Friday Musings – Top 3 Must-Have Bike Commuting Accessories?

Well, well, well… the weekend is just around the corner, just in time for FRIDAY MUSINGS!  Or… just in time for you to get your Fandango tickets to the Hunger Shames.  Before the spring time blooms assault your sinuses with a full-on allergy attack, I wanted to get all sentimental and mushy-gushy over Bike Commuting like the leftover V-day chocos I found in my desk drawer at work.

Bike Commuting in Spring - Bring on the Sunshine!

We have posted a bajillion reviews on Bike Commuters accessories, gear, and products that range from frivolous to frugal over the past many moons.  The “basic needs” of each cycle monster for an enjoyable commute vary according to the rider and the location.  I’m the first to admit I have an emotional (let’s hope it’s not physical) attachment to my bikes – giving them names, identities, and custom makeovers… So that made me wonder, what about accessories?  If you could only take three items with you on your commute each day, what would you choose!?  (And your bike is a given….!  We could go on and on about what makes the perfect commuter bike, but I that’s a whole ‘nother love affair.)

Here’s my top three Must-Have Bike Commuting Accessories to get us started:

RL loves the Whitey Von, but any backpack will do!

1)  Any kind of backpack – I used to be all about the rack, but have switched back to the backpack in the past few years!  I love backpack.

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So low-tech, but it WORKS!

2)  Watch face taped to my handlebars – So unimpressive and borderline ghetto, this watch is a must for me because it’s easy to read in the morning to determine how much time I have left to get to the office.  I taped it to the mount where I used to keep my wireless Cateye from the days of trying to be “fast” – clockin’ 12 mph baby!

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I love BLINKY LIGHTS more than helmets, pants, or chalupas.

3)  Blinky Lights: One rear and one headlight, these are a must for me, I have several kinds around the house and will grab one red and one white everyday.  A must-have for me as I am a blinky addict.

So cycle ladies and gents, do you have any top three accessories that you can’t commute without?  Share with us, and in the spirit of Effie Trinket, “Happy Bike Commuting! And may the odds be ever in your favor!”

Enjoy your weekend, bike commuters!

Helmets are for Babies…

In one of my previous articles, I discussed ways to carry kids around on a bike and get them involved in biking as transportation early on. However, with the first phrase out of anyone’s mouth after an adult confesses to riding a bike being, “do you wear a helmet?” you can bet your panniers that helmets for kids – and especially little ones – are a must: if not for safety, for the impression of safety.

There's a child under the helmet, somewhere

The problem: hardly anyone in the U.S. really believes that kids under the age of 2 or so are going to be on a bike!  Hence… the great infant helmet search of 2012.

The first thing you have to figure out when looking for a helmet – for anyone – is head circumference (generally in centimeters, though a few manufacturers will throw you off and do it in inches). For R – our 9-month-old – that magic number is 45 cm. That makes things quite tricky – most “toddler” helmets don’t go that small – and those that do, look ridiculous on her! Additionally, a lot of helmets are designed for on-bike use and stick way out in the back – making it very hard to get an infant or toddler into a trailer or high-backed seat in anything resembling a comfortable position.

Here’s what I’ve tried or found reasonable-looking so far:

Lazer infant helmet – Only goes down to 46 cm, but Totcycle reports it’s a smaller helmet, so it leaves infants with less of an “I have a football helmet on my head” feel.

Nutcase's Little Nutty ("Hula Lounge" print)

Nutcase Little Nutty (XS) – More expensive than pretty much everything else at $55, but looks like it might not dwarf an infant head so much. The first Amazon review says it’s too small for a 2-year-old (which many others aren’t), so that may be a good indicator.

Giro Me2 – Only goes down to 48cm, looks huge on an infant. However, it’s a nice helmet and we’ve used it with our older daughter. Spin dial on back makes size adjustment a breeze.

Bell Sprout – Only goes down to 47cm, but says it’s optimized for trailers and seats – which may be better than many others.

Specialized Small Fry toddler – Fits 44-52cm according to the label, but it doesn’t fit my daughter’s 45cm head very well. Also, it’s approximately the size of her torso. A nice helmet overall though.

A lot of these are available in different styles – I’ve just linked to girly ones because we have girls (and when all you can see is helmet, it’s nice not to have your child’s gender misidentified).

Anyone else have a recommendation? Any experiences with any of the above?

FREE Women Cycling webinar, Empowering Women to Bicycle for Transportation

A week after the the 2012 National Bike Summit gathered like-minded cyclists, especially women cyclists, for the first-ever National Women Cycling Forum, the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) is hosting a free webinar this afternoon – Wednesday, March 28, 2012 from 3-4:30 p.m. (Eastern time).

Per the website, this FREE webinar is entitled the Women Cycling webinar, Empowering Women to Bicycle for Transportation and is today (Click here to register):

Since APBP inaugurated the Women Cycling Project in 2010, thousands of women have participated in the project. This year’s webinar highlights programs and approaches that encourage women to bicycle on a more regular basis. Learn about Cycles for Change, the Minneapolis program that educates and empowers women of various cultures to use bicycles as transportation, helping to build a sustainable environment and community; and Birmingham’s Magic City Cycle Chix, whose motto is “Building courage, confidence, and community…two wheels at a time” and whose mission is to encourage women to mountain bike. Stay tuned as we announce more speakers.

