RSS

Category Archives: 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?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
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?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
9 Comments

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

 

The Perfect Bike Briefcase

Last October, when I was dressing for success for a meeting with the new CEO, I asked for your opinion: which bag I should choose to replace my unstylish briefcase pannier? The votes came in for the FastRider Black Charm Shopper, which I’d seen in the company’s online catalog, but couldn’t find for sale anywhere. When it wasn’t at the ultimate city bike shop in London, I almost gave up. And then, Eureka! I found it for sale online!

The shipping cost almost as much as the bag, but I had to have it. I ordered it in early December, which meant it didn’t arrive before I lost my job. But I don’t care. It’s lovely and I’m finding it useful for trips around town, like taking my laptop in to the Apple store. I even took it to Las Vegas for a conference and it worked like a charm.

How far would you go to get the perfect bag?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Cycle Fashions, Gear Talk

 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bike Lights

Decisions, decisions. It’s time to decorate our Christmas tree, starting with the lights. But which color? Red like last year? Traditional clear? Or Mardi Gras colors to honor my Louisiana heritage: purple, green and gold?

At least there’s one decision we won’t have to make–whether the lights should blink or not. Dick and I both prefer steady Christmas lights over blinking, which is why I don’t miss that crazy set we once had with three different blinking patterns. Every year we’d run through all the different modes and then settle on steady.

20111207-205400.jpg

With bike lights, though, Dick and I don’t agree. I’m all for keeping it steady, while Dick likes to flash. You could also say that I’m Paris while he’s London. Paris’ Velib bikes and the London’s Barclays bikes are both equipped with always-on front and rear lights. A great little feature not only for nighttime riding, but also for improving daytime visibility. And you don’t have to remember to turn them on, or remove them when you lock up the bike since they’re permanently attached and can’t be stolen. I wish my bikes were so well equipped.

But the difference is that the Velib lights burn steady while the Barclays flash, which to me reflects the two cities’ attitude toward urban cycling. Steady bright lights say to me: “I have lights like cars and motorcycles. I’m just another vehicle on the road.” In contrast, flashing lights shout out a strong warning message: “Be careful. Watch out. Don’t hit me.” The presumption is that drivers can’t be expected to see you.

20111207-225016.jpg

Philosophical arguments aside, here’s my case for steady vs. flashing:

  • With today’s bright lights, flashing ones can be very annoying to drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. I refuse to ride behind Dick when he has his rear light flashing.
  • A steady front light will help you see the road ahead better so you can avoid potholes and other obstacles.
  • Steady lights help other road users gauge your distance from them better than flashing lights.

That said, there are times when I will set my lights to flashing:

  • At dusk, when there’s little contrast between the bike lights and the ambient light, I’ll set both front and rear lights to flashing.
  • After dark, when the route takes me through an area with a lot of lighting distractions, I’ll set the front to steady and have two red lights in the rear: one steady and one flashing.
  • Ditto for when it’s raining at night, for the same reason.

Finally, be aware that technically speaking, the California vehicle code only allows flashing lights to be used on emergency vehicles, a rarely enforced law that at least one cop with an attitude has used to harass cyclists with before. I wonder what that cop would have said if he had seen me with my Down Low Glow lights.

So, do you like to flash or keep your lights steady? Do you use the same mode for both front and rear, and for all occasions?

20111206-073355.jpg

 
8 Comments

Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Gear Talk

 

Small Bikes, Big City: A Quick Brompton Bike Review

Great things come in small packages. The little bicycles that could. The meek shall inherit the city. How many other cliches could I use as a title for this post? Any of these would be accurate.

Two full days touring London on Brompton folding bikes was enough to know that they are in many ways the ideal city bike. When engineer Andrew Ritchie fiddled with various folding bike designs in his apartment in the London district of Brompton, he was on to something big–in a small package. He didn’t just design a bike that folds compactly. He designed one that’s folds to a size hardly bigger than its 16″ wheeels, and tucks the messy and fragile parts between the wheels, and offers a ride that’s surprisingly close to larger wheeled bikes.

