Cyclist stereotypes?

Yesterday morning I rode to work on an old three-speed Sears bike – complete with coaster brakes and upright handlebars (North Road bars). A few years ago I took in this bike from a girl moving away from Chicago; at the time I thought it would be the perfect beach bike and errand bike in the summer. However, due to difficulties carrying it upstairs to my apartment, the bike remained locked away in my storage unit until this past weekend. On Sunday I dug it out and my mechanic friend gave it some TLC and a thorough look-over. Yesterday I rode it to work to hand it off to a friend – her first bike!

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This morning again I changed things up and rode the Abio folder that I’m reviewing.

These recent commutes to work in a more upright position got me thinking about just how I perceive my cyclin’ self when I’m riding these particular bikes versus another in my collection and how the motorists perceive me.

Most days I ride in on a rebuilt black Schwinn with bright pink tape on the bullhorn style handlebars. I prefer the riding position over classic drop bars. I feel like a force to be reckoned with when I’m riding “el toro” (as I’ve nicknamed that commuter), and feel like I need to go fast. But on this white classic cruiser and the Abio, it felt ok to be traveling a bit slower (though I really did make it to work quickly – maybe it’s a perceived slowness?). Yesterday the experience was akin to being a kid again riding my old banana seat bike with those coaster brakes. I didn’t feel like the hardened commuter anymore. Instead I felt like I’d rediscovered another side of cycling that brings me joy in a different way. I even showed off my joy when I arrived at work.

To the motorists, are all bikes and bikers equal? Do they view a cyclist on a cruiser differently than one on a singlespeed or a road bike? I know I felt like a different type of cyclist out there these past couple of days.

N Plus One

I figure it’s about time to make my inaugural mark on Bike Commuters. I’ve been a busy, busy guy lately without a lot of time to sit down and write much of anything. I use my bike to get to work every day, where my job involves information security and other IT geekery.

Redundancy is a major part of information technology. “N Plus One” means that you should always have one more of something than what you need, so long as it’s practical. In terms of bicycling, you don’t have to carry a spare everything with you, but it might be wise to keep a few spare parts on hand at home or in the office drawer.

You wouldn’t embark on a cross-country road trip in your car without a spare tire, would you? And how much help would the spare tire be if you didn’t know how to change the tire, or didn’t have the tools and a jack to get the old wheel off and the new one on?  For those of us who rely on our bikes to get us around town, carrying stuff to fix common failures is a good idea. Usually, that means a patch kit, some way to inflate the tires, and some tools. My essentials all tuck nicely into the wedge pack under my seat, and I include a spare inner tube as well. It’s lightweight and packs small. Knowing how to use these tools and supplies is equally important, though.

I got to thinking about redundancy on Friday night. While I was camping at a nearby lake, the bulb in my trusty Mini-Mag bit the dust. Mag Instruments packs a spare bulb in the tail cap of their flashlights, so it was no big deal at all. That’s the kind of redundancy I like!

N Plus One
N Plus One: a spare bulb included!

While a Mini-Mag is not very good to see the road with when compared to my 15W halogen, any light that can mount to a bicycle is better than nothing at all if you find yourself riding in the dark. Most stick-style flashlights can be rigged up easily with a rubber band. Carrying a whole spare bicycle light around is perhaps a little bit ridiculous. Using a flashlight in a pinch isn’t quite as strange, assuming you have a flashlight with you all the time.

You do carry a flashlight all the time, right?  What else do you “carry just in case?”

So Many Bikes…. Biking the Drive

Sometimes when asking the question “which bike do I buy?” it’s fun to take a look at what other cyclists are riding.

beginning

At Sunday’s Bike the Drive in Chicago an estimated 18,000 cyclists came out to cycle along a car-free Lake Shore Drive from sunrise to 10am. From racing roadies doing laps on the mostly pothole free surface to visitors who rented bikes and every cyclist in between, the Active Transportation Alliance‘s (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) largest fundraiser of the year did attract quite a mix of cyclists and their bikes.
family skyline

hand cyclists

roadie

rental bikes

recumbant

At the rest stop, cyclists even found peace in yoga amidst the thousands gathered.
yoga

But like all good things, even Bike the Drive had to end… prematurely for some as bike traffic was routed off the Drive and back to the bike path to finish the route…
the end

Luckily the post-ride festival offered a chance to relax and ‘chill’ with a cycle powered “pedal your smoothie” and all the new biking buddies you met along the way.
smoothie

Just Ask Jack — What Bike Do I Buy?

We get a lot of “which bike do I buy?� questions submitted to us…a LOT. While we absolutely love to help guide bike purchasers toward suitable commuting bikes, this is an incredibly difficult question to answer without relying on a bunch of generalities…with dozens of great commuter bikes and literally hundreds of other bike models on dealer floors at any given time, there’s a lot to wade through, especially for the novice bike enthusiast.

bike mountain
(image borrowed from jugsi.com)

So, I thought it would be a good idea to distill some of those generalities down into a handy “starter guide� for folks to use. I won’t be naming any specific brands or models – that’s not the point of this exercise. Rather, this is intended to get bike shoppers thinking about what they need and expect out of a new bicycle.

Many people go into the bike purchasing experience with only one thing in mind: price. Price is important, of course, but it is only one of many aspects to be considered when selecting a new bicycle; different needs require different features.

Generally, when asked “what bike do I buy?�, I answer the question with a series of my own questions. In no particular order, they are:

–What is my price ceiling?

–Do I plan to use the bike for recreation purposes as well as commuting?

–How long is my commute?

–Is my area flat or hilly?

–Do I plan on hauling books, groceries or other cargo every now and then?

