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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Calculating the Cost of Car Ownership

Every couple of months when I fill my car with gas I’m reminded how much money I save by riding my bicycles around town instead of driving my car. While it’s nice to save money on gas, what I appreciate more is not having to take my car in for service so often. Last week my car hit the 5,000 mile mark since its last oil change, so I took it in for service for the first time in years. Two years to be exact.

I hate taking my car in for service because they always recommend fixing something beyond the simple oil change or rotating tires. My 45,000 mile intermediate service only cost $233, but a leaking battery, worn front brakes and a little grease around CV boots brought the estimate up to $843. Ouch.

If I were driving the typical 15,000 miles a year, I’d be doing this intermediate service annually. Just one of the factors that makes car ownership so expensive. According to a calculator from Edmunds owning a Subaru Outback like mine in my area costs $50,000 to operate for five years after adding maintenance, repairs, insurance, financing and gas costs to the cost of the vehicle. That’s $10,000 per year. Double ouch.

Suddenly the $200 I spent last week on a pro tune-up, new brake pads and chain for Zella, my errand bike, seems really cheap. I don’t know her mileage, but I’ve had her almost 20 years and this is her first service beyond her replacing her tires and brake pads at the 10 year mark. Bikes are simpler than cars, that’s for sure.

The good news is that at my current rate of 1200 miles per year (what typical drivers do in a month, incidentally) I won’t hit the 60,000 mile major service for over 10 years. Now that makes me smile.

Do you track how much you spend on your car each year? What do you think costs the most: insurance, gas or maintenance and repairs? (Check out Edmunds calculator for your car to see what they estimate)

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

A Makeover and Spa Treatment for Zella Mae

Like most cyclists, few things are more exciting to me than getting a new bike. The downside is that you can only store or ride so many bikes and it’s hard to let go of one you’ve grown attached to. So an old bike gets relegated to “rain bike” or “errand bike” status, like Zella Mae, my first adult bike, a ’93 Specialized Hard Rock.

I ride Zella when it’s wet outside or I need to lock up at places where I’d never leave Juliett, my glamorous Dutch bike. To suit her workhorse role, I’ve upgraded Zella here and there over the years. First it was a rear rack, then full fenders and flat pedals–upgrades needed to get the job done.

Because she works hard and doesn’t get special treatment, I named her Zella Mae after my grandmother’s maid. The original Zella Mae cooked, served and cleaned up for our large family on holidays and special occasions, chattering away in a mix of Creole French and English. Looking back, I wonder when and how she celebrated the holidays with her own family since she spent most of them serving us.

Last week I decided to upgrade Zella again with a chainguard to keep her drivetrain a little cleaner this winter. While I was at it, I paid for a pro tune-up where they replaced all the cables and brake pads, overhauled the bottom bracket and the headset bearings, and cleaned the drivetrain in the solvent tank. Zella got the ultimate spa treatment. It probably cost me more than she would sell for on Craigslist (not that I would).

In the end, the chainguard didn’t work with the bottom bracket so they couldn’t install it. But at least Zella got a day of luxury and she’s riding much better these days for the special attention. While I was pampering her, I found a wire handlebar basket that looks great and works great too. It’s the least you can do for those who take on the dirty jobs and keep working hard day after day.

Have you held on to an old bike even after you replaced it? What do you use it for?

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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Around Town

 

Fashion Friday: Back to Work Week

A classic tailored suit and accessories that mean business get me in gear for my new role as a marketing consultant.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Cycle Fashions

 

Tour of Abandoned Alviso

Have you ever been strangely attracted to a place for no apparent reason? Somewhere that feels like home even though you’ve never been there before, except perhaps in a previous life? For Dick, that place is Alviso, a community that rises out of the mudflats at the bottom of San Francisco Bay.

Between its mobile home parks and abandoned buildings, Alviso doesn’t look like much today. But in the 1800s its port was the hub for the Santa Clara Valley, with steamboats bringing passengers and goods on daily trips from San Francisco. Alviso was first home to a mill that produced up to 300 barrels of flour a day, then a fruit cannery after the valley filled with orchards. During the depression, what was once the US’s 3rd largest cannery closed, the salt pond operations expanded, the port silted up and the town’s regional economic role declined.

