By Eric McKeegan
American cities are a wonderful place to live. Really. Regardless of perceptions, the number of violent crimes and automobile deaths have been dropping for decades. But things are suddenly getting worse, apparently. According to streetsblog.org, pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2015 are up 10 and 13 percent, respectively. Many of us that ride the roads regularly started feeling this long before these stats were released.
We all know someone who has been hit by a car while riding. The odds are good you’ve been hit yourself if you’ve been at this long enough. Something is different now. Something different enough to scare some formerly-hardcore riders off the bike on public roads.
It is too early for anyone to determine what is causing it. Read the comment section on any news report related to bicycles and you’ll find a large part of the public thinks we bring this on ourselves. That is a hard argument to support with logic, but it certainly points out a serious problem. The public views cyclists as a crew of daredevils with little regard for our personal safety, traffic laws and automobilists’ (wow, that is a word?) incredibly important time.
Perceptions don’t cause collisions, but they do create resentment and resistance to creating more and better transportation infrastructure. It’s hard enough convincing people that bikes belong on public thoroughfares in the first place. So maybe, in a not-so-direct way, perception can cause collisions?
It’s something to keep in mind the next time you blow a stop sign, or roll though that red. While it might be ridiculous, each of us represents all cyclists to the non-riding public, as evidenced recently in Pittsburgh. After a cyclist’s death, local riders are being scolded by law enforce- ment, told to obey the law and informed they are being watched. Imagine police doing that to you in a car? Yeah, never going to happen.
Everyone knows that cyclists don’t kill people. Even minor accidents caused by cyclists are exceedingly rare. But it still seems like we are getting away with murder on the streets as we seemingly breeze through traffic with little worry about the rule of law. In reality, the only get-out-of- jail-free card that works with amazing consistency, and only for drivers, is the phrase “I didn’t see him”.
Maybe this is all a nationwide “bikelash” similar to what happened in New York City in the past decade. During her time as commissioner of the city’s department of transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan made sweeping changes to public spaces and the streets. During her tenure in the Bloomberg administration, the city installed almost 400 miles of bike lanes, launched the wildly successful Citi Bike program, and installed more than 60 pedestrian plazas throughout the city, including one that eliminated car traffic on Broadway at Times Square.
These types of success stories give me hope, but they won’t stop people from getting killed tomorrow. Why? I think we all know why. I bet you have one in your pocket or within arms reach as you read this. That little screen that promises to deliver one more social media hit, one more text message, one more dating app match. The siren song of notification. An email from work that needs attention. The latest political news on Twitter. The text from your ex wondering when you are going to pick up the kids. A message on Facebook from a high school classmate you haven’t seen since 2001.
These things aren’t unimportant, but trying to deal with them while piloting a 3,000 pound vehicle on roadways is a recipe for disaster. The allure of the app is strong. They are designed to get our attention and keep us occupied. And they are effective. Probably too effective.
What do we do? I really don’t know. We can install more blinky lights, and put on reflective vests and try to control the lane and do all the right things. But if someone is looking in at a cell phone rather than the road, it won’t really matter.
We can put our cell phones down while we are driving. We can teach our kids not to text and drive. We can talk to our friends and family about putting the phone down. We can work to get laws passed that make distracted driving a very unattractive thing to do.
And maybe next time you roll up to that intersection on your bike, try harder to not be so blatant about just rolling though. Everyone is watching. At least those people not watching their cell phones.Tweet Print
Words by Morgan Fletcher
Morgan Fletcher lives in Oakland, California, in the hills above the city. He works in San Francisco’s Financial District, as a manager at a software company. The 46-year-old Philadelphia native is in the office about eight hours a day, but he’s in front of a computer, or a mobile phone, working the shoulder hours of the day. It’s probably a nine-hour day, on average. His daily commute is a phone-free, laptop-free zone. So is the ferry. —Ed.
When I leave the house for work is often impacted by other duties, as father and husband. I’m a parent to two teenagers, and my wife works. In my perfect bike commuting day, I’m up at 6 a.m., on the bike at 7:30 a.m., down the hill eight miles and 1,000 feet to the Jack London Ferry Terminal. I’ll ride the ferry with my friends to the San Francisco Ferry Building, arriving around 8:45 a.m., and get to the office by 9 a.m. My office is a short distance from the Ferry Building, less than a mile, but traffic and architecture in that part of San Francisco are dense, so it does feel like a bit of a journey. I’ll step away from my desk at 5:15 p.m. After socializing on the ferry—I always sit outside, and I always see some of the same friendly faces—I’ll be at Jack London Ferry Terminal by about 6:20 p.m. From there it’s anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes home, depending on whether I go the short or long ways. My morning commute takes me through narrow, hill-side, quiet roads down to big, busy streets, and the pattern is reversed in the evening. I have some grass and dirt options, to escape the asphalt, and my route to the ferry in the morning is creative.
The primary challenge of bicycle commuting—like anywhere else—is safety. The Bay Area has a very dense population, separated from most destinations by water. Everyone is in a hurry at commute time, distracted and late and completely self-centered. This all makes sense. No one’s looking out for the other commuters, and most of the cars have a single occupant and you, whoever you are, are in the way. As a bicycle commuter with over thirty years of experience riding to school and then work, I’ve developed a sense for how to safely navigate my commute. I’m a law-abider. It’s rare that I’m so late for work or home as to feel the need to not stop at a stop sign or red light.
The secondary challenge is darkness. I do not like bike commuting as much during the winter, and I hate Daylight Savings Time. I spend a lot of time cold, dark and wet on my bike, in the winter. “Real bike commuters” keep riding through the winter. Bleh.
The benefits of commuting are so many. I get great exercise, I get to train for my favorite activity, which is bicycling! I have time away from screens, grumpiness, drama and doubt, where my body and brain are energized and moving with a purpose, so that my thoughts can flow for tens of minutes at a time uninterrupted, and I can think and feel the wind on my face.
I’m burning the good food I ate, and not the dollars in my wallet, and I’m not making my expensive car an even more depreciated asset when I’m bike commuting.
I’m not frustrated in traffic, but flowing through two great, big cities efficiently and with style while I commute. I see things that others might not see, moving at just the right speed, with no walls around me.
I get to take a boat across the most beautiful bay, below bridges and among container ships, and I get to talk and laugh with friends while I’m doing it. I sometimes take the BART train; the ferry is vastly superior. I arrive at my destination happier and more refreshed than when I left. The sunsets are incredible.
Since I’ve never been a car commuter, I tend to be very economical with my bike spend, while at the same time being an absolute bike snob. I love bikes, and I’m always one bike away from having the right set of bikes. I buy parts used, do my own mechanical work, and take advantage of deals when available. We still drive enough, with kid transport and my wife’s commute, that I’m keenly aware of what a car costs to maintain. I’d guess I’m ahead by maybe $5,000 – $7,000 a year. Hard to say.
