Friday, March 27, 2015

Bookman Curve Front Light

Bicycle lights can be a tricky item. Riding roads in the dark without lights isn't the best option, but finding ways to attach a headlight or taillight can be challenging if a bike is not equipped with some type of mounting device. If you don't want to have to fuss with a location for lights there are some options on the market of varying quality and cost.

I've used Bookman lights on my bikes for some time now. I own several sets and they're easy to transport, carry off the bag, and mount without much effort to the bike when needed. I've often wished that I had the funds to buy such a supply that when I run into others on bicycles at night who haven't donned lights, I could simply give them away. While these lights work well in regard to ease of use and to allow motorists and others to see a person on a bike, I was pleased to see a newer product on the market from Bookman that allows for a more illuminated path for the individual riding.
Unmounted view of Curve front light
Their latest headlight is the Curve front light and is a bit different than the prior model. This model has a maximum brightness of 80 lumens, and is shaped differently than the standard Bookman light. Instead of one small LED, the headlight has a curved shape that wraps around handlebars.

Additionally, this front light can be charged via USB, rather than needing to replace the batteries when they run out of power (I am aware that there is a version of the original model that can be charged via USB, they are just not what I currently own).

The newest addition to the Bookman line up of lights is larger than the prior model, and it's almost as convenient and easy to carry. Attaching and removing the light is slightly more complicated than the rubber band-like attachment device on the older style, but it's still fairly simple.
*Image from Bookman
When the light arrived I'd taken a quick look at the instructions and attempted to replicate the diagram shown, but my first attempt only resulted in me turning the light on and off. I didn't want to break the light, so I wasn't quite sure what to do, but after scanning it a bit more, I decided that what I'd been doing must be the way to release the strap. With a bit more force, it did come loose.

To date, I've used this Curve light on several evening/dark rides. I've used it alone and as a supplement to the prior Bookman model already owned. Here are a few highlights I've noted while riding thus far with the front light:

- The Curve front light is far better at illuminating a path in front of the bike than the original version. I travel a couple of dark roads that have no street lights and I can see several feet in front of me.

- The light attaches and removes fairly easily, though not quite as easily as the rubber band-like version.

- Motorists seem to spot the light even better because of the extra illumination.

- While the light is bright, it is not blindingly so (as some bike lights can be). Still, I accidentally looked at it when messing around with attachment and it was enough to send me off blinking my eyes and trying to recover for a few seconds.

- If your bicycle has handlebars larger than 32 mm in diameter, you will struggle to attach this particular light. The silicone attachment is stronger than the former design, and is also less elastic.
Mounted, top view of Curve front light
I appreciate the ease of use of all Bookman lights. While this version still isn't as bright as other headlights I own, for the price, it is plenty useful and I don't need to worry about an attachment in order to get it affixed to the bike. Because of the simple attachment strap, it makes it easy to use on any bike (which is not always the case with lights).

This particular light has two strengths of illumination that can be changed between 40 and 80 lumens, and between steady and flashing. The changes are easy to do: a single click turns the light on/off, while double clicking changes between all the modes available.
Mounted, front view of Curve light
The claimed run time is up to 35 hours on a single charge. Keep in mind that this is using the light on its lowest settings, so if the rider prefers a brighter/steady light, it will not run for this stated time. If the brightest setting is used (80 lumens), the run time is about 3 hours (a USB cable is included with the light). Since my late night regular ride is a total of about 25 minutes, it takes approximately 7 rides on the brightest, steady setting to run through the battery.

Since I am not the most aware of how long I've been running a light, it would be nice if there was some kind of indicator to let the user know when the battery is running low (say at 20%). I'd hate to get stuck somewhere and have no illumination to get me home. As an added feature though, it takes only 2 hours to charge completely. *Edited:  Bookman has stated that there is a flashing red indicator at the top of the light that blinks to let the user know when 30 minutes of time remains. Excellent news for people like me.

The front light currently comes in three colors: red, black, or white and is available for purchase through a variety of sources, such as Bookman directly (linked above), Amazon, and other bicycle retailers (and perhaps even your local bike shop). As of the date of this post, the light retails for just over $40 USD (€ 39.00).
Curve light in use
I am happy with the function of this front light and continue to ride with it regularly because of the ease of use. I am curious if there will be a coordinating and just as useful taillight in the future. It would be great to have a rear light with the same amount of power provided, though I understand that attachment strategies can be even trickier on the back side of a bicycle due to different setups such as saddlebags, racks, and so on.

If you've tried the newer version of Bookman's front light, I'd love to hear your thoughts and whether you think this is an improved version of the original.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Transportive Bicycle

I have always been a person to spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts. As a child, I spent nearly every day staring up at the sky wondering what the future held. I used to daydream about a future occupation, home, and other life-related happenings. I thought about the birds flying through the air. My mind made images out of clouds that formed in the sky. My thoughts twirled and swirled and sometimes created moments of realization.

If weather was too formidable (which didn't happen often on California's central coast), I spent those same hours alone on my bed, pondering existence and purpose. My cat and dog would often appear and I'd stroke their individual bodies as they curled up beside me. It was comforting to have company, but not have the need to speak.

More time was spent thinking and listening than vocalizing. Innately, I absorbed more than I released nuggets of information.

Many of my acquaintances were quite talkative; more than likely something my subconscious chose as a means of being able to remain capable of ingesting rather than having to entertain. I liked different sorts of people and observed qualities in each that drew my interest. I had smart friends, athletic friends, artistic friends and those who were rebels, or who the adults called "trouble-makers." Occasionally, even quieter kids caught my attention. It was more difficult to have conversation, but I learned much from those who were more conservative with speech, and as a bonus they seemed to naturally understand that talking wasn't a necessity in every circumstance.

We all get older though and changes are a part of aging. Core qualities remained as I entered high school, but I found myself speaking my mind far more frequently. I tested boundaries. Sometimes I said things that made no sense or made me feel inferior. There were days when I felt able to conquer anything, and those that made me wish I were dead. I was sometimes friends with people because other people liked them, and not always because I saw something of quality. I made good decisions and bad - like any teenager.

