandals when cycling ... no tourist jokes, please).  They grip the pedals well.  They keep my feet cool, which is important if your feet tend to sweat, and mine do ... hence the socks.  However ... they don't work for all situations, and aren't really a "shoe" in the classic sense of the word.  Most cycling-specific shoes I've tried are quite narrow, with little room for toe wiggle, and really aren't built for comfort ... they're all about "performance" and "power transfer" and usually have some kind of recess on the sole for a cleat, which I have now abandoned in favor of more comfortable pedals that don't use clips or other retention hardware.  Most non-cycling shoes are just bad for me when cycling ... and I have a hard time fitting in general ... so when I stumbled upon this new shoe, I was quite taken.

Enough with the suspense ... the new shoe is the Keen Coronado Cruiser ... yay!  It's a fairly "retro" sneaker design (not important, but nice), and made in part from some recycled materials (green is good!).  The top is a combination of canvas and soft leather (mine are the Dark Earth/Brindle colorway), and seems to work well with shorts, jeans, or other casual attire.  The very coolest part about this shoe is that it's designed for cycling ... and for cyclists, like me, who use non-clip, non-"clipless", platform pedals (that's where the "Cruiser" name comes from, I think). What makes it a "cycling" shoe is that it has a stiff nylon plate that runs through most of the sole, which helps with the "performance" and "power transfer" aspects of its design.  Whatever ... the result is that when I ride with them on, I don't feel my shoe bending over or around the edges of the pedal, just a nice solid platform to push on.  Cool.  Also cool is the simple, yet clever, tread design of different materials and pattern that really grips the pedal well.  My feet don't slip, but it's still easy to move them around on the pedal when I need a new position.  The fit is great, with lots of toe-wiggle room, room for socks up to a medium heavy type, and a fairly seam-free interior that doesn't irritate my toes.  I made one modification by swapping the insoles, which are pretty generic, with a pair I had from other shoes.  They're from New Balance, and are called the "Ultra Arch" insole, and have the extra arch and metatarsal support I prefer.  It isn't that the stock Keen insoles are bad ... they're actually very good for a standard insole ... I just prefer something different.  With the swapped insoles, these shoes are a really nice fit.

Although I've only used them for a few rides, I can tell you they're great, both on and off the bike ... at least for my feet.  What tells me they're so great?  Yep ... you guessed it ... I have never once even thought about them during the ride.  My feet feel good in them, even when pedaling hard ... therefore, I don't think about my feet, and that means the shoes are "right".  See how that works?  Genius ...


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dollars, Sense, & Feeling Good!

While it's no secret that riding your bike more helps you to feel good, it's still nice to reflect on it sometimes.  As I was riding home from the grocery store today, I was thinking about how good it felt.  Here I was, both front and rear panniers fully loaded with stuff for the weekend ... which included heavier items like Guinness, Silk Milk, apples, etc. ... the equivalent of about 7 plastic grocery bags ... and the bike handled so well that I was smiling.  It was, as I often like to say when describing the music of the artist formerly-known-as-then-called-something-you-can't-pronounce-but-now-once-again-known-as Prince, "smoov".  There was no weird steering or anything, as one might expect with such a heavy load ... just a very stable ride with some extra push on the pedals.  It's nothing new, really, just something I noticed while riding that brought a smile to my face.

As I continued the short ride home, I remembered how I used to always drive to buy groceries, thinking that it would be far too much effort to do it by bike, and that I would be too limited in what I could carry.  I've now found that isn't true at all.  Granted, I do consider available pannier room for bulky items, and I do now tend to not buy as many impulse things, but in the long run, that's good ... because it saves money and forces me to think more about what's really important when I shop.  Even so, I've never had a time when I bought too much and had no place to pack it for the ride home. 

