Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Bike Commute of 2009

So I managed one last bike commute for 2009 using my brand new road bike this past Tuesday. This makes Bike Commute #6, cementing my one commute per month average since trying to get into a bike commute habit.

Thankfully we're on the other side of the winter solstice now, so the days are only getting longer from here out. Even though I've got head and tail lights, I wasn't too keen on riding in the dark evenings since the switch back to standard time. This last ride in the evening there was still enough lingering sunlight to see without lights, though I think still dark enough that lights were necessary to be seen.

I was quite surprised to make my ride into work at about 23 minutes flat! I think 28 minutes was my best time to date on my mountain bike. I usually was clocking in between 29 - 32 minutes, if my recollection serves me correctly. I finished the ride back in the evening at just about 25 minutes flat. This is great. If I can get into some decent riding shape, how much more time can I shave off? Dare I try to ride all the way from home again?


I'm hoping for more frequent riding in 2010, and to possibly do some longer distance riding outside my bike commute. I'll probably try to venture out for some solo rides and slowly test my boundaries for both climbing and distance. I'd like to do some formal and informal group rides, and maybe even a charity event ride. I'd like to go watch a cyclocross race, and if I'm really crazy into it, maybe get my own butt into a race. It's a little while until cyclocross season starts back up, so I have time to think about this. Feel free to try to talk me into or out of this idea.

To everyone that has read this silly little blog, even if this is the first post you've read, thanks for reading. I hope to improve not only my riding, but my writing in the year to come. To everyone who has taken the time to comment here, thanks for your kind words of advice and support. Honest thanks again to my wife for encouraging me to start bike commuting in the first place, and for letting me get a new bike in advance of my self-imposed 21 ride goal because she believed it might encourage me to ride more and really get in the habit.

Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A New Bike!

After all the deliberating, both public and private, I went out and bought a new bike. I am the proud new owner of a 2010 Masi Speciale CX. Detailed specs can be found at the Masi Bicycles web site.

I went to check out bikes at Cal Coast Bicycles on Wednesday, December 23. Thanks to Aaron, who helped me out and was extremely helpful. I didn't go in expecting to buy a bike that day, but they had the bike in my size and gave me a great deal. Due to a minor equipment glitch on the bike and the impending holiday, I didn't actually take the bike home until Saturday. That was cool, though, because that Saturday was actually my birthday, so it was quite a treat to be able to take home my new bicycle. The bike is a combined Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday/Happy New Year/Happy Bike Commuting gift from my lovely wife. Thanks, babe!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Narrowing the list

I've been thinking more about the bike I want. I think I will go steel...just because. Therefore I can immediately cross the few aluminum bikes off my list. I'll also pass on the disc brake and carbon fork bikes, which are probably overkill. I'll sneak the Handsome Devil in there, though I'd have to have that built up at a to be determined cost.

Here are the front-runners:
The Raleigh Clubman and the two Masi are all gorgeous bikes and at the top of my list right now. The Handsome is close behind. Masi is a San Diego-based company, so I like to factor that in. It is always nice to support the local guys. On the other hand, it is nice to support the little guys like Handsome (not that Masi are huge themselves). If I could do a comparable build of the Devil in that $1100 price range, it would be a tough call.
  • Bianchi Volpe - steel frame/fork, triple crank, Shimano Tiagra/Deore ($1099)
  • Surly Cross-Check - steel frame/fork, bar-end shifters, Shimano Tiagra ($1050)
  • Gary Fisher Lane - steel frame/fork, triple crank, Shimano 2300/Deore ($1099)
The Bianchi Volpe and Surly CrossCheck are both solid choices, but don't seem to have some of the flair of the previous bikes. The Fisher Lane is brand new to the market but is very much akin to the Volpe and CrossCheck. I admire Gary Fisher and how he's an ambassador for cycling of all types.
The Specialized Allez Steel could be a dark horse here. The Kona Honky Tonk appears a close cousin to the Allez. I think the geometry of these two are the sportiest of the bunch. Not that I really understand much about bicycle geometry, but they have the shortest wheelbase and chainstay length. They may not take fatter tires either. The downtube shifters of the Allez are certainly a throwback, but the price is not to be ignored, especially if it indeed has Reynolds tubing.  In 2009 the Honky Tonk also had downtube shifters, but for 2010 Kona switched to STI shifters. Whether that's an improvement depends on your perspective, I guess, but this bike also looks like a good value. I've not seen a local shop yet that carries Kona road bikes, though.

