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Category Archives: 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

 

Katie Pimps Her Ride as a Grocery Getter

This post is an excerpt of the Bike Fun story I wrote for the online edition of the Mountain View Voice today.

When people think of bicycling for practical reasons, bike commuting usually comes to mind first. But since work commutes are often the longest trips we make all week, it may make more sense to bike around town for short errands at the pharmacy, post office, bank, coffee shop or grocery store instead. While it’s easy enough to slip a bottle of pills into your pocket or a small package to mail into a backpack, for errands like groceries you’ll want a bike that’s set up to carry a load. You need what my friend Katie calls a grocery getter.

My friend Katie works as the marketing director at Giro, which means she has all the hottest performance-oriented bicycles: sleek road bikes, plush mountain bikes and a custom cyclocross bike so hot it made the rounds as a display bike at trade shows internationally. What she didn’t have was a practical bike for errands. But she did have her 1995 Trek Mt Track 850 in the back of her garage.

Before the Transformation

With a little work and the same cost as two trips to the gas pump we gave her old bike a new life as a grocery getter. First, we pumped her tires, checked the brakes, cleaned and lubed the chain and wiped the bike down. Then we replaced her worn saddle with a spare she had on hand, and rode a couple of miles to her local bike shop to get geared up. She chose a basic rear rack, grocery-specific panniers and a kickstand which we installed ourselves in less than 30 minutes. Total cost: about $120.

We tested out her new rig with a quick trip to the grocery store and discovered a quieter route on the way back. Katie was thrilled. “I live within 2 mile of all the stores I need: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, coffee, restaurants, the farmers market. Doing errands by bike makes sense,” she said. “Panniers rock.”

Katie and her Grocery Getter

If you’re a cyclist that doesn’t have a grocery getter, go get one. Doing errands is so much easier with the right equipment. And when it’s not your prized bike you don’t worry as much when you lock it up outside a store. You probably have an unloved bike in the back of your garage that’s itching to get back on the road. For tips on recommended gear and how to shop by bike, read the full article in the Mountain View Voice.

Do you have a bike set up for carrying groceries or other big loads? What’s the most you’ve ever carried?

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11 Comments

Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 

Trendy Tuesday: Pep on Her Peppy Little STRiDA

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and indeed it is when the execution is top-notch. I was thrilled to see that Pep, a local blogger and hard-core roadie, dedicated a recent post to her trendy folding bike and her personal bike style à la Fashion Friday. I love the way she pulls together classic pieces in neutral colors with a chunky knit scarf, and how the ensemble highlights her silvery mane and bright white little bike.

Peppy Little Strida

Every morning, Pep rides her STRiDA bike to a shuttle stop where she quickly folds it up and hops on one of her company’s fleet of private buses. It’s quick and easy, much better than driving or riding the whole way.

Folding bikes are hot these days because they solve “last mile” issues for suburban transit users as well as “no space” issues for urban dwellers. How hot? Well, my most popular post of all time is by far a review of the Bromptons Dick and I rented in London. If you haven’t tried a foldie, you have no idea how amazing they are.

For more details on Pep’s STRiDA bike and her stories of riding the backroads of the San Francisco Bay Area, check out her About Pep blog. Her photo-driven tutorial on descending is worth the visit alone.

All photos in this post are courtesy of Pep of About Pep and are used with her permission.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 2, 2013 in Cycle Fashions, Gear Talk

 

Finding the Right City Bike for You

My friend Deb called me last week: “I want a city bike for my birthday. Which ones should I look at? Where did you get yours?” First, I gave her the names of three of my favorite local shops that specialize in city bikes: A Street Bike Named Desire in Palo Alto, and Public Bikes and My Dutch Bike in San Francisco.

Then I started rattling off everything I’d learned in the past two years of transportation cycling, and what Dick and I learned from our recent city bike purchases. The more we chatted, the more I realized how many features we looked for when we bought our city bikes and how different it was than buying a road or mountain bike.

Don’t Be a Weight Weenie. When buying a road bike, the first thing most buyers do is pick it up. Road bikes are designed for speed and distance, and lighter weight can mean winning a race or finishing a century ride before they close the course. City bikes are designed to carry things so they need a heavier frame. And they’re designed for shorter distances, where slower speeds don’t make a big difference. Of course, if you have to carry it up stairs to an apartment or you live on a steep hill, you may want to check the weight. Just don’t obsess.

Frame the Question. You’ll need to decide whether you want a traditional diamond frame or a step through frame, aka a men’s bike or a women’s bike. Not that the decision lies with gender. Men sometimes choose a step-through so they don’t have to lift their leg high over the top tube. Women, especially ones who don’t wear skirts, sometimes choose the diamond frame. Side note: mixte frames are said to be named for “mixed gender.”

Upright, Not Uptight. Pedaling while upright feels odd at first if you’re used to a more aggressive position. You’ll still want to adjust the seat height and perhaps lower the bars a bit, but there’s little need for precise fitting. You won’t be bent over on the bike for hours and you won’t be locked into a single position on your pedals. So you won’t need to switch your stem or pull out a plumb bob to align your saddle to your pedals.