Each time I shop by bike, it becomes easier and more relaxed.  I remember the first time I tried it.  I expected it to take a lot longer than if I had driven to the store.  I felt awkward as I locked up my bike, worrying that I might leave the store to find my beloved LHT gone.  I felt self-conscious in the store with my strange bags in the cart as I carefully placed items in them to make sure I didn't overshop.  I felt funny at the checkout when asking the bagger to NOT use plastic bags and try to distribute heavy items evenly in my panniers.  I felt as though everyone thought I must be crazy as I left the store and loaded so much stuff on my bike, possibly resembling a homeless person who could not afford a car.  Now ... I feel confident about my locking strategy.  I know that if someone really wants to steal my bike, they could, but it would sure be a lot of work, and they'd have to work pretty fast to get it done before I finish shopping ... and since any other bikes at the store would be much easier to steal, I'm guessing they'd go there first.  I feel much more at home when putting things into my cart, and I now know that it's doubtful I'll overshop.  I feel good about my funny shopping bags, especially when I hear the grocery store loudspeakers blasting a message about going green by using reusable shopping bags ... hey, I do that!  I no longer worry about the baggers ... although they continue to give me the blank stare when I explain the concept of "balance" when loading my bags.  When I leave the store now, it seems inevitable that someone will either give me a nod of "way to go" as I load up, or make some kind of comment about how they like the bike or admire the "no car" effort ... and I have no more feelings of self-consciousness.  I actually enjoy the time in the sunny parking lot while transferring the bags from the cart to my bike, making sure it's all tight and secure.  Oh, and to my happy amazement, riding to the store only takes a couple of minutes longer than if I drive.  It's all good stuff!!

One especially nice result of shopping by bike is that I very rarely drive anywhere now.  It's late May, and I've only filled up my tank once this entire year ... that's right, ONCE!!  Granted, I didn't exactly drive a lot before, but even if I only filled up every two weeks, that's a lot of gas money saved, not to mention the carbon footprint reduction.  I estimate that if I had filled my tank every two weeks, I would have filled up 8 more times this year than I have.  At approximately $45 per tank, that's $360 I've saved through shopping by bike.  That's a pretty big chunk off my grocery bill ... plus, by minimizing the impulse buying, I'm guessing I've saved a fair bit more.

I'm sure my experience is not unique, but I felt that I should share it with all of you just the same.  It is my hope that perhaps it will inspire some of you to try doing more of your shopping or other errands by bike.  It's not as difficult or time consuming as it may first appear ... trust me, I'm the world's foremost expert on considering all of the possible negatives before trying something new, and I had quite a list of reasons to NOT try this ... but to my great joy, they have all been proven wrong.

Yes, it helps to have all of the right gear ... but that doesn't necessarily mean "expensive", just "practical.  Considering I've saved over $350 in gas money, the investment in racks and bags was more than covered.

Get out there and do some bike shopping ... you'll save money, have fun, and feel good!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Here's LOOKing At You!

I realize I've posted a lot about my Surly LHT, but there is another ... one that hasn't received nearly enough of my attention lately ... so here is a look at my Look:

Back in 2007, I was inspired to start riding again after several years of focusing more on other less important life factors ... work, housing, work, etc.  At that time, I knew little about bicycle technology, and even less about what my "perfect" bike would look (no pun intended) like.  Virtually all of the media, magazines, websites, and so on really pointed me to the conclusion that if I was "serious" about cycling, I seriously needed to get a good road bike.  I now know that "road bike" really should be called "race bike".  In any event, I did lots of research and talked with the guys at the local shops ... and then did a few test rides ... and settled on a Look 555 carbon frame road bike.  Here's what it "look"ed like back then:

I began to ride ... SLOWLY at first ... then picking up speed and greater distance.  It took a little while, since I hadn't been riding for a long time ... plus I had a lot of learning to do about those fancy clip-in pedal thingies.  Yes, I had to get the stiff shoes and proper wardrobe, too.  Hey, all the people riding road bikes in the magazines were wearing that stuff, and I wasn't about to break protocol!  After I got more familiar with the basic riding procedures, I started to go for the longer distances ... you know, "training".  That was when I began to notice that my body and drop handlebars don't get along well together, and the battle was waged with painful neck and hands that increased proportionally with my distance, and no amount of stretching really helped much.  I also noticed that my feet didn't care too much for being locked into one position for so long.  What to do ... what to do ...

It was about that time that I began to read articles from "alternative" sources on the subject of bike fitting.  One of them was a series of articles by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works.  His philosophies on parts and fit really hit home with me, and I felt it was worth a shot to make a few changes to my ride ... in hopes that the long ride would become within my reach without the discomfort I was experiencing.