What to do, what to do?? Test rides would be an ideal start, I suppose...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Handsome Devil

No, I'm not talking about myself. I'm talking about this bike:

I remember visiting the website for Handsome Cycles some time ago, but I guess I wasn't really paying attention before. Though I would prefer to buy a complete bike, something about building a bike on this frameset is speaking to me at the moment.

I found a couple interviews with the guys from Handsome online and it seems they were inspired by the Bridgestone XO-1 when designing this frame as a versatile all-rounder. Because of that Bridgestone connection, I'm thinking this might be a poor man's Rivendell (albeit no lugs, just double-butted chromoly to keep it affordable). EcoVelo apparently has a review of the Devil forthcoming in the new year. I can't wait to read it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A New Bike...Part 3

My wife asked me tonight if I was getting a new bike for Christmas & my birthday (Dec. 26). Though I certainly want one, part of me feels that I haven't earned a new bike just yet. I am far from my initially stated goal of 21 habit-forming rides to work. My wife suggested that maybe a faster bike might make me ride more often. Maybe, but...
Hey, why am I even resisting this?? Well, partly because I am still undecided on what bike I want. Part of the problem is I fear that a lot of the bikes I'm considering might have to be special ordered without being able to ride the bike first. 

Here are the bikes by classification, with basic spec and price:

 Road Bike, rim brakes:
 Road Bike, disc brakes:
  • Kona Honky, Inc. - steel frame, carbon fork, Shimano 105, Avid BB7 discs ($1449)
  • Novara Buzz Road - aluminum frame, carbon fork, Shimano Tiagra, Avid BB7 discs ($999)
Gee, that's a lot of bikes to consider...

Friday, December 11, 2009

A New Bike for My Commute, Part 2

In Part 1 I talked about the type of bike I think I want to get for a commuter. In general I'm thinking about a drop-bar road bike. Probably a touring or cyclocross frame. Probably steel.

I have researched extensively about the Surly Cross-Check and Long Haul Trucker. I'll assume everyone knows about these bikes. There's nothing I could really add as I've never ridden one. Consensus seems to be these are great bikes for commuting and both come in around $1100 for a complete bike. I would lean toward the Cross-Check between the two; in fact, for awhile I was convinced this was the bike I wanted to get. There are some other bikes that have caught my interest more recently, though.

A funny anecdote I will share is about when I went to a San Diego-area bike shop (let's just say it's on Adams Avenue) and was talking to one of the shop guys about a getting a more road-oriented bike to supplant my mountain bike for commuting to work. I asked about the LHT, which they had on display. The guy helping me told me frankly that the LHT was "too much bike" to just use for commuting. I do understand the LHT was designed for loaded touring, so there is truth to that statement [Incidentally, over at Commute By Bike, the voting did end up with the LHT as the bike of choice for their "Perfect Commuter Bike"]. The thing was that I felt that he kept talking me off $1000 bikes (I asked about the Bianchi Valle, which they didn't have, and he also reluctantly pointed out a Raleigh Clubman, which they did have) and steered me toward a ~$600 Specialized/Globe Vienna. Maybe he felt he was doing me a favor recommending the cheaper bike based on the impression I was giving him. I took it for a test ride anyway. It was decent, a nice bike actually, but it wasn't the bike for me.

Now that I think about it, I went to the other bike shop on Adams Ave. on a different occassion (where I bought the touring tires I'm currently riding) and had a somewhat similar experience. There I actually did throw a leg over a Cross-Check (or was it an LHT?) and began probing the shop dude about his opinion on steel road bikes. He also ended up pointing me to an aluminum-framed, flat-bar hybrid. As I've stated,this is just not the type of bike I am after.

