Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Taking the Lane: You have to sign up!

I want to put a plug in for the National Bike Challenge. If you are not familiar with the National Bike Challenge, it is a fun and friendly way to encourage you and others to bike – outside. Commute. Exercise. Make some vitamin D. However you want to do it, just do it. Log it. Spread the word. Get your coworkers to join you. Form a team. Rack up the miles. Lose a few pounds. Compete. Win. Win prizes. Win fame – well, your friends and coworkers might be so impressed by your many, many miles that it will feel like you’re famous. Close enough. Battle against your rival work place. Battle against your rival city. Battle against your spouse. Battle against yourself.
The challenge starts May 1st and ends the end of September. It’s the best time of year to bike. Being a slightly competitive person, there is nothing like a little competition amongst friends and strangers to motivate you. You will be amazed at how many miles some people bike.

Nationa Bike Challenge. It’s where all the cool commuters will be.

The challenge starts very, very soon.  So sign up now. then invite your friends and coworkers. You can sign in with your Endomondo account,  MapMyRide, or FaceBook account.

Now for a personal message and facts about my commuting.  My commute to work is about 21 miles round trip.  That’s the quickest/flatest route.  So for any of you who think you live too far away to commute to work, remember that I bike over 10 miles each way, so if you only have 5 you are soooo lucky, and I’m a bit jealous. And those of you who commute further are super human. However, because my bike to work is a bit further than quite a few others are willing to bike, I will tell you it allows me to stop for guilt free ice cream every week on my ride home.  I save $4.65 every day I commute by bike that I’m not paying out in gas, so I could eat a DQ Blizzard every day I commute. Not only can I justify paying for it, but I can justify the calories.

Of course, I am a fair weather commuter. I don’t bike in rain, or when morning temps are below 50°F. Mostly because I don't want to buy more bike gear.  We already have 10 bikes in our garage, and multi-sport cycling equipment that I have to draw the line on buying more stuff somewhere.  And there is no shame in being a fair weather bike commuter. I also commute to work only when I can fit the extra time into my schedule. With kids at home, it is a little hard to find the extra time to commute by bike that distance every day, but last summer I could pull it off twice a week.  This summer I plan to shoot for three days a week.  I plan to keep basic supplies at work (baby wipes, hair supplies, antiperspirant, and mascara) and carry my work clothes with me as I get rather sweaty. A quick change post-work back into my cycling clothes and I’m headed home…or to the nearest ice cream parlor.

And remember, in all 50 states, people on bikes are required to follow the same laws as other drivers.

Everyone on the road is entitled to the lane width they need. This includes the space behind, to each side and the space in front. If you want to use someone else’s space you must yield to whoever is using it.

In the United States, everyone must drive on the right-hand side of the roadway.

Bikes can share the same lane with other drivers. If a lane is wide enough to share with another vehicle (about 14 feet), ride three feet to the right of traffic. If the lane is not wide enough to share, “take the lane” by riding in the middle.

How to Make the Ultimate Pair of Bike Pants for Urban Cycling

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Taking the Lane: I commute by bike because I am lazy!

That's right...I commute by bike because I am lazy. Now, before I fire up all the other commuters out there let me explain.........

Driving in that kind of traffic is for people far less lazy than me (Photo by Michaella Kumke)

Here's what happened when I drove a car...worse yet when I drove an Econoline van for work......the car or van NEVER had gas in it! My children are permanently scarred from me constantly running out of gas...on the way to school, gymnastics, the mall, friends name it, we ran out of gas to there. Why? I told you, because I am lazy! And tires...don't even get me started on tires! They are never just "low on air" there is always a bigger issue there....nails, old and worn, was in my tires! And there is this thing under the hood called an engine....good grief...the only engine I worry about now is my body, and I make sure it is in good working order all the time!
Madison cannot be bothered to pack up her car to go to go places
So that is the mechanical part of the laziness in me, but here is where the real laziness comes out.......the actual driving to work part.