One thing that didn't change during this time of life was my alone time. It was always valuable to reflect, to wonder and to hope.

As I grew beyond the teen years into adulthood, I began to understand that life was changing. I was expected not to spend so much time daydreaming, but rather to focus on a career and a future. Despite being a bit more combative and rebellious, I'd always been pretty responsible. I could feel that it was no longer acceptable though to spend so much of my day simply thinking. I had to start doing.

Action is, of course, a necessity of growth, but it was tough to leave those hours of future speculation and thought behind. The seemingly frivolous moments became replaced with obsession about my career and where it was going. I put in more hours at work with the hope of getting noticed and perhaps promoted. I concerned myself with how I would pay bills, getting a better car, and filling my closets/cupboards full to their bursting point. I took on unnecessary debt.  I no longer seemed to select friends because of their individuality or interest, but rather out of convenience or proximity. It started to feel much more challenging to have quality moments - both alone and with good friends.

In the few free moments that took place, I would find myself wondering where I'd gone wrong. What had happened to me? I'd think back to the days of lying in the grass and staring up at the sky.

One glorious day in adulthood, a bicycle came into my life. I had used bicycles in my youth as a means of transportation, but it had been years since I'd really loved a bicycle and used one on a regular basis. The bicycle was beautiful, and looking back on it now, I realize that it was - at that moment - looked upon as simply another "thing" to be acquired. I had no means of knowing at that time that this lovely steed would bring me far more than something pretty to behold.

As I began to actually use this newly acquired machine, something magical was beginning to take shape. Without the slightest awareness of what was transpiring, those carefree moments of thinking returned. The ability to spend time alone with my thoughts had a place once again. The repetitious pattern of pedaling took on a meditative quality and I had time to contemplate existence and future possibilities.

With that time for processing and pondering back in my life, I realized I was unhappy at work. I had formed a career, but it felt disingenuous.  I didn't believe I was fulfilling a purpose, but rather going through the motions - and to what end?

Whether coincidental or not, friends started leaving my life as well. As I had time to understand that I'd surrounded myself with those who brought little to a relationship, they began to fall away. Slowly but surely, the toxins that had built up were vaporizing.

New acquaintances started making themselves known too. We had more in common than not, and they brought positive perspectives regardless of our agreement or disagreement on a given topic. I started having opinions again regarding who I wanted in my life and who I'd rather not allow in - and I realized it was okay to not have friendships with everyone.

To put it simply: I felt better riding a bicycle. I wasn't losing weight and my body didn't seem to be changing, but there was something about daily fresh air, wind in my hair, and the continuous rhythm of the stroke-stroke-stroke motion that allowed me to recapture a lost part of myself. It didn't seem to matter if the ride was just in to town or out on back roads. Being outside and moving was enough.

Bicycles are an interesting machine. They have the power to transport physically, emotionally and mentally. Such simple contraptions, yet if open to the experiences, utilizing one regularly can provide an overall sense of well-being. New or old, shiny and clean, or rusty and squeaky, the cover of the machine has little to do with what is possible.

When I feel troubled or concerned about anything, I take the bike out and pedal the frustrations away. Whether it's the physical work or the time alone that does the most good, I cannot really say with certainty. But I do know that the bicycle has brought me a sense of peace and helped me regain a lost sense of self. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bags, Baskets & Racks, Oh My!

I have a bit of an addiction to bicycle bags. Some people buy shoes, others collect jewelry, but my item of choice seems to be bags and baskets for my bikes. Maybe it's not so much of an addiction as an incessant hunt for the perfect bike-carrying contraptions, but either way, I seem to find myself trying a variety of styles and sizes out. So, when reader Kendra asked recently about my choice of bags on the Sam Hillborne, I couldn't help but smile a bit. The configuration of that bike has changed so many times and the racks, bags, and baskets are no exception, so it seems like as good a time as any to delve into this topic.

Pretty much any bicycle that hangs out for any length of time in our household seems to go through transitions. For me, this is just par for the course and I've learned to accept that I don't always know right away how I want a bike to be used or set up. Sometimes this necessitates a bag, basket or rack change too.

There are those who prefer to use panniers to carry their goods, and I've done it myself, but I have found that I am lazy about removing them, so when seasons change, or I want to use the bike as a road bike, rather than an errand bike, I'm carrying needless weight (not to mention getting the pannier dirty). For some, this isn't an issue, but I've simply chose over time to go in a different direction.
An example of a folding rear basket as illustrated on Sam's city bike.
I've even used folding "pannier baskets" on some bikes because they were a lot simpler for me to handle. They folded up nicely when not in use, and even though they were on the heavier side, it worked out fine on bikes that were used primarily for city uses, errand running and so on. In fact, Sam still has one of these on his city bike.

Initially, I rode the Hillborne with nothing on it. I wanted it stripped down as bare as possible. Then, very quickly a rear rack was added and soon decided that it wasn't enough, so a front one was installed as well.

The great thing about having two racks is that I always have a place to attach head and tail lights to the bike. Additionally, I could carry a bags of goods strapped on each of them. Panniers were easy to handle as well, but as mentioned above, I wasn't the best about removing them when not in use, or I'd forget to put them back on and end up somewhere without them.

This particular setup wasn't my favorite, and I always seemed to need to carry just a bit more than the configuration allowed. If I remembered panniers, it was pretty functional, but if not I was left holding bags and attempting to figure out how I was going to get everything home.
This round was a front rack to be able to strap something to the bike and on the rear was a Sackville SaddleSack in the x-small size.
Eventually, I turned to using a city-specific bike and pared things down on the Hillborne. I left the front rack in case I had need to carry something more than the rear bag could handle, and put on a saddlebag that was smaller, but not so small that I couldn't carry anything.

The Sackville SaddleSack was a nice compromise because it was large enough to carry more than just a tool and a pump, but not so large that it required the support of a rear rack.

