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Category Archives: Gear Talk

How to Fix a Flat in 10 Minutes Flat

“Are there thorns over here?” Lorri asked as we rolled on the dirt and gravel paths criss-crossing the Guadalupe River Trail. We had peeled off the San Jose Bike Party Ladies Ride and were searching for the rose garden on our way back to the train. I felt like a kid again, exploring the trails along Bayou Duplantier with my best friend Molly. Except this time Lorri and I were in dresses and heels. Momma never let me play in my Sunday best.

“Mmm, maybe,” I replied. Our fear wasn’t so much thorns in the rose garden, but the dreaded goathead thorns that sneak onto the path to take down the burliest of bike tires. After meandering a bit, we found the rose garden, took some fashion photos, and made it almost all the way to the train station before Lorri’s tire went flat. We scurried onto the train where Lorri went to work repairing the tire while I offered moral support.

Fixing Flat Main

By the time we reached Sunnyvale she was done. The conductor was impressed: “You fixed it already?”

“I’m a pro,” Lorri replied matter-of-factly. As founder of Velo Girls bike club and racing teams 10 years ago, Lorri has changed more than her share of bike tires. She’s also founder and owner of Savvy Bike, which offers skills clinics, coaching and bike fit services that go far beyond a simple flat tire repair (class calendar).

Here’s how Lorri fixes a flat, adapted from her Bike Skills 002: Basic Bicycle Maintenance class. For more detailed instructions and for complicated fixes like a gash in the tire’s sidewall, read the long version.

Don’t forget to clean your hands when you’re done! I keep tissue-sized rag in my repair kit just for that. A squirt of water on the rag, a little rubbing, and I’m good until I can soap up in a washroom. Momma would approve.

How confident are you in your bike repair skills? Do you have any favorite tips of the trade?

Lorri's new love is the 1979 Schwinn Suburban she picked up in Portland.

 
21 Comments

Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Gear Talk

 

Bike Spotting: Fat Free and Electric by NTS Works

My buddy Richard and I often bump into each other commuting on the Guadalupe River Trail, but this encounter was planned. Richard was test riding the NTS Works Fat Free electric-assist bike and I wanted a closer look. I happened to be riding my road bike that day, so I wasn’t wheezing to keep up with him on his beefed-up bike.

As more and more people are turning to bicycles for their daily transportation needs, electric bikes (also known as e-bikes) are getting more and more attention. E-bikes give a boost of power that can take the bite out of steep hills, make carrying kids or cargo less of a grind, and take the sweat out of going faster or further. For some, it means changing a sufferface into a happy face. But not Richard, he smiles all the time regardless.

NTS e-bike portrait

Unlike some e-bikes that operate by throttle, the Fat Free is a pedal-assist e-bike. That means that when you pedal, the motor automatically kicks in, and when you stop pedaling the motor stops too. How big a boost you get is based on which of the 5 levels of assist you choose from the handlebar control. Richard says he can comfortably maintain 18-20 mph, but he kept it at 15-16 mph while riding the trail with me. Lucky me.

I rode alongside Richard for four miles and forgot to ask to test it for myself, but did get a quick ride at an e-bike event at the Los Altos History Museum. It felt powerful, like having an instant tailwind adding to my efforts. Richard gave it the full run down with a ride from his home in Scotts Valley 30+ miles up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains to his job in San Jose. Check out his video review on the NTS Works web site.

What do you think of e-bikes? Would you consider owning one? Why or why not?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 28, 2014 in Gear Talk

 

Roll Up Bike Repairs at the Mountain View Library

Libraries are lending more than books, music and DVDs these days. In Oakland and Berkeley, the libraries lend home and garden tools. In Ann Arbor you can borrow artwork and yard games. And in Rhode Island you can check out fishing poles, complete with tackle boxes. Here in Mountain View, our public library is now offering a bike repair station loaded with tools. Not for loan, but available on a roll up basis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Bike Stand Wide

While many of us have garages or spare rooms equipped with bike stands, floor pumps, and tools of every sort, the streets are filled with bikes that could use a little tender loving care. For them, this bike fix-it station made by Dero is a great resource. It’s well-stocked, sturdily built and ready for budding bike mechanics.

The Mountain View Public Library’s Bike Stop Fix-It Station is just one in its series of bike programs. On Saturday, July 12, 2014, they’re hosting Bike Fest on-site in their outdoor areas. Volunteers from Safe Mountain View will set up a demonstration protected bike lane like this one. If you’re local, stop in and check it out.

Location: 585 Franklin Street, Mountain View, California, USA.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Gear Talk

 

Gear Talk: An Upstanding Kickstand for Roadies

The lowly kickstand is the Rodney Dangerfield of bike parts. It don’t get no respect. And honestly, on road bikes designed for performance, not carrying gear, the benefit is outweighed by the cost of carrying the extra weight, the risk of frame damage on bikes with lightweight tubing, and the social stigma in roadie bike culture.

