Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grand Canyon by Bike

A headline from yesterday shows the National Park Service is planning on opening Grand Canyon National Park to bicycles.  I'm so excited to see the NPS taking this step.  If you are an current operator, ambitious entreprenaur, or dream with a business plan,  take a minute to head over and check out the details.

And if you are none of those, but love riding add this to your future plans.  Perhaps this will lead to other National Parks developing appropriate systems for bicyclists! 

Bookmark and Share

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bright Lights

An urban bike like Chuck is not complete without a set of lights.  Keeping in line with my cheapskate philosophy, I have been looking for some purely functional lights since getting Chuck.  Over Christmas, my nephew showed me the lights on his little bike.  He uses them simply to be able to ride around the yard and go back and forth between Grandma's house and home.  I was surprised how bright the lights were and immediately asked my brother about where he had bought them and what brand etc.  Turns out they were just a cheap set he had picked up at the local store.

Well, I set about finding something comparable online.  I took time to assess exactly what I wanted the lights to do for me:  they needed to make me visible, but did not need to be extremely bright as most of the area where I plan on using them is additionally lit by street lights.  I also knew I wanted them to have the blinky function as I personally notice bikers using such lights when I'm driving.  I knew to keep costs in line that generator lights were out of the question for the moment, no matter how attractive they seem.  So for the most part, my lights need to attract attention from drivers.  With that in mind, I decided to go with cheap as my top criteria and ended up with these. The reviews seemed to reflect that these would function adequately for my purposes.

With my other project experiences in mind, I tried to slow things down a bit with this process.  I immediately noticed that Bell did a nice job of including spacers so the lights would fit a variety of tubes. The second thing I noticed is that Bell made it possible to install these with no tools, which is nice for those of us with no bike shop in a spare room.  I simply decided where on my handlebars I wanted the headlight, inserted a spacer, and twisted the knob until the light clamp was secure.  Then I popped the light onto the clamp and voila!  Headlight.

The taillight was just as easy and within a few minutes, Chuck was equipped with lights both front and back.  I know that anytime I am riding on the roads, both of these little lights will be on--taking extra precautions never hurt anyone.  I'm one of those people who drive my car with the lights on at all times--why should my bike be different?
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


 The recent cold weather gave me time to focus on some little bike projects that I had been putting off.  Top of my list was getting my speedometer/odometer off of the old Fuji and onto Chuck.  This project took several phases starting last week.  First I detached it from the Fuji which was the only "easy" part of the whole thing.  As soon as I got it off I decided to try and turn it's miles back to zero.  I rigged up our little (weak) cordless drill (which I sometimes think would actually work better as a hammer, it's so useless) via some duct tape to the odometer and pulled the trigger.  Well the poor little drill sounded like it was gonna blow up and after a couple minutes only one mile had ticked off!  Scratch that idea!

Next I pulled Chuck over and began to size up the best place to put the little gadget.  And then I realized that the Fuji has drastically different sized forks than Chuck does.  Chuck's forks are at least 2x bigger around.  So off I ran to Lowe's to see if I could find a clamp I could substitute.  Fast forward 2 days, and I am again trying to figure out how to get the thing attached to Chuck.  No dice.  The clamp fits perfectly, but there is no way to attach the gadget to the clamp.  Enter zip ties.  Basically, zip ties are cousins of duct tape--they can handle just about anything.  Not this.  The zip ties do not fit through the clamp.  Finally, I see the light and give up.  I know that Becca's bike is nearly identical to the Fuji so I undo all the fidgeting I'd done to the poor little odometer and pop it on her bike--less than 3 minutes.  Awesome.  Why didn't I just do that in the first place?  Well, cuz I wanted the odometer.  Somewhere down the road, I'll have to pick up a cheap cycling computer, I guess.  That's actually why I liked the odometer--it was not a computer.  It was just a simple little old school gadget that did a few basic jobs really well.  Damn you technology!

Anyway after that whole debacle I was not so much interested in any other "projects" but I refused to go on another ride without my water bottle riding front and center.  So I took about 5 minutes and moved the upright water bottle holder onto Chuck's handlebars.  I like my bottle in this position right now because I don't have to lean over and try to nab the thing while keeping one eye on the road. 

What I learned from my little dabbling is that I am not so much mechanically inclined.  I mean, I am ok at doing things, but I get impatient and don't think things the whole way through before diving in over my head.  And then I get frustrated and irritated because instead of taking 3.5 minutes my projects turn into week long marathon irritation and frustration events.  At least I learned from the odometer incident (never to be mentioned again) and the bottle cage move went off without any issues.  And having the odometer and the bottle cage make a big difference on our rides.  It's much more satisfying to get back and say "Oh we did 6 miles" than "well that seemed good." 
Bookmark and Share

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunny Day

We decided to battle the cold today and get out in the sun on the bikes.  We decided to start out in the direction I will eventually be taking on my commute.  We knew from the start that we weren't up to doing the whole trip to work and back-the cold weather and dark nights have been obstacles to getting any real quality rides in lately.  We started with a tentative plan of a certain checkpoint with the flexibility to explore several residential areas off our main route.