I’m always happy to have company, but there are very few people with whom I can share the bulk of my commute. I roll out from the ferry in the evening with a group of friends, and also some strangers. This “critical mass” of three to five riders provides some safety we wouldn’t have as single riders, especially when it’s dark and we have lights on. This first mile from the ferry is a good time for conversation, providing we’re paying full attention to the cars, pedestrians and bikes around us. Sometimes I’ll run into a friend on the longer climbs and the longer ways home, and we’ll ride together. I like the time alone on the bike.
I’ve hit deer twice on my bike commute home. Both times were at night. The first time, I stayed upright and the deer went flying. The second time I wasn’t so lucky, and we both crashed hard.
National Bike to Work Day was last month. Reading other people’s stories and social posts about biking to work got me thinking about my own bicycle commute, one that is now defunct as my home and my office are one and the same.
While working from home has its distinct advantages (lots of time spent in sweat pants, no office gossip distractions, being able to work when it best suits me, lack of a commute means time saved to do other things), I do miss riding my bike to work. Yes, I can go ride my bike before work, and I do, but having a distinct destination is different.
For the past few years, I had a 12-mile ride if I went the short way, and 14-20 miles if I got ambitious. I live in a very rural setting and worked in the nearest town, so many of these miles were back roads and even some gravel if I so chose. It was great. Though it was hard to get out the door some mornings, especially the chilly ones or rainy ones, starting the day feeling refreshed and satisfied was always worth it.
When I first started riding to town, it seemed like a big deal. I thought it warranted a lot of extra effort – waking up earlier, packing a change of clothes, making sure to allow enough lee time in case of a mechanical or dead legs. Then when I got there, I’d have to shower, change and make myself look presentable to the world. It was so much easier to jump in the car, drive 15 minutes and be there. No change of clothes required. I liked the idea of riding, but in reality, the convenience of a motorized vehicle won out over pedaling far too often.
Then my husband and I went through a series of car misfortunes that left us sharing one vehicle for months. We worked on the same block so we often carpooled, but I worked odd hours at a restaurant and he worked long hours at an outfitter. When the busy season hit, our hours lined up less and less often, so carpooling was no longer convenient. Riding to work became much more necessary.
The more I rode, the easier it became. I got my routine down pat. I always had my gear ready to go. I learned exactly how long it would usually take me to ride and how much time I needed to leave to change and freshen up. I was riding more, so I was getting faster and the commute seemed less and less difficult. Before too long, those 12 miles became a quick sprint rather than a daunting ride.
I realized that I actually looked better on the days that I biked to work because my skin radiated a healthy glow. I realized that showers are overrated and I actually didn’t smell as bad as I thought I did. I became known as “that girl who rides her bike everywhere” (an exaggeration, but where I live, it’s rare to see people biking for transportation at all).
I’d started passing many of the same cars, on their commutes too. The same school busses would rumble by each morning. The guys in the kitchen at work made it a point to ask me every day if I’d ridden my bike in.
We finally bought a second vehicle, but I still rode my bike to work on a fairly regular basis. By now, it was easy, a welcome beginning and end to my day, a much easier endeavor than I initially thought.
Though I don’t have a daily commute anymore, I enjoy riding to town whenever I can, or to the local tavern, or to social gatherings, or to bike rides (ride to the ride, as they say). There’s something highly satisfying about biking for transportation, using the power of your own legs to get you where you need to go. You might arrive sweaty, but it’ll be worth it, I can promise you that.
Ed. Note: The Overcoming Commuting Obstacles article was originally published in Bicycle Times #15, and offers solutions to common commuting roadblocks, written by a variety of people in a variety of places. I’m publishing each obstacle/solution as its own short post, one or two per day all week.
Words by Andy Bruno
The first obstacle to get over in cold-weather riding is the mental one. The decision to brave the elements is often harder than choosing the appropriate gear for your ride. When you’re warm and cozy inside your bed/house/car, the prospect of getting all geared up and facing physical discomfort in the form of cold, ice, snow, and/or rain doesn’t seem all that much fun. Indeed, often the first 15 minutes of a winter ride are uncomfortable, but after a good warm-up, the fun begins. I know this fact well, but on some foul weather mornings I still find myself rationalizing about why I’d rather drive to work or skip the trail ride and stay at home and drink coffee. The reason? Inertia. It’s the resistance to changing your state of comfort. On one hand, you’re warm and dry. On the other, you choose to exchange those luxuries to be cold and wet. When I think about it, I know I will be happier if I ride no matter what the weather. But the mental and physical preparation for the ride often seems insurmountable. Obviously it’s not, and what it comes down to is that you just have to push on through and get on your bike. Below are a few tips that make it a little easier to get moving during the winter months.
– If you know you’re riding in the morning, get up a little earlier than usual so that you can fully wake up and get your body physically and mentally prepared.
-Before a ride, I try and warm up a little inside before leaving the house. Not so much that I break a sweat. Something as simple as climbing up and down the steps a few times or doing a few push-ups or sit-ups to increase my heart rate is all that it takes.
-Get enough sleep the night before a ride. This is sound advice all year long, but it’s especially important in the low-motivation months of winter.
-The more you ride during the winter, the easier it is to get motivated to ride. Again, this is true all year long, but more pronounced in winter.
-Get your bike and gear ready to go the night before you ride. Riding in the winter takes a little more preparation, so it’s best not to leave it until the last minute. That only gives you an excuse not to ride.
Once you get outside, your comfort level on the bike is critical so that you actually stay on your bike and enjoy the ride. The right gear can make that happen.
Check out some of our tips for gearing up for winter riding on a budget, and read Thom Parsons’ story about resuming his 35-mile commute in the middle of February in Boston—guaranteed to make you laugh, and maybe inspire you to get out there yourself!Tweet Print
Tester: Emily Walley
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, XL
This year is Marin Bikes’ 30th anniversary, and it marks the introduction of an all-new “utilitour” model, the Four Corners. The neutral gray steel frame gives the bike a timeless look, while disc brakes, wide tire clearance and an upright riding position keep pace with cyclists’ expectations for adventure touring and bikepacking.
What piqued my interest in this bike was its Gemini, do-it-all attitude packaged at an approachable price point. The Four Corners is equipped with a Shimano Sora 50/39/30 crank and 12-36 cassette, wide Schwalbe Silento 700×40 tires and the stopping power of Promax Render 160 mm disc brakes. The bike’s tour-ready spec is rounded out with mounts for racks front and rear, fenders and three water bottles.
Marin also offers the upgraded Four Corners Elite model with a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for $2,300.