But there are times where a kickstand on a road bike is pretty darn handy, like when my friend Lorri Lown teaches her Savvy Bike bike clinics. In outdoor sessions she found herself hopping on and off the bike as she explained things, and it was awkward to lay her bike down just to pick it up again. So she got an Upstand.

I thought it was so cool so I got one and installed it on Dick’s Phil Wood road bike before its photo shoot.

Upstand in Action Wide

In the up position, it looks similar to the chainstay mounted kickstand I have on my touring bike. But you don’t kick the upstand to start rolling. Instead, you remove the carbon-fiber upstand from its tiny attachment tab installed on the rear wheel’s skewer, gently tugging to release the tiny magnet that holds it in place.

Upstand Mount Wide

The upstand is shock-corded like a backpacking tent pole, so you can fold it and put it in your jersey pocket for the ride. The attachment tab is a mere 15 grams and the upstand is only 25 grams, so even the biggest weight weenie can’t complain. How stable is is? Align the tab correctly and I’d say it’s pretty darn stable.

Upstand in Jersey Pocket

The Upstand is perfect for photo shoots on bikes without kickstands. But as for real-world use, I’ll have to switch it to my road bike to test it out and let you know how it goes.

Do you have a kickstand on your bikes? If so, which ones and why? If not, would you consider an Upstand?

 
5 Comments

Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Gear Talk

 

Shop by Bike: Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

Because of attention this blog has received from dedicated readers like you, I’m getting requests for stories from other media outlets. I’ve been writing a thrice-monthly Bike Fun blog for Mountain View Voice since May. Starting next week I will be contributing to Pedal Love, a California-based site dedicated to the joy of bicycling. And soon, one of my bike travel stories will be featured on Adventure Cycling’s Bike Overnights. Occasionally, I’ll cross-post content here, but to keep up with all I write, please bookmark these sites or follow me on Twitter. For those dealing with holiday shopping (and traffic), here’s my latest from Bike Fun in the Voice.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer. It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare, big load shopping trips.

Little Trailer

But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa, for my fun bike toy.

Microwave in Trailer

If you’re new to or haven’t done much shopping by bike, here are some tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most are built to carry 40 pounds or more.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

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6 Comments

Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 

Make It Your Own: Jessica’s Custom Trike Crate

Jessica’s grandfather must be proud of her. A German immigrant who made his living as a cabinet maker, he knows the satisfaction of sawing, nailing and sanding to build something practical and attractive using his own two hands. I know I was impressed by the cargo crate she built for her trike. It seems the basket that came with her trike didn’t meet the standards of a craftsman’s granddaughter so she hand-built herself a new one.

Portrait

Jessica built the custom crate because the original basket wasn’t big enough or sturdy enough for everything she wanted to carry, like groceries, gardening supplies, and most importantly hay and feed for her bunnies.

Location: Horace Mann neighborhood, Downtown San Jose, California, USA.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Bike Gallery, Gear Talk

 

One Bike Fits All: A Quick Review of Bike Share Bikes

Imagine you’ve been asked to design a bicycle for short urban trips to be used by everyone: from infrequent riders to experienced cyclists, from college students to retirees, from 5 feet tall riders to those well over 6 feet. That was the challenge faced by Michel Dallaire and his team at Devinci Bikes who designed the Bixi bikes used throughout North America: Montreal, Washington D.C., New York City, Toronto, Minneapolis, Ottawa and Chicago, plus London and Melbourne. And very soon we’ll be riding them in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dick & Megan 2

The seafoam-colored Bay Area Bike Share bikes are not available for viewing yet, but they sent a sample bike from the Capital Bikeshare program in Washington D.C. so folks here could get a look. The Bay Area bikes will be very similar. The main difference is in the paint and the gearing. San Francisco has hills, you know.

My friends and I were lucky enough to get a chance to test ride them last week. We’re all daily cyclists, which means we can be a fussy group to please. And we clearly span the gamut in terms of sizes and shapes. Here are a few first impressions about the bikes after short spins outside the Diridon Caltrain station in San Jose and at a street fair in Mountain View, two of the five cities participating in the bike share program.

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One intital concern the riders had was the weight of the bike. They’re made to be sturdy and 42 pounds sounds heavy, but as Dick said, you don’t really notice the weight when you’re riding it. It just feels slower. Jarrett and Dick also noted how convenient the step-through frame was, something most of the ladies already knew.

The bikes are intended for short trips, not to be carried on Caltrain. But since they’re showing off the bike at bike share locations along the Caltrain corridor, it only makes sense to take the bike on the train for the tour. At 42 pounds you might think lugging it aboard would be too hard, but not for Megan. Look at that girl go!

Have you ridden bike share bikes in another city? What was the ride what you expected?

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Gear Talk

 
 
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