Since I'm now talking bike shops...I made a trip down to Velo Cult one time, as well. Really cool shop (not that the other two shops weren't cool). I explained what I was looking for there and was shown a couple different bikes. Guess what? This was the first shop where they didn't try to sell me on an aluminum hybrid! Well, the fact that they only sell steel bikes may have something to do with it, but, whatever. Score one for Velo Cult! I also asked about Xtracycles. They actually have an Xtracycle built up at the shop, which they'll apparently loan out for extended test riding. It's the only shop that I've ever visited where I've seen an Xtracycle. I've always been afraid to ask "regular" bike shops about Xtracycles for fear they'd have absolutely no clue what I was talking about.

Next post: less bike shop anecdotes, more bikes...

Friday, November 13, 2009

I officially suck

I will be the first to admit it.

I was just re-reading my last post and looking at my archive post list. I've averaged just one bike commute a month since I started this effort. That's pitiful. Especially when there are people out there going car-free for 30 days straight.

A New Bike for My Commute

I started the blog with this premise that, should I get in a routine habit of bike commuting, I would obtain a bike more purpose-built for the job. My aim was 21 bike commute rides to cement my cycling commitment as a habit. So why am I writing about a new bike since I am not even close to reaching my goal? Well, I haven't been riding the past couple weeks, so I need to write about something...

The blog Commute by Bike started a series recently called "A Group Build of Building Your Perfect Commuter Bike" that explores the characteristics of what makes a good commuter bike, and selecting a fantasy build for the writer, BikeShopGirl. Certainly there is no one-size-fits-all bike that will be best for every bike commuter. It is a worthy exercise nonetheless, as there tend to be some characteristics of what makes for a good commuter bike. It is also interesting to read about particular component or gear choices that you may not have known about. I am eager to see what turns up in the posts and comments. Since I started drafting this post, the series is well underway and they're going down the road of selecting a particular "touring" type frame, as voted by readers. You can follow along to see how that goes, but that initial question got me thinking about what I'd like in a new bike...

First, here's a little more background on my current bike...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PS - I biked to work

I had an email from my co-worker this morning, reminding me of our "completely fictional race." Click on the image to read.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The commute in pictures post

I rode to work this past Wednesday. I thought I'd take along a camera to try and take some photos along the way. Trying to take photos while riding with my iPhone is tough and it doesn't take very good pics when on the move. Plus, without any manner of wrist strap, there is a large enough probability that I could drop my iPhone and I'd rather not do that.

My wife had our Panasonic Lumix, which would have been nice with its wide-angle Leica lens (it's the ZS1, not the LX3, but still pretty good), especially for "panda" shots. I need some more practice with those. These pics were taken with an older Olympus Stylus. The main plus with this camera is that it is small and basically flat on all sides - it has no odd lumps or lens protrusions - so I could carry it in my shorts pocket without it being annoying. This camera is also supposed to be shockproof up to 5 feet, but they probably didn't test dropping it from a moving bicycle.

Here's my panda portraits. You might recognize my new Twin Six T-shirt (October T-shirt of the Month).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Competition, bike pumps, and kid seats

I had hoped to ride in today (Friday). Some things came up, but it just boils down to no bike commute today. I got to work to find out my co-worker (the eponymous "Cyclo-Cross") rode in today. Because of the furlough situation at work he has been taking Fridays off recently so I was surprised to see him there. That's two bike commutes for him this week and zero for me. I didn't intend to take this fabricated "competition" too seriously, but maybe my ego is not going to allow that.

BCMC Week 2 ends 3-2 in favor of CC. Boo!


In other more mundane developments, I took advantage of the sale at REI to finally get myself a floor pump. Up until now I've just made do with a mini pump. This is obvious, but, damn, the floor pump is much easier and quicker for inflating tires!