The Four Corners was designed with a long top tube—21.8 inches on the small—but also a long stem offering ample room for adjustment. An upright riding position is facilitated by a tall head tube, and the Marin bars have a 20-degree flare to the drop, which allows for a natural hand position that opens up your core. This had me in the drops more than usual, and I’ll struggle to return to a bar without flare.
On a weekend tour I split my gear between a front rack, frame pack and seat bag. It can be a struggle to fit standard-sized frame packs on small-sized frames, but the long top tube opens up the interior space, expanding storage options for shorter folks. The tires are a good middle-of-the-road rubber, offering adequate rolling speed on hard roads and off-road traction. Best of all they’re stout, making them a good fit in any terrain where you’re susceptible to punctures.
While the stock tires were capable on smooth sections of singletrack and confident when loaded down with touring gear, there’s ample clearance for swapping to larger tires: up to 700×45 with fenders or 29×2.1 without.
The bike remained poised across varying terrain, its balance un-phased by rutted dirt roads and chunky railroad ballast, proving competent to carry the weight for an extended tour. I found the gear range to be ample for touring Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but an easier gear may be advantageous on an extended tour with sustained climbs.
For days between 45 and 85 miles, the WTB Volt Sport saddle was comfortable and supportive, even on long sections of rail trail. “The Four Corners was designed for the rider who is looking for a versatile, modern take on a touring bike,” said Chris Holmes, brand director for Marin Bikes. “[It’s] one that is equally at home with a weekday commute as it is on a week-long adventure.”
For the city dweller, it fills the niche for everyday commuting needs, and for the adventure seeker, the large tire clearance and touring capability encourages exploring on gravel and dirt. As cyclists, what tales would we have to share if everything went as planned? The Marin Four Corners is ready for a change of route and a story to tell.
The Lambda / Grip King pedal is a Rivendell design made by MKS in Japan out of aluminum alloy. Surprisingly lightweight for its size (about 420 grams/pair) and offering a large, supportive platform (5″ x 3″), the Lambda has become popular with commuters and tourers, alike. Standard .125-inch ball bearings makes them easy to service and, so far, they spin very smoothly.
I picked up a pair a few months ago for my whatever bike, on which I generally ride between two and 10 miles at a time. The Lambdas replaced the bike’s original, 1991-vintage mountain bike pedals with toe clips.
Pedal preferences are influenced by the type of shoes you wear, and I wanted something non-specific that would be comfortable in boots, flip flops, trail runners or even dress shoes. When I decide to pop out for a quick errand, I prefer to just hop on the bike in whatever footwear is closest to the front door. That is the perfect use for the Lambdas and is what they are best at—everyday cycling.
If, like me, you are used to riding mountain bike-specific flat pedals with mountain-bike specific shoes that, when paired, offer a vice-like grip, then the Lambdas won’t seem all that grabby. Without sharp pins or pointy teeth, they lack an exacting bite and are slippery when wet. (Rivendell sells a $12 set of pedal spikes that you can add. You need to drill the holes and the spikes should self-tap. I might add them in the winter when I’m riding in heavy-soled boots that don’t allow for much pedal feel.)
However, that’s part of why I like them. The Lambdas won’t tear up casual shoes; my foot can easily adjust its position as I cruise around; and I will not be adding to the pedal-pin scar collection on my calves. Lambdas are ideal for mashing about town and don’t require your foot to hunt for that perfect spot. Standing to climb on them feels fantastic, even in soft sandals, thanks to the pedal’s length.
I like that the Lambdas offer a larger pedaling platform without appearing ridiculously massive, but the lack of side bulk means people with extra-wide feet might not find the Lambdas to be as supportive as I do (my shoe size is an EU 40). One selling point is that the concave sides offer more cornering clearance. I, for one, am not regularly railing my commuter, but that very well could be your thing.
Aesthetically, the battle-axe-meets-cheese-grater look of these pedals falls into the love-em-or-hate-em category. To be honest, I chose them in part for their quirky appearance. The recessed reflectors are a plus, too. I’ve always thought those things to be ugly but useful. On the Lambdas, I can know the reflectors are there without having to see them protruding garishly.
The MKS Lambda / Rivendell Grip King is a great step-up from the small-platform stock pedals on your old bike, especially if you’re not interested in committing to a specific shoe-pedal combo. They will not accept toe clips, but some riders add PowerGrip straps.
Price: Depends. Currently $37.99 from Tree Fort Bikes; $56 direct from Rivendell
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Tallac is a small company in southern California specializing in a few small bike accessories. The Vier lock is an interesting take on the long-established U-lock. Made up of four pieces that can be quickly disassembled and stored in the included zippered pouch, the Vier provides full-size U-lock performance in a bundle the size of a burrito.
The pouch can easily be slipped into a bag or strapped to the saddle rails or in a bottle cage. Tallac is also working on a special carrier that mounts to the bottle cage eyelets. Only one side of the Vier locks, and the shackles attach to the other end with a quarter turn. Everything about this lock looks and feels extremely high quality, with a fit and finish as good as anything I’ve used.
The shackles come in three lengths: 5.25, 7.25 and 9.25 inches. I used the middle length and found it big enough to lock a steel frame and front wheel off the bike, but just barely. The larger size looks big enough to secure at least two bikes.
The Vier lock started life as a successful crowd-funded campaign, so the demand for this lock exists. While my locking needs are often met with a U-lock shoved into a back pocket, riders with a need for high security in a small package should take a look at the Vier.
More info: Tallac House
Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini
Tester: Justin Steiner
Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit Mini is a burly little lock. On Kryptonite’s 1 to 10 security scale, this beefy lock registers a 10 thanks to an 18 mm, triple-heat-treated shackle and an oversized, hardened steel barrel. Because both ends of the shackle lock, it would need to be cut in two places to be defeated.
With that promise of security comes a big anti-theft protection guarantee of $4,500 should your bike get stolen. This protection is free for the first year, but must be renewed afterward at $10 for a second year or $15 for a second and third year of coverage. Of course, you’ll want to register your lock and read all the fine print on that agreement to make sure you’re in compliance.
As great as the security and protection may be, living with the Fahgettaboudit Mini has its challenges. The 3.25 x 6 inch opening inside the shackle can limit your locking options, particularly on bikes with wide tires.
If you’re running narrow tires you’ll be able to remove and lock the front wheel with the frame and rear wheel, but the odds of doing so decrease as tire size increases. It’s also a chunker, weighing it at 4.6 lbs. If you live in an area that requires high security, you don’t have much choice. Outside of areas requiring ultra-high security, the Fahgettaboudit Mini might be overkill.