Emily cannot be bothered to wait for the train (Photo by Piper Williams)
When you drive, there is just to it! In the winter you have to get out to your car before you are actually going to leave to warm it up, then you have to scrape the windows because, if you are lazy like me, it is too much work to clean out the garage to make room for the car! One winter I had to scrape the INSIDE of my windows because I spilled 10 gallons of water in my car (don't ask, it has to do with laziness) and had to wait till the weather warmed to dry everything, in the car, out!
Once the car is warmed up, thawed out, windows scraped you have to drive to the corner and WAIT to turn right so you can drive 2 blocks to WAIT to turn left and sit in a long line of cars. This means you have to leave earlier than if you commute by bike, which means you have to work faster at getting ready and that just doesn't bode well for someone who is lazy!

Lis is far too lazy to scrape ice off car windows so she bikes instead
Once you get to work you don't just pull up to the door and drive your car in the store (as you do on bike). No, you have to go to the parking garage and drive floor, after floor to one of the very top floors to park your car, then you have to walk down the stairs ( I'm not THAT lazy that I take the elevator) and walk to your store! Goodness, it makes me tired thinking about this!
You see, it is so much easier by bike.... I ride across the park straight to the street and have a clear shot downtown......I ride right up to The Coffee House, lock up my bike, get my tea, ride right up to the front door of my store, take my bike to the back room and it's done! Boom!
That's the way to get to work if you are lazy like me! BUT you don't have to be lazy to commute, just inspired! Either way, it works!
Now This is Inspiring (Photo by Jamie)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Taking the Lane: Hauling Cargo

Hauling Cargo

OK, so you love being on your bike so much that you want to go everywhere and do all your errands and commuting on it. When you're in a car and you see someone on a bike you're annoyed it's not you. You feel sorry for the poor schmucks who are stuck in their cars. You want to see just how much cargo you can load onto your bike. Wait, what? If you want to do all you can by bike, that means you'll need to be able to carry groceries and general cargo safely and easily. I completely understand the woman from Seattle you may have read about last fall who tried to carry a mattress on her bicycle. I've carried a patio umbrella (attached to bike frame) and it's base, cross country skis (reminded me too much of jousting), and countless watermelons, not to mention cases of beer and large bags of dog food and even an electric piano. Without a trailer. I'm not going to discuss trailers today, though I've used one. They are wonderful and turn your bike into a minivan. I'm not going to discuss longtails, transporting children, touring or camping today either, those are topics for another time. Today I want to address simple trips to the store. While I do make dedicated trips for grocery shopping on occasion, usually I'll make a quick stop on the way home from a job. Since I work all over the city and my route to work is constantly changing, I need to be prepared for hauling cargo at any time.
I know many are loathe to attach anything to their bike, so the idea of a rack for attaching a trunk or panniers may not appeal to them. If you are one of these, a backpack may suffice. There are some made especially for bicycling, with improved load distribution, rigid frames and even air vents. However, back packs give you an unstable high center of gravity, stress your back and aren't much fun on a windy day. And then there are the sweaty backs. If you are commuting and not changing clothes, you really don't want that look when you arrive at work. Messenger bags are OK, I have one and I like it when I have lunch to carry and winter gear to take off and stow when I arrive. They can work for grocery overflow as well, though my go-to overflow bag is a backpack which was originally a front pack pet carrier I converted. It is capacious and has a padded rigid bottom and semi rigid mesh walls with top clasps. What works best in my experience however, are panniers. There are many different styles to suit your particular needs, from open top grocery panniers and insulated carriers, to garment bags, and more professional and stylish looks. The selection seems limitless.
Product Details

Product Details Getting the weight off of your back and onto the bike is a relief. I know people with front and rear panniers so they can really load up. That's fine, just remember front panniers limit maneuverability. You may like the idea of a handlebar basket and really want to put your little dog in it `a la the Wizard of Oz. They make those too, just remember that very much weight in front baskets limits maneuverability as well.