I was writing part of this post on my iPhone standing outside the local karate dojo, waiting for my kids inside. I saw a guy ride by with his son on the bike. Normally such a sight would make me smile. At first I thought the guy had his kid in an iBert child seat, but as I watched them go by I realized the kid was just sitting on the top tube and holding on to the handle bars. I can't even remember if the kid had a helmet or not. The dad did have a helmet, at least.

Worse than the carelessness which this parent displayed, is that this sight just reminded me how much I want an Xtracycle (how self-absorbed of me, I know). I have been flirting with the idea for quite a while now, but have been unable to pull the trigger. The Xtracycle folks finally released their purpose-designed child seat, the PeaPod LT, and they keep putting long tail kits on sale (how dare they). I do have my doubts about using an Xtracycle for my current drive-then-bike commute. Maybe after I get a second bike I can convert the current one to a long tail. Excuses, excuses.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bike Salmon and Rules of the Road

I was driving in to work and witnessed one of the bolder moves I’ve seen by a cyclist in awhile. This gentleman was riding northbound on Ruffin Rd. approaching the connection to Kearny Villa Rd. Before reaching the light at the intersection, he crossed all the traffic lanes on Ruffin (it was briefly clear of cars) to make the left where Kearny Villa veers off to parallel Hwy-163. I didn’t see exactly what he did beyond that, but for sure he was doing the ‘bike salmoning’ thing for a stretch.

Not sure what bike salmoning is? As far as I know, the term was coined by (or at least, gained prominence from) renowned blogger Bike Snob NYC, and is defined as riding against traffic, just as salmon are known to swim upstream. Anyway, it was certainly bad form in my opinion. From my personal experiences left turns at signaled intersections are intimidating. Sometimes I just pull onto the corner and use the cross walk. Anybody consider than a no-no for a cyclist?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bike Commute #4 in the bag

Despite the usual hiccups and delays in my morning prep, I made it out of the house in relatively good time and headed out for my multi-modal (car/bike) commute. I decided to break down my bike instead of trying to load it road-ready into the back of my car. This mainly means taking off the panniers and front wheel. While I fit my bike in last time fully loaded, I scuffed up my headliner a bit with my handle bar grips as well as broke off an adjustment handle on my son’s car seat. Oops. Loading went much easier with the front wheel off (duh!) and I managed not to forget anything.

The official Bike21 commute bike (for now)

At the park & ride lot, I got my bike ready. I had a minor lapse in remembering how to put my panniers back on. I hung the first bag on the opposite side from which I had originally fitted it, meaning it was too far forward on my rack. I switched it over and mounted the other bag; Now both panniers were in their position as far back on the rack as possible. I turned on my head and tail lights and headed off.
It was an uneventful ride down Black Mountain and Kearny Villa. This is not a complaint. I always get a little stressed when crossing over right turn lanes and exit ramps from the bike lane to move over into the through lane. Car traffic seemed lighter today, being a Friday, so I had no issues. I only saw two cyclists on the ride in. I always see cyclists heading north bound on Kearny Villa while I rarely encounter others heading south. I am not sure if I am just later than other riders or what, because I always get people passing me on the northbound ride in the afternoon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A challenge?

My co-worker is also a sometimes bike commuter. He's been riding to work on and off since he was hired over a year ago. His commute is only about 3 miles each way. When I started riding my bike to work I guess he was feeling a little inadequate because he felt I was doing much more miles than he was. The truth is that I'm only doing about double the miles per trip. He doesn't ride every day, but he certainly rides more often than I do.

He has jokingly quipped that he will have to ride so much more in order to match my mileage. If you have read this blog thus far you can guess that he is probably not far behind, if he hasn't actually already surpassed me in mileage.

Well I guess he wants to keep track, because the other day I saw this posted outside his cubicle.

If you can't decipher the chart, there are two columns with two names: Obi-Juan Kenobi (pretty sure that refers to me) and Cyclo-Cross (his last name is Cross). The heading reads "2010 Pre-Season*". The sub-text at the bottom reads:

*A completely fictional race between two completely fictional people. Any likeness or similarities to actual people or an actual race are unintentional and purely coincidental. However if it were an actual race, 9 out of 10 scientists agree Cyclo-Cross would win and Obi-Juan Kenobi would die from pneumonia induced complications as a result of inhaling so much dust.