More info: Kryptonite Lock
Abus Bordo Centium
Tester: Adam Newman
Here at Bicycle Times we’re big fans of the Bordo family of folding locks from Abus, and the latest Centium model continues our love affair with the German craftsmanship. If you haven’t used one before, the Bordo locks are made from a series of steel plates that unfold into a kind of rope. It’s utterly fantastic for locking to strangely shaped racks, looping through a wheel and making locking up a lot easier than it would be with a small U-lock.
Abus rates the Centium as a 10 on its scale of theft prevention, out of a possible 15, so it’s got you pretty well covered against most kinds of attacks. In highly vulnerable places I’ve taken to using a U-lock through the rear wheel with the “Sheldon Brown method” and the Bordo on the frame and front wheel. You can also order one with a specific key code, so if you have multiple Abus locks with the Plus cylinder you can use them all with the same key. With more than 250,000 key possibilities, that could come in handy.
The 5 mm steel links have a protective coating to prevent scratching your bike, and the stainless steel lock case—carved from a single piece of steel—has a cover for the key cylinder, a nice feature if there’s freezing moisture in the air. Ice can ruin your day in more ways than one.
The Centium comes with an attractive mount with a leather trimmed Velcro strap and a steampunk vibe. While I like the looks, it’s definitely heavier than the simple plastic holster of the other Bordo locks, so don’t be looking to save weight there. However the new bracket is side-loading instead of top-loading, which makes getting the lock in and out a lot easier. At 2.75 pounds, including the bracket, the complete unit is quite hefty, but I’ll trade a bit of weight for security any day.
There’s obviously a little flare to the Centium that you don’t normally get on bike locks, and it’s reflected in the price. For example, it ships in a very attractive commemorative wooden box built for Abus by a local nonprofit agency that empowers and teaches skills to developmentally disabled individuals. Like all Abus products it is made in Germany with more than a century of of lock-making expertise behind it. Whichever Abus Bordo model you choose I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
More info: Abus Locks
Tester: Jon Pratt
From time to time we all need to lock up our bikes in questionable surroundings. For this you need a good, strong lock. However, those kinds of locks are usually heavy and difficult to carry without bags or attachments on your person or bike. This is where the Hiplok Gold comes to the rescue.
Hiploks are easily worn around the waist and provide extreme protection for your bike. This Gold version has a 10 mm thick, hardened steel chain that carries Sold Secure’s (a U.K. security testing company) highest rating of Gold. The chain is wrapped in a tough nylon outer sleeve, which protects your clothes, bike and the object you are locking to from damage. The lock features a 12 mm hardened steel shackle and a brass locking mechanism wrapped up in impact resistant plastic.
All that security weighs in at a hefty 5.3 pounds. However, because the chain is worn around your waist, the weight is dispersed well and not much of a bother. A handy clip secures the Hiplok around your waist, so you do not have to lock and unlock to get it on and off. It’s super simple and fast. You can also adjust the length of the belt so that it will fit comfortably on waists from 28 to 44 inches.
Since I don’t have to take something along to carry the Hiplok, it has become my go-to lock when traveling around town. Just throw it on and off you go! I have also found the 33.5-inch chain and lock long enough to secure two bikes together in most situations, and even more if you get creative.
The Hiplok Gold is available worldwide, and there are several Hiplok variations available—I particularly like the highly reflective Superbright series.
More info: Hiplok
Frostbike is one of the annual dealer gatherings hosted by Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the parent brand behind All City, Foundry, Salsa, Surly and others. The event takes place at QBP headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in late February and allows shop owners and media types to gather and drink beer and talk shop.
With the Taipei International Cycle Show and Sea Otter looming, not to mention the countless company-specific product launch events now usurping big trade shows, there was not a glut of new product to be explored. Here are the few new and noteworthy bicycles we stumbled upon.
All City Pony Express – $1,149
All City’s new rigid singlespeed mountain bike—the Log Lady—soaked up the media attention prior to Frostbike, allowing another new offering to quietly sneak into the lineup. To create the Pony Express, All City started with its highly popular Space Horse frame, doused it in bright red paint, hung it with simple 1×10 road gearing and loaded it up with a straightforward parts kit including flat bars and V-brakes. The Pony Express is fender- and rack-friendly, can accept up to 700×42 tires (38 mm with fenders), features internal cable routing on the top tube and sports a bottom bracket lower than the usual road bike.
Since the Space Horse is All City’s light touring bike, the frame’s load capacity is a combined 50 pounds of gear and is designed to handle well under that load. On the Pony Express, All City maintains its use of beautiful lugged crown forks, signature dropouts and the company’s proprietary blend of smooth-riding steel tubing. This bike doesn’t so much answer “Why?” as it answers “Why not?”
More info: allcitycycles.com
All City Macho King Limited – $3,400
Behold the newest edition of All City’s short-run Macho King Limited. The cyclocross racer’s frame is made from Reynolds 853 steel and features a tapered, thru-axle Whisky carbon fork, SRAM 1×11 setup and extra-classy green fade paint job. If you want one, go talk to your local bike shop now before they’re available since few are produced and they sell out fast.
More info: allcitycycles.com
Civia Lowry – $399 (singlespeed), $469 (7-speed)
After going quiet for a few years to re-tool and conduct extensive body geometry studies, Civia is back with an all-new aluminum model (no more steel) designed to be carried by your local bike shop and to compete with direct-sale online dealers of sub-$500 neighborhood bikes.
To begin its rebirth, Civia launched the Lowry in two styles of top tubes and with either one or seven gears. The aluminum tubing was kept narrower to mimic the look of steel tubing but was used to lighten the weight of the bikes. The frames feature rack and fender mounts as well as integrated chain guards and kickstands.
Each Lowry is available in five sizes to accommodate riders from 5’0” to 6’4”. The smallest two sizes use 26-inch wheels (with 1.5-inch tires) for better fit and handling, while the rest get standard 700c road wheels with 38 mm tires. More models are slated to roll out in the future.
More info: civiacycles.com
Surly Big Dummy – $2,100
The venerable cargo hauler from Surly got a refresh for Frostbike. New this year is a bright green paint job with matching cargo deck, Surly’s Extra Terrestrial tires and a new SRAM drivetrain. The updated model will be available in July or August.
More info: surlybikes.com
Fuji Custom – Priceless
We saw this in the QBP parking lot—locked up, no less. We unfortunately couldn’t find the owner, and are therefore unable to bring you a test ride report.
Foundry Cycles also showcased its new titanium cyclocross racer and updated titanium gravel road bike, which we reported on earlier. See photos and details, here.
Originally published in Bicycle Times #38, our family-themed issue
Words: Adam Newman
Photos: Russ Roca and Adam Newman
For Katie Proctor, the director of the Portland Kidical Mass “chapter,” her love affair with family biking began even before she had a family. A journalism student at the University of Oregon, she interviewed her future husband for a story about sustainable business practices. He told her to look into Burley, maker of kids trailers, which was based in Eugene, Oregon, at the time.