Regularly, this bag carried a bike lock, a pump, tool, patches, a small towel, wallet, and still had room to spare. The bag itself, however, was a bit saggy with regular use and slowly started to droop. The more weight it had to hold, the saggier it became. The problem for me was that there wasn't much clearance between the rear tire and the bottom of the saddlebag once the sagging began.
Rivendell's Brand V saddlebag pictured here on another bike.
I tried a few different versions of similar bags. The one pictured above is Rivendell's vegan version of the SaddleSack bag, and I also tried out a couple that were picked up at a local REI.

All of the bags tried worked as intended, but I struggled to figure out the best set up for the Hillborne specifically.
This iteration had both front and rear Nitto racks with a Wald x-large front basket (zip-tied to the front rack) and on the rear was my Carradice Barley bag.
Lots of different saddlebags were tried at various points on the rear of the Hillborne. I've tried those that are quite small and hold only a tool, small pump and maybe an extra tube, and have gone all the way up to using the fairly large Carradice Barley bag.

Using a very small rear bag on this Hillborne isn't functional for me because it just doesn't hold enough, but using the very largest bag I own necessitates a rear rack, so if I remove the rear rack, I have to choose something a bit smaller.

At one point I had a large Wald basket on the rear of the bike (the very same pictured on the front above), and it's also obviously been on the front of the bike.

I like this arrangement because it allows me to carry up to two large grocery bags on the rear of the bike (or on the front, depending on the location of the basket). What I haven't liked in the past is that I couldn't get the basket far enough away from the saddle to keep from hitting me in the rear as I pedal. If the basket was on the front of the bike, it was frequently too heavy with its contents and caused the front to feel unwieldy or twitchy at times.

It seemed like a nice compromise to put the basket on the front and carry the large Carradice Barley bag on the rear of the bike. For me, this set up was probably one of the most functional when using the Hillborne as a city bike; however, the way that I used this bike was beginning to shift and pretty soon I changed the set up yet again.
Only carrying the front bag, the Sackville BarSack at this juncture.
I was riding the Hillborne more frequently on long rides throughout the area and having so many things on the bike was weighing it down. Between racks, bag and basket (including the usual contents of the saddlebag) I had added about 8-10 pounds to the bike. While I hadn't noticed it slowly growing in girth, when I found myself wanting to ride longer distances on this bike, I started thinking it was time to strip it down again.
I didn't want to completely eliminate a bag, but I also didn't want to have racks on the bike. I did want to be able to take my camera and lenses with me on rides sometimes, so I started to experiment with a front bag, rather than a saddlebag which brought the Sackville BarSack into my life.
This bag has been a really great one, I have to say. There are others comparable to it on the market, so it's not that it had to be this specific bag (I just happened to have a Rivendell gift certificate to use at the time). I appreciate the two side pockets. I frequently store keys, phone, chapstick, gum, and other similarly sized items there.
The top of the bag opens from the riders side toward the front wheel of the bike, so the contents can be easily reached while riding. In this area I store things like my wallet (I have a large wallet, so it doesn't fit in the side pockets), camera, bike lock, a sweater or extra layer, gloves, hat, food (if it's a really long ride), tissues, and so on. Of course, it's also plenty large to hold my camera and extra lenses.
Inside the main compartment there is also another zippered pocket that can carry other smaller items or keep items separated from the main compartment.
The front of the bag (the side facing out to the front wheel) has yet another zippered compartment for carrying additional items.

Additionally, the D-rings on the top of the bag are quite functional for using a map case if one is in need for directions along the way (such as for a brevet or other organized ride that may not be clearly marked). These rings also work well in a pinch to tie something to the top of the bag that doesn't way too much.

Another convenience of this bag is the detachable carrying strap included with purchase. I've used it myself as a kind of shoulder bag when I don't want to carry the individual items around with me after the bike is parked and locked, or if I just don't feel secure leaving the bag on the bike.

It's truly a functional bag. The only real down side I've found is that it requires the use of its own special "rack", which is definitely not the cheapest thing around (especially when combined with the cost of the bag). The bag itself is only intended to carry 3-4 pounds of weight, but I find that seems to be plenty for my needs. It is very sturdy though and I've loaded the bag up beyond its intended weight limit without issue (I don't do this frequently, but in a tight spot it's worked just fine).

One great aspect of this set up is that the bag and rack come off fairly easily, so if I want to use it on another bike, it isn't at all difficult to switch it out. I can also easily remove the bag alone and just leave the rack on (it just looks like bull horns sticking out of the front of the bike) if I don't want the added carrying convenience (or its added weight).
The current bag configuration: Carradice Zip Roll bag on the rear and a Sackville BarSack on the front.
At present, I have no racks on the Hillborne and instead have opted to just have bags. On the rear, I carry a Carradice Zip Roll bag, and on the front I have the Sackville BarSack. I don't know if it's my favorite set up, but it's definitely up in the top couple I've had on this bike.

Although I'm slowly adding back the weight I'd eliminated, it's really easy to remove either or both of these bags if needed.
Carradice Zip Roll saddlebag
The Carradice Zip Roll bag is also pretty convenient and allows me some wiggle room between what gets stored in the front versus the rear. It's large enough to carry my bike lock, a small towel, a tool, a patch kit, a pump, and so on. I also keep a strap stored here in case there's need to use it on a ride. In a pinch, I can also store my wallet here or an extra clothing layer or gloves.
This bag actually holds quite a bit. Despite looking packed in for this photo, I can still fit my large wallet, phone, bike lock, and other smaller items.
This bag is not nearly the size of the Barley bag mentioned above. For me, the Barley bag cannot hang on its own because of my saddle height, but rather requires the use of a rear rack to support it from underneath. Of course, the Barley is also able to carry substantially more, so it's something to keep in mind based on ones personal needs.
Visual comparison of three sizes of saddlebags: Carradice Barley, Carradice Zip Roll, Sackville SaddleSack
The zip roll bag, however, hangs nicely from the rear of my Brooks saddle. Even if it's loaded up, I have had no issues with it grazing the rear tire (though you can see in the photo above it is close to touching - within 0.5in/1.25cm - the fender).

