The last time I picked up bike commuting after a two year hiatus in Minnesota, it took a while to get back into the pattern of fitness. I recall being very tired by the end of the 2nd commute, and was fairly disenchanted with the weather. I stuck it out, however, and don’t even recall what drove me, but after a month or so, I realized that I was looking forward to the bike every morning.
Eventually, I lost interest in using the automobile for work unless I had a cross-town meeting for lunch. Even then, I found myself putting off meetings like that for weeks. I enjoy propelling myself to and from work too much. When I got behind the wheel, I found the experience both frustrating (traffic), and frightening (speed). The slower pace of the bicycle (as well as the quietness) acclimatized me to not be as comfortable at highway speeds. I’m sure this was how folks felt when motorized vehicles were introduced. The speed thing was especially interesting, as I am a soul that loves to speed along in any way I can. I have always enjoyed downhill skiing over cross country, downhill mountain biking over climbing, and bombing hills in the big ring. Heck – I was a sprinter in track – not the cross country racer I was built for. I think it’s the freedom and energy I get when I’m on the edge of control and wind is whipping past. It’s an awesome feeling! You never get that in a cage (car).
Another thing I love about the bike commute: although the pics in this post show times even bikes have to wait, for the most part you can go as fast as you want on a bike commute and keep things legal. You aren’t stopped by the mundane speed limit laws constantly reeling in the ridiculously over-built engines on racer-boy cars. Nothing like seeing a vehicle that can go 180mph driving the kids to school, or the exec to work. Talk about reigned in and collared! On a bike, if there is a traffic issue, I go around it or find another route. I can purposely choose a relatively empty way home even on “game days” when traffic is in gridlock.
At this point, my poor truck is rapidly becoming a classic Seattle-style moss and pollen collector, and I think about selling it every week. One of these days I will realize I haven’t driven in weeks and just take the car-free plunge.
There has been a lot of debate in the steel bike internets about Grant Petersen and Jan Heine, which one is “right” about bike design, and various merits of their writings. I have been following both since 2008, when I moved back to Seattle and started commuting again in earnest. Now I should express full disclosure that I’m a Rivendell owner (obvious from my posts), but I have also ridden a few low trail bikes like the Rawland rSogn and VO Polyvalent with and without front loads. OK – not an expert by any means, and I certainly won’t try to resolve this debate here…
I see Grant and Jan as modern writers akin to sports/hobby guys such as those I read as a youth growing up in the Midwest. Back in my formative days, I was very interested in hunting and voraciously read all there was to read in the journals of the time. I still hunting as a romantic, meditative soul-soup activity that recharges me from time in the rat race, but I also get this from bike riding, randonneuring, and build/mechanic work.
Grant is sort of a Jack O’Connor (writer for Outdoor Life) who has great stories, and likes classic bikes that are designed in a certain way. His bikes use steel, lugs, oversized tubing, mid-trail geometry, large tires, leather saddles, and upright bars and riding positions. He likes bikes that are fun to ride everyday, and useful for a wide range of folks. He especially fits those that are on the larger or smaller size physically, and really tries to keep his designs consistent for his riders whether they are 6’6″ or 4’10″. He puts a lot of character (and characters) in his writing, and talks about other loves like cameras, fitness, and camping overnights.
Jan does a great job of appealing to the more technical or race oriented riders, and his love of the romance of the randonneur and the long rides fuel his efforts in soulful stories that inspire people like me to try endurance cycling (whether we should or not). Kind of an Elmer Keith who comes at things from a different angle but goes into it a bit more heavy on the “science”. He designs components, like Keith (who designed bullets and magnum handgun cartridges). His style is, in my opinion, more authoritative or perhaps parental which can put folks off when he pisses on someone’s dream bike, but I believe he tries to be fair, and just has an opinion he really believes to be true.
What I really like about both of these guys is that they work hard to put out a lot of interesting content, they both run successful businesses that rely on the reputation of their word, and they aren’t afraid to express themselves. I hope they continue to inspire bikers for a long time to come!
Since May is bike month, I figured I would post some thoughts and experiences on my years of bike commuting in Seattle, WA. I consider myself lucky to live in a town that permits this year-round, but I recall standing at the bus-stop in Minneapolis one day when it was about 14 below zero and seeing a grizzled bike commuter pedaling by. I guess this can be done anywhere! That takes me to the first item:
If you want to succeed in biking to work regularly, you have to get through the first month. If your commute is more than a few miles, you may want to start out small and work up. I generally ride 4-5 days a week these days, but when I started out, I did one day a week until that felt ok. Then I stepped it up to two days. After a few weeks of this I went to three, and so on. You will be frustrated at first by lack of energy, weather, bad drivers, bad bikers, etc… After a month, though, you may find that getting in a car is actually more frustrating, and you may find exhilaration in anticipating a nice ride in, or home. There will be days where you hear wind and rain and think “what the hell am I doing riding in this?”, but when you get out in it, it’s not really that bad. Same as skiing – water or snow. You will get wet and/or cold, but you’re still having fun.
You will need to plan a tiny bit more to be a bike commuter – time, clothes, shower are all slightly modified. First off, it takes longer to bike to work (usually). Figure out how much time it takes on a day when you don’t have to be somewhere, or just give yourself way too much time. Keep your main clothes at work. I just bring an undershirt and socks with me. I take a shower before I leave. It’s generally cool in the morning, so I don’t break too much of a sweat on the way in. Nothing a good towel won’t take care of. I keep a week’s worth of pants and 2-weeks worth of shirts in the office. I launder these at a dry cleaner, but have brought bundles home via car/bus on my rest days. Remember – if you’re in an office job, you can generally get multiple wears out of a set of clothes between washes.