I changed out the drop bars for some that were more upright, and with a bit of rearward sweep.  That made a huge difference for my neck and hands ... so I continued with ditching the clip-in (also known, oddly, as "clipless") pedals for some MKS "Grip King" platform pedals.  Wow ... that was an eye opener!  How cool it was to be able to shift my feet around when they got tingly!!  And the large platform just felt good to my feet.  I also changed out the ultra-skinny race saddle for one that's a bit wider to compensate for the higher handlebars ... and it was then that I became a life-long fan of classic leather saddles.  Somehow, they just work ... and isn't that how things should be, Mr. Dyson?

 In any case ... many modifications were made over time, including better/stronger wheels, different shift controls, better tires, and so on ... all to better fit the kind of riding I do.  It has been a great learning experience, resulting in a bike I love to ride ... not for racing, but for fast and fun recreational rides.

 Here's what it "look"s like now:

There were several component modifications made over time to get to the final state you see here.  Here's the list, not in any particular project or photographic accompaniment order:

Shimano Dura-Ace Bar End Shifters mounted on Paul Thumbies.  They're set to friction mode, my personal preference.

Shimano LX rear derailleur to accomodate a larger 11-32 cogset for a better gear range.

Shimano Compact Crankset with 50/34 tooth chainrings.  The bike originally came with 53/39, too high for my riding needs.

Civia Colfax Handlebars with 50-degree sweep ... upright and comfortable, yet "aggressive" enough for those rare occasions when speed is desired.

Brooks Team Pro Saddle.  Slim enough for fast riding and wide enough for comfort on long cruises.  I'd ride it even if it wasn't so gorgeous ... but I'm glad it is!

Custom wheelset with Velocity Fusion rims and Shimano 105 hubs.  They're laced with 36 heavy-duty straight gauge spokes in a 3-cross pattern.  I'm told that makes for a very strong wheel that still has some "give" for smooth rolling ... and it sounds right on the money.  The hubs are virtually silent and very smooth rolling.  Huge difference over the stock Mavic Aksium wheels that came with the bike ... HUGE!!

Acorn Small Front and rear Roll bags.  A great tiny company that makes great bags ... hard to get, but affordable and worth waiting for.  The front bag is just big enough for my cell phone, wallet, keys, gloves, and Click-Stand.  The rear bag holds the essential tools for minor road repairs and a spare tube, and it unrolls for easy access when needed.

Velo Orange Seatpost.  It has better setback to help with the short Brooks rails and steep seatpost angle of the race bike geometry.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus 700x25 tires.  These are the best skinny tires I've used.  Granted, I'm not a racer-type guy, but for durability, puncture-proof-edness, and smooth ride, they just can't be beat.

Ergon GP-1 grips.  This cool design is pure comfort for flat bars.  There's a wider area that sits under the heel of my hands and gives a great support.  Plus, the end plugs have Yin-Yang symbols ... a little Zen for my Look!

I have learned a lot from all the modifications ... enough that when I decided to get the Surly, I felt confident in building it up myself.  It's nice to know that I can fix almost anything on my bikes now ... it adds to the "relationship" with riding.  I have also been fortunate to have the support of my fiance to let me do all of this ... otherwise, I'd probably never have gotten back into cycling in the first place!  Thank you, T!!!!

What began as a pre-packaged race-oriented bike has ended with a fast and fun road bike that is custom trimmed to my personal needs.  I encourage you all to experiment ... you'll learn a ton and become better equipped to perform your own maintenance and repairs ... and you may just end up with a one-of-a-kind piece of art, which is what I consider this unique bike.

I love the end result ... the Look of love!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Take A Stand ... Or Two!

As we've discussed in a previous post, the pursuit of balance can take many forms, both mental and physical, when applied to cycling.  Today's post is regarding balance of the physical nature.
To ride like the wind and be free ... yes, this is the longing we share.  But what does one do in the midst of such a ride when one must stop and step off one's bike to meditate whilst consuming mass quantities of caffienated beverage?  One must, of course, lean, lay down, or otherwise "park" one's beloved steed.  Provided there exists such amenities to safely support the bike, leaning it or laying it down may suffice.  For me, that is most often not the case, and I cannot bear the thought of adding scratches or other debris to my frame that is not the result of some epic ride that I can replay in my head or tell as a short story to others.  No, no ... there has to be a better way ... and there is!  The solution is a kickstand!  Equipped with such a clever device, one may easily park one's bike almost anywhere, almost any time, and step back to admire the beauty of your ride while resting, refueling, texting, chatting, or yes, drinking coffee.