We both tried to dress in layers due to the cold and I stashed extra gloves in my new panniers.  We have always previously used a very small backpack to carry the camera, a snack, our IDs etc on our rides.  It was really nice to be able to put all of that in the panniers and get the load off our backs.  I also tossed in my multitool almost as an afterthought. 

Our ride starts on a little downhill and before 30 seconds had passed my eyes were crying icedrops.  The wind cut through all the layers and made even downhill seem like a struggle.  After the first 5 minutes or so we turned onto the low traffic road that will be a major portion of my commute.  Headed away from the house it has a very slight grade for the entire length of it.  Today that slight grade combined with the headwind made the ride feel like we were on treadmills!  It probably didn't help that it's been a little while since we've ridden.  Once I was able to concentrate on my ride instead of traffic I quickly realized my seat was feeling low again.  Then I realized I had brought my tool with me and I could fix it so my thighs were not in agony the whole ride!  We quickly pulled over and I made some quick adjustments to raise the seat, making sure it was straight before the final tightening of the screw. 

We took a more leisurely pace (I guess comparatively my pace is almost always "leisurely"!) and rode quietly through a few neighborhoods enjoying looking at the different houses and yards.  We reached the end of the main road and decided to turn around and make our way back.  In my opinion it is almost always better to return a bit early and be able to say "we should've gone a little further" than to push and push and go too far and have the ride turn into a nightmare that makes us both angry and irritable and more inclined to skip the next ride.

We took a little detour down the greenway that parallels the main road every now and then doing some little "races" with each other.  Before long we returned to the road.  I felt like my seat was low again (already!) and asked Becca to look at the marking and see if it had fallen.  Sure enough it had, so off we pulled again and out came the tool again and this time I really cranked on it to get it tight after making the adjustments.

Then all that was left was the railroad crossing and the intimidating hill up to our house.  Bonus, this hill is also along the busiest part of the road, there is almost no shoulder, and it is a single lane each way, leaving little room for cars to pass.  Needless to say, it is my least favorite part of any ride!  The hill has a short and sharp incline then levels out for a few hundred feet and then inclines again until we reach our complex.  I was able to make it up the first incline in 4th gear and only had to shift down to my low gear when I was more than halfway up the second incline.  I was worn out when reaching our front door, but didn't need to collapse just to keep breathing!  We logged about 6 miles, which for us is not wonderful, but not pitiful either. 

Despite the cold, the traffic and the need for two adjustments it was a fun ride on a beautiful day.  That's all I ever want.
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Charlie Brown Gets a Bag

It has been bitterly cold here the last week or so which means Charlie Brown has been looking out the window wistfully while leaning against the wall.  We did manage to get out and do 2 hours of hiking over the weekend even though the temperatures were in the low 20s or lower with wind chill.  My cycling focus has shifted to indoor projects for the time being though.  I have been trying to slowly acquire some basic accessories for commuting to work.

Now I'm not what you would call a high maintenance girl who needs to carry half of my possessions around with me.  When I go to work I take my iPod, my wallet, a small pack of tissues, my current book, my gallon of water, and my lunch which sometimes is pretty heavy.  Well thanks to Globe outfitting Charlie with a rear rack I know that my lunch will have to ride on top of that.  To get the rest of that stuff I didn't figure to need a whole lot of room, but there was no way that my gallon of water would fit into a messenger bag and I didn't want to try to put all of it into a backpack.

Being "budget-minded" (aka a massive cheapskate), price was high at the top of my criteria for a workable commuting pannier.  That of course ruled out anything cool, pretty, and top of the line--but who am I kidding?  I don't go for stuff like that much anyway.  Although I can say at some point I would like my panniers to complement Charlie Brown's beautiful hues.  There's time for that later.  For now I needed something that could haul an 8 pound gallon of water to work with me and still have room for the other few things I carry.

I browsed around the "internets" dreaming and drooling and generally putting off getting something functional because I was lusting after all the higher end panniers.  Finally I snapped out of it and pulled up Amazon and looked for something on the lower end of the price scale.  I read through review after review (unlike with books or music, the reviews for products like this seem actually helpful to me!) and settled on this set.  Many reviews mentioned being able to carry milk gallons and that the panniers seem sturdy.  Since my commute is pretty short and I'm not trusting my panniers to lug about a laptop or anything really precious, I figured to just take the plunge and see what I get.  I mean, honestly, like I'm gonna know the difference between these and $200 panniers!  Oh and bonus, that set was on sale for $16 when I bought them.  Plus I got free shipping.  For that price, it's certainly worth testing them out.

I popped them onto Charlie Brown today.  It was so easy it took all of 3 minutes.  2 front straps, 2 back straps and a strap on each side.  My rack is a little shorter than the length of the body of the panniers, so it is a tiny bit scrunched, but I'll give them a good test run and we'll see how they run, er, ride.




I like that they have a good bit of reflection on both the sides and the back.  Added visibility is always welcome.  I also plunked my water jug in just to see if it would fit and it does indeed.  Now, I'll just need to get used to riding with an uneven load on the back.  I'm looking forward to getting out this weekend and seeing how it feels to ride with these on the back.
Bookmark and Share