Find and Vary Routes
I have 3 or 4 routes I take regularly. There is the short-direct shot into work; the meandering coffee shop route; the long scenic route; the mostly trail route. It really helps to have options as it makes the trips fun, and not tedious. If you don’t like your route, take a different option, and don’t worry if it adds miles. My shortest route is 7.5 miles, and the longest route is over 13 miles one way. I can be just as tired after either of them, and all of them get me where I’m going. There is nothing quite as satisfying as passing a lot of traffic that is gridlocked due to a game or other random event. On a bike you have endless options!
I hope this helps – commuting by bike is really rewarding in health, stress-relief, and giving you time to think or wind down on the way home. It is a great way to turn a stressful activity on its head, and get something beneficial out of the time you may be spending in traffic.
I’ve been away from posting for the past few weeks. It’s not that I haven’t been riding, although a trip to Maui resulted in a week’s break from the road, and a short bout of flu kept me off the bike for a few days before that. Today was the first day back on the bike, and I felt like I lost some fitness. I had expected to feel rested, and I’m definitely relaxed, but I realize now that regular riding keeps me in shape.
Going from a week of humid 80 degree temps to the 40s/50s of rainy Seattle was not too bad. I feel like this is the ideal climate for biking. It never gets too hot. When I was on Maui, I felt like I would have to get out to ride at 5am to avoid the sun. I overcook easily. That said, I felt a lot more comfortable by the end of my visit. Next time I go, I will be riding.
Back home found the end of the cherry bloom, and as I rode through the UW campus, I was inspired to take a few pictures.
This fusion of green and pink is not far from what I just experienced in a more tropical climate.
Spring is becoming a favorite season for me. The rain helps!
My continued adventure on the Hunqapillar. Today I put Resist Nomads on the beast, and removed the 50mm Duremes. Although I love these tires, they are heavy, and make my ~1000ft ascent home tougher than I want it to be. These Nomads may be a good medium.
This tire is rated as a 45mm, but most folks measure it out at about 41mm. I’m going to wait a few days for a measurement so it can stretch. First impressions are good. It rolls smoothly, has plenty of plushness, and less weight than the Schwalbe. It’s definitely not as plush as the Cypres or Jack Brown Green, but for what this bike is for, I would like a bit more rubber on the road, and I’m always chasing the mythical Hetre in 700c. This is a haulin’ tourin’ mountain bike.
The tire is a wire bead. It mounted on the Synergy with minimal finger pressure – no need for irons if you have a flat. The sidewall is a bit darker than the light yellowish typical skinwall. This works really well on the bike with the amber overtones of the shellac, and the mahogany wood fenders.
The tread is a square pattern similar to the Jack Browns, but without the slick parts. It handled riding no-handed in my short test ride without unusual amounts of wobble. I felt the street, but most of the hi-frequency vibration was absent. The tires were inflated to 30psi front and 50psi rear.
Next steps are to do some serious riding in the dirt and trail. I will take them for a quick ride down my favorite dirt path tomorrow and check for grip. Need some more mountainy bars on this beast. The noodles are great for road riding, but this thing wants to be in the dirt, and I have a nice road bike. Next up are either Midge bars or Albatross. I may put the basket back on, too!
I’m throwing in the towel on the Rivet Pearl. I’ve given it 700+ miles at this point, and it still feels too stiff on my sitz bones. The bummer is that the shape and the cutout is perfect. It just uses leather that is either way too stiff, or I just don’t weigh enough to dent it. I also love the finish and adjustability. The rails are nice and long.
If I rode with a chamois pad all the time, this would be a comfy saddle, but I do a lot of miles with no pads on my commute, and I get plenty of 20-mile+ comfort from a standard broken in Brooks B17, or better still, a Selle Anatomica Titanico.
Time to find the Rivet a new home. Let me know if you are interested in trying it out.
When I started riding road bikes again around 2009, I read a lot of opinion on the “internets”, and a few things were spoken of as gospel. One of these was:
I’m a dedicated experimenter/tweaker when it comes to building and riding bikes. I had been on road bikes with drop bars for a short period of my life from about 1983-1991, but mainly as a part-time commuter. I never raced, and only did one 2-day 150 mile ride in high school.
When I moved to Seattle in 1991, I rode a friend’s mountain bike down some fire trails in Whistler, BC, and was totally smitten. From then until 2009, I had various mountain bikes with flat bars. When I bought my first Rivendell, I tried 46cm Noodles, but found them uncomfortable. Specifically, when I was in the drops, they felt really deep/extreme, and my forearms hit the tops disconcertingly. There was something off.
I found VO Porteur bars to be a better fit for me initially, as they had a nice stretched-out thin position on the flat fronts, and I could also get very upright on the swept back part of the bars. I went through a few iterations with these bars until I started riding in longer Randonneur events. On one Populaire, I developed a bit of numbness in one hand at the 50-mile mark, even with soft cork tape. I was definitely the only rider using upright bars of any kind, and most of the folks were using drop bars of some sort.
I decided that I would have to try some drops for the longer 200k ride I had planned. I had an older pair of Nitto B-115 Olympiade bars from the 80s, and the width was a tiny 39cm (compared to the 46cm). I set these guys up, and found them comfortable on my commute (7-12 miles each way). I also found that my forearms didn’t hit the tops of the bars when I was in the drops. The next test was the Bellingham 200k.
At the end of the event, I had no hand discomfort, and felt that the bars were close to ideal. They just needed more width, and a bit of curve back like the old noodles had on the tops. This led me back to the beginning (almost) and the Noodle style I started out with. I went with the next bigger size of Noodles and have not gone back to uprights.
Sometimes it is best to listen to the wisdom/opinion of experienced riders in the first place. At least cheaper…