For those of you who already have a kickstand mounted to your bike, you're already experiencing the convenience ... but you will still appreciate the following information, and may even find a desire to upgrade.  If you don't have a kickstand, it is time, my friend, to consider it.

Many of the new breed of commuter and urban bikes on the market are now being equipped with kickstands.  That's great news, and a very welcome addition that shows the manufacturers are actually listening.  However, many of the road-oriented bikes out there do not have kickstands, as they do certainly add a bit of weight, which is something most roadies do not care to have.  I happen to believe the benefits far outweigh (pun intended) the weight.

There are many options for adding a kickstand.  I have recently added a Pletscher Twin-Leg stand to my Surly LHT.  This highly-regarded and long-tested model is quite stout, like a Guinness made in Ireland.  But every ounce is an ounce of strong metal, and the design is great.  Both legs swing up together behind the bottom bracket and to the left of the rear wheel, tucking away nicely and never in the way of pedaling. 

When opening, the legs swing down and separate to their respective sides under the bike.  The bike then balances with the two legs and either front or rear wheel, depending on whether your bike is front or rear weighted.  The other wheel is lifted slightly off the ground.  This can be quite helpful for minor maintenance, by the way.

Installing the Pletscher was not an easy thing.  Although a fairly straight-forward process, my particluar frame has chainstays that are shaped in an oval, and at an angle that isn't ideal for kickstand mounting.  Having a kickstand mounting plate would have made it very simple, but alas, my LHT has one minor shortcoming.  No worries.  I also purchased the Deluxe Top Plate kit, which has two plastic inserts for the top of the chainstays, a replacement top plate, and a longer mounting bolt.  This also was not as simple as it first appeared.  The plastic inserts are just wide enough that the inner chainring came into contact, due to my small frame size.  I had to use my handy Dremel tool to grind away some of the material until it would fit with enough clearance for comfort.  I also added a wrap of cotton tape around the chainstays to protect the paint from the metal-to-metal contact.  Once this was all done, installation was pretty simple ... except for one last thing.  The legs on this stand are long.  Let me repeat that ... the legs on this kickstand are LONG.  So long, in fact, that they absolutely had to be cut down to be functional for my small bike.  Larger bikes may not have this problem, but mine does.  To their credit, Pletscher is aware that this may be necessary, and has measured markings on both legs to help make sure the cuts are even and at the proper angle.  Thank you!  After looking for an hour for my hacksaw, which I never found (where do those things disappear to?), I again turned to my handy Dremel tool with a cutoff wheel, and began cutting the legs.  It worked just fine, and left a fairly neat edge, which I ground to be even smoother.  I put on the pair of rubber feet, and mounted the stand. 

After all was said and done, I love this kickstand.  It's very strong, works perfectly, and makes stopping anywhere easy.  At the grocery store, the double legs really help with loading the bags onto the racks, keeping the bike stable in the process.  The Pletscher Twin Leg stand is available from lots of different places, and comes in both silver and black.  The rubber feet are usually sold separately.

Some of you may be saying "Well, that's nice, but my bike doesn't have room to mount a kickstand."  For you ... and for me ... there is an ingenious product called the Click-Stand.  It is perfect for road bikes that have no place to mount a kickstand, or for those of you who just don't want the extra weight on your bike.  They are custom made to order for your bike's frame size and tube dimensions. 

It weighs almost nothing, and amazingly folds up so it can fit into a jersey pocket or bag.

When you need to use it, a quick flick unfolds it and turns it into a "third leg" for your bike. 

The soft rubber cradle at the top hooks under your top tube near your saddle, place the other end about ten inches to the side, and simply lean your bike on the stand. 

Elastic bands are provided to "lock" your brake levers, thus preventing your wheels from turning and your bike rolling away.  Brilliant!  A third elastic band is provided with your order as a spare.