In reality, a persons set up is going to be quite individualized. It would be impossible to provide the perfect setup for everyone because we all have different needs. I have no doubt that over time I'll go back to one of the configurations I've already used, and will probably try out others as well. The great thing about bags, baskets and racks is that they're fairly easy to both add and remove from a bicycle. There are also less expensive and more pricey options, allowing for individuals to choose dependent on his/her own requirements.

What sort of set up do you use on your transportation or city bike? Have you found that one way in particular works best for you? Do you use one bike for both transportation and sport? If so, how do you deal with transporting larger items by bike? Do you prefer to keep it loaded up and ready for carrying goods, or do you take your chances and keep your bike more bare bones to carry only minimal extra goods?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

At Ease on a Bicycle: Cycling Comfort, Control & Skills

When I was a kid, roller skating was a big deal. It was an activity that nearly everyone participated in, and growing up in a smaller community it was an easy way to keep kids and teenagers entertained and out of trouble in a city that didn't host many age-appropriate activities. Many Friday evenings my family would go to the skating rink and we'd roll around for a few hours.

Of course, one of those words didn't really apply to me personally:  Roll.
*Image found here
As much as I always wanted to skate, I could never get the hang of it. I'd watch my mother as she'd easily glide around without issue, while I clung for dear life to the walls. Not an innate instructor by any means, my mom was never able to express or illustrate the fundamentals that would keep me upright and able to move solidly or securely in a forward direction.

I tried on my own for many years to master what seemed to be an inborn skill for so many others, but I was never successful. I spent far more time on the ground and with skinned/bruised body parts than was probably necessary.

A couple of years ago, I made a passing comment to an acquaintance who is part of a local roller derby squad that I would absolutely love to participate. However, as much as I think I'd love the sport, I cannot skate. Not only can I not skate, but just standing upright on skates without toppling seems to be an issue.

She has suggested on many occasions that she'd be willing to help me get to a point of (at least) basic skill (apparently one learns more advanced skills while trying out for the team), but I've never taken her up on the kind and generous offer.
*Image found here
So, when a reader asked for my thoughts on achieving confidence and skill on a bicycle, I couldn't help but identify with her plight. I have to admit, riding a bicycle was not a competent activity for me early in life - at least not without training wheels. It's not a common sight to see a third grader riding a bike with training wheels, but I was definitely that kid, and it wasn't for lack of trying.

Then, one day, my parents decided that the training wheels were coming off, whether I was ready or not. I remember a lot of tears that day (Okay, in reality the tears took place for weeks after the training wheels came off). I didn't feel I had the ability to ride without the support of those two extra little attached wheels, but lo and behold, I somehow managed to pull it together (after many falls) to figure it out, and the rest is history.

Well, sort of. As anyone who reads here knows, I still find myself struggling in certain areas of riding. Mountain biking, for instance, has been a huge source of frustration. Riding on icy roads also strikes fear in me. Not to mention the many bicycles I've tested that kept me from ever wanting to ride those particular bikes again due to instability or some other geometry-related detail(s).

If I've learned anything from my moments of adult-bicycling frustration (or incompetence) it is that repetition is key. Much as I may dread or sometimes fear a particular location or set of circumstances, the more I practice the easier those activities/moments become.  Repetition is not the only element though. I have to allow myself the opportunity to "fail" as might be the case in some circumstances. Surrounded by people who seem completely comfortable and at ease with their skill level, it's not always easy to tell oneself that it's okay to fall, to get off and walk, to go slower than everyone else, to ask for help, or to do research before diving in head first (hopefully not literally).

Seeing (reading) that I find myself trying out a variety of bicycles and having gone on a number of test rides, I can see how there would be an assumption that I've adapted and learned to quickly find comfort or be at ease on a new bicycle. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I've slowly overcome a lot of my fears, but there are still times when I want to run out of a shop and hide (As a side note, if a shop ever makes you feel this way - meaning someone working in the shop makes you feel inferior or incapable - it may be a good sign that you should look for another bike shop. Making the customer feel at ease is one of the most important aspects of customer service, I believe).

There are a variety of areas to take into consideration when adapting to a new bicycle though. Some of these may seem obvious, but it never hurts to bring it up in case there is something that has gone unconsidered thus far.
*Image found here
A bicycle should be the proper size
This one may seem apparent without needing to be stated, but I see people nearly every day riding incorrectly sized bicycles. They look uncomfortable riding, and while I know sometimes it's a situation in which lack of funds prevented obtaining a bicycle that was the proper size (i.e. - the person is riding a hand-me-down or loaner bike), if you have the means to purchase a bicycle (whether new or used) try to make sure it is the proper size for the rider.

This can be trickier than it sounds, but if you have a good local bicycle shop, they can be very helpful in this regard. Recently, I was looking over a chart containing riders heights versus the size frame of a particular model s/he was riding. I was amazed at how different the sizes were for people of the same height. It just goes to illustrate though that an individuals proportions are very important - not just a persons height.
*Image found here
A bicycle should fit properly
This is different in my mind than a bicycle being the correct size. I have had innumerable experiences on bikes that were, on paper, the size I need; however, the fit is simply off. I think this is an aspect that is both known almost immediately by the rider and can change as more time and distance traveled on the bike takes place.

I used to feel badly making a shop adjust things during a test ride, but if we stop and think about it, why would we want to test a bike while riding in an uncomfortable manner? If I'm ill-at-ease testing the bike, how will I know that it's going to work in every day life for me? Plus, it's the only way I'm going to be able to determine if the fit is right for me.

Fit sometimes involves changes to handlebar stems, handlebars themselves, brakes, shifters, seatpost, saddle, and the list could go on. Some of these things a shop may be willing to switch out for a test, but more than likely most of these changes will occur after a rider has some time with the bicycle. If the size is correct though, it may just need a bit of adjustment to find the right fit.
*Image found here
Different bikes perform various types of riding better
When I first received a cruiser bike several years ago, I was so in love. I rode that bike everywhere. It was so comfortable because it sat upright (no weight on my already injured hands), the saddle was wide (I didn't have any issues with my sit bones being too wide because the seat was nearly as large as my rear end), it had an internal, 3-speed hub (I didn't have to worry about losing a chain on the derailleur), and it didn't hurt that it was pretty.