Here’s my quick take of the Brompton folding bikes, based on 30 kilometers of city riding:

  • The tiny bikes comfortably fit both 6’2″ Dick with his 35″ inseam and me with my 29″ inseam. Amazing.
  • The front end feels twitchy at first, but you adjust quickly.
  • The bag attaches to the head tube, not handlebars. It also feels odd at first, especially if the bag is full.
  • Once you’re rolling the bike handles like any other bike, even on rough pavement.
  • The low gear on the two speed models we rented is not low enough for any sort of hill.
  • Instead of a kickstand, you just fold in the rear wheel and voila! it stands alone.
  • The nose of the saddle is molded to fit your fingers, making it easier to carry.
  • Our rental model was fairly heavy to carry. If I had to carry it more than 100 feet I’d take the time to unfold it. Brompton offers lighter models. I wonder how much lighter they would feel.
  • Folded, the bikes took up less room on the underground than a small suitcase. We sat with ours in front of our knees and there was still room for people to pass down the aisle.
  • The hub generator lights work well, but since they go off after a minute or so of standing, I’d add small blinking lights too. I love built-in, hub generated lights. Taking things off the bike whenever you lock up is a real pain.

All in all, it’s a good little city bike. If I lived in a small apartment in the city and commuted by rail, I’d definitely consider getting one for my non-sport riding. Here’s a quick demo of Dick unfolding the bike. It takes him just over a minute, but with a little practice, I’m sure he could do it in half the time.

What about you? Would you get over the dork factor and ride a tiny wheeled folding bike?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Gear Talk

 

Velorution Prevails Where Barclays Fails

For shame, Barclays! The London cycle hire program your bank sponsors discriminates against Americans, whose credit cards lack “smart card” chips. And unlike the Velib system in Paris where you can buy a day pass online, the Barclays bikes require a smart card at the kiosk. Are they afraid that hordes of right-side-driving Americans will be massacred by aggressive black cabs and lumbering double-decker buses? Could be.

Riding these bikes was in my Top 5 things to do in London, so I was really bummed. Even though I was pretty sure we were out of luck, I had to ask the folks at Velorution, a bike shop focused on city bikes I had read about. The owner, Andre, confirmed that you either need a smart card or they can issue you a special card, but you have to be a London resident. But, he offered, Velorution rents Bromptom folding bikes at a reasonable rate. Interesting. I had never ridden a foldie and was intrigued.

While we were thinking about whether and how long we wanted to hire the Bromptons, we browsed through the store’s wide selection of bikes and gear. Of all the city bike-oriented stores we’ve been to, Velorution is one of the biggest, on par with Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon. They also offer mail order, which could prove useful in the future. I searched the large selection of panniers, hoping to find the elusive Fast Rider Congres Black Charm. They didn’t offer anything comparable, but Matt took the time to look it up online and suggested I talk with their bag buyer when she came in to the shop later that afternoon.

Dick was immediately drawn to the Pedersen bikes with their hammock saddles and unusual truss frames. He took one out for a spin around the block and declared it felt natural with a comfortable seating position, despite its unusual look. “You have no idea how much I want this bike,” he confided. His birthday is tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s room in my luggage for a Pedersen.

Meanwhile, I moved on to helmets and clothing, where I found a delightful leopard helmet that I just had to have. A girl can never have too many helmets, can she? And there, amidst the dapper tweed coats and capes and smart modern jackets, I found the elusive Brooks rain cape. Last year, I searched for months for an outlet to buy this very cape which had received rave reviews at Interbike. And here it was at long last, unfortunately after I already have a cycle-specific rain coat I picked up in Amsterdam.

We left the store with a leopard helmet for me and two Brompton foldies for the rest of our trip. The Bromptons fit both of us well and only took a bit of adjusting for the markedly twitchy front end. We pedaled away from the shop as the sun went down and so our bike adventures in London began.

How far will you go for bike accessories or equipment? Would you pay the extra overseas shipping and taxes for a unique item?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Gear Talk, Travel

 

SF Bike Expo in 150 Words and 15 Photos

It’s not Interbike or the North American Handmade Bike Show, but for the average Joe or Jane Biker the SF Bike Expo is the next best thing. A chance to see new products from smaller, often local, manufacturers, ogle bikes from custom builders and score some good deals on gear, as well as gently and not so gently used bikes and components. Oh, and a bike fashion show from Pedal Savvy. What’s not to love?

Dick and I hooked our biggest panniers on our touring bikes and headed up to the show on Caltrain, checked out the goods, bought a few things and rode a flat 35 miles home through the industrial spine of the San Francisco Peninsula. After pushing the pace to beat the sunset, we arrived home just as the last light faded from the horizon. If only we had bought those cool mini lights from Bookman we wouldn’t have had to hurry.

What’s your favorite new bike product? Bonus points if it’s from a small-scale manufacturer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Gear Talk

 

Gear Talk: Waterproof Panniers (or not)

Rain, rain, go away! But not before I test all my new rain gear. For the past couple of days I got my timing right and dodged the raindrops. But the steady ting-ting of raindrops on the skylight this morning signaled the moment of truth: would I ride to work in the rain?