“He gave me this catalog and all of the models in the catalog were Burley employees. Their families would get together and do these big shoots with all their products. And I looked at it—I was 19 years old—and I was like, ‘That’s us. That’s going to be us. I’m going to marry you, we’re going to have babies, we’re going to get a Burley and that’s going to be our life.’”
Fast forward a few years and it all came true. Proctor would find her and her family living car-free in Portland, getting around on a mix of tandem bikes and trail-a-bikes (sometimes together). When the local Kidical Mass chapter was in need of leadership, she didn’t hesitate to step in and begin planning the monthly rides for kids and families.
Founded by Shane MacRhodes in Eugene in 2008, Kidical Mass is more of a movement than an organization. As the Safe Routes to School director in the transportation department of the local school district, MacRhodes wanted to host a family-friendly ride inspired by the famed Critical Mass rides. At the time MacRhodes didn’t even have kids of his own, but now he rides regularly with his daughter and twin sons. “Now communities around the country are holding their own, at times and places that work best for them,” he said. “It will be interesting to see the movement grow and our rides change a little bit.”
Each city that hosts Kidical Mass events has evolved the concept differently. There is no central leadership structure or schedule and the events can vary from city to city. For example, in Portland where large groups of cyclists are a regular occurrence, it’s sometimes necessary to block intersections (known as “corking”) so all the riders can pass through, but the rides in Eugene would never do so. In some cities the rides are on public streets and in others they stick to bike paths.
The group rides are an opportunity for both parents and kids to make new connections in the community. Parents can check out other families’ bikes and sometimes take them for a test ride, while some kids have friends they only know through biking, Proctor said. “When they were babies it was fun because they were chillin’—happy on the bike and it was a chance to get out and be with other adults who had kids. It was very much about having that interaction but also about sharing gear ideas, what’s working for you, test ride each others’ bikes, that sort of stuff,” she said. “In 2009, 2010 there was a lot less gear commercially available, so it was like ‘What hack have you done?’ and ‘How does your hack work?’ ‘How can we make a better hack?’ And also just the support when we are all doing this crazy thing that seems less crazy now, I think, because of the rides.”
Showing people that riding bikes as a family isn’t crazy is part of the mission. Kidical Mass isn’t an advocacy movement, per se, most of the participants agree, but being an active presence in the community can show others that it’s safe and fun. “It’s fun and advocacy all wrapped into one,” MacRhodes said. “What I was advocating for before was pretty much the same but now it’s coming from a whole different viewpoint because I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about my daughter who’s 6 and by the time she’s 10 I want her to be able to ride around the whole city by herself.”
“You sort of fall into advocacy if you’re a family biker,” said Madi Carlson of Seattle. “It’s really hard to make that jump [to family biking]. Friends and knowledgeable people and the whole safety in numbers thing made a huge difference.”
Like Proctor, Carlson was fascinated with the idea of family biking before she even started a family. “My mother is from the Netherlands, so I grew up every few years going to visit my relatives there and seeing everyone on bikes. My uncle rode his bike to work in a three-piece suit and when my cousins started having babies they put them on bikes. I saw that and thought when I have babies I’m going to do this, too.”
And she did. Now Carlson runs a website, familyride.us, where she shares tips, tricks and experiences for families on two wheels. “I love showing people sneaky routes to get to places that maybe they don’t know about,” she said. “The more you ride, the more routes you learn and streets to avoid and I also know the flattest routes to get to any part of town.”
Flat-routing is big in the Kidical Mass movement. “I double the ride times on Google Maps,” said Kath Youell of Portland, who prides herself on knowing the flattest route from A to B. After moving into the city from the suburbs and ditching the car in favor of a bakfiets bike, she had to adjust her family’s lifestyle a bit and she had to keep reminding herself it was worth it. “You can do this. Cargo biking is fun. Slow transportation is fine, just like slow food. That’s the kind of stuff that goes through my head as we are passed by joggers and passed by people on little bikes.”
Transporting her 10-year-old, special-needs son to school is in many ways easier by bike because they aren’t tied to a specific bus schedule and can make stops easily along the way. “A really big thing to me is modeling for Evan that you don’t need to have a personal vehicle to do whatever it is you need to do,” she said.
Teaching kids that cycling is fun, safe and worth continuing beyond their childhood years was the foundation for creating the Kidical Mass rides in the first place, MacRhodes said. “Our goal as parents is to build independence into our children and cycling is an important part of that. I think most people will remember the freedom they felt as kids when they started riding, [and we’re] trying to rediscover that again and help families rediscover that again.”
Learn more: kidicalmass.org
Also in this kid- and family-focused issue of Bicycle Times was a story about bike touring around the world with a toddler, including tips on how to plan and pack for your youngest travel partner. Read it here.
What the heck is Orp? Well, it was born in an industrial design studio, was incubated through a crowdfunding session, and now represents a really fun and useful way to stay safe on your bike. The idea started as a horn, a 96-decibel electronic noisemaker, to be exact, that emits a rather obnoxious sound to alert drivers, pedestrians and wandering animals to your presence. It can also emit a friendly bell sound if you’re feeling pleasant. Press up on the Orp’s tail for the happy sound, down for the angry sound. Both sounds also flash the built-in light.
The LED light is more than bright enough to make yourself visible and can be turned on and off independently of the bell sounds. It can operate in steady or blinking mode, emitting 70 lumens on steady and 83 lumens when flashing. The Orp’s plastic body is water resistant, and generally “accident proof” to make you “splatterproof,” and comes in eight fun colors. The whole unit straps to your 31.8 mm handlebars with its built-in stretchy rubber mount, and the packaging includes a rubber shim to fit smaller-diameter handlebars.
The Orp isn’t always on. Because it relies on battery power, you do have to remember to turn it on and off. Because the light and horn operate independently, I found that if the light is off the battery has enough juice to last a week or more if you forget and leave it on. There is no indicator light to tell if it is on, but a quick press of the tail will let you know. It also has a cute power-up or power-down sound. With the light on, Orp claims three hours of run time with the light in steady mode and 11 hours in flash mode.
The best way to make the Orp super practical is to pair it with the “Remorp,” a wired remote that places the controls at your fingertips, either on flat bars or drop bars. It plugs into that black port you see above.
I only had to charge the Orp every couple weeks with the included Micro-USB cord and found it super fun to use, finding excuses to ring the distinctive happy bell sound all over town. If it’s not cute enough for you right out of the box, you can add Orp’s mustache stickers to personalize yours. Stop taking cycling so seriously.
The Orp sells for $65, plus $15 for the remote.
