Thursday, April 24, 2014

Taking the Lane: Simplifying the Bicycle Saddle

A bike seat, a saddle, where you put your butt on a bike...sounds simple enough right?! Well it can be if you magically find that perfect fit right off the bat, but if you are like a majority of people on bikes time will need to be spent to find that perfect fit. This post will cover some more in-depth information when looking for that new saddle. I will also highlight my favorite commuting saddle!

First up is the width of the saddle. Women inherently have wider hips than men, therefore we need a wider place to sit our sit-bones. 
Sit-Bones in all their glory. 

This chart shows how your position on the bike will affect your butt's relation to the saddle.
Every saddle should either come with a width measurement or can be measured. I really can't speak for an ideal measurement for you, but I ride saddles around 150-160 mm wide. 
Where to measure any saddle for width

The next phase of deciding is identifying your position while riding. This will determine how you sit-bones are sitting on a saddle, sometimes changing the width needed also. Most saddles will be classified for a certain type of riding which helps point you in the right direction. If you are using a mountain bike for commuting you could check out some ladies specific mountain saddles, same goes for road bikes and hybrids. 

Another feature to be aware of is whether or not your saddle has a cut-out designed into it. 

A cut-out in the center of a saddle will relieve pressure in unwanted places. It will also allow for you to sit in the proper position on your saddle. I personally ride saddles with both cut-out and no cut-out. Both work for me as long as I am researching the saddle and finding the right fit. Most every saddle company will offer fit guides. Selle Royal, Bontrager, and Terry all have beginner friendly guides and lower priced saddles to get you heading in the right direction. 

Lastly the amount of padding on the saddle is something to consider. More padding will usually lead to pinching and unwanted friction. If you are searching for a little more protection try on some cycling shorts with a ladies specific chamois in them! They are designed to work with your body and saddle. I won't go too deep into shorts right now, but make sure you are getting the right size. Too loose or too tight both lead to that unwanted friction or lack of movement. If a bike shop won't let you try on a pair do not buy them!

So after all the talk I wanted to show you what I have chosen as my "holy grail" commuting saddle. I had been riding a Brooks B-17 for a couple years and loved it. What's not to love about curve hugging leather that softens the more effort and riding I do. Well...I love the leather, but the weather and rough and tumble lifestyle my townie bike leads didn't lend well to keeping the B-17 in top shape. So in a sort of experiment I snagged one of the Brooks Cambium C-17, and this time I tried the ladies version, or "C-17 S". 

It is pretty magical and there are tons of reviews out there. My favorite perks are not having to worry about rain ruining it, not scuffing the sides of it when I set my bike against various scratchy surfaces, and it looks dang nice. Also the "S" on the end of the C-17 designating it for women means the saddle is shorter in length. I didn't think that could do much for me, but from now on I will stick to women's specific Brooks. The shorter length allowed me to get and stay in a more comfortable position. 

BUTT, finally the last reason why I think finding a perfect saddle is important. A happy butt is a happy commuter. I have invested more money in my saddle than most other parts on my bike because it is one of the places my body is actually touching my bike, and a pretty important part of my body. So if you take anything away from this just know that I want you to realize that there are really only three contact points between you and your bike...and I know my butt is the biggest part out of those three!

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.