I guess the gauntlet has been thrown.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Have some manners!

After the sorry excuses presented in my last post, the stars aligned and I was able to get one ride in this week. Hooray! It was a bit of a game time decision to go for the bike commute since the morning preparations that day were moving along a bit ahead of schedule.

It wasn't all gravy, though. I lost a good 5 minutes on my drive time since I had missed a turn I should've and could've made to get to the park-and-ride lot where I leave my car. I also got a bit nervous when it appeared that the lot was nearly full. Thankfully I did find a space to park and started to unload my bike. I hadn't really prepped much for the ride, so I did a quick check of tire pressure. Sure enough, the tires were a little soft. There went another couple minutes lost as I aired up the tires. With that done, I was ready to go, and set off down the road.

The ride into work was pretty uneventful. I did see a few cyclists going in the opposite direction, though encountered no one riding the same way I was. A couple of the guys gave me a friendly head nod, as to say, "Hey there, fellow comrade in cycling, way to go!" I reciprocated by signaling with a thumbs-up to say, "Hi, brother. Ride on!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Good habits are...hard to make

So let's recap: I decided to try to work cycling into my commute for all it's inherent benefits. I decided I would keep a blog about it. I came up with a name and theme for my blog that is tied to this concept of habits.
Perfect motivation I thought.

I went through a little effort to tweak the design and make a logo for my blog. I'd tested out the bike commute a couple times. My kid drop-off routine seemed (on paper) to be simplified since the kids were now at the same school.

Well, post-blog launch I think I've biked to work one and a half times. Or maybe just half a time (see bike commute #2), I can't remember exactly. However you count it, anything but a success to this point. It turns out I've had a harder time than I anticipated nailing down the morning routine so that I could leave early enough to bike to work. We went on vacation. Twice. I needed to pick up the kids in the afternoon (I don't usually). It's been hotter than hell this past August. I guess I don't need much of an excuse. Anyway, I will continue to try and figure this into my routine somehow.

On another front, my previous walk-kids-to-school habit, which has earned a massive FAIL in 2009, is beginning anew. I think we walked 4 of 5 days this past week. Even if the bike commuting venture becomes hopeless (not yet!) I will try to remain steadfast in the walking.

Then again I am tempted to just get an Xtracycle (PeaPod LT!) and just bike the kids to school. Hmmmmm...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Grocery run

Tonight I made a grocery run on my bike. I've picked up smaller items with a messenger bag before and also picked up takeout when I had the milk crate on my rack. With my new panniers I figured I could get two grocery bags worth no problem. The panniers are a bit tapered at the bottom, so I anticipated that I might have some issues fitting the grocery bags directly.

My list was fairly short but I was getting some bulky items including milk and cereal. I did my shopping and went through the self checkout so I could bag my own groceries in an attempt to get everything to fit without having to repack once I got to my bike. Milk and the cereal box turned out to be a tight fit. I had to strap the cereal on top of my rack otherwise I got both bags inside the panniers.

Here's the packed bike after getting home.

Here's the spread: milk, Lucky Charms, Eggo waffles, box of mini donuts, 5 chocolate milk boxes, apples, and Clementine oranges.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Short ride to work (Bike Commute #2)

Made a short ride today. I dropped off our van for service and rode to work from the dealership. This was also the maiden voyage with my new panniers. I loaded them up nicely with my clothes for the day, and there is plenty of room to spare. The major problem with the rack mounted crate was I couldn't swing my leg over the back when mounting/dismounting. Obviously this is no problem with panniers. I took pretty good care to mount the panniers as far back as possible, and I didn't notice any foot strike issues.