Soon, I found myself attempting 20 mile rides on a 45+ pound cruiser bike. My average speeds were probably somewhere around 6 mph, but I didn't care. I just enjoyed the ride.

Then, I started realizing that a ride into town (which at that time was about 8 miles just to the edge of our city) and back home again was taking up half the day. It was fine on a lazy Saturday with nothing else to get done, but when one is just trying to get an errand done, traveling so slowly can hinder how often those rides can take place.

The same is true of trying to ride a bike intended for paved roads on rough or rocky, mountainous terrain. While it could be done (and I've seen it happen first hand), certain tools are simply better for a given task. It wouldn't be surprising at all to feel ill-at-ease on a bicycle intended for a different type of riding.
*Image found here
Bicycle handling
I think the way a bicycle handles can be crucial to a riders confidence as well. Some bikes have twitchy front ends; others feel completely stable. Some bikes have loose steering while others are tighter. Some feel completely grounded and/or heavy while others feel sprightly and/or light.

Bicycles are built for different purposes so handling is going to change from one type of bike to another. A quality that may seem unattractive for one type of riding could be a godsend for another. Some of these characteristics can change with modifications to a bike, while others would be far more difficult. For example, it would be tough to have turned my quite heavy cruiser bike into a road bike suitable for club rides. However, it might be possible to turn a touring bicycle into something that would handle a bit livelier (or course, this is highly dependent on the bicycle in question).
*Image found here
New geography or topography 
I am particularly fortunate to live an area that is fairly small as far as population is concerned. While there are jerky motorists everywhere, there have been few times while riding that I've feared for my life. I know that isn't always the case for cyclists though.

Riding in more densely populated cities can have its ups and downs. For instance, larger cities are more often equipped with many miles of bike lanes; however, you may find yourself with motorists parked in those lanes, the possibility of getting "doored" while riding by a parked car becomes even more likely, pot holes the size of craters are huge obstacles, and the list could go on.

Living in smaller areas, there are many of the same challenges. There may not be as much traffic or as many bike lanes, but the reality of lanes being placed directly next to parked cars or motorists not paying attention is just as real.

Even if a cyclist has lived in the same place for a long time, changing from motorist to bicycle rider can feel overwhelming. Taking it slowly and knowing that you don't have to do anything you find uncomfortable can be helpful. Just going a bit farther each trip may assist with overcoming roads that seem insurmountable too.

Additionally, changing from riding on paved roads to dirt or other terrain can bring its own challenges. Have patience with yourself and know that you can do it. Last fall, I went on the world's shortest mountain bike ride, but it helped me feel slightly better about the bike, the way it handles/feels, and my ability to maintain control.
*Image found here
Get comfortable with the parts of a bicycle
Perhaps knowing all the parts on a bicycle doesn't seem immediately necessary to find a level of comfort with a bike, but it certainly can't hurt. I have to admit, when I knew just about nothing in regard to my bicycles it was far more a mystery, which sometimes created unnecessary stress or fear. When a bicycle feels like something foreign or we're not sure how it works or what goes where it can be intimidating.

As I became more familiar with the purpose of each component, how they work together, and what could potentially go wrong on the roads, it alleviated mental strain which eased into comfort on a bike.

A bicycle is a fairly simple machine. While we may not all have the desire to learn about every bit and piece, having a general understanding and being able to make small repairs ourselves can definitely aid in the process of getting acquainted and therefore comfortable with bicycles.

Other potential areas of consideration
It's possible that there are physical limitations for the rider. Does the rider have balance, dexterity, and/or inner-ear problems? Perhaps there is another previously unconsidered physical ailment that is causing the rider to feel uncomfortable, such as an injured knee, ankle, shoulder, neck, or other body part. I believe physical injuries or ailments can sometimes require the assistance of a professional (doctor, physical therapist, etc), but there are riders who are able to overcome these - sometimes even without professional help, depending on severity.

Truly, there are many possibilities when it comes to feeling uncomfortable or not quite in control of a bicycle. If repetition doesn't seem to be helping, the bicycle is fitted properly, and there aren't any physical challenges to overcome, perhaps the problems could be emotional or mental stress/strain. I know for myself I have built things up in the past to be more challenging or difficult than they truly are. It's amazing how much stress this can put on the body. So much so that I can begin to feel dizzy or out of control when riding a bike.

Sometimes just working through a fear by creating a worst-case scenario we can come up with a plan of action should something go wrong. As the saying goes, most of what we worry about never actually happens. However, if we're prepared for something to go wrong, if there is a problem it's a lot easier to quickly adapt in the situation.

I also wrote a post several years ago regarding lessons I'd learned and I have to say that while it was intended for larger than average cyclists, I still think the points hold true for anyone who rides a bike.

Ultimately, I believe that in order to become competent at any skill, it has to be repeated. For some, there is an almost instant understanding and adeptness, while for others it may take weeks, months, or perhaps even years.

Roller skating never became a skill for me because too much time passed between attempts to practice. I became frustrated with my inability to quickly master the skates and ultimately let it go. It doesn't mean it's impossible for me to find a level of comfort, but I have to be willing to put in the time and have the patience to see it through. I was able to eventually ride without training wheels on my bike because I was forced into it. I don't recommend it as a teaching tool because it was highly unnerving, but I think there are methods for easing a person into becoming comfortable while riding by taking matters slowly.