More info: orpland.com
The Timbuk2 Especial Raider is a super-lightweight backpack (weighing less than one pound) specifically created to carry your clothing from home to office by bike. Designed in collaboration with Mission Cycling Club, this pack was graced with an award from the Industrial Designers Society of America shortly after its launch.
I’m generally a curmudgeon about items this specific and while I can empathize with the design inspiration—cyclists sick of using bulky and hot hiking packs to schlep their dress whites to work—I tend to lean toward universal gear.
And yet, it works. While I no longer have a daily commute, I remember the shower-stall dance of trying to keep clean clothes off the floor or in one place. The internal organization and built-in hanging hook of the Especial Raider makes this easy even in small, cramped spaces. The outside mesh pockets can be used to briefly stash your deodorant and socks while you’re hopping around in your shower shoes trying not to touch the walls. Count me impressed.
Inside, you’ll find a removable back board that provides stiffness and keeps your folded clothes from collapsing to the bottom of the bag. It includes a big Velcro strap to use in securing garments in their own, closed pouch, keeping them separate from everything else. Shoes get their own pockets that allow you to face their dirty soles away from other items and keeping access to other items free and clear. Despite a small profile, the pack is rather cavernous even after your workwear is secured. There’s plenty of room left for a rain jacket, a few toiletries, brownbag lunch, tablet and small purse. Just don’t overload it with a bunch of heavy items before a long ride or it won’t be particularly comfortable.
Outside, there’s a top pocket with an internal key clip for small items and mesh side pockets for a water bottle, a (well-sealed) coffee thermos or just a place to stash that fresh croissant you picked up along the way to the office. The bottom of the pack is made from a much tougher material that is covered with reflectivity and wipes clean simply with a wet paper towel. There’s also a place to clip a rear light.
The machine-washable ripstop fabric is paired with an airmesh ventilated back panel, shoulder straps that have one point of adjustment and a chest strap, but no waist/hip strap. That is my only (slight) peeve with this backpack. On our last ride together, I had somewhat overstuffed the pack and was hammering along the bike path to make it home before sundown. The pack wiggled around on my back, sliding on my smooth wind jacket a little too much despite how much I cinched down the available straps. Even a thin, lightweight waist strap would be much appreciated.
Otherwise, I have zero complaints; this thing is rad for it’s intended purpose. The pack lays flat once empty, making it easy to stash in a desk drawer or other tiny space for small-cube dwellers. Did I mention it is machine-washable? That’s significant for any piece of gear associated with an office. Once the pack starts to stink, toss that sucker into the wash as a courtesy to your coworkers.
Overall, the Especial Raider must be thought of as an ultralight pack. Don’t expect to also use it for hauling bulky and heavy items, on rugged mountain bike excursions through the woods or during downpours (it’s not waterproof nor seam-sealed but Timbuk2 does sell a waterproof pack cover that you might want to snag). It wasn’t designed for any of that. It was designed for bicycle commuters and, for that intended purpose, it is very successful.
The Especial Raider comes in several color variations of black, red and grey, and features a lifetime warranty. Considering Timbuk2 items trend toward being indestructible (my Timbuk2 messenger bag is nearly 15 years old), this backpack’s sub-$100 price tag is probably well worth it.
Price: $79 (some colors currently on sale)
More info: timbuk2.com
Seven years ago, I rode my bike across the country with nothing but a $13 red bike light strapped to my seatpost. It wasn’t very bright and functioned more as hopeful optimism than a true safety device.
Now I’m pleased to see that daytime running lights for bikes are being taken more seriously. The Bontrager Flare R puts out 65 lumens in daytime random burst mode—an impressive level of brightness that completely outdid every other rear bike light on the last group ride I was on. Daytime steady mode is more modest 25 lumens. Night time output is 5 lumens in steady mode and 65 lumens in burst mode.
What’s a lumen? I read somewhere that lumens are to light the way gallons are to milk; it’s a measurement of how much light is given off. A standard 25 watt lightbulb (the ones that are difficult to find nowadays) gives off about 220 lumens. Car brake lights are around 350-500 lumens.
Anyway, Bontrager claims this light can be seen from 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away during the day and 5 kilometers (3 miles) at night. I couldn’t find a stretch of road to test that, exactly, but I was able to find out that if you look directly into this light while standing next to your bike, it will mess up your vision for a few seconds. The Flare R also has decent side lights and claims 270 degrees of visibility. Its four modes are easy to toggle through via a large button on the top of the light. That same button features a status LED light that displays battery life.
The light easily unclips from the stretchy rubber seat post mount and charges using a micro USB cable (included). If the light gets down to 5 percent of life or less, it will need two hours to full charge. Thanks to not needing tools to mount this light, it only takes a few seconds to swap it to whatever bike you’re about to go ride and means there’s no reason not to. I’ve even stuck it on my mountain bike when riding from home to the trail.
Battery life is a claimed 5.75 hours in daytime flash, 23 hours in night time flash, 4.25 hours in daytime steady and 21 hours in night time steady. I left the light on in the house and hit those numbers almost exactly. When the battery dips below five percent of life, the light will automatically switch to flashing in a low-energy mode to conserve its life should you still be far from home.
When mounted using the bracket with rubber strap, the light swivels easily. It’s too small to fit around a large aero seat post (sorry, triathletes) and a bit too large for super-skinny road bike seat stays, if that’s where you’d rather mount it. But Bontrager includes a seat pack clip for the light, which is much appreciated by this short rider who often has no room left on a seatpost when a saddle bag is attached.
Finally, the Flare R is neither bulky nor heavy (36 grams), so weight weenies rejoice. At $60 it’s not cheap, but the construction feels hearty and has so far proven to be weather resistant. Bontrager says it focused on a daytime taillight because studies show that 80 percent of cycling accidents occur during the day. So even if you don’t get this rear red light, consider getting one.
Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.
Marin describes the Lombard as having been “Birthed from cyclocross and touring parents…” and “Part adventure bike, and part urban warrior.” Those descriptions certainly had me sold from the get-go, this is my kind of bike: versatile.
We’ve had a lot of conversation around the office lately about just how good bikes around and under the $1,000 price point are these days. Assembling the Lombard further cemented that point in my mind. On initial impression, this bike is very well built and spec’d at the price point.
Let’s take a walk around the bike.
Due to the subtle matte grey and black palette, the Lombard’s gum-wall Schwalbe Road Cruiser tires draw your attention. These 35mm-wide tires seem like an awesome choice for a bike that will see terrain that varies from dirt to street.
The second thing to strike me were the Lombard’s subtle reflective graphics. Not only is the branding minimal and tasteful, it also adds an element of visibility after dark.
Promax Render R cable actuated disc brakes promise all-weather stopping power front and rear. Note the Lombard’s dual eyelets for both a rack and fenders. By mounting the brake inside the rear triangle, Marin greatly simplified rack and fender installation.