What’s left of Alviso is ordinary–even ugly–to most people, but intriguing to my husband, who rides out to Alviso almost every week. I recently joined him and brought along a new camera to see if I could capture the charm of Alviso, Silicon Valley’s most neglected historic town.

Is there a place that is special to you in a way that is hard to explain, even to people who know you well?

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Backroads, Local History

 

Defender of the Fender for Road Bikes

A great wind arose, dark clouds rolled in and the rain came down. Our two month drought ended overnight with over two inches of rain. The skiers and snow boarders rejoiced, while the road cyclists pondered: ride outside or spin indoors? When you need a solid 3-4 hours of riding for your training plan, the choice is easy.

Even though the storm wasn’t quite finished, our Solvang Century training group hit the soggy litter-strewn roads for our third weekly training ride. Fortunately, we were equipped with critical, often underrated, wet weather gear: fenders. I strapped fenders on my bike before I left home, brought a spare pair for Jill, and convinced Cindy and Katie to make last minute purchases at The Bicycle Outfitter before we shoved off.

When the roads are wet, fenders keep your butt from sitting in a soggy chamois and your back from sporting an embarrassing mud stripe. They also keep your riding partners’ faces from being spattered like a Jackson Pollack painting. No one likes riding a teammate’s wheel when it’s spewing a rooster tail of road grime.

When we made our first bathroom stop, we could already see the gunk inside of our fenders–gunk that would have been all over our backsides and faces.

These days there are fenders available to fit performance road bikes that go on and off in seconds. So you don’t have to look like a bike commuter 24/7. Mine are RaceBlades from SKS, but Planet Bike makes SpeedEZ fenders that are similar. Both use nifty rubber bands that conform to the shape of your fork or seat stays and most importantly STAY PUT, even after bouncing through potholes hidden underneath the puddles.

We lucked out and only got a few sprinkles on the ride. Even more lucky was that no one flatted, which was surprising given the amount of leaves and branches littering the road. Because of the sloppy conditions, we altered our route to avoid the hills and spare ourselves a slippery, potentially dangerous descent. Still, we got in 52 miles on rolling terrain, and our butts stayed drier and our faces cleaner thanks to our fenders.

What’s your strategy when the rain comes? Stay inside or brave the elements, perhaps with special gear?

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Backroads, Gear Talk

 

Bike Date Frugal: Sweet Deals About Town

I’ve never been one to clip coupons, even back in the day when I lived in a studio apartment and had to save for three months to buy my first microwave oven. Ditto for waking up early for day after Thanksgiving sales and being the seventh caller to radio stations for concert tickets. And when my friends and co-workers would swap stories about the daily deals they had bought on Groupon, I had no interest in signing up.

But when I saw that Dine About Town was returning this year, my mouth started watering. During the two short weeks of Dine About Town, the finest San Francisco restaurants offer prix fixe meals at a bargain $17.95 for a two-course lunch and $34.95 for a three-course dinner. Over 100 restaurants are participating this year, including Michelin-starred Campton Place, a personal favorite. It was worth the train ride to the city.

I love top-tier restaurants for their service. Our waiter Paul was a “dining concierge” with insider information for a customized dining experience. “Don’t get the salad, you can have that at home. The soup is divine,” he said. “If you’re allergic to mushrooms, you can still have the soup since they go in at the end. But skip the short ribs; the glacé is made with mushrooms. Have the sea bass.” He also selected the wine flight we split: a white with a crisp crabapple nose for the soup course, and a somewhat oaky chardonnay for the sea bass.

Dick didn’t need any help selecting dessert, a chocolate cake with a scoop of raspberry sorbet. I was lucky to get a spoonful. Total bill was $73 before tip, which was a fat one per Paul’s excellent guidance. Not a cheap meal, but significantly less than what we’ve spent on bike dates at restaurants of a lower caliber.

We’ve also found deals closer to home, like a Groupon-style deal for Taverna Bistro that popped up when I was looking for a restaurant on Yelp last week: $12 for a $20 credit at the restaurant. The restaurant looked interesting anyway and I like Murphy Avenue, a quaint single block that Sunnyvale preserved when the city replaced its historic downtown with a shopping mall in the 1970s.