My thoughts here are based simply on my experiences or observations around me, but others may have ideas as well. So, I ask you, what recommendations would you have for someone trying to find comfort or to become more at ease on a bicycle? Did/do you struggle to feel in control while on a bike? What did/do you do to overcome any issues? Any tips or tricks you can offer would be fantastic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Errandonnee Wrap Up

As much as I would love to participate in the Coffeeneuring challenge hosted by Chasing Mailboxes' MG, I have found it difficult to play along. I have extreme reactions to caffeine, making it difficult to ride for a coffeeneuring-ish beverage. It's not that I never have caffeinated beverages, but I have to be extremely cautious about the time of day they are had and how frequently they are consumed. My sensitivity to the drug seems to be extremely high, and while there are probably drinks that could follow the rules, I haven't made the effort to seek them out - at least yet. Perhaps one year I'll throw caution to the wind and just lose sleep for a couple of weeks in order to play along.  Either that, or I'll have to figure out ways to make bottled water look like a coffeeneuring beverage.

Running errands is a bit broader though, so when the 2015 Errandonnee challenge was announced, I read along (as always) with enthusiasm. I don't normally participate, but I've had a rough few weeks and knew I needed something to distract me. I quickly took mental stock and realized that I really don't have many errands to complete in a given week. On top of that, the weather is very hit or miss in March (and April, and May). Would I really be able to complete 12 errands by bicycle in 12 days?
Initially, I intended to document errandonnee clothing throughout the challenge, but that very quickly fell apart. I have no idea how bike chic ladies keep this up (not that I think anything I wear is chic by any stretch of the imagination. Paint stains and holes from dog teeth are hardly "chic"), but I have a new found respect for the effort it takes to document such things. 
Additionally, I wasn't entirely sure that I'd be able to get in 7 of the 9 categories for the challenge. Let's face it, I work from home. Any supplies I need, I order online (for the most part) because there's not much locally offering what I need. I rarely have time for social visits or other entertainment these days. We have no cash to be out buying items because it's all going into house renovations. What sort of errands would I run over the course of the event if I expected to finish?

I do have the bonus though of being able to ride fairly often during daylight hours that aren't completely frigid, so perhaps I just needed to take advantage of this fact.

Well, I decided it was worth the effort to see if I could finish, and patches (much like stickers) are something I often seek out. Though I usually pick them up while vacationing, I think an errandonnee is just as valid a reason to obtain one, right?
Most of the errandonnee rides would be completed using this bike. This was one of the early errandonnee rides.
When I started trying to figure out possible errands to complete I realized there are a couple that would be no-brainers. I go to kickboxing multiple times a week and ride there, so I could use two of those trips. I'd have to hit the grocery store at some point in 12 days at least once (probably more), and even though I've yet to make a trip to the grocery store by bike since our move, I believed I could make this happen. Plus, there would likely be some sort of need to get some other task completed. Maybe it wouldn't be as challenging as I initally believed.

The first errandonnee ride was to kickboxing. It was Saturday morning at about 7:30a, and due to the fact that the majority of locals are sleeping in on Saturday's, I always get to experience the feeling of freedom on the roads while riding. Sure, it's pretty cold this time of year (particularly early in the morning), but I've managed to dial in the layers fairly well over time. It's easier to soak in the city this time of day too because the sun is just coming up and the world doesn't seem to be fully awake. Sam and I chatted and enjoyed being able to ride side-by-side most of the way to class.

Now, we do this ride all of the time, so it was easy to forget that I was starting to move my way through the challenge. It almost seemed like cheating because it wasn't an extra trip I was taking, but rather one I'd ride anyway. But, I didn't seem to be breaking any rules (surprisingly, as I do love breaking - or at least bending - rules), so I counted it. The 4.9 miles went into my log sheet and I was on my way.
Sam played along for a few errandonnee trips. I think with just a few more he would've completed his own challenge. Maybe next year. 
A couple of days later, I needed to make an appointment. I started to pick up the phone to do so and then thought better of it. The shop is less than a couple of miles away, why not take a ride to make the appointment? Plus, I could pick up some shampoo I was desperately needing. So, off I pedaled to make the appointment and pick up needed goods.

Later that evening, I was reminded that I have a new bike light to test out for review. So, a trip in the dark was in order (which is the only way to truly test a headlight or taillight on a bicycle, I think). A few more miles under my belt and another errandonnee ride completed.
Hey, the light works! :O)
Soon, I found myself taking a ride to the post office and then for a quick visit during a friends break at work.

Were "excuses" to ride getting easier to find? Maybe I take more trips than I thought during the week.
I used the Rodriguez for a longer errand because, well, I felt like it and I didn't need to carry anything. :O)
Then, I suddenly made the realization that there were only a handful of days left in the challenge and I still needed to complete 7 errandonnee rides.

Have I mentioned that I can be a procrastinator? The good and the bad of being able to pretty much ride any time is that I can ride any time. It's easy to put off until tomorrow, just as it's as probable to decide at a moments notice that I can take off for a quick errand.

I started thinking back to my human resources days and leading classes on time management (Oh, how I laugh about this now!). Somehow, my lessons on not allowing "time bandits" to get the best of me didn't rub off.

You can do this G.E., I said to myself, as I felt a bit of anxiousness rising within. You just have to get organized and make a plan. I'm pretty sure this in itself was breaking rule #12 of the errandonnee challenge. But, like I said, I am not one to really follow rules (Side note: Can you imagine me as your H.R. person? [shaking head] I know, I have a hard time believing I did this for a living for so many years too.).

I don't make a plan for moving forward. I am not sure who I thought I was kidding. Instead, I do it the way I do most things in life and figure it will work itself out.
The following day I made a run for batteries, and later realized that I actually had a work-related task that could be completed by bike. Heading off to a local gallery to get some exhibition information, I discovered that they were closed upon arrival. Drat! Well, at least it counted as an errandonnee.
Friday evening is "Second Friday;" the day locally when most galleries open their latest exhibitions. Seemed like a perfect opportunity for a meal together and a chance to see what's going on in the art scene here. The meal together was fantastic, and all the better because we arrived by bicycle. The art showings for the evening were less exciting, but I'm always grateful for the opportunity to see what others are doing in their medium of choice.
Front row parking is fantastic... and we had a snake bike rack cozy to keep the bicycles company.
My final officially "needed" errandonnee trip was to the grocery store. It was an important trip for me to make because since our move into the new house a couple of months ago, I have to admit I haven't once traveled to get groceries of any kind by bike.
Wasn't getting much on this trip, so the trailer was unnecessary.
The nearest grocer is just over a mile away, so it's easily within bike-able distance; however, my brain was set on a particular route to travel which included a very busy street that lacks a bike lane (or any space to safely travel, really). Once I realized it was unnecessary to travel the specific route my mind seemed to insist I must, it was far less stress-inducing than I'd imagined.
In truth, I was able to easily get to the grocery store via a bike lane nearly the entire distance, and the spots that don't have a bike lane are so quiet that rarely is a motorist in sight at all.