Check out that headbadge and ample tire clearance in the fork with the stock 35mm tires. Looks to me like a 40mm would fit no problem. Might even be able to squeeze a 45mm in there.
Rear tire clearance is generous at the seatstays, but a little less forgiving at the chainstays. Anything much bigger than a 40mm tire looks to be a tight fit.
The Lombard’s 9-speed Sora drivetrain with the 50/39/30 triple chainring offers a wide range of gearing. Let me tell you, this Sora group operates more like an Ultegra group from the 9-speed era than an entry level drivetrain. It really is that good.
Marin’s house-brand cockpit rounds out the build. All of these bits are functionally perfect and the fit is spot on for me.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the brand of brake calipers.
Gary Lenett has been designing and making jeans for the past 25 years, both under his own brands and for some of the best known names in the business: Levi Strauss, The Gap, Ralph Lauren, Guess Jeans and more. The Vancouver, British Columbia, resident found himself getting a bit bored with the fashion side of the business, having seen the same trends cycle four or five times over his career. We recently received a pair of his new jeans for active commuters, and picked his brain a bit to find out more.
“My interest over the last number of years has been fabric technology and I decided that I wanted to develop a new line of men’s jeans that was more purpose than trend driven. I am an active guy who ride a bicycle to work and wanted to develop jeans that would allow me to DO all that I DO in a day without changing my clothes (regardless of whether I had the most important meeting of the year and still wanted to ride my bike). Thus the development of the name DU/ER (a play on DOER).
“Our L2X jeans were over two years in the making, including the time to develop the fabric. Just like other technical apparel our design calendar is approximately two years out, which is only possible if your product is what I call “internally designed” and not trend driven.
“We wanted to be better than the Levi’s Commuter jean straight out of the gate. More flex, better quick dry, more comfort while you are riding, especially for guys with bigger thighs. What we ended up doing was making a jean that’s good for more than just cycling.
“We launched on Kickstarter because wanted to make sure we had it right from the first product, and our first product had some unique characteristics like the crotch gusset, the super light weight and the radiation pocket. We wanted customers to tell us if we got it right, and Kickstarter is a great way to test those assumptions. We are really happy with almost doubling our goal of $25,000. We’ve got some excellent feedback and a bunch of very excited backers—err um—future customers.
Look for our review of the DU/ER jeans online in the coming weeks.Tweet Print
Earlier this year Light & Motion relaunched its all-new Urban 2.0 line, which features simple, one-piece LED lights that cover a broad spectrum from commuting to performance. They are available in four lumen levels and a rainbow of colors starting at $70.
Made entirely in Light & Motion’s California factory, the Urban 2.0 line won’t leave you hanging when the days get soggy either, as the company draws on its diving light expertise to make them 100 percent waterproof. As technology continues to improve LEDs and batteries, the run times are getting longer, the lights are getting brighter and the cost keeps coming down. The 800-lumen model is also available in a fast-charge version that can be full refreshed in just two and a half hours. Run times are 1.5 hours, 3 hours or 6 hours on high, medium and low, respectively.
The “urban” portion of the name comes from their details like a quick-release, tool-free handlebar and helmet mounts and amber side lights to keep you visible at intersections, where most bike/car collisions occur. Light & Motion has also done away with the rapid blinking mode that can actually distract drivers (as well as drive everyone crazy) and replaced it with a slower pulsing mode similar to what’s used on many motorcycles.
The five models in the Urban 2.0 line include:
- Urban 350 – $69.99 Colors: Obsidian Stout/Blue Moon
Urban 500 – $99.99 Colors: Blue Ribbon/Hopsickle
Urban 650 – $129.99 Colors: Silver Moon/Shock Top
Urban 800: $149.99 Colors: Anchor Steam/Steamroller
Urban 800FC – $179.99 Color: Steelhead
Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge is not designed to be a competition, more a challenge to those willing to put on some gloves and shoe covers, get out there to show what you’re made of and keep the pedals turning through the winter. Bicycle commute to work 52 times between October 1 and March 31 and not only will you’ve earned badass status, you can attend the Icy Bike Gala. Join the Facebook group to track your progress.
ChainRing Films has even made a short film about the experience, A Winter of Cyclists. Watch the trailer here.Tweet Print
We here at Bicycle Times ride to work quite a lot. Most of us have been doing so for years, both to this office (also home of Dirt Rag) and to previous jobs. (We had a total of 11,878 miles and 605 commuting days in 2008!) We’ve amassed a lot of experience and knowledge along the way that we will enjoy sharing with you, to make your own bike commuting experience easier and more fun, and to encourage you to do it more often.
Riding to work can be a fun adventure if you have the right equipment to keep you rolling. You don’t want to be held up by a bike malfunction. So how should you prepare for your journey, equipment-wise? Read on to find out.
The Bare Minimum
Here’s the list of essentials that we all carry while commuting:
Flat fix gear: pump, tire levers, spare tube (or two) and/or a patch kit. This might be obvious, but the materials needed to change a flat tire are the most indispensable, since a flat is the misfortune you’ll most likely encounter.
Several of us prefer frame pumps: long pumps that mount parallel to a tube of the bike’s frame, held in place with spring tension. Their larger size provides more air volume for faster inflation than mini-pumps, plus they are always with your bike and out of the way of all your other stuff.
Carrying two tire levers is a good idea, even if you’re an old hand at flat fixing and can do it with one, since they can sometimes snap in half.
Andrew’s tip: “I wrap tubes tightly in kitchen wrap—the wrap enables you to compress the tubes into a very compact size and protect them from dirt and puncture hazards from other tools.”
Tools: hex wrenches, chain tool, spoke wrenches, either separate or as part of a multi-tool—in case anything more than a flat befalls you.
Most bike bolts are of the hex variety, and a folding set of metric hex wrenches (A.K.A. Allen wrenches) will let you tighten loose bolts or make adjustments you may have overlooked the night before. Bikes almost always use metric sizes, not standard.
Make sure your chain tool is a good one. Fixing a broken chain is hard enough without struggling with a dinky, awkward chain tool (which may be encountered on some lesser multi-tools).
You probably won’t be able to get a damaged wheel totally true again, but at least you can get it spinning well enough to reach your destination, as long as you have spoke wrenches. There are three common sizes and most tools have all three.
Swiss Army Knife-style, all-in-one multi-tools look impressive, but compromises sometimes have to be made to fit all that into one tool. The ex-bike shop mechanics in the house tend to prefer separate travel-size tools for their ease of use. There are some completely functioning multi-tools, however, and designs get better all the time.
Consider that you may need some special tools for your bike—for instance, a brand-specific spoke wrench, a 15mm wrench for bolt-on wheels, or tubes with a long valve stem for deep-section rims.