Product DetailsI made my first set of panniers from a Frost Line kit when I was in college in the late 70's. I still have them, they only need new shock cords. Currently I use a 20+ year old expandable Jandd commuter bag that still has all it's zippers working. I've had to replace the shock cord and hook, and it's as punked out as possible by now. The inner bolts attached to the stiffener once destroyed a Jimmy Hendricks album I had packed next to them, but it still does it's job so I haven't replaced it yet. Besides, I think it's unlikely to get stolen off of my bike. I appreciate the outer pockets that organize my extra gear, such as rain cape, wind vest, pump, lock, light, nylon string bag for overflow, etc.. And since I'm often trying to load more on, an extra bungee cord and a carabiner are useful, too. When I'm out all day, I like having these things on hand. Besides, the added weight resistance only makes me stronger. Speaking of health, a University of Utrecht study shows that even short transport trips add 14 months to a cyclist's life span.

Other options range from making your own panniers from two canvas grocery bags sewn into saddle bags and fitted with a stiffener and bungee fasteners, to the ever popular kitty litter buckets with bungee cords. You can also use a stretch net to secure your load. However you decide to do it, make errands and shopping trips by bike part of your routine. You'll wonder why you ever did it any other way.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Taking the Lane: Pedal On

Today we are going to have an in depth physics lesson on the mechanics of pedal motion and how it propels the bicycle forward. I hope all the readers are up on their multivariable calculus. Alright, so the above two sentences are just a joke, but today I am going to review the basics of two different pedal types to help you make the best choice for you, your bike and your commute.

Platform Pedals
Basic Platform Pedal (Photo by Piper Williams)
This is the type of pedal most people think of when they think of bike pedals. These are the type of pedals your first big wheel bike had installed. You can use this pedals by pushing down with your feet; there is no option for a pull motion (unless you have straps on your platforms). The benefits of these pedals are that they are very easy to use, have a non-existent learning curve, and allow the user to dismount very quickly. You can use these pedals in almost any type of footwear, even barefoot (being that I was born in Kentucky, you can bet that rode my little pink and teal Huffy without shoes many times, but I do not recommend doing this). Platforms can be acquired very inexpensively, I paid around $10 for mine, and often come installed on bikes when you purchase them. The downsides of platforms are that they can be bulky and do not allow the user to pedal as efficiently as clipless pedals.

Clipless Pedals
Clipless Pedal - My Beat Up Pedal (Photo by Piper Williams)
This is any type of pedal that you attach yourself to using a special type of shoe with a specially designed cleat. Within this class of pedals, there are multiple subclasses, but in this piece, I am going to be very general. Clipless pedals allow you to pedal much more efficiently as you pedal by both pushing and pulling. This helps you get to your destination faster. It can also help you feel more psychologically connected to your bike. Clipless pedals do have a bit of learning curve to get used to and most people (myself included) will experience at least one slow embarrassing fall from forgetting to unclip when stopping. These pedal also require that you have at least one set of shoes just for cycling with the cleats installed.

Racing/Training Shoes for Clipless Pedals - My personal pair (Photo by Piper Williams
Commuter Shoes for Clipless Pedals - My personal pair (Photo by Piper Williams)

So now that you know your basic pedal options, how do you decide which ones are going to work for you? There are couple of aspect to consider when you making a choice. First is the length of your commute. If your commute is short (under 4 miles), you may find that the extra speed given by clipless pedals is not worth the hassle of a change of shoes, particularly if you are biking in city and are constantly having to stop at traffic lights. However, if your commute is on the long side clipless pedals can make your ride that much more enjoyable. Do you use your commuter bike for training as well? Given that most training rides employ clipless pedals, changing pedals back and forth is more effort that it is worth and it may be best to stick with clipless pedals. Do you have the funds to invest in pedals, cleats and shoes? Combined this can cost well over $100 and is a worthwhile investment, but only if you will really use them. There really is no wrong choice when it comes to pedals for commuting, just the choice that makes sense for you. I do have to make one further comment for those of you are commuting in major metropolitan areas (i.e. London), make sure you are comfortable and practiced at clipping in and out of clipless pedals before taking them out on busy city streets. (The streets of Lincoln are not busy city streets.) However, most individuals are not commuting in these types of conditions and do not take this into consideration.  

