Sunday, May 18, 2008

DC Moonlight Ride

Well, tonight was the night for the DC Moonlight Monuments ride... which Annie and I didn't find out about until today. Spur of the moment and all, we decided to head into the city and give it a whirl. I did one of these rides way back in the 80s, and it was a lot of fun, and it looked like it was shaping up to be a lovely evening. And it was... just warm enough, a lovely moon, and a bunch of fun people were gathered for it.

The city is really pretty at night, and on a Saturday evening, traffic isn't too crazy down by the Mall and the monuments, which is where the ride travels. And motorists seemed to be pretty mellow about a big pack of cyclists taking over the street, or nearly taking it over. We tried as a rule to stay in one lane, but that didn't always work out.

It was all going along swimmingly, until about a quarter of the way into the ride, when one of the other folks from Bikes@Vienna got a flat on a tandem. Annie and I stopped to see if they needed help, as did another pair of Bikes@Vienna folk. By the time I had stopped, Tom and James were already starting to try to fix it, so I just stood by offering advice and a pump. Without boring you with the details, suffice to say the repair was unsuccessful. By the time it was decided to give up on it, the rest of the ride had passed us by, so Annie and I decided to head out on our own a bit further. By the time we got to the WWII memorial, we figured we just weren't going to catch the group, so we decided to hop on the subway and head for home.

It was a little disappointing to not finish the ride, but we still had a lot of fun, and it was a gorgeous night out there. So we'll be there for the next one!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bike to Work Day 15 seconds of not-quite-fame

Well, a local news channel came to the Vienna "pit stop" yesterday and shot some footage and talked to some folks. And that gave me a tiny little moment of near-fame. Watch the clip closely, and you'll see a moment of my hand turning someone's cranks... and a guy being interviewed saying "he's getting really greasy..." well, I'm the "he" being referred to.

Link to the story:

One other funny thing... the two moments have nothing to do with each other, and took place about a half an hour apart. The guy who talks about me getting greasy had some issues with his brakes which I was fixing as he said that... and the cranks being turned were on another person's bike later in the day. The wonders of editing.

Also, the man identified at "Pit Stop Manager" is none other than my boss and owner of Bikes@Vienna, John Brunow. You will find few folks more enthusiastic about bringing cycling to more people than John. While he's not a firebrand sort of radical advocacy type, he quietly goes about bringing more and more people into the joys of cycling every day.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Drizzly Bike to Work Day (or Too Many "Naked Bikes"*)

Well, today was Bike to Work Day in the DC area, and as usual, I was at the Vienna, VA pit stop as the designated mechanic at 6am. Our shop, Bikes@Vienna, sponsors that stop, so my boss John and I pitch in and do our bit. It's a lot of fun, and gives me a chance to help folks who are riding to work, sometimes for the first time ever.

The day dawned grey and drizzly, and a bit on the cool side, so I'm sure turnout was lower than we had hoped. Still, there were quite a few folks who stopped by to avail themselves of drinks and treats and coffee, as well as take a chance on a raffle prize. Not too many came to me for mechanical help...most of what I did was pump tires for people who hadn't thought of it before leaving home.

One thing that really struck me today was the nearly total absence of fenders on the bikes people were riding today. In light of my recent post about commuter bikes and my personal feelings about fenders, I suppose it's not surprising that I would notice this. Of all the bikes that stopped by, I'd guess only 7 or 8 had fenders of any kind, and about half of those were what I think of as "vestigial fenders"... those clip-on, partial coverage, minimally effective bits of plastic that so many people choose when they finally give in to the reality that it does, in fact, rain in this world. In fact, I really only saw one person "fully equipped" (in my opinion)... the gentleman on a Cannondale touring bike with full coverage fenders, rack, lights, cycling-specific rain gear and waterproof (really! waterproof!) Ortleib panniers.

But the best part of the day was the excitement and commitment of everyone who stopped by on their ride to work today. Here's hoping that they stick with it, at least some of the time. I'm sure some will... it would be nice to think this could be the start of something big, but I think it's a long way down the road.

* I borrowed the term "naked bike" from Joe Breeze, one of the pioneers of the mountain bike and head honcho of Breezer Bicycles, a company dedicated to transportation bikes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Feeling Like a Canary...

... not in a coal mine, no. On a bus actually.

Today was a rare occasion in that I decided to ride the bus, due to the heavy rain and wind we've been having here. But I figured I'd ride my bike home, as I had one at work anyway. So in addition to my basic jeans and shirt, I threw on one of my Burley cycling rain jackets, a bright yellow thing. And sitting on the bus with the rest of the commuters, I felt kind of... well, conspicuous. Everybody else here in the DC area wears muted colors in the rain... greys, tans, blacks... you get the picture. When I lived in Portland, OR, the "dress code" was more casual, and folks were more... well, outdoorsy. And there were a lot of cyclists, even on the buses, since the integration of bus and bike had occurred a number of years before. So I never really felt like I stood out when wearing my rain gear. Here though, I stand out like a sore thumb. I noticed it when I first arrived, honestly... every time I found myself standing on a subway platform on a wet or snowy day, I could scan both sides of the platform end to end and never see another soul dressed in anything like what I was wearing.