–How comfortable am I with the various gearing and braking systems on modern bicycles?

As you can see, the answers to those questions help narrow the field down – a sleek fixed-gear or singlespeed road bike might be great for a fast, flat long-distance commute but terrible at hauling groceries and children around town, while a sturdy, clunky “grocery getter� would be great for around-town utility purposes but might not be suitable for some recreational uses. Complicated gearing and braking systems might be daunting for the novice bicyclist and utterly unnecessary for someone in a flattish urban environment.

Concerning the price ceiling – be flexible with this. A little more money can mean a lot better of a bike. If this means putting off your purchase for a few more weeks to save up some extra dollars, do it…but don’t forget that a more expensive bike does not mean a more suitable bike for you, merely that it probably has better-quality parts and accessories than a lesser-priced model.

One of the best pieces of advice we can give folks shopping for a new bike is to check out their local bike shops. Walking in and saying, “I’ve got X dollars to spend…what do you have?â€? is an exercise in futility. But, prepared with the answers to the above questions, you and your local shops can help pinpoint something that’s actually suitable for your needs. Still, any old local shop won’t do – they must understand your needs and be receptive to letting you try different models at different price ranges. No one likes the “hard sellâ€? – if a dealer is trying to push you toward a specific model that doesn’t do EVERYTHING you need a bike to do, you’re probably in the wrong shop and should exit gracefully! Visit as many shops as you can…this gives you the opportunity to test and evaluate a whole range of different bikes (and find a trustworthy shop in the process).

The other critical piece of advice we like to share is this: buy the bike that you look forward to riding…comfortable, pretty, feature-packed, whatever. Being excited to ride your new machine is half the battle…and you’re far less likely to be excited by something that doesn’t feel good or doesn’t do what you need it to do.

Buying a new bike is a daunting process; there’s no doubt about that. Arming yourself with some answers and a bit of personal research under your belt can make the whole thing a lot easier to stomach.

Perhaps our readers have some additional considerations for the new bike shopper they’d like to share? If so, have at it in the comments section.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

An All-Too-Brief Look at Minneapolis Bike Culture

Last week, I was able to travel with my family to the great city of Minneapolis for a family obligation. I hadn’t been there since 1982, and since then a LOT of things have changed — including Minneapolis’s growing reputation as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States.

That reputation is well-earned…there are bicycles EVERYWHERE. Heck, I even saw bicycle parking at the airport! Cyclists of all shapes, sizes and disciplines were present pretty much everywhere I went around the city — from sleek fixies and hip young riders to kids to hardcore commuters, roadies and everyone in between. Ah, what a refreshing change from my own city, where I mostly see “guys on bikes” and myself.

Anyhow, we shot a bunch of pictures and stopped at some of the hotbeds of the Minneapolis bike “scene”…concentrating on the vibrant neighborhoods in the Lyn Lake/Uptown area.

First off, this is a typical street scene in south Minneapolis: bikes locked up everywhere. There were bikes on racks, bikes on poles, bikes on porch railings, in yards and every other conceivable location. My friend and tour guide Laura insists that “it’s like this all year-round”, not just when the weather is nice!

street scene

We stopped by Cars R Coffins Coffee Bar/Cykel Garage to see if we could meet Hurl Everstone, who had promised the Bikecommuters.com crew a few months back that he’d submit a commuter profile for us. No luck…he had the day off. Still, we checked the place out and got a cup of badass hot chocolate, too!

my crew

The tiny CRC Coffee Bar is packed to the gills with bike culture — bikes and parts for sale crammed everywhere they’d fit. One thing that caught my eye in particular were a pair of beautiful vintage cruisers hanging from the rafters:

cruise

Walking further down Lyndale Avenue and after eating a spectacular breakfast at The Egg & I, we spotted this bike rack…one of dozens we spotted peppering the community. It just so happened that this day was the day Minneapolis celebrated Bike to Work Day and was early enough that a lot of folks were still riding to work, so the racks weren’t full. But, they were everywhere — no worries about finding a suitable lockup point in this area!

lockup

My wife spotted this cute fixie locked up on the street — a springtimey slice of delicious watermelon:

watermelon

Strangely enough, I’m coveting some pink rims for a bike now!

Later on in the week, we stopped in at The Alt , a legendary bike shop and a great place to hang out. I told the employees that I wished they were MY local shop, and I meant it — friendly folks who are really passionate about bikes. The Alt was STUFFED with bikes, snowboards and goodies galore, and also serves as one of the primary dealers for the new Handsome Cycles brand. I wasn’t able to check out any Handsome Devils in person, though, because they were being featured in a display at another great Minneapolis shop called One on One Bicycle Studio. Next time I’m in town, I’ll make it down to the Warehouse District to check out One on One.

the alt

More bikes on the street, and the Minneapolis Re Cycle. I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but I heard good things about the place.

re cycle

And a parting shot of some fixed-gear riders heading down Nicollet Avenue in front of excellent German restaurant Black Forest Inn.

nicollet

We only got to spend a few days in the city, but what we saw blew us away — bike-friendly infrastructure galore and more importantly, people taking advantage of it. I spoke to many bike commuters while walking the streets Uptown, and they raved about the city’s efforts to encourage transportational cyclists.

Although I didn’t get a picture of it, it seemed like the must-have bicycle accessory in Minneapolis is a milk crate strapped on. I saw dozens of bikes rockin’ milk-crates (after all, America’s Dairyland is right next door)…so, if you want to channel some of the Minneapolis bike spirit, get your own and wear it proudly!

I’m looking forward already to my next visit — the Mini Apple is a fantastic place…diverse, friendly and very cosmopolitan. And they love bikes up there — can it get any better?!?