The webinar will also include a brief update on these topics:

Outcomes of the National Women Cycling Forum
Plans for the interactive Women Cycling website
Update on transportation legislation in Congress

The webinar is hosted by the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals and is sponsored by APBP and the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

Last Tuesday, I attended the first ever National Women Cycling Forum – a pre-Summit event intended to bring women together to discuss the disparity between men and women in cycling. The summary of the forum had announced that “Women still cycle at much lower rates than men in the United States — making up just 24 percent of bike trips in 2009. But that trend is shifting. We’re eager to learn from our peers, share our experiences and explore ideas to engage more women.”

Before I offer my own commentary, I’m curious about your thoughts – those of my fellow male and female bike commuters – on this topic. I wonder if your thoughts echo those of the ones I heard voiced in D.C. last week. Stay tuned, as I’ll be offering suggestions for action of what you can do to organize women in your own community.

Hope you can attend this afternoon’s webinar and hear more on this ever growing important topic.

Sidelined!

Late last week, I tweaked a muscle in my lower back. I hoped it would be all better the next morning – but I almost fell over getting out of bed.  I had no choice – I couldn’t even get on my bike, let alone ride it anywhere.  I gingerly eased into my car, and collapsed in my chair at work upon arrival.  I’m still healing now – several days later – and I haven’t been on a bike in all that time.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to get to work – either taking our car or having my wife drop me off – though not without some anguish, since our weather’s been pretty nice!

This isn’t the first time this has happened – I broke a wrist in college and was off my bike for nearly a year (yep, I REALLY broke it!). I also sprained my wrist last May (when my wife was 8 months pregnant – yeah, she appreciated me not being able to lift anything!). Again, I was able to figure out getting to work between taking the car some days, getting dropped off and picked up on others – but it was tough! I don’t work far from where I live, but driving and biking are the only real ways to get there and back.

So I’m curious – am I alone in this, or do the rest of you injure yourselves from time to time as well?  How do you get where you need to go when you can’t bike?   Do you always have a backup plan – or is a day you can’t bike a day you can’t work?

Review: Planet Bike’s Blitzen Shoe Covers

As with last week’s Planet Bike glove review, I waited and waited for some gnarly winter action in which to test the Planet Bike “Blitzen” shoe covers…alas, an unusually mild midwestern winter left me with chilly temps and some rain, but hardly any snow. No matter, really — my feet get cold very easily and I’ve been in the market for decent shoe covers even before I moved to Ohio. Yeah, even Florida gets chilly enough that shoe covers can be used from time to time…

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Here’s a little something about the Blitzen shoe covers straight from Planet Bike’s website:

-Windproof fabric with microfleece lining
-Neoprene front panel for added warmth around the toe box
-Durable bottom with open design for a variety of pedal platforms and cleats
-Full Velcro back closure for greater adjustability and sizing
-Toe box retention strap keeps front of cover in place
-Reflective side logos

The Blitzen shoe covers are a fairly simple affair — a windproof, fleece-lined bootie with an open bottom and Velcro closure along the back to secure the bootie over one’s shoes. The cuff and toebox include neoprene; the former to help protect against cold and the latter to offer better sealing (and a little stretch) to the ankle area. The bottom is open and in reinforced with a rubberized coating. There’s a sewn-on “strap” of sorts to help hold the two sides of the bootie against the shoe inside. This opening also allows the cleat system of your choice to poke through with no interference. There’s also a smaller opening at the heel to allow the sole to poke through. This protects the shoe covers’ fabric from being worn away if you find yourself walking instead of pedaling.

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The shoe cover material only has a tiny bit of stretch in the main body, so shoes with aggressive knobby soles can be a tight fit. My Adidas MTB shoes were a bit of a squeeze getting into the size “L” (the Blitzen covers come in sizes S through XXXL, but the site doesn’t indicate exactly what shoe sizes those letter designations actually cover). Once snugged on, there is no excess material flapping and everything was tight to the shoe. Regular “street shoes” may or may not fit within the Blitzen shoe covers; I would imagine something low-volume might fit, but you’d have to try your own shoes to see for sure. These covers are designed for cycling shoes, not “universal fit”, and if you don’t wear cleated cycling shoes, there may be better cover options on the market out there for you.

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The covers come in basic black with constrasting-color reinforced stitching, and there’s a handy reflective logo on the side. I’d like to see some additional reflectivity on the back of the shoe (a reflective patch or piping along the Velcro closure). Here’s a shot of the reflective in action:

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One thing I discovered is that with shoe covers having an open bottom, wind and cold can enter around the cleat area. The metal cleat and screws can transmit cold right to a sensitive part of one’s foot. My quick remedy for that was remove my shoe’s insoles, then I cut squares of felt to cover the cleat interface from the inside and taped it all down with a couple layers of duct tape. BOOM! Cold transmision conquered!

The covers are not waterproof, but they shrugged off some of the rain I experienced. After longer rain rides, my shoes and feet got pretty wet, but for the shorter stuff it wasn’t too bad…a little dampness here and there that I could live with. I wore these covers down to around 12 degrees, and while they didn’t keep my feet toasty warm throughout, the cold they DID let through was bearable. For me, the low temp for these covers is around 20 degrees…lower than that and I really wished for something more insulated. Not everyone can afford (or needs) a pair of Lake or Sidi winter boots, so these Blitzen shoe covers offer some of the benefits of a dedicated winter cycling shoe without the astronomical price. The Blitzen shoe covers retail for about $45.00, and serve best as a good cover for moderately cold, mostly dry conditions. If you need more insulation, Planet Bike also offers a full neoprene shoe cover called the Comet.

I am so glad Planet Bike took pity on me and offered to let me test both the shoe covers and the Borealis gloves…they made my first real winter in over 20 years a bit more bearable — thanks, PB!!! As always, Planet Bike offers a wide range of products for all types of cycling. Swing on over to their website to take a look for yourself!