So ... take a stand with your bike!! Or take two!  Aren't you glad today's technology provides lots of choices?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Have Some Fun and Win A Bike!

The ladies over at "Let's Go Ride A Bike" are having a Summer Games contest.  It looks like a great way to do some extra riding and explore some new activities ... plus there are some very cool prizes, including a Batavus BuB bike!  Check out the contest ... and their great cycling blog of the stylish kind!

Click Here to view the contest post. Good luck to everyone!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bike to Work Week Plan

Not only is it Bike Month, but next week, May 17-21, is Bike to Work Week.  Not only that, but Friday, May 21 is Bike to Work Day.  So you have choices ... you can bike to work for the whole month, one week, or just one day.  That is, of course, if you don't already bike to work, in which case you get to make others feel guilty that they only do it when they're told to for a special occasion.

I'm feeling rather left out in this whole bike to work thing.  That's because I work from a home office.  So I really can't bike to work ... I'm already there.  But I do want to take part in the celebration of transportational pedalitudedness.  So I have formulated a plan, and here it is:

Each day during Bike to Work Week, I will pack my work clothes (T-shirt & shorts) in a bag, put some coffee in an insulated bottle, get on my bike, and ride away somewhere that's a reasonable commuting distance ... say two miles.  Once there, I will get off my bike and lock it to some sturdy object, drink my coffee, and change into my work clothes (in a private place, of course).  Then, I'll go back to my bike, unlock it, get on and ride back to my office (the house), lock my bike in my employer-provided parking space (the garage), go inside to my office, comb my hair to eliminate helmet head appearance, greet the rest of the staff (the dogs), clock in (sit down) and begin working.

Since this is Bike TO Work Week, I am not required to ride FROM work back home, so there will be no end-of-day hoops to jump through in order to fulfill the celebration guidelines and parameters. 

For Bike to Work Day, which is an even BIGGER event, I will perform the same activity, except for the following:

Instead of my normal "work" clothes, I'll change into something more "business-like".  Perhaps a pair of actual pants and a dress shirt?  Gasp.  And I'll put my laptop in it's case and carry it in my front basket in order to be more legitimate.  I'll even pack a lunch that day.  When I get to the "office", I'll not only comb my hair, but I'll spritz with some kind of designer men's fragrance and wear a watch or something else that says "professional". 

Frivolous, you say?  Possibly ... but being that I feel strongly about supporting Bike Month events, and feel even more strongly about supporting biking to work for everyone, it seems my duty to somehow take part in the experience.  And somehow, merely grocery shopping by bike next week does not seem enough.  Besides, it's another wonderful excuse to spend more time riding ... and that's always a good thing!

What are YOUR plans for Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

California Bicycle Museum

The bicycle-friendly town of Davis, California is now the home of the California Bicycle Museum!  If you love bicycles, you'll love their collection.

From the website:

"Davis has a long history as bicycle friendly town and with the University of California, Davis, the community has emerged as one of the leading bicycle communities in the United States. The California Bicycle Museum was created to educate the public about the history of bicycles and the important role they play in our society.

The museum serves as an educational and research center for all aspects of cycling and bicycle history. With the Pierce Miller antique bicycle collection serving as the nucleus of the future bicycle museum, the City of Davis, UC Davis, and the California Bicycle Museum have been quietly securing additional bicycle donations that represent the entire timeline of bicycle history.

We invite you to browse around and explore our collection. We also hope you will send us your feedback and we welcome your involvement in our effort."

The gallery includes some truly amazing photos that span the history of wheeled self-powered transportation.  Please take some time to check them out ... make a donation ...or visit in person!


Monday, May 10, 2010

It's About Time For Action!

This post isn't about cycling, although getting more people on bikes does help the cause.

I was just watching the news ... I do that now and then ... and saw another report on the massive oil leak in the Gulf.  It's such a sad waste ... and such a tragedy ... one that is unbelievably devastating to the environment.  And for what?  For OIL?  Yes, we have become quite dependent on oil ... but only because we've been somewhat forced to be so.  The technology for other energy sources has been available for years ... for DECADES ... and because the greedy, money-hungry, careless oil companies have gained the extreme power over our government, the application of these green technologies has been pushed far away from the people.  And by "the people", I mean all of us.  Their powerful lobbyists and financial games have made it too costly for the average person to afford a car that's not fueled by oil or a home that's not powered by company-supplied electricity.  This has to change ... and if the recent oil leak in the Gulf isn't a sign, then I don't know what it will take.