To be upfront, I will tell you what I use and what I would prefer, so you know my bias. I presently own only one bike that I need to make work for transportation, training and racing. I do not have time to switch pedals on and off before every ride, so I usually have SPD clipless pedals attached. I use the shoes pictured above for training and commuting respectively. If I had an additional bike that I would use solely for transportation and commuting, I would have platform pedals installed on it since this would give me greater freedom in shoe choice.

As for what shoes you can use with these different pedals and what works for commuting, that is an article for another time.

Happy riding and pedal on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Taking the Lane: Learning to Love the View

So, in recent weeks we've covered some of the basics of commuting: gear, a change of clothes, planning your route. As a runner first and a cyclist second, I don't feel qualified to give anyone advice on how to maintain their bike-my husband still changes my tires that absorb far too many thorns on the Homestead trail. What I do feel I can speak to is the experience of being on a bike before and after a long day of work.
Driving to work, most people are on auto pilot. Look around you at a stop light. People are drinking coffee, checking their phones, eyes not quite open all the way. Especially on my current morning commute, when the time change has left things a bit darker than feels right to be going to work. Something about leaving in the morning without a single hint of sunlight...but anyway. Most mornings, if you asked me what happened on my way to work, I don't know that I could tell you. Sure, there was that time I stopped and caught a loose dog and returned it home, or the time we saw a car slide into another car, but for the most part, 99% of my mornings are unremarkable.

And driving home from work? Don't get me started. I've been known to have such road rage I make up new words. I've tried to curb it-rage must be sang along to the song on the radio, combine your dirty word with the name of a cute animal, nothing worked. Leaving work, everybody just wants to get home. It's a ride of necessity that nobody wants to be on, and we're all kind of mad about it. Maybe you're still thinking about that comment your boss made, or a rude customer, or that problem you hadn't quite solved yet-or you are until someone cuts you off.
Biking to work is different. Aside from those times you have to get a bit defensive because of the aforementioned sleepy drivers, it's often just you and the path. You get some great sunrise views from the saddle, and you get a chance to prioritize your day. True, sometimes I wish I had coffee in those bottle cages and not just water, but for the most part-I get to work happy, refreshed, and ready for the challenges ahead. I've also got a couple of routes I can take depending if I've got time to take the long way or not.
The ride home from work is different too. My route is entirely made up up bike path, and I know I'm lucky for that. This does mean that the way home is often decidedly more crowded than the way to work. We've got people out for their evening jog, a bit of campus traffic to deal with, and other cyclists getting their ride on. However, this traffic is far different than the other maniacs in cars on the road. These are your people-the fitness people. I've arrived home sweaty, tired, ready for a snack before dinner...but very rarely do I get home as angry as I can get in the car. Another bonus-time on the bike has always been able to sort out things in my brain and put them in their proper compartments. That comment the boss made? Eh, he's just cranky. The rude customer? See previous. That problem-hey! I've got it! Things just resolve themselves when you can get physically reactive instead of just driving the same route you've done a million times.

This doesn't mean it's all rainbows and sunshine, floating to work like Nyan Cat. Getting my stuff together usually takes some forethought-usually the night before takes about 5-10 minutes of decision making. I work out over my lunch hour or immediately after work most days, so I have the option to wear my gym clothes to work, change there, and then repeat at lunch and then again on the way home. This gets a little dicey in the Summer when sometimes repeating that sports bra more than one exercise session is an unpleasant experience. I have to do laundry a bit more often in the Summer. But generally, I get my biking clothes laid out, my work clothes packed in the bag, add in my snacks and lunch for the day, and hope the backpack fits on my back without toppling me over. On occasion, I'll ride in work clothes but I've found that living in Nebraska, there's about 10 days a year I can make that work without sweat becoming a noticeable factor. Sorry, ladies, but I know we all sweat.
So, why do it? Why do we get up a bit earlier than normal, lay out our clothes like it's the first day of elementary school, and search for a magical thermos that will fit in our bottle cages? For a little "me time". For that extra bit of exercise when your day is simply too packed to fit anything else in. For the environment. To make Lincoln #1 in that commuter challenge. Everyone has their reasons. Finding the one that spurs you into the saddle instead of the seat on a sleepy April morning may take some time, but boy, will you enjoy the view once you get there. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taking the Lane: The Transition to Spring, 5 tips for conquering the new season!