As the Yelp reviews indicated, the meal was quite good. And the deal was easy to redeem by giving the waitress the code from the Yelp app on my iPhone. So easy, if fact, that I’m now signed up for Groupon and LivingSocial. We’ll see where that takes us next.

Are you a deal hound or is it too much to deal with? Is there a particular type of deal you just can’t pass up?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Bike Date

 

Fashion Friday: Lunch Date in the City

What to wear for a hot date in the city on a chilly day? Skinny jeans and layered knits topped by a satin car coat. Calfskin gloves, a print scarf, heeled booties and touches of animal print complete the look.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Cycle Fashions

 

My First Century of the Decade

Peer pressure is a powerful thing. My friends are all gung-ho and signed up to ride the Solvang Century so that means I am too. I don’t want to miss out on a girls’ weekend, even if that means 100 miles in the saddle.

Not that I’m a stranger to riding centuries. I don’t know how many I’ve completed since my first, the Tierra Bella Century in 2003. (I’m guessing close to a dozen) Tierra Bella included a bitchy two mile, 10% grade climb up Metcalf Road, a harsh initiation into the often painful, butt-numbing world of century road rides.

At Solvang I’ll be riding with Jill and Cindy C, two hardcore mountain bike friends who are going over to the lycra-clad roadie dark side with brand-spanking-new bikes of the skinny-tired variety. Solvang will be their first century and they’re leading the charge with a weekly training plan. So there I was on Saturday morning, braving the cold to meet the gang for our ride. I wasn’t nearly as excited as Jill. It must have been the new bike.

Not that I’m complaining. I love riding with my girlfriends and road trips and girls’ weekends out. And Solvang is not the hardest century around. Compared to centuries like the Sequoia Century (2007) and Shasta Century (2006), which climbed around 10,000 feet, Solvang’s 4,000 feet should be a walk in the park. Still, I haven’t ridden a century since the Holstein Hundred in 2008, so I’ll need to get my ride-all-day groove back on.

What are your training goals for the spring? What motivates you to get up early and ride in the cold and the wet?

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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Backroads

 

Yes, Sir. I’m a Military Wife

Because I met my husband after he had retired from the Coast Guard, I’ve never considered myself a military wife. I guess Dick didn’t either since he never bothered registering our marriage with the military. But there are valuable benefits to being a military spouse, so we pedaled across town to Moffett Field to get my first military identification card. In 20 short minutes and after a little playful ribbing from the clerk, it was official.

I proudly showed my newly minted card to the guard at the main gate and we rolled onto the base for a quick tour. Having lived for decades next to Moffett Field, I had only been on base and up close to the imposing Hangar One a few times. Built in the 1930’s to house dirigibles, Hangar One is so massive that folks say clouds form inside. Unfortunately, its shell contains PCBs, asbestos and other harmful substances. Once slated for demolition, they’re tearing off the toxic shell instead while they search for someone to fund the renovation.

Then we stopped in at the commissary to check out the selection and the prices. The commissary system sells groceries at cost with a 5% surcharge to cover operating expenses. The first item I saw was Peet’s coffee: $5.99 for a 12 ounce bag. A 20 oz bag of peeled and cleaned shrimp was $6.79. At those prices, we filled the panniers for $56. When I got home I compared the prices online with Safeway: $85. Wow.

For those military families (both young and old) that struggle to make ends meet, a 35% discount is invaluable. When they closed the commissary at the Presidio ten years ago, it must have been a huge blow to families in San Francisco and Oakland. The commissary at Moffett Field is 40 miles south, and the one at Travis Air Force Base is 60 miles northeast. Too far to be worth the trip.

But the most valuable benefit of being a military spouse is that I’m covered by TRICARE, the military health care program, which means I won’t have to pay $500+ per month for COBRA. I haven’t visited the doctor yet, but I discovered this morning that the co-payment on my allergy drugs went down from $30 to $12. Thank you, Uncle Sam! And thank you, Dick, for your years of service to our country.

What benefits or perks do you get from your job that you value the most?

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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Around Town, Local History

 

Fashion Friday: Gal About Town

Credit union, tailor, shoe repair, computer store and then out to lunch. This gal about town looks sharp and stays comfy in her bright T-shirt, ruffled cardigan, flared leg jeans and heeled booties, while her essentials stay safe in her stylish new bike bag, on Juliett.

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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Cycle Fashions

 
 
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