There have now been MILLIONS of barrels of oil spilled into the water, and all attempts to contain it have failed ... each one taking days to even try ... meanwhile, the oil continues to spill, contaminating the water where a multitude of sea life USED to thrive.  What happens next?  Well, I'm guessing the fishing industry is shot down there ... another casualty of the oil tycoons.  Haven't the people in our southern states had enough with hurricanes and such?  Even if they can stop the leak, it will take YEARS to clean the water, and it may never be the same.  Fish and other sea life will die.  People who make their living from that sea life will lose their business, jobs, homes ... as if the financial meltdown wasn't enough.

To think there was such a huge push recently to establish more offshore drilling here in Southern California is now unimaginable.  Of course the oil companies all told us how safe it is ... I wonder what they say now?  While the risk of a leak such as this current tragedy may be low in the long run, the fact that such a risk exists should make the choice easy ... NO MORE DRILLING!

Technology for sustainable, green energy is available.  There is plenty of sunshine for everyone ... plants, trees, and humans.  It's good for us, it doesn't harm the planet, and it's free!  When the sun isn't shining, there's likely enough wind available to power turbines ... once again ... no environmental impact, and free!  Solar and wind power technology has been around for a very long time ... and it's time it became available to the average home, at a price that's affordable for everyone.  A solar and wind powered home can produce enough energy to be completely self-sustaining, even recharging an electric car each day, and possibly even send some back to the electric company for someone else to use.  And speaking of electric cars, we have had the technology to build them for a long time ... so why isn't it happening faster?  Once again, because the all-powerful oil companies won't allow it ... and when they do, it's in the form of "hybrid" vehicles that are beyond the price range of the people who really need them, and even so, they still use gas (the "hybrid" part).  It's more like a vehicle that makes people "feel" like they're helping the environment ... making people feel good about themselves is what marketing is all about, right?  Our auto manufacturers can certainly make all-electric cars that work ... and they can make them in all price levels from ultra-affordable to full-on luxury.  Saying they can't is an outright lie.

It's time to make some changes.  The question is ... how do we make it happen?  How do we send the message to our government that we need them to stop allowing the oil and power companies to decide what technology is affordable and available?  How do we get our government to hold them accountable for everything that happens when they screw up?  BP should not only pay for the cleanup in the Gulf ... they should pay for the lost wages of the people who can't work in the fishing industry down there ... they should pay for wildlife rescue operations for as long as they're needed ... they should absorb the higher cost of gas for the public and LOSE money for a while, not just pass the loss on to us in higher prices ... there should be a sizable fine for every day that the leak continues, which should go directly to green technology ... and they should be forced to shut down their offshore drilling sites to prevent any future catastrophes.  I, for one, am tired of rising gas prices blamed on increased costs while the oil companies simultaneously post record profits and defend them by saying their profit "percentage" isn't higher, only the dollar amount due to the higher gas prices.  True and logical ... but still criminal in my mind.  Combined with the largest tax breaks and loopholes of any industry, it becomes pure evil.  And no Bail-Out for them, either, even if it means bankrupcy.  We don't need oil ... we need development of safe, sustainable, green technology at an affordable price for everyone.

Anyone have any thoughts how to get some action?  For me ... for now ... I'm very sad for the people, the wildlife, and the environment that will be hurting for a very, very long time.  And I will be shopping by bike ... refusing to drive and support the oil companies by buying gas.  I know it's not much, but if everyone does a little, it might make a collective impact.

Public Bikes

Just a quick note that a new company, Public Bikes, is now fully launched and has their new website ready to go.  They offer only a few bike models, which are simple and elegant, designed for city commutes, recreation, and utility riding.  All models are 4130 chromoly steel, and are available with single speed (diamond frame only), and 3-speed or 8-speed internal gear drivetrains.  Both step-through and traditional diamond frames are available in a nice selection of colors.  They are reasonably priced, and appear to be well thought out.  A good selection of accessories are also available for apparel, bags, safety, bike components, even stylish shoes.  It's nice to see new companies coming along who are dedicated to the everyday application of bicycles.  Check out the new website!!

