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Category Archives: 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

 

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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9 Comments

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

 
 
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