Finally spring is right around the corner. This new season brings about great changes! Daylight savings is leaving us with more dusk light, the weather is above freezing regularly, and the snow is melting away. The changes also happen in daily life, and one of those big ones might be the way you commute. Winter is a tough time and many of us will choose to commute by car, but now we have more options. Commuting by bicycle in the early spring is a great way to change up your old routine and get out of a winter funk. Spring commuting also faces some challenges, but they won't be faced alone! The 5 tips below are just a start, but they will get you going.

Fenders are the first range of protection for you and your bike from the exciting new changes that spring brings. Puddles, sand, mud, and more puddles are generally the biggest enemy from March onward. Fenders keep you clean while riding your bicycle, eliminating the dreaded skunk stripe of mud up your backside. They also help keep the bicycle itself clean, keeping excessive dirt, sand, and water away from the drivetrain and other moving parts. 
My beautiful model Matt showing off his Planet Bike fenders!


The time change should be called the "let's confuse everyone about what time they should wake up because it is way too dark in the morning change. Anyways, the time change signals a change in daylight hours. Longer nights are nice, but darker mornings become more dangerous. Headlights and taillights are key! Some of my favorites are Light and Motion's urban line, Planet Bikes taillights, and Knog's super cute line of lights.     

Some Light and Motion lights...
      ...paired with the next necessity..


Wet, salty, sandy roads are a dismal place for a bike and it's moving parts. The first line of defense is a good lube for the chain of your bike. This lube should be applied at least once a week if not more. This will prevent rust build-up, premature wear, and ultimately breakage! The video below shows the easiest process for lubing the chain. Also you don't need a bike stand, just somewhere to place the bike wheel of the bike so the pedals can spin freely backward, a doorway or desk work pretty well.

As far as what kind of lubes to use I will stick with a wet lube from Finish-Line during the soggy March and April months and switch to the 1-step cleaner and lube from Finish-Line during summer. The next step for keeping your bike running smoothly is some cleaners. Simple Green bike cleaner is a gentle degreaser that is great to use all over the bike. During spring I wash my bike bi-weekly. I will spray Simple Green all over the bike and scrub off with a soft-bristled brush, followed with a rinse. After this you will always want to lube the chain and moving parts. 


While fenders are a great addition to keep puddles and mud off of you they won't do so much during a down-pour. This is where bolstering up your wardrobe will be fun! When I started commuting my rain-jacket quickly became my favorite piece of clothing. I liked the nice hood that fit over my helmet, and instead of having to bring a change of clothes I was dry. Over the years I have added rain pants and boots. The pants are oversized O2 rainpants that will fit over anything I am wearing (i am actually wearing a dress under this outfit).

 The boots are a find from a garage sale for a quarter. The one thing I did splurge on way my jacket. The cycling specifics of the jacket cannot be beat, such as longer arms and a drop-tail to accommodate the cycling position, ventilation in the back to prevent overheating, and a hood made to work with helmets.

 Any rain jacket made for cycling should have these features but some of my favorites are the Northface Downspout jacket and Gore Bike Wear Alp-X 2.0 Jacket. Some pants I have been lusting over are the Gore Bike Wear Countdown Gore-Tex Pants. 

 An added plus is that these two extra pieces of clothes pack down very small if you don't need to wear them both directions. So instead of bringing a whole new outfit, keep what you want to wear dry under a protective water-proof outer shell of cute jackets, pants, and boots!

Jacket and pants: all rolled up and ready to go!


Last, but not least, my favorite tip is a positive attitude!! Hopefully the longer days help with a good mood, but commuting everywhere is also a great treat. Even when the headwind beats on you all the way to work, just remember you will have a tailwind home! Also conquering the rain storm on the way home because you were prepared deserves a high-five! Commuting makes me more aware of what is around me and really keeps me on my toes, therefore setting the tone for the rest of the day. A happy commute=a happy day! Once you start pedaling there really is no stopping you, so just get out there and tackle it day by day!

Spring has sprung!