Given all my new gear, I had to ride, and given this is California, the rain let up about 10 minutes into my ride. So I pulled over and tucked my nifty Dutch rain coat in my nifty bright yellow Dutch panniers.

Now the rain is over and the 10 day forecast shows nothing but sun. Yay! During the post-rain cleanup I decided to test the limits of my panniers. Just how waterproof are they anyway? Was I putting my laptop at risk riding in the rain? A garden hose, a stack of newspapers, a cooperative husband and an iPhone video later and I had my answer.

Have you ever done some crazy field testing of new equipment? Were the results accurate?

Note: Due to technical difficulties, the audio got dropped in the second half of the video. Do not adjust your player. What you missed were comments about the newspaper being completely dry even though I forgot to pull out the side flaps.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Gear Talk

 

Gear Talk: Head to Toe Rain Coverage

The rainy season has come early to the San Francisco Bay Area this year, so I’m glad I brought home some great bike rain gear from Amsterdam. But I already owned a crucial piece of rain gear, made right here in the USA–my wool cycling cap.

If I’d never learned how awesome a wool cycling cap is in the rain, I’d probably would have bought a helmet cover, like my friend Julie did. Julie is a mountain biker forced onto the road for her work commute. Last year, she posted this photo on Facebook with the caption: “As if road riding wasn’t dorky enough as it is…”

You’re right Julie. Like most gear aimed at commuters, helmet covers are dorky. And they really don’t do the job anyway. They trap heat inside so your head gets clammy and your hair is still exposed to the rain. I stepped in with a little advice: “Darlin, you are in desperate need of a street style makeover! Return that plastic bag and buy a wool cycling cap today. I promise it will keep your head dry and your ‘do intact.”

What I didn’t do was show her how my wool cap works. So here’s to you, Julie, and all the other bike commuters looking for a better way to keep their heads dry in the rain.

Step 1: Tuck your hair into a classic small brimmed wool cycling cap, like my three panel cap from Walz. Why wool? Wool keeps you warm, but breathes so there’s no moisture build-up. There’s nothing like wool for keeping you comfy, regardless of the temperature.

20111005-083532.jpg

Step 2: Add helmet. Cycling caps are close fitting, so helmets with adjustable retention systems have no problem fitting over the cap. This arrangement will get you through the typical Bay Area wimpy rainstorm.

20111005-083812.jpg

Step 3: If it’s really pouring, you can always pull up the hood from your rain coat or jacket. But honestly, this level of coverage is rarely needed, at least not in the South Bay.

20111005-083321.jpg

Since we’ve got our heads covered (pun intended), let’s move down to toes. There are all kinds of booties for sale and I have some I use on my road bike with clipless pedals. But for commuting on a bike with fenders and flat pedals like Zella Mae, who needs them? Leather boots do the trick, with tights on cold days or without on days like today when it only pretended to be chilly.

Leather and wool, two classic materials that kick butt when it comes to wet weather riding.

What’s your strategy for staying dry in the rainy season? Is there a critical piece of gear that works for you?

20111005-084240.jpg

 
10 Comments

Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Gear Talk

 
 
I'm Jame :)

what's on my mind: food, fashion, marketing, cities, tech & more

Let's Go Ride a Bike

Adventures in city cycling

The Backpack Objective

Excursions of a biking and hiking homeschool family

Shop by Bike

How and where to shop by bike in Silicon Valley, California

The Empowerment of the Silent Sisterhood

The greatest WordPress.com site in all the land!

Fix The Toaster

Nearly 32,000 Americans die in car crashes annually. 80% of car crashes are PREVENTABLE. If the TOASTER was killing that many people we'd think it was ridiculous. We'd un-plug it and say, let's Fix The Toaster.

Urban Adventure League

Exploring the urban environment through fun human-powered adventures, riding bicycles, and gawking at bicycles in and around Portland, Oregon, Cascadia

CARDBOARD BOX OFFICE

A world of film, a house of stuff.

Wanderlust

Exploring Europe by water

Ride On

Australia's most widely-read bike magazine

articulate discontent

a look at societal and economic influences on human systems.

Pedal All Day

Endurance Cycle for Macular Disease

sistersthatbeenthere

Just another WordPress.com site

Gas station without pumps

musings on life as a university professor

wife. mother. awesome girl.

Just another girl who used to be cool.

Why Bike

Tackling The Reasons You Don't Bike

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,919 other followers

%d bloggers like this: