Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Create More Bike Commuters


Bike Commuter 101 classes lean heavily on safety. First, it's all about the bike. Are tires properly inflated? Do your brakes work? Is the chain oiled? Do you know how to change a flat? Lights? Reflective clothing?

Once the bicycle's condition is addressed, other questions must be answered: What's the safest route to follow? What happens if it rains? How do I carry my stuff? Where do I lock my bike?

There are so many steps and options for a first timer, it's enough information to give many a headache. No wonder most wannabe commuters resort to their usual transportation - the automobile. It may not be the healthiest solution (for body and planet), nor the cheapest, but it's comfortable. As adults, change does not come easily.

Make no mistake, commuting by bike is a big lifestyle change. But do bike commute workshops have to be fraught with does and don'ts, scaring away potential commuters? These meetings are held with the best of intentions: to get more people on bicycles. However, I wonder if harping on safety (bike- and road-wise) has an underlying, adverse affect, much like the helmet debate wars.

I think instructors are missing the point, one that might stick with folks at least amenable to the idea of riding a bike. FUN. Teachers are focused on accounting for every dangerous situation - and they would be remiss if they avoided the subject altogether - that they forget to emphasize the obvious, "Just get out there and have fun."

We should all recall what it was like to ride like a kid.

Remember the first taste of freedom, pedaling through woods, down the street, with friends, pumping roller coaster style in a sandpit? Or riding with no hands? Danger was the furthest thing from our mind. We had wheels. We had transportation.

If I had my way, transportation cycling classes would be held outdoors, for starters. I'd preach by example, bringing an old bike. Together, we'd ride on the bike path, detouring in the woods, through parks, weave on the sidewalk, taking not necessarily the most direct route, but the most enjoyable, avoiding narrow, litter and pothole riddled bicycle lanes. Then I'd suggest decorating our bicycles: finally putting reflective spoke beads on my own wheels. And what's wrong with playing cards in the spokes? Tassels on handlebars? Wire or ziptie plastic flowers on a rack? Pinwheel on a handlebar? (Give me back my banana seat bike!)

The inevitable questions would come, unique to their situation, whether it's riding at night or in traffic. One by one. Not presented like the big bad wolf looking over your shoulder.

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This post was inspired by Bicycle Times' Ride Like a Kid article, by Andrew Titus. Issue 031, October 2014.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sometimes I'm Tempted to Reuse Old Tires

Don't be fooled by good looking older tires, whatever the tread.
Safety comes first. Replace old rubber.
It's my general practice to discard old tires from any project bike, particularly when the sidewalls appear cracked or threads are poking out, like fine hairs. It's just plain dangerous to reuse tires that have been sitting for years, even if the bicycle has been stored inside. Rubber deteriorates. Blowouts can happen, possibly placing the rider in a dangerous situation. And considering this bicycle is one I'm refurbishing for my son (more on that in another blog post) I want him to ride a bicycle that's safe.

With that said, I discovered the rear tire seemed in fine shape. Plenty of tread. Sidewalls are okay, I think. Then I found the tire was a puncture-proof Nimbus Armadillo, like the one I put on my Trek Antelope. I wondered. Should I consider reusing it on my own bike?

Thankfully, I researched further. Old rubber not only disintegrates, but becomes stiff. Inflexible tires do not corner well. I will heed others' advice: if you don't know the bike's history or suspect it's been in storage, why take a chance? Do yourself a favor, replace the rubber. Period.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Paying a Fair Price for Bike Repair

A sign at a produce stand.
Take what you need. Pay what you can. Please be fair.
A statement like that could feed the world. Well, that message wouldn't solve all the world's hunger, I suppose, but it's an interesting approach to a farm stand full of produce. I helped myself to a bunch of kale and two onions, used the provided plastic bags, then put the veggies inside my panniers. I left a "fair" contribution in a metal collection box.

Later, I wondered about the "pay what you can" approach. In the world of excess veggies where rotting is the alternative to bringing in extra cash, it makes sense (think piles of zucchini that most folks are happy to give away). Applying this theory to bicycle business, could this practice work in a low overhead shop environment?

I like to work on my own bikes, but sometimes need a freewheel removed, brake cables tightened, or better yet, I would love to have a knowledgeable mechanic inspect a bike overhaul (I'm thinking of a current project). I'd gladly pay a fair price (35.00/hour is local rate, exorbitant in my opinion) for professional expertise.

It may be a dream, but a retired bike mechanic could service bikes from their garage (my grandfather did, as a self taught mechanic). Many people have the know how, tools, and ability to accept less payment*, but I suspect, if there are such mechanics in our area, they operate under the radar, so to speak, to avoid business license fees, etc.

Does anyone know of legitimate bicycle operations that practice the "pay what you can" business approach?

*There's got to be a worthwhile wrenching person that would accept a 20 dollar bill. It pays for a 12 pack of micro brew.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Friend Champ

On blue sky days, living is easy. Riding a bike is easy. Getting outdoors is easy. Contrary to overcast, dreary weather, I set out on my bicycle, looking for things to do, places to visit, errands to run. When there's a string of gorgeous weather, especially in September, I wander. It's how I encountered my friend Champ, all by himself, looking like he needed some cheering up.

Ever since Champ was relocated (or he swam) during the 2011 lake flooding, his residence is now hidden from the vast majority of  cyclists on the bike path. If cars are lined up, waiting for the ferry, a tourist may snap his picture or investigate the sculpture. Otherwise, he's hidden behind a building and it's up to Burlingtonians who frequent the waterfront to give Champ attention.

Much like the Loch Ness monster in Scotland, there've been numerous sitings of a huge water creature lurking in the lake. With 400 foot depths, who knows what's living between Vermont and New York?

For now, I smile at the lovable land-locked green monster on the lawn, give him a pat, notice he could use a new coat of paint then set off on another exploration, this time looking across the water, hoping for a glimpse of the real Champ.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When a Biking Friend Happens to be a Great Cook

Stow the bikes and let's eat!
Who cares whether bikes are locked when returning from a ride?

Not in my friend's driveway, it seems. Because well, when food is on the agenda and time is short, let's not get picky.

Would you bother locking up when cheesecake and iced coffee are waiting? And not just any cheesecake, mind you, but an Italian cook's ricotta version accompanied with strong tasty espresso. In glass cups, Chilled with frozen coffee cubes. Really. Regular ice is so passé.

She's a creative genius, if you ask me.

Geesh, where are your priorities my conscience worries over my beloved Miyata. Outside. Unlocked. Out of my vision. It'll be okay. I think.

And yet, almost every ride with my friend ends this way. We are foodies, throwing practicality out the window. In it's place is a mouthwatering treat. As it should be.