I also tested out the iMapMyRide iPhone app. Here's the route into work:

Officially, I'm calling this Bike Commute #2. I've yet to recount my first few unofficial bike commute rides and what I consider Bike Commute #1, but I will get to those soon enough.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The walking habit

I live about 16 miles from work. Due to the preschool/child care arrangement we had for about the past year or so I was dropping off my daughter at school very near our house, and then dropping off my son somewhere around the midpoint of my commute to work. With the school being so close to home (about 0.4 mile one-way on foot, though almost exactly within a 1/4 mile radius from home for any planning nerds out there) and in an effort to be less car-dependent and reduce my carbon footprint, I committed myself to walking the kids to the school to do the drop-off in the morning. And by walking the kids, I mean pushing them in a stroller. There were a few rare days where the kids actually made the walk themselves, but mostly they were along for the ride as I walked them to school.

From when I started in mid-July 2008 until the end of the year I only used the car twice to make the trip to the school. Pretty good, I thought. I definitely got into the walking habit. That's not to say it was a huge accomplishment in the larger scheme of things. I'm sure there are people who take their kids to school car-free everyday and don't make any big deal about it. And then, after the holiday break, the walking in 2009 didn't go so well. By February 4 I had already doubled the number of non-walking days from that last half of 2008. Eventually I stopped keeping track of how many days I used the car, and instead was counting how many days I walked. As an alternative to walking I also had started to bike myself and the kids to the school with the use of a borrowed bicycle trailer. Unfortunately that had to end since the hitch set up was putting undue stress on my rear axle due to its design. The lesson learned is that some habits can be easily broken. Perhaps more truly, the lesson is that bad habits can quickly return.

Next post, I look back at the initial bike commute test ride and two more commutes that really got this idea rolling for me to try this on a more regular basis. As it currently stands, I've neither started bike commuting nor blog posting with any regularity. I hope to change that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My history with bikes

My fondest childhood memory of bicycle riding was helping my cousin out with his paper route when we were still in elementary school. Getting up before the crack of dawn, we'd get on our bikes and, with no cars around, we owned the road. It was so liberating, so empowering. Somehow between then and now I lost sight of that joy and freedom that cycling can bring.

I had a Giant mountain bike my dad bought for me in 90's. The whole family got them, in fact. We took our bikes camping a couple times, but really I never rode much, and never did any real mountain biking. I went away to college; it was a perfect time to use a bike. Never once did I ride a bike in college. I only ended up taking my old bike from my parent's house once I had graduated and gotten a house of my own. Still, I never rode it. I even worked for five years a mere 4 miles from home. I finally sold that old bike after it gathered dust in my garage for a few years.

Fast forward...I entered grad school for city/urban planning. I still really didn't get cycling as a viable mode of transportation until very recently, a few years out of school. I'll probably get into planning aspects of cycling a little deeper in future posts.

A year or two ago I began getting more interested in owning a bike again. Initial intentions were to use the bicycle purely for recreation/fitness. In the course of doing internet research (i.e. obsessing) I somehow ran across the website for Xtracycle. Wow! Seeing and learning about this cargo bicycle movement really opened up my eyes to the possibilities of using a bike for everyday things. Bicycle commuting began creeping into my mindset.

I eventually purchased a mountain bike in summer 2008. I used it as intended out on the trails and enjoyed it alot, though I can safely say I've not developed into an avid trail rider. My conditioning and endurance is still lacking. When I can, I do some fairly short fitness rides around the neighborhood. It was, and still is, tough finding the time to ride, so I've truthfully not been in the habit of riding (yet).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Introduction: What is Bike 21?

They say you develop a habit by doing something for 21 days. This blog is about my attempt to make a habit of bike commuting. Well, obviously that means I'm gonna see if I can ride to work for 21 days and more. I'm not aiming to ride everyday, but maybe a couple times a week. Plus, my wife says I can get a new bike if I make it 21 days!

It turns out the number 21 also has some interesting trivia/meaning to it:
  • 21 is the sum of the first six integers (1+2+3+4+5+6=21)

  • 21 is a Fibonacci number

  • 21 is the legal gambling & drinking age in the United States, both great habits. Oh, wait...

  • 21 was the number worn by the great Pittsburgh Pirate Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente

  • It's the 21st Century