I guess you can just call me Big Bird. :-)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

So, What is a Commuter Bike? (part 1?)

This may be the first of several posts, depending on whether or not it spurs a discussion.

I've been pondering this question a lot lately, in part because we've had discussions at work about it. It seems like the U.S. is reaching a point where there might actually start to be demand for a commuter bike... but the question is, what makes a good commuter? It seems to be a tough answer to pin down, honestly.

The short answer is that ANY bike can be used for commuting, and that's proven every day. On my ride to work and in the shop, I regularly see a wide array of bikes being used to transport folks to their jobs. Pretty much everything from a coaster brake balloon-tire bomber to a high end carbon wonderbike gets used for commuting. And the owners seem at least content, if not down right happy with their choices. And there's nothing wrong with that... ride what you like, especially if it makes you more inclined to ride.

On the other hand, there are some features that I believe can enhance the utility of a bike for commuting purposes, and can make for a truly practical transportation vehicle. And in my opinion, it's all about utility and practicality and comfort in some combination.

To start with, I'm a big fan of larger cross-section tires. That is, larger than the typical go-fast road bike has (23 - 25 mm)... something along the lines of 28mm to 38mm seems ideal for pavement only commuting, and 38mm to 48mm for mixed surfaces. Why so fat you say? Don't those big ol' tires slow you down? Truth be told, they don't slow you down the way you think. Some tests even indicate larger volume tires can be as fast or faster than skinny tires. I won't wade into that argument, but I will tell you that in my experience, for commuting purposes, the wider tires are a net plus. The larger volume absorbs the shocks of cracks, rocks, potholes, etc, protecting both you and the bike from the impact. In particular, you're a lot less likely to damage the wheels with larger volume tires. This saves you money in the long run and makes it more likely that you'll get to work on time every day.

Second, a comfortable riding position. This means many things to many people. What is comfortable to the experienced roadie may be torture to the more casual rider. Generally speaking though, you want a position that is more upright than a typical road bike. This allows for greater comfort, and decreases the need for specialized cycling clothing, as well as generally making it easier to look around while riding, keeping alert to traffic conditions. A more upright posture generally requires a wider saddle than the stretched out racing position, but that does not necessarily mean the fattest saddle you can find.

Third, the ability to carry things ON the bike, instead of on your body. Now plenty of folks carry their commuting load in a back pack or a messenger bag, and some even prefer one or the other. Most riders, however, will find the ride more pleasant if the bike can carry the load. The most basic option would be a saddle bag or handlebar bag, for smaller loads, but those options are pretty limiting, and I'm of the opinion that the key to a good transportation bike is versatility.

Another good option is a basic rear rack, much like that used for bicycle touring. This can be used to support a wide variety of bags, from the basic "rack trunk" to "panniers", a style of bag that hangs on either side of the rack, lowering the center of gravity and providing a LOT of capacity.

Or perhaps even baskets, not widely favored in the US these days, but amazingly versatile. You can haul a lot of stuff in a basket, and they have the virtue of handling oddly shaped items better than most bags. There are even some that detach quickly and easily, allowing you to carry them in to a store for a quick shopping trip, for example.

Finally, and to many this is a shocking idea, fenders. You may have noticed that all of the bikes pictured here have fenders. Very few cyclists in the US even think of putting fenders on their bikes, and most modern road bikes don't make it easy or even possible to mount fenders. But take my word for it, they vastly improve the versatility of your bike, and make it possible to ride in virtually all conditions. You'd be amazed how much they help to keep you dry and comfortable in rain, as well as protecting your bike's vital parts from the ravages of weather. So forget the fact they don't look "cool" or fast... they are practical, sensible accessories that allow you to ride your bike more often, more comfortably.

Well, that's it for this installment. Feel free to comment, and perhaps this can become a conversation. If not, I'll just spout more of my opinions on the matter soon. :-)

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Nope, not a rant about motorists vs. bicyclists, although I'm sure one of those will come eventually.

No, today's post is about the odd couple I saw on Tuesday... on the roof of Bikes@Vienna, where I work...

I was taking a customer's bike out for a final check ride, when I heard the distinct sound of a goose close by. I looked around, and there he was, sitting on the roof.

At first I had no idea what he was carrying on about, with his insistent honking... then I looked at the roof of the neighboring building... and saw another goose, which I am guessing was his mate. She was just sitting quietly, looking around at the town, as near as I can tell, as sunset approached, not really paying a lot of attention to the other goose.

And then John brought Java, his labrador, downstairs... and she was immediately, acutely aware of the presence of waterfowl nearby. She planted herself right by the front of the building, looking longingly up at the roof! It took quite a bit of cajoling to get her to go inside.