Happy Riding!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Are There Always Hills?

Okay ... here's a secret that only anyone who knows me or has ever ridden with me knows:  I'm not in love with hills.  Actually, I really don't like them at all.  Truth be told, I often HATE hills.  Maybe you've surmised that I'm not a good climber.  It's true, although I'm sure it's more mental than physical.  In the pursuit of higher consciousness, I have tried to see them as challenges, rather than enemies.  I have tried to see them as good ... good in the way that studying a subject you have no interest in whatsoever is good ... because you're supposed to learn something valuable from them and become a better person in the process.  Climbing hills makes one stronger, yes?  Climbing hills brings one a sense of confidence, yes?  Conquering hills brings one the experience of overcoming ones weaknesses, yes?

Yes, all of those things are true ... and yes, I've learned and grew stronger and became more confident and overcame weaknesses.  Is that all grammatically correct?  But still ... I don't like hills.  And here's the real issue I have:  there are ALWAYS hills.  I live in a place where I have a choice.  Either start the ride up a biggish hill and return coasting back down ... or start out descending and finish with a big hill near the ride's end.  Easy right?  Take the hill first and finish easy.  Not so fast ...

If I start out descending, I'm heading toward the beach, where the scenery is beautiful ... lots of nice smooth bike lanes along the coast ... breathtaking views of the ocean ... the perfect environment for riding ... but I always know I have a very long climb back home, and need to reserve some energy for it.  If I start out climbing, I'm heading inland ... away from the beach ... away from the beautiful scenery ... but an easy finish to my ride.  It's always a struggle to decide.

So ... what would YOU do?

I've often dreamed of living in a place where the earth is flat and only has wind and rain when I'm not riding. It would be perfect, right?  Then again, where I live is a truly beautiful place, and I am constantly amazed that I'm just looking out my window or down the road at what I see, and not in a photograph or piece of museum artwork.  If the terrain were flat, it just wouldn't be the same.  It would be rather ... well, flat.  I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

So, rather than continue to complain, which I'm certain I'll return to at some point in the not-too-distant future, I'm trying a new approach this month.  If I ride to the beach, I'll force myself to forget the hill on the ride back, and essentially consider the ride to be complete when I've toured the coastline of my community.  The ride back, including the hills, is merely my commute home ... not really part of the actual ride itself.  I can pause before leaving the beach and say "Ahhhhh ... that was a great ride ... now it's time to go home."  And if I ride inland, I'll make the ride about finding something new and different in the surrounding area.  A pair of crazy squirrels, perhaps, who are, in reality, terrorists planted among us to leap out at the exact split second we ride by, thus causing us to crash and reconsider our capitalist way of life.  Or maybe there's a new Starbucks or Peet's somewhere along the way ... yeah, coffee is always good!  Then, when I'm coasting downhill on my crashed bike with a stomach full of coffee, I'll have new things to think about and not wish I'd ridden to the beach instead.

Think it will help?  In the mean time ... if you enjoy humorous looks at people and bicycles, I understand there's a new book from none other than the Bike Snob, of BikeSnobNYC blog fame.  I haven't read it, but I can imagine it's worth a look.  He always has an interesting take on "normal" life.

 Hope you're all having a great Bike Month!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You Don't Need A Reason ...But Sometimes It Helps

Yesterday was a long day ... an EXTRA long day.  So long, in fact, that the 9pm closing time at Trader Joe's was passed up before the shopping trip could even start.  What to do, what to do ... well, we ended up going out for dinner at 9:30, rather than start making dinner at such a late hour.  The fish tacos and two beers were a welcome addition to my then empty stomach, but as is generally the result, I awoke this morning feeling sluggish, as well as somewhat stiff from a combination of aging body and extra muscle use from yesterday's activity.