If your bike has a replaceable derailleur hanger, a spare is an easy thing to carry. These are designed to break first if your derailleur gets yanked, for instance by a piece of debris that gets caught in your chain.
A first aid kit is something that you’ll hopefully never need, but when you do, you’ll be glad you have it. Small and lightweight varieties are available that contain enough supplies to treat road rash or other minor injuries.
If your commute is too early or late for the benefit of sunlight (or you go for happy hour after work), spare batteries for your lights are not a bad idea.
Don’t forget the fuel: a full bottle of water for the journey and perhaps an energy bar in case you get delayed or find yourself running out of gas on the way. (This is one big advantage over driving—it’s much easier, and less expensive, to fuel up!)
Andrew is comprehensively prepared with his “wallet with paper money in it—a dollar bill makes a great tire liner if you get a tear in you tire,” as well as “the best tool of all, a cell phone.” Shannon puts his cell in a waterproof pouch to protect it from rain.
For those earning a merit badge in preparedness, here are some examples. Eric, who is part of a one-car family and rides nearly every day, has quite an extensive list of extra items he always carries:
Wing Nut pouch holding this kit can be easily transferred from bag to bag
Small bottle of lube to avoid embarrassing chain squeak
Princeton Tec headlamp as a backup light and another repair aid
Credit card-sized LED flashlight for emergency nighttime repairs, with a foot or so of duct tape wrapped around it—what can’t you do with duct tape?
Folding pliers-style multi-tool, containing useful non-bike-specific tools
Fine-point Sharpie for recording phone and license plate numbers
12” bailing wire, another useful jerry-rigging item
3 cable ties (A.K.A zip ties)—like duct tape, but different
Wheels Mfg. Emergency Derailleur Hanger—fits almost any bike
Surly Jethro Tule 15mm box wrench (and bottle opener), for bolt-on wheels
3”x1” strip of adhesive-backed rubber to aid in mounting lights or other peripherals
Nitrile gloves keep hands clean during repairs
Amanda, being the artistic type, likes to bring a sketch pad and pencil.
Depending on the season, extra clothing can be worth the space. During volatile spring and fall days, or if your commute involves a significant change in elevation, you can shield yourself from the temperature difference with a shell jacket, arm and leg warmers, and full-fingered gloves.
If you’re soldiering on through the winter, chemical handwarmers can save you from numb hands, especially if you have to stop for a repair.
After a time or two trying to run after-work errands with the wrong lock key, Karen carries both her U-lock keys on a key lanyard attached to the inside of her bag.
Shannon uses glasses with interchangeable lenses, a hard case and wipe cloth for day to night lighting.
How to Carry Your Load
That’s a big list! Add to that lunch, clothing for the office, perhaps a laptop, and other sundry items and you’ve got a lot to carry. Fortunately it’s not difficult with the right luggage.
A messenger bag is the simplest container for your stuff. Its one-strap design allows it to be shifted around from behind to the front for easy access. These bags often have organization pockets inside. Matt says, “I don’t have a separate or special bag for the equipment, I just utilize all the nifty pockets of my messenger bag. The more pockets the better!”
A backpack can’t be accessed without taking it off, but it has the advantage of more evenly distributing weight on your back.
A seat bag is a simple little bag that mounts under the saddle of your bike, good for carrying small, essential items like tubes and patch kits.
Panniers attach to front or rear racks and have the advantage of getting weight off your back and down lower on the bike, which can stabilize bike handling. Andy says, “If I carry a computer I usually go with panniers because I don’t like carrying a lot of weight on my back unless I have to. Without a computer, I like riding with a messenger bag.”
Frame bags use your bike’s own frame as support. They don’t add as much weight as a rack and panniers, but may not have as much capacity.
For traveling light or keeping crucial items at hand, good ol’ jersey pockets can be sufficient.
If you have more than one commuting bike or bag set-up, Eric’s advice: “My kit fits in a New Sun pouch that moves from messenger bag to pannier to frame bag to backpack. The two main bikes I ride to commute have frame bags and this fits nicely in either one.”
Karen says, “I keep my pump in a cotton sleeve that a Thomson seatpost came in—keeps it clean and unharmed.”
Learning the Hard Way
It’s impossible to be prepared for every eventuality, but maybe you can learn from some of our past mistakes…
Andrew: “I now carry a patch kit on long rides. When I went on my first century ride we used all our tubes in the first fifty miles. We had a tense 50-mile ride back home, panicking each time we ran over glass or hit a pothole.”
Matt: “I was riding home one night after a party and a few IPAs in Buffalo. It wasn’t a busy street and it even had a bike lane. But there were still manhole covers. I must have rode over a particularly rough one that jolted my singlespeed a tad too much. The chain actually hopped off the rear cog and was lodged between the frame and the cog. I couldn’t pry the chain free and had to walk home. So now I make sure to carry a 15mm wrench to remove the wheels. That same night I realized that if I ever got a flat, there would have been no way for me to fix that either, despite the pump and spare tubes I carry.”
Andy: “I always carry a chain tool because I’ve broken two chains on my way to work. The first time I didn’t have a chain tool and I had to walk most of the way home. There’s no particular event that prompted me to carry zip ties, but for some reason I feel like I will really need them some day. I always have a few of them with me.”
Karen: “I keep a pen on the outside of my bag, on the front strap, for easy access if there’s an accident and I need to record a license plate number, phone number, etc. Fortunately I’ve never had an incident that prompted this, but after hearing other people describe the confusion that happens after an accident, hunting for a pen isn’t a good thing to have to do.”
Shannon: “Extra clothing was a result of either too many cold rides home in unpredictable weather, or unexpectedly encountering riding friends on the way home, which changed my destination and turned into night rides around the city.”
Sometimes “enough” is really “too much.” Here are a few examples of gear that might be excessive.
Andrew: “A Surly Singleator—if you break your derailleur you can shorten your chain and singlespeed it home without one, but that usually means that you are stuck in an undesirable gear. With a Singleator you can choose the best gear for the terrain.”
Eric: “The 15mm mini-wrench I carry is hardly necessary since I haven’t had a bike with axle nuts that size in quite a while, but you never know when you might run into someone who needs it, and I have less chance to misplace it if I keep it in my bag.”
Amanda: “Sketch book and pencil. Have I ever used them to stop and sketch a beautiful vista or critter on the way home? No, but I keep them just in case there’s a license plate number of a maniac driver I want to jot down or something of that nature.”
Andy: “I carry a tube and a patch kit, a pump and a CO2 inflator with a couple cartridges. I’m sure I could get away with only carrying a patch kit and a pump, but the extra tube and CO2 inflator make for a quick change in case of a flat.”
[This article, which was written by the Bicycle Times staff with photos by Maurice Tierney, originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times Issue #1.]