Size Matters, But Not So Much. Because they don’t require such precise fitting, city bikes come in fewer sizes. You’ll know the size is right if you don’t feel crowded between the seat and handlebars or too stretched out. If the bike is too small you may feel perched too high once your saddle is adjusted to the right height. And if you’re sitting on the top tube, your frame is too big. Nothing new there.

Gear Up. Most city bikes have 3-8 gears with a reasonably wide range. If you live in a city with steep hills, buy accordingly. But gear ratio range matters more than the number of gears, and it can be hard to know the range without a test ride. City bikes often have internal gear hubs, which protect the gears from street grime and protect your clothing from gear grime. Internal gear hubs are more expensive than derailleur-based gearing.

Try Before You Buy. As with any bike purchase, a test ride will tell you a lot. Is it easy to get on and off? Is it the right size? Does it feel balanced and track straight? Does it brake well? Does it shift well? Does it seem well-built? Do you feel “one with the bike?” Did riding it make you smile?

A Lasting Relationship. Consider the bike shop and its staff. They should be knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and take time to answer your questions. If they primarily sell other types of bikes, make sure they value city bikes and understand their specific needs. If they tell you that you don’t need a kickstand or fenders, go elsewhere. Finally, if you don’t like the staff enough to want to go back to the shop, don’t buy the bike there.

What was most important to you when you bought your last bike? If money were no object, would you have bought something different?

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P.S. Here are some great city bike shops Dick and I have visited on our travels:

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 

What Makes a Bike a City Bike?

Maybe it’s the warm weather or the long days, but in the last month I’ve had more requests from friends about city bikes: What should I look for? Which bikes do you recommend? Where should I go to buy one? Considering these questions came from experienced road racers that taught me bike skills over the years, I was flattered.

Before I can answer what bikes I recommend or where to find one, let’s start with the basics: Just what makes a bike a city bike anyway? First, a city bike is designed for cross-town trips in street clothes–you’ll hop on and pedal away. City bikes are not about riding your fastest or getting a workout. They’re about getting from point A to point B with minimal preparation. City bikes are about dressing for the destination, not the ride.

This means that city bikes have details that performance bicycles–both road and dirt–don’t have, either because they add weight or get in the way when you’re hucking off a boulder. First on the list are flat pedals. How can you hop on and go if you have to change shoes or clack around in shoes that have cleats at your destination?

Next is a basket or rack to carry your briefcase, your groceries, your purse or your jacket. If you carry things on your bike, you’ll want a kickstand. It’s too much work to balance the bike when you’re loading gear. And city bikes have upright geometries, so you can relax as you pedal and have a clear view of the city around you.

A good city bike also comes with handy features that few bikes for sale in North America offer:

  • Fenders: if you want to ride in the rain or after a rain
  • Front and rear lights: if you want to ride after dark
  • Chain guard: if you want to ride in pants
  • Step-through frame: if you want to ride in a dress
  • Bell: if you want to ride on paths shared with walkers

It’s interesting to me that most of these features were standard on American bikes until the 1970s when 10-speed bicycles pushed the industry toward racing-style performance at the expense of all-around usefulness, comfort and just plain fun. I don’t know why the market couldn’t support both. I know my garage does.

What do you appreciate most about your city bike? If you don’t have a city bike, what city bike feature do you wish your bike had?

 
15 Comments

Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 

Locked, Loaded and Lit on My Road Bike

Like barnacles on an ocean liner, a few practical little items are now stowing away on my road bike. I guess it was inevitable that riding for daily errands would affect my “sport” riding beyond riding to the start of a group ride. These little guys give me many of the conveniences on a proper city bike, like not having to rush home before twilight or being able to stop on the way home for a bite to eat or to pick up something at the store.

Fortunately, they’re small enough to fit in one hand. Or and more importantly, to fit in my small seat bag.

These little guys came in particularly handy last Saturday after our long 60+ mile training ride for the Solvang Century. The route was relatively flat, so we made the mistake of not really eating much. By the end we were ravenous. We shared a belated lunch at Cafe Vitale, which has a bike rack out front. I pulled out my micro-lock and enjoyed my well-earned meal without worrying about leaving Black Beauty hitched out front.

On the way home, I stopped to get a few items for dinner at the New Mountain View Market downtown and locked her up again. The market’s new owners are converting it from a strictly Chinese market to a broader American market without losing the Chinese products they’re known for. I grabbed a few items, stuffed them in my nylon musette bag and pedaled home before sunset. No need for my little bike lights this time.

Here are the details on my micro-sized gear:

Locked The lock is a Terrier Roller Mini from OnGuard. To urban dwellers, it’s laughably insecure. But in the ‘burbs it provides the coffee shop level of security that works for short stops.

Loaded My musette bag is one of many freebies I got from cycling events. It’s just two pieces of nylon stitched together with a cotton twill strap and a velcro closure, but it works great. The closest ones I’ve seen for sale are from Jandd, Realcyclist and Banjo Brothers.

Lit Aren’t these the cutest little lights? They’re Amuse lights from Infini. I like the way they blend into Black Beauty’s frame when they’re turned off, but flash or glow brilliantly when they’re turned on. Sweet and safe.

What are the practical little items you have tucked away in your road bike’s seat bag? Is there a story behind how they ended up there?

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2 Comments

Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Backroads, Gear Talk

 
 
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