On this trip, I picked up very little, but I made a huge realization that there really is no reason not to go by bike.

Overall, the Errandonnee challenge was one that I've appreciated. I was incredibly fortunate to have a stretch of time that was snowfall-free, making it super easy to travel by bicycle. Not only was it completed without snow coming down, but the temperatures toward the end of the challenge were actually reaching 80F/26C. Not too shabby for a state frequently under snow this time of year.
This rider opted to lock to the stop sign as the bike rack was not entirely secure.
Additionally, I've realized how often I pass places and things with little regard, and I still believe, despite the fact that there is not nearly the bike theft here that often exists in larger cities, our bike racks are (in many spots) poorly designed, provide little security, or worse yet don't exist at all in centers or destinations. While it's a requirement for newly built locations in town, some retrofitting in older spots would be fantastic.

My biggest disappointment was not getting to complete the final missing category (You carried WHAT?! on your bike). Normally, I find myself carrying ridiculous things around town via bike, but the need just never came up in the week and a half-ish during the challenge. I thought I'd get to sneak it in on day 12, but it never materialized. Perhaps next year things will work out better in that regard.

Regardless of any minor hiccups encountered along the challenge path, I am grateful for the opportunity to have ridden to many destinations over the last twelve days. There's much to explore by bike and having an extra reason to make trips on two wheels is always welcomed. I hope you enjoyed your twelve days of errandonneering too. I have to admit, I'm a bit sad to see it come to an end. I've enjoyed the thought of people all over riding "together" to get errands completed. Fortunately, I know the rides will continue even if they aren't part of an officially organized errandonnee event.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mrs. Harvey's Baking Company

I found myself on day eight of the twelve day Errandonnee challenge faced with the reality that I needed to hop to it or I wouldn't be completing the challenge at all.

Three nights prior, Sam and I had a conversation about tail lights for our bicycles. He'd already borrowed one of mine and the other that I thought had fresh batteries in it wasn't working either. We managed to get to our destination with the help of an almost forgotten third tail light, but decided that, after a thorough search of all the random "junk drawers" in the house, we currently have no AAA batteries.

A perfect errandonnee trip, I thought.

As I set out to pick up the batteries this cloudy, dreary morning, I passed a place that we've ridden by countless times. We've taken note and thought we should investigate further, but neither had done so to this point.
Quite often, we pass what appears to be an early 1900's home with a sign on the front that reads: Mrs. Harvey's Baking Company. Sam, having the extreme sweet tooth he does, was particularly drawn to this sign in the past, and I'm always interested in a doughy, sweet treat on occasion as well. We figured that perhaps a business was being run out of the home, but why we'd never seen a Mrs. Harvey's baked good was left only to our imaginations.

On this trip though, I couldn't help but stop in front of the home. I tried to find company hours or any indication that this could be a bread shop or bakery with only limited hours without success. I snapped a quick photo and decided to do some research at home later.

As it turns out, "Mrs. Harvey" is a pretty interesting lady. She was born in Chicago and had a variety of jobs before beginning work for the Continental Baking Company. She was working for this company when she met her future husband, Harvey Cunningham. She would become the forewoman for Continental, but would give up her position in order to marry Harvey. Eventually, they both transferred to the very first Twinkie plant in the country (I know some people who would be very envious of this job).

In 1948, the two moved to Longmont, Colorado and with a couple of friends formed Mrs. Harvey's Baking Company, which sold wholesale baked goods such as cake and pies.

I was unable to determine when exactly the bakery stopped making goods and why, but the spot still stands; though now serves as a single family home. A bit of homage is paid to the organization that used to produce the sweet goods as the house still bears the sign for the baking company.

Mrs. Harvey, aka Blanche Cunningham, passed just after her 99th birthday, almost three years ago.

It's hard to believe how many times I've passed this spot and never bothered to investigate further. I suppose it's just one more reason to travel by bicycle. Feeling less hurried (at least generally speaking), it feels acceptable to stop and take a look around, to investigate areas or things a bit more than when driving down the road.

I hope you're finding little (and big) things to appreciate about the Errandonnee challenge, and if you aren't participating, there are still a few days to get your rides in.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Rodriguez Rainier: An Update/Mini Review-to-Date

Sometimes, it's actually quite difficult for me to articulate how I feel about a particular bicycle. Generally the words and thoughts come together at some point in time, but there are certain bikes that seem to need more time and clarity than others. Often, this has little to do with the bike itself, but has more to do with my bodily injuries at the time or my mental state of being. Such has been the case with the second-round custom road bike.

When we left off last year with my apologetically long posts regarding my first custom built road bike, I wasn't sure where anything was headed. I hoped for better results during the second go-round with the Rodriguez, but I hadn't quite received the new ride, so I couldn't provide any sort of mental relief for anyone reading along and/or sympathizing with my bike plight.
The bike arrived in November, just as we were hunkering down for a bigger snow storm. It was cold, icy, wet, and I didn't get to ride it much at all. In fact, I only took it out for a quick spin initially around a couple of blocks, just for my own sense of (at least some) satisfaction. Of course, pedaling around two neighborhood blocks does not an opinion make (or at least not a very practical/usable opinion), and so I tried to steal some time away to figure out exactly how and if this new experiment was going to work for me.

A day came along that was clear enough that I could take a 10-miler without too much trouble, but again, it still wasn't enough to form any thoughtful opinions. A few weeks later, I managed a 15-mile ride, but none of these were long enough or close enough together that I could really feel my way around this new bicycle. I was getting frustrated.