Being National Bike Month and all, I made it my goal to spend some time with a bike every day ... not necessarily a major long ride or anything ... not necessarily even a ride ... it could be cleaning and performing routine maintenance ... or installing the new kickstand I mentioned in yesterday's post.  So far, so good ... until this morning.  As I mentioned, I was already feeling sluggish from late dinner and beer, and a little old and stiff from a long day.  After getting up and making coffee, taking the dogs out for the morning walk, feeding them, making breakfast and lunch for my better half, and getting her off to her day at the office, I was just not feeling like getting out for a ride.  It was one of those mornings when a good reason was required to push me over the edge and get me out the door and on the bike.

Then I remembered that I needed to go and get a few things from the grocery store.  At first, it wasn't an attractive thought, but I realized my bags were already on the bike, tires full of air, chain freshly lubed, and all I had to do was put my shoes on and head out.  And still, it was one of those mornings that made even doing that seem like a chore ... but I thought "Hey ... it's Bike Month ... and you need groceries ... it's just a short ride ... you'll accomplish something ... and you'll feel better".  So I put on my shoes and I went out the door.

I was right in what I told myself.  As soon as the garage door opened and I felt the sun, I felt better.  When I got on the bike and started rolling down the street, I felt even better.  When I got to the first stoplight, I felt even better still.  When I arrived at the grocery store parking lot, locked up my bike, grabbed my bags and noticed how nice my Surly LHT looks in the sun, I felt way better.  When I found some really-good-and-not-over-ripe avocados, I felt way-way better.  When I got to teach the bagger how he should try to balance the two bags by putting one carton of Silk Milk in each, rather than loading everything into only one bag, I felt like I imparted some valuable wisdom to a person younger than myself (although he simply gave me a blank stare as I took over and packed my own panniers).  When I secured my panniers to my bike, packed with just-purchased groceries, I felt great, knowing that I can shop by bike and save the entire planet single-handedly by not driving a car.  And when I rolled home on a fully-loaded beautiful blue touring bike, I felt humble and very grateful for all the nice things I have.  As I wheeled into the garage and unpacked my haul, I remembered how I didn't feel like going for a ride earlier ... and made myself a promise that whenever I find it difficult to get out the door, I'll remember how good today's short ride was and how great it felt both during and after.

Riding a bike doesn't require a reason ... but sometimes having one will get you out the door ... where you'll discover (again and again) why you love riding in the first place.  Funny how that works, huh?  Find a reason ... or none at all ... and get out there today!

Monday, May 3, 2010

National Bike Month ... and other Celebrations!!

It's National Bike Month!  Yay!!!

How will you celebrate?  Haven't decided?  Here's a link to get you started and perhaps find some events near you:

If Spring hasn't already enticed you, get that bike out of the garage, give it a good cleaning, pump up the tires, lube the chain, add some new shiny bits if you want, and get out there and ride!!

Speaking of riding, I have some riding of my own to do ... but I'll try to keep it balanced with work and family.  And speaking of "balance", I've decided to add a kickstand to my Surly LHT, as loading panniers at the grocery store can be tricky whilst simultaneously attempting to hold the bike upright.  The box arrived today ... in it, a shiny new Pletscher Two-Leg Kickstand, Deluxe Top Plate (to protect the chainstays), and a pair of plastic/rubber feet.

I'll get some shots of the installation procedure and post a review soon.

Also ... I had a birthday last month ... woohoo!   Here's my cake ... baked by my one and only!  Yes, she calls me "BooBoo".  Many of her colleagues, friends, and family don't even know my real name, and simply refer to me also as "BooBoo", because they've never heard me referred to as anything else.  Back to the cake ... it was tasty AND healthy ... really!!

I have to admit, I got spoiled this year.  Among the many gifts are a couple I'll share with you here.  I love soft organic T-shirts, especially when they have something inspiring to say ... like this one from Life Is Good:

Their Creamy T's are incredibly soft, really well made, and comfortable beyond measure ... try one or several!!  I also got a pair of MUSA Riding Shorts from Rivendell to try.  The design looks great for us non-racing type cyclists, and the material looks to be cool and nice to the skin.  I'll post a review after a few rides in them.

My apologies for the lack of substance in the post today ... many eggs in many pans ... but as each one is flipped, cooked, and promptly served with toast, oatmeal, and fresh fruit, there will be more time for more riding, more thoughts, more reviews, more stories, and ... more ....

May you all be well and find yourself celebrating this month of the bicycle!!