Then, we started in with home renovations and the move, and riding a bicycle was about the last thing I had time to do. It was unfortunate to say the least.

In early February though, we had an unseasonable warm streak run through the state and I finally had a break from the long days of renovating and enough time to head out for more than a dozen or so miles. Of course, now the issue was my body. Not only was I aching from the projects at home, but I hadn't ridden more than a few miles in months. I also hadn't formally exercised in nearly the same amount of time, so to head out on a longer ride seemed nearly impossible.

Rather than stress myself out or feel some sort of imagined pressure to do a long distance, I decided to just take a shorter ride (about 15 miles) so that I wouldn't fatigue too early and lose any sort of objectivity in regard to the Rodriguez.

Unfortunately for me, my powers of calculation were severely lacking on this particular day and the ride ended up closer to 30 miles. This is what happens when one has no sense of distance traveled (and when one puts the GPS in her back pocket and cannot see it while riding). If it hasn't been made clear from previous posts, I am a horrible, horrible guesstimater of mileage. On many occasions I have believed Sam and I have traveled but a few miles, only to quickly be informed that it is many more than I'd thought. Something is definitely off with my mental distance calculator, but I'm sure it has more to do with the fact that I'm generally lost in my own thoughts and paying little attention to the mileage traveled. It works both to my aid and detriment, depending on the situation.
It's difficult to get a good photo of the colors. They are so gorgeous in person, but I find that it just doesn't quite translate with the camera.
Anyway, as I was on this would-be-15-turned-30-miler, I focused on paying attention to my position, the way I felt and any problem areas that might exist. From the start of the ride (before the start of the ride, I should say) my hands were in some severe trouble. I'd been having a lot of problems with hand cramps from renovation work and often woke with hands I could not move or flex at all. I'll admit, this was probably not the best time to be taking the Rodriguez out for a test spin, but I just needed to know that everything was going to be okay as spring was getting closer every day and I still wasn't sure what I thought of this bike.

As I traveled down the road, I was aware that my hands were having issues, but I also noticed how comfortable I was on the Rodriguez. Despite all of the self-inflicted body pain, it was easy to feel just how well this bike fit me. I was actually - dare I say it - comfortable. Given that I hadn't ridden a bike at all for any purpose for nearly two months, I was shocked. I expected to feel some kind of need to adjust something, but it seemed as though if my hands hadn't been in such dire straits, I'd actually have a winner here.

Could it be? Could this actually fit properly? It seems improbable that a person could hit the nail on the head without having ever met me, nor had me ride one of their bikes, nor had I gone through any kind of elaborate system of tests; but here I was, pretty sure that this bike was turning out to be pretty fabulous.

The Rainier model is advertised as more of a Randonneur bicycle. It's intended to be a quick bike, but it's also stable and allows for fenders, a triple crank, or pretty much whatever one might need to make for a pleasant ride.  I honestly didn't think it was possible to have a bike that would feel perky and stable - and actually fit well - all at the same time.

For those who read my original post about the former custom, you may recall my concern with removing a hand to grab my water bottle when riding. It's not even a hint of an issue on this bike at all. I can descend with ease, remove a hand (or even two) to fetch what I need and not feel as though I'm going to lose control at any moment.

There was some discussion initially about whether to build this bike with a double or triple crank. Obviously, this could be an argued topic, but since I have issues climbing (and living at the base of the Rocky Mountains doesn't exactly help matters), it really made sense to make my life easier with a triple.

I also debated for a bit whether or not to put fenders on the bike, but given that it arrived at the end of the autumn season, it seemed like a good idea. Although they can easily be removed, I have a feeling I will just leave them on year-round as they really don't add to the weight and it's always nice to stay a little cleaner when riding.

The drive train is set up with a mix of parts from Campagnolo, SRAM and Origin8. The wheels are 650c and are working out pretty great to this juncture. Given that the budget wouldn't allow for the finest/greatest at the time of purchase, I think it's actually a wonderful set up; and, over time I'll be able to upgrade things like the crank and so on as funds become available (Are funds ever "available?"). I was really grateful that the shop was very willing to work with me in the budgetary constraints, point out the items that I might personally find beneficial, and remind me that parts can always change down the road.
Since that slightly longer test ride, I've been able to pedal more miles and I am still really happy with the decision to go with Rodriguez, and to give a custom build another shot. I really wish that I hadn't gone through the first round which would've saved both physical pain and money, but I think the experience was a valuable one (Plus, I have the added bonus of sharing all the "fun" with all of you) and definitely added to the bike-knowledge/experience reserves.

This process renewed my faith in bike builders (or at least in this bike builder) and has helped remind me why I love to ride. I was reaching a point that I wasn't sure I would ever ride a bike again for more than a handful of miles, but this Rainier really fits better than I could have hoped. It can't fix the ailments my body has, but I am convinced that the work done prior to the build and manufacture to make those problems less of an issue has made all the difference.

I have named the Rodriguez "Neo." The original intention was not to name him after The Matrix character (Though, as he was known as "The One" it is just as applicable), but rather after Neapolitan ice cream (leave it to the chubby kid to name her bike after ice cream, I swear [shaking head]). Although I chose the color combination, it didn't really dawn on me until it arrived how much it reminded me of the tri-colored ice cream. But, since the thought was then in my head and it seemed to fit, I decided to simply go with it.

This bike truly could be the one though, and that makes me smile. I won't win any speed records on this bike, but that has far more to do with the rider than the bike, and I've always enjoyed rides (be it errands, fitness, or otherwise) when I take things a bit slower and enjoy the scenery along the way. If I want to push myself, I can, or I can simply pedal along. It's always nice to have that choice though.

I'm anxiously awaiting warmer months and the opportunity to really get out on a more regular basis, but until then, I'm thankful for the days that allow me to just get out and enjoy. I'm sure I'll have more opinions as I'm able to ride more regularly, but it's such a relief to know this wasn't all in vain.